Trilogy vs.series and length

by Freddi

Question: I've written my first novel, it's been edited and I am in the second re-write prior to publishing. My editor advises that it is too long (600 pages in the double spaced, one side of the page manuscript). I had planned on a trilogy, but another editor suggested I consider writing a series (with the idea I believe of dividing up my lengthy tome into more than one book- maybe two and then continuing. I'm told that as a novel it should not exceed 400 pages. Can you offer some thoughts on length please? Could my 600 page book work effectively as the first book in either a trilogy or a series? It seems like series books are much shorter. Thank you.

Answer: First, congratulations on getting to this point.

Second, if you are using standard manuscript format, 600 pages is roughly 150,000 words, which is certainly epic-length. Most novels are between 70,000 and 100,000 words.

I can't tell you what to do, because a lot depends on your writing style and how your story is structured. If this is your first book, you want to give your readers a complete story, even if you foreshadow a sequel (which has the advantage of encouraging readers to buy the next book).

Some ways you might do this...

1. Cut 50,000 words. This may sound cruel, but many manuscripts can benefit from such tightening. Obviously, you don't want to create plot holes, but you might consider if there are
places where one scene can do the work of three or four, or if there are subplots that aren't essential to the story.

2. If you're going to divide the work, make sure you divide at an act break -- a place where one sequence has been completed but the stage is set for what will happen next. The most common places to divide are the end of act one or act three, but act two is also an option. The end of act two is generally the place where things have gotten complicated, relationships have deepened, and the hero crosses the point of no return. (It's a good spot for a cliffhanger.)

Of course, you have to see if your book's act breaks let you divide it easily into two novel-length sections. In some stories, the last two acts are considerably shorter than the first two.

3. A third option is to plan on a trilogy or tetralogy. This may mean developing what you have into 210,000 words or more. Notice I say "developing" not lengthening. The process involves turning single events into structured sequences of several events--the opposite of tightening. Every event should be an important stepping stone in a larger sequence, which is in turn an important part of a bigger event, etc. Never just "pad."

Done well, this third option would result in one act per book. Each act would be part of the overall story as well as complete in itself.

Best of luck.

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