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How much is too much?

03 Jul

Really? You needed 723 pages to tell this story? Is it me or has the average page count of fantasy novels gotten out of hand? And it’s not just fantasy. Action adventure, historical fiction, romance, I look at the book shelves and all of the books seem to be expanding. Why?

First, let me say that I understand that everyone has their own likes and dislikes when reading a book.

Of the last twenty books I have read, fourteen broke the four-hundred page mark. Three were over five hundred and one was seven hundred twenty-three pages. When I finished this monster I realised I was less entertained than other books I’ve read that were half that size. I’m talking same genre, similar types of characters, similar plots, similar settings. I’m also talking about some of the most successful authors in the fantasy genre.

So, I asked myself why did this extremely successful book fail to live up to my expectations? The main thing that struck me was how many times the entire plotline up to the current time frame was replayed. Every time, each of the multitude of characters stopped to rest, they would replay, in their thoughts, all of the events of their journey up to that point (4-6 pages for each). Doing this for the main character once or maybe twice at a strategic point in the story can emphasize the character’s feeling of depression or frustration. But, using it every eight to ten pages for each of eight characters is just boring. I found myself skimming these sections after the first six or seven times. A conservative estimate would indicate that cutting these sections would have reduced the page count by nearly 100 pages! More importantly, removing them would not have taken away from the story. Why would the editor allow this? I am not criticizing the author directly because, for starters, he has sold millions of books and I have not. But as a reader I too have likes and dislikes. I have read well-written tomes that were page turners. I don’t mean flipping several pages ahead to skip the uninteresting character or the replay of the plotline for the umpteenth time. These books used every word to paint the story and move it forward in a meaningful way.

However, back to the original question. Why is it books seem to be getting bigger? It must be economics otherwise the publishing houses would limit the page count. Is it really cheaper to print and distribute 60 epics or 100 books that will still fit in the hip pocket of my jeans? Is longer better?

Interestingly, my brother-in-law just handed me three western novels to read. the Average page count is 160! Louis L’Amour wrote 89 novels and sold over 120,000,000 copies since his death in 1988. Hmmmmm.

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16 Comments

Posted by on July 3, 2012 in Musings and Odd Thoughts

 

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16 responses to “How much is too much?

  1. Sara Flower

    July 3, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I know exactly what you mean. I think 700 + pages are way too long for a story. I get annoyed, as a reader, with too much description and backstory. I prefer 300 pages or less, usually.

    Novellas often get a lot of criticism, but I prefer a tightly written short story over a book that would take a month at least to get through.

    Great topic!

     
    • Dennis Langley

      July 3, 2012 at 10:27 am

      I do believe there is a place for “Epics”. But, If I need a spreadsheet to track the characters and plotlines, I’d rather pass.

       
  2. scottweberwriter

    July 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    I blame Robert Jordan’s derivative, pointless, doorstops.

     
    • Dennis Langley

      July 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      2641 distinct named characters in “Wheel of Time”. Really!

       
  3. Traci

    July 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    It depends on whether or not all those extra words make the story better. Steven King’s “The Stand” was a whopper and I loved it (disclaimer: that was over 30 years ago — not sure I’d still think it needed to be that long, but I suspect I might). “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” was way shorter, and still way too long. So, I repeat: It depends.

    Also, I’m not sure books are getting longer. I’d like to see some data on that (as long as I’m not the one who has to produce it). If it’s true, I’d say computers are to blame. I’d much rather type a tome that write it in longhand!

     
    • Dennis Langley

      July 9, 2012 at 9:49 am

      I agree if the extra words make for a better story, then by all means go for it. However, in the last few books I’ve read, that has not been the case. In my opinion. Thanks for stopping by.

       
  4. Jennifer M Eaton

    July 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Getting bigger? I’ve found them getting smaller. I pick up a novel and say “$15.99 for THAT”

    I was a Robert Jordan Junkie, so I was never shy of a long novel, but so much now seems shorter… and many publishers I’ve seen will ask you to chop if it goes over so many words.

    I guess it depends on where you’re looking.

     
    • Dennis Langley

      July 9, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Hi, Jennifer-

      I hope publishers are cutting back on length. Economically, it makes sense for them to do that. However, in a recent trip to B&N I pulled 25 books at random from the SciFi/Fantasy section. All but two were over 400 pages in length. Maybe it’s a new trend. I still like a good read no matter what the length is.

      -Dennis

       
  5. 4amWriter

    July 8, 2012 at 5:00 am

    Personally, I think that’s the problem with multiple viewpoints. I’m not a big fan of being in everyone’s heads, because I think you run the risk of repetition. But I know a lot of writers use the tool.

    I am surprised at the length based on the information I hear through lit agents/publishers–they all seem to ask for shorter books simply because they’re easier to sell and less expensive to publish.

    Fantasy typically runs longer than mainstream (which is the genre I usually write), so that could be a reason–but still 700+ pages is a doozy of a book!

     
    • Dennis Langley

      July 9, 2012 at 9:58 am

      You bring up an interesting idea regarding multiple viewpoints. Most of the really long stories include a cast of characters that would rival the attendance of a World Cup soccer match. One other example I can think of Involves some of the later R.A Salvatore books. He repeatedly shows the same scene from every character in the scene’s viewpoint. This made for books that were much longer than necessary and in most cases, did not add interest to the story. To date I have not looked at his most recent three books for fear that the trend would continue.

       
  6. Subtlekate

    July 12, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I recently read a book that was over 500 but I could have cut it goes to 300. The recapping was ridiculous.

     
    • Dennis Langley

      July 13, 2012 at 11:17 am

      It is almost like the author/editor doesn’t think I can remember what I read a few pages before. I would love to have an editor weigh in on why this sort of thing is allowed to go to publishing.

       
  7. L.S. Engler

    July 27, 2012 at 11:18 am

    I’m glad I stumbled upon this post! While I have quite a few favorite books that scratch past the 700 page mark, there’s just as many I come across that I feel would have been significantly better if reduced by at least half. It definitely works for some, but not others…

    …but this post makes me feel a little bit better about having my own “fantasy epics” not likely to breech 200 pages, much less 700! It seems fantasy in general seems the type to expect big heavy doorstop, or else it’s not worth it, and that’s a shame (especially since few fantasies make me feel like wading through all those pages is worth it!).

     
    • Dennis Langley

      July 27, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      I am so glad you weighed in on this topic. I was hoping you would as I read your blog and respect your views. I have recently delved into reading some Westerns. Louis L’Amour’s avg page count is around 165. They are still very entertaining and great stories. Shorter is something to consider.

      Thank you for dropping. I appreciate your thoughts.

       
  8. Catherine Austen

    July 27, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    I don’t know if the trend is new (there’s a good article on this topic here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/nov/04/long-books ) but lately I steer away from long books – a trusted friend has to convince me to pick up anything over 400 pages. I think it was reading fantasy series aloud to my kids that did it for me – it’s hard to skim the boring bits while reading aloud and I was broken somewhere around book 5 of Harry Potter. These days, even if I suspect a long book may be wonderful, I’ll choose something shorter and equally wonderful. I have friends who love long books and series so they can stretch their time with the beloved characters. Not me. (But I am partial to epic poetry and 7-minute songs, so go figure.)

     
    • Dennis Langley

      July 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Thanks for the article. Seems this has been an issue for some time. I’m not into epic poetry but, I do like some music over 7 minutes.

       

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