Forum: Writer's aids

Discussing: Chapter lengths

Chapter lengths

I am writing a longer story, a new experience for me. Trying to figure out what goes where has become a major endeavor.

I'm soliciting opinions and the experience of others figuring this out.

Are there optimal chapter lengths?
Are there any good ratios regarding the length of the work to chapter size?
Do people get bored with long chapters, irritated with short chapters?
Should they be consistent in size or mixed?

What do you think? What do you do when you write?




Re: Chapter lengths

Ooh, good questions! I don't think that there are "right" answers to any of them, of course...

For me, personally, I tend to write chapters of about 2500-5000 words. Some stories seem to take longer chapters than others. I'm not sure that I could set a ratio of length of work to chapter length, necessarily, although a really long overall work divided into very short chapters would probably annoy me as a reader.

A chapter of less than 1000 words strikes me as too short, generally. But a chapter should be short enough to read at one sitting - probably no more than ca. 10,000 words? I did once completely reorganize and rechapter a story, combining several short chapters into longer ones, as part of an overall rewrite, but mostly once I've written a chapter it stays coherent, even if I add additional material in revision.

I generally try to hover around the same length for every chapter, but I'm not completely consistent. If there's good dramatic reason to make a particular chapter really short or really long, I'd do it and not worry about it.




Re: Chapter lengths

I asked pretty much exactly these questions of a group of professional and hopeful-professional writers. The answer was pretty much 'it depends' !

The optimal chapter length will depend a lot on the type of material and the genre conventions. Some conventions have you open a new chapter for each shift in scene, in time, or in point of view, while others don't.

When reading novels I tend to like medium-length chapters; that way it enables you to put the book down having finished a significant chunk. It's a bit different reading fanfiction, though, as it tends to be done online and I nearly always read all the story in one sitting.

An acquaintance is writing a novel where all the chapters are >10,000 words and that feels to me to be too long; however, other readers have claimed that they don't mind.

I don't think consistency in size is all that important, although if most of your chapters are 5000 words, the odd 1000 word one will certainly stand out. This might be a useful effect, though.

3000--4000 words is pretty often cited as a good basic start point. That allows for one long scene, or two or three short ones. When I write I tend to aim for that, and then if I go way over, consider whether or not the chapter can sensibly be split.

Hope this helps



Re: Chapter lengths

Are there optimal chapter lengths?
Are there any good ratios regarding the length of the work to chapter size?
Do people get bored with long chapters, irritated with short chapters?
Should they be consistent in size or mixed?

I'll be annoying and answer like I answer when people ask about story size. Let the story tell you!

I used to have pretty uniform chapter lengths. When I started, I wouldn't let a file go over 25KB because it took too long to open on my old laptop otherwise. So they were fairly uniform.

In my longest story, they averaged 40 pages (12pt Times New Roman double-spaced). I just checked a few in Word and it shows between 8,000 and 10,000 words or so.

But I checked another story and found chapters ranging from 7,000 and 23,000 words!

And another story has chapters of only 2,300 words.

So chapters are as long as they need to be I think. Now I look for the right dramatic cut-off. I do try to keep a semblence of uniformity within the story. I write in Text now and often on my PDA, so I look at it's size in KB again. If all the other chapters were about 17KB, I don't want to stop at only 8. Surely there's more that can happen in the story there. So I keep writing and still I'll find a dramatic break, and voila, I have my chapter.

I will say that I hate really short chapters. I may open a story on because the summary looks interesting. I'll close it right away if there is only a paragraph or two of text trying to pass itself off as a chapter.




Re: Chapter lengths

I'm still feeling my way into this. On my current story, when I got to over 5000 words for a chapter, my gut feeling was that it was too long. Thinking about it, when I read books I do better with a longer chapter, but on screen I find I need more breaks.

The only time I ever thought of chapter length before was when I read aloud to someone, and noticed some books were very consistent, some very much the opposite. When you are reading a chapter a night out loud, length really matters!

Ainaechoiriel, I think I'd find that 23,000 word chapter you found in a story to be too long - over 70 pages just seems like too much. I agree that less than 1000 words or 3 - 4 pages, for anything but a prologue or occasional interspersed chapter, is too short.

I did check some chapters of LotR, finding most chapters in FotR running 5000 to 10000 words.

Good thoughts all, and thanks for helping me think this out.




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