How Many Chapters Should I Cram Into My Book?
Sometimes we have to take a step back from the creative process of writing a book and think about the technical things. I know, I know–we just want to write awesome stories. But many authors have, at one point or another, wondered about how many chapters you should include in a book.
Don’t worry, my dear creative writer, because it’s not that technical. In fact, the number of chapters you should include is downright subjective. Does that make it easier or harder?
In this blog, I’m going to help demystify the question of how many chapters you should include in a book and help make that subjective question pretty dang easy. To do that, we’re going to talk about:
- The art of the chapter (including how to start and end one)
- How to effectively use chapters in your writing
- How many chapters is too many or too few
The demystifying starts now!
The Art of the Chapter
Chapters aren’t mandatory in your writing, but they are extremely useful tools in your author toolkit. My good friend (in a very one-sided friendship), Merriam-Webster, defines a chapter as
:A main division of a book.
Good ol’ Merriam-Webster coming in with mind-shattering definitions.
A definition that’s a tad more practical might be: chapters are sections in a book that make reading a longer work easier.
Unlike magic rings, when thinking about your chapters, there is no one way to rule them all. One person will say you must plan your chapters while outlining, while another will say that even considering chapters in your first draft is a one-way ticket to a bad book. Honestly, do whatever works best for you.
If you’re someone who likes to plan your chapters ahead of time (I’m with you), there isn’t a golden rule about how long a chapter should be. We’ll revisit this in what to include in a chapter, but know that your chapter length isn’t set in stone.
In fact, some variety in their length can be a good thing. The way that chapters control the pacing of your book is their biggest advantage. You want to be able to turn your story of 50,000 or 125,000 words into something that is readable for your audience. But, more than that, you want to be able to control how your audience reads your work.
How do we do that? I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at the three elements of a chapter: how to start a chapter, what to include in a chapter, and when to end them.
How to Start a Chapter
No matter what length your chapters are or how many you include in your book, you need to start each one with something engaging. This is especially true for long chapters–how do you expect someone to read through 6,000 words if you don’t draw them in right away?–but even a chapter of 1,000 or 2,000 words needs to hook the reader to keep them interested.
One of the best ways to engage a reader is to lead with action. This doesn’t necessarily mean a fight scene or a rooftop chase. It means something dynamic.
That could be studying an ancient text in the secret room in the library. It could mean an argument between two lovers. Maybe it’s a direct question to the reader.
Whatever it is, your chapter opening should be interesting and make the reader want–no, need–to read more.
What to include
Have I mentioned that there isn’t a hard rule about the number of words your chapter must be? I swear I must have by now.
Your chapter can be one paragraph if that works for your story. You can pull a Sanderson and write a chapter that has 79,000 words (note: you need to be as good as Sanderson and have as ravenous a fan base to pull this off, so chill).If you’re looking for an average, there isn’t really one that’s worth noting. But renowned editor Shawn Coyne, author of the very informative The Story Grid, recommends most chapters or scenes be around 2,000 words. He calls this a potato chip length, because you can’t help but read another once you’ve finished one. Assuming the writing is good, of course, but I know you can crush that part.
Obviously some scenes or chapters will be shorter or longer than that, but 2,000 words seems to be the sweet spot.
You’ll also want to check out the norms of your genre. Read a few books in the genre you write in (you should be doing this anyway), and note how long the chapters are. Make notes about what works for you and what doesn’t. Try and figure out why some chapters are shorter or longer, and how that impacted both the way you read and if it made you continue reading.
Chapter Titles: To Be or Not to Be
Honestly, chapter titles are entirely up to you. Some amazing authors use them. Other amazing authors don’t use them. Some bestselling authors use them in one book but not another (unless they are in the same series).If you choose to title your chapters, do it for a reason. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Why am I giving this chapter a title?
- How does this title benefit the story?
- How does the title benefit the reader?
- Am I consistent in my titles?
If you’re satisfied with your answers to those questions, then title away, my friend.
When to end a chapter
Nothing is worse than a story that has no end. It’s unsatisfying, it drags, and it outlives its entertainment. Since chapters are basically little stories within your book, you want to make sure you end them appropriately.
Natural pauses are the most obvious places to end a chapter. If one scene ends and there isn’t another occurring at the same time or directly linked to it, end the chapter.
Dramatic pauses are like little cliffhangers at the end of the chapter. Capitalize on that potato chip effect by forcing the reader to dive into the next chapter.
Give your reader a break from heightened tension or long scenes by ending a chapter before diving into something new. Your readers are people, they have stuff to do. End some chapters with a lull so that they can go live their life sometimes.
Don’t tie everything up until the very last chapter. Even then, some questions should remain in a series, and there’s nothing wrong with a few mysteries. But make sure that you’re leaving some things unanswered or raising more questions when you end your chapter.
Remember, chapters are one of your tools. Use them effectively and your readers will love you.
How Many Chapters is Too Many (or Too Few)?
Let’s get the official numbers out of the way: the average number of chapters across all books in all genres is 12. Does that mean that you should aim for a dozen chapters in your book? Not necessarily.
Being the average, that means that about half of all books have more than twelve chapters, and the other half have less than that. So no matter how many chapters you end up including in your book, you’re in good company.
If you’re looking for a magic number that will guarantee everyone loves your book, then I’m sorry to disappoint. The only perfect number of chapters is whatever number works for your story.
Look for those natural pauses, manage the pacing, think about POV, and make sure each chapter tells its own story while leaving the reader wanting more.
The only time you’ll have too few or too many chapters is when you don’t keep these things in mind. Longer stories tend to have more chapters because there is more to break up. On the other hand, shorter books usually have fewer chapters. Sometimes it’s the opposite.
Do what works best for you.
Whether you’re the type of writer who maps out all your scenes and chapters ahead of time or you’d rather do all that work once the first draft is done, Dabble’s there to make writing your book easier.
Not only can you organize the plot of your story with our easy and effective Plot Grid, but you can easily manage your scenes and chapters with easy drag-and-drop navigation. Writing a book is hard enough, so I don’t want you to have to select every word in a 2,000-word scene, then copy and paste it (and hope you got everything) into some other place in a Word document.
With Dabble, you can organize your scenes and the notes that go with it. Play around with your chapter lengths, keep track of all your worlds and stories, and write your book with a 14-day free trial, no credit card required, right here.
And happy writing!
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