Keeping it brief: Word Counts in Sword & Sorcery

I frequently see people complaining that they can’t get their novels to proper length and that their ideas don’t provide enough material for 200,000 words. Then why try to make them into novels in the first place? It’s not the only option fantasy writers have to chose their format. In the Sword & Sorcery genre, stories tend to be much shorter, instead you simply get more of them.

As references, here are the works of some of the great Sword & Sorcery writers and their lengths.

Conan by Robert Howard:

    • The Phoenix on the Sword: 8,823
    • The Scarlet Citadel: 15,446
    • The Tower of the Elephant: 9,726
    • Black Colossus: 14,346
    • The Slithering Shadow: 12,897
    • The Pool of the Black One: 11,252
    • Rogues in the House: 9,676
    • The Frost Giant’s Daughter: 3,284
    • Iron Shadows in the Moon: 12,123
    • Queen of the Black Coast: 11,334
    • The Devil in Iron: 12,292
    • The People of the Black Circle: 30,890
    • A Witch Shall be Born: 16,337
    • Jewels of Gwahlur: 17,167
    • Beyond the Black River: 21,799
    • Shadows in Zamboula: 12,146
    • The Hour of the Dragon: 72,375
    • Red Nails: 30,946

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Fritz Leiber:

  • The Jewels in the Forest: 14,215
  • The Bleak Shore: 4,272
  • The Howling Tower: 5,855
  • The Sunken Land: 6,900
  • Thieves’ House: 12,235
  • Adept’s Gambit: 31,901
  • Claws from the Night: 9,410
  • The Seven Black Priests: 9,523
  • Lean Times in Lankhmar: 15,400
  • When the Sea-King’s away: 9,806
  • The Cloud of Hate: 4,929
  • Bazaar of the Bizarre: 9,653
  • Their Mistress, the Sea: 1,316
  • The Wrong Beach: 2,267
  • The Circle Curse: 3,596
  • The Price of Pain-Ease: 4,650

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock

  • Elric of Melnibone: 48,000
  • The Sailor on the Seas of Fate: 24,000
  • The Weird of the White Wolf: 39,000
  • The Vanishing Tower: 48,000
  • The Bane of the Black Sword: 45,000
  • Stormbringer: 71,000

The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski

  • The Witcher: 10,213
  • A Grain of Truth: 10,418
  • The Lesser Evil: 12,764
  • A Question of Price: 13,105
  • The Edge of the World: 14,395
  • The Last Wish: 18,349
  • The Voice of Reason: 12,495

As an additional reference, some works of H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote in a different genre, but used a comparable format

  • Dagon: 2,216
  • The Lurking Fear: 8,164
  • The Rats in the Walls: 7,974
  • The Shunned House: 10,742
  • The Call of Cthulhu: 11,905
  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward: 51,112
  • The Colour out of Space: 12,457
  • The Dunwhich Horror: 17,524
  • The Whisperer in Darkness: 26,624
  • At the Mountains of Madness: 40,881
  • The Shadow over Innsmouth: 27,026
  • The Thing on the Doorstep: 10,954

As an interesting fact, all the stories of Conan written by Howard combined are about as long as the average novel in the Wheel of Time and Song of Ice and Fire series, and only about two third the length of The Lord of the Rings.

As a comparison, Overlord at Fantasy Faction made a quite extensive list of word counts in Epic Fantasy novels.

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