Word count: the number of words contained in a written work.
Word counts can be a contentious issue amongst writers, especially indie authors. Traditional publishing sets its own targets, depending on the genre of the work, but indies can write a story as long or as short as they wish. The main debate amongst indies is the classification of the written work; is it a novel, a novella, or a short story?
Although indies are free to write a story with a word count of their choice, there are guidelines for what is considered acceptable, or expected by readers. If a book is described as a novel but only has 20,000 words, it can be misleading to a potential reader. The last thing you want is the book fail to deliver on the reader’s expectations. To help with this issue, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) asked members for their thoughts in a debate on word counts, and the guidelines listed below are the resulting consensus on book lengths.
Novel: at least 40,000 words
Word counts can vary greatly from genre to genre. Fantasy books are often over 100,000 words, while romance books are regularly at the lower end of the range.
Novella: 17,500 to 40,000
Novellas are short novels.
Novelette: 7,500 to 17,500
A long, short story, or very short novel.
Short story: under 7,500
The length of a short can vary greatly. If you are thinking of submitting a story to an anthology, the editor overseeing it will give you the required word count.
Flash fiction: up to 1,000 words
These are usually a story within a single scene
There is one thing I believe every writer should keep in mind when it comes to word counts—don’t let it rule your writing. It’s too easy to add unnecessary words or pointless scenes to make the count you’re after, but that risks ruining the story. Write your story and see where it ends. Tweak if your story if need to meet a particular count, but accept the story at the natural length if you can. It will sound right, and that’s the best way for your story to be.
Each story is different. They have their own themes, characters, genre, pacing, etc. Story structure is the framework around which a story is built, the order of events. There are different forms this can take, but the basic linear story structure has four main stages: the beginning, the conflict, the climax, and the resolution.
The start of the story is where the reader meets the main characters and introduces the setting. Its main purpose is to show the normal life of the characters before the conflict.
All stories have conflict of some sort. It could be anything from romantic conflict to galactic war. This is the trigger for the story, the event that disrupts the normal. It shows what needs to be solved—the thing or things that need resolution.
This is the dramatic event in the story, the height of excitement, the peak. In a romance it may be the realisation of love, in a thriller it would be the final shoot-out or heart-stopping rescue, for a crime show it’s the denunciation.
This is the final part, the solving of the conflict and the arrival of the new normal. There are stories that don’t include a resolution, leaving readers with a cliff-hanger. This is often used in a series and can leave readers unsatisfied. Please note—not all resolution has to be happy. The killer may get away, or the hero might not get the girl. An unexpected ending is still a resolution.
That is the basic story structure. Of course there can be minor climaxes, more conflicts, and surprises along the way, but the four parts will stay the foundation on which a linear story is built.
Are you about to start your writing journey? Have you started and now wonder where it might lead? It can be daunting—there is so much to take on board. Here are some tips for the beginner writer.
Writing is incredibly rewarding
Writing is a wonderful, freeing, and exhilarating thing to do. The joy of creating something from your imagination is worth the parts that may not be so easy.
The work starts once you’ve finished the first draft
Writing the first draft is usually the easy part. Once you have the story down, then you need to pull it into shape. You are taking your creation and making it better. Don’t be hard on yourself when you read back some of the things you’ve written. Remember, it’s only the start and things will get better.
There are many writing rules
People, mainly other writers, will try to pile you up with rules that in their opinion you MUST follow: you must do a writing course or three, never use adverbs, show don’t tell, you must write every day, write what you know, only use short sentences, never use a one-word sentence, do writing exercises each time you start writing, you must outline you plot before you start... and the rules go on.
Listening to advice is good, but you don’t have to follow it. Not following every piece of advice doesn’t make you a bad writer.
Writers can make poor reviewers
I’ve had a few fellow writers critique my books rather than review them. There’s a difference. Be careful who you ask to do reviews and never take a bad review to heart. For every person who doesn’t like your writing, there will be many who do.
You will need a thick skin
Rejections, harsh reviews, and editor’s comments can take their toll unless you develop a thick skin. Like all other criticism it can be hard to take, but you need to hear it, think about it, and then decide whether to act on it or ignore it.
Promotion can cost a lot of money
You will have to work out how much you are willing to pay and what the possible return on investment will be. And remember, what works for one person doesn’t always work for others.
The best promotion is word of mouth (which is free)
Bless the reader who tells others when they’ve enjoyed your book! This is the best compliment a writer can receive, and it’s free advertising. Encourage it when you can.
You need someone you can talk to about your writing
I have a great family and friends I talk to about my writing. They’re great, but no one understands like my writing buddy. Find yourself a community of writers or that one buddy that you can connect with. The support you give and receive is beyond price.
Beta readers and editing
If you choose to publish, you will need beta readers and a professional editor.
I’m blessed with wonderful beta readers, each with their own strengths when it comes to critiquing my writing and finding holes in my plots. They are also honest—very honest. It’s a good trait and they make my writing better. However good my betas are, I still need my professional editor. She too is honest, and she picks up everything my betas have missed. A good editor will also help with style issues and other general advice. They are worth every cent you pay them.
There’s a lot to take on board when you start your writing journey. Don’t be overwhelmed. Take everything one step at a time. Ultimately there’s only one thing you really need to remember: the writing journey is worth taking. Go and enjoy it!
This post first appeared on The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Self-publishing Advice blog, 30 January 2019.
You can read that post HERE.
I’ve used Word for years. I know the program well and I’ve used its features to make my writing easier. The problems many writers seem to experience haven’t occurred with me—I’ve never had Word crash. As far as word processing goes, I’ve seen no reason to change. I’ve been tempted by Scrivener several times, but always stayed with Word. Until now.
So why switch?
I write romance suspense novels. Each time I forgot which chapter a certain clue was in, or when I couldn’t remember the details of some research, I became frustrated and wasted time trying to find it. I tried setting up spreadsheets to record details, or using a notebook, but it’s always been a juggle. The ability to have it all to hand prompted me to look at Scrivener once more.
What’s put me off in the past?
The learning curve. Every time I looked at Scrivener reviews there were always comments about how much time it took to learn how to use. Sure, there are courses to do, but did I want to use a program I needed to do a course for when I could write using Word? How much time would I be wasting, and would it be worth it?
This time though, I watched the two introductory videos on the Literature and Latte website. Not once, but twice. That was when I started seriously considering changing to Scrivener. I had a better idea of what it offered and it didn’t look too difficult to negotiate the basic functions. And it has a free trial. The temptation to have everything in the one place was too much to resist any longer.
The Learning Curve
Well, that was an anticlimax! I had little problem with getting a good grasp on the basic functions. I credit this to two things: watching the introductory videos again before I started; and taking the time to go through the tutorial. It’s also helpful not to get hung up on what they call things, e.g. a document could also be referred to as a chapter. Following the tutorial through was simple and taught me all I needed to know. Also, the tutorial is always available under the Help menu, so refreshing knowledge on functions is easy. There is a manual—a big one! It’s searchable, and I used it to work out how to import from Scapple (another Literature and Latte product that I use for planning). Perhaps not the easy way to earn, but the information is there if I need it.
Learning Scrivener - or at least the basic functions of it - was easier than I had expected.
Why I’m staying with Scrivener
Oh, the functions! I’m using Scrivener to edit the manuscript for my next novel and adding chapter synopsis, labels, document and project notes as I go. It’s made the process so much easier to have the information right on the screen. I love that I can add labels to chapters and find them with a few clicks of my mouse. No more scrolling through to find what I need! The chapter synopsis will help with the flow of the story and serve as a quick way to refresh my memory.
The function I didn’t expect and now love? Document and project notes. I can add notes to the document or project, whichever is appropriate. These notes can also be accessed when using the overview of the project, or the corkboard function. By clicking on the relevant line or card, the notes appear. So useful, and no more notebooks cluttering up my desk!
I’ve set up my own template based on my current project. It was a quick and straightforward process and now I’ll have the basics of all I need right from the start: labels; character files; and settings files. I took inspiration from the templates provided by Scrivener to enhance my design. And I can transfer the character files from one project to the next if I’m working on a series.
No more piles of print outs, no more searching Pinterest for that article I saved…somewhere. I can have all the research in the project file and using the split screen function I can look at the research as I am writing.
Does that mean I’m giving Word the flick?
Well, I still need to send a Word file to my editor, so it’s not completely gone. I gave the export function a trial run, and it seems to work well (phew). I also enjoy the formatting process, so until further notice I’ll be using it to prepare my files for uploading for publication. Although I won’t save the cost of purchasing Word, Scrivener is not expensive, and it’s a one-off purchase.
Changing to Scrivener was nowhere near as traumatic as I thought it would be. The program was easy to install, and the tutorial was simple to complete. The features that drew me to Scrivener are all I’d hope they’d be and I don’t regret making the change. Are you thinking of switching? Give it a go. Hey, you can always go back to what you used before. I doubt I will—I love Scrivener.