How long should be chapter of the fantasy novel?

Since Daiva is working on Fall Lanterns and finding a lot for me to revise, I thought I'd take the opportunity to pick her brains. Here's the first of my interviews with Daiva about her insights into the developmental editing process. I'm going to start it off with Chapter Length.

I’ve always been really blasé about chapter length. People ask about it in writing groups and I’m like, Yeah, it is what it is; chapters are organic.

I’m a pantser. Basically, I have no idea what I’m doing half the time. The first draft is just me telling myself the story. All well and good until it’s time to make that story readable, i.e., make sense to someone else. Time to show it to an editor.

Now, everyone should know by now that none of my stories are readable until Daiva (or Erica) has had a go at them. What do they do as developmental editors?

Provide STRUCTURE to my stories. And Chapter Length is a big part of Structure.

Now that Daiva is giving Fall Lanterns a final pass, she’s finding a bunch of stuff I need to change, and chapter length has come up as a big issue. Several chapters needed to be split into two. There’s even one that Daiva thinks might be split into three. Ye gods! How long are my chapters? Answer: Way too long.


Me: I need to write a post about chapter length

Daiva: Would be good

Me: Well, actually, I only got this so far...KISS: Keep It Short, Stupid. Was thinking how earlier chapters especially should be shorter to give the reader a good reason to read on. Shorter chapters can also give the illusion of a faster pace. What else? Give me some insights from your editing pov

Daiva: The reader needs time to rest, to understand what they have read.

Me: Yes, too many scenes back-to-back can be overwhelming.

Daiva: The more new things you address the shorter chapter should be. It's a psychological need, like a dog after a walk goes to sleep, to rest and sort what he had seen.

Me: I just thought they were tired.

D: And why are they tired? Because they are overstimulated. New smells, new meetings.

Me: Ah, yes, like we need to sleep to consolidate what we've learned/memorised. Without enough sleep, students do worse in exams.

D: Yes, your reader to, might be a bit tired but want to read your story, then they see how long it is... and say to themself, maybe another day.

Me: *eek*

D: Keep it something that could be read in 10 min. Average reading speed 150 words per min. So, around 1500 - 2000 words. Max 3000. Also, chapter length may vary.

Me: Yes, like you’ve said before, to give reader a chance to breathe after a long chapter, so follow that with a short one. Depends on no. of scenes too, right? Are multiple povs, harder to follow?

D: Actually, change of POV helps the reader rest and take a break from one particular character. Change of POV is good for longer chapters to keep the reader interested. Attention span changes. It's like eye exercise--you need to look at the horizon far away and then at something close. Same with POV, your mental eye needs to focus on different things.

Me: Hmm, maybe that’s why I enjoy multiple POV. Great insights, thanks, D!


So, there you have it! Chapter length is a big part of Structure and so it's not something to be loosy-goosy about.

Want more like this? Just let me know what you wonder about (re the editing process) and I'll do a whole series of these interviews with D.