Word count is one of the guidelines when it comes to publishing. Whether you’re querying or pitching your new project, the word count is going to be key in those discussions.
But as an author how do you know if a particular idea can be a full novel or a novella? How do you decide it can be expanded?
So some rough numbers here:
<1000 words- Flash fiction
100-8000 words – Short story
8000- 40,000 words- Novella
Anything over 55,000- Novel (Except for romance, most genres want word count 70,000 and up for a decent novel)
If you’re like me you will have hundreds of ideas in a week. With a fertile imagination comes a glut of ideas. All of those ideas have a story, some conflict and you have to find the resolution. So how do you distill those ideas and set it to a format with a designated word count. You’ve seen I have all sorts of length of work. Fingers crossed that I can get a novel sold. 🙂
These are five steps I use to determine word count:
1.What is the idea?
Is it a character or a setting that’s come to your mind? Is it a scene or a moment? Is it very specific? Often when you get an idea, your gut tells you this could be a great setting for a novel or this character could be built into a hero? Or this moment could be a great concept for a short story with a word count up to 8,000.
2. Does the idea have conflict and resolution?
As soon as you sit down with your idea, does the conflict appear in it? Or do you have to develop it? Does the resolution present itself or do you need to discover it? I find that when you have the entire picture or these two components in your ‘first think’ about an idea its destined for a shorter format. If you have to develop these components then you’re definitely looking at a novel.
3. Think of the idea in terms of word count
Ask yourself, can I truly write 70,000 words based on this scene or setting? Or can I develop a short novella of maybe 29,000 words and make it a very tight mystery that would be even more interesting.
4. Don’t give in to the pressure of rambling
Sometimes no matter how much your beta reader may want you to expand something into a novel, some stories and ideas don’t have the bulk for it. Take for example, Mary Higgins Clark’s short story, “The Five Dollar Dress,” from the Manhattan Mayhem anthology. Its a wonderful story that could have been made into a novel.
Jenny’s granny is dead and she’s sorting through her things. Her granny is bothered by the murder of a friend and holds evidence of the murderer. If you read this story you will know this nugget of an idea could not have sustained itself over 200 pages. Sure, you could throw in a few twists and turns and maybe even take it to 10,000 words, but a novel. Nah. So the “Queen of Suspense” condenses it into a short story that is zingy and taut. By the end of the story you’re shaken. There’s no need to ramble on and on. Stop when the story ends.
5. Create a draft and read it to yourself
Your own reading will guide you about word count. As you read your short rough draft, do you feel interested in reading more about your characters or the place? Or are you bored with the story? If you’re bored or feel bleh, then maybe it’s something that could be turned into something short like flash fiction or short stories. But if you find yourself thirsty for more then you’re looking at a longer form of work. Proceed to novella length and revisit this step.
What about you? How do you determine length for your ideas?