Too Many Words? Too Few? — #MFRWauthor

Good morning, world. It’s Friday, which means it’s time for another entry in the MFRWauthor 52-Week Blogging Challenge. It’s week 23, and our prompt is: Word Counts Matter…How Much? How Often?

So yeah. Word counts. They are the bane of my existence and the love of my life. They matter–to publishers who are trying to create a line of similar books that will give readers a similar experience time after time. They matter to some writers, I guess. Some people may like having a set number to work toward–and when I was writing series contemporary romance for Harlequin, I needed to know whether I was over-writing (usually) or under-writing (rarely), so knowing my word count was crucial.

Internal Editor Unsplash SmallKnowing a word count helps me create structure for the book when I’m writing a proposal for a publisher who is looking for boos of a certain word count. I understand that, for example, in an 80,000-word romance novel, with chapters roughly 20 manuscript pages long each, having the hero and heroine meet at the end of Chapter 8 (so roughly 160 pages into a 320-page manuscript) might be a touch late.

Knowing word count is a useful tool in planning where the various turning points in a major plot and minor subplots might fall. It helps with pacing.

But those thing are all useful to my non-creative, logical, analytical internal editor not to my creative wood-sprite artistic-souled writer self. Don’t get me wrong, my internal editor is a vitally important part of my creative process. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done for as long as I’ve done it without her. My inner wood-sprite is completely irresponsible and cannot be trusted with the important things in life, like meeting deadlines and fulfilling contracts and writing to a calendar. If she could, she would procrastinate writing even so much as a single page until the night before the book was due and then write the whole thing in one night.

Internal Woodsprite Unsplash smallMy internal editor knows that “that way lies madness,” or, at the very least, a very messy doomed-for-failure first draft that should never been seen by another living being. If I were ever to publish or submit something like that, my internal editor would go mad, I’m sure.  But the point is, my creative side doesn’t care diddly-squat about word counts. The book will be what it will be. It will take just as many words as I need to tell the story, explore the characters, deliberate the dilemmas, make decisions, and conquer whatever obstacles stand in the characters’ way.

Asking me to keep a book to within a certain number of words, when the book longs to go on much longer, seems like sacrilege. What am I supposed to cut out? Likewise, asking me to stretch a shorter story out by 10,000 words just because I’m short of an arbitrary mark seems equally sacrilegious. Surely readers will be able to tell I’ve padded the story. Why would you ask me to do that? And that attitude sounds good in many ways, but in reality, being too self-indulgent can hurt a book, too.

So, as I said before, as a writer, I’m torn when it comes to word counts.

Reading Glasses On Book smallAs a reader, I’m not so torn. I like big books. I am not fond of short books. I like thick, rich, meaty stories that take me deep into a world and into the lives of its characters. In a book store, I immediately gravitate toward novels of size. Online, I check the page count on every book I download, and rarely bother with a short book or a novella. That’s not to say I never read a shorter book or novella, but I usually need a pretty strong reason to give one a try. It needs to have been highly recommended by someone whose opinion I value, or written by a good friend, or…well, that’s about it. Short books simply are not my preference. So as a reader, word count always matters to me. I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s substantial.

So what does all this mean? Absolutely nothing! Because, happily, for every reader like me, who loves reading long books, there’s a writer who likes writing long books. And for every reader who prefers short books, there’s a writer who likes writing short books. And that’s the beauty of writing and reading. It’s all totally subjective, and that’s okay. Every opinion is valid.

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6 thoughts on “Too Many Words? Too Few? — #MFRWauthor

  1. Linda McLaughlin says:

    Good post, Sherry. I have a love/hate affair with word count requirements, too, though I agree that they can be helpful in structuring a book. If anything, I tend to write shorter, which matches my reading preferences. I used to love the long, richly-detailed books, too. Now I don’t have the patience for them, which is why I never read the Game of Thrones series. Don’t even mind reading/writing short stories, which makes your point that there’s something for everyone when it comes to writing.

  2. Meka James says:

    Great post with very good points. Being a pantser I have to let my characters be free to tell the story as they see put. I fully admit to not being in control. I do know I have to reign them in somewhat. I don’t need to have long winded conversations over something like paint color (not really just an example) no matter how much they are telling me it’s important. LOL

  3. storimom2 says:

    I once submitted a story that had a word length cap of 4K….mine ended up being closer to 5, so when I subbed it , I had 3 different endings to where it could possibly be shortened to anywhere between 4200-4500. I was thrilled when they accepted the entire thing, since some of the other shorts in the antho were way shorter than the 4K cap. Whew!

  4. Ed Hoornaert says:

    These lines stood out to me: “I rarely bother with a short book or a novella.” I’m the opposite. The older I get, the less patience I have with long books, and thus I rarely bother with them. Give me a short book or novella every time.

  5. alinakfield says:

    Great take on this topic, Sherry. I have a really hard time writing short, and I have a hard time trying to structure and plan books by word count length. I’d love to get better at that planning process!

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