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Need help determining word count for novel : FAQs • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Need help determining word count for novel

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RiverWriter
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Need help determining word count for novel

Postby RiverWriter » Sat Feb 28, 2015 7:38 pm

I'm new and excited about joining this forum. I have written on and off since I was a child, and am in the process of writing my first novel (I started many previously, but this one I am actually going to finish). The first draft is done, and I am at 107,000 words. I had intended to write more, but as I got close to finishing it, I started to do research to find out the average word count for mainstream fiction. Then I panicked. I'm finding 80k - 100k as a common answer, but a couple of places have said it's fine to go a little higher. The reason for panic is that I feel my story could stand to be more fully fleshed out, but I have no more room to do that because of my word count. I know that I can edit down, but right now I'm unsure of what can go.

I wanted to post and ask what sort of word count you think I should aim for. I'm not entirely sure if what I'm writing is just mainstream fiction, or if it fits a sub-genre. It takes place in current day, it's realistic (i.e. not fantasy), and it's aimed at adults. Please let me know if you need more details in order to say what word count you would recommend. Thank you so much!
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James A. Ritchie
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Re: Need help determining word count for novel

Postby James A. Ritchie » Sat Feb 28, 2015 8:49 pm

Good word count really depends on genre, but any story can be fully fleshed out at 100,000 words. Or at half that. Or less. It's all in how you tell the story. There is no genre where you should go above 100,000 words. Every word above this makes your novel harder to sell. In some genres, such as MG, you should stay well below this count.

For mainstream fiction, 100,000 words is a good place to stop. Much longer than this and you're putting up one more roadblock that you don't need.

Publishers ask for specific word count for very good reason, and it's best to write within word count guidelines.

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mammamaia
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Re: Need help determining word count for novel

Postby mammamaia » Sun Mar 01, 2015 11:10 am

ditto that!
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DrG2
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Re: Need help determining word count for novel

Postby DrG2 » Sun Mar 01, 2015 9:00 pm

The good news is you can cut the slack out of that first draft (Steven King cuts about 10% from his) and still have a room to add a little bit and stay under 100K.

The other good news is that an agent isn't going to arbitrarily trashcan every submission slightly more than ideal.

RiverWriter
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Re: Need help determining word count for novel

Postby RiverWriter » Mon Mar 02, 2015 3:47 am

Thank you so much to everyone for replying to my post. It's been helpful to get input. I have cut out about 1500 words since I first posted this, so I feel hopeful.

I finished reading Stephen King's "On Writing" today, and the final section proved quite useful for my problem. It's the part where he showed a few pages of his original writing, and then the same pages with the editor having gone through them marking it up. I got a much better idea of how to edit wordiness, when needed. For example, I realized who cares about the details of what one character bought at the grocery store? It doesn't contribute to the story at all to list it, so I edited it out. I had been thinking that I was looking mostly at cutting out entire scenes as a way to lower the word count, but now I see that I can not only look for scenes that don't work or aren't necessary, but I can also trim down in other ways that will tighten up the writing. Thanks again!
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Re: Need help determining word count for novel

Postby MookyMcD » Wed Mar 04, 2015 12:07 am

I find that my writing improves substantially when I tighten. My first to final draft WC has been about a 25% reduction in the two books I've written, both landing in the mid to high eighties. The entire story is still there, but BOY does it move more quickly.

My girlfriend reads chapters as I write and then reads the MS again when I think it's final, and one of the nicest compliments she's given me is that she honestly had no idea where I cut. She's a super hardass critiquer (and literature/creative writing instructor) so her compliments are somewhat sparing. :D

RiverWriter
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Re: Need help determining word count for novel

Postby RiverWriter » Wed Mar 04, 2015 12:18 pm

Thanks for your reply, and for an excuse to enjoy a little more cowbell in my day. I've written blogs and articles professionally for a few years, and that really taught me how to tighten up and try to say everything I want to get across without waffling. The thing is I've found it hard to try to transfer that skill to an entire novel. I'm still shaving it down and hope to be pretty close to 100k by the time I'm ready to let the first draft sit. Some of the things that I'm editing are now more obvious to me than they were before (hurray, an entire paragraph gone!), but some of it I have to take a leap of faith on and hope I will see them more clearly with the second draft. I keep telling myself I'm learning as I go, which will make it easier to edit the next book.
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Steve Ball
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Re: Need help determining word count for novel

Postby Steve Ball » Sun Mar 08, 2015 12:33 am

[quote="RiverWriter"]"......The first draft is done, and I am at 107,000 words. I had intended to write more, but as I got close to finishing it, I started to do research to find out the average word count for mainstream fiction. Then I panicked. I'm finding 80k - 100k as a common answer, but a couple of places have said it's fine to go a little higher. The reason for panic is that I feel my story could stand to be more fully fleshed out, but I have no more room to do that because of my word count. I know that I can edit down, but right now I'm unsure of what can go. ...."

I've only had a couple of things published (one a poem excerpt in a "chapbook," the other a 400 word entry in a scifi contest in the Santa Ana Register) but what I have concluded from many years of reading books on writing is that a good story is going to be as long as it needs to be."

I believe, for example, that most of the Game of Throne" books are about 300,000 words each. On the opposite end are novels that are less than 40,000 words.

If your writing holds the reader's attention and entertains, then I don't thing that the length is terribly important. Caveat: I have also heard that this advice is for **established** writers; new writers may need to conform to the biases of the target agent / publisher.

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mammamaia
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Re: Need help determining word count for novel

Postby mammamaia » Sun Mar 08, 2015 11:07 am

ALL 6 e-book collections of my work are FREE...email me with "want free books" in subject line and include a message.

FREE writing help/mentoring: http://www.saysmom.com

"You must BE the change you wish to see in the world." Gandhi

RiverWriter
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Re: Need help determining word count for novel

Postby RiverWriter » Sun Mar 08, 2015 11:26 am

It is amazing to think of how one story that is 800 pages long can feel like it's not enough for the reader, while one that is 50 pages can be way too long. I think you're both right that being able to have more input on the length of a novel is for more established writers. Stephen King gets to write 800 page novels because he is Stephen King, for example.

I have cut almost 4,000 words at this point, with a few more chapters left to edit. Then it will sit. I missed the characters terribly when I first stopped writing and went into editing mode, but now I'm feeling ready to let them hang out on their own for awhile.
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