The Problem with Long Stories

Title graphic with the words "The problem with long stories: why they're a risk to be handled with care", superimposed over a faded image of a wall of books around a door.

Epic poems, legendary sagas, and age-old tales. We all know and have read them, whether as a school assignment or otherwise. And while they certainly have their place in the cultural zeitgeist, too many writers aim for making a long story. For some, it’s even the goal. But it shouldn’t be.

Why? What’s so bad about long stories?

 

I can’t tell you how many books I would have loved–had they not had a million subplots and pointless details, things the author thought would enrich the story but instead soured them.

All too often, writers think stories need more ‘meat’ to be respectable. Their mistake is that, instead of adding more meat to the stew, they put in rice to bulk it up instead. Don’t get me wrong, I love rice, but if it makes up more of the stew than it should, then I’m going to look back on it with disappointment.

 

A lot of writers think a long story will gain them credibility or brownie points. In reality, the most polished writers know that it’ll probably end up over-stuffed. In adding all of that fluff mentioned above, the things that are important don’t maintain momentum, which in turn runs the risk of losing the reader. It’s better to keep things tight, and there’s a fine line between suspense and dragging something out. Too often, long stories blur that distinction.

 

Pretend you’re a literary agent. You have authors sending you proposals left and right, and they’re all total risks. They’re untested and unknown. Who’re you going to take the leap of faith on? A 300 page book, or a 700 page book that will cost far more to print and intimidate general readers? (Those of us bibliophiles aside, your average reader won’t be turned on by the idea of a 500+ page book. If anything, it may even turn them away.) The normally sized book will always be more marketable, so if you’re a blooming author, a lengthy story will only shoot you in the foot.

 

I love a good long story. In fact, I’m reading a 992 page book right now. However, there are few authors I’ll trust with a book of that length, and that’s only after they’ve proven themselves with other (shorter) books. So while long stories have a place on shelves everywhere, writers should consider all that comes with writing one–both the good and the bad.

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Comment below with the longest book you’ve ever read, and until next time!

 

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