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How Long Should Novel Chapters Be?

Categories: Formatting, Questions & Quandaries Blog, What's New Tags: manuscript formatting, questions and quandaries.

Q: When I’m dividing my manuscript into chapters, how long should each chapter be? Are there any requirements on length? –Anonymous

There are no hard-and-fast rules on how long or short a chapter needs to be. It could be three pages. It could be 22. It could be 40. You shouldn’t set guidelines for yourself on chapter length. Each chapter in your book tells a mini-story that forwards your overall plot. Chapters should be just long enough to serve a purpose and, once that purpose is served, cut off so a new chapter (or mini-story) can begin.

I’ve often thought of chapters as acts in TV shows. When a TV show finishes Act 1 (which almost always happens just after something significant is revealed or an important question is raised), it goes to commercial break. Ditto for Act 2, 3, 4 and so forth. Look for your chapters to have those similar elements. When you find those “commercial breaks,” end your chapter and start a new one. In other words, let your content dictate your chapter length, not the other way around.

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4 Responses to How Long Should Novel Chapters Be?

  1. lisa_stanbridge says:

    This is helpful, thank you! I had a friend tell me that she was once told that her chapters should be at least 5 or 6 pages long. As a writer myself, I knew that was the case, but I didn’t have the proof. I googled it and I found this so I’ve sent her the link to confirm there is no actual limit. Thanks again!

  2. iRoswell says:

    This is really helpful, especially to someone new to writing. It’s hard to think in terms of chapter size, but looking at it as mini stories, or episodes, is brilliant. Thank you.

  3. rickrbc says:

    That is one way to answer the question, but chapters in children’s books have to be shorter obviously. This is a hard question though. I think most publishers are looking for a certain word count however.

  4. adriennedewolfe says:

    I agree that page length is a poor determining factor for a chapter’s ending (although 50 page chapters do tend to become cumbersome!) Another way of determining chapter length is to use the scene-sequel-scene (or sequel-scene-sequel) approach.

    By writing chapters via the scene-sequel technique, a writer is able to choose a clear point in the narrative where the viewpoint character is facing some dilemma – and then end the chapter with that emotional or physical struggle (sometimes called the “cliff hanger” ending.) This practice is especially important to keep the middle of the book from “sagging.”

    To end Chapter 3 with a cliff hanger is especially important: the theory here is that Ch 1-3 are part of a fiction proposal, and a literary agent or acquisitions editor at a publishing house is likely to want to read more of the story if Ch 3 ends with a bang.

    Adrienne deWolfe
    How to Write a Novel:  Tips & Best Practices
    http://WritingNovelsThatSell.com

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