The Long and Winding Story

Here’s something I’m curious to hear other opinions on. Length of a book/story/movie/etc. Some are long, some are short, some seem too long, others seem too short. Is there a length that you, as a reader, like, or does it simply depend on the story?

When the fifth Harry Potter book came out, I loved it. All 800-or-however-many pages of it. I thought it was awesome. It was my favorite up to that point. I didn’t understand how anyone could think otherwise. But then I talked to my sister, and heard her say that she thought it was too long. That at least 2 or 300 pages could have been cut and the story would have been the same.

And I remember thinking…. wtf? No, it wouldn’t. Everything in that story was important. Cutting things would have hurt the story. Could JK have said the same thing in fewer words? Probably. But the fact is that her writing style isn’t succinct, and it took her how many words it took her. Even now when I read the book, I don’t understand what my sister was talking about. I’ve tried to notice if certain parts were dragging, or weren’t necessary at all, but I always end up completely consumed in the story and forget to think about it.

Which brings me to my personal conclusion. Length of a story shouldn’t be based on number of pages or words. It should be based on the amount of story that needs to be told, the way the author needs to tell it, and the ability of the author to make mundane details seem interesting.

This last point is important. The idea of “filler.” Details that aren’t part of the larger plot, but that an author wants audiences to know. Those details may be important to your understanding of the plot, the characters, or certain situations even if those tiny details don’t change anything. Even if when you read them you wonder what’s the point of them. As long as the author can make those points either seem interesting, or can throw them in in so subtle a way that you don’t notice them and don’t wonder about them, then it doesn’t matter if they make a story twice as long as it needs to be to convey the plot. They are necessary.

I think that’s where I disagreed with my sister. I thought every little thing in HP5 was important. If it wasn’t…. would JK have written it? I say, probably not. Or if she did, it would have gotten edited out somewhere along the way. So if it’s in the final draft, it’s something she wanted the reader to know. This is not to say that no authors who publish books put in mundane details that you’re going to read and think… why is that in here? Who cares? Authors do that all the time. So what really matters, I guess, is who is reading.

My sister and I had very different opinions about HP5. Neither was wrong. They were just different. I liked it, she thought it was long-winded. Doesn’t mean JK did anything right or wrong, just that two people who read her story had different views. And that happens when you publish a book that millions of people are going to read. Some love it, some don’t. As an author, it’s pretty much impossible to please everyone.

And yet…. we still try. When I write, I can’t help but wonder if something I’m putting down is going to have too much or too little impact on the reader. If it’s going to make sense, be too much information, be unnecessary, be boring, whatever. Which is why I get obsessed with people reading through to give me some feedback. Because I like what I write. Especially once I’ve gone through and edited and gotten it the way I want it. I like it then. But… will anyone else?

And here’s the thing I wonder about every single day, the thing that is the subject of this entire post. Length. How long is too long? Is it, like I said before, just a matter of taste? Will one reader read a 900-page book and love every page of it, while another will get overwhelmed halfway through and chuck it across the room wondering why the hell the author didn’t get to the point already? Is that just kind of the way it goes? As my behemoth gets longer and longer, and I feel I have no control over its length because everything I’m writing down is something that I need to say, I can’t help but be afraid that even my husband or Raine are going to sit me down and say, “Woman, this thing is too long, what were you thinking?” It’s over 600 computer-pages now. And I’m nowhere near being done. There’s still a lot to say, and a lot of time to cover before the story in my head is all down on paper.

So, my question is this… As a reader, do you really care about length? Or do you worry more about how easy a story is to read, how interesting it is, if it holds your interest as it goes along, and if it has points that suddenly drag? If a book was 1,000 pages but was fascinating to you the entire way, would you notice the length? Would you care?

I don’t care. If something is good, I want it to be long. I don’t want it to end. I love Dickens novels and mini-series, things that seem daunting when you first look at them, but once you get into the story fly by like nothing. If I like a story, I may notice length, but it doesn’t deter me. If I love a story that is short, I’m often disappointed when I finish and wish that it could have been longer. But at the same time, if something is dull or dragging and it’s short, I may continue on to the end. But if it’s dull and dragging and long… forget it. I toss that thing across the room.

So how important is length, really? To you? I’m curious to hear what other people think.

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3 responses to “The Long and Winding Story

  1. True… length is determined by what is needed and important. When I released my first book, I thought it was too long, but people told me it was too short. Maybe both me and the readers were right somehow.

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