Word Count

This is an issue that haunts most aspiring writers. Most word processors are equipped with a word count feature, but this is NOT the way to do it. Even though using this feature will give you the actual word count used, the printing industry works it out differently.

If you look at any two pages in a novel and then counted the actual words on those pages, you’d get a varying answer. It stands to reason that most pages will be different so the printing industry uses a formula to work out the average word count per page.

There are many formulas to be found but I’m only going to mention two. These are the two I’ve seen used the most and once you decide which formula you are going to use, whether it is one of the following or another, stick to it and stop worrying about word count.

Before I go into the formulas themselves, the page setup is an important factor. Most editors want us to use a standard size paper: in USA this would be 8 1/2 inch x 11 inch; in other parts of the world it is 210mm x 297mm (commonly known as A4). We should also use a non proportional type face such as courier new in size 12 font, as it’s easier on the eyes when reading. The margins should be at least 1 inch on all sides.

I actually used both of these methods on my own work and was amazed that they gave me the same answer, so I can safely say that I write 450 words per page (single spaced) but remember to change your manuscript to double spacing before you send it out.

Formula 1
Take a sheet from your manuscript that is quite full of typing. Don’t use a sheet with a lot of dialogue. Count the number of letters, including spaces and any punctuation marks, across one line of text. Say you get 60. Divide this by 6 and the answer is the number of words per line, which is 10 in this case.

Now count the number of lines that can be typed on down the page. Remember to count the blank line between paragraphs. Say you get 45 lines for single spacing. You multiply 45 by 10 and this gives you the number of words per page (in this instance 450 words).

Then you multiply the words per page (450) by the number of pages for the whole manuscript and this is our total word count.

So if I have 250 pages to my manuscript, this means that my total word count is 112,500 words.

Formula 2
The other method is to count the number of words in 10 lines (say you get 100) and divide the total number of words by 10, which means you have a line word count of 10.

Count the lines on an average page (again, say you get 45). Multiply the total number of lines (45) for the sample full page by the approximate word count for one line (10). This gives you the word count for one page, which in this instance is 450.

Then multiply this total count for the words on one page (450) by the total number of pages (our example is 250) in your manuscript. This is the total length of your manuscript in words would then be 112,500.

Summary

  • Always use single spacing to work out your word count but remember to change to double spacing before sending your manuscript to an editor.
  • Even if there is only three lines of type on a page, the page is still considered to have a word count of 450 words because in the printing industry the area used is what matters not the actual number of words.
  • Be sure to check with the editor or on their website, before sending your manuscript to them, to find out if they have a preferred method of working out the word count because some publishers do.

Structure & Tension: The Plot

When writing, nothing should happen at random. Every element in a story should be for a reason. Names, places, actions and events should all have a purpose. If it isn’t going to lead somewhere, delete it.

Here is what you need for a very basic plot:

  • A likeable lead character who has a desperate need for something, which can be knowledge, success, love, a solution or to avoid some sort of danger.
  • He or she makes an effort to reach success or achieve what he needs.
  • Every effort seems to block him or her from their goal and they just seem to find themselves in deeper trouble.
  • Every new obstacle is larger than the last, and when they finally reach the end, the last obstacle must seem insurmountable, requiring the character to call upon new found strength to accomplish the goal.

But

  • When things are as if they couldn’t get any worse, the lead character manages to get themselves out of trouble with effort, intelligence and ingenuity.

Each scene and chapter should have this same kind of plot structure yet at the end of each scene or chapter you should have a question unanswered, a problem to be solved, or a mystery that impels the reader to read on. It is a good idea to have several plots going throughout the story with some of them being solved as you go and other opening up. This keeps the pace and the mystery going.

Usually there is a surprise or shock set somewhere in the book, sometimes even two. One about a third to half way through and the other at the climax of the story.

The plot “begins” long before the story. The story itself should begin at the latest possible moment before the climax, at a point when events take a decisive and irreversible turn. We may learn later, through flashbacks, exposition, or inference, about events occurring before the beginning of the story.

The main plot and every subplot must be dealt with at the end. Never leave the reader wondering what happened.

In Summary

The first quarter of the novel is setting the scene – you know, setting the conflict in motion, making us recognise that the main character is in deep trouble.

The middle is half the book, and that is where the major actions take place. The twists, the turns and reversals happen here — and they MUST happen to keep the reader satisfied. Readers WANT to be surprised (but not confused), so about halfway add the second big surprise, and then at the end of the middle, throw in the third big surprise. The middle is for the rising stakes in the situation — things are getting worse for the hero, they are more committed; in fact, in the middle their motivation shifts. The surprises and failures of the hero should get progressively worse in the middle, and as the middle progresses, start closing off the hero’s options.

The ending is the last quarter of the book. The forces gathering in the middle must come together, a decision must be reached, a confrontation takes place. The deepest parts of the character are revealed, and the biggest emotions are exposed here. Again, this is where the main plot and all subplots are brought to a final close.

POV: Who’s telling your story?

Multiple viewpoints are very useful in any novel! In the third person, several viewpoint’s allow the reader wider access to knowledge and events not necessarily involving each character in the story. In addition, changing the viewpoint will often increase the pace of the story and can be used to create mystery and tension.

It is acceptable to use at least two Point of View characters yet four is a good number for most novels. If your story is long and stretches over a longer period of time, however, 6 to 8 is quite reasonable. You should only use main characters, NEVER tell a story from a minor characters Point of View, not even for one paragraph. The reader will automatically assume the character is important, and will wait for him to reappear in the story to do something crucial to the storyline.

It is important to remember, however, shifting viewpoints too often may irritate the reader and you should never change viewpoint within a paragraph or scene. Always swap viewpoints with a chapter or scene break, which is usually marked with three or four asterisks. The opening line of the new paragraph should immediately tell the reader whose viewpoint it is so that it is easier for the reader to follow the storyline.

Types of Point of View

  • First person – I go, ie. an eyewitness account
  • Third person – he/she goes, ie. narrator can be absent
  • Second person – you go, (used mainly in non fiction)
  • Third person plural – they go

Advantages, Disadvantages and Mistakes of Each View Point

First person

Advantages: Creates an intimacy between the reader and narrator. The reader experiences everything through the narrator’s perceptions, coloured by her motives, driven by her motivations.

Disadvantages: Character must be present during key scenes and the reader can only know what this character knows.

Mistakes: The character describes what is going through other characters’ minds rather than just her own.

Third person

Advantages: Allows the reader to see all the events occurring . Allows the author to mislead the readers without cheating.

Disadvantages: Doesn’t allow a strong identification with any one character and can take longer to impart information.

Mistakes: More likely to switch viewpoints by accident.

Your Voice

This should not be confused with Point of View. Here we are talking about our own trademark, what makes the story ours. Your voice is natural — like how you speak and think. But it changes as you change and depending on the tone of the piece you’re working on. A writer’s voice should be real, authentic and honest.

Some authors write to a ‘recipe’ and every book you pick up written by that person has the same formula. Sidney Sheldon comes to mind, his books are written to a particular formula and the reader can foresee what will happen because of this yet all the books I’ve read of his have kept me captivated to the very end.

Why? His stories keep moving along, he constantly throws in sub-plots and twists to keep things interesting. He doesn’t have a lot of description yet it isn’t necessary. He uses a chapter for one Point of View then the next chapter for another – usually telling a completely different story. The two stories finally come together at the climax and the book is wound up. He has written many books using this same formula and is a successful author. His ‘voice’ is apparent in his writing, this is his trademark (so to speak).

So when you write try to develop and cultivate your own ‘voice’. Something that a reader will recognise and know is you.