March 5, 2009

What's In A Word Count?

When it comes to taking a word count of my novel, or one of my short stories, I get the idea that the option in the Tools menu of Open Office isn't what editors and agents have in mind. Mind you, it's so convenient I can't help but use it as my measuring stick while typing.

As best as I can understand it, word counts comes from a little equation. The first thing I have to do is write with a courier font, so each character is of equal width (the "m" needs to be as big as the "i"). The font also needs to be sized "12", and the page double-spaced with one inch margins on all sides. Once I have it formatted just so, I count the characters on a single line, which (by my count) works out to be sixty-four. Since there is an average of six character per word, I divide 64 by 6 and get ten plus change as my answer, so I'll round it down up to eleven. There's twenty-three lines to a single double-spaced page, so I have 253 words to a page. Let's say two-hundred and fifty.

Now, my horror novel is in it's third draft, and so far I haven't confronted the word count as something to be tackled (the whole project has been my trial and error approach to writing). If I go to Tools, then click on Word Count, Open Office tells me it's about 150,000 words. If I follow the formula, I end up with 170,000 words (250 words per page, and 680 pages).

Since I am under the impression that most published novels run in the range of 80,000-120,000 words, it's fair to say I have quite a lot of editing ahead of me in the fourth draft just to properly address the length of the story, let alone the quality. I probably should have gotten a better handle on it after the initial rough draft was completed—I clicked on Word Count then and it told me 110,000 words, so 40,000 extra words got in there somehow. Ah heck, save that little mystery for the fourth draft.

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