Aug 1, 2011

Book Length

The length of books has been on my mind a lot the last few days. I got little to nothing done over last Thurday, Friday and Saturday. It's been a rough few days; a family friend's mum passed away on Thursday. The funeral was Saturday, and my wife and I collected Conor's ashes on the same day as she was also cremated. 

I made up for that lack of work by writing two chapters yesterday. I feel better about that this morning than I did yesterday, believe me.

From my point of view as an author, I wonder a lot about the length of my books. At this stage, Silent Oath* is looking at being around 70,000 words. Locked Within* was longer than that by over 4,000 words when I completed the first draft. Of course it has lost a lot in editing so far. I'm very conscious that I don't want to pad out my books with chaff, but am I letting myself down by not using a more detailed author voice, or providing more plot points and challenges to my characters? Or should I just accept that my own writing style is relatively concise and straightforward?

As a reader, I find I get frustrated if I think the author is dragging a chapter out and not getting to the point. Of course, this could also just be from empathising so much with the characters that I want to find out what happens next, so therefore a mark of the book's quality. But on the other hand, I can feel a little cheated if I read a book too quickly. Like I've let myself down and spoiled it. I like a book to last a while, which may be why I read so infrequently. I keep asking myself, would I enjoy my own books if I knew nothing about them beforehand? 

What about you? Would you rather a longer, drawn-out book that takes several sessions to read? Or would you still get the same satisfaction from a shorter novel, one which could be read in a day or two?

*Working title only


  1. it needs to be a good combination. The problem with long books (and I'm noticing this a lot w/ YA lately) is that they often seem to be long w/ no reason. You don't get to the point of the book until halfway through it. BORING.

    And then you've got quick reads, which often really can benefit from additional plot points, more dialogue,and more introspection. I know my book could, but that got cut so it could be a quick read.

    So...find the balance. But in general, for me anyway, shorter is better.

  2. I usually only buy books that are over 500 pages small pring, so 100k+. This is because I naturally seem to speedread, and anything less than 300 is gone in a little over an hour, which just seems like terrible value to me.
    That said, some long books people have recommended - Wolf Hall, Lord of the Rings, Jordan, Errikson et al - bored me so much that reading them was a tedious chore to be completed, and Chuck Pahalniuk - who rarely goes over 250 pages - is one of my favourite authors.
    Short version? Ignore preferences and write the best damned book you can. :D

  3. Tamara: That's the tricky thing, isn't it? Hitting the sweet spot where the book is snappy, but also substantial enough to be satisfying.

    Sadhbh: Good point :-) Still, I do want to make sure I'm putting out something that is good value for money.

  4. I generally prefer shorter books. I want to dive into a character's life, run around with them for a short time and then move on. I often find long books to be a bit rambling or to have scenes I could have done without.

    If I am reading a longer story, I prefer to have it broken up into several novels.

    Some authors are able to create deep characters with a limited number of words. For example--Story of a Girl. I was shocked when I found out it was only 45k because the characters were so real and deep for me.

  5. I tend to get short books if they're free or on sale. (mainly kindle) but a mid length-long book I have no problem plunking down the cash. That being said I will buy a short-midlength book that's well written in a heart beat
    To be completely opaque It depends!

  6. I find that the more I am in love with a book... the longer I want it to be! The thing with Kindle is that it's like going on a ramble without a map: you can't see the end, so you've no idea how long it will take. Jane Gray

  7. I love novellas and am of the grumpy opinion that many novels are now being padded out on the orders of publishers who want "doorstopper" size books for commercial purposes. Too many novels are stretched to the "required" 100k...when in fact half that amount could recount the story much more grippingly...think "On Chesil Beach" (40k)or "Brokeback Mountain" (25k) or "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (35k) & the latter two were made into hugely successful movies.
    Great subject, Paul.

  8. Well I'll be no help whatsoever! Sometimes I like a quick read, but often, longer books are so much richer in characterization and texture. The best book is a long one that I still don't want to let go of when the end comes. So, yes, it's about what that length consists of. I don't think you should target a length just because the all-knowing "they" say so - write your book the way you want it. Then ask those few trusted souls in your life if it ever lags, if they are skipping over parts, if their eyelids droop...then you'll know...

  9. I'd much rather short and to the point. I'm a fairly concise writer too, and I just can't bear to drag things out to add more words!

  10. Heidi: That's a nice way of putting it. And I also tend to enjoy a series of books more than one large tome.

    Kierie: I'm actually quite picky with my purchases too, but I don't think I've ever let price-compared-to-length be a factor before. It's usually price-compared-to-how-much-I-want-it ;-)

    Mari: That's an interesting point. So much of editing is about trimming down on words, I hadn't considered how much padding might actually happen in the editing process.

    Melissa: I'm fairly certain my books aren't too long. I do worry that I'm not fleshing out my characters enough, though, or not presenting them with enough obstacles between them and their goals.

    Talli: I was saying to a friend before, that I suppose there are worse things for an author than to have a reputation as being easy to read. :-)

  11. Have you about how Jim Butcher was asked why his books are a Checkovs armory, and responded with "I'm a lazy writer - I don't bother putting anything in the books that's not going to be important later on"

    So if he can get away with it, I think you're good.

  12. Aonghus: Yeah, but his books are so much longer than mine, and none of it is wasted pages. :-(