Booking Through Thursday: Length

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Which do you prefer? Short stories? Or full-length novels?

I’m going to hedge a bit here and say, it depends.  As long as the author gets the chance to tell the story he or she wants or needs to tell, then the length of it (in terms of page or word count) doesn’t really matter to me.  I’ve read some profoundly moving short stories over the years and I think that it takes a special ability to truly craft one.  You have to really get to the heart of what you’re trying to tell and just tell it to the readers.  (I took a fiction writing class in college and wrote short stories for it..it’s a lot harder than it looks).

It all comes down to how effective the story is.  If you can tell the story in a short story, do it.  If it needs to be a novella, so be it.  If works best as a longer book, that’s fine also.  Again, it depends on the intent and the story being told.  I find myself reflecting on the Sherlock Holmes mysteries which, I think, worked better with the character in short stories than they did as full length novels.  “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is generally the Holmes story given to middle and high school readers for their introduction to Holmes, which I find ironic.  It was my point of entry and I enjoyed it, but looking back it’s not the strongest Holmes story and it doesn’t feature a whole lot of Holmes in the actual narrative.

That said, I think there is something to be said for knowing how and where your story will end.   One of my huge pet peeves with sci-fi and fantasy series are those long, seemingly never-ending sagas that feature a multitude of characters and a bunch of tangents that have no relation to the overall story or offer anything to the universe.  I can accept character building or world building (provided you don’t pull a Tolkein and describe every leaf on every tree) as long as it has a point and is relevant to the story.  A sidetrip just to pad out a story bugs the fire out of me.

I recently re-visited Richard Matheson’s “Duel” as an audio book (paired with an homage story by Stephen King and Joe Hill) and was struck by how incredibly effective it was because of its economy of length.  It effectively tells the story of a man’s descent into obsession, paranoia and madness over the course of an afternoon drive with a truck from hell.   The story puts all the pieces in place and slowly erodes them, giving us enough of a character glimpse of Mann to be effective but not feeling like it has to fill in his whole backstory.   It was easily as compelling as many longer novels I’ve read and yet it’s a relatively short reading or listening experience.

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7 Comments

Filed under Booking Through Thursday, meme

7 responses to “Booking Through Thursday: Length

  1. LOL, it’s funny, I was just reading this as you commented on mine, apparently. I was commenting on someone else’s post earlier, talking about how I’m probably a detail-oriented person because I love reading all of the details and descriptions that a full-length novel provides (but I didn’t think about it until I read that particular post so it’s not in my blog). I don’t know, I’ll take a short story set in the Middle Ages or Renaissance!

  2. I agree that stories should be told in whatever length necessary to convey them properly. Sometimes that may be a page, and sometimes it may be 800. (Though I would argue that it rarely really needs to be 800.) This is a message I always try to convey when teaching; I would rather have my students write what needs to be said than spew junk for the sake of meeting some artificial page limit.

  3. I have found a lot of good short stories online. I like to explore different genres. However, I like full length novels too.

    It depends on my mood, what I want to read.

    BTT: long and short of it

  4. Well done. I agree with just about everything here, especially what you say about sci-fi series. The padding in many of them is becoming really unbearable.

  5. I agree on several counts. I have a lot more respect for an author who can create a well-written short story. One of the best I read was two pages long. I’ll take quality over quantity any day.

  6. Economy does count for something, but I must defend my dear Professor Tolkien against some charges- I think The Lord of the Rings needed to be well over a thousand pages long! You make a very good point- the story dictates the length.

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