Big-Picture Editing and Word Count Per Scene

Big-Picture Editing and Word Count Per Scene  – today’s guest post by Kristina Stanley. 
As a writer, you’ve probably read there are recommended lengths for a manuscript depending on the genre you write in. We’ve done some research and thought we’d share that with you.

In order of length, word count guidelines for a few of the popular genres are:

Novellas: 20,000 to 30,000

Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000

Romance: 40,000 to 100,000

Young Adult: 50,000 to 80,000

Mysteries, thrillers, and suspense: 70,000 to 100,000

Paranormal: 75,000 to 95,000

Fantasy: 90,000 to 100,000

Horror: 80,000 to 100,000

Science Fiction: 95,000 to 125,000

Historical: 100,000 to 120,000

Genre length may vary with different publishers, so check submission guidelines carefully. If you’re self-publishing, readers of the genres have come to expect a certain word count, and you don’t want to disappoint them, so think about the word count and make a conscious decision on the length of your novel.

But what about word count per scene?

When you’re about to begin a big-picture edit, you may wonder if counting the number of words per scene is important. We think it is, and we’ll tell you why.

Scene Emphasis

After you’re happy with the total word count for your novel, it’s time to evaluate how your word count is spread across your scenes.

By counting the words in each scene, you can see where you are putting emphasis and where you are not. Without knowing the specific word count, you don’t have a method to know if a critical scene is too short or a minor scene is too long.


Some authors like to write scenes of the same length for the entire novel. Others vary the scene word count. The choice is yours, and you can use it to your advantage if you evaluate the per scene word count from a big-picture view.
If you follow a pattern (same word count per scene) throughout your novel and one scene is way longer than the rest of your scenes, make sure this is the climax scene. If it’s not, you probably have too many words in the scene.

How I Used Word Count To Improve My Novel

You can see in the Word Count Per Scene graph below, that scene 2 in chapter 3 is over 6000 words long. The other scenes in the novel are all under 2000 words. I discovered this during my big-picture edit of DESCENT (my first novel).

This was a scene early in the novel where my main protagonist, Kalin Thompson, moves to Stone Mountain Resort. In great detail, the scene described Kalin moving into her new apartment. After I looked at the word count, I realized I’d written the scene to give the reader a feel for resort life. Nothing much happened in the scene to move the plot forward.

I knew I needed to fix this. Instead of putting the details in one scene, I cut the scene and sprinkled the details throughout the other scenes.

This improved the story by eliminating an info dump but still leaving in details that showed the reader what it’s like to move to a ski resort. If I hadn’t reviewed the word count of the scene in the context of the other scenes, I might have missed this.

How The Feedback App Will Help

Depending on the software you use to write your novel, counting the words in each scene can be a time-consuming exercise.

For example: In Microsoft word, you’ll highlight each scene and look at the word count displayed at the bottom of each page. In Scrivener, it’s a little easier. The word count is displayed at the bottom of each screen if you’ve broken your text into scenes as you write. In either case, you’ll have to keep track of the word count and evaluate it from a manuscript level.

The Feedback app will automatically break your novel into scenes and create a report showing you how many words are in each scene. You’ll be shown a graph, and can easily see where you need to focus on word count. Word count is one of the Key Elements Of Fiction the app uses to help you perform your own big-picture edit.

The Feedback App will also show you the breakdown of scenes per chapter. We’ll talk about this in another blog.

Download our free eBook, BIG-PICTURE Editing And The Key Elements Of Fiction and learn how big-picture editing is all about evaluating the major components of your story. We call these components the Key Elements Of Fiction. Our eBook shows you how to use the key elements of fiction to evaluate your story and become your own big-picture editor.

Enjoy the writing process, what ever stage you are in. I’m re writing and enjoying the journey. It’s much easier when you return to the manuscript with fresh eyes. 

Until next post, 

Glennis Browne

Author of The Fortune Seekers- Dan and Charlotte.

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