How Long Should You Make Your Chapters?

I’ve always struggled with the issue of how long I should make my chapters. One might assume writers could glean tips from reading best selling authors, but that is not the case. James Patterson is famous for his short chapters, and yet Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon write long chapters encapsulating several scenes.

When I started writing fiction, I made the mistake of turning every scene into a chapter. The result was a book with up to 50 chapters. I eventually broke myself of that habit, but I still tend to have too many chapters. So what do the experts say on this subject?

In a 2015 Writer’s Digest post, Brian Klems wrote, “There are no hard-and-fast rules on how long or short a chapter needs to be…Chapters should be just long enough to serve a purpose and, once that purpose is served, cut off so a new chapter (or mini-story) can begin.”

Klems likened chapters to acts in a TV show. When Act 1 is done, there is a commercial break. “Look for your chapters to have those similar elements. When you find those ‘commercial breaks,’ end your chapter and start a new one. In other words, let your content dictate your chapter length, not the other way around,” he wrote.

Randy Ingermanson, creator of “the Snowflake method” of fiction writing, weighed in with a 2010 post in response to a question from a writer. “I shoot for an average of 2,500 words per scene, so if I were writing your book, I’d probably have two scenes for most chapters. I’m not writing your book so you get to decide.” He added that there is no industry standard.

On the blog All Write-Fiction Advice in 2012, author AJ Humpage wrote, “New writers tend to assume that a chapter must be a certain set length in order to maintain the average novel length of around 80,000-95,000 words, but in truth chapters can be as long or as short as you need them to be. There is no formula.”

I found other blog posts on this topic, but they pretty much said the same thing. There is no standard. It all comes down to common sense.

I bring up this topic because I am again grappling with this issue in my work-in-progress. I have written five drafts and I am at an unwieldy 44 chapters. I’d like to cut that number in half. I’m in the throes of a major reboot of the story and I view this as an opportunity to tackle the ‘number of chapters’ beast. I will keep you posted on my progress.

What do you think? What is your ideal chapter length?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “How Long Should You Make Your Chapters?

  1. I think every story does have its own structure. That said, I always admire Alice Hoffman’s chapters.

  2. I have always enjoyed Mary Higgins Clark’s style of having each chapter puts the reader in the mind of a different character. As well, each scene is it’s own chapter. It can make for a lot of chapters, but she does a masterful job of using this to her advantage when it comes to pacing. I have used this style in the novel I am writing. I don’t know if it is right or not, but it works for her and I like it.

    • Heather, thanks for your comments. Having each chapter from a character’s POV is a good strategy, especially when there are several key characters. Thanks for stopping by.

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