Writing Tip: What’s Your Word Count?


Staring at at a blank page can be daunting, but remember…you don’t have to set out to write a novel every time you begin to write. There are almost as many flavors of fiction as there were of original Baskin Robbins ice cream. Well, maybe not quite–especially since they have expanded that number a LOT!

The point is, you don’t have to start out with a 100,000 word novel. Start slowly and build up, if you want.

Wikipedia has a nice little chart of the main word counts according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or SFWA. But you can see from the rest of that paragraph that numbers vary widely for novels.

Most people I know consider a story of 1000 words or less to be Flash Fiction, which itself has many varieties–from the popular Six-Word Stories (the most famous of these being FOR SALE: BABY SHOES. NEVER WORN often attributed to Ernest Hemmingway–to the 100 word “Drabbles“–to 750 word “Sudden Fiction.” These stories are the bite-size entertainment that go with our commuter lifestyles and short attention spans. 😉

If you want to try some of these out for yourself, you can find several places to submit these, like Six-Word Memoirs or Narrative Magazine, which pays well for six-words, but charges a fee for submissions, so that is a personal choice to make.

Drabbles can be submitted to The Dribble Drabble Review (no fee/no pay) or The Drabble (also no fee/no pay from what I can tell.) Some people say you should never publish anything unless you get paid for it, but I think sites like these are a good way to hone your craft…

To get some idea of Sudden Fiction, there are several book published with examples, like Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories or Sudden Fiction International: 60 Short-Short Stories.

This article includes a great list of markets for Flash Fiction in general.

When you have gotten comfortable with Flash Fiction, you will have honed a great skill, the ability to tell a cohesive story with limited words. If you can do that, it is likely that you will be able to start upping your word count with confidence.

Many of my acquaintances who come from a journalistic background have told me how much writing newspaper copy helped them learn to write lean and to the point. Read as many articles as you can and begin to recognize this trait.

Check the maximum word counts for a short story market you are interested in (for example, the imprint I edit for Horrified Press, Thirteen O’Clock, has an upper limit of 5000 words.) Don’t go over that limit–or under a minimum. It is unprofessional and wastes the editor’s time, which can have repercussions down the line.

When you are ready to up your game again, I personally suggest National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, in November. With a minimum word count to “win” of 50,000 words in thirty days, it is a great way to get a first draft down on paper (or computer file.) Most of the novels I have written started out as NaNoWriMo books, and if you read down that Wikipedia article, I am apparently in great company!

Nobody says you CAN’T start out to write a 100,000 word epic fantasy or science fiction masterpiece and do fantastically well–but it isn’t the norm. Just remember…baby steps come before you run. And have fun! Good luck out there.

Here are some other great references dealing with the different “sizes” of stories:

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field

The Art of the Short Story

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need


As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What word count works best for you? Have you tried them all? Drop me a line in the comments. Let’s discuss. 🙂


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Writing Tips: Creating a Compelling Character

Jo and Alistair with Priss

What makes Huck Finn someone that everyone who has ever read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remembers forever?

Why were so many watchers of Game of Thrones rooting for Tyrion Lannister to make it to the finale alive? (The jury still being out on the books, I mention the series…) Or was that just me…?

People have been fascinated by the love story of Romeo and Juliet for–literally–centuries. Why do people care about a teenage love story hundreds of years after it was written?

It is because they are fully realized characters with both strengths and weaknesses. They are flawed individuals who do the best they can in the world they live in but aren’t always right any more than they are always wrong. Will Jo and Alistair ever make that level? If I am being honest…probably not. But some character I write someday might. It is the dream of all authors, isn’t it?

When you are writing a story, be it short or long, this is a truth to hold in mind. Of course, in a short story, you might need only one flaw in a hero or one redeeming feature in a villain. There isn’t a lot of room for character development–but there should be something. Here’s a list of some flaws that might be handy for you.

How do you decide what traits to use? What incidents inform your character’s actions? These are decisions you need to make for your characters because they can’t do it for themselves. But you don’t have to start from complete scratch. There are lots of resources to help. For example, a book on creating good characters like Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities that Keep Readers Captivated by Nancy Kress can be a great starting place. Here’s another potential resource Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 7) by K. M. Weiland.

While you are waiting for that Amazon delivery, you can start with a character sheet like this one that will help you get to the depths of your character.

Do you have any special tricks or tips to share? What is the most important attribute you look for in a character?

Leave a comment below if you want to join the conversation. 🙂

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Here are some of my best fireworks. (I don’t take that great of pictures of them, but I like to try…)


I swear I have better SOMEWHERE…and if I find them, I may switch out. 😉

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Fish Tale

whale s tail

And we have come to the end of the trail. The final story in the book is “Fish Tale.” The newly-wed Roxanne is taking a well-deserved break at the lake at the bottom of the hill when she spies a tail diving into the depths. Curious about the size of the fish that would grow that big in a small body of water, she keeps watching, and a big blond fellow invites her to come swimming. In November.

Despite the new ring on her finger, she wades into the water and he gifts her a beautiful bracelet–that lets her breathe underwater as he takes her to his home beneath the lake.

Of course, Bruce isn’t totally clueless about the fact that she is missing–especially when she misses a dinner shift at the restaurant. So he and the other residents of the Home go looking for her.

They find a strange world under the lake, where a stranded merman has been looking for a suitable bride. Has he found one?

Find out in Bruce and Roxanne from Start to Finnish from Yard Dog Press.

Also included in the book is some miscellaneous material:

  1. Bruce’s Wedding Toast to Roxanne
  2. A Sampling of Madame Rose’s Horoscopes
  3. The original welcome page from the old Home website. (I may recycle that to the new one!)


Next week I plan on starting the new rotation schedule. Posting on each blog once a week with a RieView on a random site on Friday will make it easier to come up with material for each blog.

Tentatively, the weekly schedule will be:

  1. Monday–Here’s the Clean (to get the housework out of the way early)
  2. Tuesday–RieWriter
  3. Wednesday–Home for Wayward Spirits
  4. Thursday–The Conn-Mann Chronicles
  5. Friday–a RieView on one of the sites

My first RieView will be a look at all 9 seasons of American Horror Story at the Home.

Stick around. I think it will be cool. Now, my husband has a holiday today, so that’s all the blogging for the week. See you Monday!



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Fangs for the Memories

silhouette of couple kissing during sunset

Everything that has gone before has been leading to this moment–the sunset wedding that Roxanne has dreamed of.

Of course, none of it goes smoothly. The wedding is scheduled for six, and at four o’clock there’s a storm raging.

From the arrival of Bruce’s mother and her entourage to one of the musicians going missing right before the ceremony, anything that can go wrong does go wrong.

It was a lot of fun writing this one, which is filled with a lot of guest appearances from real people. First, the winners of a Tuckerization contest I had held quite some time earlier…Erin Aislinn (Roxanne’s Maid of Honor) and Cass Andre (Bruce’s mother.) And Roxanne’s favorite band The Brobdingnagian Bards came to play the wedding. Plus my family came to see “Cousin Roxanne” get married.

A lot comes to light in this story that has hitherto been hidden–some of it even to me. Don’t you love it when that happens? I’m not going to tell you all of it, because that is spoilers…but there is a clue in the title. 😉

Tomorrow will finish up Bruce and Roxanne from Start to Finnish from Yard Dog Press. Then I think I will do a few RieViews next week.

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When You Wish Upon a Jar

Gnome with beard and red hat

“When You Wish Upon a Jar” started life as a fan-fiction story in the 80s. I was a big fan of the short-lived and long lamented paranormal investigation series Shadow Chasers. (In fact, Felix the wizard is based on Edgar Benedek.) There were only fourteen episodes altogether, and four of them were never aired in the United States–we had to get them from Armed Forces television, as I recall. It was a great series, and I wish they could have had a little more time to get an audience because I think they would have found one. Alas, like Firefly, it wasn’t meant to be.

But it led to a lot of fan-fiction. We had a group of ladies who put out a LOT of pages dedicated to Benny and Jonathan. I myself wrote a five-story arc fanzine that was one of my first in-depth pieces…sort of a pseudo-novel.

And I had this story published in a fanzine as well.

When it was time to put together some new Bruce and Roxanne stories, I thought this one would be easy to file the serial numbers off and revise for the purpose. Anyone who had read the original would find this one MUCH different, as it was majorly rewritten. For one thing, an ill-conceived wish from Benny to a genie in the original turns staid Jonathan into a kid again. In this one, turning Bruce into a kid was too easy. Who’s notice? So it’s Roxanne who takes a stroll down minority lane.

I also had Benny bring a stuffed Opus doll to life in the original (his Magnum Opus), but I wasn’t sure anyone would even remember what that was, so I made it a garden gnome in this case.

It’s a clear case of why one should never accept a genie’s wishes as Bruce tries to get everything back as it should be without his level-headed second-in-command to help.

And he has to hurry because there’s a wedding coming up…

Read all about it in Bruce and Roxanne from Start to Finnish from Yard Dog Press.

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Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

Mysterious witch pot with blue potions and books for Halloween

On a well-deserved night out, Bruce and Roxanne have a close encounter with a tree that leaves them stranded in the middle of nowhere…or, it’s supposed to be–what’s that cottage up ahead?

As usual, things take a turn, and Roxanne must ally with Rose and her friend Felix–photographer and Grand Wizard–as well as their friendly neighborhood ghosts, to rescue Bruce from the clutches of a witch who wants to make him her own.

Mischief, mayhem, and magic ensue, and the mansion may just get a couple more residents.

See to what lengths Roxanne will go to hold on to her man in Bruce and Roxanne from Start to Finnish from Yard Dog Press.

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These Bones Are Made for Walking…

Funny skeleton standing and smiling, human skeleton isolated on white background, 3D rendering

This story originally appeared as a bonus on the website that used to exist for the Home for Wayward Spirits. (And may one day again…I am toying with the idea–because everyone needs four websites to keep track of, right?)

Bruce and Roxanne are settling into the mansion when she comes to her room one night to find a skeleton in her closet. Literally.

When she brings Bruce and Rose back to the room, they find it’s now in her bed!

As they question their unwanted visitor, they find that it is all Bruce’s fault it is here–of course.

Who is the skeleton, and what does it want? Is there a new resident in the Home?

Find out in Bruce and Roxanne from Start to Finnish from Yard Dog Press.

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The Luck of the…Italian?

high angle view of multi colored marshmallows

“The Luck of the…Italian” is the first story in Bruce and Roxanne Save the World…Again. And midway through Bruce and Roxanne From Start to Finnish.

Bruce is eating breakfast when he notices that the cereal company is having a contest to give away a trip for two to Ireland. (I’ve told you how much I love it…) Of course, the odds are a million to one…and, of course, Bruce wins.

Our two heroes are off to Ireland–and I am so jealous they get to see more of the countryside than we saw–where they stay at a little inn something like our B&B near Stratford.

Phone Download 8-28-19 1480

Out on the moor, Bruce discovers the truth about leprechauns. And it isn’t at all what he was expecting.

Especially when the leprechaun takes a shine to Roxanne. It takes all their combined wits to salvage the situation and come to a resolution that is acceptable to all.

And that’s no blarney!


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There’s a Bad Moon in Your Eyes…


“There’s a Bad Moon in Your Eyes…” was the final story in the original batch of Bruce and Roxanne tales. The first edition of the chapbook was published in 2006, and remember, the stories were several years older than that, so these were early in my fledgling career. Still, something about these crazy kids caught the imaginations of readers, and they were definitely my most popular characters before The Conn-Mann Chronicles came into being.

Six months after the Zombie attack, things are going well at “The Stuck Pig.” Bruce has even won The Silver Skewer from the Bar-B-Que Lovers of America. Madame Rose has established a tea room and consulting area in the parlor.

Outside a storm is raging, but when Bruce goes to take out the trash, he gets more than he bargained for. This time it is up to Roxanne and Rose to save the day…with the help of a bit of rum.

You may have noticed a predilection for puns in my titles. I love a good pun. Along with alliteration, they form the basis of most of my titles. A good title is extremely important to any work of art. There are several ways to come up with them. From the above starts to a random title generator. I used one of those to find the title for The Luckless Prince. Here is a good list of them by genre (There are pop-ups…sorry about that…but it is a great list.)

Don’t forget, the Kindle version of Bruce and Roxanne from Start to Finnish is available here, and the paperback is here. (And if anyone would like a signed copy, that can be arranged. Just drop me a line at riewriter@gmail.com.)

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