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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
How do you plan it out? Do you stick to a certain word length per chapter? Do you go back and add more or cut out words after you're done to make it the right length?

I'm working on making my books longer. Right now they're in the 30,000 to 40,000 range most of the time. I get a lot of "Loved the book, but it felt like it was too short" reviews. And they're right.

I'd like to make each book 50,000 words.  How do you exact-word-count people ensure that your book is the length that you want it?
 

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DWS posted a while ago about how, when he was writing to a fixed length for trade publishers, if the book was too short he'd sometimes go back and add a 'loop' where the characters went off, did something, and came back to where they'd started. That's one way to do it, but it's probably why so many books felt padded in the last couple of decades.
 

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If I need to make a book longer, then I add complications to the plot. I might send my character on a quest, have her overcome another mean girl, show her getting confused and conflicted and asking a friend for advice, etc.

I plan it out on a spreadsheet, with a column for each sub-plot and rows for the timeline.
 

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I don't write to a specific length, but I do write to an expected length.  Sometimes, I'm quite far off if my planning didn't wind up as tight as it could have been, but I can usually hit it pretty close if I stick to my outline.

How I do it is I get out my notebook and just write down everything.  Any tiny, insignificant idea I have, I write it down.  Eventually, it starts to take shape and form a story, and that's when I switch to note cards.  I write down every major beat to my story on them, one per card.  Any important event or major change of scene gets written down.  I figure each card accounts for roughly 1000 words.  Dwarf's Ransom, for example, was 24 cards.  I think it's about 23k, so I hit it pretty close.
 

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I had originally planned my current series to be 30k words per installment, but in writing and editing, they're coming in closer to 40k. So it is what it is. The great thing about indie publishing is that you can write to any length you want.

Readers are going to complain about length no matter which way you go--too long, too short. No pleasing everyone, so tell the story in as many words as it needs to be told in.
 

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"Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is." -- Samuel Johnson

I'd rather hear a reader wish for more than less.

I suppose it depends on the expectation for the genre. If the reader is expecting to have their time pleasantly occupied, they may be disappointed by a short work. If the reader is expecting to be challenged with new perspectives and ideas, they'll rankle at the prolix.
 

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I keep an eye on word count every day and plan accordingly. Rarely do I end up more or less than 1k from the goal.

If you come up short, then one thing to do is to go back and foreshadow things that came up along the way that you hadn't planned on. For instance, when I got to the last chapter of the WIP I just finished, I thought of a cool addition to the ending. I had to go back and add in a few things along the way, and ended up with an extra 1k words or so.

Something else you can do is to read over what you've got and see if any of the scenes need more description, action, dialogue, or whatever. But don't push it just to make it longer. That won't improve the story.
 

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I try to write my books to around 120,000 words. They usually naturally progress to that length, give or take 10,000 words. The only exception so far is my children's fairy tale that's around half that at 60,000 words.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I have thought of using a spreadsheet - not a bad idea. I may experiment with it.

I write romance. Currently my process is roughly:

I decide who the hero and heroine are, and their romantic problem - what's keeping them apart - and also, their external problem - whatever dilemma they're trying to solve.  I then decide what the all is lost moment will be, and how they overcome it.

I then write a chapter by chapter outline which each chapter getting a few sentences. Then I write a rough draft. Then I go back and fill in description of place, people, clothing, their feelings after they say or do something, etc.

I certainly don't want to pad for the sake of word length - every single scene has to contribute to the storyline in some manner.  I should probably be working on my subplots more. 
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Stacy Claflin said:
I keep an eye on word count every day and plan accordingly. Rarely do I end up more or less than 1k from the goal.

If you come up short, then one thing to do is to go back and foreshadow things that came up along the way that you hadn't planned on. For instance, when I got to the last chapter of the WIP I just finished, I thought of a cool addition to the ending. I had to go back and add in a few things along the way, and ended up with an extra 1k words or so.

Something else you can do is to read over what you've got and see if any of the scenes need more description, action, dialogue, or whatever. But don't push it just to make it longer. That won't improve the story.
Excellent suggestions there! Thank you!

And thanks to everyone who answered.
 

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Most of my books are between 55k to 65k and in order to meet that word length I use an outline.  In the outline I try to create 80-100 chapters with a target of 500 words per chapter.  Most of the time the chapters end up becoming longer so I end up meeting the target length for the books ;D
 

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I write 100K or so, all the way up to 115K+. It's always at least 90K. 93K seems to be my most common length. The longer books for the more complicated stories.

The length comes from subplots. Backstory, secondary characters, secondary story arcs. I don't write just the hero, heroine, romantic problem, their journey together. I write their individual journeys, and their relationships with other people and issues in their lives. Also, I tend to write books that take place over months or even a year or more. Much contemp romance takes place over days or a few weeks. That's one reason people write shorter.

If it's contemporary romance, it'll be more about their families and/or jobs. If it's romantic suspense, it'll be the suspense subplot. Once it was a reality show--that took a good 50K. Once it was two couples' stories that intertwined. Those two were my longest books.

However, that kind of thing ISN'T necessarily the most popular thing in romance these days. (Although I do notice that that length, 80-100K, is still the most popular spot for contemp romance, when you look at the bestseller list. But lots of indies do well writing short and fast, too. I think your length/speed is working for you, no? In which case, I wouldn't change. My readers don't like short, and could be the BULK of your readers don't like long, since you sell so well.)

Somewhere in the middle would probably work, if you really want to change it up. You probably need more of a subplot, or more of an issue. Or all that fighting, breaking up, making up. That's another thing people seem to do to make the book longer. (I don't, because I don't like fighting. In person or in fiction! But it's popular, no question!)

Hope that helps.

Oh, and I don't outline, except in my head. I'm not really a pantser, I just know the beginning, middle, end, basic plot, know what some scenes are, have lots of the dialogue and characters, and I go along with that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I'm definitely selling well - but I can also see the point of the reviewers. I'm constantly rushing to get the next book out, because that's where the money is. But I do feel I sacrifice quality to an extent - characters meet very fast, romance could take a little longer to develop.
 

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I don't write to length. The book ends when it ends. Now, I will not go below 60k words...but that's not a worry for me at this point. My last book was 130k words before I cut it to 116k. The sequel seems to be heading in the same direction. I'm running 3 different story lines parallel to one another, cutting back and forth, so I usually end up with too much material.
 
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Jim Johnson said:
Readers are going to complain about length no matter which way you go--too long, too short. No pleasing everyone, so tell the story in as many words as it needs to be told in.
My editor--the husband who fired himself (from editing, not husbanding)--says the goal is for the reader to finish the book. Writing a shorter one increases that chance--me.
 

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My books range from 73,000 to 138,000 words, and I don't write to length generally except that my own preference is for a book to be at least 80,000 words. When I'm reading I want to know the characters well and be totally submerged in their world, and you often don't get that with shorter works. The only time I had a problem with that was one romance that finished at less than 75,000 words. Not only was it too short for my taste, the story seemed too straight a path from beginning to end. So I sent my hero and heroine off on a short journey to accomplish a necessary task for his family. That book ended up published at about 85,000 words and never seemed padded to me or any reader that I know of. The extra subplot added considerably to character insight and made it a better story.
 

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Edward M. Grant said:
DWS posted a while ago about how, when he was writing to a fixed length for trade publishers, if the book was too short he'd sometimes go back and add a 'loop' where the characters went off, did something, and came back to where they'd started. That's one way to do it, but it's probably why so many books felt padded in the last couple of decades.
Don't force yourself. If that is how you books turn out so far, then cool. I write short length too in the mystery/crime genre, so I feel ya. But right now, the book I'm writing, I feel is going to be longer than average. I don't know why that is, just that I need to introduce and plant the right steps and there are a lot of steps I guess to get to the pay-off.

I guess my point is, each book is different. Keep writing to your strengths and don't give in to strangers. Write for yourself first.
 

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1- Go through your stuff and figure out, on average, how long your scenes are.

2- Divide your the word count you want by the average length of scene. (If you want 50,000, and most scenes are 2000 words, you get 25.)

3- Add a little padding and plan out that number of scenes. (In the example, I might plan 30 scenes.)

4- Write.
 

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I usually write to a specific length and usually succeed. How? I do a broad outline with major plot points and complications, dividing it up into acts following Syd Field's plot paradigm structure as a guidepost and 100K as a goal. I may hit 90K or 110K depending on the story. I have some idea how long each chapter will be and what the main events are before I start writing. I write in a linear fashion, from the opening scene to the final scene and can adjust length based on how things are going. I'm starting to write shorter books, 70K - 80K instead of 90K - 110K just because I think it will result in better pacing and I can get more books out in a year that way. I aim for 3 - 4 full-length works (300K - 400K per year). If I write 75K instead of 90K I can get one more title out each year. My long term goal is to have a big backlist that I can rely on for a steady stream of income and I can write at a leisurely pace of 3 books per year.
 
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