Bookish questions: short chapters or long chapters?

As I started getting back into reading in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed there are all kinds of opinions among book readers. Everyone has different tastes, everyone has different interests and what one person likes in a book another one doesn’t. Of course we all have our own preferences. It’s part of being human.

One varying perspective among book readers is chapter lengths. Some like longer chapters, some like shorter. Personally I’m in between. I don’t enjoy super short chapters but I also don’t want chapters so long that I feel like the story is dragging on.

I know I mention Jan Karon a lot but when I was thinking about longer chapters in books, she came to mind because her chapters are quite long. Even though her chapters are long they are interesting enough to not make it feel like I am pushing through and dying to get to the end of the chapter. She makes the chapters easier to read by breaking them down into sections or scenes throughout the chapters.

The only issue is that sometimes these sections are too short so it feels like I am reading clips from a movie and not a fully cohesive narrative. At times, but not always, it feels almost as if I am jumping in and out of scenes and I lose track a bit, but I still love the stories Jan weaves.

As a writer it is hard to know how long to make a chapter and it’s even harder when a writer is sharing their book or chapters on a blog. When I share the chapters of my stories on my blog I tend to make them shorter because I know most people don’t want to read a long blog post, but when I rewrite them for the final book, I tend to add sections together and make the chapters a little longer.

There are tons of opinions online about how long a chapter should be too. Wordcounter.com says that 5,000 is too long and 1,000 is too short, in the opinions of many. However, Writer’s Digest says that as a writer, you should make your chapter as long as you need in order to propel your story forward. The article’s author, Brian A. Klems says that he thinks of a chapter as an act in a television show.

He writes: “When a TV show finishes Act 1 (which almost always happens just after something significant is revealed or an important question is raised), it goes to commercial break. Ditto for Act 2, 3, 4 and so forth. Look for your chapters to have those similar elements. When you find those “commercial breaks,” end your chapter and start a new one. In other words, let your content dictate your chapter length, not the other way around.”

So, how about you? As a reader, when you read a book do you like short chapters or long chapters? Do you like chapters with lots of scene breaks in them or one big, long scene? If you are a writer, how do you decide how long to make your chapter? Let me know in the comments.



Written by Lisa R. Howeler

I'm a mom, a wife, a writer, a photographer and a former journalist. I write a little bit about a lot of things on my blog Boondock Ramblings. In September of 2019 I self-published my first novel, A Story to Tell and published another one in May of 2020. I enjoy John Wayne and Cary Grant movies, Jan Karon's books, and I have an electic taste in music. Welcome to my blog and feel free to poke around. Fridays are Fiction Fridays, where I share a piece of fiction I'm working on.

13 comments

    1. I wonder, what makes the difference If it is in digital form? Do you mean If a print books is transferred to digital you’d want the chapters shorter? I think I’m confused. Lol. But yet I think I understand what you and Janet mean! I’m a bit Loopy this week 😉

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  1. Opinions vary. I’m shocked to hear that 1000 words length is too short. I read on Medium sometime ago about a popular author’s average chapter of 250 words. That’s really short but works.

    Personally, it depends. If it’s print, I don’t care much about length, as long as it’s not too long, though, but when digital, anything above 1500-1800 bores me. Has to be highly captivating to keep my attention.

    Like you’ve said, writers can use different lengths when posting on blogs or social media, and when publishing the complete book. I think at the end of the day, we’re all left with personal opinions 🙂 I structure my chapters the way I would want to read them as a reader, but then, sometimes I feel two chapters could become one. There’s really no formula.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Those are really short chapters!

      I don’t mind a long chapter at all if it is an interesting book. In fact, I sometimes don’t even pay attention if I have hit the end of the chapter, as long as my attention is being held.

      And yes, we are all different and I like that!

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  2. For years, I followed the Reader’s Digest advice that you mentioned: “You should make your chapter as long as you need in order to propel your story forward.” I am wondering if modern technology is changing our attention spans, particularly with young people. Do children still spend uninterrupted hours reading a book? (I did because that’s all there was to do!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Technology is definitely changing it. I try to limit my children’s technology time but it is hard and I see in them that they have a hard time staying focused on something for very long. My son will sit and read for quite a while but that doesn’t happen every day. I used to read hours at a time too, but broke it up with sketching and photography. I didn’t have much else to do either! There were very few video games back then! (you know, with the horse and buggies and all that 😉 )

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