What’s on the Bookshelf: Word count vs. story content

Since I decided to give eBooks a chance earlier this year, I’ve noticed distinct differences between traditionally published books and the indie authors’ contributions to the literary world. It’s something I’ve even noticed my writing group does, and I wonder what the other writers in my life think about my analysis.

When I write, I have a general idea about plot, where things are going, and I focus on telling the story. I don’t want to waste words or plug in scenes just to fill space or expand the story. But what it boils down to is that I focus on the story content more than I do the word count. I want the climax to wrap up the lose threads. I want the story of the book to be complete, even if some things are left to expand the story. Therefore, I do not worry about count, I worry about writing an engaging story – whether a blog, a travel piece or a novel.

The trend I’ve notice and hear a lot of talk about is “word count” this and “word count” that. I understand knowing the average word count of traditional stories, but what bothers me, especially in eBooks, is authors seem to be sticking strictly to a short word count even when the story doesn’t feel “concluded” because people don’t want to read a “long” eBook. Really?

For example, I read yesterday Sarra Cannon’s “Beautiful Demons.” The book was first person – not my favorite – but overall, it was a good story. Cannon is definitely a talented writer. The book still wasn’t my cup of tea, but I don’t consider it time wasted either. What bothered me about the book was where it ended. One resolution among a hundred questions created by the novel was answered at the end of the book, and I don’t consider that an adequate resolution even if the series continues. I believe that a novel should be a complete story arc, even if it leaves things open for more. And I’m finding that the word counts of some of the eBooks I’ve been reading are just too short to adequately tell the story. I don’t know if Cannon “kept it short” on purpose, but I do know “Beautiful Demons” is just another to add to the list of the trend I’m noticing.

I do understand writing for an audience and traditionally, I understand that certain audiences have a different attention span than others. I also understand that sticking to a shorter word count, your story is more likely to be read because a shorter story is easier to dedicate time to finishing than a 1,000 page Dickens tome. But what is the fine line between the two? Should content be sacrificed for the sake of staying within an optimal word count? Or, should a quality novel speak for itself regardless of length?

Frankly, I’m in the content camp. I believe in editing and not wasting words, but I’m not going to say, “oh, I’ve hit my word count, the story is done.” I am curious what the other writers in my life think.