How long should I make this?

One question that is common among new writers is how long their story should be. How long is a short story? How long is a book? How long is a novel? Instinctively, we know that the length of a work is not as important as the contents of the story. This same self-consciousness that has kept us from finishing our defining piece bogs us down with secondary concerns of how many words we must cram between the covers.

There is a danger in word counting. For instance: It is quite possibly the single and primary of all of the most insidious, evil, and deflating of all habits which and of which a writer, who is bogged down in the worries that their own self-consciousness and insecurities will manifest themselves in the minds of their hopeful and disappointed readers, is inclined to craft circuitous sentences with thoughts that are only a jumbled mass of a fragile ego. (69 words. Can you tell I have considered becoming a lawyer?)

Others worry about the number of pages they must fill:

These new and budding authors will sometimes choose ridiculously large font as padding.

The effect of this is identical to wordiness. It speaks primarily to the concern that we, the writer, will not be accepted as we are. I shows that we fear that we will be ignored.

“How long should my book be?” The important aspect is not how many words or pages are in your book. All that truly matters is that it begins in the beginning, and ends at the end.

There is a simple answer of course. Page number are dependent on font, layout, and size of the copy (ten point vs. fourteen point; proportional vs. monotype; single vs. double space; hardback vs. paperback). You can search the internet, but there are multiple definitions of the “proper” length of each work. The following is more of an opinion formed on an educated guess:

  • literary poetry: usually less than 500 words of images
  • flash fiction: ~200-1,000 words
  • short story: 1,000-7,500 words (sometimes up to 10,000)
  • novellette: 7,500-15,000 words (many do not recognize this category
  • novella: 15,000-40,000 words (alternatively, 10,000-30,000)
  • young adult: 30,000-60,000 words (50,000 is a good average)
  • novel: 60,000-150,000 words (100,000 is a good average)
  • epic or series: 150,000+ (Lord of the Rings)

In reality, length is not important. I would venture to guess that most publishers would rather read a good book than a long book. Remember also that the YA genre/length is the most popular today.They are also among the most successful and well-funded movies: The Hunger Games, Twilight….

Ulysses is unquestionably a novel due to its length. It is in fact one of the longest and most complex books ever written—slightly more than a quarter of a million words. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is an excellent and monumental work—all six thousand pages of it. Did Hemingway worry about whether The Old Man and the Sea was too short? Did Steinbeck worry that Of Mice and Men might need a few hundred extra pages? Moby Dick needed a few hundred pages cut out, which is why people read the abridged version generally.

For an example of a powerful story that shouldn’t be a word longer, Click Here to view my latest “Hero Worship” piece on Walter M. Miller.

More important than how long it is how good your story is. In fact, most authors should look for where they could cut rather than add. Others are so eager to get to the end that they miss the character. Rather than ask how long your work should be, I suggest the following questions: Will the reader know who my character is? Do I know who my Character is? Does anyone care? Could I split my expositions up and show my readers my world instead of explaining it?

Never ask, “Is this long enough?” Instead ask, “Is this the right length?”

NEXT WEEK: When it is okay to break rules?


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