From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pantsing and Word Count

So I'm trying something new with my current novel. For Keeper, I had a basic outline for each chapter and I knew about how many words needed to be in each chapter to add up to the 70,000-120,000 word count range that is generally considered best for the average novel. Basically, I had the word count thing outlined so I knew it would work out.

With New Novel, I'm taking more of a pantser approach. I have the basic storyline, but I'm having a really good time just kind of letting the story take its own course. Like I've said, I've got the basic storyline and a time-frame within the story so hopefully it will still end up with fairly sound structure. And of course, any plot holes can be fixed in the editing phase.

My main worry is that I'm going to end up below or above the market word-count range. This one is YA, so it would be more like 50,000-70,000, but since I'm doing it more organically and just writing my way forward, I don't want to end up with 30,000 or 150,000 words. I definitely err on the short side, and I suppose with edits you can add scenes and fill in things to build up word count if you need it, but I don't want to have to add things just for the sake of word-count.

So here's my question: those of you who typically pants your way through novels, how do you work out the whole word-count thing? How do you make sure you're going to have enough for a whole novel, and hit within the target range?

I know that the important thing is to just write the stories you want to write and worry about this stuff when you need to. But still, I stress about things like this, and any advice or tips would be helpful.

Bequeath your wisdom, oh wise readers :)

Sarah Allen


  1. I'm still working on this myself. I'm currently 15K under where I want to be. I have some that I can add, but sheesh. It's a tough one.

  2. Definitely a pantser, and then I keep rewriting and adding until I get the right kind of word count. Or not... I've never actually tried to write a novel, if the story gets to novel length I'm happy, but equally if it stops at novella length, that's good too.

  3. All my stories so far have ended up being novella length, even though I tend not to pants at all. I was never a fan of unnecessary subplots I guess.

    The good news is with the ongoing ebook revolution, writers of shorter works (or longer works for that matter) stand a better chance of finding their readers than in the solely print days, where length was one of the many factors publishers used to reject such works.

    If all else fails, you can always combine a number of themed shorter works into an omnibus. That's exactly what I did with my latest release, Neuro.

  4. I'm *such* a pantser... and usually the word count just happens... I tell the story the way it needs to be told, and I've never struggled with word count! ;)

  5. I am mostly a pantser. I make a rough outline but otherwise I like things to happen organically. For me, if something is too short, I know something is missing, whether it's adding another plot-line or building up the characters more to make sure they are real. I tend to write short as well, but you're right, you can always add scenes in revisions (I added 7k).

  6. I think if you just continue writing the way you are, it's going to be fine. Even if you're above or below the word count, when you edit you'll be able to find areas that need to be expanded upon and things that need to be cut. It will work out :)

  7. Hi Sarah,

    As you know, I'm more of a haphazard writer. My only thought here is that you can't be afraid to end up with whatever length comes out with for your first draft. For a first draft in this writing method, longer is usually better. Then, during the editing process, you go into it with the mindset that huge chunks of your work may have to go. I usually end up slashing quite a bit from my first draft--my first 1 1/2 to 2 chapters of my final draft are usually made from scenes from about the first 5 chapters of the original draft. Sometimes this is a painful way to write if you have trouble deleting, but it works.


  8. I tried being a pantser and it was disastrous. As I'm trying to finish writing and editing there are just crap scenes and gapping plot holes everywhere. Not the way for me and not much help for you - sorry :)

  9. I'd love to have some pantsing words of wisdom for you, but frankly I've never been able to predict how long my novels were going to be. Most finished around 50k while one finished around 100k. I write my novels, then work out word count.

  10. I'm a pantser when it comes to writing and about the only thing that I outline is the ending.

    I don't worry about word count much as I go pretty much by page count. I've entered quite a few contests over the years and because they use word limits, it's been relatively easy for me to estimate word count via the page count.

    On the average, 10 pages equals about 4600 words, give or take.

    And my current novel, which I'm proofing, comes in at 69K for 177 pages (originally 130 pages).

  11. I think an outline is ok, but don't like to get too technical because the story IS the thing. I would prefer to err on too many words; as you will have room for editing. So pantsing seems more natural.
    Write the story. Ignore for a couple days and then read a chapter. If you like it, proceed on, but wait a day. When you have done this throughout, put it down for a couple days. Then get a friend to read it with the idea of content and flow comments. Basically you want them to tell you how the story reads, like is it too pedantic or whatever. Good luck.In other words, do the words flow right and is the imagery done well.
    Hope this helps a little Sarah.
    Sure you want to get the story length right, but please don't obsess on it.

  12. The pantser route for me leaves me with too many words, never too few. Then, cutting scenes you really like to squeeze the story into a preferred word count range is tough--maybe even tougher than having to add.

    With the book I'm about to revise, I started fretting about 2/3 through knowing my word count was too high. Being aware of that, I think, actually hurt my initial drafting of the story as I cut short or omitted some scenes that I had planned to write.

    I'd recommend throwing word count guidelines out the window while you write your first draft. Dealing with it later may not be fun, but at least you'll have the complete story to work with when you begin your revisions.

  13. I write straight through, and when I reach a certain point I start to think about wrap-up. For NaNo that's 30k, but if I want something longer I start thinking wrap-up around 50k. 20k plus to wrap up from that point. It seems to work rather well.

  14. I'm a pantser too and so far my word count has always ended up in the right range--although I have no idea how or why (not knowing, the life of a pantser!)
    Happy writing.:)

  15. My word counts bob up and down like the stock market during revisions. I've been lucky to always end up in the right word count zone.

  16. This is my firs time seeing your blog. Congrats!
    Responding to your question, my answer is, I dont think about word counts. To me, its a number on a little bar at the bottom of my Word window.
    I am in the middle of writing my third book, which is the 2nd in what will be a trilogy. The first portion is- after much painstaking editing- approxiamtely 99,400 words. In the repetitive process of reading and editing, I am constantly finding an area where I believe something profound has happened and therefore must be explored further... Then I go back and take it out, or move it, or remove and save it for later.
    I am with you on the "filler" scenes. If you dont need them, take them out. But that raises another qwustion: How do you know if you really need certain scenes in your story? How can I, as a writer who loves every facet of my imaginary world, possibly be objective enough to know when something is written because the storyline needs it it or simply because I want/like it?

  17. I always used to do the outline thing, complete with hypothetical page counts (Chapter 16: pages 175 to 185).

    But for my latest book, I'm doing the pantser thing. I have a rough outline, only completed as far as I see the next few chapters going. The book started as a short story, then a novella, now I've got 140 pages and I'm barely halfway through. It's going be chopped considerably after I'm done, but the word count is proving to be no problem at all and I'm *loving* the pantser approach.

    Of course, this means I still have no idea what's going to happen in the end, but it's a new experience for me to write this way. I'll just have to see where the story takes me, instead of taking it where I think it should go.


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