Welcome to 2021 where we take our writing goals very seriously. Even when you hurt your back and your left contact is wigging out so badly, you’re typing with just one eye on the screen while the other is closed just to make it through a few pesky emails and a blog post. So to continue on that idea (the idea of productivity and pushing forward on our collective writing that is), I’m handing out writing advice again.
As always, a lot of things in writing are subjective. Some things work for you and some things don’t. You might agree with the information I’m about to lay out, but if you don’t, it’s okay. As time has gone on in my writing career, from writing for fun to writing broadcast stories and even to writing commercials, my opinions of what works and doesn’t work in writing has changed. Take what works. Leave what doesn’t.
So getting down to writing, I’m tackling one of the biggest questions I’ve heard in the half dozen writing groups I’m in. How long should a chapter be?
The Mathematical Average
Reedsy has done the math for me for the technical number. They say that a chapter is averaged between 1,500 to 5,000 words with 3,000 to 4,000 being what most chapters fall into. A lot of your favorite classics (or your least favorite classics) fall within that range.
But honestly, it can be just a few words.
Impact Over Count
Just like paragraphs or sentence lengths, chapters have an ebb and flow to them. There is no set requirement for how long they should be. It’s not going to be the end of the world if it’s short.
The biggest thing needed in a chapter is the impact. Ironically, one of my favorite examples of this was written by Stephanie Meyers in her Twilight series. She shows Bella’s depression in simple one page chapters. With one word. Just the months passing by. It’s simple. It’s impactful. And it’s acceptable in writing.
Books and writing are art.
You are trying to get the reader to understand the emotions of the characters. You’re trying to elicit emotions in your reader. You can use sentence, paragraph, and chapter lengths to accomplish this, just as much as you can with the actual words.
I want you to grab one of your favorite books (or a few if you have the time). Count out the amount of pages each chapter has. Mark down which chapters were more impactful for you. Now grab the books that you want to write like. The ones that inspire you to write. Do the same thing! You’ll see what they have. I can guarantee they have a variety. Some might only have a few paragraphs. Some might go on forever. Does it feel like they go forever? If not, then it’s fine if your chapter ends up being over 10,000 words!
Unfortunately, it’s all subjective.
So how many words per chapter? As many as that chapter needs. Once you start editing you might cut out those short chapters or split up the longer ones, because the chapters lengths should feel finished and make the reader want to turn the page into the next chapter. That’s it.
I am a firm believer that you should write the first draft without worrying about sentence structure, paragraph formation, or chapter length. These shake out in the second, third, or fourth edits. But if you are concerned, learn your writing style and find authors that have similar styles. You can see what they do for their works.
Let me know in the comments below books that had short, impactful chapters or books that had chapters that drug on. That way we can all learn a little more about chapter length variety and what works.