How Many Words are in a Chapter?

(home > fiction > chapter length)

Chapter length is a curiosity for writers. Beginning writers often ask how long the chapters in the novel they are working on should be. The answer is that there is not a fixed length or a precise word count you should follow when creating chapters for your book.

While there is no exact answer you can examine the length of existing novels to get a general idea. An entry on says 3,000 to 5,000 words is a good guideline. They note that this is not a rule. You might have a chapter that is longer or a chapter that is very short because it covers a specific incident in your story.

A Writer's Digest answer to the commonly asked question does not give a number range. Writer's Digest says, "Each chapter in your book tells a mini-story that forwards your overall plot." They advise not setting specific chapter length guidelines.

Chapter Length in Genres

It is probably best to follow the patterns of other novels in your genre. If you read some recent releases from major publishers in your genre you will get an idea of what is currently acceptable for chapter length. These books were recently edited by editors at big publishing houses and they thought the chapter lengths were acceptable.

There is interesting chapter length analysis available on Creativity Hacker. A number of fanasy novels were analyzed - including Dune, The Wizard of Earthsea and The Lord of the Rings. The study found the average chapter length in fantasy novels ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 words. The Last Unicorn has a chapter that is 23,000 words long.

Short Chapters

Some novels have short chapters. There is a list on Goodreads of books with short chapters. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was a global bestseller. It has 102 chapters and there are about 450 pages in the hardcover release. That's an average of 4.4 pages per chapter. Ellis Shuman describes Brown's chapters as "Short cliffhanger chapters that keep you reading late into the night."

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut has even shorter chapters. There are 127 chapters in the book. The book has 192 pages so the chapters average less than two pages in length.

Readers and Chapters

An author should think of the reader when creating chapters. Some readers like to stop reading at the end of a chapter. Others might keep going a few pages longer if they are compelled forward by a shocking development at the end of a chapter. If most of your chapters are of similar length it might help with pacing. A chapter that is much shorter or longer than most of your other chapters is not a problem.

The Bottom Line

Chapter length varies from author to author and from genre to genre. Focus on the writing a good novel and don't be overly concerned with chapters. You can always tweak your novel when it is finished to make sure the chapters work right for you and for the genre you are writing in.