short fiction

Several big fat books owned by me, mostly paperbacks

Why I Like Long Books

One of the benefits of publishing in today’s milieu is that book length is no longer as rigid it was in the days of print-only, trad-only publishing. Especially in the case of ebooks, where length is measured in time needed to read a book, rather than its physical bulk. If a writer is inspired to create in short forms, they shouldn’t hesitate to publish those works, or consider them inferior because they’re short.

pocket watch and book

Short fiction ranges from micro or flash (a few hundred words or less), through short stories (1,000 to 10,000 words) to novellas and novelettes (10,000 to about 50,000 words). Some say a novel has to be at least 80,000 words, but I figure anything over 50,000 may squeak into that category, as a “short novel,” perhaps.

Short fiction is generally published in the form of collections (single author), or in anthologies or journals (multi-author), as well as singly on writers’ blogs.

Now that’s out of the way, I can say that in general, I prefer long books to short, and novels to collections or anthologies. In high school, I was the kid lugging around the biggest, fattest books from the school library. I particularly recall Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, which was three inches thick and could injure your foot if you dropped it.

Several big fat books owned by me, mostly paperbacks
Several big, fat books I have read.

Why do I prefer long novels? Because reading is analogous to writing, it may be argued that by visualizing as they read, the reader continues the work of the writer. It takes a similar sort of mental effort for the reader to run a mind-movie as for the writer to create the script for it (the book).

But works of short fiction are not always worth the trouble. You get to know the characters and they’re gone. You appreciate a setting, but you’re kicked out of it when the story ends. Or it’s all minimalistic–a character in a situation, without much detail or context. In a novel, especially a long one, you can settle in, get to know the characters, become friends with some of them, return to their world day after day, and feel bereft when you close the book. (We’re talking about a well-written, interesting novel here, folks. We know that whether long or short, they aren’t all like that.)

Spines of several big fat books owned by me, mostly paperbacks
Books featured here: Les Misérables / Victor Hugo ; Maia / Richard Adams ; Anna Karenin / Leo Tolstoy ; A Place of Greater Safety / Hilary Mantel ; …And Ladies of the Club / Helen Hooven Santmyer ; Black Water : the book of fantastic literature / edited by Alberto Manguel. (And yes, that last one is an anthology of short fiction.)

Short fiction doesn’t linger in my memory the way long novels do.

A book of linked or interrelated short stories, on the other hand, has possibilities. They take place in the same setting, possibly in different time periods. The same characters may appear in more than one story. There may not be a unified plot, but figuring out how the various stories fit together can be interesting.

Fellow writers, what do you think? I see reviews of short books on your blogs, so I know you read and enjoy them. Long reads or short–which do you prefer, both to read and to write?

By the way, my 2018 novel, She Who Comes Forth, is having its final two free days on Amazon August 20th and 21st (today and tomorrow). It’s shorter than the books in the photos for this post. Click the cover image.