A question of length

Or does size matter?


I’m talking about word counts, obviously.

One of the things that came from my contribution to this week’s linky was that some people felt that they couldn’t write 50,000 words and that my word count targets were admirable. I’ve never really thought of my output as particularly high, since I spend a good few months of the year producing nothing and a lot of time writing absolute crap.

That’s the key, I think. To not be scared of producing the cruft. To be in a position where you can say to yourself:

I don’t give a shit if what I put down tonight is absolutely craptacular; it all counts.

It can be disheartening to write rubbish. It can be even worse when you read it back – but that’s how you get there. It’s how you get to that magic number, whether that’s going for the 50k, finishing a novel length piece of 75k or bashing out a flash at 100 words.

With an incoming NaNoWriMo, a novel at 75% first draft complete, an accidental edit and a blog which shows off some flash fiction, I’ve spent quite a while thinking about length, how that affects the way we write and whether it all really matters.

There is most definitely a different set of skills used to write a novel-length word count and a flash fiction piece but that doesn’t mean the skills aren’t interchangable.

I tend to write both quite long and very short, but struggle with the mid-length stuff. My novels (I still feel weird calling them that – they’re not really novels, they’re a load of words on a similar subject all bandaged together with a rickety framework!) vary between 48k for Twitter Tw@tter and 100k for Outside. They mostly sit around the 60K mark, which is on the short side.

I like short fiction; stuff that says as much as possible in as little as possible, so 100 words is about right for me. Anything more than that and I have to start doing proper plotting, which for me negates the point of short fiction. I like to be able to bash out and edit something in less than an hour.

So is word count a really a problem and is it a viable goal?

If the material is good, surely it shouldn’t be a problem. Word count matters to agent and publishers. It seems like thay have certain expectations about the length of a good novel. And they should know – they read a lot of them. I don’t normally pick my reading material based on its wordage, so for me as a reader, word count isn’t that important. However, when I’m writing, word count drives me forward. If I have an attainable goal each day, I find it easier to motivate myself to dedicate time to my story instead of looking at cats on the internet. I like to give myself something to aim for and push a little bit – you will write marvellous things when you’re going with the flow of your story and not letting yourself get out of touch with your characters.

Making word count work

I’m not a big fan of waffle, although I write a load (like now!). The average blog post is about 400 words, which might seem daunting but it doesn’t take that long to write. It would be easy to add a couple of hundred words to that novel now.

I also love dialogue. I love reading it, and I love writing it. I love tension, especially of the sexual variety. If you can keep up some sexual tension over 100k words, then you’re a genius and I bow to you. Most recently, I found keeping it up (fnar fnar) over 60k a bit of a challenge, but a conversation between characters, even if it’s just to talk about what they had for breakfast, can open up surprising doors and – oh, look, there’s another hundred words or so!

Description is the easy way forward. I’m finding out the folly of this now whilst editing. I tend to use this as a ploy during my first drafts – get stuck, describe something in the scene! Now I’m having to cut all of these waffley and irrelevant bits. Thing is, I wouldn’t have known they would be irrelevant if I hadn’t got to the end.

So, does length matter? I don’t think it does. Not really. As long as you do something.

Linking up to the Wonderful World of Writing at Virtually All Sorts

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6 thoughts on “A question of length

  1. Absolutely! I share so many of your views here Chrissie. I don’t believe length really matters to the writer. After all, as you say, once you’re in the flow, you need to just let it all out. To the reader, I don’t think it really matters too much either. If they’re reading it in the first place, you should assume they’re interested in what you’re saying (unless it’s a misleading or ambiguous title, of course…). Ultimately, as long as it says what you want it to say, bring the words on! If your the descriptions are serving a purpose while you’re writing (by keeping you in the ‘zone’), then keep them coming. That’s what editting is for, after all. Great word by the way: ‘craptacular’ šŸ™‚ Really good to see you linking up to #WonderfulWorldofWriting again, thank you šŸ™‚

    1. Thank you! Like the way you mentioned the ambiguous title too šŸ˜‰ Oh, I love being in the flow. Don’t get much time to get there at the moment.
      Hope your project is going well! x

  2. I’d be lost without my word count goals! And although I do sometimes wonder if pushing myself on just to reach them is making me write crap, I have to go with the idea that at least I’m writing. And forcing myself to write a certain number of words can make unexpected things happen to my characters. My main characters had a fight recently that took me by surprise but I’m glad they had it – now they feel more real! Every time I try to finish this comment with something to do with length it comes out really rude so I’ll leave it at that!

  3. Ah yes, I know you like a good goal. šŸ˜‰ Yes, I find the word count make unexpected things happen too, and that’s great. Sometimes that little bit of pressure is all you need to move it on x

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