Novel math

UnknownThe target word count for my novel in progress is 100,000, which is typical for my genre: literary historical fiction. (You can churn out more without publishers balking with some bulky sales numbers behind you)

Which leads me to some intriguing math problems. I’ve got about 75,000 words written, but are they the right ones, in the right order? In fact, what are the possible combinations of words in a 100,000 word text, assuming no repeat words? That’s 100,000 factorial, or 1x2x3x4x5x6x7 . . . and so on, until x99,999. In other words, a whopping huge number.

Of course words are repeated: articles, common nouns and verbs, place and character names. A college educated adult may have a working vocabulary (and ways of measuring this vary wildly) of 20,000 words, out of a total English vocabulary of (again measurements vary wildly) of 600,000 to 1 million words. Since my novel is set in a specific time and place: World War I, Pittsburgh, New Jersey,  Prussia, and is inhabited by people with certain interests, I’m not using words from lots of fields (astronomy, nanotechnologies, jungle ecology, rock climbing, camel driving, etc). A writer with a large vocabulary, like Shakespeare, might have a lexicon of 2000+ words in a specific work.

So the whopping big number from the 100,000 factorial is maybe a bit smaller, since the universe of words being shuffled is a much smaller than all the options which English offers, but it’s still big.

This is all pretty useless, but it’s something to think about when your brain is exhausted and you’re walking the dog.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

Posted in Writing

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“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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