How long should a chapter be?

by Lewis Yeates

Question: Hi, I'm struggling to decide when to change the chapter. I know it's when you change the subject but I seem to write 4 or 5 pages and then I'm writing a new chapter, but this doesn't seem long enough. Any thoughts on this .... ?

Answer: There are no rules on this subject. They vary with the author, genre, readership, and even within a book. However, here are some guidelines...

1. Like a short story, a chapter should be a length that can be comfortably read in one sitting. Of course, this varies with your readership, which is why books for children have shorter chapters than those for adults.

2. A chapter should end at a point where one event has been resolved, but resolved in a way that leaves the reader wondering what will happen next as a result. This creates the "page-turner" effect in which the reader is strongly tempted to read one more chapter. (Note: an event is a meaningful change that sends the character(s) in a new direction.)

Along this line, if your chapters feel too short (according to the first guideline), then consider having two events take place in a chapter, ending at the resolution of the second one.

3. If you are using multiple point-of-view characters, a chapter break is the best place to switch POV characters.

4. If you are writing in a genre or for an audience you are new to, consider looking at some recent bestsellers in the genre for ideas of what readers may expect.

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