Write Better Fiction: Scene Word Count

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover Scene Word Count. Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor.

When writing genre fiction you should know the length of the novel that is acceptable for your genre, but what about words per scene?

Do you think word count per scene is important?

I do, and here’s why.

Word count per scene is the number of words in a scene. A scene or several scenes will make up a chapter, the chapters get you to the novel. I know, obvious, right? But how can you analyze your word count to improve your novel?

Same number of words per scene: An author may choose to write scenes that are all a similar length. Let’s say 1800 to 2200. They create a novel in this format, then they acquire readers, and the readers come to expect the flow a similar word count per scene would generate. It might be risky for the author to change once she has established a following for her style.

Variable Number of Words Per Scene: In theory, you could have a scene as short at one work and as long as the entire novel. These are extremes of course.

Potential pitfalls with word count:

One long scene: You write a novel with scenes that range from one paragraph in length to 1200 words, but you have one scene that is 2500 words. When the reader gets to this scene, he is going to wonder why so much time has been allocated to the scene. Either the author didn’t notice one scene was way too long, or he did on purpose because something very important is happening in the scene.

My spreadsheet has a column for scene word count. I then have Excel graph the scene lengths.  I have a quick look for anything that stands out as unusual and ask myself why I wrote the scene this way. This graph would extend to the number of chapters in the novel.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 5.53.30 PM

What Stands Out?

Chap 2: The first scene in only 50 words long. This is very short compared to the other scenes in the novel.

Is it too short compared to the rest of the scenes? In this case, am I trying to create an effect of shock, or fast pace, or intrigue?

Chap 3: This chapter only has two scenes where every other chapter in the novel has three scenes.

Was this done on purpose? Was it a mistake? Ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve by the number of scenes in a chapter. You could also create this graph on a per chapter basis and ask yourself the same questions as per on a chapter basis.

Chap 4:  This scene is 2500 words long. The graph shows you it’s out of balance with the other scenes in the novel.

Is a scene too long compared to others? In this case, I must ask what is so special about this scene. If nothing, then I’ll consider breaking the scene into two or more scenes.

This type of analysis is done when an author has finished her first draft. It’s a bird’s eye view of the structure and allows her to check the pacing and flow of her story.

I critiqued DESCENT, BLAZE and AVALANCHE using the techniques I’m sharing in Write Better Fiction, and I believe this helped me sign with a publisher. And speaking of publishers, Imajin Books has released  AVALANCHE for pre-order at $0.99 USD for a limited time. This way, my readers get a little gift of a sale price before the novel is released.

Please let me know in the comments below if you examine your word count by scene and why you do this?

Thanks for reading…


6 thoughts on “Write Better Fiction: Scene Word Count

  1. I’ve started to pay attention to word count only recently, since my experience with National Novel Writing Month last November. The NaNoWriMo goal of 50K words is an admittedly arbitrary figure, but setting that milestone helped me reach two significant accomplishments. First, it inspired me to produce a significant amount of work in a short period of time — I didn’t hit 50K words by 11/30, but by mid-December I was able to completely revise the first three chapters of the novel I’m drafting. Second, I developed a good feel for how long each chapter should be, between 20 and 20K words each. Word count should be a guide rather than a rule (and your post captures that perfectly), and can definitely help in the creative process.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Keigh, I’m interested in your NaNoWriMo experience. I’m going to try it this November and am not making any big commitments that month so I can focus on it. I have a story idea ready, so I’m hoping NaNoWriMo give me the structure to get it down on paper.

      I also believe the “writing rules” should be used as guidelines. Thanks for stopping by today.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just curious…is there a special reason you plan three scenes per chapter? Newbie here, so sorry if you have answered this recently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry, the graph was a bit misleading. I put 3 scene per chapter in this graph so I could illustrate the 3 that were different. You could write a novel that has 3 scene per chapter, but you certainly don’t have to.


Thank you for commenting! Your email address will be stored but not shared.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.