Is There a Proper Chapter Length?

ImagePhoto 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.

And Then There was One

The End is Near

Done! Acabado! Fertig!

Male or Female Protagonist: Why does it even matter?

male-or-female

This is one of those questions that really irks me. And I think it goes into the larger question of male or female author. By the way, I hate saying ‘male’ and ‘female’ because they are social and not biological terms, but it doesn’t make sense for me to say man protagonist, so I’m going to stay with the social terms for the rest of this post, but just know that I don’t like them.

I mentioned that this question is part of the larger question of whether or not you or I or whomever the reader is prefers books written by men or women over the other sex. If you happen to be one of those individuals who says, “I only like books by men. They tend to be better written with better stories.” you can just stop reading this post right now, because I do not fall into that category and you’ll find the rest to conflict with your tastes. But if you’re not like that, then let’s discuss the question a bit more in depth. Here is my question to you.

Do you prefer to read books written by men over those written by women, or vice versa? If so, why?

This would be my answer if asked this particular question.

“Is that a joke?” There is no hint of sarcasm when I say that this would be my response. It’s a ridiculous question that merits no response at all. I mean, let’s think about some of the very best authors writing today, no matter the genre. Stephen King. J.K. Rowling. Lee Child. Suzanne Collins. Mitch Albom. Veronica Roth. See what I did there? For every great writer today who happens to be male or female there is a great writer of the opposite sex. So for someone to sit there and say that men write better than women or that women write better than men is simply inexplicable. And there are so many more authors that I could have mentioned, but for the sake of this post chose to limit the list to a handful.

Now that that’s out of the way, why don’t we go into the titular question of this post.

Do you prefer to read a male or female protagonist?

I think some readers would say that women mostly write women leads and men do the same with men. Maybe, but that has nothing to do with your own personal preference, right? Don’t mistake this question for asking if you have a favorite author or two, because I definitely do, the question I’m discussing is whether or not your reading habits tend to involve more protagonists of a particular sex because you have mindfully made that happen.

You see, my list of favorite authors includes James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Suzanne Collins, Robert B. Parker, T. Jefferson Parker, and Marcus Sakey. You’re probably telling yourself that I just named six authors, and only one of whom is a woman. I did that on purpose because I hoped that you’d catch onto that. Yes, my favorite list of authors may only have one female, but let me tell you about the books on my shelves right next to me. I have several by Sue Grafton. I have even more by Karin Slaughter. I have all of the books Michele Martinez has written. I have a book by Tess Gerritsen. I have several by Karen Traviss. I could continue but I think I’ve made my point. Yes, my favorite authors happen to mostly be men, but my reading tastes include plenty of books written by women with female protagonists. I just happen to read what I read when I read it. I don’t log into my Amazon account thinking, “Oh, I can’t buy any books with female protagonists right now. They’re too emotional and clueless.”  And I hope no one else does that.

For example, I’m currently reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. My third favorite book ever is Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, which we all know has Katniss Everdeen as the protagonist.

The point that I’m trying to make is that there is no real reason to go out of your way not to read books with protagonists of a particular sex. And there is no real reason to go out of your way not to read books written by authors of a particular sex. I understand that we all have our preferences, but there’s something to be said when you look at your shelf of 200 books and only a handful are written by either a man or a woman. There are bad books and bad writers, but they are absolutely not limited to one sex. So if you find yourself with far too many books with male protagonists and not so many with females in the lead role, I challenge you to go to your neighborhood Barnes and Noble or log into your Amazon account and a find a book with a female protagonist. If you haven’t read any of The Hunger Games books then I would highly recommend you take a look at that trilogy. If you happen to fall on the other side of the stick with books starring mostly women, then I challenge you to do the same thing and find a book with a male protagonist. The first in the Alex Cross series by James Patterson is Along Came a Spider, I’d recommend it.