Tuesday, December 9, 2008


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.


Lynette said...

that is all i can say

Martha said...

Why, my brain hurts just from thinking about all those potentially uncooperative words, characters, and plot lines. I have trouble in this universe, much less one of my own creation.
Bowing down towards the East in awe!

Martha said...

Dearest Annie, I forgot (under the influence of children, need I say more?) re. the fitness ball, yes, the size of the ball is based on height, I am 5'4", and the 55 cm ranges from 5 feet to 5'7", the 65 cm for taller folks. www.fitball.com has more info
Also, I think it's wonderful you like Clarissa. I adored the BBC video from 15 plus years ago of Clarissa, it's hard to find, a real treat.

Lynette said...

BTW surprise

annie kelleher said...

omg you just about made me FAINT!!!! and martha.. get up girl, get up...

Allison said...

Thanks for explaining the type of landmark that words provide. I'm at the 30,000 word muddled middle part. Still trying to wrap my brain around your color coded system.

Walk in the Woods said...

You rock syster writer-witch-woman!

Christina said...

Thanks for the well wishes I will update more on this soon!

Pink Ink said...

Hi! That's awesome with your word count. Keep it up!!

Great thoughts on mile markers, things to measure against.

For me the 60-70k range is always exciting. The marker says, THE END.

Patrice said...


That was a great little tour through the stages of pages. Very helpful. And I know exactly what you mean about the ending! "Then they all went home" is just what I've felt like writing. JUST to get it over with.

With my memoir, I often make a good start on my funny little anecdotal chapters, and then get to the part which takes more thinking, where I resort to editorial brackets, like [talk about everything else that happened.]

Kim said...

Wow, arn something new every day. You keep counting!!

Judy Vars said...

That is very interesting, thank you for sharing the mechanics of a book. Still in my estimation anyone that can write chapter books is a very gifted individual, you are a very impressive witch-woman!!!!
Judy V.