I’m going to paraphrase Shawn Coyne’s Storygrid chapter, The Math because I want to drill this into my head!
- The average novel is 80-100k words.
- The average beginning is 25% of the book (25k)
- The average middle is 50% (50k)
- The average end is 25% (25k)
Each beginning, middle and end needs to hit 5 key points in order to create a story people want to keep reading
- Inciting incidents: one for the beginning, middle, and end (x3)
- Progressive complications x3
- Crisis x3
- Climax x3
- Resolution x3
This means there needs to be at least 15 sections (chapters)
Chapters are on average 1-5k words. The sweet-spot to create a ‘can’t-put-the-book-down’ page-turner appears to be 2k words (eg: Thomas Harris’, The Silence of the Lambs).
So a 100k word novel works out at 50 chapters @ 2k words per chapter. 15 of those chapters we’ve already accounted for above (Incidents, complications, crisis, climax, resolutions). Of the 35 chapters left (and sticking to the 25%/50%/25% novel average) the beginning needs to have another 7-8 chapters, the middle needs another 20 chapters, and the end needs another 7-8 chapters.
The final total comes to:
- The beginning: 12-13 chapters
- The middle: 25 chapters
- The end: 12-13 chapters
Now depending on how you accept all these numbers, you might be reeling in pain right now (this isn’t art!!), or you might be frantically scribbling the numbers down because you have a practical, manageable guide for your story.
To focus on the former for a moment: I agree with you. A story can be anything! Forget these rules and write whatever you like. However, remember the average page-turner – the length people read in bed at night and can’t put down – is 2000 words. The average book is 100,000 words, so the average number of chapters are 50, and every book (art or product) needs to have a beginning, middle and end.
Even if you want to pass your novel to a Editor and have it accepted by a Publisher, them package a 400 page book, ideally, priced at £8.99 it means your Art needs to hit certain metrics otherwise you’re going to be forced to redraft it, again and again, until it’s ready for market. Whether you like it or not, these are the numbers the Publishing industry looks for, on average.
If you want to give your story a fighting chance or being, not too short, not too long, not too heavy, not too flimsy, not too fast, not too slow, not too cheap, not too expensive, then I suggest you read through these numbers again.