Writing: About Lengths and Words

I’m a concise writer. I know that.

I’ve learned to slow down my writing over the years because at times it can be at breakneck speeds, and there are rumors about that some readers like to stew in the words of a story and not have to gulp them all down from the end of a fire hose.

Who knew?

So length and word count are always on the forefront of my mind when I’m writing. That’s not always a good thing. I’ve heard that the best length of any story is precisely the length it should be. Some stories are meant to be short. Others long. Many others somewhere in-between.

The general standard (some would dispute this) for length is above 20,000 words is a novella and above 50,000 words a novel. If you are well below 20,000, you’ve simply written a short story.

As I’m narrowing in on the ending to my trilogy, I’m finding that volume three is feeling shorter than the other two. Is that bad?

Well, it all depends, and this is where it gets messy and subjective. This is where a fresh pair of eyes and a good editor can help guide you.

I want an ending that’s satisfying but doesn’t drag. That’s well developed but not too short that the reader feels shortchanged. (As a side note, I know that not all readers think alike. Some will never be satisfied no matter the length, but that’s another post.)

How do you navigate your story so it’s exactly right? You can’t. No story is ever exactly right. But you can make decisions which will help guide in the right direction.

First, don’t fret on word count. If the story arc and development leads you to 40,000 rather than 70,000, then please leave it at 40. No one wants to read 30,000 useless words.

Second, make sure your story development delivers on all accounts. Characters. Have you satisfactorily shown their development? Do their decisions in the book make sense in a chronological way? Have you shown the readers what they are desiring and why they do the things they have done? If not, expand. If yes, move on and don’t say anymore. In regards to subplots, are they all necessary. Yes, you might be able to expand your novel another 10% by telling us a backstory or weaving a secondary thread through the plot, but is it necessary. Completely necessary to show characterization, so show foreshadowing, to bring the plot to realization?  If you can’t answer yes to all of these, then nix it. Perhaps write it a short story instead. Don’t bog down the storyline in unwanted information.

Third, slow down and let the language simmer a little more. You always want to keep your language short and concise, but don’t be afraid to expound a little. I’m writing this especially for me. Add that description–especially amidst the dialogue. Because I just love dialogue and I can write some of my draft chapters almost like a play. Not cool! Think of the reader. Show what happens. Describe the movements. Describe the scenery. But don’t feel compelled to write twenty pages about the topography of the protagonists hometown. (Please no! Keep it moving, remember)

A good editor will help you with all of these because, honestly, it’s so hard to judge one’s own writing.

How about you? What helps you in your writing endeavors?

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I just hit 50,000 words for the fifth time. That deserves a post.

For me, a writer who likes to be concise, hitting 50,000 words is always a feat, but I’m noticing that it’s not nearly as big a deal as it used to be.

Fifty-thousand is, of course, the usual plateau where a work officially is granted the title of novel – though I’m not sure who these shadowy people are who decide these things.

When I was attempting my first novel, I was worried sick that it would languish in the realm of novella forever. Fifty-thousand seemed like too many words to me. I thought that maybe I should become a short story writer instead. But I pushed and pushed until the day arrived – 50,000 – and to my utter amazement, the story hadn’t finished yet. I cruised to 61,000 and celebrated!

I had similar fears with my second novel, but my third, fourth, and now, fifth novels seem to write themselves, so I guess I have grown as a writer.

Why? I don’t really know. Although I do take notice when I pass the novel thresh-hold, it is no longer the goal – the story is the goal. The story itself will dictate how long it ends up being. My third novel is still my longest novel, finishing at about 80,000 words – still a far cry from some of those super thick novels you see on the racks in airport bookstores.

The one I’m currently writing may actually take me to new heights, but it does depend on how stingy I become with words as it progresses into the final third of the book. I’ve been accused by readers of being stingy with words. I heard comments about how some readers wanted me to develop certain story lines deeper, but I always remain skeptical of doing so. I like my works to be described as a “fast read”, “read in one sitting”, “leaving you wanting more” kind of read. Much better than “slow and plodding.”

Anyways, writing is a blast. I’m so glad I’ve had enough time these past three and a half years to write five novels. I hope I can keep up the pace.