Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Estimating Final Word Counts

How do you go about estimating the final length of a work-in-progress? My early thoughts were to simply set an arbitrary target figure. Say around 20,000 words for a short story, 40,000 for a novella and 80,000 for a novel. For a while this seemed to be a reasonable thing to do. It wasn't long before I realised that this wasn't working as well as it could. For one thing, the lengths changed quite a bit as I evolved the plots. Sometimes adding complexity and therefore length, and sometimes simplifying things and reducing the length. One of my short stories, The Wild One's Hideout, seems to have stabilised in terms of it's overall length. I suspect that this is because the plot is now fairly fixed and I just have to simply get on with writing the material. On the other hand, The Bridge Across Forever started out as a short story and is now looking like it's more likely to be novella length. Who knows, I might even end up with enough of a story for a full novel. So what to do about these changing lengths? Well, as Blackadder would say, I have a cunning plan...
  1. Take the number of chapters you have actually started, i.e. greater than zero words written.
  2. Work out the average number of words per chapter (arithmetic mean, i.e. add up total words written and divide by the number of started chapters).
  3. Multiply this figure by the number of expected chapters.
  4. Round up to the nearest 1,000 words. Just for good measure.
This is the formula I'm now using and it seems reasonable so far. Of course, I can all ready see some potential problems:
  • Chapter lengths can vary, making the average an unreliable estimator.
  • In fact I often toy with where to put the chapter breaks, so this can throw things off as well.
  • Partially completed chapters add inaccuracy.
  • Estimating the final number of chapters can be a bit ad-hoc to say the least.
So how do all you other writers come up with your estimates? I'd love to hear from you. Right! Must stop fiddling with formulae and coloured word-o-meters and actually write something.


Lane said...

ooh I didn't know you hath maketh a blog! Very nice to see the big beer:-)

Re length conudrum, I sort of worked out 30 chapters. I got to this figure by working backwards through key scenes. So therefore each chapter needs to be around 2,500 words. Of course it hasn't worked out like this as some chapters are much longer and a couple of chapters are only 750 words. I've given up now on trying to be be stringent as I know I'll have alot of padding/slashing to do later. However that's all in the future. Now I must go write before before a certain Captain becomes keeper of the stick:-)

Annieye said...

Well helloooo Kev. Nice to see your blog. I didn't know you had one until I learned how to click on your name on your comments on mine.

I just tended to go with the flow with my book and it ended up at 118k words. Now I am editing I'm cutting some out and adding some in places. Each of my chapters is from 2K to about 4K words.

I have written a short story called "Getting it Right". I'd really appreciate your feedback. I think I might send it to Woman's Weekly. I daren't put it on the blog.


Fiona said...

I've just found out how to reach your blog.

Feel thirsty looking at that beer.

I haven't been writing long enough to judge the estimate novel lengths - well I've been writing forever but usually give up at Chapter 3.

What I do find is that I know I usually write 1k in two to three hours and then creativity flops.

I think/hope that everything you describe can be sorted in the editing stage. I know this is a fuzzy comparison, but when I was in film editing, we would get in rushes which would amount to roughly twenty five hours of film for a hour long episode. After going through the work two or three times, you could quickly point out the superfluous and cut out. Then we would work on tightening and playing around with dialogue so I am hoping that this might a bit helpful with writing. On the other hand it might be totally irrelevant!

Lane said...

Re bullet points on the Wannabe this morning, I don't know how you managed to get the flowery symbols. You must be very clever:-) The bullet point symbol is on the task bar. Maybe you're using a different version? Weird....

Captain Black said...

Was a complete mystery. I even checked the HTML and that looked okay.

Problem solved by choosing a new template.

Annieye said...

It looks different now. Flowery symbols are gone and it's white.

Annieye said...

Hi Kev

Been reading your Cap'n Black website instead of editing Twisted Garlands. Must really get on with this but I'm struggling a bit :-/
I really like the beginning of Bridge Across Forever. It has a really good opening that made me want to read more. Keep going at it!!