How to decide on CHAPTER LENGTHS

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Too many people have asked me about chapter lengths, so here we go.


Your chapters can be one sentence or 30 pages. Find a natural scene break in your story, and that's where you end the chapter. Where your story's natural break is varies considerably from story-to-story. A couple of my stories I've found the natural break around 2000-4000 words per chapter. Another story is anywhere from 3000-6000, and even those are just very loose averages.

Chapters are only there to give your readers a breather, a place they can put in a bookmark and go to bed. If they have no break, they'll get angsty or the story will feel like its droning. Anyone ever sit in a 3-hour lecture before? It's torture even if the material being presented is interesting. That's why my professors give us a 10-minute break every hour when we have longer lectures. Your readers need a break too. That's the only function chapters serve, as I see it.

I mean, you can get all stylistic about it. There's some book about this girl who was raised by dolphins (anyone know the name? It's a middle grade book), and each chapter was a decent length, but then there was one chapter that was a single word in order to add considerable emphasis on it. I'm not necessarily advocating doing that becuase if you do it incorrectly or too often, it'll turn into melodrama, but my point is there are no set rules for chapter length. You can do what you want.

In GENERAL, for YA and adult fiction, I'd like to say a good lenght for chapters would be anywhere from 2000-4000 words. But even my own chapters fall out of that range more too often. You have to gauge your story for yourself and feel out where the natural break in the scene is.

If you find your chapters are too short and you're not feelin it, combine two or three of them and just have several scenes in a chapter. If they're too long, try to find a break somewhere in the middle of each. But don't try to force yourself into a set word count for each chapter. It's not important. The only issue would be if your chapters are like 25,000 words long and it's excessive, but I cannot imagine a scene lasting 25,000 words anyway.

Each chapter would generally contain a central theme or point to that chapter. Once you've fulfilled that point or if you find you're moving onto another theme, that might be where you cut the chapter and start the next one.

Bottom line: there are NO rules or guidelines for chapter length. Make them as long or as short as you feel works for your specific story.

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