Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I Like It Long

I just finished, for an assigned review, a collection of very short erotic tales. None was more than 1200 words, and some were even shorter. The experience made me realize that when it comes to my own reading, I prefer longer as opposed to shorter works, both for stories and for novels.

In fact very few of the contributions in this book were stories at all, at least by my definition. The bulk would be better categorized as sexual vignettes, with little if any character development, conflict or resolution. Am I asking too much for a thousand or so words? I don't think so. A glorious handful of the collection's authors did in fact succeed in creating a world with believable people facing plausible dilemmas and finding satisfying solutions. Which ones? That will be in my review, to appear in February at Erotica Revealed.

I recognize that it's a true challenge to craft a narrative arc in so few words. I certainly would have difficulty accomplishing that feat myself. I've tried my hand occasionally with "quickies" (you can find one effort here on my website), and believe me, the task made me sweat. In fact, I had to write a longer story first, then edit out every word I could spare. Not much fun!

When I'm deeply immersed in a great book, I want it to never end. Many of  my all-time favorite reads are hundreds of pages long. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. More recently I devoured Anathem by Neal Stephenson and IQ84 by Haruki Murakami, both well over a thousand pages long. Oh, and the fabulous The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by Gordon Dahlquist (700+ pages) and The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (500+ pages). I love meaty, complex novels that drag me away into a different universe. My excitement about starting a new book is often proportional to its length.

With short stories, I feel much the same way. There's a trend in many erotica anthologies these days to limit the length to 3000 words per story. I much prefer a range of lengths. Sometimes you want a snack, but at other times what you crave is a three or four course meal, with a variety of flavors and textures - a story that leaves you feeling satiated.

I suppose conciseness is one aspect of craft. Certainly, I've found that when I have to cut things, my work has a significant amount of fat. Still, I don't enjoy writing really short tales,any more than I like reading them.

Most of the short stories I've written for anthologies fall in the 4000-6000 word range, with some getting up as high as 8000. When I don't have a word limit, I let the story itself tell me how long it needs to be. When I do have a word limit, I often struggle, with too many ideas to fit into the allocated space.

My romance publisher Totally Bound, on the other hand, creates anthologies where each contribution is between 10,000 and 15,000 words. They call these "stories", even though the tales have multiple chapters and scenes. I find these to be rather strange beasts, hybrids between short story and novella, and frequently, I have trouble writing them.

I know better than to rush the development of a narrative. I need to give my characters time to discover one another and to realize the obstacles keeping them apart. This gradual approach comes back to bite me. All too often I find myself running out of words long before I've run out of story. I've had several reviewers comment that a tale of mine seemed to end too abruptly. I can sympathize. I had to wrap things up long before I, or my protagonists, were really ready.

So maybe I should stick to novels. The longest things I've written are in the 80K region. That seemed a nice, natural length for me. The book I'm trying to finish right now, Her Secret Weapon, will probably be about 60K, because that's what the publisher requested, but I suspect that left to my own devices, it would turn out to be longer. 

I don't know. Maybe I'm just wordy. On the other hand, maybe it's just that I believe you can never have too much of a good thing!


Anonymous said...

I love longer novels myself.

Lisabet, I looked up your blog because I recently finished reading Quarantine. I loved it so much. It was such an original story and I fell in love with the two characters Rafe and Dylan. But the way it ended it seems as though there would be a sequel? I would love to be able to read more about what happened next and hopefully get a happy ending for Rafe & Dylan together as a couple. I didn't like Kevin interfering with my boys, ha ha!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Lucy,

Thank you so much for your comment and your kind words about Quarantine. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Actually, I do have a sequel in mind, but a recent poll of my readers (see http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2014/01/starting-new-year-right-with-contest.html suggested that I should concentrate on some other projects first.

To be honest, the book has not sold all that well and has received few reviews. I think it may be too dark for some readers.

Of course, if you get all your friends to buy it, write reviews, spread the word and make it into a best seller ( ;^)) I'd have a stronger motivation to continue the story!

Seriously, though, I really appreciate your comment and suggestions, and I'll take it under consideration.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying, what a bummer to hear that it hasn't sold well. It's such an interesting story. I'll definitely spread the word around to friends.

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