Saturday, 25 July 2015

Words count.

This is essentially just me posting an infographic - but I ramble a little afterwards.

 SFF word counts with a couple of classic  'heavyweights' thrown in. (click chart for more detail)

I should also have included Tad Williams' To Green Angel Tower, which at 520,000 words is the longest single work of fantasy yet published!

Here are the word counts for my first 6 books. I'm currently on the home stretch for Red Sister and have 145,000 word of that one down.

Word counts for The Broken Empire and The Red Queen's War trilogies.
(click for detail)

And here they are again, with the word-count heavyweights of the genre for comparison - Pat Rothfuss and George RR Martin's longest works.

With Rothfuss and GRRM for scale.

Wordiness can be a bad thing, but a long book is neither inherently good nor bad. I've loved all Rothfuss' and GRRM's doorstop tomes. A long book is not necessarily a wordy book.

Some people love wordiness, others don't. I tend to be in the camp that appreciates efficiency and elegance in prose over wordiness. I also like efficiency and elegance on the larger scale of the plot/story, but that's less important to me.

Condensing language is difficult to do without losing meaning and becoming ambiguous, but when it works it works very well. If you can replace a paragraph of mechanical description with a single line that does the same job you squeeze all the impact of that whole paragraph into one short line and it hits hard.

That said, the length of a book is primarily an indication of how much story the author has to tell rather than an indication of how wordy they've been in telling it.


  1. I find that the older I get, the more I appreciate an author's ability to tell a great story beautifully in fewer words. Doorstoppers have a higher burden, for me, to prove their worth. It's becoming increasingly rare for me to read a book of more than 200,000 words without thinking it could have been significantly improved by the excision of certain sections, subplots, or simple distillation of the prose. I frequently get flamed for this type of comment online, particularly by fans of some of the most popular producers of weighty tomes. One of many things I've always appreciated about your prose was its economy of words.

  2. In the classic field there is "Les misérables" by Victor Hugo, around 655.000 words.
    And in the fantasy genre, there is To Green Angel Tower, by Tad Williams, 520.000 words. :-)

  3. To Green Angel Tower is one of the big exceptions for me, wherein the length proves worthwhile. Great stuff.

  4. I don't mind the length, as long as I get what I wanted why I read books in the first place....

    On the otherhand, I am just elated that The Wheel of Osheim finally got an official word count.

  5. I'll explain here what I meant on twitter.

    You seem to focus on prose, when it's mostly about marketing. You still write a "series", so you could has well wrapped your trilogy in one book and release it as a standalone. It would still be well within a certain size.

    So that choice isn't about "wordiness", it's marketing. Most epic fantasy series could have been disassembled in smaller parts.

    That said, most of the big books are big for a very simple reason: lots of viewpoints. And when each character has only an handful of pages every 100 of them, the book grows big simply as a consequence.

    So in the end it's more of a case where the reader wants to read a focused story, or one that is about a large cast, a group of people, instead of a single protagonist.

  6. Simon Ellberger28 July 2015 at 06:49

    I like pithiness.