Chapter & Novel Lengths
Just how long should a chapter be? What’s the best length? And does a novel have to fit into a set amount of words?
These are just two of the most common questions asked by writers. They assume they have to work to a strict template of X amount of words and X amount of chapters, usually because most novels have around 30 or 40 chapters and around 80,000 words.Novel Lengths
Firstly, let’s dispel a few myths - novel lengths are dictated by the story itself, not the writer or the editor or a specific written formula. Secondly, writers don’t have to fit their word count into generic set amounts. Again, the story will dictate how long the novel will be.It’s also worth knowing the different types of novels that work well with different word counts. Uncomplicated stories containing minimal characters tend to be short – usually around 20,000 to 60,000 words. These are called novellas.
Longer, more complex stories, which contain a handful of main characters and peripheral characters, tend to run at about 60,000 to 95,000 words. This would constitute the average length novel.The saga – plenty of characters and a complex, epic story told over many generations – think Roots or War and Peace - usually run at over 100,000 words.
If you are writing a standard length novel, aim for 80,000 to 95,000 words. It doesn’t have to be exact, but it’s there to guide writers. If you set yourself a target of 85,000 words, you’ll know that if you fall short of that average figure, your story is either lacking in substance, or it doesn’t have enough fuel to be a full length novel (without some serious editing), and would therefore be a novella instead. If you go way over that figure and you find yourself easily drifting over 100,000 words, then you need to do some serious editing to reign the story back in, otherwise you risk it turning into a saga.Another reason to use these figures as a guide is that if you submit your MSS to an agent or publisher stating what kind of story it is, i.e. a thriller based novel which is a whopping 150,000 words long, you might get a rejection before anyone has even read the first line of the first chapter because that kind of length for that kind of story just isn’t a viable option for them. Conversely, if you state that you have an epic tale of love and revenge, set in the last century, which follows several generations of the same family, the editor would balk at a paltry 75,000 words.
In other words, think about the genre you are writing, think about the story itself, and know what kind of book you’re writing. Can it be told in that reasonable amount of words?
Chapter lengthsWriters soon learn that there are no particular set rules when it comes to writing and chapter lengths fall into this area.
New writers tend to assume that a chapter must be a certain set length in order to maintain the average novel length of around 80,000 – 95,000 words, but in truth, chapters can be as long or as short as you need them to be. There is no formula. You don’t have to pick a number like 80,000 and then divide it by 30 chapters to give you 2500 words a chapter (average).If you have ever read Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’ or many Stephen King novels, then you’ll realise that a chapter can be a sentence long. Or just one word. Or it can be 5000 words. Again, like novel length, chapter length is dictated by what is happening in the story, not by the law of averages and applied mathematics. Many books have 40, 50 or sometimes 60 chapters, all varying in length. And it’s the variety of length that counts. They don’t have to coform to any pre-conceived ideas. Every writer is different, so every chapter they write will be different in length.
The only thing you need to apply where chapter lengths and novel lengths are concerned, is common sense.If you think a chapter is far too short for whatever reason, examine it to see why. It may be you simply haven’t included enough description. If your chapter seems to go on and on...again look at it to see if it is overly long - you risk boring your reader or losing their attention if it doesn’t sensibly move to the next chapter.
If there was such a thing as an average chapter, it would probably be around 2500 words. Or you could say 10 x A4 sheets, because this also acts as a visual prompt for some people.There are no hard and fast rules. It’s all down to the kind of story you are writing, how you tell it, and of course, a touch of common sense.
Next week: Finding balance.
Mizz Humpage, that is the BEST piece of writing advice, most helpful, most practical, I've read in a lonnggggggggg time. One of the first questions I asked when I started my own novel was how long should the chapters be? This was rather brilliant. Thank you!!!!ReplyDelete
Thanks Cathy, glad to help. I get asked about novel and chapter lengths ALL the time.Delete
And what a lot of common sense you have stated here! I am glad to have my private question as to why folk begin a novel fully intending that it will be, say, 85,000 words long, because my habit is to write until it is done. That said, it does feel there ought to be something in between a novel and a saga because the two I have done (113K ad 128K respectively) certainly do not merit that description. What length was Gone with the Wind I wonder?ReplyDelete
I tend to write until the story completes, although I find it usually does naturally, between 70,000 and 90,000 words.Delete
As for Gone with the Wind? Over 400,000 words.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.ReplyDelete
Which methons do you use to search for info for your future entries, which exact search networks or techniques do you commonly use?ReplyDelete
I don't search for info, but rather I focus on the factors that mean most to writers, and the kind of questions they like answers to, together with useful advice, and I do that through experience, simply because I've been there and done it.Delete
I find it alarming, honestly, that the stats seem to be so low. Many sites say the same thing and it makes me wonder a bit if I'm writing my own novel wrong; I've got 50k words (word processor word count) and I'm on my fifteenth chapter with six (very short) portions not included as chapters, and I'm no where close to even a mid point or anything. I mean I know I'm definitely not an amazing author or anything but it's stunning :oReplyDelete
I have a current work in progress that is at 10 chapters and is just 11K words at the moment. Nothing wrong with that because I know it will need fleshing out with lots more description and dialogue and subplots.Delete
Examine the 50K and work out where it needs improving with description/dialogue etc. Also, does it need to be supplemented with further subplots or extra chapters to cover them?
A novel will find its own length with a bit of encouragement. Good luck.
I'm writing an historical novel using a technique called "weaving." This allows me to introduce and weave major and periperal characters and their subplots into the story as I go. I'm using chronology and geography as "guideposts" as I write. I'm on my 3rd revision (caused when I belatedly realized I'd screwed up my chronology!) The characters introduced first are important, but none are the protagonist(s)and my first chapter is 5,509 words, per computer word count. Is that to much?ReplyDelete
Hi Arlene. An historical novel sounds like it might be a saga-type, and plenty of words. As already stated in the article, there are no hard and fast rules, but I would advise with first chapters that they are not overly long - the simple reason is that when editors or agents request to see your first three or four chapters, the opening line of the very first chapter has to SELL the story to them, it has to hook them. and it needs to keep them ineterested to want to read on.Delete
The best advice is to look closely at how the first chapter works to grab your reader's attention. At over 5K the first chapter might be too demanding - look to see if you can tweak it to improve the chapter's chances of hooking the reader, and keeping them hooked.
I am also writing a historical novel.I 've tried a couple of approaches. Got as far as having an agent suggest changes and ask me to rewrite and resubmit. Which I did and was rejected so I obviously still hadn't got it right! I'm interested in hearing more about "weaving"Delete
Hi Carol. Stick at it, keep working on it. Practice and persistance will pay off in the end.Delete
As for "weaving", this is something all writers do, sometimes without even realising. It is a major part of the writing process, and I'll be happy to post an article on it in due course.
I am currently writing a saga that definitely uses weaving, and I am finding myself writing chapters that cover a period of time from several points of perspective with a mid-chapter cliff hanger and an end of chapter cliff hanger. Each chapter is about 17k long and I see from comments that shorter chapters are better but I feel that splitting up one chapter into two or three shorter ones would spoil the essence of the storytelling within the chapter. What is your take on doing this approach of writing? Should I do shorter chapters with a cliff hanger each or can I keep it as it is?Delete
17k per chapter is excessive. There are no hard and fast rules, but if you don't want your reader to keel over with boredom, or become frustrated at the never ending nature of the chapter, you should think about cutting the length down.
Let me put it another way, it's rather like making someone sit through a four hour movie without a loo break. If the entire narrative isn't engaging, the reader just won't bother reading it.
My advice is to cut the length of the chapters and go with the cliff hanger/nail biter moments at the end. Readers want manageable, palatable chunks of narrative rather than War and Peace. That's not saying you can't have a few much longer chapters here and there, but the important thing is to always vary. You will find that splitting them up doesn't spoil the essence of the story as much as you imagine - novels are written that way.
Hope that helps.
Hi there AJ,Delete
Wanted to express my gratitude to you explained how to sort out my chapter dilemma. It worked a treat. Not only made it the story more interesting but it seems to have grown the underlying back story in some incredible ways that I am having trouble grasping. When I told my boyfriend how I had altered the story, he immediately noted that the story now also seems to involve more side stories and sub-plots and that the overall timespan seemed to be much longer. Re-reading the story after the alterations made me realized how rushed it felt originally with the longer chapters. My boyfriend says that the chapters are not perfect bite size pieces of the right length that he could read a chapter in a lunch break now (lunch break is 45 minutes for him). Doing this task (and I am still working on re-editing it) seems to have enhanced the overall essence of the story. So in advance and with the home that the book does become a success (even just a hundred books sold in a week is a success in my mind) I would like to thank you for your advice you gave me. :)
Writing a novel is a constant learning curve, so keep going, keep writing. The more knowledge and experience you gain, the better you become.
Hi AJ, I love your advice on chapters. I'm a screenwriter and have decided to turn one of my most recent thriller scripts into a novel which will allow me to be much more graphic. My problem is I can't seem to get the hang of writing in the past tense. Is it okay to write in the present tense? My protagonist will actually be telling the story in the novel. thanks so much, JaniceReplyDelete
Past tense is the most commonly used tense and it works very well for novels and offers more advantages over present tense. If you are not confident enough to write in past tense (I suspect that being a screenwriter has something to do with this, as present tense is often used), by all means write in the present tense for your novel, there are no rules to say you can't.
The one thing I would say is that any writer attempting a novel in present tense should have a thorough understanding of tenses because they WILL trip you up. Even established and famous authors fall foul of it and end up mixing past and present without realising it. The present tense can be restrictive, too, in terms of narrative and description, building tension and so on, so my advice is study some books by other authors who have used present tense, get a feel for it within the novel, find your footing and make sure you understand the tenses you are using within the narrative.
Good luck with your novel.
Thanks so much for your response. I started studying a couple of books this past weekend and actually think the past tense would work better for me now. I've just started writing so I'll keep you updated :) I have to admit that writing a novel is MUCH more fun than a screenplay. :)
All the best
I think it would be a wise choice, if only to get a feel for writing a novel, and it really is the best tense to work with.
And you're right, writing a novel is fun, and also (hopefully), rewarding!
Again your advice is very helpful. I've always had trouble keeping my words at the aimed amount, but 80,000 words work with me.ReplyDelete
Thank again, AJ!
Hi AJ Humpage..ReplyDelete
I am new to novel writing.I need some suggestions to How to write interesting stuff for a novel.
I have written something..Just wanted your suggestions...
"Interesting stuff" comes about through a well developed plot. Plan out your chapters and what might happen in each one - as a guideline. Better to start your journey by knowing where you are going than to find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere.Delete
From this you can add action, narrative, important description, dialogue and emotion to help flesh out your novel and develop your characters.
The best suggestion for first time novelists is to simply write - you will learn as you go along.
Thanks for reassuring me - it's 11:43pm and I was in a sudden panic about my WIP's chapter lengths! I'm relieved to discover they are a distinctly average length :-) I know where to come next time I have a pointless novel crisis...ReplyDelete
Glad to be of help, Hayley!Delete
Hi AJ. I have a second chapter that is nearly 8k words but really cannot find a way to separate it in a way that flows naturally. Is that absurdly long, or can I make it fly?ReplyDelete
Wow, 8K is very long. There are no hard and fast rules here, but the reason we have average length chapters is merely to avoid boring the reader too much without giving them a break. Publishers may ask writers to edit if they think chapters drag on too long, so be aware of that.
It may need some careful thought on how you could possibly split it. I say this only because if the chapter is too long,and it cannot sustain enough interest, tension, atmosphere, action or excitement, the reader will become bored. But as I say, there are no rules; it is more to do with common sense.
Perhaps go with it for now and see what you can do during the editing stages. It's always possible to reduce word count when we have to.
Most agreeable. My average chapter lengths vary vastly. I believe a chapter is done when it's done. My chapter lengths range from 4500 words to 10,000. A chapter ends for me when I feel the relevant topics or a suitable closure is reached.ReplyDelete
If your chapter is too long the reader will be reluctant to start reading it, or close the book at a convenient point that they can remember.ReplyDelete
My best advice, which is gained through reading the greats like Sidney sheldon and Harold Robbins is to keep the chapters short - 2500 to 4000 - and end them on cliff hangers so that you think 'I'll just read one more' and when it's done you think 'one more' and 'one more because you just can't put it down!
This is how I'm writing my novel and the first chapter id only 2671 words.
I vary my chapter lengths all the time. And the great thing about them is that they can be one word or several thousand words. It's entirely up to the writer.Delete
I have never checked to see the length of a chapter before reading, it unless it was an assignment. If a reader is doing that then "he just isn't that into you". I do think continuous disasters are vital to any novel to keeping a reader reading so keep those cliffhangers coming. Again as I commented before, I have read many writing books that claim chapters are NOT part of the novel structure. I am working on my first novel and I haven't given chapters a second though. I find comprehending the complexity of the 6 layers of novel construction daunting and applying it to my manuscript is even more challenging. Isn't worrying about chapters like worrying about your photo on your book jacket? Fun but a bit frivolous?Delete
In addition to your earlier post, I will add that there are a few unique books out there that don't have chapters. Some just have simple headings or place name or character names or dates etc. The traditional convention is that most novels are presented with chapters.Delete
The other thing is that chapter lengths are important if you want to keep your book on the straight and narrow, otherwise you'll end up with a tome thicker than a tectonic plate and busting 800,000 words. This is why writers vary chapter length, so they can keep within the 80K, 90K or 100K words of the average novel. Worrying about chapters isn't frivolous at all - it's a necessary aspect. Readers don't pay attention, but writers certainly should.
Adding to my post above I'll say I've gone from the clunky 17k chapters I had first to an average of between 3,000 and 3,600 words per chapter but with one or two chapters slightly shorter. Based on AJ's advice about cliffhangers etc, I am finding that a good chapter for me is around 3.3k mark. In that word count I can take the story forward enough, but also include some nice narrative which I am starting to have fun with because I am using that weaving technique mentioned above too, and the narrative seems to have to give each character in the story their own unique voice and thoughts about the world they live in. When I went through the restructuring process to go from 17k to 3-4k chapters it gave me a chance to ask "what is the underlying story in this book?" and then I looked at each character and asked "what is this character's story?" and then asked "what is the end goal to gain from what everyone is doing?". I looked at past, present and future events for the story. I've found you can simply dress up layers of chapter construction in simple descriptions of the world. A character eats a food, you then describe what way the food might be made... if relevant. I do this in my book but I make the way it reads almost as if you're tapping into the thought pattern of the character that it relates without it becoming a "the food is cooked in such and such way" she thought kind of thing. And what AJ gave me as advice is actually making my book perhaps 100k words shorter but with double the substance and more essence than when I had longer chapters. I keep a bullet point list of things that are key facts about the story and the characters and the overall world environment next to me when writing. It helps keep me on track and helps also keep reminding you and the key things that are important about your characters and your story. Oh and I read the bio of Jean M. Auel the other day on her website and she said she started off writing a 50k word essay of the whole story of her books. Thinking back that's exactly how I started with my books too... it started as 3 books, then 5 books, and then I had the 7 that my "mythic fantasy saga" (as I call my books myself and not sure if that's the correct term though) is now. And then I got first one spin-off series and two more, and because I was busy re-editing the book from 17k to 3k chapter chunks I ended up with a fourth idea for a spin-off series. Guess I got enough books to write for the next two decades now. :DDelete
Keep up the good work!Delete
I'm hoping you can post the end of your 3rd paragraph in the section called "Chapter lengths"
(And it’s the variety of length that counts. They don’ )
That's how that paragraph ends and it's the part I'm most interested in.
Well spotted, Marta. I've added the missing sentences.Delete
Agree with above comments. This is very helpful as a guide and you, AJ, seem very receptive and open.ReplyDelete
I've read many books that separate a single chapter into other parts, usually denoted with dots or extra space that signifies a longer length of time in between those two parts (I don't know if there is a word for this). Do you have any advice on using those type of breaks versus chapters?ReplyDelete
I believe the term is known as an asterism, derived from the Greek word for star (aster).
These are also known as scene breaks. They're a very useful tool to signify a length of time has passed, or that it shows a switch in scenes, but also signifies a change of POV.
For instance John and Jo are in a scene driving home from an evening out, chatting to each other. The villain of the story, meanwhile, has broken into their house. The next scene could show the villain prowling around John and Jo's place, intent on murder. This villain scene would have the asterism to denote the new scene.
The next scene could be the start of a new chapter. Or you could put in an asterism and carry on with a new scene with other characters or it might go back to John and Jo.
There are no rules to how many scene breaks you have in a chapter, but obviously don't go overboard. As with everything in writing, it's all about getting a balance.
Hope that helps.
I have just begun writing a novel that is based on my life story as I believe that I have a very interesting, exciting and unique story to tell. I'm not sure if I am right, but I am using fictional characters and am writing in the third person.ReplyDelete
Before I started actually writing, I wrote a 15 page synopsis, laying out the characters and the plot as well as the proposed chapter breaks. I have now written 12,000 words and am already changing the synopsis as I go. I wonder if I am heading in the right direction.
The good thing is that you've planned ahead with a synopsis. (If and when it's time to submit to an agent or publisher, you will have to cut this synopsis to 1 - 4 A4 pages). But the thing with planning chapters is that it is a guide only, and is subject to change as we write, and very often does.Delete
The other thing to remember is that is it the first draft. The nuts and bolts of writing comes when you start work on your 2nd, 3rd, 4th drafts, so don't worry too much at this stage.
None of us really know the true direction we're heading when we begin writing. We have a rough idea, and sometimes we might end up with something very different to what we planned out. That's all part of the writing process.
The real hard work begins with the read-through and editing stage, because that is when a writer begins to fully understand the story and the characters.
So, my advice here is to keep writing, use your synopsis as a guide, and see where the story takes you.
I don't think it matters...The first 6,000 words of mine were spilt over 9 chapters, and it worked with the narrative very well!ReplyDelete
I'm one of the idiots who believed that chapters needed to be a certain length... around 8 to 10 pages (MS WORD, TNR font). Had issues sometimes forcing non important information in a chapter that turned out to be only four pages in order to make it longer, which made several of them boring and/or overwritten. Thanks for the great advice!!ReplyDelete
Thanks, I'm glad this helped!Delete
Hello AJ, thanks a lot for the advice on this page.ReplyDelete
I dived into writing my very first novel (Might end up becoming a saga) a week ago, and the advice on this page alone has helped me a lot already.
You gave me a sense of security when writing, because I realized it is not at all necessary to write a 20 page chapter. By shifting around with chapter length it seems a lot easier to keep the story flowing, and pouring out into my computer.
Thanks a lot! And keep up the good work with your blog!
Thanks for that, I'm glad the advice is helping.Delete
Ms. Humpage, your advice on novel length seems universal. I must be a man of few words. My family drama novel turned out to be 32k words. I certainly hope it won't be considered a novella. At least, that's not what I intended. I'm afraid if I add more subplots it will distract from the story.ReplyDelete
I'm afraid that at 32K, it would be considered as a novella if sent to agents or publishers, however that's not a bad thing because there are publishers out there that like shorter length novels.
As for adding subplots to the story, that would just overwhelm it and force it away from the main plot. My best advice for this is to look at the structure of the story to see if it warrants more, and more importantly, to see if it needs more description and dialogue. You never know...
I've written a novel that's a mystery/thriller and it's finished at about 127,000 words with a prologue and epilogue. I haven't yet started sending into agents, but it's a complex story and there's no way of cutting to make it shorter. I'm proud of the novel, and to be honest, what's wrong with 120,000 words for a stand-alone novel? It's the content that counts, right?ReplyDelete
Wow, that's quite a tome, and quite long for the target market of the mystery/thriller genre.Delete
There is nothing wrong with that size novel, but you need to be very savvy with how you sell yourself to agents/publishers. You'll have to make them want to read it, despite its size, because you will have to state how long the novel is in your covering letter, so make it intriguing and engaging enough that they won't even balk at 127,000 words.
Nice one !!!!ReplyDelete
I am excited for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. and I watch Ian Somerhalder's work it is pretty awesome to see on the screen.
50 Shades Movie
I am pleased I found this as I am well 'over the hump' on my first novel. I have 85,000 words laid down and probably another 25,000 to write and then some serious editing to do.ReplyDelete
Your advice on chapter length is most welcome. Most of my chapters seem to be about 2,500 words, some are much shorter. However there's one of 8,500 words. I will now break that - even if I have to write the break in.
Hi Bryn. Well done on getting to 85K. Good luck with that serious editing!Delete
Some useful information on here, I’ve decided to try my hand at writing a book as having struggled to find work since losing my job 6 months ago, and I need to do something to stop me going nuts.ReplyDelete
I’ve always fancied the idea of trying to write, and have attempted to start something and then not get to far with it.
However, this time round, not only have I started, but in 4 short days already have written just over 10,000 words – 7 Chapters. At present I have about 17 characters, most peripheral characters to help support the story, and about 25 chapters split up into 3 sections to give me a beginning middle and end. My preparation has actually been little more than a couple of sheets of A4 with a rough outline, and a list of characters that I add to each time I add a new one. I’m probably going about this all the wrong way, as I definitely feel I’m winging it. However, as I sit at the computer typing, the words just seem to come out, almost like I do not need to think about it. I’m currently looking, based on what I’ve written so far at around 36,000 words. I know I need to get it much higher, and I’m sure it will do especially as my chapters are gradually increasing in length.
Any advice on how I’m working and what I should be doing will be appreciated.
Firstly, how a writer works is a very individual thing. There is no right or wrong with an approach to writing, but one thing any writer should do is a little planning & organisation. i.e., you might know where you want to go, but getting there can be tricky. You do what feels comfortable to you.Delete
Any writer will say the same thing: know the whole story, know the plot and how that will tie up at the end. Also, know what kind of journey your main character is taking and how it will change him/her. The fact that you have written so much means you are comfortable with the story. The real work wont begin until you've finished the story and start editing. That is the most important stage. So just keep writing; you'll have plenty of time to perfect it later.
I am new at writing and I have been working on a book for about five years and just when I was about to finish a book I realized that I needed something to add more background in formation and now i'm stuck writing another book. I am wondering how long it takes writers to finish there books.ReplyDelete
Is it alright to start a sentence with "and" if a character says something that another character forgot to say.ReplyDelete
Both of those comments were from me.ReplyDelete
I'll answer your first comment to begin with. Writing is so individual that it can take writers anything from 8 months to several years to write a book, depending on the work involved and how fast a pace they work. Some people work quickly, some are methodical. I fall into the latter category - it can take months for me to write a story, let alone a novel. That's because a LOT of work and effort goes into it. I never rush my work. On average, writers spend around two years writing, researching and editing their books.
Onto your second question. There is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with 'and'. These are called conjunctions and they can be quite useful if used correctly.
You can learn more about them by typing 'Use of Conjunctions' in the search bar on the upper right hand side of the blog, or type in the following in your browser: http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/use-of-conjunctions.html
I tend to write quite short chapters, between 1k and 2k words, but my book lengths vary hugely.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the great advice! It's just what I need as I start my novel. I've been aiming for about 2,000 words per chapter but now I see that it doesn't matter. There is no generic formula.ReplyDelete
Indeed, there are no written rules. Just go with the flow. Good luck.
Thank you for the perfect advice a writer could receive. I have a specific (and may be hard to decide upon) but what program would you highly suggest to a 'beginner' to use in editing his or her writings? -to search for errors in punctuation, spelling, etc.?ReplyDelete
There are plenty of online resources. For beginners I would suggest something like AutoCrit, a free online and easy to use editing wizard:-
It helps with spelling, grammar, overused words, clichés etc. Of course, don't over rely on it, learn to edit and trust your instincts as you get better at your craft, because although they are good, they are nowhere near as good as humans!
Thanks, I agree with you. I have my mother and son proof read my chapters as I go and they inform me of some mistakes I have made. I really do not trust anyone else to read my materials until the release :)Delete
Thank you so much for these words of wisdom! They came at a perfect time and answered a LOT of my questions :-)ReplyDelete
Thanks - glad the information and advice proved useful!
v helpful. Thank youReplyDelete
I realise this string is an old one, but am looking for advice on novel length and wondered if you could comment. I have written a novel 290 000 words long. It's been edited and cut back as it was written, but is still very long compared to most novels. It was for fun (its a comedy), and achieved a natural length. Is there any chance that an agent/publisher would be interested in 290 000 words? I'm wondering if it would be better to cut it in half or three parts? Although the central plot and character resolution is only arrived at at the very end, there are intermediate points where it could be split with a minor resolution, and the story taken up in a sequel. Have you ever known anyone to do this successfully?
Gosh, 290K is VERY long. It's not unheard of to have long lengths. The likes of Vikram Seth, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo and Joseph McElroy have all written huge tomes, but the quality of writing has to support such a length. Of course, all these were serious subjects, and I haven't heard of any long-length comedy novels.
A negative you may encounter with this kind of length, coupled with genre, is that editors won't go out on a limb for them as they would do, say, for a 90,000 word novel. Anything under 100,000 words is viable and commercial for them, otherwise they tend to get twitchy.
It would take a writing genius to pitch a 290K comedic novel to publishers. It would be less daunting if, as you say, you pitched it as a trilogy instead. Remember that publishers want something that is commercial and 'of the moment'. I think you would stand better chance of presenting it as a three book offer, rather than one huge book, that way you have room to work on the story even further than you would in 300,000 words.
Hope that helps.
This really helps a lot and calms my nerves about have shorter chapters, but I do have a question. Would it be acceptable to have shorter chapters in the beginning, and longer chapters towards the middle? My first chapter is just more of an introduction of the setting and who the main character is. I reached 1,726 words, I'm sure I could add more, but I'd like to know if books are more enticing with a longer first chapter.ReplyDelete
The honest answer to your questions is that there are no rules set in stone because chapter lengths very so much. Your first chapter needs to have enough to a) grab the reader's attention from the start and get right into the action b) introduce your main character and their predicament, i.e. the tone of the story and c) move the story forward.
Longer first chapters can be off putting to some readers. Lots of novels have shorter first chapters, there is nothing wrong with that. Then the rest of the chapters vary in length as the story progresses. My advice is to keep it balanced, so not too short, but not too long.
The first chapter of my second novel is 1,345 words, so that gives you an idea. Yours sounds about right.
Hope that puts your mind at rest, so don't worry too much!
Ahhhhh! That does make sense. Time for this aspiring author to chop up some chapters.ReplyDelete
My name is Samantha and I was wanting to write a trilogy on a gay couple and their struggles and successes. I am already half way through the first book and I was wondering when I should start looking for a publisher. Do you have any ideas on who and where I can go?
My e-mail is email@example.com,
so if you want to e-mail me about details and such. Thank You!
Hi Samantha, I've emailed you with a reply.Delete
Hello my name is LaTrice. I have a question I have been working on my book for two years now. I am a first time author therefore I am learning as I go. the questions I have is first, is it okay to name my chapters by the characters name? Im writing in 3rd person. Another question I have is how long should your acknowledgement be? It's my first book so of course my acknowledgement is long. I would appreciate any advice you could give me. Thank youReplyDelete
Hi La Trice,Delete
I'll start with your first question, naming chapters with names. There is no rule about chapter headings. If you want to name each one with a character's name, then go right ahead. It's different, and writing is all about being different and unique. As long as there is consistency, then you can call your chapters whatever you want.
As for acknowledgements, again there are no written rules; they can be as short or as long as they need to be. It is your book, so it becomes whatever you want it to be.
Good luck with your writing.
Hi name is Hallie and I have been trying to write a book for a long time I have some good ideas for some different books but my problem is with the dialogue I don't know if I have to put who said it or who asked it or if I can just leave that off from the dialogue all togetherReplyDelete
It's important to let the reader know who said what, and when. There are also times when you don't need to show who said something, because the reader will already know from the dialogue who is speaking etc. It sounds confusing, but once you get to grips with it, it's quite easy. There are ground rules for dialogue, however.
You can go an my article on dialogue by pasting this into your search: http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/dialogue-dilemmas-part-1.html
Alternatively, just type 'Dialogue' into the search bar on the right of this site and it will bring up articles on dialogue. It should prove useful in helping you structure dialogue correctly.
One bit of advice I will suggest is to read other books and to how the dialogue is set out and presented. You can learn a lot by reading your favourite authors.
ok in my book I have a person that appears in the beginning of the book but I don't want to the persons id known until later on in the book so do I still have to give the persons name cause he is a and if not how could I do it so nobody knows who he is until later on in the book
I forgot to ask is it ok if you use a real persons name as long as they have past on and they are in your familyDelete
There are very few books/stories than can pull off having a character who is not revealed until later. It's not unheard of, but it's quite hard to achieve.Delete
One of the ways it can be done is through the use of 1st person narrative - i.e. 'I did this, I did that' etc, as opposed to 3rd person - 'he did this, he did that, she was this' etc. It works because 'I' does not have to be revealed, it always stays as 'I' unless another character refers to the first person by name.
I'm currently writing a short story where the main character's name is never revealed. It's written in 1st person, so he is always known as 'I' and his character name is never mentioned at all.
If you are writing in 3rd person, then you might be able to call the character a nick name rather than his or her real name, such as 'the Drifter sat down,' or the Business Man opened the door'. I had a character called White Shirt in one of my novels. So while it can be done, it's not that easy.
And to answer your last question - you can use real people, since there is no copywrite on names, but because it's your family, it is wise to ask the if it's OK with them.
Ok thank you so much that is what I was having trouble with.Delete
I have read that chapters are not part of the true structure of the novel and they are added later by an editor. I don't worry about them. I divide my story into motivational response units, scenes and acts. Some published novels have chapters that contain several scenes but sometimes in the writing process it is nice to be able to move scenes around so I think dividing the story in chapters would make that more complicated.ReplyDelete
I think you may have been give duff advice Kaththee. Many agents and publishers specifically request the first three or four complete chapters - therefore it's important to have them structured that way. Don't expect an editor to do all the work for you by structuring your novel. That's the writer's job.ReplyDelete
However you present it is up to you, but if editors have to sit and arrange the book into chapters, or structure it in a way that is coherent and flows well, not much would get published, because they don't have the time. Good luck anyway.
Nice advises and tips. I have started with my first write up and have completed 40k now. I get ideas as and when I write. I do not know how to make the chapters interesting to read. Can you advise me with general tips on how to make it a interesting read? Thanks so muchReplyDelete
Making a story interesting isn't as easy as it sounds, because there are so many elements involved that all come together to make the story. These include plot, characterisation, the antagonist, plenty of conflict, emotion, pace and action...and so much more.
I can suggest a 4 part article I write a few years back - How to Write a Novel, which may help you:
Or just type in How to write a novel in the search bar.
These will give you some idea how you can enliven and make your chapters interesting.
Thanks Humpage for the direction. I will work on it.Delete
Thanks for the post. I'm an aspiring author at 20 years old, and I'm currently working on my first novel. I wasn't necessarily concerned with chapter standards as much as I was curious. Interesting to know!ReplyDelete
Thanks for stopping by Nathan, and keep up the writing.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your good work AJ HumpageReplyDelete
Thank you nansel.Delete
I'm a bit young for writing novels, but I have a great idea. My chapters will be shorter, but that's because I have four main characters alternating views. About how long should the story be? I know that I need about 12 chapters for each character in the story, and 12*4 is 48, and for a first time novel writer at age 13, about how long should the chapters be? I know where I want to go with the book, but I don't know if about 1250 words a chapter is enough. Thanks for publishing this piece, by the way. It is very good.ReplyDelete
To answer your question, chapter lengths really do vary and there is no set length.
To give you an idea, the first chapter of one of my novels is 1354 words. The second chapter is a whopping 4775 words. The third chapter is 2442. As you can see, there is no pattern, therefore your 1250 words (or thereabouts) is about average. Just make sure you vary them slightly so that you can at least reach 75 - 80K words (the length of an average novel). Novels that are between 50 - 60K words are considered 'novellas' (short novels). It depends on what sort of novel you wish to write. But don't get too concerned about the length of each chapter. They can be as long or as short as you like.
By the way, 13 is not that young to start writing because you have a few years to learn all you can about the craft. I was 14 when I started seriously writing, and first published at 19, so keep writing and learning.
hi..AJ this is Aakash and im just 18 years of age and have took an attempt for writing a novel. the novel is a story about the last one year of my life. the girl who entered in my life exactly one year ago..im writing this for her birthday and want her to relive each and every moment which we had together in the past one year. do u think its a good idea...and i have reached around 20000 words...this will go around 70000 words. i need some tips on how to give chapters...as it involves only me and her..how do i seperate the story...it ll b a great help if you could give me some tips on this. thank youReplyDelete
Firstly, any story is a good idea if you can make it work. It sounds like a love story perhaps? And I'm sure she will appreciate the effort you have put in.
As for chapters, or how you might separate them, there are some options:
1. I know you've written 20,000 words, but you could label your chapters to chronologically mirror your time together, e.g chapter 1 = when you first met. Chapter 2 = your first day out together. And so on. Obviously it won't be quite like that, these are just examples.
2. You may want to use chapters as a way of highlighting key moments during your relationship.
3. Instead of using conventional numbered chapters, you could use titles. For example, Our First Hour, The Day the Sun Smiled or Holding Hands...in fact any title
you want. It's a matter of writing the story to fit with all the events and then giving the chapters title headings.
Because you are only writing about you and her, so you only have two main characters, then you will need to vary the point of view. In other words, don't make it all one sided. In other words, perhaps a chapter on you, then a chapter on her. Then a chapter on both of you. Perhaps a chapter or two in flashback. The idea is to keep it interesting, so it's wise to include other people in the story too, people important to you both, and to the story.
Hope this helps, and that I have interpreted your question correctly!
thank you for your help. I will work on my book like you said in this post. I have started to divide the chapters and the chapters length are from 1k to 2500 words maximum. Is this ok? and i have also started adding people ib the story. Thank you for your guidance. For anyother queries i will keep you posted. thank you again it was a great help.Delete
Glad to help. And 1K to 2500 is fine. Just remember to keep the chapter lengths varied and not make them too overly long that often.Delete
Hi again Akash here,Thank you once again AJ i have started to work on chapters and divided them properly. Now i have got another doubt, if u could help me on this it will be great. I would like to share my idea and i want your review about my thought. So the idea is im planning to combine the story and compress it a little bit like for example witing all the home visits under a single chapter, in total there are three home visits of her to.my home, so to write under one chapter can i divide the chapter under sub chapters so that the main heading sigmifies everythg thereby reducing the chapter lengths and number of chapters. And im thinking to combine all similar things under a particular chapter..will this be a good idea? yoyr view on this and a reply will be helpful to me. Thank you.Delete
There are no real hard and fast rules with writing, and although a little un conventional, how you present your chapters is entirely up to you. Some writers are very different in their approach, and there have been writers who have used sub headed chapters. From memory I think Michael Crichton and Ken Follet have done this, as well as EM Forster and Isaac Asimov, so it's not entirely unusual.
You do what feels comfortable and easiest for you - as the writer, you are in charge. Like I said, there is no right or wrong here.
Hope that clarifies things.
I am just starting a novel and not really doing it to be published (I am only 13) but I still want to make it readable and enjoyable. A few questions: I know the first chapter of a book is to hook the reader in, so I'm a little worried about the word count. Is 4.7k an OK length for a first chapter? I feel like it could be tedious, especially because it feels repetitive but can't really be cut. Also, I am doing this with my friend online and was wondering if that's a common way to co-write books, and what advice you might have. Thanks for the great post!
As we all know, there is no right or wrong way for writing a novel or the length of chapters, but you can make it more palatable and easier if you make the first chapter just a tad shorter. While there is nothing wrong with having 4.7k, 2.5 might be better, simply because it hooks the reader in, it establishes what the story entails and it introduces the main character(s). In a way, that first chapter sets the pace and leads nicely into the second chapter.
Longer first chapters can be tedious sometimes, so it is advisable to try to cut it down a little or move some of it into the next chapter. In the editing stages writers do this chopping and changing all the while.
Whether you co-write it online or sit next to each other writing it, it doesn't matter as long as you have a good, coherent story at the end of it. So go for it!
There can be a point where you repeat or drag out what you work on. I started out with a 75,000 word historical novel, went through it several times and it is now down to 68,600. It feels complete but I do worry about the length of it.ReplyDelete
A good self-editor will not make the mistake of 'repeating' or 'dragging out' anything in a novel. Absolutely every word will count, and every word is justified. Writers only tend to drag out stuff when they pad their novels with uninteresting crap, to beef it up because they've run out of steam.Delete
The length should not be huge issue. If you feel it is complete, then it is complete. If you are self publishing it won't matter about length, but if you are intending a traditional route, then there are plenty of agents/publishers who will accept 50k -70k novels.
Hi Josh, apologies for the late response, I have been on a family holiday.ReplyDelete
When you say you need help for categorising it, do you mean you need to find out what genre it might be?
Also, titles can be tricky. The m ore we think about them, the harder it is to come up with one. Sometimes they come to us when we don't think about them.
I would suggest writing down what the themes of the story are and what the story is truly about. This might give you a base to start with. Sometimes trigger or associated words help to give us the title, for instance: War/Mission//Doomsday/Invasion...
Have a little play with these and see what you can come up with. Titles should reflect what the story is about, remember, but also need to catch the reader's eye.
Hi, my current novel is around 35,000 words at 18 chapters, but i'm not even a third one with it. Is this too short, or is it a good amount? All of my friends seem surprised at this figure and say that it's too long, but according to what you have numbers wise, It obviously isn't too long.ReplyDelete
35,000 is too short to be considered a 'novel'. It would probably pass as a novella.Delete
Most contemporary books are 80,000 to 95,000 words, so no, your work is not too long at all. Quite the opposite.
on chapter length: Thank you for this I was feeling bad that some of my chapters were very short around 1400 words or so and some others went into 3k words (They usually are around 1800 to 2000k) On one expecually short chapter I went over it so many times trying to add in a little more i ended up adding in three more paragraphs but that was it Anything else would have been boring excess IMO. So yea the story it self decides the chapter lengths. I feel better already thanks ^-^ReplyDelete
Glad it helped put your mind at rest, Darkocean. Those figures are quite average/normal, so you're doing it right.Delete
typo there 2k haha XDReplyDelete
Fastidious blog you’ve got here. I’ve ever been seeing you just about many blogs recently. essay writing secretReplyDelete
This to me, is a very helpful section. Thankyou for posting it! :)ReplyDelete
This is seriously the most helpful thing I've read in a long time. I am amazed how it's stayed active for so long! Thanks for being helpful to those of us who are just starting out. I am currently writing the second book in a series. The first was more of a teaser...I don't even know that I would consider it a novella. It was only 5 chapters long at approx 14,000 words. But the response to it has been amazing! People keep asking when the second one will be ready. I want this one to be a full length novel, and perhaps leave the story line open for a 3rd or 4th book. I'm currently at 10,000 words and just finished the rough draft for chapter 3. I looked, and I naturally seem to write somewhere between 2500 and 3000 words. I know that there's things I could expand on, but I don't want to overwhelm the central point of a chapter with details that distract you know? The main thing, is that this is really a lot of fun! And, thanks to kindle, I am even making some money out of my hobby. Anyway, cheers.ReplyDelete
Thanks Cheryl, and well done. Keep up the obvious good work!Delete
Over 60,000 words for a novel is incorrect if you don't mind me saying. For example, a romance novel is anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000. A horror is generally 80,000-100,000. A Sci-Fi is normally 95,000-120,000. There are specific industry standards but as long as you can PROVE to a publisher that you are a good writer, and have a decent story within these guidelines, you will be classified as having written a novel if you reach these word counts. Here is a website detailing word counts for a genre: http://www.literaryrejections.com/word-count/ReplyDelete
I don't mind you saying at all. But having worked in publishing, I do know some industry standards, and these are simply guide line figures for those who are starting out on their writing journey.Delete
Word counts are neither here are there for editors. 90K, 100K, 80K...it doesn't matter. As long as the story, as you say, is excellent. People don't reject because of word counts, they reject because the work is shit.
This is a really helpful article. Thanks for publishing it! I could certainly use some advice if you're willing to help me! I've written a historical family saga that features three separate narratives from three siblings during the crimean war (the three narratives come together to form the overall narrative, that's sort of the idea of the novel! :) ) however, this has resulted in a rather inflated 220,000 odd words.ReplyDelete
I've had several people read it, and the most common feedback I get is that it has a very quick pace and there's no filler - this means that getting it down any further would be impossible unless I was to change the entire plot...something I am obviously not keen on doing! In the past week I've begun to submit it to agents but i'm so nervous that the large word count is going to scare them off straight away.
Do you have any advice? Do you think it's worth changing it and cutting it down, shall I just put that novel aside and focus on another one or carry on submitting in the rare chance someone will love it enough to consider it? I have considered splitting it in two but I think the structure would make that difficult...:/
Thanks for reading!
The fact that your novel is a huge 220,000 words can make agents sweat, not unless you send it to agents who specialise in saga-style novels. I'm not sure of your location, but if you are in the UK/Europe and a copy of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook in the UK lists all agents and publishers, with listings of what they specialise in. If in the US, it's the Writer's Market.
That aside, all novels when they've been written need to be trimmed by at least 25% - this means getting rid of a lot of stuff that you wouldn't necessarily think needs dumping. But it often does.
My advice here is to make sure this is edited to within an inch of its life. How many drafts have you done? Five or six is fairly average for writers. You need to put it aside for a while, leave it a few weeks and come back to it refreshed and ready to edit judiciously. You may find that you trim 3,000 words, but add 700. Or you slim it down by 5000 words, but add 1000. This is quite normal. The word count fluctuates like crazy during editing. You may find that you can cut some things, improve other things and add some things. Just take your time, don't rush the process.
Try it and see.
Thanks for your reply!Delete
I've actually been editing it for three years and it's gone through over seven edits... I'm really not sure if I can get it down significantly enough to make much difference...but thanks for the advice anyway! I've put myself in a super tough situation. Siiiighhh...
Hello AJ, how are you? My Name is Kristy, I have been a writer for many years, but have yet to finish much in the way of a novel. I worked for a long time in RPG forums and wrote many Characters and histories for those characters. I recently was struck, quite literally, by a life. Well lives really, Mason and his family. It is fantasy/sci-fiction. Should I continue to let it flow and then try to organize it into a fluid story later, or should I try to reign it in and focus on certain details such as the main instigator of the story. Usually my stories fly at me, I get them down, mostly, and they run away leaving me hanging. This one is lingering and I do not want to lose it.ReplyDelete
Also, with Mason I am bouncing between his current life and its trials, while exploring his past as a way to show how he got where he is and found his family. Is the '***' both at the flashback start and finish, or can a chapter break signify the time change?
I look forward to any advise you have. I have found everything you have said on here so far most illuminating!!
Thank you for helping all of us beginners!
Lots of questions to answer here, so firstly let's start with the story framework. You already have your characters - Mason and his family - but you also need a tangible, believable plot from which to hang that story. In other words, what's the story about? Why is it Mason's story? What must he do in this story that will change his life? What will happen to him? How will the people around him achieve that goal? And who will be the antagonist, the spanner in the works? Who or what will try to stop him reaching that ultimate goal?
The thing with any novel is planning. I usually write a brief description of each chapter, what will happen, who the characters are, key scenes, that kind of thing. It isn't rigid, but it allows you to work through each chapter, constantly moving the story forward. If you know where you are going with a story, it's much easier to write the end of it.
The other thing, other than good characterisation and a strong plot, are the themes that run through the story. Things like love, betrayal, revenge....that kind of thing. These form the moral backbone of any story.
So the advice here is to sit down and plan - reign in the ideas and focus on what the story is, who Mason is and what his story is all about.
As for the ***, that should only come when a scene ends at the bottom of your page and the new scene starts on the next page, but a reader won't know there is a break. The asterisks show the reader there is a scene break.
For flashbacks, normally we write it as a transitional scene. In other words, we lead the reader into the scene seamlessly, for instance:-
Jenny thought back to summer of '72, that fateful day at the fair. The memories crept in, she couldn't help it...
Then the flashback.
Then back to the present with Jenny coming round when she hears a knock at the door or whatever. That's a transitional scene.
Alternatively, you could just start a brand new scene and use the past pluperfect tense, i.e. "He HAD wondered about those lazy days..." instead of "He wondered about those lazy days..." Then the flashback.
Hope that helps. Wow, there is so much more. If you need further guidance, you can drop me an email and I can be more thorough with my reply.
Hello AJ, this is Kristy, I created a blog account, that's way its under Staar now.Delete
Thank you so much!! I have been writing for about 5 years, off and on, but the structure has always been an issue for me. The story unfolds on its own and I am usually playing catch up to get it down in writing.
This story is different, in that I see the trials and difficulties that Mason and his family have to overcome to find peace and safety. The problems are simplistic at the moment, like 'his brother gets in too deep with a group who aren't known for their forgiveness and understanding, they are similar to a supernatural mafia.' Other hurtles are throughout the story, but the main instigator is the mafia.
I cannot thank you enough, I will use what you have said to better my skills and style. I will email you once I have organized my thoughts and questions so it isn't so chaotic.
I'm glad it helped, Kristy. And the brother/Mafia thing sounds like a developing sub plot. Just ensure that it doesn't over take the main plot and overwhelm your main character.Delete
Look forward to hearing from you.
You have no idea how much this helps me! I'm trying to write my first book and I honest have no idea how to go about it. But I will definitely keep this in mind when writing!ReplyDelete
I'm glad this helps, Gillian. Where writing your first book is concerned, there is a lot to consider. You can type search words into the 'search this blog' tab on the right. You'll find articles covering just about every aspect of writing, especially those on 'How to write a novel'.Delete
Thank you for this post, AJ. It was invaluable to me, just at the beginning of my writing.ReplyDelete
I stumbled across this post a little over a year ago, just as I was beginning work on my first novel, and it helped me tremendously. I am one of those unfortunate people who needs some sort of structure in just about everything I do, even if it's just rules of thumb or basic guidelines. When I started writing I hadn't yet nailed down my outline, timeline, or anything else - I just wrote. And wrote. And found myself with a first chapter that was over 6,000 words long - even Steven King would probably have told me to carve that up a little. I had no idea when I should stop, or more appropriately, when I should transition with a chapter break.
But then I found this blog post, and using the advice in it I was able to very quickly nail down a basic structure for my outline, which allowed be to fill in the outline, and rather quickly thereafter, the finer details of the story and its meaning all fell into place. And so, fifty-three weeks after I wrote the first few words, I finished the final chapter late on a Friday night, and nearly came to tears at the feeling of accomplishment.
My first draft came in at around 80K, and three revisions later, it's a hair over 103K. Sounds a bit bulky, but it just *feels* right to me for the story.
I finished my 4th draft last month and I'm on the verge of beginning to shop for a literary agent. Succeed or fail, publish or perish, NYT Bestseller or Walmart bargain bin, I have done something of which I will be exceedingly proud for the rest of my days, and I owe you a debt of gratitude for this little nugget of wisdom which became a critical impetus in the development of my writing process.
Will, well done all round - on beginning your writing journey, sticking with it (most give up) and more importantly, completing what is and always will be your 'baby'. You should rightly be pleased with yourself. And I'm so pleased that this blog helped you along the way, in whatever way it did. That's what it's there for. It's so heartening to hear personal stories like this - really positive ones. It makes what I do worth it.Delete
As for your book, it's hard to let go of our well-crafted masterpieces sometimes, so don't be discouraged or downhearted by any rejections you might receive - take them on board, learn from them, gain experience from them until, eventually, you succeed with a publisher or agent. Every step of the way is hard work, but every step is still worth it.
And whatever happens, you can call yourself an author. Thank you.
I am a teen writing for teens and in the book I am writing, most of my chapters are 1,400 words. Is that too few?ReplyDelete
There is no hard and fast rule. Teen novels or YA books tend to have less words than most other genre novels, so these numbers are not unusual. What I would advise, however, is to vary the length a little with some of them - you can afford to increase some by word length and it won't affect the overall book. Chapter length variation keeps things a bit more interesting for the reader.
Im writing an autobiography and this is my very first time attempting to write a book. Im trying to figure out the right and proper way to switch in and out between narrating and using 1st person dialogue in quotation marks. Plus, how often should I be in 1st person per chapter...ReplyDelete
Pink, I'm still a novice myself, but my own first novel was written entirely in first person, as are many of my favorite reading experiences.Delete
The story and your own writing style should determine whether you write something like A or B below. I personally like B, because I think it conveys story points just as well, but with more color and interest, but if you're into the whole brevity thing, A is the way to go, as it conveys more information with fewer words.
By the time the prints were rolled up and the specs sealed in their manila envelope, it was nearly 3:15. I had forty-five minutes to make a twenty-minute drive, so although I didn't dawdle, I wasn't feeling particularly rushed, either. Imagine my panic when I reached the parking lot and found that I had a flat tire, which would cause a delay of at least thirty minutes. There was no possible way I could make it to the Administration by the 4:00 deadline.
I hurriedly whipped out my Motorola flip phone and called back upstairs to Ernie, explaining the flat, and begging her to find someone else who could make the delivery in my place. A few minutes later, Chris reached the lot, took the plans and specs from me, and sped off to make the delivery.
Meanwhile, I began the laborious process of changing a flat tire in the ninety-degree Baltimore heat.
Ernie handed me the finished specs just before 3:15.
"Can you make it in time?" she asked.
"Sure," I told her casually. "I have forty-five minutes, and it's only a twenty-minute drive. Even if there is a traffic jam, I have enough time to take an alternate route and still make the deadline. I just can't dawdle." I said my goodbyes and headed for the elevator.
But when I reached the parking lot, my cautiously optimistic confidence instantly degenerated into pure panic. I had a flat tire.
I called Ernie on my trusty Motorola flip phone.
"Ernie, you're never going to believe this!" I began.
"Oh, God, what's wrong?" She wasn't panicked, but I could hear the concern in her voice.
"My truck has a flat tire! It'll take me at least twenty or thirty minutes to change it. I'll never make the deadline. Is there anyone else who can drop what they're doing to get this stuff downtown by four?"
"Don't worry," she reassured me. "I'll find someone and have them meet you in the parking lot."
A few minutes later, Chris approached me. "Oh, man," he said, wiping sweat off his forehead. "I'd hate to have to change a tire in this heat. It's almost ninety today. And you're parked right in the sun!"
I handed him the plans and specs. "Yeah, it's not going to be fun. But it could be worse."
"Could be raining."
He grinned. "True. Seeya tomorrow!"
"Safe ride, man."
As Chris walked across the lot toward his own truck, I started pulling out my jack and tire iron. Rain or not, this tire change was going to suck.
Pink, if you are writing an autobiography, you are not strictly writing fiction, however it depends how you present the information. You are writing what we assume is a true account of your life.ReplyDelete
If you are writing about something that happened and you are using dialogue, you are using first person past tense. As you are narrator, you are telling your reader about past events, therefore the tense would be past pluperfect, for example:
On that Saturday, it had just turned 11.15am when I heard the news. I remember it so well because I had just left the house and I was driving towards the city centre and it came over the radio...
'Oh my God,' I said. It was something I kept saying over and over.
The presence of "had" in the first sentence is past pluperfect - it denotes something in the past. The dialogue is present tense (it ALWAYS is). The way to present it is to LEAD the reader - you describe certain things by saying things like 'I remember, back in 2007 when...' or 'That was the time when A,B and C happened, and my best friend, John was with me at the time. I can still remember what he said to me.
'Aren't you so glad you didn't get on that plane?' he said.
John had no idea just how glad I was; I was so relieved I could have danced naked around the streets, but I tried to remain calm, for his sake...
This example shows how to lead the reader. It leads from narration into dialogue and back out again, smoothly. As you can see, it's fairly easy.
Just keep it consistent and always try to be clear. But the more you do it, the better you will become.
It was really helpfull! I am fourteen and I love writing. I am writing a story (don't know if it's going to be long enough to "fill" a whole book) and I've got some doubts.
I think I make things happen too fast in the story. I mean, I wrote 402 words, and my first chapter is done. It must sound a little bit stupid, but it seems to me like I'm going to finish all that I want to say in a few pages. What should I do? I don't want to write worthless things to fill more pages...
Well, I hope you understood, I'm from Spain, hehe.
Thank you! And I love your blog!
Thanks for your post. The fact you are 14, you have lots of time to learn all about writing.
What you talk about here is pacing. Pacing a story is harder than it sounds because you have to stretch the story over a longer period, especially with a novel.
Your story sounds like a short story rather than a novel. Perhaps it's a 5000 words story or maybe 7000 word story. Whatever the length you settle on, you have to fill it with narrative, description and dialogue that will keep the reader captivated. Don't rush your story. Take the time to explore the story itself - what is it about, what's the character's mail goal in the story? How will it affect him/her? Who else is involved? What are your themes - love, betrayal, greed, hate? Is there any conflict? There must be conflict of some kind within the story, that's what drives any story forward.
A story isn't a straight path - it meanders and bends and turns and there are ups and downs and holes and cracks... These are the things you want to include. Far from writing anything worthless to fill the pages, you'll have a proper story to tell, more so if you remember to include plenty description, because that's what lifts your story from the page.
Keep writing - the more you write, the better you become.
Dear Humpage, I'm writing a biographical fiction. From what I planned, I have to create a proper background to drive home my points. There is the tendency that the novel would be pretty long. Even before the main character is born, I've written almost 30,000 words spread over four chapters. Again, every stage of his life is full of very challenging and often interesting events that it becomes extremely difficult to know which part to chop off for me to cut down on the length of the book. I have written over a hundred thousand words already and still counting. With what I read in this post, I feel as if the book length is becoming outrageous. Your advice please, especially on what you think should be a reasonable length for that genre. Thanks.ReplyDelete
The length may get out of hand if you are not careful. Very books are simply not marketable, let alone palatable. You have to find a way of self-editing to keep the numbers down.Delete
The one thing of concern is that 30K words have been written before the main character makes an appearance. Not many readers will hang around to find this out. A main character should be introduced as EARLY as possible in any story, otherwise the story won't work.
In this case, I would cut those 30,000 words and start at the most pivotal moment in the main character's life. Writers use flashbacks to backfill any details they think are pertinent, but won't clog the story.
Dear Humpage, my name is Femi. I posted the above comment on biographical fiction. I will really appreciate your response or comment from any reader. ThanksReplyDelete
Dear Ms. Humpage, my name is Wayne. I began writing about a year ago. I have not yet written an outline for my novel, I just began writing. As I progressed, ideas came to me of other adventures for my main characters and wrote about them as having occurred either prior to the present or after. My writing is spontaneous and I periodically jump to the other segments as the thoughts hit me. I have a basic outline of the story in my head, ie. characters, plot and ending and have tried to write an outline, but find it difficult because the story unfolds as I write. Do others write in this manner?ReplyDelete
Everybody has a different method to write, Wayne. We all do things differently. Even though I outline and plot and plan, sometimes I just can't help myself when little 'scenes' appear in my head, so I write them. I then add them to the most appropriate moment in the story.Delete
Some can outline methodically, some just write by the seat of their pants. As long as you can learn to bring all those threads and thoughts together into a cohesive narrative, then it doesn't matter how you write. The end result is what is important.
What I would say is learn not to get to distracted by thoughts and try to remain focused, otherwise you'll find nothing actually gets properly done.
I am writing in a similar fashion. I write at various times and have no outline but am writing from beginning to end.Delete
You are writing, at that's what counts. Many writers don't write in order - sometimes they start with the ending (sort of), others start with middle scenes. But in the end, it all knits together.Delete
Thank you for your response. I have, essentially, finished my book and I am beginning to assemble the beginning, middle and end. I am at 98000 words and I'm sure the editing result will end up at around 85000, give or take. A minor note, I began writing at age 71.ReplyDelete
85,000 words sounds just about right, Wayne. Well done for completing your book. And you are never too old top write!Delete
Hi Miss Humpage,ReplyDelete
I am close to finishing my book (still needs revising) and i was hoping you could give advise on how to seek out publishers and editors.
It depends where you are in the world - in the UK writers have a great resource for finding agents and publishers - the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, which lists all media agents & publishers. This book is available in bookstores & Amazon.
In the US there is the Writer's Market, which also lists agents and publishers, again you can find it on Amazon or large bookstores.
Canada has few agents, but a list of them is available online at Predators & Editors.
Wherever you are and whichever ones you choose, follow the submission guidelines to the letter. Send exactly what they ask for, and do not deviate. When writers don't heed these guidelines, the agents will know that writer isn't capable of following simple instructions and will reject the work.
Good luck with your book!
Hi, AJ Humpage! Thank you so much!! I'm so Happy for opening up this page. It was so helpful.. I'm so thankful 2 you... Now I know where to come when I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere in my novels.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Areej :D
Glad it helped, Areej.Delete
Yes, thank you for the advice. It helps me see how I am doing and where I need to improve.ReplyDelete
Glad the blog is helping, M.DDelete
alas AJ you are a voice of sanity in this maze of novel writing. I'm half way there at over 30k words for my first novel. I know where my chapters are, main characters, sub characters. main plot, sub plots.. I have the trilogy outlined and down to a science. Been 6 years of hard work and research. I'll keep in touch here and thanks for having this page available for clueless guys like me to pick up some skills on this novel writing thing.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Anonymous. It's great to hear such positives. Never give up.Delete
I just started writing and had a question concerning your statement and I am going to show my ignorance in this. What do you mean by 10 x A4 sheets?ReplyDelete
10 x A4 sheets means that if you were to print out a chapter from your novel which was 10 sheets in A4 size (UK A4 size), then this would give you an AVERAGE length of a chapter. You can see it visually.
Sometimes the chapter could be 7 sheets, or 9. It depends, but printing out your work always gives you an idea of just how many words your novel takes up.
Hope that answers your question.
Sort of...I am writing with 8.5" x 11". I have just finished chapter 6 and have just over 17,000 words. Am I close to "normal"?Delete
That's within a 'normal' range. You could say that you are on doing 2800 words on average per chapter, which is pretty good, but just remember to vary the length of your proceeding chapters - if you make each one quite long, you will end up something that's touching 100K words. Average novels tend to be around 80,000 - 95,000 words, which is more easier for your readers.
Thanks AJ, I am just finishing chapter 8 at 22,000 and have three chapters now that are going to be relatively short. Your response has been appreciated. Thank you so much.Delete
Glad to help, Britt.Delete
AJ let me ask another question. When is it best to look for a publisher and what steps does a new writer need to take when seeking one out. A friend of mine is encouraging me to get an agent already. I feel it is too soon but not sure. Thanks in advance for all of your help.Delete
Your question is a common one, and the advice is this: Only fools rush in, and it's pretty true. Wait until you have written your novel, edited it and polished it to (almost) perfection. When it is ready, truly ready, then that is the time to look for an agent.
The reason why we tell writers to wait is simply because the writing process gives you time to get to know your story and characters thoroughly, inside out, back to front. You have to know them and the story in order to convince an agent to take you on.
Also, when you come to write your synopsis, you know EXACTLY what to write. But you can't do that if you're only 22 chapters in to a 40 chapter novel. Not only that, but on the strength of your submission, they may request to see the full MSS, and if it's only half written, then there's no way you can fulfil the request. This tells the agent you lack patience with the processes involved, but it also tells them how unprofessional you are and it's rare to get a second chance.
So, moral of the story, get the novel ready first, then start your submission process.
As for how to go about it, in the UK we have the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook which lists agents and publishers and their submission guidelines. In the US, you can use Writer's Market, which is a similar kind of thing, with agent and publisher listings and useful information.
Also, never be afraid to look up agents online - they will always have their submission guidelines on there for convenience.
A word of advice on your submission - always, always submit EXACTLY per each agent's request. Do not deviate. If they want a cover letter, three chapters and a 1 page synopsis, then send exactly that. If they want the first 50 pages and a four page synopsis, then send exactly that. You'd be surprised how many writers ignore the submission guidelines completely. Stick to what they ask and you can't go wrong.
Hope that helps!
Thanks so much. Lots of sage advice!Delete
You're welcome, Britt.Delete
AJ, just to update you, not that you need it but it helps me to know I have someone to tell. I just completed my 19th of 30-31 chapters with 55,000 (aprox) words. Excited to begin the move toward the climax of the story.Delete
Thanks for all your advice so far...I hope I need more...I love learning.
Excellent progress! 55K sounds very healthy. Keep going; you'll be so proud of yourself when you finish that draft.
Question, If I quote song lyrics do I need to get permission to do so. The song is listed on line and the song was written in 1905 before the Public Domain cut off of 1922. I am just quoting the words to the song, so I'm not quite sure what to do.Delete
On the assumption that this refers to the US, the fact that it was written in 1905 means that the copyright has passed and is therefore in the public domain. In other areas, such as the UK and Europe, this varies. But certainly anything before 1923 will be in the public domain.
A.J. I am completing the climax of my book. I have taken a lot of advice and weighed it out and just want to let you know that I appreciate your site here and the information that you share.Delete
Now, if I have done most all of this the correct way and continue then I hope that I am able to begin the second part of the now "saga", as my family is calling it. I have three chapters left to complete, one of course being the close. I am not sure how to approach that aspect yet but I am working on it.
Thanks again for your help.
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This is reaaaaalllyyyy helping cant give enough thanks reeaaaaallllly thanksReplyDelete
Thanks, that's reaaaaalllyyyy good to know! :)Delete
Good post but I was if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Appreciate it!ReplyDelete
Let me know exactly what aspects you are interested in, what you wish me to elaborate on, since it's a large area to cover, and I'll be happy to write something.
This was very helpful. The first question I asked was how many words to put in a chapter. I am only 12 but I love writing. I'm writing a fantasy called Waiting for Hope on Wattpad. My first chapter is 2,600 something words thanks to this.ReplyDelete
Well done on starting your fantasy novel aged 12! Keep writing. The more you write, the better you become. Writing is not an easy task, so feel free to ask questions.
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Thanks! I'm really enjoying it and getting good feedback on it. I couldn't have done it without your great advice. Every weekend, I get on just to read the articles. I've gone all the way to your first one and have been reading all the way up!ReplyDelete
Wow, that's dedication, Danielle! I'm glad the articles are proving useful. Such enthusiasm in young writers is good to see!Delete
I would never of gotten this far without them. :)ReplyDelete
Thank you so much!ReplyDelete
I've been attempting to write pretty much since I could hold a pencil, but every time I've tried to write a novel, I've started hating the entire plot and pretty much everything about it as little as two chapters in! This is the first time I've actually gotten really into the story and my characters, and actually done ample research before starting. I've kind of become a little obsessed. The only thing I was still unsure about was my chapter length, so you've helped me more than you could ever know! Again, thank you so much! And I'm sorry for sort of rambling on. Haha
Glad this helped, Hannah!Delete
It's good to hear that writers like yourself are finding their way with writing. Embrace it and enjoy it!
I am just a 14 year old writer and am writing a small, but fairly complex, novel. I really appreciate your information, Most cites I have found just told me to do what I think but I have no clue what I think and that is the reason I am looking in the first place. I like that you put numbers and suggested ideas as well.ReplyDelete
Also I enjoy that you are such an inspiration to the beginning writers who have seen your page and your willingness to answer our questions. In short, thank you so much.ReplyDelete
Sorry, my first entry and my second appeared with different names. I have no clue how.ReplyDelete
Thanks for posting. I'm always glad to see young writers like you keen to learn as much as they can, and if sites like mine help newcomers realise their writing potential, then I've accomplished something!
When a determined person wants to accomplish something they will. Even if it is writing an 80000 word novel.:-)Delete
I apologize for the amount of comments I have posted but I still have one more. Titles. I am about halfway through my novel but still lack a proper title ( right now it is labeled "Emily's novel") how do I make a good title? Do I choose a suspenseful one or a descriptive one? And how will I know if it describes my story? Please help.ReplyDelete
Titles can be a pain sometimes. There are times when I've laboured over what to call a story, for days, weeks even. But the thing with titles is that they have to fit the story in the same way that your character names somehow fit their characters.
There's an article I wrote in 2012 called Why Titles Matter (just type it into the search button further down the blog page). This should hopefully help inspire you, but in a nutshell, titles need to engage the reader, grab their attention, make them wonder, provoke curiosity. Titles shouldn't always give away what the story is about, either. Think of something that sums up your story in one or two words and write them down. Then play around with them. If none appeal, think about the themes that run through your novel. Try the same exercise.
In truth, titles don't always come instantly. I've not long written a short story for an anthology due out next year, about the Deep Web. I wrestled with the title for a while. I could have called it 'The Deep Web' but that was too obvious. It then turned into 'Kill Time', but I still wasn't happy. In the end I went for something different, something that would make the reader take notice - there is a code that appears throughout the story, like a motif, and when deciphered, it spells out Kill Time. But instead of letters, I used the numerical code, 44-47. And that became the title of the story, The 44-47. So you can see the process is weird and wonderful and never easy!
Take your time, there is no rush. Often titles are the last thing we create. Hopefully the blog article will also help.
Remember, a title doesn't need to describe your story, it can hint at it, or it can even have a hidden meaning.
Thank you, I didn't think about it that way, I think I've decided to call it "The Wrong Prince" :-)ReplyDelete
Well done on finding your title!ReplyDelete
I have a question. Is 444 words long enough for an introduction to a fantasy? I know it doesn't matter, but it seems too short. Should I perhaps make it longer? Say, rounded to about 500?ReplyDelete
I wouldn't worry too much about figures. If it works at 444 words, then don't mess with it too much. If you feel it needs more, then add to it. And you're right, it doesn't matter too much, but what matters is that you have balance, so as long as it isn't ridiculously short (which it isn't), or overly long, then it's fine.
500 words is around a page and a half A4 with correct margins, so 450 - 500 words is fine.
Although I wasn't seeking a solution as much as more information on a question that seems to have so many answers, this was one of the best perspectives I've ever read. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete