Important: New web address for STP Editing

Moving to

Moving to “STPediting.wordpress.com”

Hello everybody!

I will now be posting on a new website that, in most respects, is identical to this one. All that’s changed is the web address (URL).

https://mrbrookesabroad.wordpress.com has now moved to http://STPediting.wordpress.com.

You’ll find all the old posts and information there on the new website. The reason for the change is to focus more on the professional/writing side of  things instead of the personal, which was what Mr Brookes Abroad was intended to be.

Please do visit the new site and be sure to click the Follow button to make sure you’re subscribed. All new posts will be on the new site, STP Editing, from now on.

All contact details remain the same and this won’t affect any ongoing projects.

I look forward to seeing you all on the new site!

—David Brookes

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What is dystopian fiction?

New-York-Ruins_Extraordinary-End-of-The-World-Inspired-Artworks

I get rather frustrated by how many times I see people misusing the word ‘dystopian’ (sometimes wrongly called ‘dystopic’). I thought it might be worthwhile putting down a definition for those who are interested in learning more.

Let’s start with the basics. The Oxford English Dictionary describes a ‘dystopia’ as:

An imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible.

There seems to be a general misunderstanding about the word, as though it relates to a world where things are merely bad, or even just different, or set in the future. Readers and writers should ask themselves what kind of book they’ve read recently in which something wasn’t bad. The nature of fiction and drama is rooted in conflict. Therefore the protagonist will always find themselves in a ‘bad’ situation. That’s what fiction is about.

A dystopia is an extreme example of this. Think of “The Hunger Games”. This series for young adults is set in a future where the world is a wreck, where society has largely collapsed, where the majority of people live in oppressed poverty and a few live in perfect luxury. This is a dystopa. Things are really bad, all the time. It may be set in the future, or in an alternate version of today, or in another world altogether. A classic example is “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, where people are oppressed by a totalitarian regime and in some cases don’t even know it, or have forgotten. (When the book was written in 1949, the year 1984 was the future). People are always watched, and their very thoughts are monitored. Dissenters are harshly punished. Similar novels are “Fahrenheit 451” (or you may have seen the great film “Equilibrium”), or Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta”.

Contrast with, say, a novel about war. War is very bad, but the world is not a dystopian world. It’s just an unhappy place with some hellish things going on. But imagine a world where war covers everything, where there are no safe places to hide, where there are no governments or civilizations left. That’s a dystopia, like the future world of the “Terminator” film series.

For a deeper understanding, we can look at the source of the word. It comes from the ancient Greek words for “bad place”. It is the opposite of a utopia, which actually means “not place” – because it refers to a perfect, ideal world that doesn’t exist. It may have been confused with a similar-sounding Greek word for “good” – eutopia, not utopia. There aren’t many books that are about true utopias because – as I pointed out above – fiction requires drama and conflict to be interesting and worthwhile. A perfect world would probably be pretty boring! And so often a dystopian world comes from a supposed utopian society, where certain people consider the world to be perfect, but actually underneath things are terrible. The world of “Nineteen Eight-Four” is actually a broken utopia, which in many ways is the same as a dystopia.

Dystopian societies are often ones that encourage people not to feel, or to speak out of turn. In the real world we recognise this as being silly – feeling is a part of being human – but philosophers around the world acknowledge that much of the bad things in our world happen because of emotional reasons. A science fiction writer might want to describe a ‘perfect’ world in which emotions or wrong words don’t cause offense, unrest or wars. Many dystopian novels address the issue of identity, and what it means for that to be suppressed. Invariably though, the characters in those books rebel. They want the freedom to be human. These worlds are often therefore bubbling underneath with violence waiting to happen.

Here are some great examples of dystopian fiction:

  • The Iron Heel, Jack London
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  • Judge Dredd, the comic 2000AD
  • V for Vendetta, Alan Moore
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  • Neuromancer, William Gibson
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K Dick
  • We, Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  • The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
  • Divergent, Veronica Roth
  • The Drowned World, J G Ballard

In film, you could watch:

  • Robocop
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Blade Runner (based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”)
  • Divergent
  • The Hunger Games
  • I Am Legend
  • The Matrix
  • WALL-E
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Terminator Salvation
  • Equilibrium
  • V for Vendetta

Dystopian fiction is a great way to not only tell a great story, but also to highlight the things that are wrong with our world today. It might be how we rely too much on technology, or how corporations are running the world, or about how we are destroying the planet. Many dystopian fiction books feature ecological disasters that have made the Earth almost unlivable, making life hell for everybody. Sometimes this is a freak of nature, but often it’s a man-made problem. The books are holding a mirror up to our world to remind us what we’re doing wrong, and make us try to change things before it’s too late.

Feel free to comment with other examples of dystopian fiction, or to ask questions!

—db

Terminology: why cyborgs suck

Ghost in the Shell

Five years ago, after years of toil, I finally got my first novel published in paperback. Half Discovered Wings is not easy to define in terms of genre: it is ostensibly fantasy, in the broadest sense – it features monsters and supernatural/spiritual elements – but it is also science fiction, in that the post-apocalyptic world in which it is set has a history of high technology (sci-fi is a sub-category of fantasy in any case).

Prior to finally being accepted by a publisher, Libros International in 2009, the novel underwent six drafts and a title change. Characters were cut, scenes were removed or changed, even the dialogue was completely re-written for some characters. There are still many characters (possibly too many) and a good 142,000 words remaining, but since all of these characters are integral to each other’s stories, and since all those words are necessary to describe those characters and the world they inhabit, I realised that I could cut no longer. It then became merely a proofreading exercise.

Since I wrote the first draft in 2003, my literary ideology had changed, and each successive draft was what I hoped to be a significant improvement. I was developing as a writer and I wanted my novel to reflect my best efforts.

For the past few months I have been working to create another version of Half Discovered Wings, what I will optimistically call the definitive version, for ebook release. Revisiting this nostalgic reality has reminded me of another difficulty: that of terminology.

Science fiction runs the knife’s edge of being scientific enough to interest a certain kind of reader, using big ideas to either speculate or explain, whilst still being readable and enjoyable enough to sell copies. Fantasy does the same – take a look at the difference between The Hobbit (fun and readable) and The Silmarillion (Biblical syrup), for example. Many people have told me that they never got into The Lord of the Rings because there were too many unfamiliar names and words. Some readers shy away from sci-fi for the same reason – they would rather have a story instead of half a chapter describing how a faster-than-light drive works, or precisely how time travel is possible. Forget that: just get on with the story. And I sympathise.

There are several original terms of Half Discovered Wings, so many that my editor suggested I insert a glossary at the back of the book. I reluctantly agreed. What does it matter what the term ‘sanguilac’ means when the reader is being shown what these blood-sucking creatures are (a basic knowledge of Latin would help also)? Still, if even one reader finds it useful, why not? For the rest of you, please don’t feel patronised.

In Half Discovered Wings I also wrote a character nicknamed Caeles, which is Latin for ‘dwells in Heaven’. The irony is that he is far from angelic, embittered by over a century of grief and warfare. Caeles is a cybernetic organism, a cyborg, created to fight in the radioactively- and biologically-hazardous battlefields of a distant war. He is a relic from this world’s sci-fi past, and understandably he is treated with suspicion and fear by the relatively ignorant inhabitants of its present.

One piece of terminology I struggled with was ‘cyborg’. Talk about cheesy. The term is now 55 years old, coined in 1960 by some theoretically-minded scientists (aren’t all scientists theoretically-minded?). The earliest example in fiction that I could find was in the 1972 novel Cyborg by Martin Caiden, which was the inspiration for TV’s The Six Million Dollar Man and spin-off Bionic Woman. I’m sure that many writers are used to turning away from terms such as ‘cyborg’ and ‘android’, precisely because they’re retro, slightly naff terms.

But what are the modern alternatives? I recall reading a few books that created unique terms to describe their particular type of cyborg – I’m sure I’ve seen ‘Tek’, ‘Tech’ and ‘mechanoid’, for example, even though the latter is incorrect to describe anything with electronic components. I recall, years ago, wracking my brains for something like this to use. For a time I settled on the term ‘cybernetic’, utilising the term as a noun. This was vaguely original at least, but unwieldy. Having someone refer to a character as “a cybernetic” rings false, assuming the reader has a feel for the difference between a noun and an adjective. It doesn’t sound right.

I don’t know how long I spent trying to wrap my head around the difference between cybernetics and bionics, and the mess of similar terms, to make sure I was using the correct one. The individual definitions are clear, but how they might apply to, say, Luke Skywalker’s electro-mechanical hand in The Empire Strikes Back is not. Is the hand bionic? Cybernetic? Is Luke now technically a cyborg?

Let’s not go there.

I was surprised, and secretly pleased, to see the resurgence of ‘cyborg’ as a term in comics. This is a fine example of what all writers should be doing: using the simplest, clearest language to describe what you need to describe. There is no need to be fancy, there is no need to over-explain. If a character is half machine, just call him ‘a cyborg’. The reader knows exactly what you mean just by using that one word. Its simplicity is beautiful.

The image at the top of this page relates to the anime franchise Ghost in the Shell, a mind-blowing collection of manga, films and several TV series. The character in the picture, Motoko, is almost 100% machine, and usually referred to simply as a “cyborg” or “cybernetic human”. The Japanese have long been obsessed with the concept of melding man and machine. Having explored almost every avenue, in their wisdom they retain the simplest of descriptions.

I may change my mind during the course of this re-write of Half Discovered Wings. It’s been known to happen during my edits. But for now I’ll stick to my own rules: simplicity is best, conciseness is best.

Cyborg it is.

—db

[Half Discovered Wings is still available as paperback from Amazon here. Look out for Half Discovered Wings in ebook format soon!]

[P.S., artist of the picture above please step forward for credit!]

Holy cows and swastikas – “Cycles of Udaipur”

199 Pichola Lake


In 2012-13 I was lucky enough to take some time to travel the world. My first stop was India, a country so crazy I don’t have the space to describe it properly here. India is a bizarro-England, in some familiar and in some the complete opposite. It is frantic, deliriously colourful, filthy yet pure, spiritual yet seemingly gods-forsaken. I loved it.

Despite the great times I had in subsequent countries – including the currently blighted Nepal (donate here) – I decided that my next novel would be set in India, which is in many ways unexplored by modern literature.

Contemporary novels set in India (at least, those written in English), are enamoured with the history and spirituality of the country, at the expense of reality. They acknowledge the issue of poverty and patriarchal social structure, but shirk its rapidly-growing modernity for a daydreamy post-Raj interpretation. They fail entirely to deal with the disillusionment of its modern youth, the outpacing of technology and wealth compared to the cultural maturity of its emerging middle class, and the much-underpublicised rise in sophisticated gang crime.


Cycles of Udaipur


I adored many of the cities I visited during my time in India, but my favourite was almost certainly Udaipur: beautiful, serene, artistic Udaipur, in deep Rajasthan.  There are two cities in the world that I felt a strong immediate bond with upon visiting (the second is Kathmandu, specifically Boudhanath). I set my novel, “Cycles of Udaipur”, in Rajasthan and set out to explore the new tribulations of India’s youth as described above.

The finished result is “Cycles of Udaipur”, which has been much changed and edited since I finished its first draft a long time ago. I’m now very excited to approach my first literary agency, which the is the first step on the long, steep, painful road towards traditional publication.

I’ll keep you posted – in the mean time, wish me luck!

—db

Cat-sitting and Crimebusting: The “Pattie Lansbury” Cozy Mystery stories

One of the joys of working the writing and ghostwriting industry is that I get to meet a lot of great writers I might never have heard of otherwise.

I recently came across a series of short stories in the “cozy mystery” genre, which are relatively gentle murder mystery tales in the vein of “Murder She Wrote” and “Midsomer Murders”.

“The Pattie Lansbury Mysteries” from Nancy C. Davis are a cute little collection of stories in which the titular main character, an amateur sleuth, solves crimes with the help of her cats.  When she’s not tracking down serial killers or chasing talented thieves, she runs the “Pat’s Whiskers Feline Retirement Home”.  Most of the stories have a catty theme so if you’re interested in either of these things, this series is worth checking out.

The series of 6 stories have been released in 4 books, and an omnibus collection has just been released, so now’s your chance to bag the lot!

Pattie cover 2


Cat Sleuth:
There’s been a murder in the quiet village of Little Hamilton.
Patricia Lansbury runs her “Feline Retirement Home”
there for abandoned cats, where she expected to have
a quiet retirement. Unfortunately for Pattie, events
have drawn her into the police investigation, and find herself
entangled in the biggest mystery Little Hamilton has ever seen.

With the unexpected help of her cats, Pattie must work
with the police to uncover the truth about the murder.
But when all she wants is a quiet cup of tea, how can
Pattie unravel the mystery when the truth seems so elusive…?


Murder and a Song:
The peace and quiet of Little Hamilton is about to be shattered.
June is the month of the enormous YorkFest music festival,
an annual excuse for camping, partying, merriment … and even murder.

When a man is murdered in his tent, all evidence points
towards his girlfriend as the culprit. She pleads innocence,
and calls on Patricia Lansbury, the village’s resident sleuth,
to find the real murderer. But as the mystery unfolds, Pattie
is met with more questions than she is answers. For example,
how is a drunken farmer involved? Could there be one – or more –
murderers in the heaving festival campsite? And why does
Pattie’sgut tell her that the farmer’s cat is the key
to solving the whole mystery?


OMNIBUS, including: The Escapee
Patricia Lansbury, consulting detective, has solved plenty of
crimes in the Yorkshire village of Little Hamilton. So has
her estranged son, Detective Constable Andrew Lansbury,
who was forced to leave the village in disgrace following a
scandal. Now the past has come back to haunt Pattie. An
escaped prisoner that her son once put away is out for
violent justice, and now Pattie has to solve her most personal
crime yet.

But how are a suspicious homeless person, a
multi-millionaire entrepreneur, and a houseful of cats connected
to the mystery? And can Pattie resolve the matter before the
sins of the son catch up with the mother

…and The Case of the Cat-Napper (OMNIBUS)
Pattie Lansbury, amateur sleuth owner of Yorkshire’s only
Feline Retirement Home, has now established a much-needed
veterinary practice in her sleepy village of Little Hamilton. Others
might be suspicious of her secret investor, but Pattie is more
concerned about the rumours of stolen cats spreading across
the English countryside.

As the cat-nappers take things to the next level, Pattie
is drawn into a mystery far more personal than
she would ever have imagined. Who is stealing Little Hamilton’s
furry residents, and why? And how is it connected to the
secret investor and some of Pattie’s shiftiest customers?
It will take one determined consulting detective to find out,
along with some kitties with very special skills!


Murder Most Familiar
All seems quiet in Little Hamilton. Pattie is making a
success of her Feline Retirement Home, as well as
her new Veterinary practice. Thankfully there’s not a
crime in sight for the consulting detective to solve.

That is, until Matthew Conrad, the village’s local
entrepreneur and global media mogul, receives death
threats just days before the launch of his new TV series.
Worse, the letters seem to come from somebody
in Little Hamilton. In a very small community, the chance
that Pattie knows the suspect is high, putting her
at greater risk than ever

But what ancient secrets is
Conrad’s countryside cottage hiding? What is the
curse of the golden lion? And at what point should
Pattie stop getting involved in the complex, mysterious
affairs of others and concentrate on her own desires…?


Murder on the Moor
As Pattie says goodbye to one part of her life,
another part opens up: for years she has been
comforted by a close friendship with Elliott Knight,
the local doctor in the village of Little Hamilton, but
she has grieved over the absence of her son, who was
driven out of the village due to a scandal years ago.

Little does Pattie realise that both important aspects
of her life will come together after a body is found on
the nearby moorland, apparently slain by a giant
wild cat on the loose in the valley …
But as Pattie works with the police to separate myth
from reality, darker motives are afoot and a threat
from the past gets ever closer, with tragic consequences…

In the final story of the Pattie Lansbury cozy murder
mystery series, everything will be revealed!


Pattie compilation cover

On the Western front

seraphim-falls

Back when this was the “Spinning Lizard” blog, I mentioned that I was working on a Western story.  Here’s the original post, from two whole years ago.

Eventually I fleshed out a solid revenge tale and called it “The Gun of our Maker”, which I worked on prior to my jaunt to China and tinkered with since.

The market for Westerns is smaller than a prairie dog’s arsehole at the minute, so I’ve decided to polish it up and release it as an e-book for the fun-sized price of 99p.  Look out for it in the coming weeks or months if you like your grit true and your vengeance bloody!

To whet your whistle, here’s the official blurb for “The Gun of our Maker”, coming soon:


Minnesota, 1859: a man is executed for skimming
from a silver mine to provide for his family.

Arizona, 1877: the sins of the father catch up with the son

Six weeks later: a man on horseback scales
the forests of the Mogollon Rim. He is
searching for Bill Hawken, a renowned gunsmith.

Vivian Culhane is far from a typical hero. Crippled by a
childhood illness, he is weak, blind – yet unstoppable.

Together they will build an instrument of vengeance
that will be known across Arizona, New Mexico and
Texas – a revolver that produces red smoke,
with a limited supply bullets and a thirst for justice.


—db

How to fail at writing a novel (pt.1)

How to fail at writing

I meet a lot of people who are impressed that I wrote a novel. They’re even more impressed when they learn that it was picked up by a traditional publisher.  Writing a novel seems like an unreachable goal for a lot of people, a fantasy that will never come to fruition no matter how hard they try.

And lots of people try.  My artistic social circle is filled with people who have started to write a novel and given up.  From my first days at university back in 2003 to this blustery, wet March of 2015, I keep meeting people who have never achieved what they set out to do: write a novel.

I’m hardly an expert on the subject.  ‘Half Discovered Wings‘ was published in 2009, and it took me six years to write it, get it into a publishable state, then find a publisher.  In the six years since I’ve written several finished manuscripts and attempted to find literary agents for two of those, with no luck (I like to blame the economic crash, but that excuse is losing its validity with every new pre-election Budget).  But as a reader and an increasingly successful ghostwriter, I know what can work if the stars are aligned, and what will not.

Here begins a short series of posts about how to fail at writing your novel.

1. Don’t know your genre

I had great fun reading the long-awaited seventh novel from literary great Kazuo Ishiguro.  Not because ‘The Buried Giant’ was a good novel, but because I was fascinated by the catastrophe of it.  It was a staid exercise in watching the author trying to claw out of quicksand he knowingly walked into.

Kazuo Ishiguro - The Buried Giant

‘The Buried Giant’ was ten years in the making and its release was hailed as the literary event of the year.  People expected great things from the author of ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ and ‘The Remains of the Day’.  As a writer of moving literary fiction, Ishiguro should have known better, but for some reason he decided to venture into the genre of high fantasy.  Without knowing a thing about how to write a fantasy novel.

Personally I was amazed at how a writer as talented as Ishiguro could create a world populated by monsters, dragons and sorcery whilst hardly showing us any monsters, dragons or sorcery Incredible fantasy and sci-fi author Ursula le Guin slammed Ishiguro for being vague in a scathing blog post, and she’s right.

Bearing in mind Ishiguro’s bizarre insistence that his fantasy novel was not a fantasy novel, I was two thirds of the way through the book and still wondering whether it was a clever literary device in which the characters believed in the paranormal but the world was actually as described in our history books.  Nope.  A knight attempts to slay a dragon in the final act, and the dragon is indubitably real within the fictional reality of the book.

So why did I spent 200 pages or so wondering whether this really was a fantasy book?

Ishiguro knew nothing about the trade of writing a fantasy novel.  One can’t write a literary novel and just throw in a witch or two and hope to be taken seriously.  World-building is a serious, concerted effort on the part of the writer to construct something tangible and believable within its own context bubble.  Successful fantasy trailblazers such as Tolkien and le Guin were successful because they created living, breathing worlds with complex politics, ecosystems, economies and landscapes.  I could write a whole other post about the importance of world-building, but that would be going off topic.

So why did Ishiguro, this master of the word, fail so miserably?  He probably read a lot of fantasy, but the wrong kind of fantasyToo many writers saw The Lord of the Rings in cinemas and thought, “Hey, that’s cool and it’s successful, I’ll write something like that”, unaware that Tolkien was a master but also a blight on fantasy fiction that writers are still struggling to recover from.  “Fantasy” is too often synonymous with “Middle-Earth” and it’s taking the Herculean efforts of the likes of China Mieville to reinvent the popular assumptions about fantasy literature.  Ishiguro took the standard fantasy tropes, such as knights, dragons and ogres, and shoehorned them into his rather touching piece about the nature of human memory, more as a plot device than anything substantial.

If you want to succeed in writing in any genre, read a lot of books in that genreOnly then will you know why your particular genre is important and how to be original with it.  If you don’t know which parts of the map have been drawn, then how will you know in which direction the uncharted territory lies?  Originality should be the goal of any writer (as far as that is possible).  I can’t help feeling that Ishiguro thought that he knew fantasy, but has probably never read a book by Mieville or Jeff Vandermeer or M. John Harrison.

For any genre, follow a few simple tips:

  1. Read lots of book in your chosen genre and learn what makes them work
  2. If you’ve read your idea somewhere before, come up with a new idea
  3. Read authors from each sub-genre.  There is no such thing as “fantasy”, there is really “high fantasy”, “slipstream”, “steampunk”, “magic realism”, “weird fiction”…
  4. For your genre, think about its themes and style.  Learn the rules before you break them
  5. Don’t read only your chosen genre – diversify your talents in style and vocabulary

Keep reading, keep writing, never surrender!

—db

How long should a novel be? (pt.2)

write a novel

Following on from last week’s post about novel lengths and word counts (here), I have some final words for writers wondering about novel length.

If you read my last post, you should now have a pretty good idea of how long your novel should be.  But there’s one other important thing to consider: If you’re a debut novelist, your novel should be shorter than average.  The reason that publishers are leaning heavily towards shorter novels in today’s market is that they’re cheaper to produce: less paper, less ink, same cover price.  If your book fails to sell, there’s much less waste if your book was a sparse 80,000 thriller instead of a 120,000 word epic.  This isn’t to say that you should change your genre, only that if you would like your groundbreaking first novel to be published then it seems sensible to make it an easy choice for the publisher.

The good news?  In today’s world of e-publishing, print costs don’t matter.  If self-publishing seems like a good idea, then you have a little more room to maneuver.  That is not an excuse to avoid proper editing!

I was lucky in that my first novel, a fantasy called “Half Discovered Wings” at a hefty 130,000 words (around 500 printed pages), was picked up and printed by a traditional publisher.  It happened at the end of 2009, just before the massive economical downturn, so I slipped through the doors just as they closed.  My second novel, a science fiction thriller at around 110,000 words, was just too long even a couple of months later (I won’t question whether quality might have been a factor!).

I’ve read a lot of articles recently that suggest debut authors should not exceed 100,000 words – and I agree.  Ideally, the maximum word length should be around 90,000 words if you want to make it easy for that publisher to pick up your novel.  I’m currently giving my current literary effort the harsh cut, and have managed to get it down to 97,000 words from 115,000, a reduction of 16% – with work still to be done.  I’m determined to get it lower than 94,000 words, ideally 91,000 words, to give my book the best chance it can get.

Be sure to do the same!

—db

How long should a novel be? (pt.1)

Photo by Joel Robison

Photo by Joel Robison

Whenever I meet other writers, one of the questions that often comes up is: “How long should my novel be?”  There are variations on the question, such as “How long is too long?” and “How short is too short?”  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find some reliable answers to these questions myself, and decided to write up the results for the benefit of fellow authors.


Discussing novel lengths and word counts

It’s easiest to talk about the length of fiction in terms of word count, rather than pages.  The reason for this is simple: if you say your short story is twenty pages, I would say “What size font?  Double or single spaced?  What size are your margins?  Do you use a lot of snappy dialogue, or dense blocks of narrative?”  Compare a few pages of a sparse novel, such as James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces“, to a dense tome such as Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow“, and you’ll get the idea.

Every word processor has a function to count the words in your text, so don’t be afraid to use it!  Publishers will want to know how long your novel is in number of words; the same goes if you submit it to an editor or proofreader for that critical review before you submit for print or publication.


Determining your ideal word count

If you have an idea for a novel and you’re familiar with the genre, there’s an easy way to decide how long it should be.  Let’s say you’d like to write the next steamy romance bestseller along the lines of “Fifty Shades of Grey”.  Go to the Romance section of Waterstones or your local bookshop (if there are any left in your area) and pick up a few similar titles.  You’ll notice that, generally speaking, they’re all about the same thickness, and have similarly sized fonts within.  The reason for this is that the publishers have a very good idea of how long this kind of book should be, and stick to it.  If you want them to publish your novel, then you should stick to it too.

One way to guess a book’s word count is to count the number of pages (say 300) and times it by 250 (average number of words per page) to get the total word count (in this case, 75,000 words).

250 words is a good guess per page, but this depends on the font size.  If you want to get a more accurate calculation, open one of those Romance books (or a book from your chosen genre) and count how many words are in each of the first ten lines.  Work out an average, then times it by the number of lines on the page.  This will likely be between 200 and 260 words.  Then you can times it by the number of pages in the book.

Number of words on a full line
x
Number of lines on the page
x
Number of pages in the book


Word count of famous novels

As an illustration, here are some famous novels that will be easily to find in your local bookshop, with their word lengths (credit goes to this site):

  • 30,500 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl (Children’s)
  • 36,000 – Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis (Children’s)
  • 46,000 – Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury (Science fiction)
  • 47,000 – The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (Literary drama)
  • 49,500 – Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut (Science fiction)
  • 56,500 – As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner (Literary drama)
  • 60,000 – Lord of the Flies – William Golding (Literary drama)
  • 63,500 – Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Wool (Literary drama)
  • 67,000 – Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson (Adventure)
  • 67,500 – The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway (Wartime drama)
  • 73,500 – The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger (Coming of age)
  • 77,500 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J. K. Rowling (Children’s)
  • 78,500 – The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde (Literary drama)
  • 85,000 – The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera (Literary drama)
  • 89,000 – Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell (Science fiction)
  • 89,000 – Waiting – Ha Jin (Literary drama)
  • 100,000 – To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee (Drama)
  • 113,000 – The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman (Fantasy)
  • 119,500 – My Sisters Keeper – Jodi Picoult (Drama)
  • 123,500 – Atonement – Ian McEwan (Family saga)
  • 138,000 – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne (Fantasy)
  • 144,500 – One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Family saga)
  • 145,500 – Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper (Historical drama)
  • 156,000 – Emma – Jane Austen (Romance)
  • 156,000 – Watership Down – Richard Adams (Adventure)
  • 183,500 – Great Expectations – Charles Dickens (Coming of age)
  • 184,000 – Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë (Romance)
  • 206,000 – Moby Dick – Herman Melville (Adventure)
  • 208,500 – Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (Fantasy drama)
  • 211,500 – Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Drama)
  • 236,000 – A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving (Drama)
  • 257,000 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J. K. Rowling (Children’s)
  • 418,000 – Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell (Historical epic)
  • 455,000 – The Lord of the Rings (trilogy) – J. R. R. Tolkien (Epic fantasy)
  • 562,000 – Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand (Drama)
  • 587,000 – War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy (Drama)

So, should you emulate these great authors?  J. K. Rowling’s “Order of the Phoenix” was a whopping 257,000 words, so should you aim for this when writing your first fantasy book for children?  Hell, no.  Apart from the fact that dear J. K. really, really needed a good editor in the post-Azkaban years, she was also by then well established and immensely successful. She had free rein to do whatever she liked, much to the detriment of children’s fiction everywhere.

Also, books we now consider classics were often significantly longer back in the day than popular books now.  Why?  Because there was less competition; because they were often written and published in installments; and because being wordy and “literary” was what made one a “proper” writer and worthy of being read (although it should be noted that many authors now considered masters were thought of as trashy during their own time. Fortunately for E.L. James).


Average word count by genre

My personal recommendation when it comes to choosing your word count is to go on the standard for the genre.  Publishers follow these loose guidelines for a reason.  There are always exceptions, so take them with a pinch of salt, but they are a handy guide.  If you’re out by more than 10,000 words, then you should re-think your plot or give it a thorough editing.

  • Literary: 60 to 90,000 words
  • Young adult: 45 to 80,000 words
  • Romance: 85 to 100,000 words
  • Cozy mysteries: 65 to 90,000 words
  • Thrillers: 90 to 100,000 words
  • Popular & chick-lit: 80 to 100,000 words
  • Epic sci-fi & fantasy: 100 to 120,000 words
  • Modern sci-fi & fantasy: 80 to 100,000 words
  • Horror: 80 to 100,000 words
  • Western: 80 to 100,000 words

No doubt some people will disagree with some of these, so I encourage responses in the comments section!


For some final words, and advice for debut novelists, check this part 2 of this post here.  Thanks for reading!

—db

New & Forthcoming Releases – David Brookes

As you may have read in my last post, I’ve been keeping pretty busy the last few months with my editing and ghostwriting business, ‘The St. Paul’s Literary Service’.  It’s amazing how quickly things have taken off, and I’ve gotten some rave reviews from clients, especially about my ghostwriting via Freelancer.com or direct by e-mail.

The ghostwriting continues to be fun.  I’ve been asked to write in a whole bunch of genres, including science fiction, horror, murder mystery and erotica.  I can’t tell you which, but most of these are already online to download as ebooks and it’s great to see them in the Kindle store.

Quite rightly, I was asked why I bother writing for other people in exchange for a flat fee, when I could put my talents to use by publishing these stories myself.  Considering the rates that I’ve seen on offer, it must be a lucrative (if uncertain) business.  After thinking about it for a while, I’ve decided to experiment with a few short story series that I was saving for a collection.

Starting from yesterday, the first in my “Professor Arnustace” short story series is available to download!  It’s available on the Amazon store here if you own a Kindle device, or via Smashwords here if you own any other ebook reader.  Even better, for this weekend only, it’s FREE!  Howsabout that?


 An Account of a Curious Encounter - Cover“England, the Year of our Lord 1916 … When a pod of killer whales washes up dead off the shore of Whitby, what else can the local constabulary do but call on the services of the eccentric Professor Arnustace, owner of 5 degrees and a mechanically-augmented talking cat?

Join the Professor in his most curious adventure since his last term in the local asylum, featuring: a novel method of feline communication; a diving suit with a slight problem; and a colossal presence beneath the surface of the North Sea.”


 

I encourage each and every one of you to give my little story a shot and perform what I like to call The Three Rs…

Read, Review, Recommend!

It’s incredibly satisfying to see that there have already been dozens of downloads  (even more surprising, considering how many times I’ve had to remove the thing to reformat it, which is a new kind of Hell reserved just for ebook publishers…).  I’ll be publishing three different series simultaneously, with a new story every week, each series comprising of 3 or 4 stories.  If the experiment is a success then I’ve no doubt I’ll be writing more about the likes of Professor Arnustace (even if he is a bit peculiar).

To go with my new project, I also now have a fancy Amazon Author Central page, where you can go to see my publications as they’re released.  Be warned, though – it will soon have a photo of me on it.

Write to me here if you would like to subscribe to my news feed: hear about new releases, as well as exclusive previews and offers.  Otherwise, join me back here for the next post where I’ll tell you more about my dastardly publishing plans for the coming months.

–db