It is November and for many writers that means it is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. This is an annual challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words within the month of November. But how many words are in a novel? What about other types of fiction? How long is a novella? How many words are in a short story? What about flash fiction? I suppose it is because I have always been given a strict word count limit for my essays that it is only natural for me to ponder how many words are required when writing a novel, novella or a short story. I’ve researched this subject quite a bit and found a variety of recommendations – although the sources don’t necessarily agree and many are contradictory.
It used to be the case that novels were much shorter, and previously those of the 50,000 word target of NaNoWriMo might now be classified as novellas. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was 36,363 words and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl is shorter at 30,644 words. These two examples are, however, aimed at children and so it might be expected that they would be shorter. Not much longer at 46,118 words is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and at 47,094 words is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Genre is an important factor when considering word count for novels. The fantasy genre within speculative fiction tend to have much longer books. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is 95,022 words, and The Lord of the Rings three novels are even longer at 177,227 words for The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers – 143,436 words and The Return of the King – 134,462 words.Perhaps 50,000 words is quite short for a novel these days. How long is a novel? #writing Click To Tweet
Perhaps 50,000 words is quite short for a novel these days. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series started at 77,325 words for the Philosopher’s Stone, rising to 257,154 words for Order of the Phoenix and ending on 198,227 words in Deathly Hallows. The dystopian sub-genre within science fiction is currently around the 100,000 word mark with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins at 99,750 words, The Maze Runner by James Dashner is 101,182 words and Divergent by Veronica Roth is 105,143 words. This is the sub-genre where I write and so I am aiming for around 100,000 words for each of the novels in my series.
Reedsy have a helpful list of novel word count by sub-genre:
- Commercial and literary novels: 80,000 – 100,000
- Science fiction and fantasy: 100,000 – 115,000
- Young adult: 55,000 – 70,000
- Middle grade: 20,000 – 55,000
- Romance: 80,000 – 100,000
- Mystery: 75,000 – 100,000
- Thriller: 90,000 – 100,000
- Memoir: 80,000 – 90,000
- Western: 45,000 – 75,000
Novel length is therefore very dependent upon the genre you are writing for. Flash fiction and short story competitions will usually specify a word count in the conditions of entry. Publishers will also specify target word counts for each genre and may have their own in-house requirements.
Taking all of this into account I’ve posted the suggested word count limits for different types of writing below. I’ve mainly written this post as a reference for myself, but I hope that you will find it useful too.
Feel free to share, but please make sure to tell people where you saw it first.Word count by different types of #writing. How long is a novel? Click To Tweet
How many words? Word count by different types of writing
- Flash Fiction: Less than 1,000 words
- Short Story: 500 – 17,500 words
- Novelette: 7,500 – 25,000 words
- Novella: 10,000 – 70,000 words
- Novel: 45,000 words or more
There is a lot of overlap here. Is this your debut novel? What do your readers expect? Does the publisher or competition runner specify a word count? Remember your genre or sub-genre and finally, feel free to bend the rules where necessary. Let me know what you think.