Word Count Woes

By Eleanor Shelton

As we all know, stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Nothing new there. But just how many words it takes to get there is highly regulated, especially for debut novelists. All novels should be at least 60,000 words. Otherwise, they’re novellas. Less than 20,000, and they’re short stories. And depending on what kind of story you write there are established boundaries that are not to be crossed.

Loosely they look something like this for Fiction (of course there are different counts for Nonfiction, duh):

Literary- 60,000-110,000

Romance-60,000-90,000

Mystery/Thriller-80,000-100,000

Fantasy/SciFi-85,000-110,000 (takes extra words to world build)

Dickensian dystopian historical-150,000 (but Dickens wouldn’t get traditionally published in today’s market.)

So, what do you do when your thriller is 130,000 words? I ask for a friend.
Bad enough we’re dealing with quarantine weight.

You’ve already trimmed it from 142,000. No extraneous subplots, already reviewed sentence by sentence. To make matters worse, “my friend,” told an agent at a live pitch event that the thriller in question was 115,000 words, and even then she asked if it could be trimmed.

“Of course, no problem,” my friend said, feigning a whole lot of confidence. She was happy to hear it and asked to see the entire manuscript. Aarrgh…

So, what to do when your story is a little flabby in the middle? Exercise it.

As K.M. Weiland says in her podcast, it’s time to take a closer look at why your story has gained so much weight. Examine the manuscript for extras like extra subplots, extra secondary characters, and flabby scenes that slow the story. 

Yes, I’m an over-writer! There, I admitted it in public. I have a problem. But I’ve reviewed for filter words, scaled-down descriptions, eliminated redundant dialogue, scanned for the passive voice, and even chopped whole scenes and chapters. How many instances of “the” and “that” did I jettison? Plenty.

This is good for my writing. I get that it’s like eating kale instead of ice cream. Discipline is something all writers need to strive for, not just in writing religiously but in reviewing every word’s merit. A trim novel is a happy novel.

But just in case I don’t make it, is there a way to disconnect the Word Count function? Maybe the agents won’t notice.    

5 Ways to Cut Your Word Count

How to Reduce Your Word Count

Why Word Count Matters

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