I’ve been thinking about novellas and novels and short stories lately, and why I have a strong preference for longer fiction while other people prefer the shorter stuff. I know there’s no sharp line between the two audiences – lots of people like both novels and short fiction. Even though I’m mainly a novel reader, I’ll still read a novella sometimes, and I know there are plenty of people who read novels, novellas, and short stories indiscriminately. But I know a lot of readers check the page count carefully before they order an ebook (I’m one of them), while others couldn’t be happier at finally being able to find novella-length stories.
There was a discussion on Kindleboards the other day asking whether the authors who visit the site plan to write more short fiction or longer works this year, and that’s part of what made me start thinking about it. I had assumed it mostly depended on what people were used to reading – I’ve been inhaling novels all my life, while other people grew up reading short-story magazines – but reading through the thread, I got the sense that it came down to more than that. Someone mentioned preferring novels because a novella might not tie up all the loose ends adequately. I’d prefer to read a full-length novel, too, but I had honestly never considered that as a reason. Someone else said that novellas are mainly written to be read in a single reading session, so someone used to sitting down and reading a novel start to finish probably wouldn’t feel satisfied by a novella. Novellas often leave me unsatisfied, too, but I’m used to reading a book over a period of at least a couple of days.
I read this post (part of a larger series) a while back, and that discussion made me think of it again. The post is about video games, but I think some of the points could apply to novels as well. It talks about how people tend to fall into two camps when thinking about the length of a game. For some people, a game – a good one, at least – can never be too long. The longer a game is, the more they feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth from it, because they’ve gotten more entertainment for their dollar. Others feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth out of a game when it provides a complete experience that they can finish in a reasonable amount of time. For these people, a game that costs $60 isn’t worth the money if they play for fifty hours and are only half-done, because they’ve only gotten half a game out of it.
The same thing could be true for readers. Maybe there are two ways of looking at a book – whether it provides you with the most hours of entertainment or the most complete experience. (In addition to novels vs. novellas and short stories, it could also apply to whether people like series novels or stand-alones.) Obviously it’s not as cut and dried as all that (just like it isn’t that cut and dried for games, as some of the comments on that blog post point out), but I think it makes a decent starting point.
I tend to fall into the former camp when it comes to games, so it makes sense that I’m the same way about books. It would be very hard for me to find a good book that’s too long. (Obviously a book padded for length is worse than the same book written with tight prose, but in that case the length also makes the book less good, which doesn’t make it a good example.) Although I have to say, I don’t seek out series books as much as I used to – with all the books I already want to read, the thought of getting into a new series can feel daunting. When I find a really good series, though, as long as the books stay consistently good I don’t want it to end. I don’t need the wrap-up in order to feel satisfied, as long as the good books keep coming.
What do you think? Does this seem like a plausible way of looking at reading? What do you look for when you read – is it more important to get a complete experience or more hours of entertainment?