How Long is a Chapter?

Chapter length is an often debated topic, how long should your chapter be?

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A chapter is an arbitrary break in your book’s narrative. There seems to be a lot of confusion around how long your chapters should be, or if there’s such a thing as a chapter that’s too short or too long. So, how long should a chapter be?

Nobody knows.

The average chapter length is between three and five thousand words and the general consensus is that going outside those numbers means that the chapter is a bit on the long or short side. However, many great novels of the past have broken this “rule.”

Stephen King’s Misery has a chapter with a single word, Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There has a chapter with only eight words. On the other end of the spectrum, Dune by Frank Herbert has a chapter that’s nearly ten-thousand words and The Lord of the Rings has a chapter of over sixteen-thousand words. There really is no limit to what you can do when looking at the word count of your chapters. You could have a chapter with no words if you really wanted to.

A chapter is a section of the story, but its length is adjustable. The importance is where the chapter breaks are placed. How frequently or infrequently you choose to put those breaks is entirely up to you and, somewhat more importantly, up to the story. If the story that you’re telling requires an epic chapter of twenty-thousand words, that’s what it needs; if it needs one that’s a single word, then that’s what you write.

Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.

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    I like chapters and I prefer reading short chapters. On a Kindle you are not sure when the chapter will end, but if you’re sitting on the bus with a paperback it’s handy if you can finish a chapter before you get to your stop. Writing my own novels I use chapters as a mark of progess more than word count and print each chapter out to read and edit on paper. Most importantly chapters should end so you are looking forward to starting the next chapter.

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