“Thoughtful Ramblings” is a feature where we discuss bookish subjects. These posts are just our own thoughts about certain topics that may get us hot under the collar and we need a good rant or just things we want to share with fellow bloggers and readers.
Does Length Matter?
Now that I have your attention (thanks to my very mature title, undoubtedly) let’s talk about length. Book length, that is.
A couple of years ago I have to admit I didn’t pay very much attention to how long a book was. Nowadays, the length of books is stated almost everywhere: bookshop websites, Amazon and Goodreads, for example. Although in person we can see how thick a book is, I would never think to flip to the back page and see how long it was. So, is the length of books really important? Well, the short (see what I did there?) answer is yes.
The way I see it, there are three distinct story lengths. One is the short story: it’s difficult to say how many pages this should involve, but the longest I have read was about thirty pages, so let’s go with that. Then there is the novella: logic should dictate that a novella is anything above a short story and before a novel, but I think to really earn the name of the novella, a piece of writing needs to be over 100 pages (And for the purposes of this article, I am the authority on the matter). Then there is the novel, coming in at over 200 pages, at least. The very fluidity of these terms makes it hard to define them, never mind to judge if one is better than the other, but after hearing somebody say that they were dubious about reading a novella because of the length, I thought the matter bore investigating.
A short story is a good vessel for an author to advertise their work, usually as part of an anthology which the reader can dip into as and when they want. I have tried a few anthologies, and found the experiences to be quite hit and miss. Even when reading about a subject you really like, the likelihood is that you will have to read (or skip over) a story that you don’t like. This, I suppose, has the benefit of endowing you with the knowledge that you don’t like that author and shouldn’t really buy anything longer by them – but is thirty pages really enough to judge a back catalogue by? Is it enough to depict a full, fulfilling story; beginning, middle and end? I have read short stories by authors that I love before and not particularly liked them. And I would be lying if I said that reading an authors story in an anthology had ever moved me to buy someone’s book. Then on the plus side, in the world we live in now, it’s not always feasible to be able to sit down for a few hours and lose yourself in a full length novel. If you have an attention span like my fiancé’s, short stories can only be a good thing.
Novellas are another matter altogether. There are many novels, even novels I have enjoyed, that could arguably have done with being 100 pages shorter. Novellas can be used for a number of things: to bridge the gap between full length books, to introduce a new series, to catch up with old characters. I think in many cases a 100+ pages can still rush a story a little. However, I recently read a novella called How Beauty Met the Beast by Jax Garren. I think it says a lot when I admit that I didn’t realise that it was a novella until it ended a trifle abruptly (damn you, Kindle for iPhone!). The story and the world in which it was set were both fully developed and action-packed, the characters were well-rounded and the romance aspect was moving steadily along. At four stars, I gave it a higher rating than many of the full length novels I’ve read so far this year. The issue that I have with a novella of this calibre is probably greedy of me – if some is good, more must be better. In these cases, there is no such phrase as too much of a good thing. It does mean however, in the case of a series such as the Underlight series, that the author can produce a work in a few months, depending on individual writing speed, which means less of a wait in between books.
And last, but by no means least (literally) the novel. If i’m truly honest with myself, I don’t think I have hid my preference for this format throughout the article. There is nothing like starting a book and knowing that you have hundreds of pages left in this particular world. In the same way that you don’t want a great day, or movie, to end you find yourself wishing that more pages would magically appear. I have read the later Harry Potter books, Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning and The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber – all of which come in at over 600 pages, and which I would have quite happily read for another six hundred. Of course that’s not always the same. If you only just like a book then there comes a point when you wish it would end so that you could move onto something else. If you actively dislike a book then it seems never-ending. Like the short story and the novella, however, you can put the novel down for a while, or forever. And you can pick the next novel up, the one that makes you want to live in its pages for another hour.
So, in conclusion, does lenth matter to me? I would have to say yes. No offence to the shorter stories out there, or the writers of them: I just like something to sink my teeth into. I find myself doling out the pages of a fantastic novel in a miserly fashion – and the pleasure is over that little bit quicker the less pages there are. My vote will always be for longer stories. So, how long do you like yours?