Book and Chapter Word Counts

Since I’m an aspiring writer, I am intensely curious about some of the "inside baseball” facts of the books I read. A took a random selection of Kindle books (the ones that just happened to be on my hard drive at the time) and figured out the approximate word count for each book when converted to plain text.** In the table below, the number of pages is as shown by Amazon.

Author Book

Words

Pages

Robert Jordan The Shadow Rising

396k

1051

Terry Goodkind Stone of Tears

393k

996

Brandon Sanderson The Way of Kings

383k

1009

Robert Jordan The Fires of Heaven

356k

926

George R.R. Martin A Clash of Kings

334k

1040

Terry Goodkind Wizard’s First Rule

305k

*580

Jacqueline Carey Kushiel’s Dart

278k

934

Robert Jordan The Dragon Reborn

253k

632

John Brown Servant of a Dark God

179k

624

Fred Saberhagen The First Book of Swords

85k

219

* I am not sure what is up with Terry Goodkind’s Kindle books, but they seem very screwed up. I’m pretty sure that book had more than 580 pages.

Another question that comes up among writers a lot is: How long should my chapters be? Obviously there’s no right answer, but here is how long the first three chapters (not counting prologues) are in the above books:

Book

Ch. 1

Ch. 2

Ch. 3

The Shadow Rising

15.8k

15.1k

7.3k

Stone of Tears

2.8k

3.9k

6.3k

The Way of Kings

4.5k

5.0k

5.2k

The Fires of Heaven

13.9k

9.1k

7.1k

A Clash of Kings

2.5k

4.8k

5.6k

Wizard’s First Rule

2.5k

5.2k

6.7k

Kushiel’s Dart

2.7k

2.7k

3.3k

The Dragon Reborn

4.1k

4.8k

3.5k

Servant of a Dark God

2.4k

2.2k

1.5k

The First Book of Swords

5.3k

8.0k

5.5k

I don’t know about anyone else, but at least now I know why it took so frickin’ long to read The Shadow Rising.

** Don’t ask how I did it.

P.S. For comparison, the longest novel I have written is 138k words, and my chapters tend to be between 2k and 4k words. I suck. 🙂

Kindle Edition Editors

Can I have a word with you people who take published books and turn them into Kindle books? Let’s talk about the Kindle version of The Stone of Tears by Terry Goodkind.

Seriously, what kind of crack were you people smoking when you gave this project over to a high school intern? The number of typos is astronomical. The intern apparently speed-typed the text without ever looking back at what he’d typed. Possibly on a smart phone with auto correct enabled. Or, more likely, somebody OCRed it but never bothered to look at the results.

There are no paragraph indents. There’s no table of contents, either. Words are missing from sentences. “Than” is usually seen as “that.” And it’s not just here and there, like in the first book, it’s on every page. It’s really a masterpiece of editing sucktasticness. Self-published books are better edited than this thing was. Oh, and get this: The publisher charged $8.54 for it. In other words, FULL PRICE.

This is a clear case of a publisher giving a big old F U to their e-book customers. And they wonder why people think they’re evil. I should seriously get a refund on this steaming pile of typographical chaos.

P.S. I purchased it on 3/14/2012. The Kindle version was missing from Amazon for a while after that. As of this typing on 3/25, it’s back. I can only hope they at least fixed the paragraph indents. If they did, I hope they’re planning to push me the updated version.

P.P.S. The story was pretty good. 🙂 Which makes it all the more infuriating.

Wizard’s First Rule, Part Two

Well, I don’t know how Goodkind did it (which makes it a good topic for study, I guess), but somehow Wizard’s First Rule crawled up under my skin and embedded itself there. It kept getting better and better and in the end, I am shocked to say that I had a hard time putting it down and enjoyed it.

Why? I think because it had a lot of “heart.” The characters won me over. First Kahlan, then I even started rooting for Richard in the end. Though I must admit I thought the final solution was a bit cheesy (spoiler alert: love conquers all). I guess the whole book was cheesy too. It’s basically Romeo and Juliet where the tragic ending is narrowly averted. It’s a fairy tale, with a (spoiler alert) fairy tale ending.

And on the plus side, it has an ending. There’s no need to read the next book (although I put it on my wish list).

Here’s the caveat: The book does take a while to get rolling. I stopped reading around Chapter 18, when Richard and Kahlan enter the Boundary (somewhere around 30% through). At that point, the only interesting question to me was, “what’s the deal with Kahlan?” But it seemed pretty clear that Goodkind was going to drag that out through the whole book, which was getting annoying.

So, thinking I was done, I went to read some book reviews, and they all kept saying how much sex and violence there was in the book. That blew my mind, because for the first 18 chapters, Wizard’s First Rule is about as softball, G-rated, goody-twoshoes as you can get (like I said, it’s a fairy tale!). So, if only to see what all the fuss was about, I kept reading (actually, er, skimming).

The first instance of “graphic violence” occurs in Chapter 21, p. 210. It’s not really that bad. It’s more of the cartoonish, over-the-top sort of violence you see in, for example, Kill Bill. It almost makes you want to laugh more than cringe. He takes a single moment in time, ratchets up the film speed so it’s in super slow motion, and describes everything in detail. It was a fairly important moment, so I didn’t have a problem with it.

Then the unthinkable happened. Somewhere within Chapters 25 through 28 (the trials and tribulations with the Mud People) is when I first thought to myself, “wow, I think I kind of like this book.” (This is also where the first “sex stuff” happens, which was also PG-13 at worst.) It was a suspenseful time in the book, and one thing Goodkind can do is build suspense. And looking back at it now, I realize it was also the area where the writing switched from Richard’s POV to Kahlan’s POV, which could well have had a lot to do with it. IMO, Kahlan is a way more compelling character than Richard.

Starting in Chapter 29, we are introduced to a young orphan girl named Rachel, who is an adorable kid who could melt the heart of a sociopathic serial killer. She’s a side character on an almost entirely self-contained side adventure. Again, it was pretty suspenseful because I was completely sure that there was no way this sweet, innocent little child would be able to escape the evil clutches of the Bad Queen. But (spoiler alert) being a fairy tale and all, she did.

The infamous “torture porn” (a term used to describe movies like Saw) starts in chapter 41. But instead of being grisly and disturbing like I was led to believe, it was actually one of the most emotionally compelling parts of the book. I think that was the first time I started caring about Richard, and my hat is off to Goodkind for somehow making us genuinely care about his Mord-Sith captor Denna (spoiler alert: Richard gets captured).

And for what it’s worth, I didn’t think it was all that excessively graphic. If your idea of epic fantasy ends at Lord of the Rings, then yeah it would probably be pretty shocking. But it could have been much, much worse… a lot of really graphic details were missing. There were “hints” but almost nothing really shown “on screen.” It was more psychological torture in a way; there was a lot of dialog.

And in defense of the length of it: I think it was necessary to effectively build Denna as a two-dimensional character, and Richard’s relationship with her. One could argue whether a side character needed that level of characterization, I suppose, but it would have been a pretty boring part of the book otherwise.

On Wizard’s First Rule

In catching up on the fantasy genre, I wanted to read popular books that were considered good, and popular books that were considered bad. So now I’m reading Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind, the first in the Sword of Truth series, which for some reason is often seen as the “rival” to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Goodkind is a very devisive writer. People seem to either love him or hate him, which I suppose, is exactly the reception that Robert Jordan gets. Usually people like one or the other, but rarely both.

I have to admit that I started Wizard’s First Rule expecting it to be bad. And, to be honest, the first 18 chapters supported this preconception. But if you make it to chapter 19, the book suddenly becomes pretty compelling. At that point, Goodkind starts building suspense very well, and he is able to communicate a lot of emotional resonance.

For my purposes, it doesn’t really matter whether the book is good or bad. As an aspiring writer trying to learn from established writers, I’m just analyzing the writing, character, setting, and plot. Here are the lessons I’ve learned from Goodkind so far.

Realism is important to an adult audience. I want to be a writer that pays at least some attention to details. Goodkind has said Sword of Truth isn’t really in the fantasy genre, and now I think I understand why. It’s really more of a fairy tale or soap opera than a typical epic fantasy. But I think adult fantasy audiences today require a little more realism. Not necessarily a historical fiction level of realism, but enough to let the reader know that the author has at least given some thought to how a person with medieval technology might light a candle in their tent at night while it’s raining too much to build a fire (see Wizard’s First Rule Chapter 15, p. 150).

Character flaws are vitally important. I want my characters to have flaws. This is pretty self-evident, but Sword of Truth really illustrates the point. In the first eighteen chapters, none of the characters have any flaws. They are all polite, kind to one another, friendly, eager to help, etc. None of them are missing an arm (okay, one is missing a foot), or scarred by their childhood, or tempted by drink, or afraid of spiders, or addicted to crystal meth, or anything like that. The biggest character flaw in Richard is that he’s afraid of getting too angry. (This is not to say the characters don’t have secrets; they have plenty of those.) Addendum: The reader should know the character flaws early in the story. As it turns out, Kahlan has an epic, tragic flaw which is pretty mind-blowing when you get to it, and makes you wonder how a person could possibly live with such a crushing weight on their soul, but you have to wait until Chapter 34 to fully get it.

Magic should have a cost and consequences. I want my magic-users to suffer for their art. Magic is “mysterious” in Sword of Truth in the sense that there is no logical, scientific explanation for it, which is my preference, but it goes too far into the all-powerful fairy tale snap-your-fingers-and-stuff-happens magic. That is, when Zedd the wizard magically holds up a bridge so it doesn’t collapse while they cross, seemingly with just a thought, one has to wonder why the wizard doesn’t use that levitation ability to do other more practical things, like float around so he doesn’t need a horse, or keep all his belongings suspended in the air around him instead of putting them in a backpack, or hell, frickin’ pick up his whole house and carry it with him.

Characters should act like normal humans. I want my characters to behave like ordinary people, not melodramatic stage actors. Most of the characters in Sword of Truth suffer from severe bipolar disorder which manifests as violent mood swings and dramatic outbursts. For example, when a character is irritated by something in a conversation, he might jump to his feet and get angry, or pound his fist on the table at odd moments. I’ve never known a person to “jump to his feet” in reaction to a conversation. It just doesn’t ring true.

Strong emotion loses its impact when overdone. I think that when the characters laugh or cry at the drop of a hat, the emotional impact of what they’re saying or doing starts to diminish over time. Richard and Kahlan certainly have reason to be crying all the time, but when it’s a constant, steady stream, chapter after chapter, it makes the characters seem a bit unstable.

One other amusing observation: All writers and especially new writers tend to repeat a phrase a lot (myself included). Wizard’s First Rule is apparently Goodkind’s debut book, and he is no exception to the rule. The most-repeated phrase so far is: “without emotion” or some variation thereof. “He showed no emotion” or “he betrayed no hint of emotion” or “he said without emotion.” Search for the word “emotion” and it comes up quite a lot.