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Nov 17, 2012

NaNoWriMo Tip #17: Why You Should Learn To Think In Wordcount


A Boyd's rainforest dragon (Hypsilurus boydii)

These are my personal tips for NaNoWriMo. You know the drill. Take only what works.

Remember when your teacher told you to write a report on gladiolas that had to be ten pages long, so you changed the margins to 2 inches and the font to fourteen point Gils Sans Ultra Bold and BINGO you had a ten page paper? Yeah, you really fooled her! She never saw that trick before, you sly fox.

But guess what, you can’t fool yourself. You know that page count doesn’t mean squat, so stop calculating how much you’re writing every day by page count. Page count is easily manipulated; it changes based on a million factors. There’s an entire profession devoted to manipulating page count, called a typesetter.

What doesn’t change is word count.

Different genres have different ideal word counts. A children’s chapter book is about 6,000 words. A Young Adult novel or a category romance is about 75,000 words. An adult thriller is about 90,000. A fantasy tome is 120,000 plus.

Nobody says, “A fantasy has five hundred pages” because that’s meaningless. A Young Adult novel may have large type and a padded word count to make it look heftier; a fantasy blockbuster might use a dense, elfin font to squeeze twice that number of words into the same size book so it doesn’t break the bank to print it.

Ebooks, by the way, make these games irrelevant. The reader controls the font size. The writer controls…word count.

It’s weird, at first, trying to think in word count, but there’s an easy way to train yourself to grasp it intuitively. As you type, look for the Tool in your word processing program that says Word Count. In MS Word, it’s in the drop-down menu under Tools. Select a paragraph, check the word count. Select a page, check the word count. Select an entire chapter, check the word count. Write down how many words are in each scene and chapter after you finish it. 

Pretty soon you will be able to plan in word count. “I need three more 1000 word scenes.” You’ll be aim for a certain word count before you even begin a book. You’ll know that in a 90,000 word novel with thirty chapters, each chapter needs to hit 3,000 words. If you know you write longer scenes that tend to be 6,000 words each, you’ll know already that you’re going to want only 15 chapters. Or, if your scenes run only 1,500 words, you might have 60 chapters.

In The Unfinished Song, for instance, I have a set number of chapters that remains constant for each book. There are seven chapters, period. Within the chapter, I have between ten and twelve separately labeled scenes of about 1000 words each. Toward the beginning of the book, I write longer scenes. Toward the end, I shorten the scenes to pick up the pace of the action. The overall word count of the chapter, however, doesn’t change, so when I write shorter scenes, I know I’m also going to have more of them.

I also know how many words I have to write per day in order to finish a book in a given amount of time. Like NaNoWriMo.

I didn’t always write so deliberately. When I started out, I just tossed out the scene and let it plop out however it happened to land. This may sound great, but often the result was a mess, with long, dull scenes growing up right when I needed to have sleek, swift scenes, and choppy short scenes when I didn’t want them. Learning to think in word count helped me tame this confusion and plan my novels—and my work day—every day.

1 comment:

Gina @ My Precious said...

I love all your tips, even though I'm not sure exactly what NaNoWriMo is all about. I would love to write a book myself, I don't think I'd have a problem being disciplined to write, my problem is I never have an idea for a great story.

PS: That dragon's eye is GORGEOUS!