How Long is a Chapter

Well, first, maybe I should ask what is a chapter?

According to Webster, it is a main division of a book, a specified unit, a meeting place of canons or a local branch of an organization.

For my purpose, I’ll talk about a book.

You’ll be happy, but not surprised to learn that there is no rule for how long your chapters should be. I’ve read books in which some chapters were one page or even one paragraph long. I did find that mildly disturbing. I thought, WHY? I’m sure the author had his or her reason, but I didn’t get it.

I can see it if it’s in a different point of view. Reese Mobley’s Make Me Believe, as of yet unpublished romantic fantasy about Santa’s twin sons looking for the perfect next Mrs. Clause, had one page chapters here and there that let us see what Santa and Mrs. Clause were thinking as they watched their boys look for true love. After all, Santa can see if anyone is being naughty or nice so why should his kids be exempt? I think she cut that part but I really liked it.

Books have been published that started with chapter one and that was it. The whole book was chapter one. I even know of one that started with chapter 20 and went backwards. Again, WHY? Who knows?

Me? I like symmetry in my books. I want the chapters to all be about the same length. Turns out that’s kind of how I write. I know the word count for my line is 55,000 to 60,000 words. That’s a ballpark 250 pages, broken evenly into 16 chapters gives me about 15 pages per chapter. I’ve done shorter. I think 9 pages was my shortest and 25 pages my longest chapter. It all depends on what the characters are doing. If they can get it done in 9 pages, that’s all that matters.

Some people use a quote or little poem to start each chapter. Some chapters have titles. I simply number mine.

Tell me how your chapters work themselves out? What suits you best? What’s the oddest or longest or shortest chapter you’ve read or written? And WHY?



Rox Delaney said...

LOL It's all in your style.

My books are 55,0000 words too. Most books are 12 chapters, although I think The Rodeo Rider has 11. Average length of chapter is 20 pages.

When I wrote for Silhouette Romance, there were 10 chapters and the same 20 or so pages. I've written as short as a 15 page chapter and as long as 25 or 26.

Three scenes per chapter, except for an occasional 2-scene, but not usually more than 1 per book.

It's all in how words flow within you.

Joan Vincent said...

I'm not certain how I came up with chapter page length in the ancient mists of time when I began writing. I seemed to have always averaged 10-12 pages. My Dell books were 70-75,000 words so had twenty or so chapters. My 100,000+ books have occassional 10 page chapters but seem to run more to fifteen pages and the longest I can recall is around thirty-five. It really does have to do with what the characters are doing. Some places to stop are just better "page turner" points than others. These signal the end of a chapter for me more than anything.

I haven't checked but I think Rox's three scenes per chapter is probably true for me, too.

Rox Delaney said...

It's all in the rhythm, Joan, each of our individual, internal rhythms. In how we think.

For me as a reader, I don't like extremely long chapters. Sometimes I just have to go to the bathroom! 25 or 26 is, to me, long. Not necessarily too long, but those bathroom breaks are important. :) I drink a lot when I read.

Or maybe my attention span just can't keep on for too long?

It depends on the type of book. Shorter books, shorter chapters. Less "chitchat" and descriptions. Longer books, those tomes of words, can sustain longer chapters. One of the keys to the difference between category and single title, I think. But only one.

I love reading Reese's stories! The mix of words just amaze me. She has that ST voice. I've yet to be able to do that, even though what I read is mostly ST, general fiction, and women's fiction, i.e. the long books.

Deborah said...

In the recent popular Twilight series, the second book of the series has several chapters that are each one word long. That word is the name of the month. The main character is going through a major depression. The author uses this one-word chapter technique to demonstrate how little life matters. There is absolutely nothing worth reporting for the several months that passes by, so the author (or character) doesn't report anything.I thought it was a very clever way to communicate the numb state of the character.

Rox Delaney said...

Deborah!!! It IS you! I figured it out when I saw your reply about naming characters.

Stay and play and learn with us!

Pat Davids said...

Isn't it wonderful how each of us is so different, but we are all working toward the same goal. Telling a great story.

Wonderful to see you here. Thanks for the insight about Twilight. That works.

Reese Mobley said...

I used to follow the rule of 3 scenes and 20 pages per chapter then after reading many books with varying number of scenes and pages I had a light bulb moment and decided that the rule was that there aren't any rules. My chapters usually fall between 10 and 14 pages. Usually one scene, but sometimes it will be two.
Thanks for the kind words, Pat & Rox...from your lips(fingers) to an editors ears(eyes). Hi, Deborah, welcome back to the nuthouse.

Deborah said...

Yes, it is me, ladies. The site looks great. And the Blogs are so fun! It's good to check in and see everyone's progress and success. What a great chapter. Haha--nice pun, huh?!

Rox Delaney said...

Ha! Yes, great pun, Deborah!

If you're still looking at HAR, email me. After doing revisions on 2 proposals, I have some tips. ;)

Starla Kaye said...

Another excellent discussion! New writers get really hung up on just how long a chapter should be. It's just one of the many scary things about learning to write. But, as has been pointed out, there isn't a magical rule about chapter length...or even the correct number of scenes per chapter.

My two-cents-worth of advice is to skim through a number of books from the publisher that you're thinking about submitting to eventually. Even within their books, though, you may see a variance on the number of chapters and the size of the chapters.

Another consideration is what makes YOU comfortable when reading a book. Do you like the really short chapters? Do they drive you crazy? Do you like a chapter to have some page meat and one or two scene stopping places?

After you've written a gazillion books (like I sometimes feel that I have), you find a chapter length that works for you. Somehow you just magically end up with pretty consistent page count per chapter. It's your Page Comfort Zone (I just came up with that. Is it brilliant or what?)

My main publisher wants novellas that are 5-6 chapters long and around 25,000-30,000 words. They also look for novels that are at least 12 chapters long and around 60,000 or more words. I've been publishing both with them long enough that I just "know" when I'm reaching the right word count per chapter.

As Roxann said, "It's all in how words flow within you."

Penny Rader said...

My chapters vary in length. My longest was probably 25-26 pages. My shortest has probably been 8-9 pages. It depends on what's happening with the scenes.

Sometimes I'll write shorter chapters as a way to trick myself into writing more. Kind of like, "Wow, I've written ten chapters. Cool!" Hey, a girl's gotta do what she's gotta do to motivate herself to get some words on the page. Especially this girl. (grin)

Reese, I love the idea of your one page Santa scenes. That sounds like a fun story.