How Long Should a Novel Be?

The Dark Of Midnight by Stephen MertzHow long should a novel be?

How long should a short story be?

Mr. Shakespeare opined that, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and anyone who’s sat through a politician’s speech that was too long (aren’t they all?) or read a novel that had just too many pages would be inclined to agree. As a reader, I suspect I read too many taut, compelling thrillers as a teenager by writers like Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane, who more often than not were able to get the job done in less than 200 pages.

What got me thinking along these lines was recently finishing the first short story I’d written in quite awhile. I’m a novelist. It’s the medium I’m most comfortable working in. The short story form is demanding because, if you have something to say, it requires that it be compressed. My novels vary greatly in length. Those in my Kilroy detective series and in my M.I.A Hunter action series a have a compact length that reflects my early appreciation of those great economic writers of the past. My standalone thrillers (The Moses Deception, The Castro Directive, etc), incorporating as they do elements ranging from biblical history to geopolitics, benefit from a more expansive presentation. And here I was, having put time and energy into a brand-new story that I was really proud of . . . and it was only 10 pages long, birthed into a world practically void of short story markets.

The good news: that new story, “Eagle Park Slim,” made it into my latest short story collection from Wolfpack Publishing, The Dark of Midnight, which happily was still in production when the story was completed.

Reminding me of another Shakespeare chestnut: “The play’s the thing.”

What’s the ideal length for a story or novel? As long as it needs to be . . .


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