Writing Tools: How Many Words?

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This week, Shirley tackles word count in stories, how much is needed?

I’ve been asked by novice writers how they know how long to make their story.

My stock answer is, make it as long as it needs to be.

By this I mean, tell your story, get it down on paper – or rather, the computer screen – and take it from there. In my experience, stories have a natural length – they just do.

Then, once you’ve got it down, that’s when you start considering the word count.

Our story word count requirements

I’ve explained in the past on my Fiction Ed’s blog about our word counts. Our requirements are for stories of 1200, 2000, 3000 and (very occasionally) 4000 and 9500 words. These last two only appear at a rate of one per special, and a special is only three-weekly, so your maths will tell you that we use barely 17 of those lengths per year. Similarly, there’s only one 1200-worder per weekly issue, so again, we need just 52 per year.

Sensible thinking, therefore, will guide you to focus on 2000 and 3000 words, of which we use more than 300 per year and almost 200 respectively.

So, you’ve written your story, let it be as long as it needs to be, and it’s emerged at 2300, or 2700, or 3500 words. Sometimes even 7000 words. Now what? Can you just send it like it is?

Working to our guidelines

Well, you could….but we work with templates which look for specific volumes of text: those volumes I’ve mentioned of 1200, 2000, 3000 and 4000. Plus 10% for subbing’s sake.

That means that if your story is 3500, we’ll cut it down to 3000. If it’s 2700 we’ll have to cut it down to 2000; 2300 comes down to 2000. [I’m afraid 7000 will be sent back to you as just no use to us.]

We can make these cuts – it’s our job – but what if we cut out your very favourite line in the whole story? The one that you were awake all night getting just right in your head and then up at five in the morning to commit to paper?

Wouldn’t you rather look completely professional, and show that you’ve attended to our guidelines, and offer a story that’s aimed just right? And at the same time be sure that that favourite line isn’t the one to be cut?

Make sure you get that story written by following Shirley’s writing tools, themes, locations, inspiration, and genres.