How many words in a novel chapter?

Chapter lengths

The average words in a chapter will vary depending on the book type, story length, pacing, and writing style.

But for those who need a figure to work with, the average length for a novel chapter is between 3,000 and 5,000 words.

Bear in mind, this is just a guideline. There are no rules when it comes to chapter length in your story.

The main effort as a writer is to deliver a scene or story in a way that satisfies the reader, not reach a word count.

Average chapter sizes
Average chapter sizes

Novel chapter word count

The average word count in a novel chapter often ranges between 3,000 – 5,000, but there are some outliers at both ends.

However, even though these numbers are a good ball-park to work with, there are a few variables to consider that can drastically affect these figures.

Length of a novel.

With a short novel weighing in at 70,000 words, we might have twenty chapters with an average word count of 3,500. Some may run on by a few hundred, or come up slightly short. But this could be a comfortable median throughout a novel of this size.

That being said, an epic fantasy novel reaching 140,000 (or more), will likely have dozens of chapters. However, each chapter should rarely grow beyond 5,000 – 6,000 words.

With chapters this big, a 140,000-word novel will have between twenty, thirty, even forty chapters. Remember, some run over and some come under, but we must always consider the attention span of the reader.

Big or small novels
Big or small novels

As an author, your job is to pique the interest of your reader and hold their attention. But no matter how good you are at writing; your reader will still need a toilet break. And this is where pacing comes in.

Pacing.

Chapters are like small stories that all add up to one big one.

Each chapter should begin with a good hook, then develop through rising action, before peaking at its climax. Then, it should end and leave the reader wanting to know more.

The chapters in the early stages of a novel help develop a bond between the character and the reader. Long, detailed chapters give the readers time to connect with the world you designed and the characters within.  

During the introduction, chapters don’t need a fast delivery. Setting a scene and introducing characters requires patience from the writer as well as the reader.

Shorter novels tend to have a quicker pace, and as such, tend to have smaller chapters.

This is designed to force quick scene changes – giving the illusion of the story moving along. This is especially effective for action scenes or when the pace is picking up as the climax approaches.

Regardless of the size of your novel, pacing is a key factor of the size of a chapter.

Chapter pacing affects your story
Chapter pacing affects your story
Writing style

The final ingredient that affects a novel’s word count is the writing style of the author.

Writers are experts in using descriptive narratives to tell a great story. But we all have different superpowers. And we must acknowledge our strengths and our weaknesses.

An author who writes action fiction can charge a scene full of energy that absorbs a reader while keeping the story moving forward. If they were to stop and give a detailed description of the environment, they would need longer scenes and longer chapters.

This would threaten the theme of the story.

On the other hand, when writing a psychological thriller, you will need to engage the reader and give them plenty of detail for them to understand the characters. Longer, more detailed chapters fill the story with atmosphere, and allows the characters to get under the reader’s skin.

Take a look at a few books in your genre for comparison. If you read with a writer’s eye, you will avoid being drawn in like a reader, and should be able to spot a pattern.

Short story

The elements mentioned above aren’t exclusive to novels. They will directly impact the average chapter length of a short story.

Ingredients of a novel chapter
Ingredients of a novel chapter

Each point should be borne in mind when writing short stories or flash fiction. The only difference is the speed of delivery.

In my article about writing short stories, I talk about the use of word count in smaller works of fiction. Short stories require all the elements of a novel, but the writer doesn’t have the time to paint a detailed picture.

That being said, chapter lengths will still play an important part in the story.

Correct use of pacing will directly impact the size of each chapter, and so will your writing style.

Finally

The length of a chapter shouldn’t be dictated by a word count target. It should be as long as it needs to be to get the message across in the best possible way from an audience’s perspective.

Writing a novel, short story, or flash fiction will certainly play a part in the size of each chapter. But so will the genre type. There is nothing worse than a chapter that won’t quit!

If your scene drags on, the reader will begin to scan the pages to find the next interesting point.

But if your pacing and writing style are on point, you will give your audience a reason to enjoy each and every word.

Chapter length is dictated by the symbiotic relationship between book size, story type, pacing, and writing style. And when they all come together throughout the narrative, your average chapter word count will emerge as a by-product of a well-told story.

Good luck.

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