Everyone worries about word count. Whether you’re writing a first draft, trying to reach a daily goal, or revising, you’re probably worrying about your word count.
When You Shouldn’t Worry about Word Count:
- Writing your first draft. All first drafts suck. Everyone can cut from their first draft, taking away thousands of words at a time. Don’t worry about your word count during this stage.
- Reaching a daily goal. It doesn’t matter how much you write in a day. Some days you may write two thousand words and some days you may write five hundred. I’ve gone from zero one day to five thousand or more the next. Having a daily goal is fine, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach it every day.
- Writing chapters. Some chapters are one page long. Some are fifty. While different age groups have different chapter lengths (usually to keep the reader’s attention), you shouldn’t worry about chapter length. You can fix this later by splitting up scenes in to chapters.
When You Should Worry about Word Count:
- Final Revisions. Different genres have different word count boundaries, and for good reason. Knowing your genre is a must, and the word count for that genre comes along with it (unless you’re a famous author or a celebrity). Do all you can during your final revisions to get the word count within range.
- NaNoWriMo. You don’t have to worry too much about this, but the winners get some pretty good deals on writing software.
- Contests. There are contests for several genres, but those have word count limits. These word counts are often within the short story range, sometimes in the novellete range. Don’t go over these word counts. The judges will not make exceptions no matter how good your story is.
How to Lower your Word Count
- Adverbs. Writers don’t often realize how many adverbs they use. Using the “find” feature on Microsoft Word can really help with finding all these adverbs. Delete them. If you can’t delete them, rewrite the sentence. That can also get your word count down.
- Unnecessary Words. Words like to, through, under, at, onto, into, under, up, and down can often be omitted and the sentence will still work. Instead of saying She entered the room through the door say She entered the room or instead of saying the cat jumped up onto the bed say the cat jumped on the bed. Other unnecessary words include: adjective, articles, and pronouns.
- Scenes, Dialogue, and Information. Get rid of anything that is not needed. If a scene, a piece of dialogue, or some information does nothing to help plot or character development, get rid of it. I don’t care how much you love it.
- Redundant Phrases. Odds are you’ll find some redundant phrases in your writing. A big one in query letters is “fiction novel”.
- Transitional Phrases. Your high school English teacher probably pressed you to use these, but skip them in creative writing. Don’t use them in dialogue either, unless it fits the character’s personality (like the tenth doctor from Doctor Who, who often used “well” at the beginning of his sentences).
- Description. Don’t over do the description. No one cares what the store clerk looks like or what color your protagonist’s brother’s room is.
- Active Voice. Writing in active voice cuts down your word count a lot…if you weren’t doing that already.
- Dialogue Tags. Not every line of dialogue needs a tag or an explanation of the character’s action. Their words alone can give off a tone and the reader will be able to pick up possible body language and facial expressions.
How to Raise your Word Count
- Subplots.Add subplots. These help flesh out your characters and your world. It gives more opportunity to introduce new ideas and relationships between characters. Here is a subplot resource post.
- Introduce a New Character. But this character has to be relevant. This character may come along with a new subplot or even the main plot. Odds are, they’ll add a few thousand words.
- More Conflict. Raise the stakes for your character. Make them take a wrong turn (literally or figuratively). This will add more relevant scenes and keep your reader interested…as long as it’s interesting.
- Add Description. I know I said to cut description, but some of it can be helpful. Put your reader in your character’s place. Use all five senses, not just sight.
- Revise. You may find plot holes or missing information. You may even add a scene for clarity.
Word Counts* by Genre:
- Adult: 75k - 95k
- General Sci-fi: 100k - 115k
- Hard Sci-fi: 90k - 110k
- General Fantasy: 100k - 11k
- Epic Fantasy: 90k - 120k
- Contemporary Fantasy: 90k - 120k
- Urban Fantasy: 90k - 100k
- Paranormal Romance: 85k - 100k
- Romance: 85k - 100k
- Horror: 80k - 100k
- Mystery/Crime/Thriller: 75k - 90k
- Middle Grade: 25k - 40k
- Fantasy/Sci-fi Middle Grade: 45k - 65k
- Upper Middle Grade: 35k - 45k
- Young Adult: 50k - 80k
- Picture Book: 300 - 1k
- For All Debut Authors: Try not to exceed 100k
*There are exceptions to word count. These are just guidelines.