Writing Fiction And Story Length: How Many Words?

Writing Fiction And Story Length: How Many Words?

You’re writing fiction. You want to know how much to write… How many pages? I often get questions about length for novels, novellas and short stories, so it’s worth looking at this.

I find “pages” confusing, because print books’ pages can have huge variations in formatting. And of course, in ebooks there’s Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC), which can be considerably different from the number of your novel’s pages that you estimated.

So let’s focus on how many words in fiction. When it comes to length, it’s easer when you count words.

Writing fiction and length: it depends…

Writing fiction and length: it depends

We talked about how many scenes you need this post, Writing Short Stories: How Many Scenes Do You Need?

Over the years, for my own rule of thumb, I’ve estimated novels to be somewhere between 50,000 and 90,000 words. That said, a lot depends on the genre.

For example, Science Fiction and Fantasy novels tend to be longer. It’s all that world-building. 🙂

In the Romance genre, word counts vary widely. Contemporary Romances (many are at 50,000 to 60,000 words) tend to be shorter than Historical Romances, for example, which may come in at 120,000 words. Again, with the historicals, it’s the world-building.

In today’s world, length doesn’t matter

How long or short your fiction happens to be doesn’t matter in today’s world. No one’s chopping down forests of trees for your Kindle ebooks, after all. KENPC may or may not matter to you, again, depending on the genre in which you write.

That said, readers have expectations. So let’s say that you’re writing in a genre which is new to you. How do you know how many words to write?

Writing in a new-to-you genre: guesstimating your word count

Here’s what I’d do, and what I suggest to my students.

  1. Read in the genre, and make a note of the word count. Look at the top sellers in that genre. That’s usually an efficient guide to readers’ expectations.
  2. Ask. Check with authors of that genre. You’ll find these authors in Facebook groups, as well as mailing lists. Ask what word counts they use.

How to fix it if your novel’s way under the word count for the genre

Another popular question: what if your novel’s too short? 🙂

Let’s say that you’re writing a historical romance with paranormal elements. You’re aiming for 100,000 words, but you’re at the mid-point with its major plot twist, and you realize… you’ve only written 30,000 words. At that rate, you’ll finish at 60,000 words.

You’ve got choices:

  • Accept it. This is the length for this novel. That’s perfectly fine. It’s completely up to you — no one’s making any rules, when you’re self-publishing, other than the ones you make for yourself;
  • Slip in a sub-plot or two. I’d insert at least one sub-plot, and I’d juice up a couple of minor characters. Who knows? You might decide to write a series.

There are no rules when you’re writing fiction today, especially if you’re self-publishing; there are only reader expectations. Your fiction’s length is what you decide it will be.

Have fun. 🙂

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Angela Booth is a top copywriter, multi-published author, and writing teacher. She offers many guides, courses and classes to help writers to enhance their skills on her websites. She also provides inspiration and motivation for writers on her writing blogs. Angela has been writing successfully since the late 1970s, and was online in the 1980s, long before the birth of the Web. Her business books have been widely published.