How long should my chapter be?

Listen to this chapter

Disclaimer: This is a re-written version of a chapter of my Wattpad 101 book that I decided to put on my blog. I may move other of the more helpful advice to my blog as time permits.

How long should a chapter be? How long should a novel be? How does that translate to Microsoft word? How many words are on a novel page? What about the style of book I want to write? Okay, Okay, that’s a lot of questions. Let’s go ahead and break it down for you.

If you’re trying to decide how long you should write a chapter, the go to answer is that it should be exactly as long as you want it to be. Every book is a work of art, and who are we to tell you exactly how long something should be.

I’m not entirely convinced of that answer. First off, that doesn’t help you achieve any kind of goal in writing. If you write long, bloated work and could benefit from chopping it down, this advice is useless. If you write short, detail-less chapters, this doesn’t push you to write more.

I find myself facing the argument, “Well, this person once wrote a chapter only one word long, so that makes it a free game.”

My response is… no… it doesn’t.

There are typical averages for writing. When you pick up a book, you typical expect chapters to take a certain amount of time, and then you reach the end. When chapters are really short, you notice. When chapters go on and on… you notice.

It will fluctuate greatly based on your style, but don’t let that give you the idea that you can write whatever you want. When someone picks up a work, their expectation plays into their experience, and the “average” is their typical expectation. There needs to be a “reason” you’re going outside the averages. There should be a point to it. If you’re just doing it because you don’t feel like writing any more or because you lack the skill to write more than 500 word chapters, that is not an excuse, that is a problem you need to work on to become a better writer.

Anyway, now that I’ve refuted some of that… let me break this down with some averages I looked up. Please note that these ranges are not definitive. For example, how many words per page depend on how you write. A dialogue heavy writing with many word breaks, or use of large words versus small words, can change the amount a lot. These averages assume one of the default fonts for Microsoft word (calibri, times new roman), 11 or 12.

Chapter Size

A single Microsoft word page – ~500 words, ranging between 400-800 words. That’s a layout of eight and a half inches by eleven inches with a one inch margin.

A single novel page runs from 200-500 words. That depends heavily on the type of book and font size. Not all novels are the same dimensions. Six inch by 9 inch with 0.75 inch margins can be considered a standard.

A chapter size can range from 1000-7,000* words. The ideal average is ~3000 words. This is highly variable, and is also influenced by how long the entire book is. Fantasy epics and very technical writing might have longer chapters, while young adult and teen stories would fall on the shorter side.

*Technically, there is no upper range. Some authors write chapters as long as 12k words, and this can be okay for some, and a bit wordy for others. Deciding how long your chapter should be depends a bit on your target audience. Familiarize yourself with the type of genre you want to write, and try to pick the sizes you aim for based on that. 

This means that in a standard novel, a chapter could usually range from 6-28 novel pages or 3-14 word pages.

Naturally, chapter-less stories, poems, and other types of writing may have different rules.

Paragraph Size

Paragraphs have no specific sentence or word count. Avoid writing one over six sentences long. They can be as short as one sentence, especially when using dialogue.

Book Size

Short Story – Under 7,500 words

Novella (Or Young Adult Novel) – 7,500 words to 17,500 words

Novelette – 17,500 words to 60,000 words

Novel – 60,000 words and more

These numbers are subject to change, there is nothing that officially says anything can’t be a novel at 55,000 words. These are a loose guide, and whether you call something a Novella, Novelette, or Novel is purely subjective.

A young adult Goosebump book from RL Stine is right under 20,000 words.

Twilight is 118,000 words, roughly.

Hunger Games was 102,700 words.

The first Harry Potter was 77,000 words and the fattest Harry Potter (book 5) was 250,000 words.

Most Standard Novels are around 80,000-120,000 words.

Larger Novels and Epics (Game of Thrones, etc…) are from 250,000 to 400,000 words.

Most books don’t go over 400,000 words.

The Bible (new and old) is 800,000 words. Mind you, there are 66 books in the bible, so each book is only like 12,000 words.

Anyway, hopefully those numbers put your writing into perspective for you. If you are trying to decide how long your chapters should be, look at how long you typically write. If you struggle to get to 1500 words, you might want to set 1500-2000 as a goal to force yourself to write more. If you easily pump out a 6000-word behemoth, you might want to limit yourself to 5000 words to try to force your writing to be cut down.

The next thing you need to ask yourself is, “What happened in this chapter?”. Write down what physically happens during your chapter. If you’re at 3000 words and nothing really happened, then your work is bloated. If you’re at 6000 words and fifty things happened, maybe you could break that into two chapters.

Always balance how much happens in your chapter with how many words, it takes to say it. Know that the more you write without stuff happening, chances are the more boring your chapter will become to the reader. If that’s the case, either cut it down, or write it in a way that keeps your reader invested in the story, even through the parts that drag.

So yeah, develop your own style and stick with it. Avoid massive chapter variation, rarely should you go from a 500 word chapter to a 5000 word chapter and back again. There is little excuse for that, and if you choose to do it, have a good reason beyond, “Eh, I didn’t feel like it”. Still, do what works and what flows well. Remember the overall flow of your story and stick with it.