How many chapters should your novel have?

Authors are fantastic storytellers. When it comes to selecting the perfect metaphor, or weaving intricate character backstories into the plot, authors often know intuitively what works in a story. But while storytelling is key to writing a good book, so is structure – which is why you’ll need to decide how many chapters your novel should have.

The number of chapters in your book will depend on an array of factors – from genre to word count to audience. Research is key to deciding how many chapters your novel should have – so let’s take a look at the purpose of chapters, and how some successful books use them effectively.

Chapters lend structure and readability to your novel. They allow your readers to follow your narrative in a clear, familiar way, while giving them convenient stopping points (after all, it’s rare for even the most unputdownable books to be read in a single sitting).

While chapters are practical for readers, they also give you the opportunity to build tension, change perspective, and switch to new scenes in a cohesive way. In short, they’re a key element of almost any novel.

Almost all novels are split into chapters, so it’s a shrewd move for new authors to use them, too.

Fiction is generally split into 4 distinct formats: flash fiction (less than 1000 words), short stories (1000-10,000 words), novellas (10,000-40,000 words), and novels (40,000 words or more).

Each format has a different approach to chapters. Flash fiction and most short stories are too short to warrant chapters, although short stories sometimes include breaks for scene changes, or to show the passage of time.

If you’re writing a novella, using chapters is at your discretion. If it’s on the shorter side, you may feel that chapters aren’t necessary, and interrupt the flow of your story. Longer novellas, or those with perspective changes and scene transitions, can benefit greatly from inserting chapters.

Unlike the other 3 formats, novels need chapters. They make reading your book easier for the reader, while helping you manage the construction of your story. Novels without chapters are often a little unwieldy, and can put readers off. So how can you use chapters to create a compelling, well-structured story?

As a reader, the number of chapters in a book may seem random – but there’s actually a lot of research and convention behind it. Still, as a new author, it can be difficult to decide how many chapters you need for your specific novel. Almost as difficult as writing an author bio for the first time!

Books are so unique that there’s really no such thing as an average book. But you can still learn a lot by looking at other books in your genre. We’ve researched and analysed the number of chapters in a range of popular titles, mapping them against their genre and word count (rounded to the nearest 1,000), to see how these factors affect the number of chapters in a book.

The number of chapters in any given book is ultimately up to the author (and, if you’re being traditionally published, the publisher). But good authors will consider their readers when deciding how many chapters should be in their book.

For example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has a whopping 61 chapters – more than 3 times as many as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which is almost twice as long. This may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense because of the genre of these books. In general, people read romance novels for light escapism, while readers of historical novels expect a heavier, more opaque read. As a result, romance novels benefit from having more chapters that are shorter in length, while historical novels can get away with having fewer, heftier chapters.

Other books have chapters that lend them a specific structure. Despite having a relatively high word count, Bridget Jones’s Diary has the fewest chapters of all the books in this list at 12 – but each chapter refers to a month over the course of a year. Because this book is supposed to be a diary, this chapter structure makes perfect sense for this book.

If your novel is longer than 100,000 words, it may be a good idea to split your book into parts as well as chapters. Northern Lights, White Teeth, and Wolf Hall all use parts to negotiate significant changes in each section of the story, whether it’s character perspective, location, or time period. It might be a good idea to read our guide on how long it would take to write a book where we provide examples and tips!

Just like no two books are the same in terms of the number of chapters, similarities are few and far between when it comes to chapter length. But a little research can help you understand how successful authors arrive at their average chapter length.

The majority of the books in the chart above are 3,000-5,000 words per chapter, which is a comfortable length for most readers. Wolf Hall and Pride and Prejudice are at opposite ends of the scale in terms of average chapter length, due to their genre and readership. But there are other chapter length insights you can glean from the rest of the books on this list.

The Handmaid’s Tale, which has the lowest average chapter length, is a first person narrative with disjointed, terse prose – so it makes sense that the chapters are also relatively short. White Teeth, meanwhile, is tangential and roaming, with a large cast of characters, lending itself to longer chapters that allow the story to breathe.

Many books with a longer average chapter length make extensive use of breaks within their chapters, such as White Teeth and Northern Lights. This allows them to extend their chapters without taking a toll on their readers. It’s also good practice to try to keep your chapters around the same length throughout your book. This helps your reader learn what to expect as they read your work.

While there tends to be a trend towards chapter lengths of around 4,000 words, authors should let their own voice and story dictate chapter length, rather than overwriting or underwriting to fulfil a quota.

Removing a chapter quota is helpful for authors, because it means you’re not striving to reach a certain number – you can let your story decide how many chapters you need. Depending on your writing process, you can do this in the planning stage, the writing stage, the editing stage – or a combination of all three.

1. The planning stage

If you tend to outline your story before you begin writing, this is a great place to start thinking about where you should include chapters. You may find that your outline naturally falls into chapters, in which case, adding chapters will be a breeze. If there aren’t many obvious breaks or scene transitions, you can decide to create more, or keep the chapter numbers low.

2. The writing stage

If you prefer to get stuck straight into writing without a plan or an outline, you may find it easiest to decide where your chapters start and finish during the writing process itself. This can be a great way to maintain momentum in your writing – but when your book is finished, you might find there’s some discrepancy in your chapter lengths.

3. The editing stage

Another option is to finish writing the book – every author’s number one priority – and then split it into chapters afterwards. While this can be a difficult approach, it’s also helpful when you’re editing your first draft, as you’ll be able to easily identify where the tension works, and where it needs to be tweaked. We have more editing tips you should check out!

4. Find a combination that suits your style

When it comes to splitting your book into chapters, few writers get it right first time. You’ll probably need to go through some trial and error before you find the right structure for your book. You can include chapters in your outline, but decide to change it when you’re writing the book, then change it again when you’re editing the first draft.

her key chapter-related question lots of writers have is whether to name your chapters, or keep it simple with numbers. In short, this is entirely up to the author, although you can also refer to other books in your genre to see what’s most prevalent.

Chapter names can offer insight and structure. White Teeth, for example, uses similar chapter titles to help the reader understand what to expect in that part of the book. For example, chapters entitled “The Root Canals of…” offer backstory on key main characters. The Handmaid’s Tale uses “Night” chapters to divulge the narrator’s innermost thoughts, while other chapters are more impassive.

Offbeat comic novels are more likely to use names for their chapters, as are YA novels and fantasy books. Dramas and thrillers typically choose to stick with numbers or dates for their chapter titles. Some authors also use a combination of names, dates, and numbers to lend structure and form to their work.

Chapters are a crucial structural tool for authors. Researching new and successful books in your genre can help you get a feel for how many chapters are generally expected in your chosen area. But note that your word count can also play a significant part in establishing the number of chapters in your book.

As a general rule, novels between 70,000 and 90,000 words will probably have anywhere between 15 and 25 chapters. But in the end, the number of chapters in your book should be secondary to your story. As long as you have a page-turning narrative, no reader (or publisher, for that matter) will concern themselves with how many chapters you’ve included in your novel.

Get more writing resources for new and self-publishing authors over on our writing advice hub.