Writers are obsessed with word count. I don’t know how it started. Maybe once upon a time there was a clandestine group of publishers that decided to create various categories of fiction based on the artificial construct of word count. If it’s under 1000 words we have a short short or flash fiction. Over 1000 but under 20,000 is the short story. Next come novelettes and novellas. Novels start at 40,000 words, but some publishers want to see at least 50,000, 60,000, or even 70,000. Thinks about that. Ray Bradbury and Toni Morrison wouldn’t have made it as far as the slush pile of some of these publishers.

Stop counting the words. Make the words count. Decide what kind of story you want to tell, and tell it. If it’s focused on a couple of characters or situations, you’re probably writing a short story. If you have several well developed characters with a clear plot and perhaps a sub-plot, you’re probably writing a novella. If you have many detailed characters, gradually increasing tension, a long narrative arc with plot, sub-plot, and misdirection, you probably have a novel.

If you focus on counting the words and stretching to reach a magic number, you’re in trouble. The next thing you know you’ll be inserting unnecessary adjectives and adverbs or, even worse, writing pointless scenes and dialogue that does nothing to develop the characters or advance the story. You’ll be like the child in fifth grade trying to reach the five hundred word mark for a book report by saying it was a very, very, very, very, very good book. Don’t do it!

Word count doesn’t matter. A 100,000 word novel is not necessarily better than one half that length. The story is all that matters. Tell it and make the words count.

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