Is There a Proper Chapter Length?

ImagePhoto Credit: The Wicked Writer

This is one of those posts I’ve wanted to write for some time now because I think the responses I’ll receive will be all over the map. And that’s okay. So, obviously today’s post will be about chapter length.

You’re likely a writer if you’re reading this. Or perhaps you’re a reader? Or maybe you’ve stumbled into an alternate universe and somehow made your way to your new favorite blog? No matter how you made it here, I have treats! Okay, I have no idea why the heck I’m typing these things. Let’s see if the second time around I can actually get down to business, shall we?

So you’ve decided that writing a book is your calling, that this is something you MUST do. You’ve decided on the genre. You’ve come up with what you think is the basic premise of the next New York Times bestseller. You open your Word document and type the words “Chapter 1” and start in on your future masterpiece. But wait, how long are your chapters supposed to be? Quick! Google!

This person who claims to be a bestselling author himself says a good length for chapters is 3,000-5,000 words. But this person says 5,000-7,500. But THIS person says anywhere from 3,000-10,000. Oh look, a cat climbing up a wall. Focus! And now we have a guy who says chapter length is irrelevant. WHO’S RIGHT?!

Relax. Let me tell you a little about my own chapter lengths and then about what I’ve read in actual books and not in internet forums. My first book, if you can even call it that, came in at just over 55,000 words and 21 chapters. Some simple math puts the average chapter length at roughly 2,600 words. I think it’s actually just a tad higher because the book may have been closer to 55,400 words, but let’s just go with the nice round number of 2,600 for the purpose of this post. That would put the average chapter at about 10 pages in my book. Note that my book averaged about 250 words per page. The typical books I read average between 250-350. But the number of pages is irrelevant. It’s all about word count if you ask me.

But the average is not necessarily representative of the norm when it comes to my book. The shortest chapter I wrote was a mere 900 words. I didn’t much like it, but ended up leaving it in because it seemed to somewhat fit in the story. It was the second chapter I ever wrote. I honestly had no idea what the heck I was doing at the time. Still don’t, to be quite honest. Anyway, The differences don’t end there when it comes to chapter lengths in my short book. The first 10 chapters of my book roughly averaged 2,300 words each. The last 11 averaged 2,800. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it definitely is. One more final note before I get into what I’ve read about chapter lengths. The longest chapter I wrote for my first book came in just under 3,700 words, which I think was 18 or 19 pages in the book. So my range was 900-3,700 words per chapter for the whole of the work. Now let’s see what others have to say about it.

I definitely did the whole Google thing to find out the proper chapter length for my genre before I started writing, and it pretty much played out how I described above. There are simply too many voices out there telling you this or telling you that that it’s impossible to ever know for sure if there is a specific chapter length that you should aim for. For my references to other author’s works I’ll have to use page counts because I don’t know the exact word counts for any of their books. Robert B. Parker’s mystery novels tend to stay within 5-7 page chapters. Steve Hamilton’s are in the 12-15 page range. Michael Connelly writes in the 10-15 page range. But then Kevin O’Brien and Karin Slaughter, both New York Times bestselling authors, rarely write chapters less than 25 pages! WHAT? And then you have James Patterson on the opposite end of the spectrum writing 2-4 page chapters. What’s your take from this? There is no set chapter length. There isn’t.

But since most of you are writers yourselves, I’d like to know about your personal preferences when it comes to chapter length. I like 2,000 words to be minimum for mine, but I’ve written several below that threshold, including in my second book. But you all are also readers. I’d like to know if there is a certain number of pages per chapter that you feel is simply too many. In my opinion, once I get over 20 pages in a single chapter I’m hoping the next turn of the page is a new one. But that’s just me, tell me about you!

I wrote this post by referencing earlier posts from last year when I was still working on my first book. I was sitting here crying because you can feel the excitement in each post growing as I neared what I knew would be the end. I don’t know if one’s earlier self can inspire one’s later self, but I’m thinking it’s possible. I want to get back to that point in my writing again. I’m a baby, I know.

Here are three posts I think you might enjoy reading. You’ve never seen any of these, they’re from August of last year.

And Then There was One

The End is Near

Done! Acabado! Fertig!

75 thoughts on “Is There a Proper Chapter Length?

  1. I don’t think there is a set chapter length. And if there is… opps! Bur really. I think the chapter should be however is needed to convey that part of the book and then its time to move on. I also feel like it should flow. If its choppy, I have an issue. 🙂


  2. I’d have to say, for me personally, I like to get in and get out. But it should serve the story first and foremost. As a reader, I like to blaze through chapters, feeling like I’m a on fast-moving train, headed for a collision course with the climax.


  3. There really is no correct answer, but everyone will have their preferences. I think the best rule of thumb isn’t a rule at all: the length should be what it needs to be. Like the famous quote: when you begin, start at the beginning, and when you reach the end, stop. In general, when writing a rough draft, I try to get about ten pages per chapter (I write in small 7.5×5 in notebooks, so a page is pretty small), but when I type them up, a lot of the chapters will change length, shorten up as I tighten the language, or lengthen as I add new scenes or combine chapters as I cut and copy and paste. I’m finding my current WIP has a lot of chapters that end kind of abruptly, because I remember wanting to move onto the next chapter, so I’ve got to expand those. It all really depends.
    I will say that one thing I really DON’T like is really short chapters, or a book that has a really dramatic difference in chapter lengths. I’m reading Stephen King’s “Eye of the Dragon” right now and it’s a perfect example. Some chapters run about six pages. Most of them are two or three pages. Some of them are two PARAGRAPHS. That kind of thing drives me crazy. What’s the point? His book “Cell” was like that, too, and I feel that short chapters give a really stop-and-go pace to the story. I’m not a fan of it at all. I like to get immersed in a chapter, and it’s kind of hard to really feel immersed in a page and a half.


    • I agree that there’s no real rule. It should he what it needs to be.

      But I have to disagree on short chapters. James Patterson literally forces you to keep reading because of his chapter lengths. I mean, it’s no different from the whole ‘one more chapter’ deal, but you know it’s only two or three pages for him. I love it.


  4. I feel like writing a chapter is like writing a paragraph. You just stop when it feels right, when you feel like you can take a break. There are rules about writing, but some rules were just made to be broken.
    With that said, I don’t think I have ever written a chapter less than 1,000 words, but never over 6,000 words. I feel like between 1,000 and 6,000 is a good range for me. Just a personal preference. Which is kind of what it all boils down to. Personal preference.


  5. Personally I am a big fan of short chapters. No more than a a few pages. Whether I’m reading or writing. I hate nothing more than reading late at night and being so sleepy that I want to close the book, and find that I have 12 more pages to go. In my own writing, my chapters are always short. I once wrote a chapter that was a paragraph long.


  6. 2000-4000 words is the sweet spot for me when writing. I don’t really like reading long chapters unless there are natural pauses or scene breaks incorporated into it.


  7. I never really count chapter lengths. For me, when the section of the story is done, I end a chapter. In dual POV’s as well, some of my chapters were only 1-2 pages because that’s all it was needed for.

    But, when I’m reading and not writing, I don’t like epically long chapters, it distracts me and I get bored.


  8. I say advance to the next chapter when your writing instincts say it’s time.

    Writers are also readers. We all have preferences in the kinds of books we read. Our preferences may have as much to do with our likes about a writer’s style, including chapter breaks, as it does about our choice of genre or taste for literary fiction. I’d like to broaden my appreciation, but time allows for only so much reading. I go for the familiar that I know I’ll enjoy.


  9. I believe a chapters length should be based on how many scenes you want to be in the chapter and go from there. For me personally my chapter lengths are about me laying the ground work for my story.


  10. My preference for chapter length isn’t a set number of words or pages but rather how many words it takes to convey the emotion and action of the characters in that particular scene of the storyline. That should always be the only criteria a writer worries about because that is the purpose of writing in the first place. Worry about telling the best story you can tell and the mechanics will take care of themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Do you know I’ve never thought about the word count of my chapters? (I just checked the word count of the first chapter of my current WIP and it’s 3075 words!) Maybe that’s daft. But I do think a lot about the word count of the whole of my novel. I was a little worried my debut novel I published last year was too short. It was about 53,000 words.
    But actually in this age of ebooks and digital publishing we’re living in, I think word counts matter a lot less. And I’m finding from interacting with other writers that as far as word count is concerned, anything goes. Not sure what you think, but that’s what I’m feeling about it.


    • That’s a nice first chapter. I think. And I always know the word counts of mine. No real reason why, I just do.

      Word counts matter if you’re looking for an agent/publisher. I’ve read that in my genre anything less than about 80,000 words won’t even be considered.


  12. I’ve never really considered the word count of any of my books, much less each individual chapter. Like one responder said, the book is as long as it needs to be to tell an effective story, and chapters are no different. For me, my chapters flow like a mini-story – each one should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. However long (or short) it takes to tell that miniature story within the grander story, that’s how long the chapter should be.
    I also agree that pacing and other factors should also be taken into account, but only on subsequent drafts, when I’m truly shaping my story. But even then, each one has a purpose, moves the overall story forward (whether in plot or character development) and if that takes twenty pages or twenty words, so be it.
    It is more of a personal preference, really. There’s no set rules so long as the story is being told in the best way possible, and conveys the emotion, the themes and the attitude I want to convey.
    That’s my two cents, anyway!


  13. I don’t think I can add any new insights to the posts above, so I’ll just describe my preferences and my methods.

    Chapters end when it seems right to end them. But there must be a little anal retentiveness in my brain because all my chapters are between 3,000 and 4,000 words. If they tend to be closer to 4,000, there’s usually at least one scene.

    And I’m sorry, John, but I have to disagree with you about reading preferences. I really dislike super short chapters. It makes the story feel too choppy and like I’m stopping and starting continuously. I understand that it’s not really that big of a deal to just turn a freakin’ page, but somehow, it interrupts my thought process. And it seems stilted. So. Yeah. I don’t mind a few every so often, but definitely not one after the other. I’d prefer longer chapters versus short, but then, I’m a speed reader, so maybe that makes a difference.


      • Haha! Oh, all right. Here’s your daily dose: ummm…. hmmm… man… This thinking up something new everyday is hard! Mostly because I don’t like to repeat myself. Grr… perfectionism sucks sometimes.

        How about: No writing is wasted. Even if you don’t like it at the time, keep what you’ve written, work on something else, and come back to it. Sometimes we don’t recognize the genius before our eyes until our minds are ready. So don’t ever throw anything away.

        How about that? Huh? Huh?? Good, right?


      • Welllll I recall this one person who said she always had a speech in her back pocket. That wasn’t you. Nope.

        That’s great. 🙂 Although I’m still looking for some of this genius you speak of.


      • Ha! That’s why you carry a club. Like Jack London says (and I quote this all the time): “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

        Go beat it into submission, dang it!

        (I consider inspiration and genius two different things. So no, I’m not contradicting myself).


      • Starting to think you you DO always have some quote or speech waiting to be told.

        Inspiration and genius are two things I know nothing about. Haha keep coming with your fun info.


      • All right, dude. Don’t make me lay the smack down on ya. I gave TWO pretty awesome mini-speeches already today, so I don’t want to hear any more of that negative crap! Ya hear?!?!?!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. To be honest, I never checked to see the average number of words I write in a chapter. I know on average my chapters are about 10 pages. However, I don’t pay too much attention to chapter lengths–I tend to go with the flow of the story and when I feel a chapter has hit a pivotal point (such as a cliff hanger), I move on to the next. Nevertheless this is another good topic to think about!


  15. I have always found my chapters to be short in comparison to most, weighing in at about 1500-2000 words. I have written longer chapters but only long enough so there is a full cycle of question to answer for each part of the staging. It can often be as simple as “can the main character make it down the hall” after throwing in the thing that is in the way, this can lead to verbose treatments, or just minor irritations for the character.


  16. I don’t think there’s a “proper” chapter length. It depends on the writer. Some go for long chapters, some have small. But at the end of the day, they should complement the story. It should not seem incomplete or disjointed. Yes, the cliffhangers are a must, but they shouldn’t seem choppy as that would turn off the reader. So. It’s your preference, really. 🙂


  17. I stopped writing with chapters. They were stressing me out now I just write and place lines or * when a scene finishes and a ** when a theme finishes rewrites chapters are for rewrites in my opinion


  18. From a writing perspective, I usually aim for at least 2k a chapter, with a little less being okay, and more than 3.5k being excessive. From a reading perspective, the only time I really care about chapter length is when I really notice that I’m changing chapters. For example, when I was reading The Warded Man, there’s one chapter near the start of the book that’s like 70 pages. I believe I noticed it because I had told myself I would go to sleep after finishing the chapter, and then two hours passed and I was like, “What the heck, when does the chapter end?”. I also tend to noticed chapter breaks more in print books when the chapters have names, or fancy pictures or something to distinguish them. Then the imagery pops out and draws my attention, making me pause, look back at the previous chapter, read the title properly, etc.


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