a light dusting of snow surprised me this morning when i walked the puppies. the word count surprised me last - im nearly up to 13,000 words.
yes, judy, it does help to count the words. for one thing, the only thing an editor cares about in terms of length is word count. page count is immaterial - a 90,000 word novel can be compressed into 300 printed pages or expanded to over 400 depending on the size of font. so can manuscript pages - though a manuscript page is assumed to be roughly 250 words (double spaced, 11 pt font, 1 inch margins.)
but for me, word count is akin to counting mile markers on a long drive. it gives me a sense of where i am in the story ... by ten thousand words, for example, i know that not only should an initial conflict or complication have been introduced, to hook and grab the reader, but i also know that i need to have either resolved that initial conflict by means of introducing yet a larger conflict, OR i must add more information to develop that initial problem. in other words, whatever is bad at the beginning, has to get worse.
by twenty thousand, i know that certain things need to be stable - the introduction of all the important players in the story, for example. i don't generally like characters who show up late - even though a character who insists on bursting into a story arc can be quite an amazing addition to it. but it tends to confuse the reader if too many people come and go, and i seem to like stories with casts of thousands. so i like to limit who shows up after the first third or so.
by thirty thousand, i want the reader enmeshed in the world of the story. i want the reader to see and feel and know what the characters do and think and want. if i want to hook the reader in the first chapter, by thirty thousand words, i want to hold the reader entranced.
thirty to sixty thousand - the muddled middle - is probably the most difficult part for me. i like complicated stories with plot twists and character surprises, and sometimes it gets hard to keep track of all that in my head. that's when i resort to things like color coded paper for different scenes according to character point of view. i think i had six colors going in silver's lure until i decided to use the color-coding by plot thread, and that dropped it down to three.
once i reach the middle, and head toward the climax - usually somewhere in the 80,000's - it gets easier and my initial draft of the ending is usually something so abrupt as to be rude. "and then they all went home" is how i ended the first draft of one book just to end it (and those six words developed into something like six thousand by the time i handed in the manuscript.)
so to keep track of the number of words isn't just a progress report of how much i've accomplished. for me, its a roadmap of the story, and it helps me figure out what has to happen next.
and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.