Chapters and wordcounts

  • Plotist Team: Timeline Master

    In the interests of me making a basic novel plan, how many chapters do you guys usually aim for and how long should those chapters be? I feel as though I could make a more practical start if I had some limits here.

  • Ah, the ultimate question: how long should a chapter be?

    Probably the usual answer you'll receive (and the short one I'm giving you) is that it depends on you and your story. For me, I don't worry about how many chapters I have. You can always change that in editing. And the same is true of chapter length.

    Now, I will say that I generally aim for about 5k long chapters, or else ~10 pages. That sounds outrageous, but I feel weird with really short chapters, so it works for me. That being said, I've written chapters <2000 words. It depends on the story and when and where I feel like a chapter naturally ends.

    Ultimately, the length of a chapter is completely subjective. If it's a fast-paced story, you might decide you like short chapters. If it's paced more slowly, you might decide you like longer chapters. It also depends on writing style. Some writers write short chapters with cliffhangers at the end of each; others write long chapters with short chapters in between when something major happens; some just write long chapters; etc.

    TL;DR: You might want to just pick an arbitrary limit for yourself that works for you :) You might decide that you want, at a maximum, 20 chapters. Then you can start working out the length of those chapters and how to fit material within those 20 chapters. Or you might decide you only want chapters a maximum of 2k long and go from there. (Me, the number of chapters is irrelevant, as long as I've got or I'm close to (or even over shudders) 5k words in a chapter:) )

  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    I have to say I totally agree with @typical_demigod here. Though I'll add a few other thoughts based on something I am doing with @Occi.

    I have the honor of working as a content editor for his current book. And we're going through everything for the final time (super exciting as he will be published soon). But when we started, he had the exact number of chapters he wanted to tell a story. Since then we've gone through and broke those chapters down into scenes which have in turn become smaller chapters. I would honestly avoid thinking about how long a chapter to should be and instead just look at making sure you tell the story you want.

    During editing you can go through, modify, maybe mix a few chapters up here and there. Or maybe move a scene to a new location. Or maybe you find out that you have an entire scene that is missing and you can go back and add it.

  • I'm not really in a place to advise on word count or chapter length. I'm a long winded storyteller and my objective is a series of epic novels that have a united meta-arc. I paid attention at the beginning to shooting for a particular word count per 'chapter' and split the book into those segments, but I had each chapters as a series of scenes. Considering some of the odd things I am attempting to pull off, it works for me to have room to play.

    While I can't speak to size limitations, I can pass on a kernel of advice that helped me revamp my outlining process. Know the conflict you're addressing in each chapter/scene. Helped me with both focus and inspiration.

  • Plotist Team: Keepers of Code

    I believe @typical_demigod has it right, you should create a structure that makes it easy for you to write and not worry too much about chapter numbers or wordcounts. But I will add another perspective. While we need to focus on what feels comfortable for us to write, the true purpose of writing is to be read.

    Chapters are a good way of offering stopping points to the readers. You might leave a cliffhanger to invite the reader to come back, but when the chapter is over you are indicating your readers that they can take a break without disrupting the action or upsetting the pace.

    In the end it's a matter of balance. If you write chapters that are too long, the readers will have to make a bigger effort to read but you will have enough space to develop your events. If your chapters are too short, the reader will have it easier but you will not have time to explain everything or you'll divide the narrative in chunks making it feel fragmented.

    TL;DR Use a structure that helps you write and break with writer's block but keep in mind the effect this structure will have on your readers.

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