Monday, March 24, 2014

Considering Word Count

I’ve been concerned recently about my writing and whether or not my rough draft fits into what would generally be considered an ideal format. The children’s story I have put together was done so without much of an arrangement at all. I had an idea in my mind and wanted to get it down on paper with pure imagination.  It took several weeks to assemble what I thought was a solid start to rough draft. But as I began to scribble and think more about putting words and pictures together, I realized my structure needed to become more of a priority.
I know that writing a story should not have its creative limits bound by templates. Great writing always has the potential to succeed beyond the limits of the standard. But children’s stories are different. They are not novels. They are targeted works. They have been studied, and do fall into structures that do communicate best.
I did some research and found a few statistics that I thought were helpful:
Early Picture Books: 0 - 500 words.
Picture Books: 50 - 1,000 words.  1000 is pushing it.
Nonfiction Picture Books: 500 - 2,000 words.
Early Readers:  200 - 3,500 words, depending on age level.
I am currently working with 1859 words, so I can see that I have exceeded my category of “Picture Books” but do still fall into a gray area of under 2000 words with Nonfiction Pictures Books and Early Readers, though I admit it’s a stretch. Other Beginning Readers word count lists consistently mention the number to top out at no more than 1500.
I decided to get specific and see if I could find examples of the very best. Dr Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who is 1626 words and The Cat in the Hat is 1520 words. But Dr. Seuss has also gone as low as 393. Everywhere I have checked so far seems to indicate that 1000-1500 is the highest UNLESS it is justified by necessity and carried by a great story. Needless to say, I think Dr. Seuss’s words need no count, as everything he has done is justified. And I would be silly to believe that I am the exception.
I’ll sit down tonight and try to see what can be done to make the story tighter. I know at the rough draft stage I have a lot of weeding to do, but I also don’t want to lose the spirit of the story as I have originally written it. I can’t be too proud of my work yet to fight for it to be longer than it really needs to be.
Whatever the final length is, it will have to be completed with confidence. Perhaps I could chop 359 words out and will honestly feel better about its readability. Perhaps I won’t and I’ll feel that the story and word count is just right.  Still, this is a good reminder to keep analyzing and finding economy. Writing well is something that needs to be done efficiently. Especially when trying to entertain a child.
Below is a sketch of Hogarth from The Iron Giant. Thanks for visiting.

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