Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Abigail, Dec 7, 2012.
I would like to know an average chapter length. Number of words, preferably.
The average chapter, like the longest and shortest chapters, is as long as it needs to be and no longer. As you have, no doubt, already seen in your own readings.
successful authors' chapters run from the 1-3 page shorties by james patterson, to the near book-length ones tom clancy and james michener turned out...
don't go by anyone else's... yours should be as short/long as they need to be...
In case you wanted to know my average chapter length, which I know you don't, it's usually 5k-9k words in length.
Thank you for your question.
Edit: But there was this one time when I read a 63-page chapter. The print was really tiny, too, and I wouldn't be surprised if that thing lasted more than 50k words.
As Ed and Maia have said, the chapter should be as long as it needs to be. Some events take 6k words to go through, others 2k. It depends on your writing. Some of them are a subplot that can be arced out over 2-3 chapters. It's completely up to the writer, but to give yourself an arbitrary length is to force yourself into a serious box. As a new writer, and looking for publication, then you're already in a box of 80-100k words as it is, so don't make it even harder by setting chapter lengths.
Each word is important, and they need to be used wisely.
The others on this thread have said it already; There's no set number of words or length for a chapter. Every writer is different but most novels are going to include long, short and medium length chapters. The content is what's most important, not the number of words.
Not just this thread. It seems every couple weeks, someone else asks this same question. Try searching for the word Chapter in thread titles in this section.
Just a newbie voice here, but I tend to think readers are used to multiple media sources. So I look at a chapter as either a episode on a TV series or a Scene in a Movie. It should have a focus, move a larger plot forward but still have it's own start and end point.
Actually they can be a scene and other times they can be cut in the middle to build tension. So while the analogy is correct, it doesn't always work that way in books.
There's nothing wrong with leaving something hanging at the end of a scene! Although you are right, I've read a few authors that break chapters mid-scene and I've always hated it. I don't mind plot portions being left open, it just feels like poor craftmanship to break at that time. It doesn't really add suspence, since I can read the start of the next chapter, it just makes me feel like they didn't know where to put a break in the book.
You've had the 'as long as it needs to be' answer several times, and that's true, but we can have a crack at working out how long that is.
What are you trying to do with your chapters? A chapter break is a storytelling device, and how long you make your chapters has a big effect on the pace of a novel. Short chapters ending on a mid-scene cliffhanger a la Patterson are designed to keep you turning pages. You want to know the resolution and you know the next chapter is short so you read just one more... except that one gives you another open loop and you read to the next. Your story becomes faster-paced.
Long chapters don't force a cliffhanger on you every 1000 words, so you've got time to develop the characters and your own ideas. Personally, I think it can give a far more rounded, satisfying book. But the flip side of this is that your writing has to be capable of holding the reader's attention while you're doing all this development. You can't rely on an endless series of 'OMG!' page-turn-demanding events to keep kicking your reader through the story.
So decide what suits you best. And don't feel your chapters have to be uniform - they're not things to be used just because other authors use them. They're tools, to shape your story as you see fit.
Something that hasn't been touched on yet - chapter length as a way a reader helps break up the reading of a book over an extended period. I know that I will rarely read any book through in one or two sittings. In fact, I often read a chapter a day before going to sleep for the night, or a chapter on the train into work (if I'm working, which I'm not at the moment). On that principle I don't like overly long chapters. Something I can read through in no more than half an hour at the most. Reading speed will play a part as will the printed font size, but I find between ten and fifteen pages of a mass-market paperback is about right for me.
it also can happen to give the reader a chance to stop and put it down for bed, etc. I'm in the middle of a battle around and in a building that my MC's are trying to take from a Cabal. It's 7269 words at this point. I used an action by Talia to create a break point and will finish things in the next chapter. IF you use the average of 250 words per page, it's close to a thirty page chapter at this point-and will get edited down. There needed to be a break-especially when you're covering the viewpoints of one of the major villains and the defender's commander, along with my four MC's, then it get's long quick. However, when dealing with a battle like that, the POV changes are necessary for continuity.
Thus, there are good reasons a lot of times to cut in the middle of a chapter.
as a reader and an editor, i'd say 30 pages is a good enough reason, amigo...
even a battle can be divvied up if you change povs/location, or have a minor time lapse...
I went and found another good place where I used a marine quote to end a POV change. Made for a good break.
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