Friday, March 23, 2012

Today Bradley Publishing is having a sale on my short horror story anthology, Just Shadows. Instead of 2.99, pay only 1.49!

To celebrate, I wanted to share a little more writing advice, this time on handling the dreaded words any writer is loathe to hear: Word Count Limit. Have a great Friday, and a better weekend!


The term “word count” is familiar to any author, no matter if they write long novels or micro fiction. But the term is probably most important to those who write shorter stories, like flash fiction.

Most flash fiction is 1000 words or less, though some websites define it as 500 words, maximum. But no matter how you define it, one thing is cut and dry: word count is everything. It defines the story arc, giving the action precise limits, demanding that each word be essential to the action, or face the chopping block. When you have that few words, you can’t afford to waste one that doesn’t convey plot, mood, or meaning.

My first experience with word count was a 24-hr contest I entered. The topic was given in a paragraph. The limit was 900 words, firm. I wrote the story I wanted to write, and then checked the word count. It was 1200 words. Panicked, I began paring down, then checked again. Still too long by over a hundred words. I pared down to the absolute max, then checked again. Still too long.

That day, I wrote and rewrote the story, checking the word count again and again. Each time, I was either under and the story was choppy, or the story was complete and I was over the limit. Frustrated and tense as a spring, I pushed myself to keep reworking, to make the deadline with an engaging story. Hours later, I finished with 2 words to spare, at 898 words. It had been arduous, but I’d done it. Excited and relieved, I sent it off, sure I would place, if not win the prize.

I didn’t win the contest. I didn’t even get an honorable mention. But the experience gave me the skills to convey my story arc in the least number of words possible. I could write an interesting story in a set number of words, if I just worked at it. Further, I was sure that I could do it for stories from my own imagination. I’d learned something valuable and I couldn’t wait to put it to use.

I went on to place many horror stories, and then longer works, most recently Just Shadows, my anthology of horror stories from Bradley Publishing. And my story that failed to win? I sold it a year later to the Halloween Alliance, where it still resides online for all to enjoy. J

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Tara Fox Hall’s writing credits include nonfiction, horror, suspense, erotica, and contemporary and historical paranormal romance. She also coauthored the essay “The Allure of the Serial Killer,” published in Serial Killers - Philosophy for Everyone: Being and Killing (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). Her first e-novella, Surrender to Me, was published in September 2011. Her first full-length novel, Lash, will publish in April 2012. She divides her free time unequally between writing novels and short stories, chainsawing firewood, caring for stray animals, sewing cat and dog beds for donation to animal shelters, and target practice. Her most recent publication is the anthology of short suspense and horror stories, Just Shadows.


  1. Read the tantalizing prequel to the title story in Just Shadows here, at fellow author Tony Paul de Vissage’s A Splash of Scarlet Blogsite:

  2. Great Job Tara! I believe we all have "word count" horror stories. Mine usually involved short stories as well. I am always over, and it usually takes me a full day to correct the issue.

    1. Thank you Kelley. My short stories are the same way :) I just wrote a short story for a charitable anthology and it ended up being 2K over the limit half done! :) I had to pick another idea and start all over again. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Great post, Tara! I'm always peeking down at the word count display in Word. I love writing challenges and participate weekly in Six Sentence Sunday. No word count limits but the snippet can only be six sentences. It's a fun weekly event!

    1. Thank you, Sandra :) I confess to also always checking the WC, especially when a novel is taking shape. Micro-fiction is fun, but challenging. I managed to place the story "Jack" in a microfiction anthology - it was 100 words. I think it was a 1-time event for me, LOL. I salute your skill with SSS! :)