Ok, so you’ve already settled one matter — you’re writing a novel. This thing you’ve got inside your head, this thing you just need to tell, would only burst through the stitches of a short story format. This thing, whatever it is, taking shape slowly but surely in your writer’s mind, could only take the form of a legitimate book. Something that your reader can carry around with them, dip in and out of, wander through, get lost inside. 10,000 words isn’t going to cut it. But what about 20,000? 40,000? 100,000? How many words is it going to take?
In this dilemma, labels aren’t important. However, length is. So what goes into determining it?
Of course, readers don’t count words. And these days with Kindles, they’re more likely to think in terms of completion percentage than in pages. What does matter for the reader, though, is the journey they go on, and time spent does factor into this experience. Time spent on the main plot. Time spent on subplots. Time spent trying to remember all of your characters’ names.
Let’s forget about word counts, pages, labels, and focus instead on the meat of your book. Here are the questions you should be asking yourself when considering the length of your story.
- How many principal characters do you have? Is their story just as enriching to share without the in-depth involvement of minor characters?
- How important of a role does exposition play in your story? Do subplots, parallel actions, and backstories serve an undeniable purpose?
- What is the time duration of your story in terms of years? Is it pertinent to the narrative to account for all time logged, or is it more effective to skip over large chunks of time?
- What is your writing style? Terse? Poetic? Scientific? Literary? This won’t always influence length, but some styles do favor shorter/longer formats over others.
- How many locations are necessary to tell your story?
Since there are no clear-cut rules to story length, or even to the definition of what is a novel and what is a novella, the above questions are only meant to serve as rough guidelines to help you think this matter through. In the end, it’s all about packaging. It can be easier to market novellas to certain demographics and likewise for novels. We’ll touch upon “novel” vs “novella” in marketing terms in one of our future blog posts.
When writing a novel, if you’re still struggling with format, here’s an easy exercise you can try. Create two presentations for your story: a fat one and a skinny one. Pitch them to friends and family and gauge their reactions. If your story with all the trimmings holds their attention, you may want to go for the full version. If you catch their eyes glazing over, their may be certain elements (characters, subplots, etc.) that you could do without, thus shortening page count.
Ultimately a 50,000-word novella should be really tight. And a 200,000-word novel should be really epic. Everything in between is up to your best judgment, though Authorpreneurlaunch is here to help you out with your strategy.
— Marquina (@Marquina) November 4, 2015