Writing process 1: Wordcount and length

Thought I’d make some posts about my personal writing process. No idea if this is interesting, but maybe it will be to some people. I’ll start with wordcount and length for short stories.

When I draft a short story, I write to whatever length it needs to be. Usually I know this after the first scene; I can estimate within 1k words what the length will be. That’s from experience; my estimates keep improving over time. It’s a useful skill. There’s no way to teach this. You just have to practice a lot.

I have three approximate lengths for my short stories, not counting flash fiction. Short = 2k-3k. Medium = 3.5k-4.5k. Long = 5k-6k. After the first scene is drafted, I generally know if the story will be short, medium, or long. My stories tend to cluster at the centerpoints of those ranges. 2.5k, 4k, and 5.5k. Scenes are usually 800-1200 words.

4k is the most common length for me. A few years ago, I averaged 5k. Then I dropped to 4.5k. Now I’m at 4k. The difference is that I’m telling the same stories in fewer words. My writing has become leaner, thanks in part to The 10% Solution by Ken Rand. (The webpage is a useful start–but I think serious writers should read the whole book.)

It also means that when I critique a story in a workshop, I can tell the writer, “I think you have only 4k worth of story here,” when they’ve written it in 6k. Or the less common, “You’ll need 7k to deal with this idea,” when they’ve written 3k. Most newer writers have too many words in proportion to their content. So it’s not bad to say “this is only a 4k idea.” Some ideas simply require more development than others. Like gemstones, ideas sparkle most in a properly-sized setting.

As for the actual writing–once I have an idea what I’m getting into, then I just write and don’t worry about the wordcount (aside from using it for motivation, like “I can stop when Word tells me I’ve hit 3k”). I am rarely wrong about the approximate length. Even if I have no idea what the events are, or how the story ends.

Next writing process topic: revisions. (Is there anything particular you’d like to know about my writing process? Tell me in comments.)

2 thoughts on “Writing process 1: Wordcount and length

  1. Which usually comes first for you, Vylar: story, character, place, or Big Idea (philosophical/political concept). Do any of these notions never serve as initial impulses? What additional notions serve as initial impulses? What is the strangest way a story started for you?
    Hey, you said I could ask questions. 🙂


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