A Novel-Writing Rule to Know Now
To properly address today’s novel-Writing Rule, let’s recap our January discussions on genre. Here was the Definition:
A genre is a literary category: a subset of the main (somewhat interchangeable) types of writing: fiction vs. nonfiction, and prose vs. poetry.
All four can be historical in nature, romantic, thrilling, introspective, inspirational or far-fetched, to name a few possibilities. Genres tidy up that long list of descriptions, letting readers know what to expect in focus, style, length and/or purpose. Is the piece predominantly meant to entertain or educate? Will it focus on faeries or facts? Designated genres help narrow those questions down.
Next up, here was the Writing Challenge:
Determine the genre and subgenre you’re writing in.
If that challenge sounds too restrictive or restraining, too bad my little authorial cupcake. Trying to break out of the genre system will only make your publishing and/or post-publishing life a lot more difficult.
If you want to be traditionally published, literary agents will want to know exactly what you’ve written or are proposing to write. And even if you want to self-publish, your potential readers will want to know the same. This means you need to pick a genre to write in, then research it further to see if it features any fitting subgenres.
And the Writing Rule went like this:
You’re best off knowing your genre of choice inside and out.
Every genre involves its own set of expectations and rules. As the writer, you’re much better off knowing what those are, from proper word count to allowed elements.
Should your narrative have a happy ending or a shocking one? Is there a template you need to consider? Is the ending supposed to inspire or inform? It’s better to know before you start to write than after.
The three posts created around those concepts contained some very important information. But besides that quick “proper word count” mention, there was no real exploration of how long a story should be.
Let’s remedy that right now.
Once you’ve determined your genre, you’re ready to research what it means.
What can it entail? What should it entail? What needs to happen and what absolutely can’t?
You can find and execute all those answers to perfection. Yet it could all be for nothing if you don’t pay attention to your word count along the way.
Different novel genres come with different expectations by way of word count.
Sci-fi/fantasy. Romance. Thriller. Mystery. Historical fiction. Young adult... They each have their own word count rules and restrictions according to traditional publishers.
If you plan to self-publish, then who cares! To some degree, anyway. But if you want to get picked up by a small press or the Big 5, then you’d better toe the industry line – or risk not getting picked up at all.
Traditional publishers are busy people, a topic we’ll touch much more firmly on later this year. For now though, understand that they implement a certain set of guidelines to make their workload a little easier to handle.
That includes genre-specific novel-writing rules and restrictions on word count.
Since I’m already getting wordy with this post, I’m going to turn the topic over to LitRejections for now. It’s a valuable resource, even if I am appalled by some of its genre-specific novel-writing word count rules and guidelines.
A novel that’s 40,000 words long? That’s not a novel! It’s a long short story.
(Actually, it’s a novella, but for the moment, I'm going for snark over substance.)
Overall though, it’s got great information for, let’s say, anyone writing a literary, commercial or women’s fiction novel. In those cases, LitRejections says your word count should come in at 80,000 to 110,000.
Working on a crime fiction manuscript? Think tighter. A word count of 90,000 to 100,000 is a much safer bet.
It goes on to put mysteries, thrillers and suspense novels at 70,000 to 90,000 words long, and continues down the list from there.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that LitRejections is the only place you should search when figuring out how long to make your story. For that matter, neither does the site itself.
But I do appreciate how detailed it’s willing to be, including acknowledging exceptions and the somewhat murky nature of this novel-Writing Rule.
It’s a strong spot to start, especially before you get too far into that genre-specific manuscript of yours.