Photo Credit: The Wicked Writer
This is one of those posts I’ve wanted to write for some time now because I think the responses I’ll receive will be all over the map. And that’s okay. So, obviously today’s post will be about chapter length.
You’re likely a writer if you’re reading this. Or perhaps you’re a reader? Or maybe you’ve stumbled into an alternate universe and somehow made your way to your new favorite blog? No matter how you made it here, I have treats! Okay, I have no idea why the heck I’m typing these things. Let’s see if the second time around I can actually get down to business, shall we?
So you’ve decided that writing a book is your calling, that this is something you MUST do. You’ve decided on the genre. You’ve come up with what you think is the basic premise of the next New York Times bestseller. You open your Word document and type the words “Chapter 1” and start in on your future masterpiece. But wait, how long are your chapters supposed to be? Quick! Google!
This person who claims to be a bestselling author himself says a good length for chapters is 3,000-5,000 words. But this person says 5,000-7,500. But THIS person says anywhere from 3,000-10,000. Oh look, a cat climbing up a wall. Focus! And now we have a guy who says chapter length is irrelevant. WHO’S RIGHT?!
Relax. Let me tell you a little about my own chapter lengths and then about what I’ve read in actual books and not in internet forums. My first book, if you can even call it that, came in at just over 55,000 words and 21 chapters. Some simple math puts the average chapter length at roughly 2,600 words. I think it’s actually just a tad higher because the book may have been closer to 55,400 words, but let’s just go with the nice round number of 2,600 for the purpose of this post. That would put the average chapter at about 10 pages in my book. Note that my book averaged about 250 words per page. The typical books I read average between 250-350. But the number of pages is irrelevant. It’s all about word count if you ask me.
But the average is not necessarily representative of the norm when it comes to my book. The shortest chapter I wrote was a mere 900 words. I didn’t much like it, but ended up leaving it in because it seemed to somewhat fit in the story. It was the second chapter I ever wrote. I honestly had no idea what the heck I was doing at the time. Still don’t, to be quite honest. Anyway, The differences don’t end there when it comes to chapter lengths in my short book. The first 10 chapters of my book roughly averaged 2,300 words each. The last 11 averaged 2,800. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it definitely is. One more final note before I get into what I’ve read about chapter lengths. The longest chapter I wrote for my first book came in just under 3,700 words, which I think was 18 or 19 pages in the book. So my range was 900-3,700 words per chapter for the whole of the work. Now let’s see what others have to say about it.
I definitely did the whole Google thing to find out the proper chapter length for my genre before I started writing, and it pretty much played out how I described above. There are simply too many voices out there telling you this or telling you that that it’s impossible to ever know for sure if there is a specific chapter length that you should aim for. For my references to other author’s works I’ll have to use page counts because I don’t know the exact word counts for any of their books. Robert B. Parker’s mystery novels tend to stay within 5-7 page chapters. Steve Hamilton’s are in the 12-15 page range. Michael Connelly writes in the 10-15 page range. But then Kevin O’Brien and Karin Slaughter, both New York Times bestselling authors, rarely write chapters less than 25 pages! WHAT? And then you have James Patterson on the opposite end of the spectrum writing 2-4 page chapters. What’s your take from this? There is no set chapter length. There isn’t.
But since most of you are writers yourselves, I’d like to know about your personal preferences when it comes to chapter length. I like 2,000 words to be minimum for mine, but I’ve written several below that threshold, including in my second book. But you all are also readers. I’d like to know if there is a certain number of pages per chapter that you feel is simply too many. In my opinion, once I get over 20 pages in a single chapter I’m hoping the next turn of the page is a new one. But that’s just me, tell me about you!
I wrote this post by referencing earlier posts from last year when I was still working on my first book. I was sitting here crying because you can feel the excitement in each post growing as I neared what I knew would be the end. I don’t know if one’s earlier self can inspire one’s later self, but I’m thinking it’s possible. I want to get back to that point in my writing again. I’m a baby, I know.
Here are three posts I think you might enjoy reading. You’ve never seen any of these, they’re from August of last year.