If you’re reading this, that means one of two things. First, you’re a writer who wants to know whether the chapter you’re writing is too long, too short, or just right. Second, you’re a reader who wants to know how long it’ll take to read a chapter before you can put it down and take a break.
Popular novels average three to five thousand words per chapter. Examples include Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (4,560 words), Twilight (4,580), and The Hunger Games (3,700 words). The standard word count per chapter may vary depending on the book’s target market.
In this article, I’ll elaborate on other things that factor into a chapter’s length, like the number of pages, paragraphs, and scenes and how many chapters the average novel has. I’ll conclude the article with my subjective take on whether chapter length matters or not.
As I mentioned, the average chapter has around 3,000 to 5,000 words. How many pages does that make up?
A chapter can range from six to 32 book pages, writes Betty Kelly Sargent in her column for Publishers Weekly, “Ask the Editor: Chapter Length.” However, the number of pages per chapter matters less than how each chapter contributes to the overall pacing.
In other words, there are no hard and fast rules regarding the number of pages per book chapter. It’s possible to have only one page per chapter — or is it?
The average book page has 250 words. I calculated that number based on Betty Kelly Sargent’s estimates of 1,500 words per six book pages and 8,000 words per 32 book pages. Can a chapter have only 250 words?
A chapter can be one page or 250 words long. A short chapter works best for transitions or sudden whiplash moments (e.g., significant revelations regarding the plot or characters). You can check the “One-Paragraph Chapter” TV Tropes page for examples of chapters that are shorter than average.
I’ve covered the average chapter length according to the number of words and pages. Now, let’s talk about the paragraph component of a chapter.
Most people don’t like reading walls of text. Unless your chapter is only a few words long, you’ll want to break it up into paragraphs. But how many sections are ideal for a book chapter?
A chapter can have around 20 paragraphs, assuming you have 100 to 200 words per paragraph and 2,000 to 4,000 words per chapter. A new section usually denotes a new topic, a different time or location, or a speaker change. You can use paragraphs to break up long speeches and for dramatic effect.
Later, I’ll discuss how scenes matter as far as book chapter length is concerned. But before that, let’s differentiate the terms “scene” and “chapter.”
The distinction between a chapter and a scene is essential for fiction writers. Not only will it help you structure your book, but it’ll also help you set a pace appropriate for your story.
A chapter has one or more scenes. A scene is a single event that occurs within the same time and place. Meanwhile, a chapter usually contains a sequence of interrelated scenes that sets up a goal, the obstacle to the goal, and whether a character overcomes the obstacle to achieve the goal.
Put in another way, a scene is a unit of a chapter. You can write a chapter longer than a scene, but not the other way around. With that in mind, what’s the ideal or standard number of scenes per book chapter?
The TL;DR answer is: Every book chapter should have as many scenes as it needs to have. If you don’t mind math, I can give you a rough number of average scenes per chapter.
A single book chapter can have one to five scenes. Each chapter has three to five thousand words, which translates to around 600 to 5,000 words per scene. You can also go with the “potato chip length” of 2,000 words per scene or chapter.
I’ve given you the numbers you need to know on a per-chapter level. Let’s zoom out our metaphorical camera and look at the numbers on a per-book basis. In the next section, I’ll examine whether each chapter’s length relative to other chapters matters.
When it comes to fiction, pacing matters. If a chapter’s length affects pacing and you want your book’s pacing to feel even, does that mean every chapter needs the same number of words, more or less?
Book chapters don’t have to be the same length. The length of each chapter depends on how many interrelated scenes you can cram without feeling like there are too many things going on. A chapter can have one or multiple scenes, affecting the final word count per chapter.
Finally, let’s look at the average novel’s number of chapters.
A novel is any fiction book between 40,000 to 110,000 words long. Based on those numbers and the average chapter length discussed earlier, you can estimate how many chapters a novel can have.
The average novel has ten to 20 chapters. Some books have as few as two chapters, while others span over 200 chapters. Generally, the more complex your plot is, the more chapters your story will require. You may also include side stories as long as they’re relevant to the main plot.
Whew, those are a lot of numbers! Although they’re helpful when structuring your books, they shouldn’t limit your ability to write a good story that keeps readers turning pages.
Of course, none of the above numbers are definitive. When writing fiction, one of the most important rules to keep in mind is: Write your story for as long as it needs to be. If you feel that any part needs to break up into chapters, scenes, etc., do that. What matters to your readers is whether you told a compelling story, regardless of how long or short it is.
- Reedsy Blog: Chapter Length Matters. Here’s Why
- MasterClass: How to Pace Your Novel: How Long Should Book Chapters Be?
- Jericho Writers: How Long Should A Chapter Be?
- Word Counter: How Many Words in a Novel Chapter?
- Publishers Weekly: Ask the Editor: Chapter Length
- Quora: How many pages should a chapter be? I’ve got one which (if in book form) would be four pages long, is that okay?
- Quora: How many pages in a book make a chapter?
- Scribe Media: How Long Should Book Chapters Be? (What Authors Need To Know)
- TV Tropes: One-Paragraph Chapter
- Tweak Your Biz: Avoiding The “Wall of Text” When Creating Content
- Answers: How many paragraphs are in a chapter?
- Book Editing Associates: When to Start a New Paragraph in Fiction
- Sandra Gerth: How to Structure Paragraphs in Your Novel
- Jennie Nash: How to Tell the Difference Between a Scene and a Chapter
- Writers Untapped: Scenes vs. Chapters: What’s the Difference?
- Kevin T Johns Writing Coach: The Difference between Scenes, Sequences, and Chapters
- Novelize: How many scenes should your chapters have?
- Story Grid: How Many Scenes In A Novel: The Math of Story Telling
- Kboards: How many scenes in a chapter?
- Advanced Fiction Writing: Controlling Chapter Lengths in Your Novel
- Writing Forums: Do chapters have to be same word length
- Reddit: Is having a varying length of chapters a good idea or a bad one?
- NY Book Editors: Your Guide to Structuring Chapters
- Self-Publishing School: How Many Chapters Should Your Novel Have?
- MasterClass: Word Count Guide: How Long Is a Book, Short Story, or Novella?