1. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    How do you determine the length of chapters in your story?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by agentkirb, Sep 14, 2011.

    I've never really heard anyone talk about this topic before. I imagine the correct answer ends up being "just do what you want", but I'm kind of curious if there are any people out there that have kind of hard & fast rules for chapter length. Like if you have separate chapters for the different events in the story, or maybe something else. I know one thing I tend to do, and I notice this with a lot of books I've read, is the chapters will all be of relatively similar length. Like, if the average chapter is 20 pages long, every chapter in that book won't deviate from that length by more than maybe 25% lets say. And almost always the chapter ends with some kind of plot twist (I write mysteries so it works).
     
  2. skeloboy_97
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    skeloboy_97 Senior Member

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    Just say what needs to be said, only cut down if it doesn't lose anything. Don't worry about chapter length, it truly doesn't matter, unless your trying to hook a young audience, then perhaps short chapters could suffice. You can always cut down in editing, once all your neccesarry thoughts are down.

    Oh, and by the way, I think there is already a thread somewhere about this, but don't worry about it. Cogito may remove it though, he is fairly tough (no offence.)
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I normally have an average of 3 scenes per chapter, unless something is extra important and deserves a chapter of its own.
     
  4. Jewels
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    Jewels Member

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    I usually aim for between 3000 - 4000 words per chapter
     
  5. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I usually divide the story into chapter once the first draft is done. Despite that, I think I still think in chapters while writing, so I somewhat already know where to divide them. I don't really have any hard rules on length.
     
  6. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I usually think about chapter breaks like breathing. When you're writing/revising it, you can feel where they need to go in a story.

    That seems a bit long to my mind. I'd usually write chapters of about 2,000 to 2,500, though I don't really have any limit. Some chapters could be 5,000, some could only be a few hundred. But as I said above, it's something that the author themselves needs to decide based on their story, and what it needs.
     
  7. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Though I don't write novels or books, I have attempted to write my first one, called Manifestation. Each of my chapters were two scenes (about 1k-3k words long). I never actually did a word count on my chapters though. Some chapters are pretty short, and some are long. I had to cut some of them off and added some chapters. Most of all, each chapter in my book were eventually even out. So, I would say two scenes or 1,00-3,000 words per words per chapteer is good as a rookie novelist.
     
  8. Toreshi_Tobin
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    Toreshi_Tobin New Member

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    I don't usually pay attention to my chapter length. I tend more toward making each chapter end at some kind of turning point or cliff-hanger...so that you want to keep going on to the next chapter, see? :)
     
  9. jimr
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    jimr Member

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    Specific genres have general consistancy in chapter length. I think also the important thing is to keep all your chapters about the same length in your novel; this logic is derived as my exprience as a reader, as a reader I expect this and have been disappointed when an author has, for instance, 20 chapters 4K words and 2 chapters 8K words.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i never 'determine' chapter length... i simply write and let the chapters stop and start where and when they seem to want to...
     
  11. AMasonCarpenter
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    AMasonCarpenter Member

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    In my current project, the chapters are very episodic. They switch between main characters so I have to be very aware of their structure and length, so one part of the story doesn't get ahead of the others. They are usually 2k to 3k words, which seems to me a little small, but I like how the overall structure is working out. So that's my two cents worth.
     
  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't determine, I end them when they're finished. And that I somehow know.

    I was wondering about that, because my first chapter just ended at 14 or 17 pages (about 4100 words if I don't mistake) , and I was thinking it was a little too much , especially being the very first chapter, but then I took a look in some of the books I've for on the shelves and one even had a first chapter of 28 pages!!! so I guess the limits are pretty loose. What do you guys think, is 14 pages too much? I don't know how many pages it would be in print, but it's more or less 4100 words...
     
  13. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I think it depends less on the number of pages (or words), and more on the story itself. If a chapter is interesting, reasonably quick paced, and following a fairly immediate thread, then it can get away with being towards the longer end of the spectrum. Basically, my line is that if it would be odd, annoying or inconvenient to break up one chapter into smaller chapters, then it's acceptable to leave it longer.
     
  14. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I usually let it decide on it's own but I DO try to average 5K per chapter for 16 chapters. It's a formula that has worked surprisingly well for me. After editing, the number tends to fluctuate a bit but it's actually working fairly well for my overall image. But if it goes above that average, I never stand in it's way.
     
  15. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I used to be a bit more obsessive about this, but nowadays I happily have scene and chapter breaks where it seems appropriate - like I don't worry that I've only written 500 words so I get worried I can't end it yet, or I keep going for 4,000 words.

    On the other hand, there were around 50 chapters in the first book of my series, and the 4th, which wasn't too much shorter, had 12. So I've been having to try and balance *that* out just because it's important that they match :p
     
  16. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I wasn't really talking about the absolute length of chapters when I made the thread, but how long they are relative to the other chapters. Because I know it would bother me if you had one chapter that was X amount of words and then the next chapter is twice as long. The only exception to this rule for me is like someone pointed out... if it's a part of the story where there's just a lot of action going on, you can probably get away with a chapter being twice as long as the others in your book.

    But obviously actual length shouldn't matter. I've read books that were all around 250 pages total... one book might have 25 chapters, the other book might have 40.
     
  17. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Actually, in terms of relative length, I don't even think that they should be the same length. In the hands of a good writer, chapter length itself can be used with great success to effect pacing and such.
     
  18. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Yeah. I guess you still wouldn't have a chapter twice as long as another without good reason.
     
  19. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    well, I've had chapters of 6 pages and chapters of 15 pages, I have never thought of it as strange, they are units, and some units are shorter than others, I think it's worse to extend it beyond the necessary just because of aesthetic reasons. as bansai said, it's also a way to change the pacing of the story, just as you have sentences of different lenght. Who would say all your sentences must be x number of words? short sentences and long sentences each have their purpose, just like a short chapter achieve a certain effect while a long one another. It has never bothered me as a reader.
     
  20. jnk1296
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    jnk1296 Member

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    Too long of a chapter?

    I was reading agentkirb's thread "How do you determine the length of a chapter," and from what I read of the responses, I began to get the impression that an average chapter ranges from 2-4k. Obviously it doesn't have to stay within this constraint, but now I'm rather curious, because on my novel, the chapters tend to run from 5-10k. So I'm beginning to wonder if they're too long. Do you think they are, or do I have nothing to worry about?
     
  21. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Literally the only time when reading that I thought about chapters were when there weren't any, and so far Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Moll Flanders by Defoe are the only books I've encountered that do not even have scene breaks. Also the fact I read both in less than a day at a time because they were the next book on the reading list for my course doesn't help, but I feel like I probably would have ended up feeling mentally exhausted for a lack of break anyway. :p I dunno. Never just picked up a book with no chapter breaks and read it for fun over a few weeks :p
     
  22. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    to me a 10K chapter sounds awfully long, to be honest, but some people might not be bothered with it. 10K must be something like 35 pages. It might pass, though, especially if there's a lot of action.
     
  23. jnk1296
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    jnk1296 Member

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    Hm, depends on your definition of 'action'. If by action, you simply mean the different things that take place, then all should be fine. There's a lot.

    Not sure what qualifies as a 'page', but if I have word set at Times New Roman 12 on Letter size paper with a one inch margin, I get 19 pages. If I use my personal preference (A5 with 1/2" margin), I get 26. Formatting cuts the count to 24.
     
  24. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    My first instinct is that 10k is way too long. As a reader, I like to take breaks from reading at the end of chapters. 10k is a lot to read in one go. And I think it'd be much more than 35 pages in a paperback.
     
  25. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    it was just a rough estimation. When I said page I intended ms page, but obviously printed pages are slightly different (more text, usually) In my ms there are about 280 words per page, so with those measurments 35 pages would be circa 9800 words. I'm like bansai though, and want to take a break where a chapter ends.
     

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