This week my novel tipped the word count at over 100,000 words. I’ve found that while writers tend to think in terms of word count and automatically have an idea of what 100,000 means, readers often want to know how many pages that is. Word count is a solid, tangible number, while page count is rather ambiguous in an unpublished work. The number of pages in a book depends on several factors, including format (paperback or hardcover), font, print size, front matter, back matter, chapters, sections… That being said, not that anyone is counting, but if my book were published in its current state, it would be somewhere around 300 pages, give or take 50 or so. But let’s not talk about my book being published in its current state. I’m already breaking out in hives.
Honestly, I never thought I could write a book that was 100,000 words long. Don’t get me wrong, I know I can be pretty wordy. I decided when I was ten years old that I would never be a short story writer. Novels are my thing. I love action and drama and fast-paced, quick-moving stories… in movies. In a book, I like to take my time to get to know characters and love them before things happen in their lives, while things are happening, and after the things happen. That’s what I love, so that’s what I write.
Characters take time to develop. Just like first impressions in real life, where you can make a snap judgment in five minutes and decide whether or not you’re going to like a person, very often you can tell within five pages of a book if you’re going to like a character enough to invest in them for the next 300 pages or so. But then there’s the fun of really diving in to what makes this person tick, watching relationships unfold and stretch and change, seeing how they respond in various situations and wondering if you would react the same way. That’s what’s fun about stories, isn’t it? Escaping your own life and immersing yourself in someone else’s, just for pure entertainment. Sometimes you even learn something along the way. Again, that’s what I love, so that’s what I write.
Still, when your novel is limping along at 55,000 words (barely a novella by most standards), which is where mine was a year and a half ago, 100,000 seems like an impossible target. When I embarked on this major rewrite, adding important things like a plot to my story, I set 80,000 as my target goal. Surely I couldn’t add 45,000 additional words to what I thought was already a fairly complete story, but 25,000 seemed reasonable. Then as I kept writing, and the plot and the characters kept developing, and one minor character kept demanding more of a role, I looked at my outline (yes, I do look at it sometimes) and thought, “This thing could go massive. Like, I’m not sure if it will be less than 130,000 words.” But I kept writing because I figured, hey, if I can add that many words, I can just as easily cut out that many when it’s time to get it into shape to try to submit it for publication. Then a few weeks ago, out of nowhere, I wrote a short piece of a scene that just popped into my head and thought, “Hey, you know what? This sounds like an ending.” So now I’ve been writing toward that, and I’m only a chapter or two away, so 110,000 is sounding like a really good total number of words for this draft. And let me be clear: it’s a draft. The kind of thing that only a few patient people who really love me would be willing to read through. It needs lots of work, still. But I’m much, much happier with it now than I was a year and a half ago. Who knows, maybe in another year and a half (or less!) I might have something that I’d be ready to let the whole world read. We’ll see. For now, I’m going to enjoy this moment, knowing that I’ve written more words in a single story than I ever have before, and focus on writing on to that ending!
(In case you’re wondering, this entire post is about 730 words)