Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Counting The Words

Of all of the cardinal rules we hear from literary agents and publishers, staying within a certain word count is among the biggest.  Most ask for word counts around 65,000, which I think is an insanely small number.  However, they insist that no reader will go beyond this.

That's ludicrous.  Such things are said by those who don't trust the audience to hold an attention span greater than that of a gnat.  These are the folks who pump out crappy serial novel after crappy serial novel in efforts to sell as many simple books as possible.  There's no one more interested in making money in this business than I am, but by insisting on such small counts, we neuter our novels and insult the intelligence of the reader.

I think that an in-depth novel can tell a good story in about 90,000 words, although there's no crime in going beyond that.  The Stand, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Interview With The Vampire all exceed these counts.  I know what you're thinking - RD, those are novels done by masters; there's no way we could put together something that great.  That's bullshit - we can put together novels like that; we're just not given the chance.

Of course, here's where I get contradictory - if you go too overboard, consider whether you're telling multiple stories.  My novel Fight or Flight will be over 230,000 words in the first draft, but I'm basically telling three different stories, and I accept that.  Each act is a new novel that can stand alone - I've simply decided to bundle them to save readers the time and trouble of buying all three separately.

Don't be afraid to go in depth.  Some stories, especially those meant for intelligent adult readers, can't be told in 65,000 words because they'd be inadequate; our readers would be better off buying a picture book.  So stretch yourself and don't be afraid to tell that epic tale.  The readers you want will thank you.

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