Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why Story Length Changed My Reading Preferences

When I was younger, I read lots of long novels that ranged from Crime and Punishment to The Raj Quartet. As I grew older, I began to prefer action-packed, shorter novels and found myself shying away from anything over 350 pages. Perhaps a hectic life contributed to my preference for shorter work, but there might have been something else at play.

As a writer, I’ve always found it appealing to write mysteries in the 70,000 to 75,000 word range, but even that takes me a long time to rewrite and edit. Those who follow my blogs know that I’ve been writing novellas in recent years. The first, Dead Man Floating, was released by Imajin Books in September. Aside from finding a wonderful way to stretch creativity with new characters and word length challenges, there may be another reason I’m gravitating toward writing and reading shorter books. In fact, a blog by Rebecca Rogers Maher on why she prefers to write shorter fiction really made me stop and think.

Maher writes and reads a lot of contemporary romances, but she’s often found herself skimming over sections because the emotional anguish and conflicts are mentioned seven or eight times. It disappoints her. She wants to be pulled into a story right away and absorb every word. In other words, every word needs to move the story forward, not to provide frequent reminders. This is why Maher believes that most 90,000 word contemporary romances don’t need to be that long. She may be right, and I have to say that the same is true for mainstream novels.

With the two mainstream novels I read recently, I found myself puzzling over a paragraph and thinking, but I already know this. It was mentioned three chapters ago. Is it possible that the publisher is driving the word length? Do they and the author think that readers have painfully short-term memories? Publishers' minimum and maximum word length requirements isn’t necessarily a good thing. Wouldn’t it be better to tell a story the best way possible and let the word length land where it does? Isn’t that doing yourself and your readers a favor?

I know many readers who love full-length fiction and that’s great. But how many of those full-length novels could have been pared down a little or a lot? Rebecca Maher is writing 50,000 contemporary romances these days instead of the publisher-preferred 90,000 words. She wants to write the type of story where readers aren’t skipping over the slow or repetitive bits. It sounds like a good plan to me.

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