Saturday, 12 May 2012

Chapter & Novel Lengths


Just how long should a chapter be? What’s the best length? And does a novel have to fit into a set amount of words?
These are just two of the most common questions asked by writers.  They assume they have to work to a strict template of X amount of words and X amount of chapters, usually because most novels have around 30 or 40 chapters and around 80,000 words. 
Novel Lengths

Firstly, let’s dispel a few myths - novel lengths are dictated by the story itself, not the writer or the editor or a specific written formula.  Secondly, writers don’t have to fit their word count into generic set amounts.  Again, the story will dictate how long the novel will be.
It’s also worth knowing the different types of novels that work well with different word counts.  Uncomplicated stories containing minimal characters tend to be short – usually around 20,000 to 60,000 words.  These are called novellas.

Longer, more complex stories, which contain a handful of main characters and peripheral characters, tend to run at about 60,000 to 95,000 words.  This would constitute the average length novel.
The saga – plenty of characters and a complex, epic story told over many generations – think Roots or War and Peace - usually run at over 100,000 words.

If you are writing a standard length novel, aim for 80,000 to 95,000 words.  It doesn’t have to be exact, but it’s there to guide writers.  If you set yourself a target of 85,000 words, you’ll know that if you fall short of that average figure, your story is either lacking in substance, or it doesn’t have enough fuel to be a full length novel (without some serious editing), and would therefore be a novella instead.  If you go way over that figure and you find yourself easily drifting over 100,000 words, then you need to do some serious editing to reign the story back in, otherwise you risk it turning into a saga.
Another reason to use these figures as a guide is that if you submit your MSS to an agent or publisher stating what kind of story it is, i.e. a thriller based novel which is a whopping 150,000 words long, you might get a rejection before anyone has even read the first line of the first chapter because that kind of length for that kind of story just isn’t a viable option for them.  Conversely, if you state that you have an epic tale of love and revenge, set in the last century, which follows several generations of the same family, the editor would balk at a paltry 75,000 words.

In other words, think about the genre you are writing, think about the story itself, and know what kind of book you’re writing.  Can it be told in that reasonable amount of words?

Chapter lengths
Writers soon learn that there are no particular set rules when it comes to writing and chapter lengths fall into this area. 

New writers tend to assume that a chapter must be a certain set length in order to maintain the average novel length of around 80,000 – 95,000 words, but in truth, chapters can be as long or as short as you need them to be.  There is no formula.  You don’t have to pick a number like 80,000 and then divide it by 30 chapters to give you 2500 words a chapter (average).
If you have ever read Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’ or many Stephen King novels, then you’ll realise that a chapter can be a sentence long.  Or just one word.  Or it can be 5000 words.  Again, like novel length, chapter length is dictated by what is happening in the story, not by the law of averages and applied mathematics.  Many books have 40, 50 or sometimes 60 chapters, all varying in length.  And it’s the variety of length that counts.  They don’t have to coform to any pre-conceived ideas.  Every writer is different, so every chapter they write will be different in length.

The only thing you need to apply where chapter lengths and novel lengths are concerned, is common sense. 
If you think a chapter is far too short for whatever reason, examine it to see why.  It may be you simply haven’t included enough description.  If your chapter seems to go on and on...again look at it to see if it is overly long - you risk boring your reader or losing their attention if it doesn’t sensibly move to the next chapter.

If there was such a thing as an average chapter, it would probably be around 2500 words.  Or you could say 10 x A4 sheets, because this also acts as a visual prompt for some people.
There are no hard and fast rules.  It’s all down to the kind of story you are writing, how you tell it, and of course, a touch of common sense.

Next week: Finding balance.

99 comments:

  1. Mizz Humpage, that is the BEST piece of writing advice, most helpful, most practical, I've read in a lonnggggggggg time. One of the first questions I asked when I started my own novel was how long should the chapters be? This was rather brilliant. Thank you!!!!

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    1. Thanks Cathy, glad to help. I get asked about novel and chapter lengths ALL the time.

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  2. And what a lot of common sense you have stated here! I am glad to have my private question as to why folk begin a novel fully intending that it will be, say, 85,000 words long, because my habit is to write until it is done. That said, it does feel there ought to be something in between a novel and a saga because the two I have done (113K ad 128K respectively) certainly do not merit that description. What length was Gone with the Wind I wonder?

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    1. I tend to write until the story completes, although I find it usually does naturally, between 70,000 and 90,000 words.

      As for Gone with the Wind? Over 400,000 words.

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Which methons do you use to search for info for your future entries, which exact search networks or techniques do you commonly use?

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    1. I don't search for info, but rather I focus on the factors that mean most to writers, and the kind of questions they like answers to, together with useful advice, and I do that through experience, simply because I've been there and done it.

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  5. I find it alarming, honestly, that the stats seem to be so low. Many sites say the same thing and it makes me wonder a bit if I'm writing my own novel wrong; I've got 50k words (word processor word count) and I'm on my fifteenth chapter with six (very short) portions not included as chapters, and I'm no where close to even a mid point or anything. I mean I know I'm definitely not an amazing author or anything but it's stunning :o

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    1. I have a current work in progress that is at 10 chapters and is just 11K words at the moment. Nothing wrong with that because I know it will need fleshing out with lots more description and dialogue and subplots.

      Examine the 50K and work out where it needs improving with description/dialogue etc. Also, does it need to be supplemented with further subplots or extra chapters to cover them?

      A novel will find its own length with a bit of encouragement. Good luck.

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  6. I'm writing an historical novel using a technique called "weaving." This allows me to introduce and weave major and periperal characters and their subplots into the story as I go. I'm using chronology and geography as "guideposts" as I write. I'm on my 3rd revision (caused when I belatedly realized I'd screwed up my chronology!) The characters introduced first are important, but none are the protagonist(s)and my first chapter is 5,509 words, per computer word count. Is that to much?

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    1. Hi Arlene. An historical novel sounds like it might be a saga-type, and plenty of words. As already stated in the article, there are no hard and fast rules, but I would advise with first chapters that they are not overly long - the simple reason is that when editors or agents request to see your first three or four chapters, the opening line of the very first chapter has to SELL the story to them, it has to hook them. and it needs to keep them ineterested to want to read on.

      The best advice is to look closely at how the first chapter works to grab your reader's attention. At over 5K the first chapter might be too demanding - look to see if you can tweak it to improve the chapter's chances of hooking the reader, and keeping them hooked.

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    2. I am also writing a historical novel.I 've tried a couple of approaches. Got as far as having an agent suggest changes and ask me to rewrite and resubmit. Which I did and was rejected so I obviously still hadn't got it right! I'm interested in hearing more about "weaving"

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    3. Hi Carol. Stick at it, keep working on it. Practice and persistance will pay off in the end.

      As for "weaving", this is something all writers do, sometimes without even realising. It is a major part of the writing process, and I'll be happy to post an article on it in due course.

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  7. Hi AJ, I love your advice on chapters. I'm a screenwriter and have decided to turn one of my most recent thriller scripts into a novel which will allow me to be much more graphic. My problem is I can't seem to get the hang of writing in the past tense. Is it okay to write in the present tense? My protagonist will actually be telling the story in the novel. thanks so much, Janice

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  8. Hi there.

    Past tense is the most commonly used tense and it works very well for novels and offers more advantages over present tense. If you are not confident enough to write in past tense (I suspect that being a screenwriter has something to do with this, as present tense is often used), by all means write in the present tense for your novel, there are no rules to say you can't.

    The one thing I would say is that any writer attempting a novel in present tense should have a thorough understanding of tenses because they WILL trip you up. Even established and famous authors fall foul of it and end up mixing past and present without realising it. The present tense can be restrictive, too, in terms of narrative and description, building tension and so on, so my advice is study some books by other authors who have used present tense, get a feel for it within the novel, find your footing and make sure you understand the tenses you are using within the narrative.

    Good luck with your novel.

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  9. Hi again,

    Thanks so much for your response. I started studying a couple of books this past weekend and actually think the past tense would work better for me now. I've just started writing so I'll keep you updated :) I have to admit that writing a novel is MUCH more fun than a screenplay. :)

    All the best
    Janice

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    1. Hi Janice,

      I think it would be a wise choice, if only to get a feel for writing a novel, and it really is the best tense to work with.

      And you're right, writing a novel is fun, and also (hopefully), rewarding!

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  10. Again your advice is very helpful. I've always had trouble keeping my words at the aimed amount, but 80,000 words work with me.
    Thank again, AJ!

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  11. Hi AJ Humpage..
    I am new to novel writing.I need some suggestions to How to write interesting stuff for a novel.
    I have written something..Just wanted your suggestions...
    http://www.silentsunny.com/2013/03/momc-1-friend-getting-ready-for-date.html

    Thanks...

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    1. "Interesting stuff" comes about through a well developed plot. Plan out your chapters and what might happen in each one - as a guideline. Better to start your journey by knowing where you are going than to find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere.

      From this you can add action, narrative, important description, dialogue and emotion to help flesh out your novel and develop your characters.

      The best suggestion for first time novelists is to simply write - you will learn as you go along.

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  12. Thanks for reassuring me - it's 11:43pm and I was in a sudden panic about my WIP's chapter lengths! I'm relieved to discover they are a distinctly average length :-) I know where to come next time I have a pointless novel crisis...

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  13. Hi AJ. I have a second chapter that is nearly 8k words but really cannot find a way to separate it in a way that flows naturally. Is that absurdly long, or can I make it fly?

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    1. Hi Michael,

      Wow, 8K is very long. There are no hard and fast rules here, but the reason we have average length chapters is merely to avoid boring the reader too much without giving them a break. Publishers may ask writers to edit if they think chapters drag on too long, so be aware of that.

      It may need some careful thought on how you could possibly split it. I say this only because if the chapter is too long,and it cannot sustain enough interest, tension, atmosphere, action or excitement, the reader will become bored. But as I say, there are no rules; it is more to do with common sense.

      Perhaps go with it for now and see what you can do during the editing stages. It's always possible to reduce word count when we have to.

      Good luck.

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  14. Most agreeable. My average chapter lengths vary vastly. I believe a chapter is done when it's done. My chapter lengths range from 4500 words to 10,000. A chapter ends for me when I feel the relevant topics or a suitable closure is reached.

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  15. If your chapter is too long the reader will be reluctant to start reading it, or close the book at a convenient point that they can remember.
    My best advice, which is gained through reading the greats like Sidney sheldon and Harold Robbins is to keep the chapters short - 2500 to 4000 - and end them on cliff hangers so that you think 'I'll just read one more' and when it's done you think 'one more' and 'one more because you just can't put it down!
    This is how I'm writing my novel and the first chapter id only 2671 words.

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    1. I vary my chapter lengths all the time. And the great thing about them is that they can be one word or several thousand words. It's entirely up to the writer.

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    2. I have never checked to see the length of a chapter before reading, it unless it was an assignment. If a reader is doing that then "he just isn't that into you". I do think continuous disasters are vital to any novel to keeping a reader reading so keep those cliffhangers coming. Again as I commented before, I have read many writing books that claim chapters are NOT part of the novel structure. I am working on my first novel and I haven't given chapters a second though. I find comprehending the complexity of the 6 layers of novel construction daunting and applying it to my manuscript is even more challenging. Isn't worrying about chapters like worrying about your photo on your book jacket? Fun but a bit frivolous?

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    3. In addition to your earlier post, I will add that there are a few unique books out there that don't have chapters. Some just have simple headings or place name or character names or dates etc. The traditional convention is that most novels are presented with chapters.

      The other thing is that chapter lengths are important if you want to keep your book on the straight and narrow, otherwise you'll end up with a tome thicker than a tectonic plate and busting 800,000 words. This is why writers vary chapter length, so they can keep within the 80K, 90K or 100K words of the average novel. Worrying about chapters isn't frivolous at all - it's a necessary aspect. Readers don't pay attention, but writers certainly should.

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  16. Hi
    I'm hoping you can post the end of your 3rd paragraph in the section called "Chapter lengths"
    (And it’s the variety of length that counts. They don’ )

    That's how that paragraph ends and it's the part I'm most interested in.

    Thanks,

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    1. Well spotted, Marta. I've added the missing sentences.

      Delete
  17. Agree with above comments. This is very helpful as a guide and you, AJ, seem very receptive and open.

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  18. I've read many books that separate a single chapter into other parts, usually denoted with dots or extra space that signifies a longer length of time in between those two parts (I don't know if there is a word for this). Do you have any advice on using those type of breaks versus chapters?

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    1. Hi there,

      I believe the term is known as an asterism, derived from the Greek word for star (aster).

      These are also known as scene breaks. They're a very useful tool to signify a length of time has passed, or that it shows a switch in scenes, but also signifies a change of POV.

      For instance John and Jo are in a scene driving home from an evening out, chatting to each other. The villain of the story, meanwhile, has broken into their house. The next scene could show the villain prowling around John and Jo's place, intent on murder. This villain scene would have the asterism to denote the new scene.

      The next scene could be the start of a new chapter. Or you could put in an asterism and carry on with a new scene with other characters or it might go back to John and Jo.

      There are no rules to how many scene breaks you have in a chapter, but obviously don't go overboard. As with everything in writing, it's all about getting a balance.

      Hope that helps.

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  19. I have just begun writing a novel that is based on my life story as I believe that I have a very interesting, exciting and unique story to tell. I'm not sure if I am right, but I am using fictional characters and am writing in the third person.
    Before I started actually writing, I wrote a 15 page synopsis, laying out the characters and the plot as well as the proposed chapter breaks. I have now written 12,000 words and am already changing the synopsis as I go. I wonder if I am heading in the right direction.

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    1. The good thing is that you've planned ahead with a synopsis. (If and when it's time to submit to an agent or publisher, you will have to cut this synopsis to 1 - 4 A4 pages). But the thing with planning chapters is that it is a guide only, and is subject to change as we write, and very often does.

      The other thing to remember is that is it the first draft. The nuts and bolts of writing comes when you start work on your 2nd, 3rd, 4th drafts, so don't worry too much at this stage.

      None of us really know the true direction we're heading when we begin writing. We have a rough idea, and sometimes we might end up with something very different to what we planned out. That's all part of the writing process.

      The real hard work begins with the read-through and editing stage, because that is when a writer begins to fully understand the story and the characters.

      So, my advice here is to keep writing, use your synopsis as a guide, and see where the story takes you.

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  20. I don't think it matters...The first 6,000 words of mine were spilt over 9 chapters, and it worked with the narrative very well!

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  21. I'm one of the idiots who believed that chapters needed to be a certain length... around 8 to 10 pages (MS WORD, TNR font). Had issues sometimes forcing non important information in a chapter that turned out to be only four pages in order to make it longer, which made several of them boring and/or overwritten. Thanks for the great advice!!

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  22. Hello AJ, thanks a lot for the advice on this page.
    I dived into writing my very first novel (Might end up becoming a saga) a week ago, and the advice on this page alone has helped me a lot already.
    You gave me a sense of security when writing, because I realized it is not at all necessary to write a 20 page chapter. By shifting around with chapter length it seems a lot easier to keep the story flowing, and pouring out into my computer.
    Thanks a lot! And keep up the good work with your blog!

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    1. Thanks for that, I'm glad the advice is helping.

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  23. Ms. Humpage, your advice on novel length seems universal. I must be a man of few words. My family drama novel turned out to be 32k words. I certainly hope it won't be considered a novella. At least, that's not what I intended. I'm afraid if I add more subplots it will distract from the story.

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    1. Hello Bill,

      I'm afraid that at 32K, it would be considered as a novella if sent to agents or publishers, however that's not a bad thing because there are publishers out there that like shorter length novels.

      As for adding subplots to the story, that would just overwhelm it and force it away from the main plot. My best advice for this is to look at the structure of the story to see if it warrants more, and more importantly, to see if it needs more description and dialogue. You never know...

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  24. I've written a novel that's a mystery/thriller and it's finished at about 127,000 words with a prologue and epilogue. I haven't yet started sending into agents, but it's a complex story and there's no way of cutting to make it shorter. I'm proud of the novel, and to be honest, what's wrong with 120,000 words for a stand-alone novel? It's the content that counts, right?

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    1. Wow, that's quite a tome, and quite long for the target market of the mystery/thriller genre.

      There is nothing wrong with that size novel, but you need to be very savvy with how you sell yourself to agents/publishers. You'll have to make them want to read it, despite its size, because you will have to state how long the novel is in your covering letter, so make it intriguing and engaging enough that they won't even balk at 127,000 words.

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  25. Nice one !!!!
    I am excited for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. and I watch Ian Somerhalder's work it is pretty awesome to see on the screen.
    50 Shades Movie

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  26. I am pleased I found this as I am well 'over the hump' on my first novel. I have 85,000 words laid down and probably another 25,000 to write and then some serious editing to do.

    Your advice on chapter length is most welcome. Most of my chapters seem to be about 2,500 words, some are much shorter. However there's one of 8,500 words. I will now break that - even if I have to write the break in.

    Thank You.

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    1. Hi Bryn. Well done on getting to 85K. Good luck with that serious editing!

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  27. Some useful information on here, I’ve decided to try my hand at writing a book as having struggled to find work since losing my job 6 months ago, and I need to do something to stop me going nuts.
    I’ve always fancied the idea of trying to write, and have attempted to start something and then not get to far with it.
    However, this time round, not only have I started, but in 4 short days already have written just over 10,000 words – 7 Chapters. At present I have about 17 characters, most peripheral characters to help support the story, and about 25 chapters split up into 3 sections to give me a beginning middle and end. My preparation has actually been little more than a couple of sheets of A4 with a rough outline, and a list of characters that I add to each time I add a new one. I’m probably going about this all the wrong way, as I definitely feel I’m winging it. However, as I sit at the computer typing, the words just seem to come out, almost like I do not need to think about it. I’m currently looking, based on what I’ve written so far at around 36,000 words. I know I need to get it much higher, and I’m sure it will do especially as my chapters are gradually increasing in length.
    Any advice on how I’m working and what I should be doing will be appreciated.

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    1. Firstly, how a writer works is a very individual thing. There is no right or wrong with an approach to writing, but one thing any writer should do is a little planning & organisation. i.e., you might know where you want to go, but getting there can be tricky. You do what feels comfortable to you.

      Any writer will say the same thing: know the whole story, know the plot and how that will tie up at the end. Also, know what kind of journey your main character is taking and how it will change him/her. The fact that you have written so much means you are comfortable with the story. The real work wont begin until you've finished the story and start editing. That is the most important stage. So just keep writing; you'll have plenty of time to perfect it later.

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  28. I am new at writing and I have been working on a book for about five years and just when I was about to finish a book I realized that I needed something to add more background in formation and now i'm stuck writing another book. I am wondering how long it takes writers to finish there books.

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  29. Is it alright to start a sentence with "and" if a character says something that another character forgot to say.

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  30. Both of those comments were from me.

    Jason

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    1. Hi Jason,

      I'll answer your first comment to begin with. Writing is so individual that it can take writers anything from 8 months to several years to write a book, depending on the work involved and how fast a pace they work. Some people work quickly, some are methodical. I fall into the latter category - it can take months for me to write a story, let alone a novel. That's because a LOT of work and effort goes into it. I never rush my work. On average, writers spend around two years writing, researching and editing their books.

      Onto your second question. There is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with 'and'. These are called conjunctions and they can be quite useful if used correctly.

      You can learn more about them by typing 'Use of Conjunctions' in the search bar on the upper right hand side of the blog, or type in the following in your browser: http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/use-of-conjunctions.html

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  31. I tend to write quite short chapters, between 1k and 2k words, but my book lengths vary hugely.

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  32. Thanks for the great advice! It's just what I need as I start my novel. I've been aiming for about 2,000 words per chapter but now I see that it doesn't matter. There is no generic formula.

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    1. Hi Simon,

      Indeed, there are no written rules. Just go with the flow. Good luck.

      Delete
  33. Thank you for the perfect advice a writer could receive. I have a specific (and may be hard to decide upon) but what program would you highly suggest to a 'beginner' to use in editing his or her writings? -to search for errors in punctuation, spelling, etc.?

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    1. Hi Robert,

      There are plenty of online resources. For beginners I would suggest something like AutoCrit, a free online and easy to use editing wizard:-

      https://www.autocrit.com/editing/free-wizard/

      It helps with spelling, grammar, overused words, clichés etc. Of course, don't over rely on it, learn to edit and trust your instincts as you get better at your craft, because although they are good, they are nowhere near as good as humans!

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    2. Thanks, I agree with you. I have my mother and son proof read my chapters as I go and they inform me of some mistakes I have made. I really do not trust anyone else to read my materials until the release :)

      thanks again.

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  34. Thank you so much for these words of wisdom! They came at a perfect time and answered a LOT of my questions :-)
    ~R

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    1. Hi Rachelle,

      Thanks - glad the information and advice proved useful!

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  35. v helpful. Thank you

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  36. Hi AJ

    I realise this string is an old one, but am looking for advice on novel length and wondered if you could comment. I have written a novel 290 000 words long. It's been edited and cut back as it was written, but is still very long compared to most novels. It was for fun (its a comedy), and achieved a natural length. Is there any chance that an agent/publisher would be interested in 290 000 words? I'm wondering if it would be better to cut it in half or three parts? Although the central plot and character resolution is only arrived at at the very end, there are intermediate points where it could be split with a minor resolution, and the story taken up in a sequel. Have you ever known anyone to do this successfully?

    David

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    1. Hi David,

      Gosh, 290K is VERY long. It's not unheard of to have long lengths. The likes of Vikram Seth, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo and Joseph McElroy have all written huge tomes, but the quality of writing has to support such a length. Of course, all these were serious subjects, and I haven't heard of any long-length comedy novels.

      A negative you may encounter with this kind of length, coupled with genre, is that editors won't go out on a limb for them as they would do, say, for a 90,000 word novel. Anything under 100,000 words is viable and commercial for them, otherwise they tend to get twitchy.

      It would take a writing genius to pitch a 290K comedic novel to publishers. It would be less daunting if, as you say, you pitched it as a trilogy instead. Remember that publishers want something that is commercial and 'of the moment'. I think you would stand better chance of presenting it as a three book offer, rather than one huge book, that way you have room to work on the story even further than you would in 300,000 words.

      Hope that helps.

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  37. This really helps a lot and calms my nerves about have shorter chapters, but I do have a question. Would it be acceptable to have shorter chapters in the beginning, and longer chapters towards the middle? My first chapter is just more of an introduction of the setting and who the main character is. I reached 1,726 words, I'm sure I could add more, but I'd like to know if books are more enticing with a longer first chapter.
    Thanks!
    - Emilie

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    1. Hi Emilie,

      The honest answer to your questions is that there are no rules set in stone because chapter lengths very so much. Your first chapter needs to have enough to a) grab the reader's attention from the start and get right into the action b) introduce your main character and their predicament, i.e. the tone of the story and c) move the story forward.

      Longer first chapters can be off putting to some readers. Lots of novels have shorter first chapters, there is nothing wrong with that. Then the rest of the chapters vary in length as the story progresses. My advice is to keep it balanced, so not too short, but not too long.

      The first chapter of my second novel is 1,345 words, so that gives you an idea. Yours sounds about right.

      Hope that puts your mind at rest, so don't worry too much!

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  38. Ahhhhh! That does make sense. Time for this aspiring author to chop up some chapters.

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  39. Samantha Massingale13 May 2014 18:18

    Hello,

    My name is Samantha and I was wanting to write a trilogy on a gay couple and their struggles and successes. I am already half way through the first book and I was wondering when I should start looking for a publisher. Do you have any ideas on who and where I can go?

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    1. Samantha Massingale13 May 2014 18:21

      P.S.

      My e-mail is samanthamassingale@gmail.com,
      so if you want to e-mail me about details and such. Thank You!

      Delete
    2. Hi Samantha, I've emailed you with a reply.

      Delete
  40. Hello my name is LaTrice. I have a question I have been working on my book for two years now. I am a first time author therefore I am learning as I go. the questions I have is first, is it okay to name my chapters by the characters name? Im writing in 3rd person. Another question I have is how long should your acknowledgement be? It's my first book so of course my acknowledgement is long. I would appreciate any advice you could give me. Thank you

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    1. Hi La Trice,

      I'll start with your first question, naming chapters with names. There is no rule about chapter headings. If you want to name each one with a character's name, then go right ahead. It's different, and writing is all about being different and unique. As long as there is consistency, then you can call your chapters whatever you want.

      As for acknowledgements, again there are no written rules; they can be as short or as long as they need to be. It is your book, so it becomes whatever you want it to be.

      Good luck with your writing.



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  41. Hi name is Hallie and I have been trying to write a book for a long time I have some good ideas for some different books but my problem is with the dialogue I don't know if I have to put who said it or who asked it or if I can just leave that off from the dialogue all together

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  42. Hi Hallie,

    It's important to let the reader know who said what, and when. There are also times when you don't need to show who said something, because the reader will already know from the dialogue who is speaking etc. It sounds confusing, but once you get to grips with it, it's quite easy. There are ground rules for dialogue, however.

    You can go an my article on dialogue by pasting this into your search: http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/dialogue-dilemmas-part-1.html

    Alternatively, just type 'Dialogue' into the search bar on the right of this site and it will bring up articles on dialogue. It should prove useful in helping you structure dialogue correctly.

    One bit of advice I will suggest is to read other books and to how the dialogue is set out and presented. You can learn a lot by reading your favourite authors.

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    1. Hallie
      ok in my book I have a person that appears in the beginning of the book but I don't want to the persons id known until later on in the book so do I still have to give the persons name cause he is a and if not how could I do it so nobody knows who he is until later on in the book

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    2. I forgot to ask is it ok if you use a real persons name as long as they have past on and they are in your family

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    3. There are very few books/stories than can pull off having a character who is not revealed until later. It's not unheard of, but it's quite hard to achieve.

      One of the ways it can be done is through the use of 1st person narrative - i.e. 'I did this, I did that' etc, as opposed to 3rd person - 'he did this, he did that, she was this' etc. It works because 'I' does not have to be revealed, it always stays as 'I' unless another character refers to the first person by name.

      I'm currently writing a short story where the main character's name is never revealed. It's written in 1st person, so he is always known as 'I' and his character name is never mentioned at all.

      If you are writing in 3rd person, then you might be able to call the character a nick name rather than his or her real name, such as 'the Drifter sat down,' or the Business Man opened the door'. I had a character called White Shirt in one of my novels. So while it can be done, it's not that easy.

      And to answer your last question - you can use real people, since there is no copywrite on names, but because it's your family, it is wise to ask the if it's OK with them.

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    4. Ok thank you so much that is what I was having trouble with.

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  43. I have read that chapters are not part of the true structure of the novel and they are added later by an editor. I don't worry about them. I divide my story into motivational response units, scenes and acts. Some published novels have chapters that contain several scenes but sometimes in the writing process it is nice to be able to move scenes around so I think dividing the story in chapters would make that more complicated.

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  44. I think you may have been give duff advice Kaththee. Many agents and publishers specifically request the first three or four complete chapters - therefore it's important to have them structured that way. Don't expect an editor to do all the work for you by structuring your novel. That's the writer's job.

    However you present it is up to you, but if editors have to sit and arrange the book into chapters, or structure it in a way that is coherent and flows well, not much would get published, because they don't have the time. Good luck anyway.

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  45. Nice advises and tips. I have started with my first write up and have completed 40k now. I get ideas as and when I write. I do not know how to make the chapters interesting to read. Can you advise me with general tips on how to make it a interesting read? Thanks so much

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    1. Hi kannappan,

      Making a story interesting isn't as easy as it sounds, because there are so many elements involved that all come together to make the story. These include plot, characterisation, the antagonist, plenty of conflict, emotion, pace and action...and so much more.

      I can suggest a 4 part article I write a few years back - How to Write a Novel, which may help you:

      http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/how-to-write-novel-part-1.html

      Or just type in How to write a novel in the search bar.

      These will give you some idea how you can enliven and make your chapters interesting.

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    2. Thanks Humpage for the direction. I will work on it.

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  46. Thanks for the post. I'm an aspiring author at 20 years old, and I'm currently working on my first novel. I wasn't necessarily concerned with chapter standards as much as I was curious. Interesting to know!

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  47. Thanks for stopping by Nathan, and keep up the writing.

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  48. nansel nimsel silas7 August 2014 01:22

    Thanks for your good work AJ Humpage

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  49. I'm a bit young for writing novels, but I have a great idea. My chapters will be shorter, but that's because I have four main characters alternating views. About how long should the story be? I know that I need about 12 chapters for each character in the story, and 12*4 is 48, and for a first time novel writer at age 13, about how long should the chapters be? I know where I want to go with the book, but I don't know if about 1250 words a chapter is enough. Thanks for publishing this piece, by the way. It is very good.

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  50. Hi Ryan

    To answer your question, chapter lengths really do vary and there is no set length.

    To give you an idea, the first chapter of one of my novels is 1354 words. The second chapter is a whopping 4775 words. The third chapter is 2442. As you can see, there is no pattern, therefore your 1250 words (or thereabouts) is about average. Just make sure you vary them slightly so that you can at least reach 75 - 80K words (the length of an average novel). Novels that are between 50 - 60K words are considered 'novellas' (short novels). It depends on what sort of novel you wish to write. But don't get too concerned about the length of each chapter. They can be as long or as short as you like.

    By the way, 13 is not that young to start writing because you have a few years to learn all you can about the craft. I was 14 when I started seriously writing, and first published at 19, so keep writing and learning.

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  51. hi..AJ this is Aakash and im just 18 years of age and have took an attempt for writing a novel. the novel is a story about the last one year of my life. the girl who entered in my life exactly one year ago..im writing this for her birthday and want her to relive each and every moment which we had together in the past one year. do u think its a good idea...and i have reached around 20000 words...this will go around 70000 words. i need some tips on how to give chapters...as it involves only me and her..how do i seperate the story...it ll b a great help if you could give me some tips on this. thank you

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  52. Hi Aakash

    Firstly, any story is a good idea if you can make it work. It sounds like a love story perhaps? And I'm sure she will appreciate the effort you have put in.

    As for chapters, or how you might separate them, there are some options:

    1. I know you've written 20,000 words, but you could label your chapters to chronologically mirror your time together, e.g chapter 1 = when you first met. Chapter 2 = your first day out together. And so on. Obviously it won't be quite like that, these are just examples.

    2. You may want to use chapters as a way of highlighting key moments during your relationship.

    3. Instead of using conventional numbered chapters, you could use titles. For example, Our First Hour, The Day the Sun Smiled or Holding Hands...in fact any title
    you want. It's a matter of writing the story to fit with all the events and then giving the chapters title headings.

    Because you are only writing about you and her, so you only have two main characters, then you will need to vary the point of view. In other words, don't make it all one sided. In other words, perhaps a chapter on you, then a chapter on her. Then a chapter on both of you. Perhaps a chapter or two in flashback. The idea is to keep it interesting, so it's wise to include other people in the story too, people important to you both, and to the story.

    Hope this helps, and that I have interpreted your question correctly!

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    1. thank you for your help. I will work on my book like you said in this post. I have started to divide the chapters and the chapters length are from 1k to 2500 words maximum. Is this ok? and i have also started adding people ib the story. Thank you for your guidance. For anyother queries i will keep you posted. thank you again it was a great help.

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    2. Glad to help. And 1K to 2500 is fine. Just remember to keep the chapter lengths varied and not make them too overly long that often.

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  53. Hello AJ,
    I am just starting a novel and not really doing it to be published (I am only 13) but I still want to make it readable and enjoyable. A few questions: I know the first chapter of a book is to hook the reader in, so I'm a little worried about the word count. Is 4.7k an OK length for a first chapter? I feel like it could be tedious, especially because it feels repetitive but can't really be cut. Also, I am doing this with my friend online and was wondering if that's a common way to co-write books, and what advice you might have. Thanks for the great post!
    --Lucy

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  54. Hi Lucy

    As we all know, there is no right or wrong way for writing a novel or the length of chapters, but you can make it more palatable and easier if you make the first chapter just a tad shorter. While there is nothing wrong with having 4.7k, 2.5 might be better, simply because it hooks the reader in, it establishes what the story entails and it introduces the main character(s). In a way, that first chapter sets the pace and leads nicely into the second chapter.

    Longer first chapters can be tedious sometimes, so it is advisable to try to cut it down a little or move some of it into the next chapter. In the editing stages writers do this chopping and changing all the while.

    Whether you co-write it online or sit next to each other writing it, it doesn't matter as long as you have a good, coherent story at the end of it. So go for it!

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