Chapter Length

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m convinced I have mild O.C.D. It usually centers around the door to my house or my car being locked, or even the oven being left on, but occasionally certain organizational things will kick it into gear.

So what on earth does my O.C.D. have to do with chapter length?

Perhaps it’s my little obsession, but chapter length fascinates me. It’s more prevalent when I’m acting as a reader as opposed to a writer, but chapter length is something I’ve thought about more often than I should probably admit. Still, I wonder if others have the same question on the topic as I do…while there is no official “perfect” chapter length, is there a perfect chapter length for each individual reader?

Scene breaks tend to come naturally to us as writers, each segment carrying the action forward until a pause between high points is used to pace the story’s momentum. In much the same way, we use chapters to break our tale. They are a transitional tool carrying the story from one incident to the next, and ideally, they end with at least a small cliffhanger that drives readers to turn the page. Sometimes a chapter will run longer than others, and for some writers, the chapter breaks occur at surprisingly regulated intervals. In reality, the lengths are completely arbitrary.

Let me assure you—when I write, I do not count out each chapter’s pages and launch a tantrum if I’ve missed the mark, nor do I keep count and call “Chapter break!” when I’ve hit the requisite number of pages. Both scenarios would be ludicrous. But when I finished Kyresa, I did spend some time counting pages in each section and chapter, seeing if in changing the story’s order a tad I could also balance out the chapter lengths. Surprisingly, in most cases my chapter fascination and story flow worked in a fairly collaborative manner. (Math brain meets English brain moment? One will never know…)

I’ve learned I’m more particular about chapter lengths as a reader. Long chapters frustrate me. I have only small windows of time to read, and while I can put a book down at a scene break, I’d rather pause at a more dramatic and memorable intermission. Shorter chapters are fantastic because I can read one, check the clock, and get that rush of staying up too late in order to read just one more!

Will I throw a book down because of chapter length? No. I’m not that OCD. But it’s definitely something ticking away in the back of my mind. Short chapters with similar lengths and natural breaks seem to lend to my enjoyment of a book (the icing on the cake of plot and writing, of course).

So what about you—do you have an opinion on this? For those of you who write, do you try to find balanced page lengths in your chapters, or does it come naturally? Or do you not even think about it?

What about on the reader side of things—do you have a preference?

Please share your thoughts below. I’d love to know!

I’ve included some links on chapter length and transitions below. Be sure to check them out, and don’t forget to send your Third Thursday Flash idea submissions in by 8 p.m. PST tonight!

In the meantime, happy reading and writing, everyone! 🙂

Other Articles Related to Chapter Breaks:

How to End a Chapter, via The Editor’s Blog

Chapter and Novel Lengths, via All Write — Fiction Advice

Chapter Length, via Wen Spencer on Goodreads

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About Eva Rieder

Eva Rieder is a speculative and contemporary/mainstream fiction author. By day, she masquerades as a high school Math and English teacher. Though she adores teaching and her students very much, when Eva returns home she reglues her fingertips to the keyboard to pursue her alter ego’s destiny. She currently lives and writes in Northern California with her two keyboard-savvy cats. View all posts by Eva Rieder

8 responses to “Chapter Length

  • Regina

    When I wrote my first book, I went back and tried to “even out” some of the chapters, but I didn’t get all of them to balance. Some were siginificantly shorter than others, and some a little lengthy; but trust me. It was not for lack of trying. I guess I have a little tiny bit of chapter OCD, too.
    My future books will all be short works. That first book wore me out. And I wrote it. 🙂

    • Eva Rieder

      Ha ha. Well, I can understand that. I still haven’t attempted my next full length book, but am planning to in February. I’ve grown a bit addicted to shorts! As for chapter length, I don’t think it can be measured or timed, but it’s still something I think about. I’m glad I’m not alone! 🙂 Thanks for visiting and commenting, Regina!

  • Skye MacLeod

    Funny, Yesterday i found that chart I made a few years ago listing our anal quirks to see who was more OCD. 🙂

    Pardon my iPhone-speak

    • Eva Rieder

      Oh my word, the list. The list! That’s probably the most outstanding display of our OCD tendencies to date. I love that you still have it from what – five years ago? Signs of a long and great friendship! Who won? I vaguely remember it being me, but then I think I’ve settled down a bit in the last couple years…except for maybe with chapter length, door locks, and ovens. 🙂 Thanks for commenting, girlie!

  • Melanie Conklin

    Great post on a very interesting topic! I read thousands of books before I ever started writing. So, for me, chapter length was something I noticed. Sometimes not AS I was writing, but certainly during revision. I don’t like chapters that go on too long–like you, I prefer small, delicious snacks. If a chapter goes on too long, without being broken up by a dream or a flashback, or some kind of scene break, I start skimming. The same thing happens when I beta-read for other writers. Especially with MG. Chapters have to be quick, have a point, wrap up to a nice meaning, and leave me eager to dive into the NEXT chapter.

    • Eva Rieder

      I completely agree, Melanie! I suppose the “all things in moderation” theory applies to chapter length too—keep them brief or reasonably lengthened so we can enjoy more in the future. 🙂 Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  • Katie Checkley

    Nice question. I’ve actually struggled quite a bit with this. During a fourth (or maybe fifth, I can’t keep track anymore) revision, I actually had it in my head that each chapter would run approx 10-12 pages. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. Some chapters just naturally end sooner. I think the key element a chapter needs is an arc. A beginning, middle, and end that somehow needs to stand on its own, yet connect to the larger web of the story. Once I realized this, I got over myself for writing a seven page chapter!

    Excellent, relevant post.

    • Eva Rieder

      Thanks, Katie! And I agree that each chapter needs a bit of an arc—the length really is arbitrary, but it must be relevant. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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