Most books are broken down into chapters so that they become easier to read. So as you’re writing a book, a common question if often asked: how many words should be in a chapter? The correct answer is this: as many as are needed to get your point across to the reader.
Now this doesn’t mean there aren’t any guidelines in place. Most publishers like to see chapters that are in the 2,000- to 3,000-word range. This will give the reader about a dozen or so pages to read in order to complete the chapter. By keeping chapter length to that level, it makes it easier for the reader to take advantage of the natural break opportunities to leave a book and come back to it at a later time.
In the industry as a whole, you’ll find that chapter size for most adult novels will typically be between 1,000-7,000 words. Sometimes you’ll find chapters are longer than this in non-fiction books, textbooks, or fictional novels that are very technical in nature.
Then you have an author like James Patterson who is all over the place when it comes to chapter length. Some of his chapters are between 250-500 words. In a standard novel, you might have 20-40 chapters. In the average James Patterson novel, you’ll have more than 100 chapters in most instances.
With So Much Variation, What Is Right for My Writing?
Chapter length often depends on the actions, scenes, or facts that must be conveyed to the reader at that specific point in the book. You need specificity in order to communicate the correct message. Length is a secondary consideration to that fact, but you also don’t want to be overly wordy in your writing.
Determining the right length for your chapters will also depend on these attributes being found in your writing.
Every chapter must be complete for the reader to be able to move on. It must teach, offer stories, and inspire the reader to take the next step. It can be a single idea or principle, or it can be a series of facts. Each sentence should drive the reader forward because it offers them something concrete.
Your chapters need to have a flow of their own. They should also be able to work together as a complete book, just as they can operate independently of one another. This means you need to draw a dual connection to the reader. The story of the chapter is important. The overall story must also stay important. It’s like each chapter is an episode of your favorite TV show.
Chapters in a novel can still use sub-headings, even if you’re not writing in a way that looks like a blog post. Many readers will skim through a chapter, looking for key words and phrases to pick out. This allows them to navigate through the book in a way that is meaningful to them. You must include these hidden subheadings, but still provide the in-depth content for readers who absorb every word.
This is where you need to ignore James Patterson. Chapters need to be relatively equal in length for the structure of the book to make sense. If you have a 1,000-word chapter, a 4,000-word chapter, then a 2,000-word chapter, then you need to make it clear to the reader that each has a unique value. Otherwise, the inconsistency could drive the reader away from the book altogether.
This might also be referred to as a “transition.” You know how a movie trailer gives you enough information to understand what is going on, but not enough to give away the entire story? That’s how book chapters work as well. Each chapter is its own story, but it is also a trailer for the next story.
How Many Words Should Be in a Chapter for Your Book?
Once you’ve incorporated the key points that every chapter should have, you’re ready to explore ways to minimize or increase chapter length if necessary. Are there extraneous descriptions or dialogue that could be removed? Could you add more detail to a scene to make it more realistic to the reader?
If you shoot for the 2,000-3,000 range for a word count, you’ll be able to see if there need to be additions or subtractions to your work. Then you can work to perfect the chapter so that it speaks to the reader in the way you intend.
Because, at the end of the day, readers remember the story – not your word count.