Application Tip: Word Count Guidelines

Here at the Alpha citadel, we’ve gotten some questions about the word count guidelines for Alpha application stories–that is, the requirement that application stories must be between 2000 and 6000 words. So, we wanted to talk a little about why this requirement is in place and how you can edit your story to fit within that range, if it doesn’t already.

When writers are just starting out, as most Alpha applicants are, keeping a target word count of 2000-6000 words in mind actually makes it easier to tell a good story. Stories that are shorter than 2000 words may not be fully fleshed out. Stories that are longer than 6000 words may ramble or drag. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.

But if the application story draft you’ve written right now is too short or too long, don’t worry. You’ve still got almost a week before the application deadline, and there are some simple questions you can ask yourself to guide your revisions.

If your story is too short, consider asking the following:

  • Does the story have a beginning, middle, and end? Does the main character make at least one choice that matters to the outcome of the story?
  • Have you given enough information for the reader to understand what is happening?
  • Does the reader know enough about the main character to grasp her personality and understand why she makes the decisions that she does?
  • Does the story give enough information about the setting? Is it clear where and when the story takes place, and how the world of the story is different from our own?

If your story is too long, consider these questions as well:

  • Have you kept the number of important characters to, say, three or fewer? (There are no hard and fast rules here, but if you have more than three and your story is 8000 words long, cutting characters might help you trim the story down to size.)
  • Does the story only examine one central conflict? (A short story usually doesn’t have room for subplots.)
  • Is all the information about the setting really necessary in order for the reader to understand the story?

If you’ve already submitted your story and you answered “no” to any of the above, no need to panic! A story doesn’t have to be perfect to be accepted into the workshop, and presumably if you’ve already sent your story in, it’s within the 2000-6000 word sweet spot anyway. But if you’re still working and you can’t quite figure out how to add or subtract those last 500 words, maybe asking these questions will help.

Best of luck!