How Many Words?
Beginning writers often underestimate the number of words or page count required for a particular type of work. After comparing the views of other consultants and lecturers, and many books on writing, we have decided to offer a chart of accepted lengths.
You must not assume that writing “too much” is acceptable. The notion that an editor can take the time to trim and tweak until a manuscript is the ideal length is a myth. The reality is that publishers and editors do not want to rewrite your work unless you are already an established, successful writer.
Before you jump to the chart, we want to remind you there are standard formatting guidelines for each type of work. We offer the guidelines for each form — read those guides.
The foremost rule, like it or not, is that you prepare your works in a monospaced font, the most common of which are the Courier fonts. These fonts resemble a typewriter’s lettering. The size should be 10 to 12 points, approximately ten characters to the inch. Unless told to do so by an editor, never break the “ten to the inch” or “10-pitch” rule.
Use margins of at least one inch around the text of your work. Scripts call for several different margin settings, but nothing belongs at the edges of a page.
Text works should be double-spaced, with minimum margins of one inch around the text. We have seen authors try to expand or contract margins because they have read that publishers expect certain page counts. These page counts are based upon a specific number of words per page; changing the layout changes the words per page.
Word and page counts are important. A publisher must know the number of pages in a completed book in order to estimate a printing budget.
There are approximately 250 words per page in a properly formatted manuscript. Due to varying English word lengths the actual range is 175 to 300 words per page.
Script formats are specialized. A movie script differs from a television sitcom script, and a play script is something entirely different. We suggest that you purchase scriptwriting software or use a prepared “template” to avoid any confusion. Then, using the software, you can follow our suggestions for script lengths.
In a script, there are approximately 125 words of dialogue per minute. This estimate is based upon recent American films. The words of dialogue per minute might range from 50 to 200 within a script. Of course, it is possible to have no dialogue, making time estimates more difficult.
Chart of Lengths
Remember that this chart features estimates. Always check with a publisher for precise lengths.
|Type of Work||Words||MS Pages|
|Short-Short Story or Article||500 – 2,000||2 – 10|
|Short Story or Long Article||2,500 – 5,000||10 – 20|
|Novella||20,000 – 40,000||80 – 160|
|Novel||80,000 – 150,000||140 – 600|
|Epic (no real limit)||200,000+||600+|
|Stage Play (varies by dialogue)||5,000 – 10,000||60 – 120|
|Movie Script (varies by dialogue)||7,500 – 20,000||90 – 130|
There are some differences in opinions on these lengths, as more novels are published in the 50,000 word range. Also, while some movies have managed to run three hours, most are less than 90 minutes, limiting the script to less than 110 pages. In the case of novels and movies, it is now common to “pitch” on the short end of the scale.
Our philosophy: tell the story in as many words as are required, but not one word more.