Writing 101: Chapter Length

Writing 101: Chapter Length

The question about chapter length is one I see often: how long should a chapter be?

The answer depends on a variety of things, but the short answer is: there is no set or required length for a chapter.

Chapter length really can run the gamut. They can be as short as a single word, sentence, or paragraph, and as long as a third of the book. I personally feel like I do most chapters justice in the 3500-4000 word range, but it is by no means a requirement. Genre may also have an impact on your chapter length as I would typically expect a middle grade book to have shorter chapters than adult fiction. Chapter length is a balance of writer preference and, perhaps more importantly, if the scene(s) in the chapter are complete. Keep in mind too, that chapter breaks are often as much for the reader as they are for the story. Strategic chapter breaks can help to keep readers hooked on a story and make for convenience stopping points as the story or book progresses.

Rather than focusing on the word count of a chapter, writers should consider the purpose of the chapter break and evaluate how they can use it to their advantage.

Chapter breaks can:

  • Allow for the passage of time or a dramatic change in setting
  • Indicate a change in POV for books written in multiple perspectives
  • Create tension by setting up a dramatic chapter ending
  • Create cohesion by allowing the author to return to subplots to keep them fresh in a reader’s mind

My best advice is listen to your gut on first draft and end a chapter where it feels right. Chapters can be lengthened, combined, and chopped on revision.

References for further study

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