First Chapter Length


Forum Revolutionary
Apr 4, 2015
So, I have a first chapter in a SF story with a word count of almost 4000. I've been researching and that seems to be way over the average. Will it hurt to have a long opening chapter? I've been tinkering with it, but so far it doesn't look to be a divisible piece that could be made into two.
my first novel has chapters of 7-8000. The one I've just sold to TicketyBoo has chapters of 5000. The one I've just completed has chapters of 3000 words. I don't think it matters as long as you get the structure right for the story you're telling.
I personally prefer a shorter first chapter. No matter how careful you are with your world building, every new book has a learning curve. I think there is a good case to be made for delivering that first parcel in a more bite-sized portion... helping to ease a reader into the story can only increase your chances of holding their attention.

That is not to say chapter length is the primary metric of such things. Easing the reader can be done in other ways, even with a 10K opening... But chapter length can serve that purpose too.
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What Tinkerdan says. Chapters are just breaks in the story. You don't have to use them. Mr Pratchett didn't, he just used a scene break, Anyway when you are submitting a publisher or agent often says, the first three chapters OR 5000 words, or another figure.
I wouldn't worry too much about it, as long as it's as long as it NEEDS to be. My first three "chapters" (mine are closer to scene breaks than chapters) only amount to 3800 words, but that works with the flow of my story.

A chapter should be as long as it needs to be; as short as it wants; and as good as it gets.

I'll never argue this statement.
The first couple of paragraphs are much more important than the length of the first chapter, as this is likely what prospective buyers of your novel will read. Grip them in those opening lines and you will have done your job.
And will it hurt at a publishing-centred level? Do editors and publishers lean more toward longer or shorter chapters, or do they also follow the maxim of "as long as need be"?
I would say as long as the story is good, as well as the pacing, that chapter lengths can become irrelevant. Readers do like places to stop at though. At least I do. There are also variables, like is your story first person? Are you waiting too long between characters in a 3rd person...and so on.

I'd say, don't write them to how you think a publisher will react, just write the story, and betas will help with pacing later.
If it's a solid chapter, and keeps the reader's focus and attention (which has been stated above) you should be fine.

If you remain concerned, are there scene breaks that could conceivably be a break for the next chapter?

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