Here’s a post at CounterCraft: Novels and Novellas and Tomes
The novel is an extremely flexible form. It can come out in countless shapes, include infinite content, and end up almost any length. Let’s call the lower limit of a novel 40,000 words. Long novels like Infinite Jest and The Stand are more than 10 times that length …
Take high fantasy, a genre famous for its massive tomes ever since Tolkien. Even those tomes have grown longer as the decades have passed. The last individual volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has close to the same wordcount (422k) as all three volumes of Lord of the Rings combined (480k)! There’s been similar bloat in children’s fantasy. The Narnia books were all 39k to 64k in length, novellas to short novel range. Compare that to the volumes of His Dark Materials (109-168k per volume) and Harry Potter (74k-257k). …
In general, popular genre fiction—thrillers, mysteries, etc.—and commercial fiction tends to be longer than so-called literary fiction these days, although all genres of novels became more bloated in the second half of the 20th century. Then again, pre-20th century novels were often quite long. Charles Dickens novels like Great Expectations (183k) and Bleak House (360k) or Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (126k) or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (183k) and other novels of that era were frequently tomes by even today’s standards.
Okay, first, did anybody realize that any Narnia books were that short? Or that all of them were that short? I didn’t.
Second, I think it’s about time to quit defining 40,000 words as a novel. Good grief. If you’re under half the average length of a novel, let’s just re-define the categories and call that a novella. If it were up to me, hmm, I think I’d say that a novella is from 30,000 to, say, 50,000 words. Or even from 40,000 to 60,000. I know, I know, there would be lots of argument about that.
But I don’t actually care about how long novellas are at the moment. These are the phrases in the linked post that caught my eye: “similar bloat in children’s fantasy” and “all genres of novels became more bloated.”
My immediate response: It’s not bloat as long as the length works for the story. This is true no matter how long the finished work may be.
It is bloat if the story would clearly have been better if cut by 30,000 words or more. I grant that the last volume of the Harry Potter series did strike me as bloated; I thought in particular that the wandering-in-the-forest scenes could and should have been cut from a hundred pages (or whatever; they seemed absolutely interminable to me) to about three paragraphs.
Now, in contrast, let’s consider how far above its ideal length, say, Victoria Goddard’s The Hands of the Emperor might be. This is listed as 970 pp. I suspect that is Kindle-edition normalized pages. The hardcover is listed at just about 900 pages. Is it too long? How much too long? I would personally say that it could have been trimmed, but not that much; if certain aspects of the plot had been revised a trifle, it could have been trimmed farther, but would still have wound up very long. But it is not bloated. There were zero scenes I wanted to skim or skip.
I’m realizing now that this is how I define a book as bloated — not at all by length, but by whether I want to skim or skip over a significant part of the story. I mean, skim not because I don’t much care for a scene, but because I’m bored by a scene. Say, the first or second time I read it. Depending on the book, I may skip or skim a lot more when I’m re-reading a book for the ninth time. That’s different, obviously.
So, I define bloat mostly by whether I want to skim across boring transitional scenes, and also partly by whether I think the book would have been objectively improved by cutting a hundred pages or more.
Out of curiosity, did any of you find that you skimmed forward across scenes in Tarashana? I really am curious. One beta reader got the specific request: Please tell me if you find yourself skimming. She didn’t, but I wonder if anyone else did? The length of that story suits me personally, but as a rule, I prefer long novels both as a writer and as a reader. I realize not everyone feels the same way. It’s 210,000 words. I’m sure the author of the linked post would refer to it as bloated. But I did cut about 100 pages from the first finished rough draft. That’s where in my own opinion I got read of the parts that should have been cut.
I’ve also been thinking of the first book of the Tenai — Death’s Lady — trilogy as a novella. But it’s not, technically. It’s 63,000 words. That’s a little over 200 pages. Does that seem like a novella to you all? I can think of short, tight novels that are shorter than that. But this seems very short to call a novel.
The second book is 95,000 words. The third is 135,000 words. If you don’t think about length in words, then it’s easy to translate this into pages: as you go through the series, each book is just about 100 pages longer than the previous one. The whole thing put together is the longest single work I’ve ever written — 293,000 words; about 900 pages. Even if you cut off the semi-independent first book, the other two comprise a single story of 230,000 words. Again, bloated? Well, you can shortly be the judge, but obviously I don’t think so.
So — what defines “bloat” for you? Length as such? Unnecessary length? Saggy scenes that you skim over? Or something else?