How long should a chapter be in a novel?
It’s a confusing thought. Your first draft may have chapters of radically different lengths, or no chapters at all. When you come back for a second draft, you have to make sure your chapters are the right length! But just how long should a chapter in a novel be?
Strictly speaking, 10 to 17 pages is normal. But this “norm” is flexible (yes, another “it depends” answer) and based off the following principles:
In One Sitting
Granted, the Utterly Fantastic Novel of the Century would probably have readers up all night. But a more realistic idea has readers going chapter by chapter. Try to make your chapters good bight-sized lengths, small enough to read in one setting but long enough to contain enough interesting information and events to last a day. (If you’re writing a thriller, of course, you can ignore this. Aim for the page-turning effect.)
While some novels thrive on the cliffhanger chapter ending, a general rule of thumb is to make each chapter a mini-story. Just like the entire novel, an ideal chapter would adhere to a mini-three act structure with a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution. I will post more on the completeness of a chapter at a later date. For now, remember that if you come to a point where there is a “complete” feeling to the recent events, that is a good place to stick a chapter break. This also gives your readers a tiny sense of satisfaction at having completed their bight-sized reading amount.
Just like how the length of a novel is affected by the genre, the length of a chapter is affected. History, fantasy, and science fiction novels are usually longer because they need more room to create a world. Thrillers and some types of mysteries are shorter because they are compact to create tension. The same applies to the individual chapters. Some fantasy chapters will reach 20 pages. Some thrillers have chapters only 2 or three pages long.
Flip Open a Favorite
Like many writing questions, this can be answered by grabbing a favorite novel (for this case, preferably the same genre). Why a favorite novel? Well, obviously you enjoyed it. And, if no one else, you want your novel to please yourself. So take a look at how many pages a few of your favorite novels have and divide that number by how many chapters each has. That’s the average page length of a chapter. Aim for it.
How long are your chapters? What guidelines do you follow to break your novels up?