Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Weighing Words

Writers are less obsessed about word count than they once were. That may be to their peril.

Word count is one way to measure writing. It is, perhaps, the worst way. In general, there are three length categories in fiction, the short story, the novella and the novel. There is no universally agreed upon length for each. No one can say which word puts you over the line from short story to novella or novella to novel. Various prizes for literature place the novella as somewhere between 7,500 and 40,000 words.

Most of my novels have run about 100,000 words, give or take the length of a novella or two. The novel I’m working on now is likely to be about 75,000 when it is finished. In draft form I’m up to about 50,000 words now. So, hurrah,  I have a novel. By length alone, this blog would qualify as a novella at more than 10,000 words to date.

Every reviewer--every reader, for that matter--would tell you it is quality not quantity that is important. They are kidding themselves. Sure, you want quality, but you also want to purchase or borrow entertainment time. You literally weigh (estimate) the worth of a physical book. You feel like someone is trying to put one over on you if the book you’re considering is priced the same as its neighbor, but half the size. When you consider an audio book, the number of hours of entertainment it gives you enters into the decision. In the case of audio books it may be only that you’re driving to Pocatello and back and need a book of a certain length, of course.

I hear writers now talking about word count in a totally different way than in the past. The gist of this discussion is that you don’t have to write a 100,000 word book anymore. E-books let you get away with writing a 50,000 word book and dumping it on the market. You could write two books in the time it takes you to write one!

Books are a commodity, so writers can be forgiven for thinking that way. I believe they will eventually regret the pump-it-out philosophy, though. Readers are not stupid. They will begin to feel cheated by novels that are clearly produced just to provide a minimum amount of entertainment.

There will always be some who are reading just to fill time rather than to enrich their lives. For them, the novella, perhaps even one on the skinny side of the scale, will be good enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment