Alrightie, writers. Let’s take a look at some outside basics.
Length of your book.
Now, I’m not an editor. Publisher. E-Book guru. But this is Basic Writing 101. Things you should know up front. This information is important as you get lost in the world of writing.
According to a combination of several websites, here are some average book lengths:
- Children’s picture book: 5 – 1,000 words.
- Children’s chapter book: 4,000 –10,000 words.
- Middle grade: 30,000 – 50,000 words.
- Young Adult (YA): 40,000 – 70,000 words.
- Flash fiction: 500 words or less. Depending on contest/publication, can be as few as 100 words or as many as 1,000 words.
- Micro-Fiction: 100 words or less.
- Short Story: 1,000 – 10,000 words.
- Novella: 10,000 – 40,000 words.
- Novel: 50,000 -110,000 words.
- Epics and Sequels: 110,000 words or more.
- Adult literary and commercial fiction: 80,000 – 100,000 words.
- Memoirs, Biography, and Autobiography: 80,000 words.
Then there are average genre lengths:
- Sci-fi/Fantasy: 90,000 – 120,000 words. Anything over 150,000 words might be testing for your readers.
- Historical: 90,000 – 120,000 words.
- Romance: 50,000 – 100,000 words. The wide range for this genre is because of the number of sub-genres available: supernatural, erotica, historical, ‘chick-lit’, etc.
- Crime/Mystery/Thriller/Horror: 70,000 – 90,000 words.
These “averages” are based on a page with 1-inch margins, 12 point Times New Roman font, and minimal spacing elements. A good rule of thumb is 500 words for a single spaced page and 250 words for a double spaced page.
The “cosmic” way of thinking is that your book will be as long as it needs to be. Period. While that is true, it’s always smart to keep some general guidelines in the back of your mind.
Now, the guidelines about are just that. Guidelines. Estimates. These are usually based on how long a reader is willing to spend on reading. On their attention span. A children’s book that goes on close to 10,000 words would put most children to sleep. A murder mystery will make a reader shake their head if it comes in under 40,000 words. Stephen King’s Carrie is about 42,385 words. His book It comes in at about 444,414 words. Length can make or break a book. It’s hard to keep a reader’s interesting with anything past 100,000 words (unless you ARE King).
Then there is the book’s time frame.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf take place in one day. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines takes place over 110 years. Both books are more or less 200 pages long.
Just remember the original purpose of your story. Tell what you want to tell, no more, no less. Don’t worry about what happens before the first chapter, nor after “the end.”
Decide your point of view.
There are four primary POV types in fiction:
First person point of view. First person is when “I” am telling the story. The character is in the story, relating his or her experiences directly.
Second person point of view. The story is told to “you.” It includes pronouns you, your, and yours to address readers or listeners directly. This POV is not common in fiction, but it’s still good to know (it is more common in nonfiction).
Third person point of view. The story is about “he” or “she.” This is the most common point of view in commercial fiction. The narrator is outside of the story and relating the experiences of a specific character.
*One note on third person point of view: If you are writing from one person’s point of view, your character cannot know what the other characters are actually thinking. There are ways to bring other character’s motivations and thoughts into the main character’s story. Your character can guess, surmise, suppose, infer, but can never say “she thought” or “he thought.” You can indicate other’s intentions by gestures or direct quotation, but you cannot write what you do not know directly.
Third person point of view, omniscient. The story is still about “he” or “she,” but the narrator has full access to the thoughts and experiences of all characters in the story.
*Note on third person omniscient: Be sure if you go down this path that you show the thoughts and conversations of all your characters, not just the main one. This version gives you the freedom to say, “She thought he was a cad. He thought she was domineering.” But be sure to continue their thought threads through the whole book so we follow their reasonings from beginning to end.
For non-fiction, The Pen and the Pad says: A non-fiction story can also be told from the points of view present in literary fiction. A memoir or autobiography, for example, is a first-person account of personal events, while a standard biography is written by a third-person narrator who has investigated or interviewed subjects before writing from a more distanced perspective. Non-fiction may be written in second-person, using “you” as the subject, especially if it is in the form of a how-to guide or instructional manual.
There are other points of view floating around, but a beginner writer usually u is concerned only with the first or third person.
The point is: Pick a point of view and stick with it. One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is saying “he went/she went” then five chapters later saying, “I went.”
If you are writing a fiction piece, you need a beginning, a middle, and an end. An introduction, turning point, and conclusion. Your character(s) needs to change the world – or at least themselves. The main character(s) needs to learn something so that the reader learns something.
We laugh when we hear about “the moral of the story,” yet that’s what readers want. They want gold at the end of the rainbow. Payback for evil deeds. A hard heart that has softened. A soft heart that has learned to toughen up. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy ending, but it should be a satisfying one. One that makes sense.
Non-fiction books such as biographies, family histories, self-help, and therapy books should stay in chronological order. The story should ebb and flow with beginnings and endings as the character(s) life evolves. You should put heart into those stories, too. Make us feel what the person was feeling. Avoid flashbacks, at least with your first book. Writing it step-by-step is hard enough.
This is where a handy dandy notebook comes it. I have one for every book I’ve written. Be sure to write down the order of events. The ups, the downs, the turning points in their lives. It’s so easy to forget this point or that point. And nothing is more distracting that crisscross information.
Next: Pre-Writing Considerations Part II