1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    When to worry over novel length...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Commandante Lemming, Jul 1, 2015.

    So, here's a dilemma for all of you - when do you start worrying about the length of the piece being a problem?

    I'm a bit over halfway through my first draft (in terms of planned story) and I've blown through about 70,000 words (and I have about 90,000 if I include the unconnected scenes I've written for potential later use). I know a lot will be cut in revision, but it's already paced pretty fast and I get reader input that I might consider spending more time on description.

    So - how many words do I let myself write before I think this thing is getting too long to be manageable? And when do I start thinking about whether I have one book that's going to need edited down, or whether I have enough plot to break it into two books? Part of me is thinking the best way to do this is to end at an earlier point than planned and save the rest of the plot for a sequel - but that leaves me with a "book" that includes mostly what I consider to be the least interesting parts of the story, a plot that's meant to be an "Act I" rather than a complete story, a book that doesn't work as a stand-alone, and the need to rip out all the foreshadowing for my planned climax.

    It would probably work really well as a 140,ooo word book, but new writers don't get to do that (at least not outside the Epic Fantasy/Hard Sci Fi world). I'm writing newsroom/political drama set in the near future, so I'm not entirely sure which genre constraints I should be working with for word count, seeing as I'm pulling from the speculative genres with my worldbuilding, but from political and journalism fiction with my plotting.

    Anyone have any tips?
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I started out with a word count "budget" for each chapter of my novel, but eventually found that I became so obsessed with word count that I turned the word count indicator off in my software.

    It's good to have an idea of vague word count targets, but I would suggest putting off any real concerns until you've written your first draft. When revising, you'll find it's easier to cut than you might think. You'll also be able to make intelligent decisions as to which descriptions and long passages you need to keep, which need to be shortened, and which you can really do without.
     
  3. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I write all of them, then cut down what I think isn't needed to tell the story in an interesting way, cut out scenes that don't work or labour a point, then cut too much, then add stuff back, then flesh out points that were confusing or neglected, and then cut back on the words again, see if I can say the same thing better with less words, and finally look at the word count.

    To publish an 80K word book it's fine to write 800k and cut most of them out.

    So what I'm saying is: When to worry about novel length? At the end.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I worry about it after the first draft. The first draft is basically just me putting all my thoughts down on the page. The second draft and beyond is really when I start looking at things from a marketing/publishing perspective.
     
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  5. carsun1000
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    carsun1000 Active Member

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    I just keep writing till I type the "END". I try not to obsess over word counts. Each one of my works are over 100,000 words (full length novels). I'm sure I will lose some words to editing. I found out early that if I obsess over word count, I restrain myself from telling the full story as I see it. It's easier to edit than to come up short in the first place.
     
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  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I keep an eye on it as I go, but I don't think I did with my first few books.

    And even now, it's mostly as a way to pace the novel, if that makes sense. I know I'm shooting for, say, 80-90K - if I'm at 30K and haven't really introduced the main conflict, my pacing is off. That sort of thing.
     
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  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm assuming when you worry about it depends on the size of your first draft. If it's something like 200k, you might want to start worrying about it immediately after first draft. I think cutting your novel in half, after spending mutliple drafts revising characters, plot,etc, would be very daunting.
     
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  8. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks - so I'm getting a slightly more technical version of "just finish the book". I'll take that.

    I'm targeting "under 100,000", so if nobody thinks that a 140,000 word first draft is ridiculous, I won't freak out if that's what it looks like I'm going to end up with.

    (Now to figure out what to do with the fact that I have to basically reboot my story and re-eastablish characters after Act 1 - but that's for another thread :p)
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    When I wrote my first attempt at a novel, the software I used didn't have a word count indicator, you had to press a key to see it. I never did until the end, and it was somewhere north of 400K. With several rounds of editing, I eventually got it down to 140K before I decided it had served its purpose.

    So, no, a 140K first draft is not overly daunting.
     
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  10. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    It all depends on what you are currently trying to do with your writing, where you are in your career, and what genre you're writing.


    -If you are not intending to publish and only want to put it online or digitally self publish it can be as long as you want it!

    -It is said that if you are attempting to publish your first novel you want to be around the golden sweet spot of 70,000-90,000 words.

    -If you have been published before you may get away with a longer word count if your first book did well enough.

    -If you are writing a high fantasy novel or science fiction novel, publishers allow much larger word counts for those genres but you still don't want to be trying to get them to read a 200,000 word behemoth. You'd never get it through a slush pile.


    I personally write Young Adult/Middle Grade so I try to stay near the 75,000 word mark and I only get near that by extensive outlining.
     
  11. Nicoel
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    Nicoel Contributing Member

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    I had no idea there was a "sweet spot" word count for publishers. What is the 70k-90k sweet spot revolving around?
     
  12. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I divide my novel up in to 'chapters'. These may not be final chapters, but split the story into key events. Each event is allowed 4000 words. I can allow myself to go over this mark. But when it's all complete, to fit into the 'publishable' template, I will have to chop 1000 words per 'chapter'. I feel this is the best way for me to work.
     
  13. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    Queryshark and other literary agency pages have many times cited somewhere in this word count as a desirable length for authors who have yet to be published.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Other sources cite a range of 80K - 100K.
     
  15. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    And I read 80k-90k for your average novel, 70k-80K for YA, I think 70-80k for thriller, 100K-ish for sci-fi/fantasy.

    I'm writing sort of a cross between speculative fiction and popular fiction, so I figure my end goal is the 90K range. But that's for later.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2015
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, part of the reason for the variation in numbers is that it is very much genre-dependent. Writing historical fiction is supposed to give me a little more room.
     
  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I go crazy wild in draft one. Anything I want goes in. Scenes can be as sparse or as descriptive as I'm in the mood for. Then at the end I look over what I have.

    That will be the time to decide when chapters suck, scenes are boring, information can be scrunched down to a couple of lines or crisp dialogue or when description needs to be fleshed out and reactions inserted. It's pretty hard to tell what's going to become gold or trash while you're writing.

    I only planned a word count once for a YA novel. That's when genre or audience can come into play with word count. But I still think these are flexible. I never would've thought little boys would've read a tome like Harry Potter.
     

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