How Many Words in a Novel Chapter?

How many words in a chapter?

You’re writing your first novel, and you know you must shoot for around 80 to 95 thousand words. Once you know what your book will be about, it’s time to start planning the structure of the story. What will happen in each chapter, and how much has to happen before you move on to the next chapter? How many chapters will you need before you reach your target word count?

It’s Up to You – Within Reason

Before you decide your average chapter length, it’s a good idea to think about the purpose behind dividing a book into chapters. Think of it as a TV series or a play. Each chapter will consist of one or more scenes that contribute to the development of the story.

Unlike TV series, you aren’t limited to a certain amount of airtime, so some important scenes may require longer chapters. The important thing is to end each chapter at the end of a scene, allowing your reader to save the next “episode” for another time.

However, it doesn’t make much sense to have one chapter that takes up a major part of the book while other chapters are much shorter. Admittedly, some published authors have done just that, but your readers may find it a little odd.

Your audience may also play a role. For example, books for the youth market often have shorter chapters than those intended for adult readers. Again, it isn’t a rule, but if you’re writing for people with a short attention span, shorter chapters make sense.

How Long Are the Chapters in Books by Famous Authors?

Looking at what successful authors have done in the past is always a help. That’s why writers should always be readers too. Best-selling books show us what the public likes, and of course, we’re hoping that our own novels will be liked by the public. Let’s look at some chapter lengths, but remember that these are averages. In any of these books, some chapters are longer than others.

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has an average of 4,560 words per chapter.
  • Twilight uses about 4,580 words per chapter.
  • The Hunger Games uses 3,700-word chapters, dividing each chapter into three parts.

What Do Most Writers See as a Good Average Chapter Length?

The debate is ongoing. Some will tell you 2,500 words is the average, while others will say that 3,000 to 5,000 word chapters are more likely to be the norm. Most agree that under 1,000 words would be rather short and that over 5,000 might be rather too long. As a general guideline, chapters should be between 3,000 to 5,000 words.

All of them agree that the chapter length should be defined by the story and that any chapter length targets you decide on are merely guidelines. Most of them say that trying to keep the chapters within a certain length range is helpful to the reader.

Chapter Length Rule 1: There Are No Rules

Writers sometimes use extra-short chapters such as ones that are a sentence or two long for emphasis. The element of surprise at finding a chapter that consists of a sentence, or even just a word, will make readers sit up and take note. However, use this technique sparingly. It loses its effect if you regularly do it.

There’s also no real rule that says a chapter can’t be longer than 5,000 words. Daniel Defoe wrote the book Moll Flanders without dividing it into chapters at all, so in theory, you could say that the entire book consisted of just one chapter. However, as a new author, I’m not sure you would get away with that.

It’s the Story That Matters Most

Trying to pad out an uneventful chapter with thoughts or events that don’t contribute to your plot will bore your readers leaving them with the impression you’re waffling. Compressing a very exciting scene so you can meet your chapter word count target is also not going to do you any favors.

While the idea of chapters in the 3,000 to 5,000-word range is a good guideline when roughing out your book’s structure, it isn’t a rule, and the story itself should be the primary deciding factor. Build your plot through a series of events or scenes. Then decide for yourself where the chapter divisions will be. You may decide to include two or more scenes in a chapter, or you might stick to one scene per chapter. Just ensure that the division comes at a time when a reader could put the book down if they want a break. Of course, if you keep it exciting enough, your reader will want to know what will happen next, and might have trouble putting the book down at all.

  • I’m writing a novella and finding myself making the chapters really short. Pretty much each chapter is a single scene, and runs from roughly 1000-1800 words, but not over. I was planning to have fewer, longer chapters, but as I started writing, I settled on these shorter ones. And yet, I like the way it feels and I think the scenes are distinct enough in most places to warrant it. It also makes the book seem to run faster, I think. But I worry that one or two of the later chapters will be much longer, maybe even 2500 or 3000 words. Is this going to be a problem for readers, both the short chapters in general and the few that are longer than the rest?

    • In terms of chapter length, think about this: when a chapter ends it doesn’t necessarily mean that the reader will stop. I know I don’t stop just because a chapter ends. During exciting parts (when your chapters will get longer), a chapter break will be slightly detrimental since it’s a break in the action. I find my stories start small, then gradually get bigger. I don’t think you should have any problems. Hope this comment helps!

    • In my opinion (I know it’s been a while, but I just found this) chapter length should be roughly the same throughout the book to keep a sense of uniformity, which readers will find comforting. Having mostly short chapters and one or two extra long ones may throw the reader out of the oacing and style of the book, and it will be hard for them to get back into stride. (Again, just my thoughts, take them or leave them)

  • Well, this is pretty hard for me. As an amateur, I always thought that most chapters have at least less than 9,00 words. When in fact, I’m going OVER THE LINE. I find it strange that I find chapters less than 8,000 words that I write a bit short. For me, I find the chapter that I write less detailed if it’s at least 5,000 words long. Then again, maybe it’s just me. After all, I’m still beginning.

  • I find most ‘advice’ on this subject to be ill-informed. Chapter length is an arbitrary measurement. In this age of rapidly deteriorating attention spans the use of historical data is moot. Genre is an important component. It should be noted that all three examples in the article relate to fantasy. The fantasy genre requires authors to spend words describing items that to do not exist. Real world stories have no such requirement.

    Chapter length is merely a reader convenience and should be tuned to the target audience. Consider the Thriller reader who aims to consume a chapter whilst on the train on the way to work, another on the way home, and another before turning in. Pitch that against a Historical Fiction novel targetted towards a retired citizen who spends ever afternoon reading in the conservatory.

    I write thrillers. My latest has an average chapter length of 2200 words with the high being 3000.

    Of course structure and POV are relevant issues. Thrillers tend to use multiple concurrent story-lines. Tension is created by switching between them.

      • I hope not. My first six chapters are all about that long. I’m a novice so don’t take it from me but I think the pacing is more important than the word count. Don’t let the scene drag on just to me a quota.

    • I love your input! I am trying my hand at writing a story that has been in my head for 20+ years and while “book” is a dirty word, I have been toying with the idea of adhering to the guidelines for the sake of future sanity. Learning that concurrent story-lines is a ‘thing’ makes me feel so much better about what I am naturally doing. Obviously, I am not much of a reader and your response has inspired me to pick up some thrillers for reference… but also, not to lose my original voice and aim. BTW I feel like one of those who is propelled; I have over a hundred pages of plot handwritten and I have typed 10,000 words of the intros. No super exciting stuff yet. Anyone can write the exciting stuff. Like I said, 20+ years of “Do this already.”

  • Good clear boundaries. I agree with some of the other comments below that genre needs to be taken into account in how flexible those boundaries should be, but as a first timer to writing a full novel, it’s nice to see what generally ‘feels right’.
    I’m averaging at around 4 800 per chapter, but ranging between 3 000 and 6 000, so it will probably be worthwhile to see how economic I can be once I hit a deeper editing phase. Thanks for the post!

  • I am writing my first and last book about my life. This is great help for me. Thanks to Internet and to people that helps other without asking for money.

  • Thanks I did that right….the part about my events contributing to my plot….I’m not a natural…or am I? …LOl!
    Just joking…

  • Hi. I had a task to create a start of a few chapters for your own book. I have decided I want to post the book onto what pad. I have noticed it is not quite a novel since in each chapter I have about 500 words. I wanted to make the book a series. Do you think that my second book could be better and be apart of a series. Please reply. When I do get older, I really want to become an author.

    • Completely unrelated to the topic but in you first one if it feels short maybe try adding more into it (that’s if you want it to be longer) if its a thriller (or fast paced genre) then probably short is fine.

      Your second book could definitely be a part of a series, as could your first it just depends on the story line etc.

      Good luck! Hope that helps 😉

    • It could be apart of a series! It might not be a good idea if there are different characters (maybe if your adding characters of there just related to the OCs, that would work.)

      Good Luck!!!

      -Boom!

  • great advice. interesting fact about harry potter. saves me counting the words now lol. I’m on book 2 of the three I’m writing.

    it is great that in this day and age we can search the answers quicker and this has been most useful to me. now I wonder where I can get some advice and guidance on publishing options. anyone know what J.K. Rowling’s original deal was per chance??

  • Excellent guidance. I thank you for your clear answer to a question I have considered as a beginning writer.

    • What’s your target audience? 1200 words would be ok for a young audience, but adults and teens can take more. Personally I average 2,400-4,000 words, depending on how deep into “the zone” I am and how in depth my current scene is. Find what works for you, but keep in mind that certain audiences look for certain things, though you can always use artistic liscence. Just have fun with it, that’s most important: enjoy the write.

  • The problem is, if I do have a really short chapter, but don’t know what to do about it, what do you do? Nobody seems to know on the internet!

    • Something I’ve done is to walk away from it for a time, and go back to it later with a fresh mind. Try taking a little break: do something you find enjoyable, relax and recharge. Then try again. To help with ‘filler material’ perhaps add or increase background detail, note the setting (i.e: what kind of light is on scene, a detail of the room a character can’t stop focusing on, a moment where a character slips out of full attention and has a reverie, daydream, random thought whatever and then come back to the conversation with the realization they were asked a question or something like that, ect…)

      I hope this helps.

  • As an avid reader, I don’t think a chapter should be based on how many words. I think it should be based on the scene being written about. Don’t combine 3 or 4 completely different scenes and end up with a chapter that’s 50 pages long. That is so annoying.

  • Personally I find that chapter length depends on the content of the chapter. A chapter that has a bit more action going on and is quick paced is going to be less of an issue to a reader that is more involved in a chapter with that pace. I’ve written 4500-5000 word chapters with a lot of action in it. The slower paced chapters I like to keep a bit more descriptive but shorter as to invoke better imagery in the readers mind to keep them glued. Readers are a lot less likely to finish reading a chapter or especially a book if they have to fight their way through it.

    I’m working on a series and have most of one book written that’s about 100,000 words now. It contains 29 chapters now and will probably contain 30 or 31 depending on how the last two go. About 3,444 words per chapter or so.

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