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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Word count in a novel: How much should it matter to a writer?

Browsing the writing blogosphere it is impossible to miss the number of aspiring authors who are posting information on their current works, including their word-count goal for the manuscript. But when I come to a manuscript I do not limit the word-count. So far I have completed three manuscripts and with each of them I approached it for the story and tried to focus as little as possible on the word-count. I think aspiring authors are hoping to fit their works into various publishers' guidelines. They know the average word-count of their novel's genre and they work hard to fit it into that mold.

Focus on word-count distracts me as the author. If you ask me "What should matter most when writing?" I'd probably answer "Tell the story for yourself; write what matters to you." My first novel (Swords of the Six) was approximately 80,000-words. Last week I sent it to AMG Publishers and included a new segment that brings it to about 85,000. My second novel was a monster to work with, by comparison. It is 120,000-words.

With my current project "The Key of Living Fire" I'm estimating it will finish around 120,000-words. But I won't hold myself to that goal. My focus is relaxing into my story, not forcing it but letting it flow onto the page. Currently I have almost 50,000-words... but I'm not even into the meat of the novel yet! The story is pretty evenly split between Ilfedo, Oganna, and Specter. But the first 40,000-words is only Specter's story-arc.

When writing it is important to remember that it is an art. I do it because I love putting the words on paper and on my laptop, seeing them flow and manipulating them to deliver a memorable tale that people can treasure for generations. My advice to aspiring authors is just write. Don't force the story into a box too small (or too large, depending on the story).

Make a piece of art that you can treasure. If it matters to you, if you treasure it, you'll be passionate about it. And if you are passionate about it then others will catch your enthusiasm and you'll meet with success.


Storyteller said...

Thanks for the great advice! I've been wondering about this a bit.

Seth said...

Great post! I can say, at least for me, that I don't really shape my novel to fit the publisher-if need be that will come later-rather, looking at the plot I have an estimate for how many words my novel will be. Just like you said with TKoLF, you think it will be around 120,000 words-but that doesn't mean that it WILL be, it's just an estimate.

Also, another five thousand word segment? Suh-weet! Just another reason for me to get that version as well.

Jake said...

Do you have any advice for people (like me) who are having a bit of trouble with too little words?

I'm sure my writing will improve (or get longer, I mean) a bit the longer I write (my books and short stories have been getting significantly longer) but I'm still faced with this delimma, and I can't add a lot of words without altering the plot quite a bit, or adding in new parts.

Any ideas?

Oops, I didn't mean to dump all my writing problems on you in all of a sudden. :)

Scott Appleton said...

Hi Jake,
Hmm, that is a difficult question to answer without seeing examples of your writing. I am going to do a separate post: my thoughts on your problem.

Star-Dreamer said...

Thanks for that post. The rough draft of my first novel was well over 100,ooo words. I haven't finished the rewrite of it yet, but it's already over 25,000 and only just starting to get into the real meat of the story... only just!

The original draft of the project I just finished used to be only about 25,000... but after rewriting it, it now sits at just over 82,000. I'm happy for that; I didn't plan on writing it "up", just writing it better, but I'm glad the word count grew too! :)

Jake said...

@Star-Dreamer; Whoa! You mean the Song of the Daystar used to be 25000 words? That's encouraging. :)

Chris said...

Good post. If I were a seat of the pants writer, this would be very helpful.

With my writing I outline extraneously. I had a 19 page outline of my first novel. The thing is, I had everything paved out ahead of me, chapter by chapter, and I was able to guesstimate that my novel would end up near 150k (quite the whopper, huh?). Obviously, that word count wasn't geared toward any publisher. lol

But that word goal actually helped me pound out my manuscript rapidly. It's like... I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Make sense?

Of course, I ended up being wrong. The manuscript adds up to 140k. But it did help having that goal.

Star-Dreamer said...

@Jake: Yeah, Song of the Daystar used to be 25,000 words long! :) At the time I never thought it would eventually get to over 82,000. So I know you can write longer. It just takes practice and rewriting! :)


"Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones." -Proverbs 16:24

In a world where morality is forsaken and Christ neglected, wholesome books are uncommon. The themes of my writing are love, self-sacrifice, and honor.

I see my generation turning from God to the gods of this world. I see homes torn apart in the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification. Children are murdered by the millions every year . . . without ever seeing the world outside their mothers' wombs. Through fiction I strive to encourage those who are willing, to stand against these things and be heroes and heroines; chivalrous, gentle, full of righteous indignation, and the fear and love of their Creator.