Does word count still ‘count’?

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I began writing my current novel back in late 2014 after attending a Creative Writing course. The tutor wanted the first few chapters, or 5000 words, by the end of the 8 week course.  So I charged ahead, surprised at how easily and quickly the words came.  Throughout the course she told us time and time again that the minimum you should aim for most novels is at least 70,000 words.  I say most because fantasy fictions usually have a much higher word count, in fact closer to the 100k word mark.  So OK, it is genre specific which was fine because my novel would fall in the thriller/mystery section so that was totally achievable.

Except it wasn’t and as I approached what I was confidently calling to anyone who’d listen, ‘the halfway mark’, I knew that I was already approaching the lead up to the books’ climax! So what went wrong I hear you ask?  Well nothing, actually it’s just the way the story developed.  Did I not have enough material to begin with?  No.  Maybe I had ‘told’ more than ‘shown’? I hope not, but that’s what second, third and fourth drafts are for right?  But if 70,000 is the industry standard then how can something like NANOWRIMO, that encourages members to write a novel in one month, legitimately claim that 50,000 equates to novel length?  Although I have never taken part in NANOWRIMO I can definitely see its merits.  Surely the point is to write without worrying too much about the length of your novel too much.  As the old adage goes it’s surely ‘quality rather than quantity?  However, judging by some of the comments in forums, quite often it’s neither of those things when it comes to some of the work up on the site.  But I digress slightly, my point is that if 50,000 is good enough for everyone that uses NANOWRIMO as a starting point, then maybe we could take comfort in that.  Many famous novels such as Animal Farm by George Orwell is only 154 pages long; The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, only 64 pages; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 166 pages.  Did brevity ever do them any harm? Heck no, in fact they have been made into many films, TV series and stage adaptations.  And surely nobody wants to fill their book with pointless, irrelevant prose just for the sake of the word count and also at the sake of pace, something that in my novel is key.  In today’s electronic age, where books can be downloaded and read on phones, tablets and e-readers and people have less time to sit down and read a physical book or tend to read ‘on-the-go’, surely brevity is an advantage?  Doesn’t it mean that short books will get read quicker and reviewed sooner? That means that your book will be talked about sooner than if it was longer.  That’s how I see it anyway.  Furthermore, if you do self-publish (which I intend to do) and upload your book electronically, no-one is going to see the page or word count.  Just a percentage.  So yes word count does matter, up to a point.  So my advice to you is to just write.  Don’t conform if you don’t need to.  Do what feels natural, what feels right to you.

I’d like to end on a quote I came across on Twitter the other day that sums up my sentiment exactly:

“Why the brevity? Because I’d rather people read my book twice than only half-way through” – Mohsin Hamid

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2 thoughts on “Does word count still ‘count’?

  1. Absolutely true. Thank you for writing this post.
    What other activity would one have to continue pointlessly just to satisfy an arbitrary metric?
    Quality not quantity and suitability within the context.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes I absolutely agree! Thanks for writing this! Quality vs. Quantity. I want to keep readers turning the page, not getting bored. As for the 50k NaNo mark, the Great Gatsby is exactly 50k and look at it! It’s a masterpiece.

    Liked by 1 person

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