Deciding Chapter & Story Lengths


I laugh at this question because I’m a wordy SOB. For chapters, I usually have three major plot points I want to hit and each point has a few key issues I want to mention. When those three things have been presented, I end the chapter. I gave myself a 10K word limit with For the Summer, to sharpen up my editing skills and keep me under control. I’m growing more and more fond of the shorter chapters.

For story lengths, it varies. For the Summer was always rigid…17 chapters, 17 summers. My other story, Constant, was more flexible.


When I started writing Living Backwards, my chapter lengths were usually around 6K – a couple were close to 10K. Lately, I’ve found myself gravitating toward stories with shorter, more frequent updates. I don’t have the time and patience for 10k chapters anymore. My next fic will probably range between 3-4K/chapter.

As far as story length goes, if you have a captivating story and you need 30 chapters to tell it, I’ll read, but it’s hard to keep your audience interested when you’re writing 100 chapters.


Chapter length- for serial fiction, I would expect at least 2k a chapter. Over 10K a chapter and it’s time to consider either trimming or breaking it into two.


I don’t decide. The story does, the characters do. A chapter is as long as it needs to be. The story is as long as it needs to be. Can I say that few things bother me more than when I read reviews complaining about the length of a chapter (on either end of the spectrum)?

With my derivative fiction, my average was probably about 6,000 words per chapter, which seems like a good number. It’s long enough that people get their fill until your next update but it’s not so long that they have to spend the whole night reading about your characters’ trip to San Francisco or whatever while their kids are wailing and waiting to be fed. But I had a couple of chapters which barely broke 3,000 words because that was the logical place to end things and I think I peaked at about 14,000 words (when my characters were in San Francisco. My apologies to the hungry children of the fandom).

It may be important to note that I am extremely wary of fics that are in excess of fifty (or, really, forty and even thirty) chapters long. I find that if you can’t tell a story in less than thirty chapters, you probably have one of three problems: You are padding the story with excess drama just to keep it going (as is most often the case); you have no idea where the story is going at all and so you keep getting sidetracked or you are very wordy as a writer and you need a good editor (think of that scene in A River Runs Through It where the kid keeps bringing his father a paper and his father keeps saying, “It’s good. Now make it half as long.”).

This is not always the case, of course. Some of my favorite fics are 50-60 chapters long (well, a couple of them are…and honestly, with one of those it is just such a great story that I am willing to overlook the fact that it really could have been half as long). It depends on many factors…but, as I said, I am wary. For me to start a fic that long, it had better have some great recommendations behind it, from some trusted sources. And to keep me reading through that many chapters of a work in progress is a challenge, so you’d better know what you’re doing. I think the old adage “Leave ‘em wanting more” is more than appropriate when it comes to writing.

I know I sound like a snob, here, and I probably am. But believe me when I say that I am not the only one who feels this way.


It feels done when the idea is complete.


Initially I wanted all my chapters to be between 3,000-7,000 words. I failed at that miserably. I ended up posting a 14,000 word chapter but if I had split it into 2 parts, it wouldn’t have worked. I find that word limits don’t work because it’s very restrictive. I write what I need now and just go with it.


I like to keep my stories to no more than 35 chapters at the longest – beyond that, and my plot is too windy or I’m too long-winded. Brevity is the soul of wit and all that. My chapter lengths are between 3K and 6K words. So that makes me fics, on average, between 105,000 words and 210,000 words. Personally, I think anything over 150K probably needs serious editing down.


Natural breaking points. I know what I want to say and what needs to be included and from there if everything is looking how I want it then I end it. If it’s 5k or 8k it’s irrelevant. It’s the content that matters to me.

Obsessing Over Edward

Guh! I learned my lesson on this one since I wrote a serial story. Published books are between 80-120K. We tend to drag out our fanfics. Long fics turn new readers off. There’s a couple great fics out there that I’d love to read, but I don’t have the time to invest in a 300K word story. I also don’t want to start a long story because I may get emotionally invested in it and three-quarters of the way through the author does something that I hate and I’ve wasted a week reading something that drives me crazy. With shorter fics you have less investment and if something turns you off you haven’t lost too much.

I shoot for 4K-6K chapter lengths. If a scene turns out to be shorter than I thought, I’ll add another scene from the next chapter to keep the word count consistent. I don’t think this is all that important, but I do know that when I read a chapter that’s over 8K, I tend to skim most of it.


This is a challenge for me because of #7. I think Canzone got long because of the number of strong characters involved, the multiple genres (romance w/lemons, adventure, music) and because I didn’t really care about chapter or story length when I started– I was focused on having strong characters and a strong plot. I like long stories, but for my next story I want to try to contain it a bit more, and limit the number of characters.


Chapters should break at logical points, regardless of their length. Some people want 4-5k chapters; others want over 10k. You can’t please everyone, so please yourself. Wherever it feels right, that’s where you should break the chapter.

Story length is really dependent on the story. I don’t think I could or would write a story more than 50 chapters ever. The average novel length is under 150K words. I am of the firm opinion that less is more. If your story is over 180K words, you really need to do some trimming.

rochelle allison

Depends. I know in my mind where I want the story to go and I try to stick to it. I prefer brevity in general.

scarlett letters

I prefer to read chapters around 5K words, so that’s what I like to write. Length of story is dictated by outline. I personally don’t like a lot of arcs, so when a story gets over 30 chapters I start to worry about clarity.


My chapter lengths tend to be 4000-6000. I’ve been writing that way probably for about eight years now. My chapters tend to encompass an entire event, instead of breaking it up into multiple chapters, so they’re fewer but longer chapters. With that standard, 22-28 chapters is about what I shoot for, but it also depends entirely on what the story is trying to accomplish and how long it will take to get there. You have to be careful you aren’t taking the long way to say something and bullshitting your readers, nor cutting things off so that they never really get a feel of the story.


I don’t really decide. I have noticed that my chapters tend to land between 4500 and 6000 words. I think that’s just how my brain divides the pacing and story-telling. I will push a chapter longer if I really feel like I want the readers to get a whole piece of the story in one go. I won’t randomly break it off because I think it’s now long enough.

Same with story lengths. I outline and it’s the number of chapters it needs to be to tell the story. Again, though, mine tend to land around 30 chapters. I can’t imagine telling a story that spins out much past that.


I don’t. I write and then stop when I feel like I need to – if I’m looking to word count I’ll end up writing a page filler.

Tallulah Belle

I tend to end a chapter where it ends naturally. I know it in my gut when it’s finished.
Story lengths should be based on how much info you need to give in order to complete the plot(s).


My chapters are usually around 3000 words and that’s because I have (usually) weekly updates. It just fits my schedule.


One comment on “Deciding Chapter & Story Lengths

  1. I usually end my chapters at a point where the reader is left wondering. I make sure all of the chapters are generally the same length. If they’re too long, then I’ll edit them to where it keeps the reader’s attention but doesn’t drone on forever.

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