Tuesday, 22 February 2011


I'd like to say this is a frequently asked question. It ain't. Non-writers don't give a stuff how long novels should be. Experienced writers know already. Some novice writers think the rules don't apply to them.

So for those of you who care, the average adult novel is 88,000 words long. Chapters, in my experience, work well up to 4-5,000 words, but are often better when shorter - especially at the beginning of a novel. A 'scene' (i.e. a continuous dramatic unit) should be a minimum of 1,000 words, and can span several chapters.

Some category fiction (Harlequin Mills and Boon) has a maximum of 55,000 words, some chick lit imprints (Little Black Dress) are 60-80,000 and not a word more. These publishers are VERY STRICT about this.

Children's novels are different lengths. In the 9-12 age group, 50-60,000 seems to be about the limit, but 40,000 might be a more comfortable read.

Some novels are much, much longer. English language Indian novels all seemed to be about 250,000 words in the 1990s. This seems to have gone out of style, however, and would be a hard sell in today's climate.

A novelist might write 250,000 words in the course of producing a novel, but many of them would be edited out, or written over, to leave an 88,000-word highly polished gem.

I had a furious argument with another novice writer about this. He insisted, quite violently, that his 250,000 word megabrick would buck the trend. I had to give way in the end. His novel didn't get published, but I'm not sure if that was because of the length or the fact it didn't make sense.

More Ways of Working/Drafting...

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