Friday, June 15, 2012

What length is which writings?

by Vivian Zabel  

      Amazingly, many writers have no idea how long what they are writing should be -- a picture book, a chapter book, a young adult, a short story, a novelette, a novel --- no idea what.

      Let's look at some information involving the length of writing, starting with children's books and lengths.

Picture books:Traditionally, picture books (also called "picture story books") are 24 - 34-page books for ages 4-8 (this age may vary slightly by publisher). Manuscripts are up to 1500 words, with 1000 words being the average length. Plots are simple (no sub-plots or complicated twists) with one main character who embodies the child's emotions and concerns, written from a child's perspective/viewpoint. The illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in telling the story. Occasionally a picture book will exceed 1500 words; this is usually geared toward the upper end of the age spectrum. Nonfiction in the picture book format can go up to age 10, 48 pages in length, or up to about 2000 words of text.

Early picture books: A term for picture books geared toward the lower end of the 4-8 age range.

Easy readers: Also called "easy-to-read", these books are for children starting to read on their own (age 6-8). They have color illustrations, sometimes black and white illustrations, on every page like a picture book, but the format is more "grown-up" -- smaller trim size, sometimes broken into short chapters. The length varies greatly by publisher; the books can be 32-64 pages long, with 200-1500 words of text, occasionally going up to 2000 words. The stories are told mainly through action and dialogue, in grammatically simple sentences (one idea per sentence). Books average 2-5 sentences per page.

Transition books: Sometimes called "early chapter books" for ages 6-9, they bridge the gap between easy readers and chapter books. Written like easy readers in style, transition books are longer (manuscripts are about 30 - 45 pages long, broken into 2-3 page chapters), books have a smaller trim size with black-and-white illustrations every few pages.

Chapter books: For ages 7-10, these books are 45-60 manuscript pages long, broken into 3-4 page chapters. Stories are meatier than transition books, though still contain a lot of action. The sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs are still short (2-4 sentences is average). Chapters often end in the middle of a scene to keep the reader turning the pages.

Middle grade: This is the golden age of reading for many children, ages 8-12. Manuscripts suddenly get longer (100-150 pages), stories more complex (sub-plots involving secondary characters are woven through the story) and themes more sophisticated. Kids get hooked on characters at this age, which explains the popularity of series with 20 or more books involving the same cast. Fiction genres range from contemporary to historical to science fiction/fantasy; nonfiction includes biographies, science, history and multicultural topics.

Young adult: For ages 12 and up, these manuscripts are 130 to about 200 pages long. Plots can be complex with several major characters, though one character should emerge as the focus of the book. Themes should be relevant to the problems and struggles of today's teenagers, regardless of the genre. A new age category (10-14 often called Tween Books) is emerging, especially with young adult nonfiction. These books are slightly shorter than the 12 and up category, and topics (both fiction and nonfiction) are appropriate for children who have outgrown middle grade but aren't yet ready for the themes (fiction) or who aren't studying the subjects (nonfiction) of high school readers. 

         Now, let's look at longer writings, for perhaps older readers:

         Often the question is asked, "How long should a novel be?" Also people want to know how many words or pages a novella should be, how many a novelette is, how many for a short story. I found varying lengths advised, but the main number of words are listed below, and a page contains approximately 250 words.

         Let's start with the shorter writing, the short story, which can be up to 20,000 words in length according to Dictionary of LaborLawTalk. The article also broke the figures down by three countries: in the U.S. up to 10,000 words; in the U.K. up to 5,000; and in Australia up to 3,500. All sources agree that a short story should be at least 1,000 words.

         A novelette, has 7,500 to 17,500 words, but that writing form isn't mentioned much. It often is considered a "long" short story.

         According to Wikpedia, an online encyclopedia, a novella contains 20,000 to 40,000 words. The dictionary cited above states that novellas are 17,500 to 40,000 words.

         Novels, therefore, are writings above 40,000 words. In the past, novels were much longer than that, averaging 150,000 to 200,000 words. Now, they average around 100,000 words.

         The best way to know how long to make a work is to write until it is finished, then delete redundancies and padding. If you, as a writer, know where you want to be published, check the guidelines for that publisher for the length desired. If you are entering a contest, abide by the guidelines for that contest.

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  1. We need to put this one in neon lights ... lol.

  2. This one is being printed out and taped to my writing desk! Thanks, Vivian!

  3. Dear Vivian,
    Thanks for the information. It's good to be reminded of some we use all the time. It's also good to know about the word count for other genres, in case we decide to change to a different writing format.
    Celebrate you today!

  4. Fantastic article. It is going to get taped to the wall in my studio *:) Thanks Vivian.

  5. I realized that many authors/writers don't research to discover how many words a certain type/genre requires. Therefore, I shared my researching and knowledge. I'm also going to make this a file on the 4RV Bulletin Board, and the submissions guidelines on the 4RV website has a link to this article.

    Now, to get people to read.

  6. This is such great information to have. I look it up all the time because I can't always remember. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Vivian, great and much needed information as usual. I'll be sharing the link.