Want to write a novel in 2021? Whether it’s your first, fourth or fiftieth manuscript, there are certain considerations that can help you get off the starter blocks. Here are three things I often recommend to writers. (If you have other tips to add, do leave them in the comments!)
1) Your Chapter Length
What should your chapter length be? Well, as my writing site Bang2write always says, there’s no rule or standard on anything writing-related. This means it depends … but how do we decide?
I think it can be good to consider what other writers have done and/or think about it. This useful article from WordCounter.net breaks it down as follows:
- Some writers believe 2500 words per chapter is optimum
- Others believe it’s somewhere between 3-5,000 words
- Most writers agree under 1000 words is too short
- They also agree over 5000 words is too long
- ALL writers agree chapter length should be defined by the story
Myself, I usually write chapters somewhere between 1500 and 2500 words. One of the reasons I do this is because I write crime fiction. I like to use cliff-hangers at the end of chapters, plus I know my target audience loves to read on Kindle. Sure enough, lots of my reviews have praised my short chapters on this basis. Result!
TOP TIP: Consider the genre and style you’re writing, as well as your readers’ preferences. This will help you land on a ‘ballpark figure’ to aim for if you’re stuck.
2) Your Book’s Overall Word Count
Just like chapters, book length should obviously be dictated by the story. That said, it can be very helpful again to consider what other writers have done in the past. It can also be useful to consider what your readers prefer.
A while back, B2W did an informal survey of literary agents, book editors, beta readers, book bloggers and publishers I knew. I asked them their thoughts on ‘ideal’ wordcounts for various genres. This is what they came back with …
- Literary and epic fantasy: 100-120K
- Crime, Romance, Horror, Comedy etc: 70-90K
- YA and Erotica: 50-70K
- Novellas: 20-40K
- Short Stories: Up to approx. 1500-10K(ish)
Obviously you will have read books that are way outside these word counts, but it is still offers useful perimeter. Another thing worth thinking about: the ‘newer’ writer you are, the more you probably want to err on the shorter end. Generally speaking, the more experienced writers tend to get the longer word counts.
TOP TIP: Consider what has gone before in your genre when it comes to overall word count. Also think about ‘where’ you are on the writing ladder. If you’re a debut author, try and be as lean as possible.
3) Your Daily Word Count
How many words can you write daily, weekly, monthly towards your masterpiece? This will obviously be personal and depend on other factors in your life … This may include (but is not limited to) such things as your day job, family and/or caring commitments or health challenges.
However, many writers just don’t know where to start with setting targets. This means they set themselves writing targets that are not achievable. As a result, they de-motivate themselves or even get ‘blocked’ and come to a complete halt.
I recommend coming up with a word count you can stay on top of easily. This means that every word you go beyond that feels like a BONUS. This sense of positivity can prove useful in spurring you on. For this reason, I think 300-500 words a day on your novel is a great number. I have recommended to this many of my ‘Bang2writers’ and they report it has helped them finish their novels.
(Remember, 300 words a day x 30 days = 9000 words! Not too shabby at all.)
However, maybe you can’t / don’t want to write every day? I hear that. I am what I call a ‘binge writer’. Instead of writing every single day, I like to splurge words out until I have none left. This means every writing session I aim for approximately 2000 words. I try and do this a minimum of twice a week, meaning my target each week is 4000 words. 4000 words x 4 weeks = 16000 words!
But don’t just listen to me. Here’s the word counts of 5 famous authors, including the prolific Stephen King. (I would have put real money on him having a MUCH higher word count, so just as well I am not a gambling woman!).
Whatever you think is a good word count for you, what’s important is creating a meaningful goal.
Once you have this goal, you need to …
- Work out a plan on how to achieve it
- Ensure you have a ‘when by’ date to focus you
- Evaluate your progress
- Tweak as necessary
The fourth is especially important since LIFE HAPPENS. If you work with that expectation in mind, you are far more likely reach your goal. You know what they say … ‘Failure to plan is planning to fail’!
TOP TIP: Have a goal in mind and personalized strategy to get it done, as well as ‘when by’ date to keep focused.
Lucy V. Hay is a script editor, author and blogger who helps writers. She’s been the script editor and advisor on numerous UK features and shorts & has also been a script reader for 20 years, providing coverage for indie prodcos, investors, screen agencies, producers, directors and individual writers. She’s also an author, publishing as both LV Hay and Lizzie Fry. Lizzie’s latest, a serial killer thriller titled The Good Mother is out now with Joffe Books, with her sixth thriller out in 2024. Lucy’s site at www.bang2write.com has appeared in Top 100 round-ups for Writer’s Digest & The Write Life, as well as a UK Blog Awards Finalist and Feedspot’s #1 Screenwriting blog in the UK (ninth in the world.). She is also the author of the bestselling non-fiction book, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays: From TV Pilot To Feature Film (Creative Essentials), which she updated for the streaming age for its tenth anniversary in 2023.