Chapter Length?

3 years ago | TheAdamBo (Member)

What do you consider an ideal chapter length for a web serial? I started out trying to write chapters that were 1,000 to 2,000 words long, but then my readers started to complain that they felt "ripped off" because my (completely free to read) chapters were too short. Now I try to keep them somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000, though the story I'm writing right now might break that rule. What do you think is an ideal length?

My Fiction is Fantastic, Fabulous, Freaky, and FREE! Check it out on BolanderBooks: http://www.bolanderbooks.com

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Responses

  1. Billy Higgins Peery (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    My chapters are like 200-500 words, lol.

    Obviously I'm on the extreme end of things. I did that on purpose -- I wanted to write a daily serial, and I also wanted to see how small I could make a scene while still making it fun. I've had some people tell me they like the super-short chapters because they have a popcorn-ish quality, but some people have obviously been put off by the oddball style.

    At this point I'm not going to change the ch length too much, just because that would seem a bit odd. The first two books have super-short chapters, then all of a sudden I'd doing 1,00-2,000 word chapters? That would be such a jarring change of pace.

    But let's put my particular case to the side (honestly, the super-short ch. thing that George Frost and I do is almost completely different on a craft level from the serials with longer chapters).

    You have to do what's right for the serial. Quite frankly, it's kind of silly for a reader to feel 'ripped off' when they're getting something for free. Maybe if you start a story and don't finish it, okay. And if your chapters got shorter and shorter as time went on, then they'd have a bit of a point there, too. But if you start a serial and keep to the expectations you set, they're just being silly.

    And it's totally okay for them to be silly. Sometimes people are going to have comments on your work and you're just going to be like, "lol what even is that opinion?" But the beauty of the internet is that there's such a diversity of opinions. Someone's always going to agree w/ you, and someone's always going to disagree with you, almost without fail. So you just have to keep in mind whether you agree with the critique of your story. (The more people disagree with you, the more you'll want to remind yourself why you feel the way you do. Hopefully you can figure out if your motivations for your belief outweigh the points they make.)

    I honestly think 1-2k is an excellent length. Jim and Drew have been doing serials around that length quite successfully. It's short enough to be fun and pop-y, while also giving the readers enough grounding to avoid narrative whiplash.

    3-6k starts getting a bit long for my tastes, but there are plenty of people out there who love it, so it's certainly a possibility.

    At the end of the day, you just have to be conscious of how you want your story to be paced. The shorter it is, the more chapter endings you're going to have. And chapter endings do tend to have an exciting element to them (whether it's out-and-out cliffhangers or the more subtle line that makes you stop and think).

    Every chapter should complete a goal. So, are you going to do it like me, where every couple hundred words leads to an emotional beat? (The emotional beat could be a laugh line, a cliffhanger, a moment that makes you think, makes you sad, reveals character, etc.) Or would you maybe like to go a Wildbow-ish route, where several thousand words allow you to develop problems that the characters work through in clever ways?

    You have to figure out where your priorities lie as an author. That'll determine what pace you want your serial to run at, and therefore what shape your chapters should take.

    "Any number of hitlers, are still not my problem." -Tempest
  2. FrustratedEgo (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    This exact question comes up on Royal Road at least once every 2 months. The answer is generally "In published books they sometimes have 4 word chapters, or 14k word chapters, you do you." (I'm condensing and paraphrasing pages of back and forth)

    Really it's about what you're comfortable with and the readers you want to attract.

    On my next project I'm going to see if I can do daily updates of 1k words, (roughly) verse my current bi-weekly of 5ishk words. Mostly to see if impacts anything on viewership / hits / etc. I have a feeling it'll be hard to see if that's useful since the genre for the next work will change.

  3. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Personally, I like a max out of about 2,000 words when I'm reading, since I can get through it in 15 minutes or less. I've started writing in the same way, and I find it's also pretty good for wrapping up the prior thread while still having time to introduce another. That said, I used to write closer to 3,000 and now have trouble feasibly editing that down while maintaining flow. There's also the option of doing two updates per week of 1,500 to produce a similar effect. So... yeah, I agree with Billy, the 'ripped off' thing seems kind of silly.

    Writing a Time Travel serial: http://mathtans.wordpress.com
    Writer of the personification of math serial: http://www.mathtans.ca
  4. Taulsn (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I use to do 1k chapters now I'm doing 2k it really is just preference.

  5. Dary (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I always say "a chapter is only as long as it needs to be". I just put one out a few words shy of seven thousand words (when my average word count per chapter is about 4,500). I could have split it in two, but I don't think it would have worked. The story comes first!

  6. LadyAnder (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I always went by the rule of, a chapter is as long as it needs to be as well as it depends on the story. I mean my current story usually runs chapter between 1000-3500 words long. Given the pacing of the story, it works. On a different community, for the most part, to keep attention span of any potential reader there, it's about 3500k words and anymore than that it looks like an incredible wall of text because of the way the site layout is.

    I find it a little silly that your readers feel ripped off on for something that is free to read.

    A cross-genre slice=of-life, some adventure fluff fantasy stories about elves--> https://brotherhoodarchive.com
  7. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I typically go from 800-100. I sometimes write as many as 1200 to 1500 words. While people have sometimes said they felt it was short, they've always been wrong.

  8. Stormy (Moderator)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I tend to aim for a minimum of 1500 - though I have a number of chapters that are lower than that, as that's how best they feel. In general, they usually end up somewhere around 2000 words.

  9. Emma (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Anywhere from 1000-3500 for mine. I used to try to stick to 2500, but I felt I was limiting myself and let the chapters be as long or short as they need to be.

  10. Scott Scherr (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I believe chapter or episode length depends on a couple of things:

    1) How often one posts.

    If someone is only posting once a week, I would recommend longer chapters with a lot going on in each segment to give readers more to think about during the long wait. The average person can read a book within a week, so I believe shorter chapters over longer posting periods run the risk of losing readers' interest, unless they choose to simply go away for a while and come back when there is a good chunk of material to 'binge' read. The other option is shorter chapters with more frequency (like two to three times a week).

    2) How fast does the chapter move?

    I think if you're posting a chapter with a lot of action, or even a lot of dialogue, you can get away with posting a much longer chapter. But if you're posting chapters that are heavy on the narrative, a.k.a. "info dumping", for example, you may want to post shorter chapters until the pace picks up. I think chapter length should be driven by the content of each chapter and not a set word count.

    Some people always want more, some want less. Can't please everyone. I tend to lean toward longer chapters regardless, because I look at each episode as it's own story. Besides, we're writing serial novels not flash fiction... lol.

    Author of the apocalyptic series, Don't Feed The Dark. http://freezombienovel.wordpress.com
  11. TanaNari (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I make myself do 1k words per day, period, without exception. More optional. I typically do chapters with a minimum of 2k words, and a lot of chapters need to be 3k to get everything necessary inside.

    No one's complained about chapter length yet. But then, I publish a minimum of 3 chapters a week, and generally manage to squeeze in a fourth every two to three weeks.

    Author of Price.
  12. TheAdamBo (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    There are times I wonder if I'm doing the whole "Web serial" thing wrong. People tell me that my chapters should be episodic, like episodes on a TV series. Each of them should be self contained but still continue off each other. I write my serials like a novel, where something important happens in each chapter, but they couldn't still be called an "episode." There aren't really story archs within the story itself, just the story itself progressing with each chapter. I dunno how to better explain it, lol. I haven't gotten any complaints yet, but it's something I wonder about anyway.

    My Fiction is Fantastic, Fabulous, Freaky, and FREE! Check it out on BolanderBooks: http://www.bolanderbooks.com
  13. TanaNari (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    "There aren't really story archs within the story itself, just the story itself progressing with each chapter. I dunno how to better explain it, lol. I haven't gotten any complaints yet, but it's something I wonder about anyway."

    If you're doing it wrong, then so am I. Even my "episodic" third book takes multiple chapters to complete the arc.

    Author of Price.
  14. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 3 years ago

    @TheAdamBo

    As long as your readers can follow the story without much trouble/rereading and are interested in the story as you update, you're doing the webserial thing correctly.

    To use an analogy, webserial chapters and novel chapters are like nails and screws. They're not exactly the same, but there's a lot of overlap. A lot of novels could easily be split up into chapters released once a week and still be perfectly coherent and enjoyable. A lot of webserials, once complete, bundle up nicely into a novel format. There are also the end cases, where incredible amounts of nuance and foreshadowing would be lost if you split a novel into chapters and could only read one a week, or webserials where bundling it into one volume would make it so incredibly long that it couldn't be read in one sitting and also incredibly slow-paced in terms of number of words it takes to get plot across.

    What constitutes a proper chapter length depends on quite a number of factors:
    - Your style of writing. If you are very concise with your descriptions, you can get through a lot of plot in a few hundred words. If you take the time to lay out scenes in detail, you might need a few thousand to get through the same amount of plot. In a webserial chapter, it's crucial that the reader feels like "something happened" when they finish the chapter, so you have to get through a certain amount of plot each time
    - How often you update. Memory fades. If you update every day, you can get away with shorter chapters because the reader will not have forgotten the details of the previous chapter before they read the next. The longer the time between updates, the longer your chapters should be, and the more episodic (self-contained) each chapter should be. I update approximately monthly, so my chapters have turned into the writing equivalent of half-hour comedy TV show episodes.
    - The scene itself. Though not quite the same as novel chapters, the ends of chapters are still good places to leave your readers with page-turning anticipation (and outright cliffhangers if you're feeling like you want to extort money out of them). In between chapters are also good places to change PoV, change scene, or put a small time skip and have it feel natural to the reader. Some of your chapters will probably naturally be shorter than others; don't fall into the trap of padding your word count with useless filler just to make all of your chapters the same length. Quality over quantity.
    - The type of story you're writing. If your story has a lot of emotional depth, you may need longer chapters to draw the reader into the correct mindset. If you're writing to evoke strong feelings of sadness, anger, love, etc., it will take time from the beginning of the chapter before those feelings reach the reader; only then does the chapter really begin. Or, you might be able to evoke emotion quickly, but the reader might not find it "worth it" to experience the stress of those emotions for just a short chapter. On the other hand, if you're writing something light-hearted, meant for people to pick up and enjoy whenever they have a free moment, short chapters will work well; they might even be better than long chapters because some readers don't like finding large periods of time to sit down and read several thousand words.

    In the end, write whatever feels like a chapter to you. It's a trial-and-error process, but you'll eventually settle in to an average chapter length +/- 20%, with the occasional freak chapter that's really long or really short.

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