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How Long Should Your Novel Be?

October 23rd, 2015

goldfinch-blogIn last week’s blog I mentioned that if you’re writing a novel you might be better to break it down into three 70,000 word books rather than one long saga. Hook your readers in the first book so that they can’t resist buying the sequels and, in the long run, you’ll build up your reputation more quickly, make a better profit and, if you  have a conventional publisher, keep them happy too.

But there are still a lot of long books out there and I have mixed feelings about them. I’m always rather wary of short stories because unless the author is very good I often come away feeling unsatisfied. On the whole I prefer a good, meaty read that transports me into another world and keeps me there for long enough for me to feel I’ve become part of it and know the characters better than most of  my neighbours.

I’ve been a keep fan of Donna Tart since The Secret History came out in 1992. I had to wait 10 years for The Little Friend, and wasn’t disappointed. So I was keen to get my hands on The Goldfinch when it was published in 2014. Yes, it was good – it must have been to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – but at 881 pages it could have been cut by a third and been a better book. Yes, I know that’s only my opinion, but I’m sure many critics would agree.

On the other hand, The Luminaires by Eleanor Catton, was the longest novel ever to win the Booker Prize at 832 pages – and the story sucked me in and kept my attention from beginning  to end. Nothing needed cutting.

So, at the end of the day, it’s up to you as the creator to decide how long your novel should be. But you have to consider everything: what you hope to achieve as a writer, the enjoyment of your audience and never be shy of taking the commercial aspects into account too.

Finally, I know that many of you prefer writing short stories to the slog involved in a novel. They are two very different forms and being able to write tightly to produce a great short story takes tremendous skill. If you do want a showcase for your work, then have a look at Fiction On The Web. The site is very plain and looks rather old-fashioned but they have a good reputation and don’t just publish any old rubbish. They are currently accepting submissions and there are also some good tips on site. In fact,# if you’re considering entering the Writers Bureau Short Story Competition  then I suspect you’ll find the tips very useful.

My guest next week is Andrea Hewitt who’ll be talking about the benefits of taking on board feedback about your writing.

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