Chapter Lengths

How long should a chapter be?

This question has been debated long and hard for as long as there have been authors around. In recent years, since the ebook was first released, the debate has become even more heated.

A chapter should be as long or as short as it needs to be is the right answer. But even then, there are exceptions to the rule.

I once had the chance to read a book where the author had a single chapter that was exactly one paragraph long. It was also one page long, and the paragraph was three very short sentences. That was all she needed to make the leap from the previous chapter to the one following the short one.

That single paragraph portrayed more than an extremely long chapter, filled with beautiful but senseless prose would have done.

That being said, we now live in an instant world. Books have been laughed at as boring for a while. Sales are down. Authors are questioning their commitment to the craft. Yet, not many have looked at the reasons sales are down.

Many books are now sold in an electronic version. The customer is reading them on a screen that is at the most six inches by nine inches. This makes those beautiful chapters in your eight and a half by eleven inch page on your computer screen much longer than you thought they would be. Those extensive paragraphs now go for three or four pages without a break. The lack of white space, where the reader can get a break from the monotonous black lettering isn’t there.

What you need to do is examine your work. Decide which paragraphs can be made smaller. Figure out what information is too much, too repetitive of what you’ve already said with different words, or just not necessary. Give the reader white space on each page. Let their eyes rest. Titillate them by making them turn the page to find out what happens next.

Yes, we’re using a form of trickery to keep our readers. Call it salesmanship. You’re selling them on a story, convincing them to part with hard earned cash to buy your book. Make that purchase worth their while. Let them remember you as the author who gave them pleasure when they didn’t think they could afford an entertainment budget.

In other words, stop creating overly long chapters with very little white space. Insert dialogue. Go for the single sentence paragraph. Hit the homerun with a book that keeps someone up way past their bed time, searching for a reason to stop, but unable to find one.


Some good advise. I've often wondered about how long my chapters should be! I'll be keeping this in mind.
Anonymous said…
Good point - "overly long chapters with very little white space." Something to watch out for, thanks!
Gaby Pratt said…
Yikes. I didn't mean to have the anonymous comment above.

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