Thursday, March 21, 2013

How long is too long

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?


  1. I like my chapters long (12-16 pages at least) so when I'm writing I usually try to keep hitting the same word count to keep it uniform. But it can vary. It all depends on where I want the scene/chapter to end. But yeah, chapter length is something that used to keep me up at night before lol

  2. 12-16 pages seems like a good number. With the exception of that 28 page chapter I believe that is where the rest of my chapters ended up on this one. I do have one novel with shorter chapters but it switches POV.

  3. This is so funny because I posted on the same exact thing when I was writing Divine Temptation! And most of the feedback came in just as you say - depends on the story. I do think it's good to keep them somewhat similar in length throughout a story, though, so it sounds like splitting the 28 pager was a good call.

  4. Ever since I became a mom, I prefer chapters that are short, to match my dwindling attention span as a reader. I write them for the reader in me.
    But there is no "right" about this. Plenty of readers have far better focus than I have and the pace/rhythm and even voice of the narration tells the writer where the chapters end.

  5. Nicki, we think alike!

    Mirka, novels with short chapters are great for busy schedules. Many of the books I read when my boys were young did have shorter chapters. I didn't select them that way, but it worked nicely.

  6. Very interesting question, Cherie. Streamline was my first novel and the chapters were short. My latest novel has chapters between 4-5,000 words (not sure how many pages that turns out to be but definitely longer than Streamline). I agree that it varies wildly and doesn't matter as long as the pace is swift.

  7. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who wonders odd things like this! :) My novels tend to have shorter chapters (3-5 pages), because I do each scene in one sitting, and that's the length of time I'm able to carve out for a day (800-1200 words per sitting). This has been true for me either with or without an outline, I've noticed. Regardless of how much I've planned (or NOT, as the case may be), one small section at a time is the magic number for me.

    That's my answer as a writer. As a reader, I don't think I've ever been overly bothered one way or another. I would go so far as to say I would be fine even if a book had NO chapters, so long as there were breaks at logical stopping points.

  8. I'm really enjoying finding out how other writers tackle chapters as well as your thoughts as readers.

    Jennifer, it sounds like your books vary as much as mine.

    Andi-Roo, it's great to get each scene done in one sitting. That is also a great way to keep your chapters uniform.