What’s a Good Word Count for a Chapter?
One question I get all the time is: what word count should I aim for with each chapter? No hard and fast rules exist when it comes to word count for a chapter. However, I can recommend some general guidelines for you to follow.
Don’t tie yourself into one word count goal for your chapters.
Not every chapter should be the same length. Just like eating the same thing for dinner every night, too much uniformity in chapter length is boring. Variable chapter lengths keep the reader interested.
Is there a minimum and maximum for a chapter?
While some authors are okay with chapters as short as one sentence, I like to go no shorter than 100 words before a break. I also don’t like to go over 2,500 words, but I write epic dark fantasy, which tends to move pretty quickly.
Even if you’re writing romance, literary fiction, or cozy mysteries, where readers are used to the slow build, I don’t recommend more than 5,000 words in a chapter.
The reason I say this is that on average, a book page consists of 250 words. So, if your chapter hits 5,000 words, that’s roughly 28 pages, or 14 pages front and back. I’ve seen writers brag that their chapters are 10,000 (40 pages) and even 20,000 words (80 pages). Those chapters are way too long. You’re asking your readers to sit through a lot.
But how do I decide where to break it?
Chapter breaks serve as goal posts or mile markers in your book. The goal for one chapter probably isn’t going to be the same as the goal for the next one or the next one after that. Where you break is dependent on the goal of the chapter.
Are you trying to move the chapter at a fast clip? Make it a short chapter.
Are you trying to cover a lot of ground in one scene? Make it a longer chapter.
Where to break the chapter exactly tends to be more of a gut thing that I can’t explain easily. But, here are a couple of ways I break a chapter that keeps the flow moving:
- End on a question. “…but could she hold on that long?” The reader wants to know the answer to that question.
- End on a cliffhanger. “She shoved her arm through the rapidly closing portal. She grasped empty air on the other side.” The reader wants to see what she’s going to do now that she couldn’t catch the person she was chasing.
- End on a point of view shift. No one character will perceive any given scene the same way. One way you can make an extended scene a little richer and full-bodied is to shift the POV from one character to another, even if this is from the protagonist to the antagonist. Give your reader that new perspective on the other side of the chapter break.
A note on point of view shifts. Never shift POV within the same chapter, unless you’re writing from an omnipotent standpoint. Even that’s a little hard to pull off well, in my honest opinion. Otherwise, you risk confusing your reader.
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I’m still stuck…
If you’re still having trouble, my suggestion is to just let your writing flow and worry about your breaks later. Chapters are fluid and can be adjusted when your piece is completed. You may find you have a clearer picture of where your goal posts should go at the end.