How to Decide the Chapter Length in Fiction

Hi folks!

We authors often face doubts in our ability. The best writers would rather hide their manuscript in the drawer than bear the criticism. So it takes guts to share our creation with the world. We doubt everything. Even things we know. So it always helps to go over writing craft tips again and again.

One question that every one of us wonders one time or another is how long should we keep the chapters. We don’t want to break off in the middle of the scene and neither do we want an unending chapter which leaves the reader word-breathless. Let’s go over which factors are important in deciding the chapter length in fiction.

Genre: This is the most important factor which counts in my opinion. If you’re writing a thriller, you want pace and action. Short chapters, especially with terse headings indicating time and/or place lend speed to the story and make the reader turn the pages faster. This adds buzz to the reading. So limit your chapters to 1000 to 1500 words if you write a mystery.

On the other hand, if you’re writing literary fiction, you want to hold the reader’s hand and guide them through life’s unraveling truths. In this case, long chapters, possibly even without section breaks are better. The flow of the writing keeps going inexorably and the reader wants to absorb the words rather than skip through the pages. Here chapters can be 5000 words and your reader won’t mind.

Change of setting/Time elapse: If you change the setting or your character moves to a different place or if you jump to another time, then it’s better to start a new chapter. This will tell your reader that a change in place or time is indicated.

POV: This is important but at the same time also a matter of choice. You should ideally have one POV per chapter. In romance genre, if you write for both protagonists, then you can alternate between each. But you shouldn’t make it a hard and fast rule. Sometimes it wouldn’t suit your story to have a particular scene in that character’s POV, whose turn has come up. Then feel free to break the rule. Even so, try to have a section break to show that the point of view has changed or you can be accused of head hopping.

These are the most important things to consider in my view. What do you consider the most important factor while deciding chaper length? Do share in the comments.

For most writing tips, check out my Helpful Tips for Writers publication, Conflict in Fiction available as Amazon kindle edition at only 99 cents. In this booklet, you will find how to build conflict and how to categorize conflict in your fiction work. A special section for conflict in romance fiction is included.

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