The Word Count Problem

I hate word counts.

There. I’ve said it. Shoot me. But it’s true. I cannot stand when people are like “Romance novels are usually around 75,000 words in length” or “Oh no, that’s 100,000 words. It’s too long for the Young Adult genre.”

Oh my freckin’ frackin’ frick. I’m gonna need ya’ll to stop. This frame of mind is toxic to creativity and causes at least two problems. Maybe more. I haven’t thought that far yet because I can’t see past my writing rage.

The first problem: it causes is undue stress and literary lethargy in authors. I know, I know…how can it possibly be both? It’s okay. I’m gonna explain myself. I promise.

Let’s say I am writing a fantasy book. I, with all due diligence, go about researching the realm of fantasy and eventually find out that my genre tends to run between 90,000-100,000 words.

Neato! So now I have a guideline. I go about typing my merry little behind off and after sweat, tears, and agony I produce a book about magic and orcs roughly based off that D&D game I played way back when.

I go to check my word count…and it’s only 70,000 words. Well crap. I must have failed somewhere, right? I surely left off several awesome scenes of glorified battle and elfish songs. I guess I’ll add a subplot to help fluff things out. That’ll make it sellable for sure.

So I stress myself out and force another 30,000 words and am just over the mark…but you know what? That’s fine, it’s cool. I don’t even really wanna look at it anymore anyway. I am certain now that achieved my goal I have accomplished literary awesome.

But…well…that’s not true either. Making your word count the main criteria for which you measure your work is a crutch. By adding an extra subplot to fill out my work there is a chance that I actually buried the purpose of the story I was writing in the first place.

Not great.

Now if I had gone the opposite way, flew off the deep end, and wrote a fantasy story that hit the 150,000 mark and then scaled it back to a more appropriate length there is every chance I am cutting out things that would have added to the setting, the story, and the overall theme of the work.

Which brings me around to the second problem I have with strict adherence to the Law of the Word Count. You ever notice how a lot of things are beginning to sound the same? You pick up a couple of romance stories by two different authors and you will distinct similarities between the two works? It’s not just the FMC and the MMC meet, have the fuzzies, smooch, have problems, more smooches, more problems, then happily ever after. It’s mind-numbing.

I feel that this is because word counts have limited what people feel they can do to fit into a specific genre. They have to have these things happen in a specific shape in roughly the same amount of time. It’s like giving everyone the same recipe, the same ingredients, and expecting vastly different results.

I guess what I’m saying is that you should take the guidelines into consideration but don’t let them cage you and don’t let them give you a false sense of security either.

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