Short or long?

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poleboy
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Short or long?

Postby poleboy » Fri Aug 08, 2008 8:13 am UTC

While I do enjoy an epic journey now and again, I've always felt that short stories are the best fiction available today. A lot of authors seem to have the idea that their books must be a certain length to be accepted by readers, inviting bland filler characters and derailing the plot for no particular reason. I blame romanticism, personally. The long-winded ramblings of self-absorbed artists of that period still echoes through modern literature. There is good romantic literature, certainly. There is even some great stuff (Blake, for one).

I have rarely read any modern artist who did not get his point across and told a story in a more enjoyable way through a short story. Lovecraft, King and Gibson are my favorite examples. As soon as you give these guys more than fifty pages to write on, they tend to ramble and lose themselves in their work... and rarely in any enjoyable way. However, I find most of their short stories very enjoyable. Lovecraft in particular, but he was never such a great writer to begin with.
Even Tolkien. I think the Hobbit is a much better book than Lord of The Rings.

So, what do you prefer? Long or short? I would love some examples of huge books that could not have been the same or even better with a few hundred pages cut out.

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Quixotess
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Re: Short or long?

Postby Quixotess » Fri Aug 08, 2008 8:33 am UTC

A Song of Ice and Fire comes to mind, as does the Book of the New Sun. Epic fantasy. Yeah, it can go wrong (Jordan and Goodkind being two horrifying cautionary tales) but when it's right, it's right. I didn't like Cryptonomicon, but it wasn't because of the length--that was one of the things I did like about it. It worked well for that book. Can't think of any non-speculative-fiction novels just now.

Of course, I read to immerse myself, so I generally count length as a plus until proven otherwise.
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Re: Short or long?

Postby pollywog » Fri Aug 08, 2008 9:15 am UTC

I lack the concentration, focus and menory to read any long books, so I have to say short, with very specific examples. Dune, Ice and Fire. I have not finished an actual book in months. I couldn't even read Slaughterhouse 5.
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Re: Short or long?

Postby Amarantha » Fri Aug 08, 2008 11:22 am UTC

I'm always surprised that I don't read more short fiction than I do. I nearly always enjoy the hell out of it, way more than the average novel. My favourite writer, Harlan Ellison, is a short story specialist.

Much as I couldn't put down A Song of Ice and Fire, I have the ability to separate my enjoyment of a work of art from the skill involved (imo, of course) in making it, and despite being totally curious to know what happens next, I didn't find the actual writing particularly special. But then I started reading Dreamsongs, and therein discovered a whole new respect for GRRM's talent as a writer. I had to return the book to the library when I was only a third of the way through it, but I was so impressed that I intend to buy it rather than re-borrow it.

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Re: Short or long?

Postby l33t_sas » Fri Aug 08, 2008 12:20 pm UTC

Good.
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Re: Short or long?

Postby SecondTalon » Fri Aug 08, 2008 2:39 pm UTC

I find myself agreeing with elite sauce. The length is irrelevant. The quality is where it counts. (In my pants.){That's what She said}
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Re: Short or long?

Postby baker's kilobyte » Fri Aug 08, 2008 4:00 pm UTC

Lol.

I think the point though was that lengthening a work often reduces the quality. Honestly, the first thing that came to my mind when I saw this was The Count of Monte Cristo. Despite its considerable length (and, at times, somewhat thick language/writing style), I really enjoyed that novel. Granted, the version I read was abridged, yet still 500+ pages. :shock:

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Re: Short or long?

Postby btilly » Fri Aug 08, 2008 4:13 pm UTC

The right length for the story.

Every story has an appropriate length. Some are naturally short. Some are naturally long. If you take a short story and try to make a book out of it, the result usually sucks. Trying to squeeze a book into a short story isn't much better.

My favorite stories, from Come, Lady Death by Peter S. Beagle to well-known epics, come in all different lengths, shapes, and sizes. But in every case where I've seen the same story written at different lengths, I always prefer one of the lengths strongly to the others.
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Re: Short or long?

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Fri Aug 08, 2008 6:35 pm UTC

Stories should be what's necessary to cover the plot. Stories that excise detail or plotlines unnecessarily can suffer--I think Lord of the Rings would have suffered a lot from this kind of minimalism, for example, because the world-building is such a huge part of it. On the other side, some stories suffer from being overstretched--think of every sequel you didn't like.
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Re: Short or long?

Postby Detritus » Fri Aug 08, 2008 9:19 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:I find myself agreeing with elite sauce. The length is irrelevant. The quality is where it counts. (In my pants.){That's what She said}


The last two books I read were Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Infinite Jest, both something like 1000 pages. Jonathan Strange I finished in under a week and wanted more; I actually picked it up in the middle of IJ because I needed a break from that one. IJ took me months because I usually couldn't read it for more than 20 pages at a time. (I still wanted more at the end of that one, but that was because it finally picked up and also didn't really resolve.)

I think both were excellent, but I'm going to pick up some of DFW's shorter stuff because it seems it would suit him better, and I'm going to get The Ladies of Grace Adieu because YES PLEASE MORE SUSANNA CLARKE. Also I think I'm done with huge novels for a while (he says, Redemption Ark open in front of him...).

Yeah. So, quality.
Then I thought, "Man, I should have just said 'yeah.' "

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Re: Short or long?

Postby Quixotess » Fri Aug 08, 2008 10:03 pm UTC

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell!!!! How could I have forgotten? You are so right. Oh Susanna Clarke, yes please. That's a perfect example.
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Re: Short or long?

Postby TheAmazingRando » Sat Aug 09, 2008 12:43 am UTC

Depends. There can be a poetic charm in how concise a good short story can be, but finishing a long, vast novel is very rewarding. Gaiman works better with short stories than with novels. I haven't read Pynchon's short stories, but I can't imagine his novels being nearly as good without their length.


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