1. the1
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    the1 Active Member

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    Amount of Words

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by the1, Feb 11, 2014.

    What is the average amount of words per chapter in a book of about 300-400 pages?

    Of course, I know you will say it depends on the book, it depends on the writer, it depends on the plot.

    But for the sake of having some sort of target in my mind how many words would you estimate is the average per chapter?

    Cheers
     
  2. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Threads like this are so pointless! I wouldn't be worried about the word count to be honest. If I was going to write a book my first priority would be about the quality of writing...
     
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  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Chapters take as many words as they require. Where word count matters is in the overall length, and then only if you are seeking publication. You don't say what you are writing, so we don't have anything to go on, but if you are writing a novel, first novels should generally be 80,000 - 120,000 words (and preferably not much more than 100,000, although that also depends on the genre). YA novels would be shorter.

    However, @Mackers is right - at this point, just focus on the writing. If you start worrying about word count, you may find yourself very inhibited in your writing. There are times when I just the word count off.
     
  4. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    I'll just answer the question, and I do not think threads like these are pointless because the question is valid. Let us assume one does not want a small book, but is worrying about wordcount, and would like to estimate with an average novel. I don't want a small book, and I did have this question on my mind for a time.

    OT: A thick texted page of A Song of Ice and Fire is around 350-400 words, I think.

    Oh, and I don't think if someone worries about word count that they won't focus on the writing itself. It is like setting a goal, and finding a way to achieve it. And if you want to have a big novel, then set that as a goal and do some research and apply yourself. Learn from the professionals and do what they do, and figure out how to translate that into your own novel.
     
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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as noted by others above, knowing the 'average' number of words per chapter isn't much, if any help...

    because it would be reached by adding the number of words in the shortest chapter ever written [1] plus the number in the longest [10k?] and dividing by 2... so, knowing the average chapter would be 5,000 words long isn't really any help, since many successful novels' chapters have much fewer words and many have much more...

    which is why the only thing that really matters is how many words each of your own chapters need to contain, given the needs of the story/plot...
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    "Your majesty, my opera has as many notes as I require, neither more nor less." - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in "Amadeus".
     
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  7. the1
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    the1 Active Member

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    Thanks for the responses guys, I kind of realised that's what many of you would say anyway. But for the sake of having an arbitrary average number of words per chapter of a 350 page book is there any sound estimate? Or should I pull out a book and start counting :p

    Of course, I agree that the number of words per chapter is a fluid thing but having an 'average' number in mind I don't feel is a bad thing.

    @mammamaia Of course some chapters are 1 word in length and as you have said others can be up to 10k in length. I feel these out somewhat outliers. For the intents and purposes of my query I was talking about the term average, not in it's exact literal sense where the word count of every chapter in every novel in the history of the world should be added together and divided by x. I was using the word average more generally than that. :)
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Frankly, yes. :)

    That's what I do when I have questions of this kind. I have a lot of novels on my shelves. If I want to know how many chapters, how many pages per chapter, how many words per page, etc. I'm fully capable of pulling out my own books and doing my own estimates. It doesn't take long and it saves you the embarrassment of getting replies like the ones you've gotten in this thread! :)
     
  9. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    No offense, but why should it even matter? A chapter is a chapter is a chapter! Whether it takes 300 words or 3000 words shouldn't make a whit of difference. As many posters have said, it's as long as it needs to be and that's all that matters.

    Not to sound like a jerk, but threads like this take time away that should be used writing and not sweating the small stuff.
     
  10. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    oh, and what I meant was 350 words per page...and it's around 16-21 pages per chapter. Just for the sake of answering your question ;)
     
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  11. the1
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    the1 Active Member

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    Not embarassing for me I don't really mind asking questions even if other think they are stupid ;)

    Yep thanks @Albirich :D
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!


    ...no, if by 'sound' you mean 'best' or 'right' or 'recommended'... see above dittoed post...
     
  13. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Think in terms of TV and commercials. They don't come at random, or between sentences. They come at some turning point in the action. There's been a revelation, a discovery, or a decision made that will change things. They come at chapter ends.

    Now, to some extent, chapters do have a need to be a certain length, but not because chapters are needed. It's that turning points are. A chapter that runs on and on is probably boring. And too many short chapters in a row might give the feeling we get from watching family videos where the one taking them records for about five seconds before switching to a different subject/view, over and over.

    But all of that is subjective, and dependent on the story and the situation, so there is no specific answer. I looked at something I'm reading and it has chapters ranging from 2,500 through 5,500 words. A check of my own work shows pretty much the same thing.
     
  14. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Think in terms of TV and commercials. They don't come at random, or between sentences. They come at some turning point in the action. There's been a revelation, a discovery, or a decision made that will change things. They come at chapter ends.
    Now, to some extent, chapters do have a need to be a certain length, but not because chapters are needed. It's that turning points are. A chapter that runs on and on is probably boring. And too many short chapters in a row might give the feeling we get from watching family videos where the one taking them records for about five seconds before switching to a different subject/view, over and over.

    But all of that is subjective, and dependent on the story and the situation, so there is no specific answer. I looked at something I'm reading and it has chapters ranging from 2,500 through 5,500 words. A check of my own work shows pretty much the same thing.


    Wrong, wrong, wrong and more wrong.
    And before it's disputed, to claim a chapter *has* to be a certain length shows a lack of intellectual knowledge of writing or how novels are made. Once again, it's just a waste of time to have a post like this one. This time could be better spent writing.
     
  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I didn't take that away from @JayG's post at all. He's talking about pacing, about keeping the story moving. What I took from his post is that the nature of the story determines where the turning points, the scene changes, need to be. And I would agree with that.

    As far as lack of knowledge about writing is concerned, keep in mind that JayG is a published writer. I've disagreed with some things he's said on the forum, but I respect the fact that he has achieved some success as a writer.
     
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  16. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    So my post was a waste of time. I'd be interested in your source for this knowledge. Which teacher or writer did you get this information from? The measure of any advice is that it works for the one giving it. So has your belief, for example, yielded any contracts? I ask because what I said is something any screenwriter, acquiring editor, or teacher of commercial fiction would say.

    Ben Bova says, "Transitions are different from chapter endings, although both have the same ultimate function: to prevent the reader from putting the book down. Transitions should be smooth and as invisible as possible. The reader should not realize the scene has been changed until well into the new scene. Chapter endings, on the other hand, can often be cliff-hangers. Literally. Break the action at a high point and start the next chapter. Force the reader to turn the page and get into the new chapter to find out what happens next."

    Then there's Bob Mayer's view (in The Fiction Writer's Toolkit). He makes an important point: "There is no law about chapter length. I usually envision a chapter to be a set length of time in the story. I have chapter breaks when there is a change, usually in time, point of view or setting. If I'm reading a chapter and it comes to an end, then turn the page to the new chapter and it the same point of view, the same time, the same setting, the same characters, I wonder why the writer just didn't continue and not have a chapter break.

    Sol Stein said:
    "If you want to group your scenes into chapters, here are some guidelines:
    • Short chapters make a story seem to move faster.
    • Normally avoid chapters of fewer than three printed pages. They may not be long enough to engage the reader’s emotions.
    • Ideally, each chapter might end the way the movies used to end their weekly serials: with the hero or heroine in unresolved trouble. If you’re not familiar with those serials, use a soap opera as a guideline, with the end of each episode making you want to see what happens next.
    One of the best ways of accustoming yourself to the idea of continuing suspense is to study novels that you have found difficult to put down. Pick up any well-known suspense or thriller writer’s work and look at the chapter endings. You’ll see how most of the time each chapter ends on a suspenseful note and throws the reader forward into the next chapter. The most experienced suspense writers start the next chapter somewhere else or with other characters."

    There are three out of many. As I said, turning points. You don't have to agree, of course. And you can write in any way you want, and end chapters any way you care to. If a publisher's contract is the goal, though, I suggest you look to what the publishers say that like to see.
     

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