Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#1
Simple question: what is the ideal chapter length?

Traditional novels tend(ed? Is this an antiquated thing?) to have between 1-10k words with 2-5k being the more standard "sweet spot". Web novels, I've recently realized, seem to shoot for less than that.

So!! In your opinion, what is the ideal chapter length? Is it better to have lots of little chapters or fewer more fleshed out chapters? Do you change the length of your chapters based on the publishing format? Specifically for here at RR, what is the approved standard chapter length?

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#2
It's less about length and more about attracting readers to read more. If you need to make chapters shorter to post daily, it might be a good idea. If you need to make them longer for a cliffhanger/hook/etc for the next chapter, it might be a good idea too. Some choose to make them longer when posting on patreon, so the advance chapters for supporters look like a better deal. 

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#3
Honestly, the way that I 'scout' worthwhile stories is the rule '10 pages per chapter or more'. If you can't write 10 pages per chapter, the story likely isn't worth it. That's not an absolute metric of course, but I've honestly yet to see a great story that has chapter lengths beneath this 'rule'.

Stories that are less than 10 pages per chapter tend to be stories that don't have a lot of depth. They're often self-inserts with very little worldbuilding and detail. Some stories have the opposite problem though. Metaworld Chronicles and Primal Hunter each have relatively large chapters, but the information in them isn't worth a lot of reading pleasure either imo.

Edit: guess I might turn that into '8 pages or more'. Or maybe 'around 10 pages or more'. An easy way to see my point is just by searching based on 'ongoing stories' and looking at the mostp opular stuff. It's almost all stories that follow this rule.

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#4
Chapter length doesn't matter so much as chapter quality. A chapter should be long enough to answer:

1. Who are the people involved in the chapter?
2. What are they doing in the chapter?
3. Why are they doing what they're doing in the chapter?
4. Where/When is this chapter happening?
5. How do the above all fit together?

Sometimes naming the characters is enough to answer the first question. Sometimes it isn't. When you're giving us character backstory or an insight into their interests or their personality, you're answering the first question.

"What are they doing" seems pretty simple and it is. They could be walking & talking, investigating a crime scene, sitting down in a tavern and preparing to eat.

The "why" gets a little harder, but it's still pretty easy. They could be investigating a crime scene for any number of reasons; it's their job, they stumbled upon it. They could be sitting down at a tavern because they're trying to lay low and are on the run, they just got back from a dungeon crawl and went somewhere nice to celebrate... whatever reason, this is the why.

You'd be surprised at how often "Where/When" gets left out, but it's arguably the most important part of a story, especially in high fantasy that is removed from earth. Us readers aren't in this world. We have no idea what it's like beyond what you, the author, tells us. Most people never give enough setting description (and I personally struggle with it, too). It's not enough to just tell us the name of the city or dungeon our characters are in. How big is the city? Is it relatively clean and open or dirty and crowded? What type of city is it? A port city? A trading/market hub? A mining village? The capital city of the nation? Is it an older city or a new one? Is it abandoned?  How's the weather? Sunny? Cloudy? What time of year is it? Time of day? 

How does it all fit together? Well this is the hardest part of all because it requires some extra thought and consideration on the part of the author. 


You need to tie the above together in a way that makes sense for the chapter. You won't always give every question the same level of detail, and you won't always answer every question. But as a general rule, most of your chapters should be considering these and it should be intentional on the part of the author to not answer one of these questions. Word count is gonna vary a lot based on what you decide on the above. But if I had to throw out a number, I'd say if your average chapter length over your whole project is around 1k words, you are more than likely not answering some of these questions more unintentionally than intentionally—most likely because you aren't keeping proper track of the "economy of information", or what the author, reader, and characters know. Each group (and individual character) can often have way different levels of knowledge. It's the author's job to keep track of what each group knows. And a lot of novice authors have trouble separating what they know from what their characters or the reader knows (they think they know what they know or they assume they don't know enough generally common knowledge things).

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#5
Personally, I don't read anything with less than 1000 words per chapter (4 pages) . I don't even try. The story with the shortest chapters that i read is Chrysalis, and that's pushing my buttons regularly. The question is, why?

It takes some time for me to immerse myself into the story again if it's been a day since I read it. Short chapters tend to end right when I get back into the flow. It leaves me wanting more, and not in a good way. I read books to escape a bit, think about different things than whatever is keeping me awake at night. If the chapters are too short, I don't get the escapism I'm looking for and I feel frustrated.

Different types of stories offer different types of escapism, and not every type needs the same chapter length. A book that needs you to feel invested in the characters, feel empathy for them and go through the story side by side with them needs longer chapters than gag-a-day stories where the MC goes from one ridiculous situation to the next.

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#7
Personally I do 1,200 words minimum, and then 2,500 words maximum.
If it is longer than 2,500 its only for dramatic affect or if it ruins the story by splitting the chapter.
Sometimes in the author's notes I just tell people its a bit longer than usual is all. I release chapters daily, so if people aren't all caught up, I'm not all in a tiff about it or whatever. It does make sense to release shorter chapters if you update more frequently though, but the rule of thumb is to stop at 2,100 words for a chapter.

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#8
I don't think you can arbitrarily set a chapter length. It really depends on the story and where natural break points occur. I have chapters which can be anywhere from 2k to 5k words. At one point I tried breaking up the 5k chapters, but I couldn't find a place where it made sense to break it up. Personally, I don't like when the chapters are purposely small just to get a higher number of views. Chapter breaks need to make sense in the story.

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#11
As a reader, a chapter is too short if too little happens in it before we have to advance to the next chapter.  In contrast, a chapter is too long if too much happens and I'm waiting for the end of the chapter so I can take a break.

As a writer, a chapter is too short is not enough happens in the chapter for it to be a "chapter" as opposed to some smaller unit of measure for a book.  In contrast, a chapter is too long if it just keeps going and going; not sure I've ever had this problem before, but if I did at some point, I would assume that I have some fundamental flaw for conceiving the chapter.

That was a long way of saying, a chapter is the right length when it the the right length for a chapter.  That is relatively useful, if true.

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#12
I'm fairly new to this, so please take my opinion with as much salt as you need. However, I find that two to three thousand words per chapter is the happiest medium for me. (Not for everyone, but for myself).

Depending on the author's work ethic, a daily upload schedule can vary wildly in how much content there is. However, generally if there's substance in the chapter, there should be somewhere from 1-3 thousand words. Otherwise, they're usually just throwing information at you with no regard for whether it sticks.

Stay Rock Hard,
- Rocky

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#13
With my own writing, I tend to end up in the 3-4k range, but it is ultimately just a matter of how much is needed to accomplish the chapter's objectives. I'll typically have in mind whatever major things (usually 2-3 things) need to be established in a chapter as well as smaller things that are still worth mentioning. So, for example, introducing a new main character might be a major goal for the chapter while I meanwhile also want to establish the character's relationships and dynamics with other characters through interactions and dialogue. Or I may make a note that I for sure want to have a character make a small mention about a world-building detail so that I can elaborate on it more in a later chapter without it coming out of nowhere at that point.

And obviously that's just how I break it down in my head so that way of thinking may not be helpful for everyone, but I generally just find a chapter doesn't feel complete unless it's completed some sort of goal.

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#14

Mai Wrote: With my own writing, I tend to end up in the 3-4k range, but it is ultimately just a matter of how much is needed to accomplish the chapter's objectives. I'll typically have in mind whatever major things (usually 2-3 things) need to be established in a chapter as well as smaller things that are still worth mentioning. So, for example, introducing a new main character might be a major goal for the chapter while I meanwhile also want to establish the character's relationships and dynamics with other characters through interactions and dialogue. Or I may make a note that I for sure want to have a character make a small mention about a world-building detail so that I can elaborate on it more in a later chapter without it coming out of nowhere at that point.

And obviously that's just how I break it down in my head so that way of thinking may not be helpful for everyone, but I generally just find a chapter doesn't feel complete unless it's completed some sort of goal.

This is a very formulaic (?) approach to chapter construction. I don't know that I go into a chapter with a particular goal like this, but I really like how intentional this method is. Thank you for your comment. It's given me something to seriously consider.


*I want to go home and rethink my life....*

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#17
I average around 2500 words or 10 pages per chapter. Fairly standard to perhaps even somewhat short length for a traditional published novel, and reader feedback on the length has only been positive. For a web serial you generally want the chapters to be self-contained with a hook and some drive to get the reader to look at the next chapter. Desolada, as I'm posting it on this site, is a close rewrite of an earlier draft somewhat adapted to meet this standard. There was a definite reader drop-off at a part where a chapter is split into three and there is no real ending to sections 1 and 2. 

It is certainly not a bad habit to include a hook at the end of chapters in a traditional novel to keep people bingeing. That's how you get a true fan---they sit down and read everything in one sitting and wait eagerly for more. 

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#18

Mai Wrote: With my own writing, I tend to end up in the 3-4k range, but it is ultimately just a matter of how much is needed to accomplish the chapter's objectives. I'll typically have in mind whatever major things (usually 2-3 things) need to be established in a chapter as well as smaller things that are still worth mentioning. So, for example, introducing a new main character might be a major goal for the chapter while I meanwhile also want to establish the character's relationships and dynamics with other characters through interactions and dialogue. Or I may make a note that I for sure want to have a character make a small mention about a world-building detail so that I can elaborate on it more in a later chapter without it coming out of nowhere at that point.

And obviously that's just how I break it down in my head so that way of thinking may not be helpful for everyone, but I generally just find a chapter doesn't feel complete unless it's completed some sort of goal.

This is a super interesting approach. I really like that it's methodical too. I'm honestly not that organized.


I tend to do it like this--and this might not be the best way to do it, based on what people above are saying: I'll write a chapter that's approx. 2k-5k words, and then from there I'll try to break it down into 1-3 shorter sections that are under the 2,000 word mark, and post roughly every other day. I just assume that our attention spans tend to be a little shorter while we're reading on screens--not really sure where I got that from. I'm not sure if this makes readers happy or not happy, I'm super new to the site. 

I know that other sites where you can serialize fiction, like Inkitt, tend to recommend 1k-1.5k chapters. Obviously, I try to make sure that there's something interesting happening in every section, but it's not like I'll a complete achieved "goal" in 1k words. That will take several sections.

Should I make the chapters longer and post less frequently, you think?

Re: Let's Talk Chapter Lengths

#19

Maz Wrote: This is a super interesting approach. I really like that it's methodical too. I'm honestly not that organized.


I tend to do it like this--and this might not be the best way to do it, based on what people above are saying: I'll write a chapter that's approx. 2k-5k words, and then from there I'll try to break it down into 1-3 shorter sections that are under the 2,000 word mark, and post roughly every other day. I just assume that our attention spans tend to be a little shorter while we're reading on screens--not really sure where I got that from. I'm not sure if this makes readers happy or not happy, I'm super new to the site. 

I know that other sites where you can serialize fiction, like Inkitt, tend to recommend 1k-1.5k chapters. Obviously, I try to make sure that there's something interesting happening in every section, but it's not like I'll a complete achieved "goal" in 1k words. That will take several sections.

Should I make the chapters longer and post less frequently, you think?

I think that like the many people who have tuned in above, you need to find the right length for you. In talking with some of my readers, some say that they like the longer lengths, while most people really don't care all that much as long as each post feels worthwhile.


There is definitely a numbers benefit from posting less more often (assuming you don't lose your readership because it takes too long). Personally, I posted a whole bunch of longer chapters (like 3-6k words) early on, and I've since started posting 2-3k length chapters more recently after this thread and after discussing things with my readers. I still have mixed feelings. But I think my early chapters were a bit too long, and my more recent chapters are more in the butter zone length? Maybe? I don't know. Honestly, it's such a subjective topic. How long is too long? How short is too short? 🤷🏼‍♀️