Worlds and words.

On Monday of this week I finished the first draft of my first attempt at a YA dystopian fiction novel, working title The Boy From the Blue Zone. I’m not unhappy with it. I was just shy of 70,000 words and flying along when I realised that if I carried on it would probably end up being about double that. That felt like it might be too long for the YA market. I did some checking.

Apparently, typical ball-park word count for debut YA novels is between 55,000 and 70,000. Who knew? I decided to find a place in what I’d already produced to write The End. I did that at 60,000. (And so I have a start on book two. Yay!) But it does feel a little abrupt. Mind you, one Young Adult’s abrupt ending  is another Young Adult’s cliff-hanger, perhaps.

I’ll stick it in a ‘draw’ for a while. Give myself a little breathing space. In the meantime  I’m going to try to find some experienced YA novel readers who will give it a whirl for me and give me some brutally honest constructive feedback. I’ve already put out a few feelers. If the general consensus of opinion is not encouraging I might need to rethink whether it’s worth persevering with. It’s taken me just over three weeks to write it and have a couple of edits after read-throughs. Has anything any good ever been written in such a short time? I doubt it. (I might Google that later.)

OK. I Googled it. (Stupid, stupid me for asking the question: Has anything any good ever been written in such a short time? Stupid, stupid me for doubting it.) And from the links I realised that I’ve been down this road before with myself – word count and speed of completing a project. Back then it was about Bad Sons (B&C#1). (Stupid, stupid me for forgetting that.) My memory is so bad. (Which for some aspects of my life is actually a blessing.)

Did you know that…


Written in about three weeks. Word count: 58695.


Written in about three weeks. Word count: 43385.


First draft written in under three days!!!! Word count: 46778

I could go on.

Like a lot of people who end up writing novels I do have a bit of a fixation/fascination with word count. I’ve always got my eye on the counter. I get cross with myself about it sometimes because that’s a terrible way to gauge a book. But I can’t help it.

I can’t seem to write anything over 100,000 words. I don’t want to. I like to write shorter novels. And I like to read shorter novels. I saw a comment on the web from someone musing about word count in novels. Regarding Stieg Larsson’s books, he said. ‘Do I really want to know in detail about every single item a character puts in the their shopping basket?’ It kills a book for me to read that shit and it would kill me to write like that.

Flitting about the web I found numerous references to iconic short novels. The great telling of a great story told economically really interests me.

Last week was a bit depressing in a way – writing dystopian fiction by day, reading dystopian fiction by night, (living in a dystopian culture by choice). 1984 by George Orwell is what I’ve been reading – coincidentally I heard today that it’s rocketed up the charts because of something an American politician said. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m not talking exclusively about its prophetic nature – the man was a genius with the English language, such a wealth of intellect beautifully expressed. An absolute joy to read. How satisfying it must be to write something intellectually weighty. Sigh. One day, Oliver. (But it’ll probably take longer than three weeks.)

Next major project on the horizon is B&C#4. (I’ve got a good start in the bank for that). But first, when B&C#3 ends up back in my inbox, all being well, I’ll be straight onto formatting that to get it out ASAP. Hopefully before I head home in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to getting involved with those two again. I need cheering up after all that doom and gloom.

I won’t crack on with B&C#4 until #3 is out of the way – I might end up confusing myself over things. So what I’m doing in the ‘dead time’ is devoting some love to a short story idea that I quite like.

7 thoughts on “Worlds and words.

  1. Hello. Your recent email blog (or whatever it is called) was interesting but confusing to me. ( the part about word counts etc) But then I confuse easily. I love your R. & M. novels & will be moving into your other crime series next. I generally prefer books of that length. (Too short & I feel unsatisfied – to long & unless they are brilliant “gobblers” I loose patience.) The content is the “thing” not the word count. Bottom line is that so far, I LOVE YOUR BOOKS!!!

    • Hi Celeste
      Thanks for your comment. 🙂
      Great to know that you’ll give one of my other series a try. Might I suggest the B&C books if you like detective fiction – Acer Sansom is a bit more international thriller.
      You are absolutely right that the it doesn’t matter about the length of a book so long as it’s a good read.
      Thanks again for your kind words
      Best wishes

  2. Morning Oliver,
    Feels as though I’ve read the whole of the Amazon catalogue lately as I have tried to read several books that I have had to abandon: 1) because there was too much information 2) the words lay ‘flat’ on the page.
    Some really goods books, as you say, are short, sometimes less than novella size in wordage, but if its a good read then what does it matter, and as the saying goes, it is not the size that matters.
    I was critiqued once, thirty years ago, by a prolific local author who was judging a short story competition. She said, “You make every word work for you,” and placed me first.
    When I write I have always remembered what she said, because when I edit my work I always think to myself is that relevant: pertinent to anything that goes on in the novel. If it isn’t then its scrapped, and sometimes its agony when hovering over that delete button because some of our best writing is obliterated forever.
    One example is my novel, A LIFE ONCE HAD. When I finished writing it was about 200,000 words in length. I whittled it down to about 110,000, and am pleased to say it is a novel that is still in the top 100’s of the German genre.
    So, Oliver, as I can’t find anything to catch my interest at the moment I will go back to the classics, they always give me satisfaction, if not, inspiration.
    BTW, I am not into YA novels at all, but good luck in your endeavours and hope to read another B&C soon.
    Best wishes.

    • Hi Pat
      Thanks for your comment.
      I find a thick weighty tome quite offputting. Some of my favourtie reads have been shorter ones.
      Don’t know how you could have bared slashing tens of thousands of words from your writing. I can never do that.
      Like you, I’m reading a lot of older stuff lately. Not the classics but books that have stood the test of time.
      Best wishes

      • Morning Oliver,
        I’ve been through some test of time books too and, like you say, they are still good reads. But had to put down another Kindle book last night, though, I was being told, not showed, and whenever I attended writers workshops (thirty odd years ago now) I was always told to show the reader, don’t tell the reader.
        You might be surprised to find that I am now reading Andy McNabb. I’ve not read him since Bravo Two Zero over 20 years ago. I am reading Troop Seven for research purposes and am enjoying it, especially when you get through the usual forces banter, and all the rude words would make a nun blush: but hey, I’m no nun.
        Looking forward to the next B&C, I know I will read it through to the end as you always give total satisfaction. ( I can hear you laughing from here) 🙂
        Best wishes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s