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message 1: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 51 comments I’ve been following a series of writing prompts that started with “Write a six-word story,” then twenty-five words hint-fiction, fifty-word dribbles, hundred-word drabbles… I’m not sure where it’s going next. One respondent has been writing complete series with scenes in dribbles and drabbles down the page. They’re really quite intriguing, like a cross between prose and poetry. And as anyone who’s met me knows, I love to drabble; it feels like those childhood finger exercises for playing piano, but much more fun and invaluable for losing extraneous words and avoiding repetition.

Anyway, it got me thinking about lengths of different types of writing. I’ve been editing my second e-book, which grew from 8,000 to 12,000 words. Does that make it a short story, a novelette, or a novella? Or is it content that determines what it’s called.

Wikipedia says novelettes are often more “trivial” than novels; novellas have fewer conflicts than a novel but more complexity than a short story; and anything under 1,000 words is flash fiction. The publisher for my e-book asked for a 150-word “blurb” and a 25-word one-liner for press releases. I wonder how back-of-the-book blurbs usually are.

Pat said I could pose a question here for discussion (thank you Pat), so how useful do you think word-counts are—and that nice little counter at the bottom of Microsoft Word? Does writing drabbles make it easier to write blurbs, or does it just leave you writing ridiculously minimized prose when you edit your novel? Does writing novels make you incapable of using three words where three paragraphs will suffice (I just wrote four)? And do you have a preferred word-length that you work to whatever you’re writing? I think mine’s somewhere between 100 and 1,000 words, then I edit and it shrinks, and then it grows.

(300 words)

message 2: by Pat (last edited Nov 18, 2010 07:44PM) (new)

Pat Bertram (patbertram) | 43 comments Mod
I lile the discipline of writing drabbles, and probably would continue to write them if ideas came easily to me. It's fun seeing how many words you can cut out and still keep the meaning of what you want to say.

About the only time I used word counts was in sending out queries. Otherwise, they didn't matter to me. (I did not have to write a specific number of words for blurbs and descriptions for my books.)

My preferred story-length is 80,000 to 90,000 words -- a full novel, though not an epic. The longest book I ever wrote was A Spark of Heavenly Fire -- the final draft clocked out at 120,0000 words, but I kept whittling away at it, and ended up getting rid of 30,000 unnecessary words. I do strive for a minimized prose, yet with minimal prose, one still needs vivid descriptions to anchor the reader in the scene, so I look for significant details rather than full-blown descriptions.

A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram

message 3: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 51 comments That's interesting. So maybe the word-count's less important once you start editing rather than querying.

So far all my attempts have ended up longer after editing rather than shorter. But I guess they've all been short stories or novellas, so maybe I'll find it's different when I start editing my novel.

message 4: by John (new)

John Pappas I think Pat's description of editing a novel comes closest to what it's about. Minimum words - maximum picture. That's if you care most about story. Some writers seem best at vivid description, and it can be very pretty, but most readers want the story to move along. To keep things moving and vividly dimensional is not so easy, but it isn't supposed to be. The process can be as long as it takes for you to be satisfied.

message 5: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Haimowitz (metarachel) | 1 comments I tend to give very little thought to word count, unless I'm in a situation where, say, I can't publish something shorter than 3,000 words and the piece I'm working on is 500 words short. I think, by and large, that the story will take up however much room it needs to be told. There is a certain discipline to writing drabbles and even shorts though, because it requires a rather relentless focus on only what's important. There's no room to wander off on tangents, and when you're writing a flashfic that's only 1,000 words long, it becomes pretty obvious if a 100-word paragraph doesn't serve your purpose--whereas in a novel those 100 words might go unnoticed during editing.

I've found writing longer works to be a lot like sculpting: the finished art is there in the lump of clay and you just have to shave away the unnecessary bits to get to it. Early drafts of any story--especially novels--are the lump of clay. Every progressive edit brings you closer to the perfect piece buried inside. To that end, I think I tend to overwrite and then cut, rather than constrain myself and risk not using enough clay. For instance, with Counterpoint, I only "needed" 75,000 words according to my contract. I ended up with maybe 135,000 in the first draft. Then I went back and cut out words, sentences, paragraphs, sometimes entire scenes (I saved about 40 pages of deleted scenes that are being posted as bonus material), and ended up with a finished work of about 120,000 words. I think it's awlays easier to go that way (too much whittled down to just enough) than the other way (not enough filled in to just enough).

message 6: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 51 comments Nice analogy Rachel. Writing drabbles feels very much like sculpting to me, but writing a novel sometimes feels more like growing a tree--pruning it back then letting it grow some more, then pruning again. Of course, I never wrote any novels in England, and I've never successfully grown a tree in the US.

message 7: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Ledford (deborahjledford) I've attended a slew of conferences where many agents/editors have specifically stated they prefer 80-90,000 words for genre fiction. They certainly don't want to see 100,000 words from a first-time writer seeking representation. Historical fiction and full out fantasy may be the only exception.

As for short stories, a majority of those prefer 5,000 words (some state up to 7,000 words, but I've heard numerous editors say they prefer 5k which allows for more stories to be printed within an issue). Flash fiction of up to 1,000 words is a favorite of mine to write.

message 8: by Jill (new)

Jill (jillbrock) | 1 comments I use word count only as a frame work to my work. When I first began writing my first novel, I ended up with something with over 180,000 words. That was all well and good until I had to edit the beast down. It was finally cut to a manageable 98,000 words. It taught me a lesson, some times less is more. I know when I do a first draft I’ll shoot for between 95,000 and 110,000. Since I go through several drafts, I know the count will be less in the end. With each book, I tend to self edit more, and the count rarely goes up.

The count only gives me an idea of what I have accomplished in so many words. It keeps me focus. If not, I would write War and Peace every time I sat down. Someone once told me writing is like taking this journey. There is the long way and short way and somewhere in between. You can take the long way, stop, and smell the roses (while writing a page and half about how those roses smell!). Then there is the short way where you don’t notice the silly roses at all. The in-between is where you notice some smelly roses on your way to where ever you’re going.
I use word count as a self editing tool.

message 9: by John (new)

John Pappas There are so many tools now. When I started writing I didn't know how to type so used a pencil and yellow lined paper. I wrote articles and three books that way and had lots of used yellow paper to get the fire going in the fireplace. Publishing was also more cumbersome. Publishers and agents were about the same, but editors at peridicals were easier to do business with because all the good magazines had fewer ads and more content and this was valued. Word count is one of the great tools that make things easier, maybe too easy. I learned to imagine a story and the length it had to be and then see the story itself and could hit it very close. But I had to count the words then and didn't want to do that more than a few times.

message 10: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (trishwilsonelizabethblack) | 1 comments I've never written drabbles but I have always been told to avoid novelettes and novellas because they're supposedly hard to sell. That all changed when I started writing erotic romance e-books. Most of the pubs welcome novellas and even prefer them. And I like writing short stories to submit to anthologies. Those shorts help me get a feel for a publisher without sacrificing a novel. Then I can decide if I want to submit more stuff to them.

message 11: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 51 comments I've reviewed a lot of e-novellas and e-novelettes. They seem to be a good size for an e-pub, and the price is right for something to read with that coffee or during your lunch-break.

message 12: by Anastasia (new)

Anastasia (the_book_girl) | 4 comments I use words more stringently when writing for online articles or stories. The reasoning is that people read differently online than they do with real paper hard copies. Online readers tend to have shorter attention spans, tend to scan rather than read fully, and the ease of clicking off to something else is always present thus a shorter word count is more valued (and often requested by) in online journals and mags.

message 13: by Christine (new)

Christine Husom | 41 comments I am a minimistic writer. I admire people who seem to have an endless flow of words in them, but I think it would be harder to have to cut a lot of words, then to add some. When I'm writing my books or stories, I go back and add a layer of words for expanded descriptions, like what the characters are doing when they're talking. Then I do that again, and sometimes again. In my mystery thrillers, I strive for that 80-90K mark, but my second book was about 65,000 and that was the story.

message 14: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 51 comments I suspect it's harder to cut than to add, though, now I've started editing my novel, I suspect it will be add then cut. Still, I'm enjoying the process.

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