Tag Archives: literary fiction

Asked and Answered

How Long is the Average Book?   A Concrete Answer to a Longstanding Writing Frequently Asked Question

“How long should my book be?”   This is a question that comes up fairly often when working with early writers.   It is a deceptively simple question that’s historically had very little data to help answer it.

A common and generally unhelpful answer is, “As long as it needs to be.”   It’s an answer that is not only hard to implement, but I believe it is also built on the somewhat flawed assumption that if you have to tell an author how long the book is supposed to be, they’re asking the wrong questions.   Another common reference you’ll hear is that the average novel is roughly 100,000 words long, which is sometimes even true.   In reality, book length is dependent on the genre you’re writing in.   100,000 words is about right for Literary Fiction, but is substantially off for Romance, and totally wrong for Humor.

Given the data that we work with every day, I wanted to contribute some concrete, objective data points to the conversation.

Below is a self-contained graphic (in case it needed to be printed) containing the average length of a book in several common genres contained in the 85,000+ titles in the Book Genome Project, such as Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Romance, Fantasy, and Biography.   These are objective data points regarding the average length of books on the market today, as represented by the Genome database.

So there you have it.   Of the 16,284 Romance titles in our corpus, the average length is 76,000 words.   Fantasy is the longest genre, on average, with 122,000 words per book.

First Person vs. Third Person Perspective

We also pulled up a breakdown of those same genres by perspective, as you can see in the graphic, as well.   This is another interesting writing style difference.   The data we use is not really binary, but most books tend to be either overwhelmingly 1st person, or overwhelmingly 3rd person.   Rarely do they fall in the middle (although it is possible).

In general, third person (he said/she said) is a more common form of perspective than first person (I said).   Across the entire corpus (regardless of genre) 69% of the titles in our corpus were mostly or entirely third person, with only about 31% being first person.   What is most interesting to me, though, is that there appears to be a strong genre preference/bias.   Autobiographies & Biographies, for example, understandably contain more 1st person titles than any other genre.

The first person Romance title appears to be particularly rare, for example.

On a final thought, I’ll reiterate that this is NOT a statement of what length or perspective a book should be written in.   We’re not making any qualitative statements in this data, only quantitative.   It’s clear that more books in our database are written in third person perspective than in first person perspective, but we consider this more a statement of a genre’s expectation than anything else.   If a Fantasy fan picks up a novel at random, it’s a fair expectation that it will be in 3rd person more often than 1st.

That said, as an author, it doesn’t hurt to be cognitively aware that your 1st person, 150,000 word Romance epic is going to be breaking the mold of what most Romance readers are used to.   Way to think different.

Aaron Stanton – Founder and CEO, Booklamp.org

You can see more articles like this at http://booklamp.org/ .

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I Feel the Earth Move

Fault Lines: A Novel by Anne Rivers Siddons (William Morrow, $12.99, 352 pages)

In all the world I had never seen anything so strangely inhumanly beautiful.   In this place, man would soon seem simply extraneous.   I shivered.   I did not think I would feel welcome for long in this world where the very earth spasmed and the great trees would not acknowledge my presence.

Between finishing college and starting graduate school, I was lucky enough to have a summer job that involved taking young people camping in the Santa Cruz Mountains in northern California.   This is a unique area – a special place – filled with ancient redwoods and wild animals, including bears, and being there is an other-worldly experience.   If you can’t take a trip there, you may wish to read Fault Lines, which permits the reader to experience the place via the eyes of a Southerner making her first trip to California; and, for good measure, Siddons throws in visits to Los Angeles and San Francisco in this novel about a woman whose life is shaken up – a woman who experiences “an earthquake in the soul.”

Merritt Fowler is a proper Atlanta housewife, married to a succesful physician named Pom, and mother to Glynn, her sensitive sixteen-year-old daughter.   For years she also served as a pseudo-mother to her younger sister Laura, an actress who fled to southern California after finding it impossible to live in the household of the stern doctor Fowler.   Pom turns out to be one of those good men (he provides free health care to the poor of Atlanta) who practices good deeds everywhere except in his own home.   He’s also unable to face reality when his mother – whom he insists be referred to as Mommee – is afflicted by Alzheimer’s and her actions become literally life-threatening.   When Glynn insists that Mommee be placed in a residential care facility, Pom becomes so hostile toward his daughter that Glynn runs away to join her aunt Laura in Palm Springs.

Merritt has been the responsible and forgiving one her entire life, but this single incident permits her to see that her husband has become (in the words of Jackson Browne) a “perfect fool”   She stands up to Pom for the first time, and elects to go and find her daughter and bring her back home.   Once she gets to California, she sees that both Glynn and Laura are different people there than they were in Georgia…  and the environment begins to also take hold of her actions, and of her very being.

In California, Merritt – who is said to resemble the late actress Kay Kendall – realizes that she and her sister and daughter are all viewed as great beauties, even in a city (Los Angeles) filled with actresses.   And she begins to become fascinated with the notion of earthquakes, especially after experiencing her first one.   She’s unaware that the big earthquake, in her personal life, is soon to hit.

Oh, it was such a day, it really was.   A pinnacle day, a ball bearing on which a life turns.

While this novel starts slowly, filled with dialogue that initially seems to be both clumsy and awkward (I had an image of actors practicing their lines off-screen – never able to get them right), the reader’s patience is rewarded with an engaging story that warms up to the point where you don’t want to put the book down.   If Merritt begins as a cardboard figure, she soon turns into a person alive as you or me…  Merritt’s a person – a mature person – who is still trying to find her place in the world.   She’s lost herself in the air somewhere between Atlanta and LAX, and now she has to decide if she’s the Merritt of Old Atlanta or the Merritt of the New West.   The way in which she finds herself will surprise you.

Highly recommended.   Siddons is a writer who wisely pulls her punches before delivering a knockout blow.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “A literary meteor shower…  One great read.”   Detroit News/Free Press

Note: There is one glaring error in the novel.   The college in Santa Cruz is called USC Santa Cruz on page 274, when it is actually the University of California, Santa Cruz (UC, Santa Cruz or UCSC).

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Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s well-known novel Mrs. Dalloway is without a doubt a classic of English literature.   However, it has many characteristics not commonly associated with classics.   It doesn’t take ages to read.   It doesn’t distract the reader with superfluous distractions.   Most importantly, as the book is read, one is irrevocably and achingly aware and understanding of the plights of a woman, out to buy the flowers herself.

This is exactly what the book is about, or its plot at least.   Mrs. Dalloway, an upper-class London socialite goes out to buy some flowers for her big ball that evening.   On the way, she thinks about her life.   About the things that already happened, as well as the things that might happen in the future.   She remembers her old love, who she rejected simply because his passion brought out the worst in her.   She thinks about her husband, her dull, reliable husband, who she feels grounds and protects her from her true self, the unimaginable horror she feels is lurking within.   And finally, she is forced to think about a man just back from the war, a man she doesn’t even know, but who seems to be able to open her eyes with a selfish, yet heroic act of despair.

The tortured soul of Virginia Woolf provides great source for the seemingly flawless, yet sadly disturbed title character.   The stream of consciousness form of the book makes all these seemingly random scenes (yet, is anything in life truly random?) flow through the reader’s mind like a dream.   However, this dream does not tell of fairies and magical places.   It deals with the reality and such things as wars and the effect they have on individuals, as well as on the collective consciousness, the choices one has to make in life, the difference between life and death, and the lengths one is willing to go just to find a piece of mind.

RATING:   5/5

This review was written and originally published by Nikola.   You can see more reviews at Nikola’s Book Blog, http://cunninghamfan.blogspot.com/ .

 

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