1. Darkcula
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    Darkcula Member

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    What should be the ideal word count for the first chapter?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Darkcula, Dec 13, 2015.

    So, I have just started writing the first chapter of my novel (it's in draft stage) and have reached 692 words so far. I am really worried about the overall length of my first chapter because it will set the symmetry for my subsequent chapters. It also shouldn't be too lengthy to shy away my target audience.
     
  2. uncephalized
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    uncephalized Active Member

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    I would worry over whether the writing is good and let the chapter lengths fall where they may, if I were you. There is no 'correct' length for a chapter, first or otherwise.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It should be exactly as long as is needed to present this first scene/set of scenes. I have put books down for reasons that I know don't make a lot of sense to other people, but never once have I put a book down because I thought a chapter overshot an arbitrary mark. I've never thought, "Oh, no, this first chapter is 50 pages long. Eff this book." o_O
     
  4. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed. And, in addition, there's no need to worry about "symmetry" of subsequent chapters, either. There's no requirement that all chapters be similar lengths or follow any sort of pattern. Just make the chapter complete--word count be damned. Published books have all kinds of chapter lengths.
     
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  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. One thing that Kindle is really good at is pointing this out. If you own a Kindle, the little progress bar at the bottom puts tick-marks at the chapter breaks. In most books, chapter length is very variable.

    [​IMG]
     
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  6. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    My take on chapters...

    I try for ~10 pages. The only justification I have for this is that 10 is an easy number to remember. Am I on page 23? I have roughly seven pages to go before thinking about a way out of the chapter... or else: Gad! I'm three pages over! Better find an out.

    Disclaimer: This may not make any sense to anyone other than me.

    Also, some of my chapters are only six pages, some are 14. It's not a hard-n-fast rule.
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    My first chapter in my WIP is barely a page. I don't know how that happened and the next two chapters are equally short. But it's a first draft. I tend to think first chapters should be a bit shorter than the following chapters if only to curb the urge to overexplain or infodump.
     
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  8. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, I generally do the same. ~10 pages in my "first draft" formatting, though I'm not a stickler. If a chapter is longer or shorter, I just go for it. But I agree, it does help me to keep track of where I am in the story and keep a handle on my pacing.
     
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  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    An interesting approach. If I'd done something like this, I might have avoided a dozen or so rewrites of chapter one. :)
     
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  10. J. Johnston
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    J. Johnston Member

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    As long as it needs, to portray the full impact of the scene(s).
     
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  11. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Every writer has his/her own chapter lengths. Take however long it takes, and look for succeeding ones to determine what is your preferred length. I usually write between 6,000 and 8,000 words per chapter. But that is just me *headscratch*. Looking at how short you other guys write gives me the creeps :rolleyes:
     
  12. Electralight
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    Electralight Member

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    I think it really depends on the book. I've read great books that have the first chapter at a few pages, and great books that have the first chapter over 10 pages. It really depends on your style of writing and what you want to have happen in the first chapter.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've never understood why chapter lengths matter. At all. The least little bit.
     
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  14. J. Johnston
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    J. Johnston Member

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    Flow mainly. For many, there's an inclination to take a break/breather at the end of a chapter. Some authors adjust lengths and content of chapters with this in-mind (assuming that's X-author's demographic).
     
  15. kateamedeo
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    kateamedeo Active Member

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    I have to agree with @J. Johnston, chapter length is not important as long as you convey everything essential for the scene(s). What I do is divide the story in scenes and only after the first draft I combine scenes into chapters. And I do that not based on the word count but by grouping the scenes that make sense together, finding the perfect break for the reader to move on to the next part of the story.
     
  16. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I think a lot it is author preference.
    The woman in my critique group hands in chapters that run for 9 to 13 pages, (double spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman font.) She deliberately ends chapters in the middle of the scene so you have to read the next chapter to find out how the scene ends. I hate it when authors do that because I end up reading all night and going to work with blood shot eyes the next morning.

    I think my shortest chapter is 7 pages, (double spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman font), but my longest is around 27 pages. I deliberately make sure each of my chapters is all tied up with a nice bow on top so readers can lay the book aside and go to sleep. I personally believe that chapter breaks should be a good place to put the book down and sometimes a good stopping point just takes longer to get to than others.
     
  17. Rob Rowntree
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    I think I may be about to contradict everyone in this thread.

    Chapter length is something to think about. Like other aspects of your writing it is tool that allows you to engage your reader. Think about thrillers you've read - invariably the chapters heading towards the climax are shorter, punchier, dragging the reader forward. The same goes for the beginnings of novels. You need the reader embedded in your story quickly, using shorter chapters here with great hooks gets the reader into your story faster.

    Some writers, James Patterson, Arthur C Clarke for example, use shorter chapter throughout some of their novels. The rational for that is easy to understand. You're reading, you're hooked and hey look, the next chapter's only a few pages long, I'll read some more.

    I'm not saying that longer chapters are bad. But the length of chapters and where you place them is worth considering.
     
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  18. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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  19. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    My chapters are almost exactly the same as KhalieLa's... I also like to put the book down at a chapter break. Currently doing "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett, and he writes long chapters, which I find tedious, wanting to get to the end so I can put it down. Back to the OP, 692 words is about 3.5 pages, could be a bit short, but my first chapter, or prologue, is that length. It set the stage so that's long (or short) enough.
     
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  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My puzzlement is because chapter breaks have no impact on when I put a book down. And thinking it through, I think that that may be because all my life, I have read all the time. The times that I read sitting down, as a single activity, where I had a choice of when to stop, have been a small minority of my reading time.

    I read while cooking, while eating, while watering the garden, while bathing, while doing the dishes, while folding the laundry, while cleaning the house, while waiting for a bus, while waiting in line anywhere... And when your turn comes in line, you can't say, "Hang on while I finish this chapter..." You just stop.
     
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  21. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    At least I'm not alone in reading every spare chance I get. This is why I have no opinion in the argument of physical pages verses digital--I do a mix and like to read while doing mundane tasks.

    If I have to stop reading I just do. Either I place the bookmark in between the pages I'm on, or my epub app remembers. The length of chapters has no bearing.

    I do think chapters have a purpose as a definite scene break or POV change.
     
  22. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read before bed, often, and really try to end at a chapter break.

    I don't think there's an ideal chapter length, but I agree with @Rob Rowntree that chapter breaks aren't something that should be left entirely to chance. Most writers tie chapter breaks into some aspect of the book's structure - a scene per chapter, or a certain time frame (all the scenes that happen in a specific afternoon, for example). So if your chapters start feeling really short, or really long, it may indicate an issue with your book's structure. May not. But it may.
     
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  23. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I think first chapters should be 1,713 words. Definitely not 1,712 or 1,714. Just my opinion.
     
  24. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Obviously there is no formulaic chapter length. But one might consider length with the genre and readers' age when writing a scene. So it's not a magic number, but as @Rob Rowntree notes, chapter length, like everything else in the story, should be in the toolbox.

    My chapters on average are around 1,500 words. The number wasn't a conscious decision, but the pace of the scenes worked out that way.
     
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