Kevin G Hare

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Size Doesn't Matter - Too Much

I don’t ever remember every being hung up on the quantity of any story I ever wrote, I was always concerned about the quality. That made more sense. From what I’m reading on various posts, many new writers are still stuck on the mechanics of writing, specifically, how long something should be.

How long should my short story be? How long is an average paragraph? How long should a chapter be? How many words should my book have? So many people asking peers the same questions when they should be asking themselves – How good is my story?

Everything you write is going to have a first draft. The first draft is all about getting the idea down on paper, definitely not the time to be stressed about how many words there are. Frankly, it’s not even the time to worry about the quality of the writing, let along the quantity. The idea of writing is to unleash your imagination and creativity in its raw form, unencumbered and unrestricted by the specifics and mechanics of how it’s supposed to be done and how it’s supposed to look and function. Write first, refine later. This is what more experienced writer’s generally express to newer writers when these questions get posted. Because we’ve learned it already.

That’s the side you should be thinking about first.

The second side, addresses the concern some of you reading this post may be thinking about. Goals. For those who use them as a motivator, this is the time when you can think about how many words. It will differ for every writer but the idea is to know how many words you can write in the timeframe you set for yourself and aim for that number. On average, say in NaNoWriMo, roughly 1500 words in a day is a fair goal. That puts out a 50 000 word novel in one month.

So, let’s put things into perspective because I understand the mindset of you newer writers trying to get a grasp on what you are trying to do.

One thing to keep in mind is how to figure out about how long you want your book to be. I try to set mine between 60 000 and 80 000 words, average fiction book length. That means I can write around 12 – 20 chapters about 4000 – 5000 words long. It’s a plan but remember, it’s only a plan, a goal to set for yourself. Don’t get caught up on the number because when it comes to the writing part, your word count will fluctuate because not every chapter will have the same amount of words. Some chapters will have less of your story, some will have more. Your ideas about the story will change and almost write itself as you go. Most of the chapters in Anderoth’s Dragon are that long, some are 3000, a couple are 6000 and the last chapter is 2000. It depends on the story. Specifically, it depends on each short story (chapters) that make up the entire book.

Paragraphs are individual chunks of the story put together to make a chapter. This is how you know when to end a paragraph, when the topic of that paragraph is at an end, start a new one.

Take this example from the first draft of an upcoming trilogy, The Fae Paradox:

The swish followed the blade through the air until it came to a stop in perfect form and steadiness. Seleen’s deep green eyes traced the spine from ricasso to tip. It was a fine sword, it saved her from many a foe and she silently recollected a few of them. She practiced her routine, the rhythmic dance she had known and repeated nearly every day since Brolan first instructed her.

The topic of this paragraph is the sword, the second paragraph is a new topic:

The blade’s twin was stretched out to her other side as if each faced separate opponents and the morning sun rose behind her casting a spiritual glow around her curvy form. The pause was brief as her routine envisioned her foes had attacked at once. She stepped back and turned, tucked her left blade across her stomach while the right was raised to block the downward strike. Her left followed with a slash across a mid-section then her right twisted as her imagined opponent buckled over and exposed its neck to a deadly cut. One opponent down.

Two distinct paragraphs, each with their own topics and only as long as they need to be to describe that topic.

What you are writing and who you are writing for will make a difference in story length as well. The length of short stories will be decided for you if you are submitting to a magazine as they come with submission guidelines you will need to read beforehand. I have chapter length short stories and I have one or two that are only one or two paragraphs long.

Novellas are shorter books, novels can span one book or several, carrying the story throughout an entire series. Take The Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Drizzt series from R. A. Salvatore to name a few.

Most fiction is longer than non-fiction due to the topics of non-fiction being easier to digest and absorbed in a shorter book. The information in instructional books are better remembered when they aren’t filled with fluff details just to make the book bigger. Writing for children will result in shorter books than young adults, which will usually be shorter than writing full on, hard core fiction for advanced reading adults.

As writer’s, we have a responsibility to engage the reader and a fine balance must be reached to not over excite or bore them. We want them turning pages, we will achieve that with greater satisfaction through quality over quantity.

The advice I can give is to learn the craft of storytelling and practice daily. Just write. The more we write, the better we get and further cement our understanding of the mechanics. They become second nature, instinctual even. Every reader is as different as every writer and we can’t please them all. We can only tell the best story we can and hope for the best.

If you are going to focus on how many words, remember this – writing will let you know how many words it is, editing will let you know how many words it will be.

Share any thoughts or comments below and all the best with your writing projects!

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