Novel Chapters: Does Size Matter?

In the process of writing my novel series, I began to realize that I was writing incredibly long chapters. Granted, I am still in the the beginning rough draft stage of my novel, but it got me to thinking. How long should chapters be in a novel? Is there a set length that should not be exceeded? Or a length considered too short? What is the acceptable length of an average chapter? I decided to do some research on this topic, and this is what I discovered.

These questions really are answered differently depending on what sort of project you are working on. What genre is the novel?  How long will this novel be? The best way to determine an acceptable chapter length, in the genre that you are writing, is to see what similar novels are doing with chapters. Suspense/ Thriller (page-turner) novels that need to keep the reader on the edge of their seats typically have shorter chapters. Science fiction, Historical, Epic Adventure novels that need more room for descriptive detail and reflection usually have longer chapters.

In the Vickie Britton’s article Dividing a Novel into Chapters she suggests that most chapters should not exceed 17 pages and that lengthy chapters can cause the reader to lose interest, but as any writing rule, this is not set in stone. It really boils down to the individual chapter. The chapter should be as long as it needs to be to fulfill it’s purpose. Once that is done, it’s time to move on to the next chapter. If a chapter seems to be too lengthy, then it might be because of overwriting, or maybe there are two chapters combined in one.

Chapters typically center around one event or setting, but also can change with a person’s POV (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin). I like to write my chapters each like a collection of individual short stories. Each having a beginning, middle and end with the chapter ending at a crucial moment. Sometimes I end with a cliffhanger and other times I find the natural place in where one story stops, and then the next one begins with a new chapter.

Brian A. Kelms puts it the best in his Writer’s Digest Questions and Quandaries answer to How long Should Novel Chapters Be? “Let your character dictate your chapter length not the other way around.” 

Novels, lengths and chapter numbers (provided by Vickie Britton’s Dividing a Novel into Chapters)…

We’ll Meet Again Suspense, Mary Higgins Clark 283 pages, 94 chapters, 2-3 pages per chapter

Gone for Good Suspense, Harlan Coben 339 pages, 58 chapters, 3-4 pages

The Shell Seekers Romance Rosamund Pilcher, 530 pages, 14 chapters, 15 plus pages per chapter

Hill Towns Ann Rivers Siddons historical romance 356 pages, 14 chapters, 20 plus pages per chapter

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