Long or Short Novels: Which Are Better?

Writing

Last week, editor Nick Harrison discussed cutting words and scenes during the editing process and the value of knowing what to eliminate, which is a vital part of self-editing.  However, in the post he also seemed to come out in favor of shorter books and shorter chapters, and several commenters echoed this sentiment.  Now, I don’t think that Nick was suggesting there’s no place for the longer books (at least I hope not) and several people commented later in the thread that they like variety, but I’ve observed a bias in the market away from epic novels and longer stories in general.

As a reader, few things satisfy me more than a 600+ page tome that can capture and immerse me in the storyworld for a long period of time. I don’t want extraneous material that serves no purpose and slows the story or bogs down the scenes, but I love stories grand enough in scope to justify this length.

In general, I see story length as being influenced by several factors–scope of story, genre, and author voice. For example, a multi-generational family saga (like Francine Rivers’ Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream) simply wouldn’t fit in a single 300 page novel–the story needs more space to unfurl. The same could be said of an epic fantasy tale, both in genre expectations and scope of story. In contrast, it makes sense for suspense, thrillers, and other action-oriented novels to have short, snappy chapters and often shorter overall length.

By the same token, sometimes an author voice lends itself to sparse phrasing, the short and sweet, but other times the natural tone is more rich and lavish. I think of Jeffery Overstreet and the beauty he crafts with his words. If he were to cut back to a minimalist style, it would not only strip away his voice, it would also change the very feel of his stories.

So, is less always more? Not from my perspective. What do you think?

Comments

  • C.J.
    January 19, 2011 - 9:40 pm · Reply

    I hate to disagree with you, but I’m actually a fan of shorter novels…and shorter chapters…and shorter setences. 🙂 However, that being said, the kinds of books I like are usually suspense books, and the shorter style of writing fits with that genre, so in that sense I do agree with you.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      January 21, 2011 - 11:27 am · Reply

      It does come down to personal preference in most cases. I certainly see a place for shorter novels and enjoy them also, I’d just like to see more epic novels released, since those seem in short supply these days. 🙂

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