Here’s a quick writing tip: if you’re writing fiction, start by deciding how many words your novel, novella, or serial needs. For efficient writing, deciding on a word count eliminates many uncertainties.
As you may know, I mentor authors. Last week, an author contacted me about her romantic mystery. After writing a few thousand words, she was ready to give up.
When I asked about her final word count, she wasn’t sure. So I suggested she start with that. Word count matters; it helps with characters, plotting, and the structure of your fiction.
Fiction writing tip: choose a word count
Think of your fiction as a journey. Whether you’re traveling around the globe, or home from work, you have a destination in mind. Your final word count is your destination.
The author chose 70,000 words for her romantic mystery.
If you’re struggling with word counts, here are word counts for popular genres:
- Romance: 50,000 (contemporary) to 120,000 (romantic fantasy, historical romance)
- Mystery/ thriller: 70,000 to 90,000
- Young adult: 55,000
- Fantasy/ Science Fiction: 75,000 to 100,000
- Literary fiction: 80,000 to 100,000
- Women’s fiction: 60,000 to 100,000
These word counts are guidelines. Today, especially in self-publishing, your word counts are up to you.
Once you’ve chose a word count, you can start plotting. (Or writing, if you’re a pantser.)
Word counts matter for structure and plotting: it’s your orientation device
Here’s a plotting structure which helps, because it orients you. You know your final word count, so you’ll know exactly where you are during the writing process.
- Setup: up to 25% of the novel.
- Midpoint: the middle; 50% of your novel.
- Twist: at around 80%.
- Dark moment: can occur anywhere from the 80% point to around 95%.
- Climax, at around 95%— think of it as the big bang, the culmination of everything. In a mystery, the climax is always the big reveal: the sleuth unmasks the killer.
New fiction author? Use this writing tip on every project: choose your final word count. Preferably, before you start writing.
You can change it at any time, if you wish. Adjust the other elements of your plots as needed.
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.