How many words in a chapter?

I am aware that the easy answer is “It depends”. But is there an average to shoot for in a book?

No really, it depends!


I knew it!

But seriously, if I am shooting for a certain word count per chapter, is there some magic number that would be in the sorta-kinda middle?


That’s the total wordcount divided by chapters in my current novel. Did that help? :slight_smile:

It really does depend… (on whether, for example, we are talking fiction or non-fiction, if fiction saga or maybe short novella, if non-fiction, text-book or maybe self-help pot-boiler etc. etc. etc.)

However… I’ve seldom hung back where where angels fear to tread… although this has never been a good idea…

… Assuming fictional and first-novel, let’s set a target of 90,000 words (because publishers may not want to take a risk on printing more of a first author’s effort) and 25 chapters (because there may be a “sorta-kinda” possible story arc of a Save-the-Cat formulaic type with appropriate beats over about that length), and you have a (formulaic) answer: an average of slightly less than 4,000 words.

Now shoot me down! :confused:

wmarcy, Hiya!

2327765.5= no of words in my last post

Take care


It did help people, I am going to shoot for an average of 3,000 per chapter.

Thanks for the input!


although the problem seems to be solved, let me add my experience:

I realized that I tend to write in sections of 600 to 2000 words as minimum and maximum, but almost always between 1200 and 1500. A chapter contains of 4 to 8 sections. Mostly between 3000 and 10000 words as minimum and maximum, but mostly around 6000 words.

This is true for several stories, novels, and not at least my academic writing. So I would call myself a coherently 1200-6000 character. :wink:


Genre is a big factor. I just pulled my wife’s copy of Jeffery Deaver’s “The Bone Collector” off the shelf and did a quick word count. The chapters vary between about 2k and 3k words. Thirty-seven chapters.

Next to it on the shelf, my copy of Syd Field’s “Screenplay” has eighteen chapters in the range of 2.5k to 5k words each.

Rough guide for current book publishing:

17 to 30 chapters (20 preferred)
27 lines/page
270 - 300 words/page
270 - 300 pages

Yes, that is rough. :wink:

Which genre and format, LL? I have a few books I pulled off the shelves:

  • Thriller, original trade paperback, published 2007; 54 chapters and an epilogue, 509 pages, 36 lines/page

  • Popular history, paperback, published 2006; 15 chapters, 433 pages, 41 lines/page

  • Fantasy, original trade paperback, published 2006; 34 chapters, 660 pages, 39 lines/page

  • Science fiction, original paperback, published 2004; 61 chapters, 370 pages, 40 lines/page

Hi AJ. You didn’t tackle font or font size. That makes a world of difference.

Yes, you are spot on. Unless you have a book contract that says otherwise those numbers you cite sort of proscribe reasonable expectations. As silly as this all seems I think your numbers actually give a pretty good feel for the problem. It is possible to draw some sort of line through them to give a decent approximation. It helps to give a story chapter an arc of its own if you have some sense of its limits. Good on you.



To muddy the waters further - there’s a rhythm in chapter length as there is in sentences, paragraphs and scenes. If that rhythm becomes too regular, it will contribute to a sense of boredom in the reader.

So IMO whilst an average may exist per genre, style, book type etc - don’t target it - go with the flow the narrative demands.

I shoot for an average of 3k words per chapter, on the premise that it’s long enough to get a good chunk of story in, but short enough that a reader will think, “I’ll just finish this next chapter, it’s only a few pages… Oh, all right, and this next chapter… OK, maybe just one more…” And before they know it, they’re halfway done :slight_smile:

It also makes writing a chapter every two days a very real possibility. Being able to say to yourself “I finished a chapter today” on a regular basis maintains momentum and helps stave off the ‘act two blues’.

This is assuming you’re writing plot-primary fiction, of course. Character-primary or ‘literary’ fiction are an entirely different matter, with different expectations from the reader.

As Hugh says above, though, you should always be open to variations. Whatever length you choose, occasional chapters of double or half that average will keep readers on their toes.

I generally make my chapters 2-4 scenes long, although sometimes I will have a single-scene chapter if the situation seems to call for it. I rarely go over 4 scenes in a chapter.

The way I look at it is that each scene is a miniature story that builds a chapter and each chapter is a miniature story that builds a novel. I try to group the scenes such that each chapter is a story and the story-scenes support it. An unrelated scene goes into a different chapter.

Wordcount? No idea.

I’m glad i’m not the only one who’s nutted over this one!

For me a chapter should be a self contained unit of the book, a logical subdivison if you will. That seems to work for me anyway. Usually that means grouping scenes chronologically by character POV or less frequently by theme if I’m experimenting.

As the word length… i’m happy with anything between 3 and 6k, though I usually feel (note the word feel there) that 5k is good. It’s proably a hang up from my essay writing days as a undergraduate. 5k gives me room to swing my shoulders a bit and I reckon it’s a nice length for reading.

Then again, as Hugh mentioned prviously, it’s good to vary the length and the rhythm. Kind of like love making.

Honorable Members of the House of Scivener,

As a moronic, or is it, imbecilic (could be both!), novitiate, amateurishly fannying around on the periphery of the Galaxy Wordsmithery, this “How many words…?” debate is making my normally confused state even worse.

Could you please enlighten me as to: what does a stated max/min number of words required by a potential publisher, actually equate to. Is it the number of available column inches needed to be filled; the number of lines required to fill X number of pages ; the space available( in what ever media), for placing blocks of text before a reader etc.etc. Surely that then dictates a consideration (as in sex), of size and length

Should the debate be considering the average number of characters in each word, when dealing in word count for X No of linear inches or column inches required. Or is there already a generally consensus of what constitutes size of word`

The most relevant question, it seems to me, is: how many characters, including spaces etc. have I got to play with.

In terms of word count: Character= Physical/Specified Constant; whereas Word=variable, does it not?

A hundred words with an average of seven characters per word, is a much heftier beast than one with an average of five, isn`t it?

I hope this makes sense.

I cant see any point in a word count that doesnt quantify word

In anticipation of elucidation .
Take care

“Most successful commercial novels are 100,000 words or so … Make sure that you do not write too long for the market you are aiming at. The longer your book, the more expensive it will be to print and bind, and this could push up the selling price. If you are a successful writer already, or writing for the fantasy market, say, this might not matter too much. But if you are an unpublished writer it could prejudice an agent and publisher against your work.”
From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake, Macmillan [Carole Blake is “one of Britain’s foremost literary agents”, who has launched the international careers of many best-selling novelists.]

British publishers count words (presumably on the assumption, correct or not, that the average word-length used by 99 per cent of writers in the English language will be similar). From threads on this forum, I’ve learnt that many foreign publishers count characters.

Stephen King in On Writing reckons 180,000 words “a goodish length”. But his first, Carrie, was very much shorter. And one glance in a bookshop tells you King mostly writes long.

According to Carole Blake, Salman Rushdie said: “If you’re going to write a long novel you have to make the reader feel it is too short; that you have to cram everything in and that you could have gone on for longer.”

I bet Snoopy had something wise to say on this subject too, but at the moment I can’t remember it. :wink:

wmarcy, rather than word or page count, I am far more concerned with what I want to accomplish in a particular chapter; what element of the story I want to cover. Perhaps it’s to reveal some background on a character, or to cover a specific plot point, or simply to set-up a plot point that will appear later in the story. This can be accomplished in five pages or twenty-five pages. Then, later, after my read-through of a large chunk of the draft, I may split up a longer chapter into two smaller ones, or take two smaller ones and join them together to form a longer one. Why? To improve the overall pacing of the story. So, when constructing your story, your focus should be on what you want to accomplish in a chapter, not how many words it should be. Good example: Nabokov’s Lolita. He’s got some very short chapters, some average ones, and some very long ones. Do you think he was concerned about chapter word count? No. Each is designed for a specific purpose, and he took as many words/pages as he needed to accomplish that.

vic-k, I can assure you that editors are not nearly as hung-up on word count and word length as your post suggests. General rule of thumb for debut novels in today’s market (U.S.): 100,000 words. In ms form this works out to approximately 400 pages (250 words/page), which works out–again, approximately–to a 300 page book. My editor prefers my ms to be in New Times Roman 12, with margins of 1.00 inch top and bottom; 1.25 inches left and right. This works out to roughly 23 lines/page. Easier on the eyes.

But, I think that all of this mechanical word counting stuff just gets in the way of good writing. On your first draft, take as many pages as you need to get your story down on paper. Then, on your subsequent rewrites, know that you’ve got to get it down to a certain length (approx. 400 pgs), and keep reworking it with that goal in mind. (Obviously, if your first draft is 1,000 pages, then you’ll have some difficulty getting it down to the 400-page mark. So, be sure to remember this when starting out.)

One last point: dialogue eats up a lot of pages. So, ask yourself: “Can the information covered in that wonderfully clever five-page conversation be just as easily covered with a wonderfully clever two-page narrative summary instead?” You would be amazed how much fat you can lop off with this approach.