Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Word Count

Months ago, I fretted over my story length. I worried my WIP was too long for a novella. So I went online to research story length guidelines. I came across an informative post on The Editor's Blog that I thought was worth sharing.

Photo source: Allisonbetancourt.com
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Turns out, the answer is that every story should be as long as it needs to be. It should satisfy the story setup and problem without overwhelming the reader with more words than are necessary.

Right. But what does that mean?

That means that you don't drag out your resolution. You give each story an ending that balances the length and depth of the narrative that has come before. You don't drag it out.

But you also don't drag out chapters. Or scenes. Or dialogue. Or even sentences. Get the point across in the fewest words possible. Tell the reader what she needs to know and then move on.

Don't belabor any point. Cut off scenes while they're still strong rather than leaching out all their power with too much detail and unnecessary explanation. Make readers want more, in a good way, rather than have them wishing you'd shut up already. If you've made your point, get to the next one.

Cut out repetition. Cut out fluff. Cut out the zillions of unimportant actions between one scene and the next. Cut clich├ęs. Cut out any word, phrase, character, or scene that doesn't contribute to the current story you're writing. That is, write one story without trying to force a half-dozen into the same manuscript.

On the other hand, put in words that flavor your passages. Give readers enough detail that your characters seem real. Their plights believable. Their goals meaningful.

Write scenes, not only summaries. Write dialogue that serves to increase conflict and move the story forward.Write fresh phrases. Write events. Create an interesting story. Give readers no more and no less than is necessary to complete the story. And write with story standards in mind.

There are common word counts for not only different genres, but for different categories of fiction. If you're looking to go the traditional publication route, writing to industry standards is a wise choice. No, not every piece of fiction fits neatly into a typical word count, but most do. And if you're a new author, you'll want to use every advantage to get your fiction accepted. You wouldn't want a story to be rejected solely based on word count, would you?

Guidelines for Story Length


Single Title Full-Length Novel..........over 50,000
Category Romance...............................55, 000
Novella....................................................20,00 - 50,000 (some say 40,000)
Novelette.................................................7,500 - 20,000
Shorty Story...........................................up to 7, 500

Keep in mind that these are guidelines, not absolutes. There are exceptions and allowances at both ends of these ranges. There are also sub-categories that could further refine these counts. Also keep in mind audience and publisher needs. Novels that are too short might not appeal or might not fit a publisher's needs, and novels that are too long may be rejected simply for length.

Publishers typically won't consider a writer's first novel if it's too long. The maximum standard word count for a romance novel is about 110,000 words. Anything from 80,000 to 110,000 is common, with many novels falling in the 90,000 to 100,000 count range.

The reality is that new writers have to prove themselves before publishers can take a chance on a long novel from them. So prove you can write a killer novel -- or two or three -- that comes in at 95,000 words. Then when you make millions for the publisher, offer them that 180,000 word masterpiece.

And yes, before you say it, there are exceptions. But one exception out of thousands and thousands of manuscripts isn't great odds. Don't handicap your chances at being published for the sake of word count.

Pick up any novel, especially those written in a different era, and you may well find a wildly different word count. Yet you are writing today, so your options depend on today's gatekeepers and marketplace.

Note: There are different rules for self-publishing. If someone else isn't layout out the money and their reputation for your work, you can write longer stories. Keep in mind, however, that you still have to please readers. No matter what the length, make it a great story.

Both stories that are too short and too long are hard to sell. Try to keep yours within the standard ranges. Give yourself an edge by fitting in. Yes, you do want your writing to stand out, but there are some ares where standards rule. Let your characters and plot be wild and adventurous. Let your writing be bold. But let industry rules give boundaries to your creativity. Think of industry standards as the frame for your writing.

Write creatively. But do so in a way that will give others the opportunity to read your work. Know when to following rules and standards is to your benefit.

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As for me, I realized once I started revising my WIP that my story length was right on track. =)

~ Courtesy of Beth Hill, The Editor's Blog ~

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