Discussion: Word Count VS Word Quality

One of the things I encounter a lot when I’m mentoring, or speaking to new authors, is the question, “What’s the average word count for _____?”

It’s not uncommon for new authors to face this daunting question, then fashion their work according to the rule of “word count”. My answer, however, never changes. I tell the, “Focus on the quality of the words, not the word count.”

I know there are naysayers out there who firmly believe in stringent rules for word counts. A novel must be over 60-75k words. Unless it’s in the Fantasy genre. Then we aim higher for 90k words. While these are fair goals to shoot for, it can start to hinder progress. If the author is caught up in shaving, or padding their story, the story itself suffers.

An author needs to be focused on things like character development, story development, timelines, grammar, and plot. Without these, who cares how many words are in between the front and back cover? I’ve encountered a fair amount of books where the story idea is a fantastic one, but the execution is flat. There’s nothing worse than getting your reader hyped for a cool plot then leaving them high and dry.

Essentially, when you put the time into the elements which make a story great, you establish trust between yourself and your reader. They know, no matter how thick, or thin your book is, they are in for a ride. And to be fair, you should always label your book in the correct category once it’s complete. Readers are very particular. When they purchase a book and expect a novel but only get 20k words, they get upset, too. Imagine you’re on the best date of your life, and right in the middle of it, the person turns and says, “I have to go.” Kind of the same thing, here. Especially if they are paying the price of a novel.

Another thing to consider, is editing. Once your story goes to an editor, they will decide whether your story can best be told without the padding, or if it requires more words. The best exercise you can practice, is to audit the words you use.

Ahh, now there’s a word we don’t see often. We all know what editing is, but what is auditing?

For me, auditing is when you take stock of the words you’ve used and ask yourself this question, “Is this a powerful image?”

You want your readers to use all five senses when they read your story. We all have our own ideas of: beautiful, smells bad, dark, ugly. To be honest, it’s all perspective. Why leave it to them to interpret? Instead of saying, “It smelled bad.” Drag the reader kicking and screaming into it with you! Only – you have to be careful. Do not overload them with adjectives. This is what it means when editors say, “show, don’t tell.”

Simple examples:

Instead of, “There were a lot of trees.” 

You could say, “It was a lavish treeline.”

Same amount of words but paints a better picture.

I hope this has helped you in some way. Let me hear your thoughts! Going forward, I’m going to post some exercises, more tips and tricks, as well as anything else I can dig out of my box of treasures. I hope you’ll interact  and share with me. Let me know how something has helped you in the comments below!

lisa
A WOMAN and CREATOR, WEAVER OF DREAMS, TELLER OF TALES, with an IMAGINATION AS DARK AS A RAVEN’S EYE, THE LIBRAE, THE ORACLE … SHE IS; THE HUSHED WHISPER AMONG THE GRAVES, THE CORRUPTOR, THE HERETIC, THE DARQUE HALO

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