Sunday, 9 July 2017

Pace And Length In Fiction


Sometimes there's a slightly snobby attitude towards commercial and genre fiction, along the lines of "If you can read and enjoy it in just a few days then it can't be as good as something that takes many weeks to read and digest."

I don't really go along with that. I love it when readers write a review saying they couldn't put one of my books down, or they rushed through to find out what would happen next, or that the pace was so fast it was like a rollercoaster.

What about when I'm the one doing the reading? I make a certain leeway with the classics. When I'm reading works by Dickens, or a Bronte, or Plato, or Woolf, I do read more slowly, and savour what's there. But I'm a bit more critical with modern fiction. I never want a book to feel like it is dragging. I want to be fully engaged, sucked into another world. I suppose that's a bit like my view on other media such as computer games: I would rather have high-quality perfection that is short (and repeatable) than overlong and padded. Life's too short. Fast or slow pace doesn't matter, but it had damn well better engage me. And although there are many requirements for that - great characters, a tense plot, wonderful style - another one to consider is length.

The other day I was seriously considering whether many novels should really be novellas, and many novellas should be short stories. As an editor who cut-cut-cuts, I often find a quarter of the content in a novel doesn't seem to be needed, and I'd have enjoyed it more without the repetition and padding. The problem is that sometimes the marketers begin with a word count expectation, regardless of whether that is the best one for a story. As such things tend to the over-long, the word-flabby, and engagement is lost.

It's probably why I often fall back on shorter genre fiction for comfort reads. E.g. Who Goes There?, Roadside Picnic, I Am Legend, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream - all are perfect, and all would have been potentially ruined by being stretched to novel length.

What do you think? Are literary books better than genre or commercial fiction? How important is pace? Will you read a book that doesn't engage you? Do you ever think some books are too long? Your thoughts are welcome!

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2 comments:

Noelle Kelly said...

Interesting,I think a book should be as long as it needs to tell the story, but what's not the story should be cut.
On genre versus literary books, I'm not a snob. If I love a book, I love a book, no matter what it's called :)

Karl Drinkwater said...

Your views match mine. :-)