Monday, November 8, 2010

How Important is Length for a MG Novel?

I was hoping revising would shorten my novel, but so far, all I seem to be doing is making it longer. Some ways to shorten a novel:

1. Check to make sure every scene counts. Each scene should have a purpose in the story, maybe more than one purpose.

2. Cut lengthy descriptions. How many words are really needed to give the reader a picture of what's happening? Maybe a place or object can be described more concisely.

3. Read the story out loud, especially the dialogue. I find that dialogue can get wordy. Sometimes it ends up with words that don't do anything for the story, not even create a mood or establish a character's state of mind.

The problem is, even though I'm working on these things, I'm also adding scenes to fill in gaps or to create tension. So far, the adding is outweighing the cutting. At 57,000 words, this book is way longer than I want it to be for an upper MG novel. I know everyone says to write the novel and not worry about the length (and I didn't think about it when I was writing my first draft). But this is by far the longest book I've ever written and I'm not usually a wordy writer. Should I be worried? I'm hoping that when I get farther on in my revisions (now around Chapter 12) that there will be a lot more to cut.


  1. You know, I've read that 20,000 to 30,000 is standard for a MG, then have heard you've got to hit 40,000. I've turned in several MGs to my agent, and apart from the very brief verse novel (which ran shorter than the typical at just under 14,000), I haven't heard any concerns about length. Both of these ms are around 28,000.

    There are MGs out there that are longer. Wish I had a more specific answer for you!

  2. For upper middle grade it might be doable. I'd look at the overall structure, not the ind. lines, to see if scenes could be cut or combined.

  3. I think it's also a question of pacing. As long as you've cut everything extraneous and your novel moves along and your reader is caught up, they'll stick with it through 57,000. Look at Harry Potter!

  4. I wouldn't worry. I cut 20,000 words from YA novel, although it did mean cutting scenes I loved, but weren't necessary and like you said tightening dialogue and description, but it definitely reads better.

  5. According to the Renaissance Learning website (the AR people), The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is over 63,000 words. It's not even that thick. I haven't found a word count on Wendy Mass's The Candymakers, but that's a THICK book.

  6. Thanks for the encouragement, everyone! I suppose I just have to keep working on it and see what happens. I keep hearing that shorter is better.

    Laura, your suggestion about looking at the overall structure is a good one, and I've recently done that but I'm sure I'll be doing it again before this novel is anywhere near ready to sub.

    Marcia, thanks for the stats! I'm looking forward to reading the Wendy Mass book someday, haven't read the Penderwick one either. Maybe I mostly read shorter MG novels.

  7. I think it depends on the story you are writing - some MG novels are the type that should be much shorter, because they are aiming for a younger audience. But if you're aiming for upper MG, I think 50-60k is fine. I'm currently querying, and getting requests, on a 52k MG novel.

    Good luck!

  8. Susan, that's great to hear! I have my fingers crossed for you with your requested manuscripts.


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