How Many Words in a Novel, Short Story or Book?

18 March, 2022 § Leave a comment

Is a novel 50,000 or 120,000? Is a short story 1000 words or 10,000? Well … it depends. I know. You wanted something concrete, didn’t you. Sorry. But we’re largely talking about creative writing here and that is inexact: it’s art, after all.

Let’s play with some ballpark figures to satisfy your curiosity and test your commitment to writing that opus.

A novel can be anywhere from 50,000 to 120,000 – most novels, however, fall in the 80,000 to 100,000 band. If anything, novels are becoming smaller as readers appetites change and the industry proceeds in a state of flux following the spread of indie publishing.

Genre tends to favour broad word counts. Historical fiction often heads to the top end of the range while lighter romance may be at the lighter end. Young Adult often finds its mark around the 40,000 to 60,000 word zone.

At the other end of the spectrum, a short story tends to be in the 5,000 to 10,000 word range. If you are entering competitions though, follow their guidelines: if they ask for a 1,000 word short story then stick to that; if they want 2,500 words, comply. The competition organiser is the one you need to please so make sure you do not go over their word count.

Children’s books vary by age grouping. Picture books romp in around the 300-600 word count while sub-teens are from 1,000 to 10,000 and teens are able to manage 20,000 to 50,000 words.

As I said, word count is a tad flexible.

Reedsy posit the following:

  • Short story: under 7,500
  • Novelette: between 7,500 and 17,500
  • Novella: between 17,500 and 40,000
  • Novel: over 40,000 but generally 50,000-70,000

If you’re looking more on the short side, there’s a difference between and dribble and a drabble.

In summary, there are no hard and fast rules but there are broad parameters to what is considered acceptable length for various forms and genres. Bear in mind there are exceptions and they survive because the story carried despite the normal word count.

So, if you are entering a competition, stick to the requested word count or you will be disqualified without even been read.

If you are looking to write a story, determine a general indicative word length then write away. Revision and editing is where you then firm up the word count. For most writers, once they get the first draft down it is more likely to be a case of cutting words than padding them out. The story will take the space it needs. Crafting the draft will tell you whether you have a novel or a novella.

The Rocks Scaffolding of 3 Acts

15 March, 2022 § Leave a comment

When it comes to writing a play or a novel, the three-act form of Opening Act, Middle Act and Closing Act is a fundamental structure. Deceptively simple, it has stood the test of time and still works today. Short stories or novels can benefit from this approach.

To actually explain how to go about creating the three acts in a way that provides depth for the reader, there’s an often-quoted mantra that goes something like this:

“In the first act you get him up a tree, in the second act you throw rocks at him and in the third act you get him down from the tree.”

Personally, it is a clear clarification, if I may be allowed a redundant phrase. When you substitute obstacles or problems for rocks, you get the drift of creating tension and conflict in a story.

For this post, however, I wanted to find the origin of the quote as I’ve seen it attributed to local writers, published greats like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury, most often Vladimir Nabakov, and others.

What did we ever do before search engines?

A quick search can throw up many examples and attributions of this quote but one website has investigated the phrase and found its first use appearing in 1897 by an anonymous writer. You can read the research findings here –

Once upon a time, we relied on the exactness of the Encyclopedia Brittanica to be the font of all researched wisdom. The internet has disrupted that model and now I see many quotes badly attributed and promulgated online. Expedience trumps accuracy these days.

Despite the vagaries of attribution, the gist of this is that the phrase encapsulates beautifully the basic construct of a story, especially a short story.

So, when you next sit down to enter that story competition, remember the rocks and the tree.

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