A recent conversation with a writer friend of mine had me once again wondering how many pages were “too much” or “too little” to consider a written piece of literature a novel? If asked, most authors will tell you that when it comes to writing a novel, it takes as many words and pages as it takes. In other words, if it takes 100 pages or 1000 pages, there is no right or wrong. One author may cut straight to the storyline, stay on track, and write a complete, complicated storyline in a few thousand words. Other authors could take a similar storyline and take several hundred thousand words to tell the tale.
So, when it comes to size, word count, and page count, there is no “magic number” that automatically turns a short story into a novel. It is what it is according to the author who wrote it. However, there are still some general rules of thumb authors need to take into consideration when it comes to novel lengths and writing in general.
First off, there is such a thing as being too short. Take, for instance, flash fiction. When it comes to flash fiction, something that only has a few hundred words is -not- a short story and it certainly isn’t a novel. Flash fiction is just that – a quick idea written in as few words as possible. A story or novel has to be long enough to be engaging to the reader. Getting straight to the point and staying on track is one thing; writing so few words that it resembles a synopsis rather than a story does not a storyline make.
Likewise, you don’t want to drown your readers in an ocean of words. The storyline has to be interesting and written in such a way that your readers will want to continue reading, but not so long-winded and boring that they want to turn the pages just to get to the ‘interesting’ parts. I have often read articles by other authors who have stated that every word you write should have something to do with the storyline and help progress that storyline along. I say that side-trips and BSing your way through a piece if fine – so long as those words are interesting to the readers and keep them riveted to the page. But if you have written 1000 pages of storyline that has half of it being BS and filler, then your readers are going to be flipping through pages instead of reading them.
On the flipside of boring filler is writing something that has so much going on in the storyline that the reader cannot keep the characters, the events, and the half-a-dozen storylines straight. Just like you can drown your readers in a sea of useless words that does nothing to help the storyline, you can drown them in a raging ocean of so many literary events that they simply become overwhelmed. Some may try to plow their way through the storyline, and others may give up altogether and toss the book out with the used magazines.
Novel size is a thin line that moves depending upon the author who is writing. The one thing that holds true to each author is that their number one job in writing is to keep their readers interested in their written words. Create something too short, and they may become frustrated with so little information and not bother reading anything else. Drown them in a sea of useless, boring words and they will skip their way through huge chunks of your work trying to get to the ‘interesting’ parts. Overwhelm them in an ocean of dense storylines, characters, and events and they just may give up on reading the novel completely. Size, in itself, does not matter. What matters, as always, is the quality of the words written upon the page.