My first novel

Hi folks, I am in the process of writing my first novel (Sci-Fi). I spent most of my life writing advertising copy and I’ve written a few short stories in the past. Well, I’ve just completed the first draft and got the concept in place. Unfortunately, the word count says 15,000. I need four times that. I can flesh out the characters and locations and build-in a sub plot here and there but I don’t want to just pad it out for the sake of it. What should I do?

Check your word counter (joke … but check it anyway).
Ask yourself if you really are in the mood, or indeed, mode to write ‘a novel’? Seems to me that you’re still in short story mode. Most writers who are at the stage of finished first draft, are advised by other writers to go back to the beginning and hack out all the dross … when they’ve done that, go back and clear out some more. Even at four times its present length … 40/50/60K, it’s still only at novella length. Given the disdain you show for ‘padding out’, which in your apparent frame of mind, is what you consider any addition to the tale to be, 4x15K, should prove to be an excruciating experience.

Sorry, joe, but to me, it doesn’t sound like you are ready to ‘write a novel’. What motivated you to start it in the first place?

Banish the tale to the outermost reaches of the Cosmos (your hard drive), for at least a year ( or till the traction beam of enthusiasm drags it back again in the meantime), and look at it again. If you still feel the same … bin it.

I hope someone more perspicacious than I, can point you in a more productive direction.
Take care

Thanks for you comments, Vic.

What motivated me? I’ve been reading a lot of sci-fi books of late from various ‘best selling’ and ‘award winning’ authors. Their books aren’t long but they are usually full of clichés – faster than light drives, wormholes, tramlines, rail guns, space battles. If I read the words “he cleared his throat” or “he rolled his eyes” again, I’ll think I’ll throw up. Okay, there is nothing that hasn’t been done before but I think that I can do better than these. I can avoid the clichés. I can come up with refreshing new concepts and, hopefully, weave them into a decent story. When I get something I’m happy with, I will hand it all over to someone else to do the editing and proofreading. I’m not particularly interested in the mechanics, I just want to do the creative bit.

I have quite a few short stories under my belt. I could put them together into an anthology - but that’s another story.

I agree with all that Vic has written (well, I always do :smiley: ). But if you decide to persevere now rather than in a year’s time, recognise this: a novel is a journey, not an episode on a journey. It’s almost always about change. Meaningful, interesting, detailed, human change can’t be described in 15,000 words. It needs (in my view) a minimum of 60,000, and probably 80,000 or more. It needs a “before”, a “during” and an “after”, and to maintain interest in the reader, the “during” bit needs to be quite complicated, and unusual. If your concept doesn’t need at least 60,000 to 80,000 words to express it, it isn’t a concept for a novel.

Sorry joe, but that should read


I’ve just tried to work out the word length of some books I’ve read recently (on Kindle). Correct me if I’m wrong but Kindle locations are 128 bytes long. There are typically 8000-9000 locations by the ends of the books. I’m not sure if there is one byte per character or two (Unicode). There are approximately six letters to a word (in English) so that makes the book lengths, assuming Unicode, 88-99,000 words.

Hugh, you speak of a journey. A journey is just a series of steps. You can take short steps or long steps but you can’t make a journey without them. I’m taking my first steps and they are baby steps.

Quite right. I was talking more about the steps that your hero or heroine should take, but yes of course mental travel in the sense of a journey is also what you as their creator will also experience. If you’re at the beginning of novel-writing yourself, I recommend reading some books on the subject or attending lectures or a course or watching some videos. There’s now a vast industry producing such books, videos and courses (as a quick Google or scan of Amazon will reveal). I imagine that for a beginner it can be quite overwhelming and confusing to try to find the best.

Personally, I’m a fan of Robert McKee who I believe is very wise (though I know that some would disagree). He speaks and writes mainly about movies, but what he has to say also often applies to novels. And the points he makes about film structure (and thus the plots of novels) are illustrated in the programmes and movies on your TV set every day. If you can get to, and afford, one of his seminars, go. In person, he’s one of the best lecturers on anything I’ve ever seen. Otherwise, buy his book Story. Beyond that, there are a myriad of books, videos and courses you could consider. But first read Story, or attend McKee’s course.

Thanks Hugh, I have been reading books and watching videos on YouTube. I was having problems with dialog in particular and found some excellent advice. I found ‘Write’ by Phil Daoust particularly helpful. It contains chapters written by many top authors.

I’ve just turned 70 and I think that everyone should paint a masterpiece, write a novel and compose a symphony before they die. I’ve done the painting, I’m working on the novel. The symphony, I’ve been prevaricating on that, but it’s next on my list ;?)

There’s nothing wrong with a short novel. The following seem to be reasonable examples of the craft: A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens), The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway), Animal Farm (George Orwell), Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck). There’s plenty more, but they give an idea.

A story is as long as it needs to be. If that’s 15,000 words, then so be it. Note, however, that what you can do with a manuscript of that length is different to one of 30,000 words (which is different again to 60,000 words). Not better or worse, just different. One of those differences is that people probably won’t call it a novel. All of the works I listed above are typically described as novellas and are still a good bit longer than yours. Animal Farm, although short, is twice the length at a shade under 30,000 words.

Given you’ve written a science fiction story, then at 15,000 words it would be classified as a novelette*. You’re still in good company — Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov and George R. R. Martin have all written award winning novelettes — although usually novelettes are published in anthologies or magazines. I’m sure someone can post an exception, but I can’t think of any 15,000-word works published as a stand-alone novel.

Wishing you all the best – maybe we’ll see your name on the Hugo Award list next year… :slight_smile:

[size=85]Based on the definitions** of both the Nebula Awards (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and Hugo Awards (World Science Fiction Society).
**Both awards use the following word-length categories:

  1. Short Story – up to 7,500 words
  2. Novelette: between 7,500 and 17,500 words
  3. Novella: between 17,500 and 40,000 words
  4. Novel: over 40,000 words
Further :unamused: to Hugh’s advice. The site looks impressive

Just turned 70 … 's 'at all? … only a whippersnapper.

Hang on in there, young-n’.
Take care

Thanks folks, I think that I can manage 30,000 words without any trouble. I’m up to 20,000 at the minute in disjointed chunks. By the time I’ve knitted them all together, should get to 30,000. I plan to self-publish on Amazon (Kindle) eventually. Those stories tend to be shorter anyway.

2byte unicode. but…

How much of that crap is formatting, index, bookmarks, etc? byte counts are meaningless unless you are dealing with plain text, then you still need to account for newlines, line feeds, punctuation, whitespace. Basically file/container size is meaningless.

I gave up on a novel. I can whip out 20K before I get tired of polishing the turds. The reason I’m tired? As huge said, the store is done. I think vic-k might be able to comment on if my latter (post admission of defeat) work is better than my previous work (he’s been generous enough to read a few samples). I seem to have a knack for the short to mid length story. Just kind of comes out and lands on the page all in one lump. In a day to a week I’ll have something to send off or set in my store of candidates for a possible collection.

For the record nothing I’ve sent in to anyone has warranted a rejection letter. Not that it matters, I just like getting the voices out of my head and onto the paper (go away nomnomnomnom that’s just a metaphor).

The one thing I will say is that I actually LIKE writing more this way.

I have found that the best way to do a word count is the export from Scrivener as plain text and then with a good text editor (I have always used BBEdit) strip out the control characters. There should only be returns. That leaves a solid block of text which the text editor should be able to count the instances of a letter (or punctuation) and a space.

If you have the file in scriv then you have word count already calculated (look in the status bar). Just use multiple selections in the binder if needed.

I’m not counting Srcivener work, I’m counting .mobi files downloaded from Amazon.

Was simply commenting on the first statement above.

Take a look using perl or php to do this.

perl -e '$cnt=0;while <> { chomp; s/![[:alpha]]//g; $cnt=+ length $_;}; print "estimated ", $cnt/5, " words\n";' < <file>

That won’t work but … it will get you started.

Maybe you are starting the story at the wrong point.

YeeHaw, my first Scrivener-produced book is published and available from Amazon today - Hayden’s Realm. Thank you Scrivener for making this possible. I have just submitted my second book this morning - accepted unseen by the publisher!


Way to go!