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.

Best Selling Author Talk – Fiona McArthur

14 September, 2021 § Leave a comment

When you have an opportunity to hear an author talk, it pays to listen. Especially if that author is successful, as in some fifty published books or more – both traditional and self-published – and has won awards for her writing.

Today was such a chance for me.

Fiona McArthur is on the hustings (at least virtually in a covid environment), promoting her latest published tome, The Farmer’s Friend. Now, ‘farmer’s friend’ has a whole meaning on its own, but in this case, the story was loosely inspired by her son’s taking up of a small-town, general-purpose store, the kind that sells everything from baked beans to cattle feed. The small fictional town explores the nuances of living in a small but geographically spread community, the tragedies that come from living in a relatively isolated valley, and the camaraderie when people pull together to get through tough times. And, of course, the romance and the babies!

I’ve not read the book yet so you won’t be getting any spoiler alert from me but I do know it’s now available at local and national stores for purchase as well as online. Read about the book here.

As a best-selling Australian author Fiona McArthur draws from her life as a rural midwife, and shares her love of working with women, families and health professionals in her books. In her compassionate, pacey fiction, her love of the Australian landscape meshes beautifully with warm, funny, multigenerational characters as she highlights challenges for rural and remote families, those in the city and the strength shared between women.  This book steps the reader away from her rural romances in vast outback landscapes and takes the reader into a smaller world but one equally as entertaining and enjoyable. It explores what makes ‘family’.

What are the lessons gleaned from today’s talk? Here’s a sample of what I took away.

  • Fiona started writing seriously in her 30’s but didn’t see a completed book and success until she leant into her lived experience as a midwife and started putting her knowledge onto the page, woven with romance and stories grounded in quintessentially Australian locales. Message – use what you know – it’s more authentic.
  • When you start with the nub of an idea, and steep yourself into that world, the world opens up for you and your characters – follow where it leads because there are layers of experiences you can bring into your book.
  • Find moments that connect with the reader and be prepared to incorporate social issues such as the increasing prevalence of grandparents bringing up young ones, financial imbalances, mental health matters and so on.
  • Consider writing as an activity that needs attention for it to bear fruit. Fiona writes around 500-1000 words a day every day, or at least two hours. Inspiration isn’t waiting for an invitation, it’s clocked in at writing time.
  • Productivity meets deadlines. Fiona works at one major work and a couple of smaller books each year. That’s possibly around 200,000 words a year. Set yourself some targets even if it’s just a novella or a series of short stories. On top of writing time, remember there’s marketing, promotion, revision, edits, covers and more.
  • Researching an area will reveal some little known facts such as how a produce store works, is stocked and managed – something most people don’t know or need to know but enriches the reader with some inside information. Give your reader some insights.
  • Finally, no matter whether you have one book under your belt, or a half century of them, the more genuine and humble you are, the more readers can relate to you and the more writers are inspired by you. Fiona fits that bill. She’s one of my favourite writers, and humans.

On top of those specific points, Fiona’s talk sparked a few creative ideas which may or may not see the light of day, but they’ve been jotted down and popped into the ‘ideas’ file for when I need some inspiration.

As a reader, author talks let you dive deeper into your favourite writers and their stories and glean more from the behind-the-scenes moments. As a writer, every author approaches writing differently and you can learn tips and technqiues that inform your quest to produce a read-worthy story.

Take advantage of the surfeit of information available in the virtual platforms at the moment and soak up as much as you can before any semblance of normal life returns and we’re whisked back into places where we have less time to indulge ourselves in these stories behind the stories. But don’t just listen: learn.

Best-selling Australian author Fiona McArthur draws from her life as a rural midwife and shares her love of working with women, families, and health professionals in her books. Her compassionate, pacey fiction, blended with a love of the Australian landscape meshes beautifully with warm, funny, multigenerational characters as she highlights challenges for rural and remote families, those in the city, and the strength shared between women.  

Check your local library for upcoming author talks. Mid North Coast Library is outstanding at snaffling writers for chats, workshops, panels, and other events. of course, at the moment those are virtual but they are even better ‘live’. MNC also has an amazingly successful series of Book Clubs throughout the region.

Writing Short Stories and Using Them

12 July, 2021 § Leave a comment

Writing a short story sounds easy. Hey, it’s only a few hundred to a few thousand words, not an 80,000 word opus: much more doable – yes?

Errr, no.

A short story still has to be a story with a beginning, middle and end. It still has to engage a reader to want to keep reading. And the fact that you are using fewer words than a traditional novel means that each word has to work hard. Every word has to pack a punch. Words need to advance the story rather than set elaborate scenes and backstories – you don’t have room for that in a short.

Economy and utility of words is something many fledgling short story writers miss.

What most writers and authors also miss is the value of writing short stories to your marketing and branding.

Lynn Johnston is a successful cartoonist and a prolific author and even during her illness and recovery from Covid-19, still managed to produce bucketloads of words, way more than many healthy, functioning writers. So she knows a thing or two about making your words count.

This video was produced a few years ago but is still relevant today.

Next time you write a decent short, think about how you can make it work harder for you. Watch and learn 🙂

Get Your Writing Mojo Back

10 July, 2021 § Leave a comment

It happens. It’s super-annoying, frustrating and anxiety-inducing when it does, but it happens.

At some point in your writing life, you will hit a period of drought. The words fail to come when you sit down to write. Ideas abandon you for a Summer somewhere else. Cleaning the tracks on the sliding doors with a toothbrush suddenly seem incredibly important when you think about sitting down to write.

The harder you try to plough the field, the drier it gets. And we all know, without that life-giving rain, seeds don’t sprout, crops don’t grow.

Sometimes there’s a trigger and sometimes it just comes out of the blue.

For me, as a fledgling writer it took hold after attending a writer’s conference: an event that was designed to inspire me and fire me up to becoming a productive commercial success. It ended up quashing my creative juices completely. For. Months. Truly. Oh sure, I wrote in between but very little and not much more than a few hundred words for writing classes or small competitions.

Not knowing why I couldn’t write, I poured myself into other activities and a constant series of writing courses and exercises to kick-start the engine. Didn’t happen. But I gained considerable insight into craft issues like point of view, use of place, importance of characterization and so much more.

That’s one thing to keep in mind when the mojo disappears: use the time to develop your craft by doing courses, learning from others, reading books in your genre and spending time at the library looking up writing magazines and books. Make notes about your learning (see? you’re writing!).

Here are some other techniques.

Work out the trigger that stopped you.

It will give a clue on what’s underlying your loss of mojo. In my case, the conference subconsciously had me comparing myself to these other productive and published authors and, in my mind, falling way short. I’ll guarantee you that, unless a tragic circumstance intervened like loss or injury, the foundation is fear. Fear is designed to motivate you to keep you safe. Ask yourself, ‘how is this working for me?’ There’ll be something like failure or rejection that pops up as an answer. You have to name it to conquer it.

Give yourself permission to not write.

It’s ok to take a break. If your mojo has deserted you, take advantage of the opportunity. Play in a new space – take up drawing, pole dancing, volunteering – anything that gives you a different slant at life. Everything you do ends up bleeding onto the page somewhere so it’s never a wasted experience.

Be kind to yourself.

When you stop writing, and you know you should be, your inner critic comes out to play. It will tell you you’re no good, remind you of all the other times you didn’t commit, any negative input it can find will pop into your head. Don’t listen to it! If you do, it will kill your chances of getting your mojo back.

Stress less about not writing and utilise the time to do what will enhance your writing. Let it flow. But don’t let it flow too long. Give yourself permission to ‘take a break’ but then set a deadline to get back into the practice and routine of writing – you don’t want your mojo to take a permanent holiday!

Lessons From Joanne Rowling

5 December, 2020 § Leave a comment

Like many writers and aspiring authors, the story of J.K. Rowling is a real rags-to-riches tale with so many lessons to learn. From her penniless start, her determination by writing in a local café, her complex plots and characters, her perseverance in the face of rejection and her capacity to turn her series into other products and merchandise making her the richest author to date.

Our chances of emulating her success is questionable but our ability to improve our mindset and craft is definitely possible.

Today I discovered a website dedicated to just that: learning from the lessons of Rowling. Grab a bevvie, find a comfy chair, hold your fave pen over your ever-present notebook and begin …

Lessons from J K Rowling

Researching Family History and More

1 December, 2020 § Leave a comment

One of the first experiences with writing is generated by a desire to put together a family history or a memoir. I just came across this resource and thought I’d pop it in here so I don’t lose it – and can access it when I get around to doing my own family history!

Hopefully, these materials will stay around for a while, but if not, I’m sure a local library will be able to help.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

How to Edit Your Own Book

17 November, 2020 § Leave a comment

When you write those two most satisfying words “The End”, it is a bittersweet moment. Getting to that point could represent a couple of days if you’re Stephen King or over a year’s worth of sweating out characters and plots to finish your novel. But the savvy writer knows that moment of celebration is the forerunner to lots more hard work: the revising and editing process where you put your words through a fine sieve to reveal the gems and wash out the mud. It’s a tough task if you’re in love with your word magic. No one wants to sacrifice their babies, but the reader wants you to do that so you create not just a well-written book but a well-read one.

A very useful presentation on what to keep in mind when revising and editing your own novel or non-fiction piece is on video with a series of authors and editors offering expert tips and ideas and how to make the process easier and more productive for you.

Key points …

  • be willing to cut anything to strengthen the story
  • read your dialogue out loud
  • use action verbs to drive the story
  • avoid passive writing
  • watch “I felt like” and convert it into descriptive (show v tell)
  • ensure all paragraphs and scenes are in sequence
  • make sure characters are consistent throughout
  • once you finish your first draft, put it aside for a while
  • read other people’s books and flag ideas/phrases/descriptions that impact you and learn how the writer raised your emotion
  • go back to your book and flag what’s worked well in your story
  • look for content issues first
  • review style, voice and scene issues and note what to improve/cut
  • revisit the third time and go over punctuation, structure, complicated sentences etc
  • now go back and revise using your flags and notes
  • consider copy-editing as you go eg read what wrote day before and notice simple errors
  • wait until the end for structural editing – much easier to edit something that’s finished
  • tools for editing depends on the type of edit
    • spell check
    • grammar check – automated and manual – look for obvious issues like that/which
    • recognise the limitations of any tool you use
  • beware of overusing adverbs (eg very, really etc)
  • make sure the character’s voices are distinctive
  • get someone else to help critique to pick up any misses from reading and reviewing your own work

Those are just my summary notes – watch the video for more detail, especially the first 2-3 sessions.

Write – revise – edit – rewrite – revise – edit – rewrite – revise edit … until you’ve polished the best book you can produce. Of course, if you snag a traditional publishing contract then some of the work will be done for you, the than the writing. If you self publish, the more you revise and edit, the better your readers experience will be. A professional editor is valuable if you can spring the money for it: if not, do the work.

Advice from an Emerging Writer Having Success

26 January, 2020 § Leave a comment

A friend of mine was chuffed to get a guernsey in a UK writing mag. He had an article published about playing to your strengths.

Now, Greg provides great advice from his own experience and you can definitely benefit from that.

But think about the achievement of having an article you wrote being published on a broader stage and subtly promoting your writing and books.

Clever man, our Greg.

Always have a purpose in what you do, while writing for your audience.

Go read his article.

Work out what you can take away from it.

Note the strategy and emulate it when the time is right.

Image Greg Reed

What is Domestic Noir?

25 July, 2019 § Leave a comment

The literary world is complex. There are broad genres then sub-genres and even deeper categorisation beyond that.

Within the Crime genre, Domestic Noir occupies a peculiarly feminine place. It comprises crime that usually takes place within familiar places such as the home or workplace. It often concerns itself with the woman’s perspective. At it’s core, the topic of domestic noir centres around the concept that such domestic situations are inherently challenging and even dangerous, especially for women.

48% of crimes are domestic-related and women represent 70% of domestic murder victims.

Such statistics are perhaps sufficient to argue that a domestic noir sub-genre is redundant and may serve to minimise the contributions of many female authors.

By way of example, Paula Hawkins, Gillian Flynn and other female authors are considered writers of domestic noir. Male authors eg Harlen Corben, Lee Child, who write in a similar vein are not normally described as writing domestic noir books.

The domestic noir sub-genre was coined by Julia Crouch in 2013 so is relatively new in literary terms. It is perhaps too early to tell if it will become a category of fiction which will serve a long-term purpose.


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