Many newbie authors (and some old hands) struggle with the question of how long their chapters should be.
The flip answer is “As long as it takes,” but that’s not very helpful. Complicating the question is the fact that different genres have different norms for average chapter length.
How long should a chapter be? Here are a few ways of thinking about it. Hopefully, one of them will work for your book.
One scene = one chapter
One school of thought that has gained popularity in recent years is that one scene = one chapter. That can leave you with some fairly short chapters, and is popular in genres where pacing and tension are paramount, including suspense novels and romances.
Change of point of view
In novels with multiple POV characters, many authors use chapter breaks to indicate a change of point of view. George R.R. Martin uses this technique in his Game of Thrones books.
Keep the reader reading
Another tack to consider is taking your chapter to a breaking point that will compel the reader to keep reading. Many readers, myself included, like to leave off reading at a chapter’s end. If an author structures her chapters such that there’s sure to be a big reveal, or the answer to a puzzling question, or an uptick in the action in the next chapter, many readers turn the page. In this instance, your chapters might vary in length since you’re breaking them wherever necessary to propel the reader into the next one.
Genres like sci-fi or fantasy, where world building is paramount, may have longer average chapter length due to the necessity to establish the world, and ground each scene in a setting that is unfamiliar to readers.
The reading experience
Finally, take the reading experience you wish to create into account when deciding how long a chapter should be. Do you want a fast-paced, page-turning experience (shorter chapters), or a more leisurely exploration of the world and characters you’ve created (longer chapters)? Chapter length is one tool for the creation of reading experience.
In the final analysis, how long your chapters are will depend primarily on your genre and the type of reading experience you want to create.
P.S. Regardless of chapter length, make sure that you know how long a novel should be for your debut fiction.