One of the most daunting aspects of writing a novel is the sheer amount of words required. For most people, the most they’ve ever written has been their final research paper at university, and they realize after around 20,000 words that writing a novel is more challenging than they expected. On the flip side, there are those who have such a ready flow of words that they go well beyond a normal novel length and later have to cut it down. In this installment, iUniverse gives you some useful facts about word counts of famous novels and what word count may suit you best.
Some background information on word counts: Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time ranks as the longest novel, with 1.2 million words. (It is seven volumes long.) For single-volume novels, the longest is – no surprise here — Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace with a word count of 587,000. Novels from the 19th century, in which the reading public increased in percentage, were generally high in word counts, with George Eliot’s Middlemarch containing 316,000 and Dickens consistently breaking 150,000 and 200,000.
In our time, most novels are around 80,000 to 110,000 words. Traditional publishers tend to balk at books that are shorter than 80,000, though this is not a problem for self-publishers! Novels from the sci-fi and fantasy genres tend to have higher word counts.
Novels under 70,000 words are generally called “novellas”, especially those between forty and sixty thousand. A fair number of the classics in British and American literature belong to this category. Some famous titles include Animal Farm (just under 30,000), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Of Mice and Men. While novellas are less popular with traditional publishers, they represent a nice fit for self-publishers and busy readers.
To gain a further understanding, here are a few other titles of famous works and their word counts:
Hemingway, The Sun also Rises: 67,707
Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment: 211,591
Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: 109,571
Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray: 78,462
Joyce, Ulysses: 262,869
Melville, Moby-Dick: 209,117
As you can see, there is no “perfect” word count for a successful book. iUniverse believes your mission as a writer is to tell a story, not to just fill pages with words!
–By Thomas McKinley