Length Matters

Did I really just make a sexual innuendo in the title?

Yes, yes, I did.

Anywho, I feel like it’s been ages since my last writing guide. I swear, I must have already written on every major topic in writing, but if you guys think I missed anything, just reach out to me via my contact page. I’m all ears for suggestions, and I consider each and every one of them.

Moving on… if you haven’t guessed already, this writing guide is all about chapter length. How long is long enough and how long is too long? If you’ve ever been curious about what the perfect range for chapters is or even what to focus on in your chapters, keep reading.

As opposed to short stories, chapter novels are split up into many installments called chapters. (Yes, I know this is obvious, but give me a moment. I’m getting somewhere good.) Each chapter builds on top of the other, like a tower. If the foundation is weak, the whole tower will collapse.

But that’s not all.

Each individual chapter should have a purpose, whether it is in furthering the plot or making your characters more developed. Ever heard of the term “filler chapter” before? Well, you’re going to want to avoid those, because in my opinion, it makes your writing weak and ineffective.

Sure, I mean, some people see filler chapters as necessary, but even the most basic of chapters can move the plot forward or develop a character more. Even if we only learn that Bob is afraid of sushi or that Lucy has sex with cats, that’s great for character development!

So, to me, a filler chapter is where nothing happens, but I don’t think it’s possible to write a filler chapter because no matter what you do, something will be revealed. Even characters watching TV tells you something about what genre they like or what their daily routine looks like.

(Side Note: Please note that revealing information pertinent to the plot is most important when it comes to character development. If you go on about TV preferences in a story about surviving in the jungle, that is too much. Not unless you use it as a bridge to talk about reality TV shows the character watched to demonstrate their survival knowledge. So, be careful.)

Let’s think big picture for a second.

Does this following image look familiar to anyone?

That’s the most watered down form of how you should be thinking about novels. However, each piece in that diagram should not be reserved for just one chapter, and not all novels go in that order, but most of them do fit the chart.

If you think of your novel as a puzzle, then each individual chapter is a puzzle piece. You want each puzzle piece to fit into the puzzle so you can form a larger image; your novel. So, what do I recommend to include in every chapter?

Make sure your chapter includes at least one of the following:

1) A plot-defining event. Example: If you are writing about a fugitive outlaw on the run, this could be their great escape or even a fight scene. (Try to limit this to one event, so you can properly describe it, but depending on the event itself, you could have more than one present.)

2) An event that furthers character development. Example: Let’s say you’re writing a teen fiction novel about a boy who is bullied. He’s doing his homework in the school library. The bully shows up. If the boy decides he’s fed up and he fights back for once, this builds up his character.

3) This last one is a bit rare, but an event that foreshadows future conflict. Example: Your characters are practicing wizards. One of them gets hungry for tacos, so they all head out, but they leave their wands at home. You can briefly describe it to tease the readers and hint at possible consequences to come.

So, Lumi, this is great and all, but… how many words should a chapter be?

Well, I don’t really focus on word count when I write a chapter. I focus on the importance of the chapter as a whole. Is it doing at least one or more of the three things listed above?

Once I’ve satisfied that requirement, then…

I make sure that the chapter is between 2k and 3k words long. My weakness in writing is writing descriptive chapters, so having a range like this alongside my above requirement helps me write fuller and more engaging chapters. (If I fall short, I go back and expand my details out more.)

So far, using this method, I haven’t written over my 3k word limit.

2k to 3k words might not be a practical range for everyone, though, because different genres have different demands on the writer. For example, fantasy and science-fiction novels tend to have longer chapters than other genres. (I’m fairly sure this is because of all the worldbuilding.)

If you find 2k to 3k words too high of a target to aim for, it’s okay to lower that range to 1k to 2k words. However, I strongly suggest you to stay within 1k to 3k words for a chapter.

If you go below 1k words, then you might have a problem with not describing enough or making the scenes too short. If you go above 3k words, you risk losing your reader’s attention or the chapter could become so long that you lose focus on what it’s even about.

(That, of course, excludes short or dialogue stories where chapters are short on purpose.)

Protip: If you struggle with summarizing your chapter in one sentence, you probably made it too long.

And… that’s about all I’ve got. Thanks for reading!

Got any questions? Leave a comment below or contact me through my contact page.

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