Saturday, April 29, 2017

Word Count

I see, in some of the Facebook pages I am a member of, folks  asking questions about word count. For chapters and total word count for the book.

They ask questions like:
"How many words per chapter?"
"How many chapters should my book be?"
"How many words should the book be"?

Basically they want to know what the "norm" is.
I believe that there is no norm.... but there are guidelines.

Let me explain:
I do not recall reading any books without chapters so I had to look it up. I found that there are authors like Marilynne Robinson, who wrote several books. I was interested to find that she wrote GILEAD and did not use chapters.

Another author known for writing chapters books is James Dickey, who wrote Deliverance which was later made into a film.

And before I forget, Marilynne won the Pulitzer in 2005, so I say, if a Pulitzer winner can do it, then so can you or I. Scrap the chapters if you like, or make them as short or long as you need to make them to tell your story. Remember, it's YOUR story. Not Aunt Sally's, not next door neighbor Bob's, and not Frank from Facebook.

It's your story.

Ever hear of James Patterson? He uses chapters to break up just about every scene in his books, at least the several that I have read. So I ask, what IS the norm, really?

There is no hard fast rule in word length of stories, although there are some guidelines. For example, a children's picture book for the really young kids should be about 500. This comes to me by way of my publisher in NY. And some publishers may reject a "novel" if the word count is too low, so keep the guidelines in mind as you write, but don't hurt yourself trying to meet the count.

A quick Google search shows the following:
Novel - 40K or more
Novella - 17,500 - 39,999
Novelette - 7500 - 17,499
Short Story - under 7,500
Flash Fiction - anywhere from 300 - 1500 words

But these are just guidelines.

Obviously, you wouldn't want to try to publish a story of a thousand words and call it a novel. You may get laughed at or a poor review. 

I try to keep within the "guidelines", to play it safe. I am currently working a collection of what I might call "short stories". However some of them are 1200 words where a few are over 10,000 words. So, based on the data above, my collection of short stories might have a few "Novelettes" in the mix as well.

Chapters, if you decide to use them, are used to break the story up. Either to break up the scenes, the time of day, to bounce between character's subplots, or what have you. Some writers use no chapters, and that is their choice so you decide what is best for you and your book.

You make the rule.
Or think about this: Some readers like to use chapters as stopping points. Imagine a woman is in the living room reading Sparks' latest novel and her husband calls out to her to come to bed. Her response might be, "Okay, let me just finish this chapter and I will come to bed."

For me, in the novel I am working on now, I am using chapters to break up each scene and it seems to be working.

If you can, make each chapter be it's own little story. In each chapter, tell a tiny little  story that will keep the reader doing what you want them to keep doing -reading.

Make each chapter is a little story, make it a cliff hanger so the reader will WANT to read the next chapter. Make each chapter tight. Fill it with conflict, suspense, or comedy, or what have you. Make sure the chapter poses a question or answers a previous question. If there is a question hanging out there, the reader will keep reading to get the answer to the question.

Just don't make it a lame answer.

Keep your reader wanting more. Wanting to kill the bad guy, or girl. Wanting to know if the lost found their way out of the maze. Make each chapter a best-seller so the reader will do just that, want to know more and keep reading.

Each chapter needs to be as long as it needs to be to tell the part of the story that you want to tell. Period.

I read a book once, maybe James Patterson, that had a one sentence chapter.

Bottom line is just write your story. It will take as many words as it takes to tell the story. Have fun and put out the best work you can produce.

Good luck and I will see you on the shelves.