How do you know how long your story will be?

One of the comments left on my last post was:

Wolf Lahti said:

How do you know you’re writing a novella?
Knowledge of end word count is something that always boggles me, but many writers toss off phrases such as, “I have 28,142 words to go before I’m done!” How can they know this? To me, I never know whether I’m writing a short-short or a multi-series epic until I’m finished with the durn thing.

It’s a good question.  How do you know, before you even start, how long your story will be?

Well you can never tell exactly (unless you are more special than me) but you can usually work out an approximate wordcount.  And the wordcount really depends on the scope and complexity of your story.

Lets start with the easy stuff.  What’s the difference between a novel and a novella?  In terms of word count a novel is usually 80-120k words (depending on genre) and a novella is usually 20-50k words.

How you know you are writing one and not the other comes down to the elements of the story.  Novellas have no subplots and they generally have only one protagonist.  You’re writing a simple story, usually about one person, where the road travels from A to B without deviation.  To tell the story, you will probably need between 20 and 40 scenes.

If the story involves multiple characters, subplots and a complex world, you’re more likely writing a novel.  You will need up to 100 scenes to tell the story.

If the story in your head is simply a character and a single event, you’re writing a short story.  Depending on the depth of idea and character, this can be anywhere from 1k words to 15k words.  You’ll usually only have a few scenes, anywhere from 1 to 10 to tell the story.

So the rest of the question, how do you know how many words you have left to write?  You can usually judge from your own writing how long it takes you on average to write a scene.  I vary between 1,000 and 2,000 words to complete a scene.  So I know that if there are only 3 scenes left until the end, that I will have about 4,500 words left to write.  Sometimes it’s more, sometimes less.  It’s never an exact science.  But you can make educated guesses based on your history.

As to knowing how many scenes you will need to finish your story, well, that’s another post entirely.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “How do you know how long your story will be?

  1. Thanks for another informative post. You covered a subject that seems obvious, but that I’d never thought about.

    Request for an answer to another obvious question: how do you define a “scene”?

  2. If the story involves multiple characters, subplots and a complex world, you’re more likely writing a novella. You will need up to 100 scenes to tell the story.

    I think you mean “novel” in this paragraph. Otherwise, I concur, breaking it down by how many scenes it will take to tell it is a good way of judging.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s