Musings on Chapters

So one of those Big Questions I’m having when it comes to writing and the technical details of composing an actual book is: how long should chapters be?

In the current rough draft of my book, the chapters typically average somewhere between three and four thousand words. Some are five thousand, give or take a few dozen words. At the end of NaNoWriMo I had just over fifty thousand words and fourteen and a half chapters.

What I can’t figure out is whether that’s too long or too short. Okay, too short is probably not something to worry about in the end because I don’t know anyone that goes “huh, what a short chapter!” in any negative sense. Apart from maybe Boyfriend, but he’s odd.

I picked up a book yesterday that I’ve had on hiatus for a while because the story started boring me. Or the characters did. Or both, who knows. Anyway, so I was reading along and I decided I needed a break soon so I checked how long the chapter was (I have a slight issue with OCD when it comes to leaving books in the middle of a chapter). It was over 50 pages long.

To me, that’s insane.

And this is young adult fiction, for heaven’s sake.

I don’t really like overly long chapters. One of the reasons being, as I mentioned, about being able to put the book down and take a break without losing my flow. I don’t like chapters that go on for too long with far too many things happening at once. In some books that can add a sense of excitement and urgency but you have to be talented to be able to do that. Really talented. For a lot of books I find it just bogs down the fluency of the story and I become overwhelmed with all the words and the things and the words(!).

Ideally chapters shouldn’t exceed 20 pages of a standard-sized novel for me. I think 5000 words is around 14 pages in a novel format, though I’m not sure. So for my own preference, my novel should be decently paced (in terms of chapters at least) once it’s finished.

But that’s not helpful. Hopefully other people than me will read this book, right?

So when you’re reading a book, how do you feel about chapters? How long or how short is ideal for you and why? And if it doesn’t matter to you, why not? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m simply curious.

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4 thoughts on “Musings on Chapters

  1. Anna says:

    To be honest, I don’t really pay much attention to chapters. When I read, I read on until I’m out of reading time, or I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. And then I stop, usually just at the end of the page or, when my eyes really won’t stay open anymore, at the end of the sentence.
    Unless there’s really thrilling stuff going on, I don’t have any trouble putting the book down. And when I pick it back up again, I have no trouble finding the page I was at (even if I didn’t mark it), and continuing in the story. I guess my head just works in an odd way, I just drop right into it again, and remember exactly what happened before and what kind of feel the chapter had.

    But I’m probably weird that way ;)

    (useful? I think not!)

  2. Karen says:

    Nah, I suspect that’s pretty much the norm. I’m OCD about the strangest things, among them this chapter thing. Just interesting to know how others think about it :)

    Useful or not, ’tis a comment!

  3. Keri Peardon says:

    I think you are overthinking this. I’ve never word counted my chapters.

    Chapters tend to come naturally. I put in a chapter break whenever I’m skipping a period of time or have a significant scene shift. If only a small amount of action has taken place before I need to shift time or scene (say a page or two), then I will put in a break (a blank line, basically) to show that things are moving. But there’s rarely a need for two of these in one chapter; usually where a second one is called for is where you need to start a new chapter.

    In my first book, some of the chapters are longer than others just because there’s a big chunk of action happening at once. I think my longest chapter is about 16 pages (those are book pages, not 8.5×11″ pages) while my shortest seems to be about 5.

    Readers don’t care so much about how long each chapter is, but rather if it’s at a good stopping point. Most people want to read to the end of a chapter before putting their book down for the night.

  4. Karen says:

    Hey Keri!

    You’re probably right., As a rule I tend to overthink pretty much everything. I’m not entirely sure how to do a conversion of my current pages into actual book form, but I think most of my chapters average around 10 to 15 pages.

    Your chapters sound ideal for a reader like me!

    I tend to end my chapters where the scene naturally ends or shifts, but I do sometimes have chapter jumps where there’s an exceptionally dramatic revelation or something of that sort. A page-turner, if you will. Do you think that’s okay, is it something you would do in your writing?

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