Length of Chapters: Does it Matter?

…Expecting a variety of ‘it depends’ answers here, interested to see what others think:-

Short draft, c.64,000 words. 27 chapters, average length 2450 words.

Ch. 1 and 27 are prologue and epilogue, very short.
Ch 2-26 vary from 1300 to 3300 to arrive at that average length.

Then there are the exceptions; ch 18 and 24 are a short flashbacks (730 and 1200 words), that make sense in context.

Ch 16 is 3800+ and chapter 3, a big action set piece, is 4300+. This one I’m thinking needs to be split because it’s so far out of whack with the rest.

How far do I worry about dividing this up into satisfying ‘bed-time’ chapter-lengths?

Length of chapters both does and doesn’t matter.

It matters in the sense that we have to do what’s right for the story. Some stories need shorter chapters, some need longer ones, and some just don’t need them at all. It’s all in what works. I’ve done variations of all of these.


  • I posted a 7k fanfic that had a few scene changes, but it didn’t really need chaptering, so I left it as a complete piece the way it was.

  • Another fanfic (around 40k) needed frequent chaptering to the point that I chaptered after almost every scene. I also finished an original adult contemporary novel this month that chapters after every 800-1000 words, and that’s just what felt right for it. Beta readers confirm it works for this particular story.

  • And yet another peice (currently sitting at 71k) needs chaptering every 3k-5k.

That’s just how these different stories worked, so that’s what I did.

Chapter length doesn’t matter in the sense that no one’s going to twist your arm and demand that a particular project be chaptered a certain way, and readers aren’t going to care what you as a writer do. I’ve literally never seen an Amazon review that comments on chaptering in a book. Also never seen any comments on fanfiction that criticize chaptering. Most people just accept that what you’ve decided to do is what needs to be done.

Often finding what works is one of those “you just know” things. Go with your gut. If you like it, and it feels right, it probably is.


Sounds like mine! A long time ago, I was totally confused about what ‘should’ be a correct chapter length and aimed for 3,000 words. When I hit 3,000, I looked for a place to pause, which became the new chapter. Now I look for a bit of a buzz or a smart thought or comment and that’s where a new chapter will start. I am now quite happy to have the occasional very short chapter but no longer those 3,000 word lengthy ones. Average? I’ll go look up a couple of books…aha! Latest book average is 2200 words and the book before it averages at 1600 words. For what it’s worth! :slight_smile:

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I have a similar thought process going on.

I’m looking at the draft of another WIP that flows much more easily when the chapters are ‘as long as they need to be.’

Moving around in time and location, what might have been disconnected scenes in a conventional structure now it comfortably as self-contained chapters.

So here’s what I’m pondering:

  • short chapters give the work some extra ‘punch’ and encourage page turning. I’ve often found myself in the middle of a long dragging chapter flipping ahead saying ‘how much more of this is there?’ then deciding I don’t have time to read all this right now.
  • anecdotally in another group someone said average chapter length in fiction is shortening. Do we think this is true?

I don’t think short chapters encourage page turning. They actually provide convenient stopping places that are too convenient. I think page turning encouragement comes from a steady diet of setups and partial payoffs. And whether there are interesting hooks at the beginning and end of the chapters to encourage page turning.

I’m not sure trying to engineer a reading experience based upon chapter length is the best perspective to approach it with. I could be wrong. Maybe there is a market out there for books meant to be read a chapter a night.

Earlier you talked about how your extra long chapter was mostly action. That’s likely going to feel like a much shorter chapter to a reader than it is because of the pacing.

I’ve found many books have become so good at hooking me into wanting to read the next chapter at the end that I often have to stop my nighttime reading mid-chapter just to find a place where I can rest my mind to fall asleep.

I think you have to consider what sort of book you’re writing, too. Something like Hunger Games or Left Behind has a pace that almost never lets up. Other books slow down on purpose to give you a chance to catch your breath before the next big thing. I don’t think there is a universal answer to the chapter length question. Pacing is much more than just chapter length. It’s only one small factor and should have more to do with what you want your reader to be feeling at that point in the story, in my opinion.


Not looking for a universal solution, looking for perspectives while I sort out some structural issues with 4 WIP’s.

You hit on a similar theme to Sanderson’s 3 P’s of plotting; promises, progress, payoff’s which he and several other writing coaches says should apply to chapters as well as the overall story arc.

Agreed pacing makes a heck of a difference. I have a lurking anxiety about Tolkien’s Two Towers and just about all of Thomas Hardy; flicking forward to find there’s another 60 pages of walking or looking at sheep before the chapter ends.

Also noted the First Editing crew talk about Action and Sequel in terms of chapters and scenes within chapters, to the reader gets to calm down and process what happened previously.

I think a lot of pop fiction is engineered by publishers and editors for chapter-a-night and chapter-per-daily-commute experience.

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Brandon Sanderson’s, and his teacher David Farland’s, lectures have influenced my opinions on writing craft significantly so that follows. :slight_smile:

The Action and Sequel you mention, I learned as Scene and Sequel in the book of that name by Jack Bickham.