Writing 101 -- Word Counts

Okay, this is easy-peasy and relatively short. Just go by the computer count on the bottom left of your document page. There’s your word count. The key to writing any story, short or long, is to have a beginning, middle and end. The main character must exhibit growth throughout the story--even if it is a measly 100 words.  And you must be able to tell a good story without too much extraneous verbiage, especially with the shorter word counts.

Flash fiction--< 1,000

Short story--1,000-7,500




Flash fiction is fun to write. Many times the word count required will be 500 words or less, and I have participated in a challenge with a 100-word maximum. It forces you to write tight! Don’t use five words when one very descriptive one will do.

Short Story lengths are what most magazines will request. Each magazine has different requirements, so pay attention to their individual guidelines along with the types of stories they want.

Novelettes tend to be stories that you might see in an anthology. An anthology is a book featuring different authors, usually revolving around a theme (Christmas, vampires, zombies, etc.) that an editor will put together. The editor will request an author(s) to participate in the anthology, or will open a submissions process, detailing the theme and their requirements. Carina Press has done this along with other ebook publishers (many are erotica).

Novellas are a little longer, but not as long as a novel. The story is more involved, but the story must be streamlined since 40,000-words doesn’t allow for numerous subplots. Sometimes you will see these in an anthology.

Novels include everything from middle grade books to adult literary fiction, BUT each genre has their own recommended word count.

500-1500 words--picture books, early readers.

1,000-5,000 words--easy readers and some chapter books

5,000-15,000--chapter books

15,000-40,000 words--older chapter books and middle grade

40,000--50,000 words-- middle grade and younger young adult, targeting children between the ages of 8-16.

50,000-70,000 words--young adult (high school and above), some mysteries and category romance.

80,000-100,000 words--rounds out most genres: romance, suspense/thrillers, mysteries, literary fiction, and sci-fi/fantasy.

100,000+ words--some literary fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, some thrillers.

If you have a story that is in the 200,000-word range, then you have a problem. It could be that you wrote a pile of backstory at the beginning that needs to be cut (a very common problem). Or you have two books written instead of one (it doesn’t usually work out that way). Or you need to do some serious slicing, dicing, and tightening, because you went to town with extraneous crap that doesn’t move THIS story forward.

Now the above word counts are simply guidelines. But don’t disregard them because, “Your work is a masterpiece and if it takes 300,000-words then the editor will have to deal with it.”

Try again, Bubba, part of being a writer is learning to edit your writing. You aren’t special and neither is your story. Trust me—no one is going to want to wade through the dreck to get to the good stuff. Learn to edit and come close to the word count for your chosen genre before you submit it. You’ll save yourself a pile of heartache.

And I don’t even want to hear the words “So what? I’ll self-publish.” Your readers won’t want to wade through the muck that is your novel.

Get real with yourself and get editing!


Marilyn said...

“Your work is a masterpiece and if it takes 300,000-words then the editor will have to deal with it.”

Ooh, I don't know how many times aspiring writers have told me, "I know Harlequin doesn't do this, but MY story is special. They'll make an exception for ME."

Yeah, go right ahead and try.

Good column, M.

magolla said...

Thanks, Ms. M!

I'm trying to pepper my Writing 101blogs with a little common sense and my personal chutzpah. . . is it working? :-P

Jody Werner said...

If God created the universe in seven days, we can damned sure tell a story in fewer than 300K words :)

But, for the record, I'm also TOTALLY on the side of dreaming that I can write something SO special that anybody will make an exception for it. :)

magolla said...

BUT, you do edit your stuff, Jods, and you know it! Many of those dreamers puked it out and never bothered to do anything with the first draft.

Jody Werner said...

I don't think I ever published a first draft of anything - even comments on blogs. :)

magolla said...

I do the same thing, Jods . . . and I still miss stupid errors!