Apparently, the average novel has 64,500 words

Photo by mararie.

According to a recent blog post on Publishers Weekly, the average novel has 64,500 words. That’s not much actually. And I suppose you don’t care, but I do.

Okay, maybe more so than other writers I have always been a bit obsessed with word counts for novels and short stories. And by obsessed, I mean being very conscious of making sure that what fiction I write comes in at or over certain milestones of length.

Don’t worry, something similar happens with me when I write scripts, with me always aiming for description to make up 75% of a script and dialogue 23% or less, (certain analysis tools in Final Draft allow me to pursue this obsession). Anyway, I’m very prescriptive about length when it comes to fiction.

I’m a quarter of the way through writing my short story collectionΒ and while it is a whole bunch of short stories, I’m planning on giving potential readers a novel’s worth of words. You see, on average, a book of fiction is considered a novel when it’s at least 50,000 words in length.

Anyway, you can go about your business now… though if any writers are reading this…

Do you worry about word count as well when writing fiction?

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8 thoughts on “Apparently, the average novel has 64,500 words

    • That’s only if you’re the kind of writer who writes for art’s sake. If you’re someone that’s hoping to produce a product that will sell, then that kind of attitude won’t help. For example, writing an hour long feature film won’t encourage many people to pay to go and see your film. An hour and-a-half on the other hand will encourage people to invest their time and ultimately money.

      • I can’t imagine anyone intelligent enough to pursue writing seriously can also seriously expect to make money off of their work, ever. This goes for any art form. Hope, of course, but not expect. That said, a story should be exactly as long or short as it needs. I’ve written manuscripts over 700,000 words long, and I’ve written stories as short as 900. The only considerations that should be taken into account are the story and the characters–being how one effects and affects the other and vice-versa–and the manner in which they will be presented. If a story is good enough, it will speak for itself. This is not to say that good stories are always published. In fact, most published fiction is decidedly NOT good, Sturgeon’s Law at play. However, I would never advise someone to compromise their work to please another person, and certainly not merely on the basis of word count, unless the compromise itself is in no way detrimental to the piece and the writer feels he/she can do so. The story may very well be too long or short, but the term is highly subjective–it is just as easy for a 10,000 word story to be too long as it is for a 200,000 word novel feel short. Imagine trimming Ulysses because it’s “too long”, or Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Recognitions…! Granted, I always tell people that Ulysses would NEVER get published in today’s market, and we’re talking about one of the most important works in the English language, though this has less to do with the word count than with the manner of the actual written words.

        The entire idea of word counts are interesting to me as a curiosity–it is the truest way to determine the length of a work–but the recent obsession creative writing students have with it bothers me. They set out determined to write something 40-, 50-, 80,000 words long and pace their stories based on that, rather than letting the story come to life on its own and concerning themselves with technical aspects in rewrites. They do this when the story idea they see inside might actually need only 10,000, or as much as 120,000, and, for all anyone knows upon going into a new story, it may shrink as they work it, or grow into something much more sprawling than they initially realized. When they come face to face with these realizations, they force the story into something it is not, rather than allowing it to evolve organically. The process troubles me, as someone who hopes to teach them someday in the near future.

        The obsession stems from, I believe, the notion that fiction must be one particular way, that there are rules that must be followed, and that is even more troubling. A story can be written in one long, meandering run-on sentence, if that is what’s called for. Sure, said story can suck, but if the writer knows what he/she is doing, maybe it will end up perfect, though, again, “good” literature is entirely subjective. I read science fiction, fantasy, mainstream “literary” fiction (a term I hate), poetry, comics, watch movies, television (mostly cable at this point because network tv is on creative life support), and play video games, which can surprise me at times, and I hold each “genre” up to the same literary standards. The story in the video game Red Dead Redemption, for instance, has more complex construction, character depth, and insight into the death of the Old West and the turning of the 20th century than any western since Sergio Leone, with the exception of the film Unforgiven, which is one of the greatest movies ever made. This proves, to me, that great literature comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes, and that there is no one way for an art form to appear in, and, thus, discredits the philosophy of clueless teachers who foolishly clutch onto the false idols of word counts in fiction. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

        I say these things and admit freely that I’ve not been published, partially because of my own lack of submission and because the very few I have sent were not accepted. I will also say that I am an English tutor at my college and I hope to teach creative writing and literature at the college level, while continuing my own creative endeavors. I simply want to qualify my opinion, not that I’m saying my opinion is any more or less valid, and certainly not to put myself as any kind of absolute authority, merely someone who has written for nearly twenty of my twenty-six years and takes what he does very seriously. Perhaps I will never be published, maybe I will, with a little more effort on my part and a lot of luck. My pursuit of the literary art form will not change either way. Thanks for the article either way–it was interesting and had me engaged, clearly, and pictures of pets will always get my attention. I also apologize for the long post, and though I don’t even think this will be read I felt a desire to write this because the blog seems to be truly interested in the processes of writing, which I greatly admire and respect.

  1. I had no idea about that, thank you for sharing that Mrs. Emily. πŸ™‚

    So you write scripts, short stories, and you are working on a novel; nice, congratulations, and good luck. πŸ™‚

    I am not a writer so I can not really answer your question, but my guess is that I would probably not worry about word count that much; unless I wanted to make sure that I had the minimum recommended length, but I am a bit detail oriented, so maybe I would be a bit obsessive about that too. πŸ˜‰

      • Plot and Character(s) (?) are very important, that is good that you focus more on that, in my opinion. πŸ™‚

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