B – Books, how long should they be? A wordcount guide

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I write novels. Or do I? My first novels were 50,000 words long – because that was the word length given as the minimum to win Nanowrimo. But how long should a novel be, really? How about a short story? This quick reference offers a guide to the expected wordcount of various genres. But take it with a pinch of salt. Your story is as long as your story needs to be.

Flash fiction: Flash fiction is a very short story, sometimes known as a short-short. Standard flashes, if there are such things, are 1,000 words. But there are 100-word drabbles, 50-word, ten-word and six-word story forms, plus stories told Twitter-style in just  140 characters.

Short story: Several online sources suggest that a short story can be up to 7,500 words. That seems awfully high to me. I don’t know about anywhere else, but here in the UK, where the print fiction market is dominated by women’s magazine fiction, the maximum is 1500 words. That’s not much. And there are 5-minute-read lengths too, between 500 and 750 words.  A serial for a magazine might be 15,000 words.

Novella: Everywhere agrees that these are around 25,000 words. However, there is a current trend for extra-short novellas, which might be 12,000-18,000 words.

Novel – adult: Plenty of advice suggests that a novel is between  70,000 and 120,000 words. But see below for the different age and genre expectations.

Novel – young adult: These are sometimes shorter than adult novels, with a wordcount of 60,000 to 90,000 words.  But genre expectations (and fandom) play a part here too, meaning that readers may hunger for longer stories. Twilight has nearly 120,000 words.

Novel – kids: Standard advice is that kids novels are shorter, perhaps 30,000 words. But that doesn’t allow for Harry Potter – even the first book, Philosopher’s Stone, is nearly 80,000 words long.

Genre considerations

Fantasy, science fiction: 90,000 – 120,000 words. Anything over this is apparently considered ‘too much.’ But then again, Game of Thrones is around 280,000 words long. Just look at that number. And that is the shortest of Geroge RR Martin’s series.  A Storm of Swords is over 400,000 words long. That’s a lot of writing. Meanwhile Neil Gaiman, considered a master of the fantasy genre, publishes long books like American Gods but also very short books, such as Stardust, which he says is 50,000 words.

Romance:  – it depends. Mills and Boon-style category romances are 50,000-60,000 words. But each publisher has specific wordcount guidelines for their market, making it hard to generalise. Shorter than a ‘standard’ novel, seems to be the rule. MC Beaton’s Regency romances are about 144 pages long, rather slim books of around 70,000 words.  But some romance novels – for example in the chick lit bracket – are much longer.

Thriller: 90,000-100,000 words, according to online sources. However, this does not explain John Grisham or Lee Child, whose thrillers routinely rack up a 150,000-180,000 wordcount. So I take that one with a pinch of salt.

Historical: up to 100,000 words. But like everything else, this has many subgenres. Wolf Hall has over 180,000 words.

And what about memoir? Well, I couldn’t find much about this, but one source suggests that it should be a similar length to a non-genre novel, so about 70,000-90,000 words.

I hope this helps. Mostly researching this made me realise that you need to find the word count expected for the exact thing you’re doing, or else have an agreement with your outlet. Or, to look at it another way, write your piece and make it as long as it needs to be to tell the story, and no longer. Good luck!

I’ll be back tomorrow with C – Character questionnaires: useful, or a big waste of time?


A – Antagonists and how to make them

Reading Time: 3 minutes
AZChallenge 2017
Antagonists are a challenge for me. AZChallenege blog for April 2017, A

This post is part of the April blogging AZChallenge.  Today it’s A.

I struggle with antagonists.  Almost all of my early stories have no antagonist at all. Or rather, none that is embodied in a handy walking, talking bad guy on the page.

Let’s take a look at some of my early Nanowrimo novels.

The Fairy G – the antagonist is sort of the evil colleague Cherie who steals Caroline’s ideas, but mostly just the magical Forces of Evil which she, the Fairy and hunky ethics consultant Jesmond Fry have to sort out.

Last Straw Summer – antagonist is Dangerous Isolation, and the nasty friends who are mean to our teenage heroine in her new home, sneer at her life choices and never write. There was some sort of deadline/jeopardy in this, but it wasn’t really an antagonist.

The Hollow Ring – Laura must battle the evil Societal Forces which have wrecked her job with their enforced equalism, placing idiots in positions of responsibility…

I was a very angry youngster.

So although you can make these bad guys fit the Antagonist role, none of them can really speak and act – they simply, are, which is boring to read, and write. How can I make antagonists that people hate, or love to hate?

  1. Think of the antagonist first. Yeah, yeah. Plotting not pantsing. But if my second thought after ‘this is a cool idea with a cool hero’ can become, ‘what would kill my cool hero stone dead?’ then I might get started with a human antagonist sooner.
  2. Write horror. The antagonist in horror is the main character so it’s what horror writers tend to think of first, whether it’s a Creepy House, Malevolent Ghost or Highly Educated Serial killing Cannibal.
  3. Write monsters. As above. Fantasy fiction is full of monsters who just want to eat the heroes, which makes for an easy antagonist.
  4. Make the bad guy the hero. I love this, but he still needs an antagonist. I guess that would be a good guy, who I imagine would be easier to come up with. Good guy wants to save the world, etc etc. But what would my bad guy hero want? I’ve still no idea.
  5. Write a sidestory/backstory for the antagonist before he or she went bad. Plotters tend to do this anyway. It’s one way into the antagonist’s motivations.
  6. Make your antagonist another good guy with a conflicting goal to the main character. This is Advanced Creative Writing, but actually easier than trying to justify some monstrous desire. Putting the hero in a position where every choice has merits but cannot make everyone happy, is great drama. Pity I’m rubbish at it.
  7. I can’t be that bad I guess since I just realised this js what happens in my current WIP. I actually have a panoply of characters with good intentions – OK, good-to-medium – whose interests just don’t match up.
  8. Practice spotting the antagonist in everything. Notice how most TV shows make it nice an explicit – the serial killer, the corrupt politician, etc. Some shows take it to a deeper level: in the Newsroom, the antagonists are those who want to commercialise news at the cost of the truth; in W1A, the antagonist is sheer hilarious incompetence.
  9. List your favourite bad guys and, just for fun,  create a mashup of them for your own use. What are their primary characteristics?
  10. Make sure you know how to defeat your antagonist. If you make it so that he can’t be killed, the hero will have a hard time winning. Which is good drama, except that there has to be some way to triumph or what is the point of the story? If Buffy had zero chance of ever overcoming the vampires, why would we watch? Make sure your antagonist has a weakness, like sunlight, or a pointy stick to the heart.

That’s my list for Antagonists. I’ll be back with B for Books, How Long Should They be? tomorrow.