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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Is there a natural length a writer works to?

   
Author Topic: Is there a natural length a writer works to?
Owasm
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Being a neophyte at writing, I have found myself writing short stories in the 8,000 word range.

Do writers find a natural length for their work or do they write various lengths all the time?


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BoredCrow
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My word count changes with each story. Sometimes I have written stories of specific lengths for the competitions here, but usually I ignore word count while I'm writing.
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InarticulateBabbler
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900-1,000 words is my usual range for flash fiction. Short stories like to be between 10 - 15,000 words--except my WotF entries, which run 15-17,000 words. Novels...I have one sitting at around 90,000 words, and another at about 150,000 words.

I'd say the true answer is: untill you're done. I think you will fall into a comfortable range: for Robert Jordan it was 350 - 400,000 words, OSC averages 140,000 or so, Robin Hobb averages 100 - 200,000 words, George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire averages 400,000 words, Frank Herbert's Dune series was averaged 150,000 words, Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert's Dune prequels more like 180,000 words, while Heinlein averaged about 80,000.


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dee_boncci
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I think in the broadest sense the length varies, since in general writers vary their projects from short stories to novels. That said, as IAB pointed out, many writers do have a tendency to gravitate to a spot somewhere along the shortish to longish continuum when it comes to novels. Some of that is probably due to genre/publishing expectations, where for example, you'll see sci-fi novels generally run shorter than fantasy novels.

When I first started writing short stories it seemed everything wound up in the 8k-15k range. As I began to better understand the elements of a story that has shortened considerably (2k-7k). At the same time I now tend to have an approximate length in mind when I start, so for me it is not a very organic process.

I think it is common in the beginning to write longish short stories simply due to inefficiency (at least that's how it was for me). As an exercise I'd suggest taking one of your early stories and revise it to be half it's present length. It's difficult, but probably doable, and there's a good chance you'll wind up with a tighter, more marketable story.


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skadder
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My short stories seem to come in between 2-6k words averaging about 4k. I think I do that because that is the most marketable lengths. The longer the story the harder the sale.

I do write longer stories but only if the story warrants it.

Flash fiction requires careful story selection--to ensure that the story isn't squashed to get in under the 1K limit--and careful writing to keep it under control.


I have a couple of unfinished novels of 20-40k and one planned but not written (waiting until I am more skilled).

Adam


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Zero
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I don't know whether it's subconscious or just innate style but I experience the same thing. I've finished three novels, all of which landed very close to the 120,000 mark.
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Jeff Baerveldt
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I can't speak to word-count per se, but my own experience tells me that I'm a novelist at heart. I naturally think of big stories, and even when I have a small story idea, it tends to blow its way out of the short-story range a few minutes after I start thinking seriously about it.

How long is my average novel? Well, I can't say anything about that yet.


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extrinsic
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I believe there's a comfortable story length--writing and reading--that is partly a product of television watching, and perhaps stage play perfomances, too. The quantity and quality of information in 7000 to 8000 words is roughly equivalent to an hour-long program, not including commercials. 1000 to 1500 words, ten minutes based on an average speaking rate of 150 words per minute.

Shorter length programs have less context development or benefit from preexisting knowledge of the circumstances, like with an hour-long serial situation drama where the characters and settings recur in each episode. Thirty-second commercial spots are like microfiction, the audience must have preexisting context to understand the spot.

Also contributing perhaps is reading habits and comprehension reading rate. If story lengths of 2000 words are commonly read then that's what seems most natural to write.

25,000 words is an average for a dedicated reader's reading session, comparable to three hours of television programming, but taking an average of 70 minutes to read.

In English, comprehension reading speed averages roughly 350 words per minute compared with reading aloud at 150 words per minute, comparable to the reading-aloud rate of a screenplay performance. High-end practical reading speeds of up 1000 words per minute without diminishing comprehension are fairly common for readers who've developed reading and comprehension skills. I'm not talking about speed reading, which diminishes comprehension.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited April 02, 2009).]


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Robert Nowall
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Well, up to a few years ago, I was having trouble sustaining anything past five thousand words...then I spent a hundred thousand words on a novel I never finished, and my last two finished works ran twenty thousand words apiece, with a couple of unfinished ones running ten thousand and better.

I mean, I like 'em well enough, and I wanted to be able to turn out things that long, but I wanted to retain the ability to do something short...the market being what it is these days, I think my chances are better with shorter stuff.


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Robert Nowall
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I should add that I don't know that the stories are more complex or the characters are deeper because of the length...I just know I wrote short up to a few years ago, and wrote long ever since.
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Zero
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extrinsic,

I don't like those averages. I think I read closer to 200 words per minute or less. But think of it as savoring and not slowness.


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extrinsic
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I didn't make 'em up. I read at a leisurely pace closer to 1000 words per minute with high comprehension. My copyediting pace averages 150 words per minute.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited April 02, 2009).]


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tchernabyelo
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I've sold stories of 100 words in length up to 12,000 words in length, and written up to 200,000 words in length (yes, that's a fairly big novel). I don't think I have a "natural" length, it is entirely dependent on what the story is for (how many characters it has, how involved the plot is, how much description or action or dialogue it needs).

I read about 550wpm, IIRC (did one of the speed-reading/speed-and-comprehension-reading tests recently).

[This message has been edited by tchernabyelo (edited April 02, 2009).]


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BenM
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I enjoy novel writing the most, simply because I enjoy the extra depth and development of that form. The realities of my schedule, combined with a desire to exercise my writing at different lengths means I don't write at just one length.

So to answer the original question I think it's only natural for someone to arrive at a length they feel most comfortable with. Whether it's ultimately good for their craft to always write at that length, though, is another matter.


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Natej11
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I've seen a lot of replies regarding the length a person tends to write within a certain subset (ie short story, novel, novella, etc). When I saw the post my first thought was about the subset itself.

When I started writing I immediately dove into a novel, and a lot of the time when I try a short story I find myself naturally drawing it out into a novel. I guess I can't be satisfied dipping into a different world for just a few pages ^^.


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tchernabyelo
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That's one of the reasons I usually write more than one story in the same setting, and use recurring characters. If you put a lot of effort into building a world, it seems like you should get more than a few thousands words out of it.

Even many of my "one-off" settings will eventually be tied together (worlds are big places).


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Robert Nowall
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I don't know precisely how fast I read...I can usually go through a book of three hundred pages or so in a day, if I don't get distracted or do get really involved in it. A non-SF magazine usually takes under an hour. Daily newspapers take about ten minutes per, with Sundays taking a half hour. (Neither of the last two constitutes reading every word, though.)

Usually it takes me about half an hour to write five hundred words of rough draft...which is usually what I limit myself to.


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KayTi
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I find that my short stories tend to be 5-8k in length, leaning more toward the 5k side. Don't know why, but I tend to agree that it's a comfortable length for me. A length I'm comfortable writing in (feel like I have enough content to fill) and a length I'm comfortable editing in (feel like I have time enough to go through it at adequate level of detail...)
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