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DISCUSSION: How long is too long for a chapter?

Brock's Pikachu
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I believe we can all agree that a chapter/episode generally should be about 1000 words (give or take a hundred). But what about the other extreme, where a chapter seems to keep going on and on and on? How do you know when it's time to cut a chapter in two (or more)?
 
A cat who writes stories
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I actually don't agree! I don't think 1000 words is enough for me to tell a meaningful chunk of a story. 2500 words is the lower limit of my chapters, and about 6000 words is the upper limit at which point I consider splitting it into two. My novel has chapters of around 6000-7000 words, due to the differences in the medium.
 
ERROR
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I think 1000 is more of a rules-based thing when it comes to forums... i.e. chapter posts should aim for at least 1000 words. Or something like that.

To be honest, I think this is a case where your mileage varies. Update speed/schedules probably factor into that. So, like, if you're the type who updates monthly or bi-monthly or even just semi-annually you can probably get away with writing a longer chapter. Faster update schedules should probably stick to smaller chapters. I... uh... I say that, but I'm not too sure I actually follow that advice. Aha ha... ha... ha...

As far as my personal , I don't really have a minimum. If a chapter's approaching 8000 words then I try to cut it off there, because getting higher than that makes me really uncomfortable. Granted, I read fics with longer chapters on other sites. XP
 
"You can order me around and I'll disappoint you!"
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Some people say 'however long it needs to be' which is almost entirely untrue. Chapters which are super long can be a sign the writing has become bloated and the pacing has slowed down. By the standards of a regular novel, most chapters are about 1000 to 6500 words. Unless the story is a short(ish) one then perhaps a few 'longer' chapters (around 1 - 4) might work. Very short chapters can also work if they fit with the pacing and character voice. Very short chapters can become 'quirky' in that respect.
 
A cat who writes stories
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"However long it needs to be" is entirely true. If a chapter is super long and bloated and slow-paced, it "needs" to be shorter. @Ghostsoul is mistaking this advice for "there's no reasonable length limit" when it really means "the appropriate length of a chapter will vary but it should be exactly as long as the needs of the chapter demand, and no longer."

This may be helpful to people interested in this topic:

average chapter length.png

I note that 1000 words is pretty low by the standards of most published fiction. 4000 words seems to be more typical.
 
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"You can order me around and I'll disappoint you!"
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@unrepentantAuthor this was more directed towards people who write 10,000+ word chapters. 6500-9999 word chapters can be justified by context. When the chapters get to 10,000 words + it becomes harder and harder to really justify and the more likely the chapters is to be bloated (or simply uncut) somewhere.
 
Princess of Dorkness
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As a reader, 10k is probably my limit unless I'm reading something that has glued itself to my hands. With that in mind, I try to keep my chapters shorter than that, and rarely break 7k.
 
A cat who writes stories
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@Ghostsoul but if there is a good enough reason to justify above-10k chapters, then "as long as it needs to be" holds true. If there wasn't a good justification, then it's longer than it needs to be, no?

Also GNU Terry Pratchett, a man who often wrote stories with no chapters.
 
whoa i finally changed my pfp again
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Some time ago I got told 3000 words was a lot by someone and that the normal amount was 2000. This baffled me so much as I considered 3k already to be pretty short, compared to the 4-5k that I had before Seiren, anyway. Vivarium was 8k, but that was a oneshot. What I'm trying to say is that 1k to me sounds absolutely tiny, and I could never imagine going below that.

What makes a chapter too long depends on the content... up to an extent. A chapter of only 3k can easily feel "too long" if it has enough inconsequential and/or boring content. However, even if your 10k+ chapter is all good stuff, I'm going to take breaks and so should you too, most likely.

Since my chapters are a few thousand words and (hopefully) all necessary stuff, I strive to balance two things when chopping up the story: stopping (and starting) them at a good breakpoint in the story and retaining a somewhat homogenous wordcount between chapters. The former tends to vastly outweigh the latter when it comes to the most important events of the story - I wrote nearly double my usual word count for one chapter of Hunter, Haunted since the chain of events featured in it was one that could not be broken up without hurting the mood a lot.

Anyway, when it comes to how much fluctuation I usually have, it's around 20% of the goal, maybe. I allow myself to go above the bounds far more often than I do below.

I have an additional question to throw to the mix now: what's an appropriate max word count for a oneshot? At what point should you make it a multiparter instead?
 
Thesaurus rex
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"As long as it needs to be", in itself, doesn't mean very much. A lot of authors take that as carte blanche to write until they get bored of the chapter title, and never really think critically about the pacing at all
 
A cat who writes stories
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@canisaries honestly that's very similar to how I operate. As for your oneshot question, I reckon I'd get to about 12k before deciding to split it into three parts.

@Beth Pavell I don't believe that authors who don't think critically about their work would begin to if only pithy truisms were spelled out for them in full. "As long as it needs to be" invites you to ask what the "need" constitutes. I mean, it doesn't say "as long as you like."
 
shame personified
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The phrase "as long as it needs to be" seems to hold a negative connotation much like the word "cliché" does, so it's often misconstrued in ways it's not really meant to be, in my opinion.

Anyway, my chapters tend to end up around 6-7k words as well. For Phantom Project, it's rather difficult to keep things contained to that length, since every chapter switches POVs and it'll usually be a while until I can come back to the character I'm writing about. So indeed whatever needs to go in the chapter will go in the chapter. If I feel it's ending up too long, I'll ask myself if everything scene plays a vital role in the story, and I'll ask myself if I've been too wordy in my first draft and just need to cut down in edits. The latter is the problem 9 times out of 10. xD

For Flying in the Dark, my protagonists tend to be ramble-y because of the letter format. But I also think in terms of how long a letter realistically is going to be if handwritten in real life. It's still a balance I'm working on, though.

So... in general, it depends on the story for me. For fics without a special format, I try to ask myself that, if I add on more, will it take away from the main point of the scenes before it and make the chapter feel overcrowded or muddled?
 
Aqua Ninja Frog
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Eh, I just go with “Make it as long as it needs to be” thing. Make it as long as I need it for the plot of the chapter. I don’t see that as a problem.
 
live fast die frequently
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I was checking the chapter lengths from My Way, the last full-on chapter-based fic I (partially) wrote, and noted the last chapter I completed was around 3,200 words. I think that's a pretty solid length for me, personally. I can't see myself writing a chapter longer than 5,000, though I've also internalized the "at least 1,000" thing to an extent.
 
Far too mouthy for my own good.
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When you have to split a chapter into four posts because of sheer length, it is definitely way too long. Length itself can also induce fatigue in readers as far as fanfiction and potentially make it hard for them to keep their place (books and ebooks have a serious advantage here).
 
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