Saturday, 18 June 2011

The length of a novel

The average movie runs between one and half and two hours. The average song length is three to four minutes. Obviously, research has gone into figuring out how long the human attention span is - I'd say it's somewhere between a gold fish and a cat - to determine when an audience tunes out.

Most debut novels are a certain length. YA novels are between 35,000 and 70,000 words. Adult books somewhere between 80,000 and  120,000 words. Obviously publishers have done some research into how long a book should ideally be. But is this a guide that even successful authors should stick to?

For example. I've been trying to read Dean Koontz "The Face" for months now and I feel as if I'm on slo-mo. I love Dean Koontz but I'm finding this book is bogged down with intricate detail that as a reader I want to skim over. I don't care about the finer details of a tree or that he can describe rain on multiple levels. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and I'm happy for an author to tell it like it is. On an update, when I got to the ending I was blown away and my faith in Koontz as a great storyteller was affirmed. But what if I'd reached the final page and it had been a let down? Or worse, what if it didn't end and was part of a series. I think this is the reason I prefer standalone books to series.
So back to the perfect length. There are heaps of authors who write snappy first novels, then they become famous and it's like they get a creative licence to tell an incredibly long story that would be more interesting if it was the short version. Maybe I've become a product of the instant society. Or maybe I don't like creative control gone awry. Maybe I need to be stranded  on a deserted island these days in order to appreciate reading again. I like that last choice.

Anyway, the length of a book is detemined by the time it takes to tell the story.

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