Word counts. In school, we were told to do a page or two for our assignments. In university, it ranged from 1,000 to 4,000 usually (not counting the dissertation) but there seems to be a much more vague answer surrounding novels.
Over the years, novels seem to have gotten longer. It’s a strange sight; books are getting longer yet web content, which is a huge part of the digital space, is getting shorter – and being portrayed in even shorter paragraphs. The contrast here is interesting and e-books sit somewhere in the middle, not favouring one side over the other – although an e-book doesn’t have to be viewed online, it can be.
As a writer, project lengths can be a bit daunting, as well as throwing up some barriers to completing a project. I figured this was a good time to take a look at a few.
Does size really matter?
Let’s avoid the elephant in the room here and stick to the topic at hand (yes, I know what you were thinking – get that mind out of the gutter!) because there is no simple answer to this, even though it may look like it on the surface.
Is it worth writing more and more just to hit a word count that you or someone else has said? You run the risk of waffling; creating sections that have no relevance and will only serve to put readers off. Do that and your story may never be finished – and it can happen the same way with writing.
So, if you’re writing a story that goes on and on and on, is it worth breaking it down in the planning stage so you know what you’re writing and where each part ends, or should you write it and break it later? That comes down to personal choice, if I’m honest.
What matters more than a word count is quality writing and story-telling. The publishers may tell you differently, that they’re looking for certain things but then, what about self-publishing? Who makes the decisions then? The writer.
How important is it to consider during planning?
Very – and what I mean by that is don’t!
Every time I’ve tried to write something to a certain length, it hasn’t worked. It’s okay to have an idea, something to aim towards but if you fall short or go over it’s not a big deal. This isn’t being graded (I always hated that my essays had to be at a certain length, surely going over would be a good thing!?) so as long as it feels right to you, then don’t worry.
Editing and redrafting will help you cut down on parts that are useless or find gaps in the story you need to fill out so why worry about writing a novel that has 70,000 words?
I’m not going to post the lengths of popular or successful novels here. There’s plenty of posts out there for that and, as you probably know by now, I write sci-fi and fantasy mainly. Those novels can be a hell of a lot longer than other fiction novels but there are always exceptions.
Make your plan, and follow it. Use word counts, targets or thresholds as motivation to keep going, not as a way to stop.
What about short stories and other forms?
The key here is the word ‘short.’ I’d advise you to not abandon the tactic of planning and writing them without a specific count in mind. Just like with a novel, you could end up compromising on what you originally planned.
There are plenty of competitions out there, around the world and throughout the year, that ask for different lengths and genres. Writing for a specific competition is an option but you won’t be as invested in the story compared to writing it for yourself. Once it’s done, then look for where you could submit it to, if that’s what you want to do. That means you’ll always have an amazing piece of writing (in the end) that hasn’t been controlled by someone or something else.
Novellas, poetry and other forms all have other rules but in most cases, write first and edit later down to what you want it to be, or if you absolutely have to, to what it needs to be.
Remember, as I mentioned in my last post, writing is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the whole process. Don’t ruin that by putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to hit a specific target because someone else said so. You’ll regret it in the long run – unless it’s for a publishing deal, but that’ll normally come a little later in the process so write first.
If you don’t believe me, try it and see.