Word Count: The Non-Rule Rule

When people talk about how long the word count of a novel should be, they say, “there really is no rule….” But, then they go off talking about some “guidelines” of the “right length” of a novel.

“There’s really no set rule, but you shouldn’t go below insert word count or above insert word count.”

So here’s my question: How long or short can a novel be?

A lot of writers overwrite, so they spend most of their editing process cutting out scenes and trimming. I have the opposite problem, I underwrite. That means the whole of my editing phase is spend trying to find new subplots to put in and which scenes to expand or show. The problem with both of these issues, is how to know when to stop. When do you stop trimming, when do you stop expanding?

I’ve found this little chart on the internet referring to the “right” word count of a novel:

80,000 – 89,999:       Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:   Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:            Too short
110,000 or above       Too long

It would seem this makes sense, until you go on to research how long a novel should be according to it’s genre. Apparently, a middle grade novel is good at 20,000 – 35,000 words, and a young adult can be as low a 75,000 words. Which also makes sense, as many younger kids aren’t going to be reading an 110,000 word epic novel. So, the end answer is “it depends.”

Yeah, okay, real helpful.  

The truth is, there is only so much manipulating you can do to a book to show the word count you want it to. Some books are simply not long enough to be a novel, some are too long and need to be broken up. But, again, the problem comes in, on how long is too long and how short is too short.

Here’s some food for thought, “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton is only around 48,000 words. That’s a good solid novel, too. My rule for word count, is based on how long it takes me to read the book, and if the book feels long enough to be a novel in my hands. This means, that if you can somehow get a book to be at least two hundred pages, I’ll think of it as a novel because it feels like one. As for how long it takes me to read it, if I decide to read the whole book in one sitting, it should take me at least two or three hours. Otherwise, if I pick up the book fairly regularly to read, it should take me a number of days.

So in the end, for me, if a book feels like a novel, and reads like a novel, I’ll consider it a novel.


2 thoughts on “Word Count: The Non-Rule Rule

  1. Patrisya says:

    After reading many books in my life, I came to the conclusion that 200 pages is a minimum for an author to elaborate the story. However, it happens sometime that very short novels are also good but it depends on how good the writer is. I feel the same about very long novels- 700 pages or more. When the story is really interesting and author’s writing style is great I do not want the book to end. On the other hand, when the novel is boring it is so tiring to read the whole book.


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