Chapter Word Counts: Does it Matter?

Long, short, all the same, a mixture? For myself when I am reading I like to be able to finish a chapter in one sitting. There is some sense of accomplishment and it doesn’t leave you having to pick up the story again mid-sentence. But how long is too long?

When I completed Awesome Sauce there were 22 chapters for an average of 2,086 words per chapter. I had researched and found various ideas online concerning the issue of chapter lengths. Most concluded you write chapters that move the reader forward and concerns about word counts should not be an issue.  I followed this guideline but did keep chapters from exceeding eight manuscript pages.

I kept hearing those 11-year old boys saying the chapters were too long. It was no surprise these reluctant readers craved short, fast paced chapters whereas length was not an issue for boy and girl avid readers. I began tossing the idea around of re-doing the story into shorter chapters. I liked how my story was told and each chapter was there for a purpose. Did I really want to start carving it up into smaller slices?

I decided to keep the original version and experiment with a copy. The story was to stay the same but I was going to rework it into more chapters. As I started this process it seemed it would have been easier to think about this from the beginning but ‘Learn by doing’ has been my motto throughout. The task turned out to be time consuming taking most of a month. I found places where I could end a chapter and provide a solid teaser as to why the reader should continue turning the page.

When the chapter revision project was done I had 39 chapters and 900 more words. This brought my average word count down to 1,112 per chapter. I re-read both versions and it was evident part way through the newest copy it had a better pace compared to the original. Each of the 39 chapters had events new to the reader and moved the story forward.

This was a backwards way to getting at my final manuscript and I would approach it at the initial stages for the next manuscript.  Anyone else out there suffer through similar pains?

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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