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Average Chapter Length?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Philip Overby, Jun 7, 2012.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I'm currently writing a first draft and I'm hoping my manuscript is going to be just under 100,000 words, maybe less. I just went through and checked my word count on each of my chapters and some were as low as 900 words and others were as many as 3,000 something. I read somewhere that the average fantasy novel tends to have 5,000 or more words per chapter. I personally like shorter chapters myself as I read on the go and don't have time to read many chapters in one sitting. So I guess I write that way.

    Anyway, I know there's no right answer really, but I'm curious how many words (approximately) that other people take per chapter.

    I guess since a lot of what I write is pretty minimal, my chapters tend to be shorter, while someone who does a lot of description might have much longer chapters.

    Do you prefer writing short or long chapters? Also do you prefer reading short or long chapters? I know it all depends on what (or who) you're reading, but just any general ideas would be appreciated! (Example: I like David Gemmell's short chapters and easy to read style, but I also like Steve Erikson's long chapters and denser style. However, I prefer to write and read short chapters.)
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    The chapters in my novels are typically about 20 pages each. Going by a roughly 250-words-per-page count in proper manuscript format, that gives me an average of 5000 words per chapter, with some wiggle room for half-pages and the like. My longest chapter thus far is closer to 25 pages, and the shortest is 15. I try to keep them of a similar length, but it does vary according to the amount of information I need to get across in each chapter, and where it would make sense to place a chapter break.
  3. Hypervorean

    Hypervorean Scribe

    It seems that my chapters tend to be somewhere between 1,500-3,000 words. I never think about it when I write, I just have an idea about what is going to happen in that chapter and when I've finished writing that the chapter is done no matter how long.

    I don't care how long chapters are when I read either, I often stop in the middle of things anyway. Actually I like when it varies, I can't come up with an example of it, but I like something like a mixture of short fast-paced chapters and longer more descriptive ones.

    On the other hand I also sometimes find that if all the chapters are very long I might tend to read less in a day. I find it easier to motivate myself to read more when the chapters are short, then I can keep telling myself "ah, just read one more, Eli, it's so short" and suddenly the book is over.
  4. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

    No preference, my chapters are as long as they need to be :)

    Most of the time, my chapters are between 5 and 7,5k words, but if necessary a (far) shorter one would be possible. Not too long, then I'd split them in two. But as a rule their length followes the flow of the story.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    My chapters are between 1 and 4 thousand words with an average length goal of 2500. Generally for me it gets longer the more characters I have in a scene. Also sometimes a scene requires more description sometimes no so much.
  6. Tez

    Tez New Member

    Mine seem to be about 3k although i try not to think about it too much. Theres no point padding it out for the sake of it.
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I've said this elsewhere, but I don't care whether chapters are long or short, or whether there even are chapters. I just want a good book, and if it is good enough to keep me reading, chapter length (or the existence of chapters) won't make a difference ot me.
  8. I don't think 900-3000 word chapters will put off readers at all. If there's a lot of really short chapters it might feel like it's hard to get a handle on anything before it's replaced by another story thread, but that depends on how you write it.

    My chapters average (currently) 4,753.7 words per chapter. :) But the chapters are from the POV of 4 different characters, and I prefer to let each thread develop before switching to someone else's perspective. A Game of Thrones by contrast averages about 4,053 words per chapter.
  9. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    I tend to prefer shorter chapters generally. As of now, my average chapter length is around 1800 words.
  10. Chime85

    Chime85 Sage

    My chapters tend to average to about 6000-6500. Some are shorter at around 4500, others can go for just under 9k. I think it depends on your writing style and the lenght of your story. Something around 90-110k can get away with shorter chapters. Longer stories, or sagas (maybe spanning two or more books) have a little more wriggle room for longer chapters to be deployed.

  11. Fluffypoodel

    Fluffypoodel Inkling

    I think that the chapter length figures heavily on what you want to accomplish within the chapter. I tend to stay with one POV in a chapter and I typically range from 5k-8k words per chapter. When you hit a groove in your writing you should go with it. That is when my longest chapters tend to come out. When I started writing I drew most of the chapter length form my descriptions and characters inner thoughts. As I have progressed My dialogue has grown to match and exceed my descriptions because it is trough the dialogue that we get to know our characters. We can also get into the diction of the chapter itself. Properly selected words can go a long way to shortening chapter length without compromising in terms of density. I guess it all depends on the writer and what he/she is writing.
  12. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    Hate to link to a blot post here, but I'd been writing one on the topic of chapters and thought I might as well draw attention to it while it might be pertinent. Yes, that was the link.

    Basically, I say in the post that most chapters key off general plot events and aren't guided by length. I also break down some other stylistic choices regarding chapters.
  13. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    The chapters in my Fantasy novels are usually between seven and twelve pages long, each page containing around 370 words in average... so that would be around 2600 to 4500 words for every chapter- I tend to prefer short chapters to very long ones, as from my point of view short chapters can help to make a story easier to read and to enjoy =)
  14. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    Thanks everyone for the input. Of course I know to "end a chapter when it's finished" and that doesn't matter so much, Just in the interest of having an idea how my novel is paced is something I'm interested in. Some of my chapters don't really feel "complete" so I need to go back an add more to them. Not "complete" in the amount of words, but complete in the sense that things are happening faster than I want. So it's more of an issue with pacing more than length.
  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Is there anyone else who doesn't care whether there are chapters or not?
  16. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    For the interest of this thread, I think everyone cares. I don't generally care if there are chapters or not if a book is good, but chapter breaks give most readers a place to stop. So yeah, I don't care about chapters THAT much, but they do serve a purpose.
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Yeah, I was just making a bit of a segue. I like chapters just fine, but have also read some good books that don't use them and I didn't really find it problematic. Curious how everyone feels about it.
  18. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

    Having no chapters sure makes it hard to use the book in a book club! Other than that, no issue.

    Personally, my chapters are generally 2,000ish words, that's just how my pacing turns out. While reading, I've noticed smaller chapters make the pace of the book seem faster, or that you're achieving more.

    Some authors think it gives the reader too many chances to put the book down and do something else, whereas I feel like I'm getting something accomplished, so I'm likely to read more.
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  19. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I really don't care. If I saw a book without chapters, I'd be a little surprised, but it wouldn't bias me in any way. I try to let the material speak for it self.

    I think chapters give the reader a bite size chunk of text to chew on and a goal to reach when reading. Without chapters, it can seem like the book is a big wall of text. But even then, I would think scenes would replace chapters as natural break points. Most of my 'chapters' are one scene.
  20. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    I don't really mind - short or long.

    However, James Patterson's chapters are far too short for my liking. He does it purposely because that's the genre he (and his merry horde of ghost writers) writes.

    I like a bit of depth. I think the style of the chapters is equally important. For example, books where the chapters continuously switch from one plot line to the other and then back again. They serve a purpose, but it annoys me sometimes. At the same time, if one plot line is left for too long, it can get stale and nothing connects properly later.

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