Tuesday, 16 April 2013

N is for Novels

The concept of novels has for the past few years actually been quite confusing for me, and the reason for my confusion is the issue of length.

Wikipedia, that fount of knowledge, describes a novel as 'a long prose narrative that describes fictional characters and events in the form of a sequential story, usually.' But how long is long? Or conversely, how short is too short?

I've done NaNoWriMo for the past decade, and that had led me tobelieve that a novel is about 50,000 words, but I've heard figures bandied around as high as 100,000 words for an average novel. To add to the mix, different genres seem to demand different word counts, and then we get into other terms like 'novella' and 'short story' - the latter of which can run into tens of thousands of words, which to me doesn't seem that short!

To try to clarify things I did a bit of digging and found this blog post by former literary agent Colleen Lindsay which has a guideline list. Some of the figures she suggests are:
  • Children's fiction can be anywhere from 25k to 40k, with the average at 35k
  • Young adult fiction can be anywhere from about 45k to 80k
  • Mainstream fiction and thrillers can vary from 65k to 120k
  • Science fiction and fantasy is often about 100k
  • Anything under 50k is usually considered a novella, with the exception of children's books

For the full list and some really helpful information I do recommend her post as the best place to start.


  1. To write 50k words is definitely different than reading a book with 100k; I never knew books were classified by wordcount until I started writing myself. 50k is pretty short, but it definitely doesn't feel that way when writing it!

  2. I had no idea about modern-day word count policing till 2011, and even after finding out about it, I've continued to write books deliberately planned and plotted as extremely long sagas. I really think far too many books these days are too short. Writers in the old days didn't try to plan a book around a set number of words, or start freaking out if they came in at only 40,000 words or went up to 500,000. When a book has been written well, it comes in at the length that works best for it, be that long or short.

  3. I agree with you, Carrie-Anne.