As I have started writing my first book, one of my major questions has revolved around how long it should be. I’ve learned that many authors typically measure their works by the word count as opposed to the amount of pages.
There are a few specific things I’m trying to figure out…Should I start off with a short story? Or would a novelette be a better idea? Will this particular story be better as a novella? Or will it have enough detail to be a full-length novel? Let’s break down each and see which I should shoot for with my first attempt.
Back in grade school, I wrote multiple short stories for English assignments. Short stories are anywhere between 3,500 – 7,500 words and usually no more than just a few full size pages. They are easily read in one sitting while typically focusing on a single event or a brief story about a single main character. With the limited word count to fall into this category, it can be difficult to dive into the history of the story or character without detracting from the immediate plot.
- Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving (About 6,900 words)
- The Magic Shop by H.G. Wells (About 3,900 words)
- The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (About 3,700 words)
My current idea includes far more than just one character or a singular event. A short story won’t be enough space to develop my characters and provide the details I want to enhance the story.
Although this term is a bit less common, (due to many people now considering anything under 20,000 a short story) I still think it should be a separate category. A novelette could likely be compared to an hour long episode of a television show on Netflix. They range from 7,500 – 17,000 words, thus containing a much shorter story, generally with just one plot point. Most of the time, novelettes are published in groups or series.
- Macbeth by William Shakespeare (About 7,500 words)
- The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe (About 7,500 words)
- The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway (About 11,200 words)
Although, I would like my current idea to evolve into a series, I don’t think 17,000 words is enough to fulfill my desires for this particular story.
A novella can dive much deeper into a story than the previous two examples. With word counts between 17,000 – 40,000 words, novellas give the author more freedom to mix sub-plots, more detailed characters, and plot twists into their stories. Due to its shorter length, however, it will still contain less conflicts or details than a full novel. Oftentimes, spin off stories of larger novels are written in the form of novellas.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell (About 30,000 words)
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (About 30,000 words
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (About 28,000 words)
We’re getting closer. I think that my story could have the potential for a couple of spin off novellas, but that’s looking a bit too far ahead in my mind. I need to focus on the task at hand for now.
When it comes to fiction, this is the most common form one will find. Novels contain 40,000+ words, but more commonly will have at least 80,000 words. Much of this is dependent on the genre of the book. My first book’s genre is somewhere in the realm of fantasy and science fiction which has a standard word count of 90,000 – 100,000 words or more. Some epic length novels can far surpass that, such as the Harry Potter series which has word counts ranging all the way up to 257,000 words (The Order of the Phoenix).
This is the world I want to live in…novels.
I thought for a while that I should start slow and maybe write a couple of short stories or novelettes to get going, but my thirst for detail would be far from quenched with the word restrictions. I have many stories floating around in my mind and others already outlined on paper, just waiting to be turned into a novel. It will be a tall order to fill my pages with 90,000+ words, but with daily and weekly word count goals and dedication, the details and character development will cover the blank space in no time!
What is your genre? Do you prefer to read/write short stories, novelettes, novellas, or novels? Why?