Chapter length: How long is too short?

Chapter length is a decision every author has to make when putting together a novel. While less of an issue with short stories, novels have to be broken up in ways that are easily consumable by readers.

There is no specific number that is the ideal length for a chapter.

Like most elements of a novel, the presentation’s success depends on the execution. Rather than think about ending a chapter after every scene change or character POV switch or basic points, consider it from a reader’s perspective.

It’s easy to consider chapter length from the writer’s perspective, what feels right to the author or editor about highlighting certain spots in the story by creating breaks through chapter cuts. However, this can cause chapters to become longer (or shorter) than they actually might need to be.

Using a reader’s framework, take a moment to look at the story how a reader will have to consume it – linearly.

It’s a mystery whether a reader will binge and read the book all in one go or if they will be reading a chapter a night or if they might get bits and pieces during a bus ride, but keep in mind that the best kind of chapter is one where the reader both feels something has been accomplished/revealed/shared in the story and also wants to keep reading later on when they have the chance.

Don’t make it painful for a reader to reach the end of a chapter. Similarly, extremely short chapters can be jarring so use sparingly if it doesn’t fit in with the average length of other chapters. Then again, short chapters can give a quick bite feel where a reader can get through many chapters and easily stop/disengage while being busy with life.

My own chapters range from a short 1k-2k to longer 4k-6k lengths and it depends on the novel in question as well. When I started writing my novels, a chapter was easily 20k in length. Eventually, through rewriting and editing, I realized that was much too long without any legitimate breaks offered for the reader. It was easy to write that way, but difficult to read.

The technical presentation of novels is a balancing act between aiming to creatively evoke responses from readers and understanding that we don’t know what kind of life they’re living while reading the work. Thank your readers for that effort, not through literal thanks, but through presenting the story in the most entertaining way possible.

Read more about crafting Chapters here.