The Long and Short of It – Don’t Get Hung Up on the Word Count

There are many lengths of fiction out there. Poems can be merely a line, flash fiction and short stories no more than a page. It’s unfortunate that in terms of fiction, shorter length works have often been overlooked. An unspoken rule that bigger is better. That weightier tomes must obviously be more meaningful, deeper in their expression of humanity. And perhaps there’s a mercenary side to it

When I was working on my first book, “Under This Skin”, it became obvious that it might not end up being a novel and was more likely to be a novella. That made me feel bad. It won’t be a real novel, I won’t be a real novelist! Oh woe, woe and thrice etc etc.

But if the digital content and e-book explosion has shown anything, it’s that there is space for all lengths of fiction. Digital devices, our use of them whilst travelling and the way we read off screens mean shorter works and serialisation have found new homes and that in turn has fed back into offline books.

On top of that many great works are on the shorter side. Did you know Animal Farm, A Clockwork Orange, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, A Christmas Carol, and Of Mice and Men can all be categorised as novellas? Neither did I till I did a bit of research. After all that I no longer felt bad about the length of my book. Word counts are useful to keep track of your progress. But they shouldn’t be the deciding factor on the quality of your work.

What do you think? Is your work on the long or short side? Please share in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “The Long and Short of It – Don’t Get Hung Up on the Word Count

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  1. You know, I might be facing the same problem and it’s partly why I’ve avoided my unfinished, begging to be revised and edited first drafts. (The other part is simple procrastination.) I had to work very, very hard to write 50 thousand words. And I fear that with proper review, they might get shorter. But your post reminds me that there is no shame in a “short novel.” Not only would we be in good company, but I think a fair number of readers would be happy with novellas. They say, less is more ;). Thanks for this post. Wishing you the best with your novella!

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  2. Word counts as a way to measure the type of work (novel, novella, etc.) has varied widely over the last two centuries. I suspect technology has a lot to do with this. Back in the days when everything was handwritten, even in the typewriter days, determining word count was in some ways less important and more difficult. In the computer age, word count takes seconds to determine, so more has been hung on it (and it is easier to produce more words, arguably). Genre, of course, also matters—a mystery novel has a lower average word count than a epic fantasy novel, on the publisher side & on average.

    All that said, word count only matters in three cases: class/course assignments, magazine/journal publications (where space is limited), and if you’re under contract to produce a minimum length.

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    1. Thanks for commenting. That’s a very good point. The ability to get your word count with a click makes it an easy to use it as a metric to measure ‘success’. But of course that ease doesn’t mean it’s a worthy way of tracking progress. It’s a bit like BMI – an (flawed) indicator of health but no means the only factor to look at. As you say it only really matters in strict business and academic settings.

      Liked by 1 person

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