Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How much is enough?

I'd like to discuss the concept of story length.  As a little background, my current WIP is a sword & sorcery yarn in the vein of some old school works by Lin Carter, John Jakes and Gardner F. Fox.  I'm going for the kind of story you get where the hero is a brawny warrior, somewhat outside of societal norms, if not a downright outsider or outcast, and the adventure is straight-foreword, without a lot of esoteric exposition and social commentary.  It will be a rousing adventure with plenty of action, some intrigue and more than a little supernatural danger, all set in an original, mythical world.  I currently have ideas for about three books about this character right now.  I'll give more details about him later.

But today's topic is about length.  How long should this work be?  Using the works of the above-mentioned authors as a guide, I have determined that these stories will probably be relatively short, running the equivalent of 165 pages (41,250 words) or so.  Information presented on the Wiki page on Length of a Novel places that firmly in the "novel" category, according to Locus Magazine.  However, as also noted on that page, conventional publishing wisdom makes that just shy of a novel, and only a novella.

The question is, is this distinction even a concern?  And more importantly, is it even relevant in the ePub view of things?  For that's where my market is.  This book, and any sequels, are planned as self-published eBooks, most likely through Amazon for the Kindle.

Of course, this could all be academic.  The story could very well end up being much longer (or even shorter) than planned.

This cover by the late Jeffrey Jones
is similar to what I will be attempting.
As a side note, this whole thing has me pretty excited.  This is the type of story I like to read, so I think it will come more easily to me.  I'm also doing it the right way and focusing on a lot of planning elements, such as character sketches, story plotting, and a chapter-by-chapter summary, before I even start writing the actual story.  I'm also going to dust off my art skills and attempt to do a cover in the style of those 70's-era S&S books.  I think I can pull that off well.

So, stay tuned for more information on Gorus the Gray!


Paul R. McNamee said...

I've argued (or, maybe just hoped) that e-publishing will allow stories to fall into their natural wordcounts. S-&-S seems to fit its roots better, the shorter novels and novellas.

There is certainly a great gulf when "official" novel definitions are 45-50K words, yet no publisher wants to look at a novel under 85K. (at least, in the current print world)

I think one thing hindering true S-&-S is constant padding and tangents to make a larger wordcount which, in most cases, makes the story weaker and pulls it from S-&-S into a dungeon crawl in novel form.

I know John Maddox Roberts specifically mentioned this, and in at least one of his Conan pastiches, you can clearly see the forced tangent. He didn't want to write it any more than I wanted to read it. But, when in Rome...

Tom Doolan said...

I think you're absolutely right about the padding. Another thing I have seen with that is that the padding consists mainly of internal conflict and the resultant exposition. While this is all fine and dandy, and really makes a good story even better in most cases, I feel that it slides a S&S story out into a more literary vein.

That may seem like a backhanded insult to the S&S genre, but it's not intended to. IMHO, "traditional" S&S is more about external conflict. It's about what the character does, rather than how he feels about it. And sometimes, that's just what I want to read.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think novella length works very well for these kinds of stories. Somewhere around 60 to 65 thousand words seems just right for me for a sword and sorcery or sword and planet novel. I'm excited about this project. Sounds like what I like to read.