I always worry that my novels are too short. Soul Lost is my longest at 81,000 words, but Megan is much shorter, only 47,000. A book that has not yet seen the light of day, The People of the Green Hills, is more epic in my mind, but on paper it is only 67,000 words. For frame of reference, J.K. Rowling’s Sorcerer’s Stone is 77,000 words, but the massive Order of the Phoenix is 257,000. 257,000? Holy cow! That’s a lot of words!
Right now with “Maisie’s List,” I’ve just cracked 23,000 words at what is probably the halfway point. Telling the rest of the story, and filling out Peter’s far-too-thin first dating experience, I think I can hit 50,000. Longer than Megan, but not much. Hmm. Do I need to add “stuff” to make it longer? Should I consider the over 60,000 mark a bottom line?
I decided to look at some of my other favorite books to get an idea if my writing has any precedent, and this is what I found out:
- Fahrenheit 451 46,118
- The Great Gatsby 47,180
- Jane Eyre 183,858 (What!?)
- Pride and Prejudice 120,697 (Yeah, that’s not happening for me.)
- A Christmas Carol 28,944 (Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!)
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 46,333
- The Fellowship of the Ring 187,990 (The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy is a whopping 481,128!)
So some yes and some no. Some very famous and successful books are very, very short. The Old Man and the Sea is 26,601, for example, and Of Mice and Men is 29,160.
I found this article I’d like to share with anyone who shares my concern about coming up short on word count. With credit to Ian McEwan and The New Yorker, “Some Notes on the Novella,” October 29, 2012:
I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated, ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days). And this child is the means by which many first know our greatest writers. Readers come to Thomas Mann by way of “Death in Venice,” Henry James by “The Turn of the Screw,” Kafka by “Metamorphosis,” Joseph Conrad by “Heart of Darkness,” Albert Camus by “L’Etranger.” I could go on: Voltaire, Tolstoy, Joyce, Solzhenitsyn. And Orwell, Steinbeck, Pynchon. And Melville, Lawrence, Munro. The tradition is long and glorious. I could go even further: the demands of economy push writers to polish their sentences to precision and clarity, to bring off their effects with unusual intensity, to remain focused on the point of their creation and drive it forward with functional single-mindedness, and to end it with a mind to its unity. They don’t ramble or preach, they spare us their quintuple subplots and swollen midsections.
Pretty cool, huh? Read the rest here: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/some-notes-on-the-novella.
Enough. The real “Bottom Line” is you need enough words to tell the story. Tell a great story, create great characters, and cover your plot holes. Voila. Done.
I’m going back to work.