Yesterday I reached 100,000 words of my novel-in-progress — about a young man, in search of his family, who because of his miraculous gift is drawn into a seemingly greater story about him as the savior of his own world. This novel’s projected length is 140,000 words.
And that almost bothers me. Because similar-length novels have previously put me off.
Once upon a time the mere size of The Lord of the Rings books was intimidating to me; and yes, I’m ashamed to admit it. When the first of the films was about to release, that drove me to delve into Fellowship of the Ring in advance of viewing the film version (and fortunately I had already begun The Two Towers and wasn’t spoiled about the first film’s ending).
Yet should I be ashamed to admit I balked at first? Some long books just seem intimidating. Even the Bible, a very large and complex book, can seem intimidating simply because of its size — and especially if you have the massive ESV Study Bible.
So why did all the later Harry Potter novels get away with being massive? Children snapped them up and weren’t intimidated. Not once did I hear in all the press coverage of Potter’s popularity an interview with a reader who said, “eh, I lost interest when they got so long, starting with Goblet of Fire.” Rowling’s narratives kept even heavier copies selling and more pages turning. The same is true for other visionary fiction with external girth, such as The Silmarillion — another book that once intimidated me, partly because of its size.
And yet here I am writing novels beyond what I’ve heard is the “standard” 100,000 words. This has helped me grow to love the freedom and challenge of filling this space with what I hope will be all essential character-and-plot-driven material. No, I don’t just want to write longer out of supposed brilliance — like an essayist trying to fulfill a 15-page limit by any means. Here I’m hoping journalism-based habits — keep it short, to the point — will help.
You’ll notice that’s what I’ve tried here. Some of my columns, also, have been quite long …
So for you, how long is too long for any sort of book, whether nonfiction, visionary fiction or any other fiction genre? And if you do crack the pages of a thicker novel, what keeps you reading, despite its length?