90,000 and Counting

Third post in little more than a week. A couple of days ago, I hit 300 pages on my master manuscript, and now I have passed the 90,000 word barrier. The next one is the big one: 100,000 words, and I will pass that one as well. The current total is 90,013 words and the 90,000th was only. As ever, that only applies to now because it will change as the work is revised and redrafted.

Works of prose fiction are divided into several categories, based on book length. Texts up to 10,000 words in length are short stories. From 10,000 to 30,000 words is a novelette. 30,000 to 70,000 is a novella. 70,000 to 120,000 is a novel (with the average being 100,000). Above 120,000 words (and with no upper limit) a work is classed as an epic. I have several works of epic length in that their manuscripts are longer than 120,000 words. In my case, they only just break into epic territory. The longest of them, Rutter’s Revolt’ tips the scales at 135,694 words (including an About the Author section and a taster for the next book). The book, itself, is around 3,000 words shorter. Some authors write much longer works, some much shorter. The crucial thing is that a book should be as long as it needs to be, and not one word longer. That was a lesson I learned early on when my first proofreader tore the manuscript of my inaugural novel to shreds. Like the much later Rutter’s Revolt, it was about 135,000 words in length. Unlike Rutter’s Revolt, it contained vast swathes of waffle that served no purpose other than to pad the text out and increase the word count. I went back to the drawing board and wielded the axe on my text, chopping out a whopping 42,000 words! Some of these cuts were entire paragragraphs or even scenes. One of them was a whole chapter, but most were a word or two, here and there, which served no real function.

By the time it was published, Usurper was down to a length of just under 93,000 words, and a much better book for it. If it could afford to lose so many words, yet still emerge a better work for it, goes to demonstrate that those words should not have been included in the first place. Validation of this claim is that the book has always been one of my top sellers.

Two of the most famous, and popular works of the Nineteenth Century may surprise you with their brevity. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is little more than 30,000 words in length, while The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle is less than 60,000. Pointer for too many modern authors to consider. A book does not have to be long to be good.


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