this post used to be much longer

I just saw Total Recall a few days ago, pretty much on impulse. I had no expectation that it would be a great cinematic experience and it wasn't, but it was entertaining.

Among its virtues (which are several), one thing I liked was that it was only 109 minutes long.

The primary reason I'm not rushing out to see the new Batman movie is that I wasn't very impressed by the two which came before it. I don't remember anything about the first one, other than that there was a monorail thing and a bomb was going to go off. With the second one, I mostly remember Heath Ledger (which seems to be what most people remember). But a secondary reason I'm not planning to see it (until it's on DVD) is that it's 164 minutes long. That is, if I calculate correctly, two hours and 44 minutes long. Which is pretty damn long for a movie.

As I've talked about before, I'm reading Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon, which is over 1,000 pages long. I'm a little over a third of the way through, and I already have the idea that when I get to the end I will think it could have been significantly shorter. I never thought that about V. or Mason & Dixon (both of which are long, though not as long as Against the Day). Actually, I never thought it about Gravity's Rainbow either. I don't like the ending of GR, but that's a bad-ending problem, not a book-too-long problem.

I'm not against long books or movies as a matter of principle. The Lord of the Rings movies were mostly fine, even in the longer DVD versions. The theatrical versions had pretty much no padding at all, and the extended versions added some really good scenes (and some fluff, too). The book is long, too, and that's just fine as well.

Some people value length for its own sake, though I think this applies to books more than movies. I believe this is related to genre, too. I think some fantasy fans like a really long book, but I've never met a mystery fan who felt that way.

With me, short is a positive, not a negative. When I was writing Stevie One, one of my main goals was to keep it short. A Sane Woman was under 45,000 words, and my goal was to keep Stevie One about that length. Instead, it came in at just over 30,000 words. I felt like pumping my fist in the air and going, "Yeah!" (Actually, it is possible that I did do that.)

So, what do you think? Is more better? Does less equal more?

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6 Responses to this post used to be much longer

  1. I guess it’s been a year, but I’ve covered this topic – at least with respect to book length – before: http://undiscoveredauthor.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/books-of-a-certain-length/

    That said, I don’t see length as a virtue in isolation of all other factors. Nor, for that matter, do I see it as a vice. Length is a factor of a number of inputs. It is the qualities of those inputs that determine whether this is a virtue or vice. Prose that goes on and on and on without going anywhere? That’s length that’s not useful. A subplot that’s boring and doesn’t provide any more insight on the themes of the book? A vice. On the other hand, if the story is such that to tell it properly requires a longer tail, then the length is symptomatic of a virtue.

    The tendancy in Epic Fantasy, I think, toward longer works is mostly out of a desire, I believe, not to tell longer stories but to tell larger stories. And I enjoy that aspect. But I also enjoy a concisely-told and fast-hitting short story.

    • Thanks for the link. I had forgotten that post (though I read and commented on it at the time, including talking about Against the Day 🙂 ).

      As I said, I don’t find book length to be a big factor in deciding what to read (or write — my comment on your post mentions the disparity in size between the two novels I’ve written), but as I read I do evaluate whether a longer book is justifying the expenditure of time. If I’m 300 pages into a 350-page novel and I’m not really grabbed, I’ll push through anyway; if I’m 300 pages into a 1,000-page novel, on the other hand, I may bail out.

      Movies are different because they need to be viewed continuously (talking about movies in theaters), so if a movie is long that is a negative factor in whether I want to see it (though it’s a negative that can be overcome by other factors). With the Avengers, for example, there was padding. Some of it was tedious explosions and CGI (not that CGI and explosions are automatically boring — but Joss Whedon is no Ridley Scott, or for that matter Peter Jackson, in terms of visual imagination). Some of it was Whedon’s heroic effort to make the Black Widow co-equal with her (male, super-powered) partners. I admire the effort to make it less of a “guy” movie, but he was fighting a lot of factors which were out of his control and there was no way he was going to be completely successful. So, I was sitting there in the audience watching (and admiring) his heroic effort, which is not the same as enjoying the movie.

  2. Tiyana says:

    For me, it’s just a matter of preference. One’s not really better or worse than the other.

    I tend to naturally gravitate towards longer works with both books and movies–not ’cause I intentionally seek out long ones; it just turns out that way. I think maybe it’s because longer works give me a lot more (content) to think about…and I do like to think and analyze and turn stuff over and whatnot.

    However, no matter what the length, if most of the novel or movie is failing to capture my interest, I will inevitably quit it.

  3. Ooops, I wrote a response to this a few days ago, and I just noticed that it didn’t make it.

    That is another question, quitting things, because I know some people who think it’s a badge of honor that they always read a book to the end. I’ve heard the argument that it’s not fair to judge a book by the first half.

    For me, in a perfect world, with infinite reading time, I might think that way, too. Maybe. As it is, life is too short, and there are too many books out there. 🙂

  4. I can see the appeal of that “point of pride” in never having not finished a book. But as I get older, I’m much more inclined to agree with you that there are too many books, so a book needs to be worth my time.

    For instance, I’m struggling, right now, with whether I’m enjoying George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” enough to justify continuing reading it… My main justification right now is not that I enjoy it but that it’s so popular that it’s clearly an important book (in my genre) to read, and failing to read it leaves me uneducated on what it does well. Which is a pretty thin justification, but it’s barely enough to keep me chugging (when I’m not reading something else, that is).

  5. I think that is a important consideration. The Martin books are very popular, and it makes sense that you should be aware of them (not necessarily read them all or anything like that — but at least have an education opinion and understanding of why they appeal to people). When I was a professional musician, we devoted quite a bit of time to studying the music scene, which bands were getting signed (and how), which bands were selling, etc.

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