I wanted to ask you about chapters. I’m heavily into the re-write of mine. I’ve been putting a lot more detail which means some of my chapters have become a lot bigger. In your view what’s the maximum word count for a chapter? Is it okay to have a 3k or even 5k one if it works?
There really is no right or wrong answer here. My chapters often range from 1100 to 6700 words. As long as you’re in the same place, in the same character’s perspective, there is no reason to end a chapter. Chapter breaks for me are most appropriate for the passage of time (say a few minutes/hours), during a major perspective change (a character POV who isn’t in the same vicinity), or a change of scenery. Even just walking into another room can justify a chapter change.
Well say I’m writing a story that is completely linear, stays with one character’s perspective, and remains in the same room the entire time?
Sigh… okay, in this increasingly hypothetical situation, I’d say that a chapter break would need to happen when the character’s attention is drawn to something new or… something changes in the room.
As I said above, there is no exact science. How or when you decide to end a chapter will be dictated more by your own style of writing and inclination than it will any written rule or any advice I could give you. I try to look at a chapter as its own individual thought, problem, or scene.
There are many
out there who would say that the length of a chapter should be more decided by the length of a book. (a 55,000 word book should have 5,000 word chapters), in other words, split up the book into 10 chapters, each one containing a tenth of the total word count. I don’t subscribe to this as I find it far too rigid.
In the end, it’s really up to you. If you feel like a chapter is starting to drone on, then find a place where the attention is broken or the scene changes in someway and insert a chapter break. It’s more of a judgement call than anything else.
So, sorry that I can’t give you a definitive answer, but honestly that’s because there isn’t really one. I do hope that this helps in some way.
Readers, what do you think? Are there certain chapter structures that you live by when writing? Let Eric know in the comments .
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
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Catch you on the flip side!
I agree with your observations about chapter length, though I did expect a discussion on paragraphs since that is what the title said. 🙂 🙂
Another point might be your target audience and what kind of book you are writing. For example, I’ve noticed a lot of young adult fiction has shorter chapters. Also, novels written from the point of view of several important characters often use shorter chapters so they don’t linger too long on one character. But then, they might end a chapter on a cliffhanger such as Fred the pirate getting captured by the English, who plan on hanging him, and then cut to the next chapter, which is Sally the pirate flailing around trying to find Fred, her lover, who she broke up with six chapters ago and now she’s having a change of heart. The longer chapter, or even forgetting about Fred for several chapters, can draw out the suspense. Is Fred going to get hanged? Will Sally find him? Will they get back together?
Enjoy your observations and I think these Ask a Question articles are a nice idea.
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