Throwing You Some Rope, More or Less

A writer’s job is to tell a story. Words are the medium. A writer jabs his brush into his pallet of words and begins to paint a picture one word at a time. I feel that my first effort was a good one and is one that I am proud of, but one thing that I pay closer attention to these days is how much “paint is going on my canvas.” I am more careful about the words I use.

coil of ropeI am a big fan of using only the words you need to tell your story—word counts be damned! In high school I had an English teacher who would answer the how-long-does-it-have-to-be question with, “As long as a piece of rope.” It seems that many would-be authors are asking a similar question wanting to know what’s a respectable word count for a full length novel. I asked the same question. I guess a first time writer needs a target to shoot for.

The general answer is a shifting one and ranges anywhere from a minimum of 60,000 – 75,000 for a short novel to 80,000 and beyond for a more substantial one.  The trend seems to be towards heftier books, but I am not convinced that longer is always better. When I wrote my first book I have to admit that I was obsessive about at least reaching the 60,000 word threshold.  I made it to 67,000 words with a sigh of relief.

There are so many ways to market your work these days that I think a word count should be less of a concern than the quality of content.  Magazine fiction, Kindle Singles (e-published short stories), Young Adult fiction, short story compilations, novellas, the internet, etc. You may not even be interested in charging for your work, in which case you need not be concerned with length at all.

I find that I have a bad habit with redundancy, saying the same thing twice. So I have to periodically go back through my writing on a search and destroy mission removing all the weaker repetitions.  Keep it tight. If it doesn’t pertain, leave it out. In a nod to Mr. Knox, my eleventh grade English teacher, take only the amount of rope needed for the job.

Photo: Thinkstock

6 comments on “Throwing You Some Rope, More or Less

  1. Great post. It’s hard not to think about length, but quality has to be more important. I’m glad there is a way to publish shorts now. Takes the pressure off.

  2. “I find that I have a bad habit with redundancy, saying the same thing twice.”


    And helpful.

  3. Fantastic post, I completely agree with you – every story will be as long as it needs to be.
    Sure you can edit and parse and trim, but the basic size/chapters/word-count will be what it will be and we need to not get bogged down by that stuff. If I write with a word count, I think a “maximum” limit is better because that kind of thing trains you to be clearer in your thoughts since you can’t always afford to ramble.
    Personally I’m looking at doing loads of short stories (like many writers used to do in the old days) and use every idea I have, even ones that are meant for a book or a comic or a movie or anything – if I have a story to tell, lay the groundwork in a short so that its there and someday maybe I’ll come back to it if it’s good enough.
    In the meantime I’m going to check out this Kindle Singles thing – is it good/safe/worthwhile in your experience?

    • I too am looking onto Kindle Singles. AS I understand it, It is the same process as publishing a full length novel but they are marketed as singles so that the buyer is aware that it is a shorter length and therefore usually a lesser amount is charged. But some people are making some pretty good money charging as much as $2.99 for a short story. I need to get some more information but I think it is as safe as publishing anything as an e-book.

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