Reviews & Writing

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Sup guys. Today, I would like to talk about something that isn’t as commonly discussed as plot and characters, but that is still a very big issue in writing—one that can cause writer’s blocks, wasted nights, and rejection letters.

I am referring of course to length—of what? Well, of anything that goes in your book and the book itself. Most people worry about chapter lengths, but there are other aspects to consider too: act length, paragraph length, sentence length, and word length.

So I’ll start with the big one. Chapter length. Every writer that has accomplished anything has at one point asked himself: “Is this too long or too short? Crap.”

During my days as a beginning writer, I was frustrated and could not decide on the answer. So I turned to my friends for their opinion, but the feedback was mixed and did little to help. I did come to one conclusion though; it was not right. A lot of people said it was short, rushed, and dry. Others said it had way too much dialogue that needs to be simply cut.

So I locked myself in my room and started analyzing my writing. And it did not take long to realize why no one was satisfied with the lengths; they were not consistent. I was jumping from short to long and back to short, and that heavily affected my content.

I cannot stress enough how important consistency is in writing. All those things people pointed out to me (too much dialogue, rushed parts, etc) are not actually bad. It’s just that when they come and go—it gets confusing. Readers need to get used to your book. This is impossible if every chapter is different.

As you may have guessed by now, there is no set right length. You basically make your own. But then you stick to those rules—and you don’t break them. An easy way to check yourself: count all the words in your book, exclude outliers (if you have a few chapters of unusual length – which is ok) and get the average word count. If it is close to your average chapter word count, you’re all good. If not… look back and maybe do a revise.

That should effectively remove the length worry. I know it did for me. I figured out my average chapter length (which is about 2,000 words) and tried to stick close. I do have one chapter that is 400 words and one that is 3,500. But like I said, outliers are ok as long as they don’t become constant.

If you are wondering what is considered “close enough”, here is a quick system: from 2,000 to 5,000 try to stick within 1,000 words of the average, from 6,000 to 12,000—within 3,000 words. Over 12,000—just don’t get under 9,000. Under 2,000—you probably want to stick to the exact count.

Of course, this system is not carved in stone. Once you’re past your first major piece of writing, feel free to experiment.

Well, now I want to briefly address some other issued I mentioned at the top.

First is act length. If you don’t know what an act is and are serious about writing, I recommend you immediately grab a book, or go online and look it up. Chapters make up acts. Acts make up your book. Chapters are not the last link in the chain. Put simply, the acts are the beginning, middle, and end of your book.

Most books will have 3 acts. Some can have more. Since they are so broad in their nature, you want the 3 (or more) acts in your book to be about the same length. Often the first act will be slightly shorter than the rest. If you get beyond 5 acts, this may change. Past 5, acts become a lot more specific and important (and tricky), so it becomes possible to have outliers. When you outline your book, always try to make your acts as even as possible. You may need to do quite a bit of editing if you screw up that one part.

My last points are very specific and the first links in the chain—paragraphs, sentences, and words.

Paragraphs and sentences generally do not need to be consistent. They are so short in their nature that readers don’t need to get used to them. You can do whatever you want!

However, unlike chapter length, there is such a thing as too long and too short. One-word paragraphs are acceptable, but they cannot make up your book. The bare minimum you’re looking at is 3-sentences per paragraph, although outliers are allowed in a pretty big quantity.

The max you’re looking at is around 7 sentences, and here outliers have to be a lot more rare. Two-page-long paragraphs are unacceptable. You can have ONE in your book. If your book is 700 pages long, maybe two, but no more. They are impossible to follow and beyond frustrating.

In terms of sentence writing, use common sense. Most simple sentences are from 3 to 5 words. Complex sentences can be from 5 to 10 words. Compound sentences can go as long as 14-15 words. Try not to combine too many sentences into one. Don’t use unnecessary adjectives. Avoid adverbs. But as long as the sentence can makes sense and can be said without running out of breath, it’s legit.

Words are… not that important. There is no such thing as “too short”, and long words are very good. I’ll say two things. One, don’t have chapters with too many long words people don’t know. Two, during dialogue you will once again have to be consistent. Each character has a vocabulary, and you want to stick to that length. Well that’s pretty much it.

Have fun writing,

Will Rock

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