The optimal chapter size is driven by your audience and publication platform. This means you either have to adjust your chapter size to the target, re-chapter before publication, or simply don't give a damn 😁
Sometimes I wonder if the readers become less literate every generation. In a few years, people can no longer read a book without a touch screen and two speakers...
Anyway. You are the writer. You decide. Maybe a different chapter size is what suits you best?
You'll find some numbers often mentioned, for example:
- Tapas - 500 words
- Wattpad - 1500..2000 words (was 3000, Wattpad itself says 2000..2500 but seems to lower the chapter size lately)
- for regular publication (print) somewhere from 3000 to 5000 words
- in many books chapters increase in size the further you go
(I must say, 500 words appear to be awfully short chapters.)
Are these hard numbers? Of course not! But if you want traction for online publication on any of those platforms consider your chapter size.
Again, you're the writer. You decide. Maybe a different chapter size is what suits you or your story best!
Jefferson Smith put it this way:
' Most people who talk about the rules fall into two camps: those who tell you that there are no rules, and idiots. '
Still, I think there is at least some worth in considering chapter size. It seems the average reader these days has the attention span of a cucumber... and with those words, I rest my case 😊
(I actually re-opened the case to muse over reading speed versus chapter size. More about that here.)
Tips and thoughts
First write your story, or at least a number of chapters. Don't bother with the sizes. Then, when you have written sufficient material, reconsider your chapter sizes, beginning and ends.
No matter what, a chapter should have a purpose. Something should have changed, the story needs to have progressed, whatever. Maybe the chapter is simply a silly insert to bring the reader a light note and a little humoristic respite before the protagonist goes on to save the world.
If nothing happens, then the chapter might be superfluous or considered boring by the reader.
Cliffhangers and other types of chapter endings
Not every chapter needs a (real) cliffhanger. If a chapter offers a clear conclusion to some arc then that's a nice way to wrap up the chapter. Alternatives to real cliffhangers are shocks, surprises, introductions, jokes, questions, etc.
Not every chapter needs to end on a real 'bite your nails, hang on the helicopter landing gear' ending. Too many of those and the reader will get tired as well.
This also depends on the style and genre and chapter length. Longer chapters may be more suited to wrap-ups, shorter chapters to cliffhangers.
For example: if you write a weekly episode for an ongoing story on Wattpad, you probably want to build up a buffer sufficient for four weeks. Your target size could be around 2500 words, so...
1. Write whatever chapter size you like.
2. Keep writing new chapters until you have more than 4 weeks of material in buffer, so 10k words or so. Those might be unevenly spread over your chapters.
3. See if you can move stuff from one chapter to the next or previous chapters so you post in blocks of 2k. In other words, the posting size doesn't have to be identical to the chapter size you originally wrote.
The same applies to a full-sized book (70k words or more).
1. Write whatever chapter size you like.
2. Once you've completed the book, check your chapter sizes. Do you think you already have the best chapters to tell the story? (Begin, end, events covered by that chapter.) If so, keep as is.
3. If you decide there's an optimal chapter size, then simply re-chapter the whole book. That's not as hard is it might sound.
Re-chaptering a regular book
If you decide to re-chapter, consider the following:
1. What's the optimal chapter size? There's some debate about it. I tend to believe thick epic printed fantasy can be easily 3000 words and up, but lighter 'snack sized' stuff might do better to aim for 1500..2000 words per chapter.
2. Action scenes might work better in shorter chapters. Some authors use longer chapters for slower parts, shorter chapters for action scenes.
3. Some authors use longer chapters toward the end of the book (or an arc). Again, this is a personal choice, but it does make some sense, as you don't want to 'snack size' your final reveal and epic conclusion, at least not too much.
As many opinions on the internet as there are readers. If you want to get published (in book form), consider your first novel to be somewhere in the 70..80k words range. If you go for an online platform, do whatever you like!
Still, there is a reason why 'printed' first-novels by new authors are in the 70..80k range. Printing a book isn't cheap. If it's too big, then it's more expensive. If it's not successful, the publisher will lose money with a large amount of unsold books taking up more space (physically) on the shelf.
Audiobooks, on the other hand, like to offer some good length, so a 100k isn't unusual.
- The Book Mechanic - is a fan of short chapters
- Chris Fox's original video - potato-sized chapters
- Reedsy - shows some chapter sizes for different (famous) authors
- Creativity Hacker - for those into statistics
- Self Publishing School - How many words in a novel
If you're looking for the physical size 😁 try these links: