"Filler" Chapters and current length.

by JL

Hi Glen,

I'm currently writing a high fantasy book and I'm on the third chapter. So far, with a prologue and chapters 1 and 2 completed, I have about 16,000 words. Is this a good length so far? Is it too short? Too long? I read that by the end of an average book I should have about 80,000 words, but I have a hard time estimating if I'm on right track as I have never completed a book.

My other question is regarding filler chapters and speed of the plot. I feel like, with all the planning I have done (planning was an achievement because I am largely a pantser), the story isn't really getting a break. The story starts in media res, and the inciting event is not subtle, at least not on the plot level. What follows in chapter 2 I meant to be an exposition chapter, but again, things start to act up out of the ordinary by the end of it. Looking at my notes, chapters 3 and 4 are a "settle down, we gotta think things clearly for a moment" chapter, and an "Oh no" chapter respectively, even though the former has a "wtf" moment at the end too. Here's where I started to feel like I was moving a little fast, after chapter 5, which is an action-packed chapter as well, Act 1 is over and the interlude comes in, which is slower-paced, but it isn't a "resting" section either. Isn't Act 1 supposed to have more than 5 chapters?

Should I add filler chapters in? Maybe ones that world-build and flesh out the characters more to slow things down a bit? Obviously, I still have Acts 2 through 4 to do this, but I feel like Act 1, which is meant for exposition and preparation for the rising action (at least in my understanding), has a lot going on
and the characters aren't getting time to breathe.

Answer: Your target of 80,000 words is reasonable for a first novel. High fantasy books can be a little longer than that on average because they have more description of the fantasy world. As long as that world is fascinating, the extra length is not a problem.

Chapter lengths vary. What matters is that each chapter contains an event and leaves the reader hungry for more. (So it sounds like you are on the right track.) As with short stories, a chapter should probably be under 7,500 words, and possibly half that.

Nothing in your novel should feel like "filler." Every chapter should be important to the story. However, that doesn't mean that every chapter should be focused exclusively on the main plot (or overall throughlines). You may have several throughlines and subplots in the story. There should be arcs for the main character's inner conflict, the impact character, and their relationship. Other relationships or themes may be developed in subplots. You may have more than one point-of-view character. You may provide a key piece of backstory in a flashback, etc.

The trick is how you braid these various throughlines into one story, and that may mean having a chapter concerning one throughline followed by a chapter concerning another, etc. But none of them should feel like filler. They should all be part of one of your dramatic arcs, so that the reader wants to find out what will happen next.

One benefit is that the reader gets an emotional break from one throughline while they explore a different type of emotion in another.

A more important benefit is that a little time spent exploring characters and their relationships gives you a chance to develop the emotional depth of the story. Just make sure this exploration has a structured arc that will keep the reader wanting more.

Best of luck.

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