Length: Scene, Chapter, Novel

I’ve been working on my writing recently. For me, that means going over my outlines and setting things up for narrative. It got me thinking about writing and length goals. Here’s my run down of my research and some thoughts.

taken from blog indiewire

Novel Lengths:

Writers Digest Bree Ogden Literary Rejection Writers Workshop
Adult Novel 80-100k 70-115
Sci-fi 100-115k 100-115 90-125
MG 20-55k 30-40 25-40
YA 55-70k 55-90 50-80 50-70
Picture Books 32 pages 500-600 words 500-700 words 500-700 words
Western 50-80k
Memoir 80-90k 70-110 70-100
Commercial/womens 80-110 75-120
Crime 90-100 75-130
Mysteries 70-90
Romance 40-100
Fantasy 90-100 180-200
Paranormal 75-95
Horror 80-100
Historical 100-120
NA 60-85

What I learned:

  • There are no exact numbers. 80-85k feels like a pretty standard number for adult novels. Sci-fi and fantasy runs longer. YA runs shorter.
  • Although there are notable exceptions outside the norms, they are exceptions and not the standard way to break into writing.

Chapter Lengths:

All Write Karen Woodward Advanced Writing Better Novel Project
General 2500 640-1000 5000 3500-4500
Romance 3000
Thrillers 600-800

What I learned:

  • Chapters are not consistent
  • Beginning chapters tend to be longer because they have more set up but even then they vary
  • Varying chapter lengths helps build the pace and tension in a novel.
  • One website indicated that a chapter is roughly 2-3 scenes long. Another says that a chapter is a location change. A third indicates that it is a natural breath in the action of the novel. There doesn’t seem to be any specific guidance for finding a standard break.

Scene Lengths:

The Write Practice Writer’s Digest Be Kind Rewrite
Scene 750 2-15 pages 300-1300

What I learned:

  • Like scenes, there is a significant variance in the scene lengths.
  • Writer’s Digest relied on Make A Scene by Rosenfeld. I enjoyed Make A Scene but the page reference felt less useful than the word suggestions offered by the other websites.
  • Advice I really liked from Make A Scene is that scenes should vary widely throughout a novel. Shorter ones tend to speed up the pace. They condense the action. They allow character reactions and a breath. Longer scenes allow for full dialogues, more complex action, and changes in unique scenery.

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  1. #1 by harrybingham on April 14, 2015 - 3:15 am

    I just saw this – I’m Harry from the Writers’ Workshop/AgentHunter – and it’s impressive, interesting research. What I would say is that you need to remember is that (A) novel and chapter lengths can be highly variable . . . and (B) no one cares!

    I’ve published 10 novels, and the very shortest of those things was 115,000 words. The longest was 180,000 (and was ordinary adult fiction, not SFF). Only once has an editor said to me that a novel of mine felt a bit long, so I took 5,000 words out of a 135,000 novel and he was totally happy.

    Same thing with chapters. I now write crime thillers and my chapters (at about 2000 words each, tho they vary a lot) are probably unusually short for the genre. But they work for my book, so that’s fine.

    Truth is, as long as it reads OK on the page, no literary agent and no editor and no reader will care about these things. You can have great long books or great short ones. What you should never have is a book (or a chapter, or a scene, or a paragraph) that feels baggy, or that has excess weight. Those things will kill a narrative really fast – and obviously if you end up writing a long book, you have more work to do than if you write a short one! (Which means I’m dumb: because my books are always on the longer end.) Really interesting & useful compilation of thoughts, though.

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