How long should a chapter be?
I always answer this question by saying it depends on the book. I still believe this to be true. Younger readers have shorter attention spans. I think short chapters work great for them, especially if the chapter ends with a cliff-hanger to makes the reader want to peek at the next page and possibly read just one more chapter. For young adult and adult novels, however, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. Several of James Patterson’s novels have chapters that are three to five pages. Each chapter is from a different character’s point-of-view. He stops the action early making me have to keep reading to find out what happens next. At the same time, I’ve read books where the chapters are longer—sixteen to twenty-plus pages—but the writing flows and the pacing is good so I don’t notice the number of pages per chapter because I’m enjoying the story too much to care.
I started to think about chapter length when I was revising my newest work-in-progress and hit a chapter that was twenty-eight pages. I started to look at the rest of the chapters and most are between fourteen and eighteen pages. I then pulled books off my bookshelf and counted the number of pages in several chapters. Know what I discovered? Length varied widely by book. Some averaged four pages while others averaged twenty-four pages, backing my theory there is no right or wrong answer. I did divide my twenty-eight- page chapter into two, mostly because it was twice as long as the rest of the chapters in that book and I felt if anything I should keep them uniform.
Do you think about chapter length before you start to write a new novel? Does the length of your chapters depend on the book you’re working on? When you read, do you even notice how long the chapters are?