How many words in a chapter?

Hugh and notabene,
My tendency twards lunacy now narcotically controlled, you can both take it as read that, when I say thanks for your erudite help and guidance, I do so most sincerely. It would appear to be a case of Never mind the Width! feel the Quality!

Take care

Harold Robbins (remember him ?) had chapters that were one, two or three pages length. Perhaps it reflected his readers attention spans.
Anyway, he sold a lot of product.


as many or as few as it takes to present a subject. When the main subject changes the chapter changes. If it is a subject that needs a lot of description and discussion it will take more words. If it is a subject that does NOT need a lot of development then it will be shorter.

A tip that may help. Write continuous. DO NOT put chapters in at all. Then go back and read. When you come to a main focus change (change of main subject) insert a bookmark or notation or notate where it “feels” like you could “stop” and take a break.

I would not recomeend a word count goal for chapter marks as that will make your book predictable to a reader and seem less of a “page turner”. THis is becuase you will tend to do two things. One be overdescriptive on subjects that can be more vague and you will be less decriptive on large in-depth subjects. This would lead to some parts that are overely descriptive and boring and other parts confusing and vague losing the focus of the reader. Also the chapter lengths will subconciously become predicatable to the reader and will take on a more boring approach. If you look at some real successful novels you will see at times that some chapters are lengthy and there are some that are really short (half page). This makes the book unpredictable and the reader does NOT know or have any tell tell sign that a “break” is coming up so they tend to forge ahead to get to the end of the chapter. This in turn leads to a “page turner”.

My two cents

Without realising it, this is what I’ve been doing. I have a folder called chapter 1, and all the so called chapters are currently sitting in there. I think their true division will only become apparent after a rewrite - which is not going to happen until I finish the first draft of the section of the book that I view as “Part 1”.

So far all the chapters are much shorter than I would like, but I think the padding out will only come as i realise (from later writing) what things are actually essential to be introduced early on. I don’t want to add words for the sake of extending these sections now, as I think much of what I would add would be superfluous fluff.

Having moved a largely completed novel (3/4ths if you’ll accept that) into Scrivener, I have to say that my chapters and scenes are entirely dependant on their content. I switch scenes when I switch POV, or on rare occassions, when I want to show a time skip. But I typically use chapter divisions for that (there are only one or two) so the majority of my chapters become when I feel that a turn in the story has occured, and new scenery is around the corner. Think google maps, whereby you only see an instruction when a change in direction is needed.

From an informal count, my chapters average roughly 8.5k a piece, the smallest being 4k and the largest 11k, with 7k:40k words to characters, for an average word size. Each chapter contains from 7-15 scenes.

The feel of the novel can best be described as “fast paced”.

And that’s what I have observed. Please feel free to ask any additional questions as needed.

I’ll give you another “easy” answer: as many as it takes to depict a particular event. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re more of a character writer than a plot writer.

Having read back some entries in the thread I feel that people are getting far to exercised about word counts. Or character counts (including spaces!), column inches, and so on.

I’ve worked as a journalist, had short stories and a novel published. I really don’t think anybody cares about chapter length, character count, spaces, and so on. All that really matters is: approximate word count for the whole thing, and your publisher’s requirements.

By this I mean: approximate word count, rounded up to the nearest 100 is good enough for nearly every purpose.

Length of work may depend on publisher, but if you work in genre fiction, like I do, 90,000 to 100,000 is the benchmark, but longer novels are favoured, too. So long as, as someone quoted earlier, they feel short when you read them.

As for chapter length, New York Times bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole recommends around 2,500. But then again, a lot of people like James Patterson books, with chapters around 50 words in length (I only exaggerate slightly, but I can’t read chapters that only run to two pages throughout an entire book.).

From some other discussions, it appears character count is indeed important in some countries/markets. Where you and I solely look at work count, there are apparently a lot of users that solely use character counts, and have no need for word counts.

In terms of chapter length, I think many of the answers here have been “don’t stress about it” or “whatever gets the job done”, which I think is the right approach.

But I do remember it was a question I had myself at some point, along with the “how many words to aim for in a novel”, and as you point out, it is something that can really grate on the reader if the writer gets is wrong (an effect James Patterson has on you, and from memory Dan Brown on one of the other posters), so I think the discussion itself is still a worthwhile topic.

When starting out, I agree that you are better off just writing it. But when revising I sometimes specifically look at chapter lengths and wonder what effect it would have on the reader if I combined chapters, or broke them apart, etc.


Yeah, my length preferences and reasoning are nicked off Stackpole :wink:

I do also enjoy the occasional ultra-short chapter to make a point, though - the late John Brunner’s more serious works (THE JAGGED ORBIT, THE SHEEP LOOK UP, etc.) often use one-sentence chapters to present news headlines or sarcastic asides, a very effective usage.

As opposed to a chapter, I would call something like that an eyecatch. Still, a very effective use of the format of a novel.

What i think many people fail to realize nowadays is that when you are composing your work, you have what is essentially a blank canvas. You can “paint” this with your writing technique in many, many different ways. Unfortunately for the modern reader, you only see very few of these used.

However, when an adventurous author explores these “outer bounds” you often see amazing creations, such as that recent book that had the story told entirely in poems, that could be read piecemeal or taken as a whole. A brilliant idea if i might say so myself. I do blank on the author/title as it was property of my younger sibling, and therefor i was never able to read it.

It is always nice to see people bend the format a little with things like eyecatches, poetry books, and creative/cryptic chapter titling and scene usage. I encourage anyone reading to experiment themselves.

I agree completely.

The only limits we have as an artist are those we impose upon ourselves.

Try telling that to my editor :wink:

LOL (ouch)

I guess reality can be a bummer at times.