Word Counts can screw a first time writer up

As you can see, I did a little fine-tuning of the sidebar yesterday. One thing I really wanted to do was fine-tune the novel meter so it can show how many words I’ve written on Willow so far and how much should be my goal. In order to do that, I needed to count how many words I’d written so far, not an easy feat, seeing that most of my chapters were spread out in separate folders and had multiple drafts up to about Chapter 15 or so. I had to pull all the relevant drafts and put them in one folder on my computer. Then, using the handy word count all chapters feature in RoughDraft, the word processing program I use, I proceeded to count all the words in the 25 chapters I’d written with just one click of a button.

The total I got back: 149,052. Wait a second. That can’t be right. I did a little fine tuning and clicked again. Same figure came up. 149,052.

Now, most fantasy books are supposed to be around the 100,000 to 150,000 range. Longer works are considered epics, which means they spill over the trilogy mode into the four or five book realm. If that word count is right, that means that I’ve already hit the 150,000 mark, which makes no sense because I know for the fact that Willow isn’t finished. I’ve considered it more about 25% completed. Which means that I have one huge book on my hands–I may be looking at–what, maybe a 500,000 word book when it’s over?

500,000 words? Whoa. That blows. I may be screwed with this book before I even finished it.

But maybe I’m overreacting. So I decided to pull down a couple books from my shelf. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey was her debut fantasy novel (she went on to write three other books set in the same world). It has 96 chapters, roughly 900 pages long, and it has word count of 1,553,093! Tad Williams War of the Flowers (not his first book, I know, but it’s what I grabbed this morning) has only 43 chapters, but is 816 pages long (with a glossary) and comes out to 1,473,256 words! Hmmmm….

So maybe I’m jumping the gun here. The ‘supposed’ fantasy word count doesn’t seem to apply to what’s actually in print out there. I need to see more word counts on debut novels, but my kid’s up, so I better get him out of bed. I think, however, as far as the whole word count thing is to not worry so much about it. After all, this is the first draft. I know that the count will change when I get to editing it. If I’ve written about 149,052 words spread out in 25 chapters and I consider the book a quarter finished, then I can put up a temporary target (I know the real target will be when I consider the book finished). But to give myself a rough estimate on what the book looks like (in paperback) I’m going to go ahead and set the target to 1,000,000. A nice thick book, I know, but if you make your story interesting, if it’s well-paced and pull readers in…they’ll devour that book up like a warm, savory stew with hot fresh bread and…

Hmmm…I better get started on breakfast.