Sword & Sorcery: "An earthier sort of fantasy" discussion

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Writing, Crafting Dark Fantasy > Length of Sword & Sorcery books

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Are sword & sorcery novels generally shorter than your typical fantasy book? I know they aren't epic tomes and there are many that are short stories or collections of such, but the novels I've been reading lately are all slim paperbacks around 150-160 pages or so as opposed to 300 pages which seems to be standard for typical fantasy.

Is this just the trend or does a sword & sorcery audience expect a quicker/shorter read? Do you readers have an opinion on 150 page vs. 300 page?


message 2: by J.W. (new)

J.W. Kent (jwkent) | 19 comments This seems to be the general trend.... I tend to like shorter books myself.... a book the size of an unabridged dictionary is a little intimidating.....


message 3: by Charles (new)

Charles (kainja) | 428 comments I think somewhere between 60,000 and 75,000 words is about right for most books, but especially adventure novels. That comes out to be between 150 to 200 pages or thereabouts.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Uhh, what about 93K? :D


message 5: by Charles (new)

Charles (kainja) | 428 comments I don't mean I won't read a longer book, only that I find the 65 to 75 K to be just about perfect.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

I kept thinking my target was around 100K, and now I'm realizing I've been overshooting.:-\


message 7: by Charles (new)

Charles (kainja) | 428 comments I do think that mainstream publishers generally like books longer than 80 K. I'm talking strictly as a reader. I pretty much just don't pick up books of 150 K or so. Doorstops like that. I just don't have as much time to read as I'd like.


message 8: by David (new)

David Hayden (dahayden) Are we talking new books or old? Classic sword and sorcery is typically in the 60k range but most othe genre novels were that length as well at the time. Most publishers these days want 90k or more.


message 9: by S.wagenaar (new)

S.wagenaar | 393 comments I think because many of the old school S&S novels were printed in the 60's-70's, they were about the same length as most fiction sold at that time. There were some epic length historical or gothic novels, for sure, but by far most paperbacks sold on spinning wire racks were a slim, easy to digest 150-200 pages. Just right in most cases.


message 10: by S.wagenaar (new)

S.wagenaar | 393 comments Also, book size/word count is dictated more by publishers than any need for the writer to use all that wordage to tell the tale. Also, the consumer is looking for the most for the reading dollar. In Canada, mass-market paperbacks run anywhere from $12-$16, a lot of loot. I bet a 150 page paperback would run about $10, and would not sell well today.


message 11: by Robin (new)

Robin (klarkashton) | 110 comments E-books and self-publishing are making shorter books more viable, I think. That's an encouraging sign for sword & sorcery, which works particularly well in the shorter forms, where it's easier to maintain a brisk, action-packed pace.


message 12: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 825 comments I'm getting to the point where I *hate* all the short eBook offerings. Who's going to pay $0.99 for a 12-page eBook?

I had once instance where the first book of a trilogy was 16 pages long! Just write the whole dang thing at once, and you've STILL got a short story.

I've several times suggested to Amazon that they add a new search filter, based on the length of the books.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Well, the short books I'm reading are from the 60's and 70's, but mine I'm about to publish is 93K.


message 14: by Steve (new)

Steve Goble | 100 comments I think the short form is better for sword and sorcery. A sword and sorcery tale demands a certain pace of action and suspense that is difficult to maintain in a lengthy novel.


message 15: by Charles (new)

Charles (kainja) | 428 comments The problem with some of the longer lengths being published today and solicited by publishers, is that there is often some "filler" material that really slows the pace down. I've read long books that were gripping page turners because the 'story' needed that long, but it's not always the case.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I guess I'll find out the hard way when I publish it. :P


message 17: by David (new)

David Hayden (dahayden) I went 85k and 95k for my s&s books. That was the length that felt right for me. I crammed a lot in. If they'd been epic fantasies they would've been twice that length easily, space taken up by pointless viewpoint characters and such.


message 18: by C.B. (last edited Aug 31, 2013 08:14PM) (new)

C.B. Pratt (cbpratt) | 6 comments I like to keep my Eno books around 100K. I want to keep the focus tight, the action popping, and the introspection to a minimum, esp. as they are already first person.

When it comes to reading, I tend to turn away from the 1000 page tomes, unless they are by a good friend or I'm on vacation.

Price point is a tricky subject. You want people to get value for their money. What I don't like is the tendency to call a 'chapter' a 'book', charge a dollar for it and you don't even get a whole story. The author winds up charging $30 - $40 for a 'book', sold one chapter at a time. That's a cheat, in my opinion.


message 19: by Dan (new)

Dan (TheGreatBeast) | 213 comments I won't say that one book or genre has to be confined to specific length of book, because there will always be exceptions. Personally I do prefer short reads, and I would say the average S&S book should be between 100-300 pages. Which is a huge variance, but I just don't imagine huge lengthy tomes of 600-1000 pages working for S&S.


message 20: by Kameron (new)

Kameron (kameronmf) | 16 comments When an editor for Black Gate asked me if I wanted to submit to their new ebook line, he told me they were looking for 60-75k. The FR book I wrote (almost 10 years ago, now) for WotC, which I consider S&S, was supposed to be around 90k (the final manuscript was ~82k, IIRC).


message 21: by C.B. (new)

C.B. Pratt (cbpratt) | 6 comments Books have gotten much shorter across all genres. I remember when they cut from 130K to 100K...a lot of writers had to do serious gut-jobs on already written books. Probably the price of paper has something to do with it.

Only writers with a serious following -- like Martin -- can expect to find an editor willing to commit to a book that will be an inch-and-half thick in paper.

Fortunately, there's no such restriction on e-books, though even there you'll reach a limit based on how much a reader wants to read.


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah, I noticed that distinction myself. All of the old sword & sorcery I picked up is like 150-160 pages whereas all of the WotC stuff I have is right around 300-320. I had been aiming to be in line with the latter.

The price of paper definitely makes a big difference. When I started crunching numbers on doing a print edition of my book shorter started making a lot more sense across the board.

I've seen WotC do some interesting things with font sizes to consistently hit that 300 page mark though. :P


message 23: by Joseph, Master Ultan (new)

Joseph | 1252 comments Mod
I was hoping that eBooks would bring back the Rise of the Novella -- I think there's a lot to be said for stories in the 15-20-30K word range, but that's always been an awkward length for anthologies because you can't get more than 4 or 5 of them in a reasonable-sized collection.

Yes, Michael, that's one thing I remember from back in the day -- going into the bookstore and seeing shelf upon shelf of Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance books, and they were all exactly the same size.


message 24: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moeller (jonathanmoeller) | 9 comments Joseph wrote: "I was hoping that eBooks would bring back the Rise of the Novella -- I think there's a lot to be said for stories in the 15-20-30K word range, but that's always been an awkward length for anthologi..."

YMV, I like novellas, but I strongly suspect most people prefer longer stuff most of the time. Of the self-published ebooks I've sold, the vast, vast majority of them have been full-length novels, and most of the readers I've talked seem to prefer books in the 70,000 to 90,000 word range.


message 25: by Charles (new)

Charles (kainja) | 428 comments In a similar vein, I've not found that collections of stories up to 20,000 or so words to sell very well as ebooks, so I think the novel length is more attractive to many people. I am myself a big fan of novella's though.


message 26: by Dave (new)

Dave (dcr_writes) | 19 comments My own S&S novel clocked in at about 100k, which I think was about right. I'm currently working on a ZeppelinPunk story and that's looking like it will come in around 30K or so...

After that it's on to another S&S novel(sequel to the first, and I'm thinking of about 85-100k for that one.

I know the classics of the field are much shorter, but I don't know if I could do it justice in 60k.


message 27: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 761 comments Way back in the day, when sword and sorcery was the predominate subgenre of fantasy, books in general were shorter -- about 60k was typical.

The length has been inching up for marketing purposes.


message 28: by Andy (last edited Aug 29, 2015 10:55PM) (new)

Andy Farman I am old fashioned, I think 100k words is the minimum requirement for a novel.
Far too many chapter sized 'novels' out there and carrying price tags that, at first glance, deceive a buyer into thinking they are getting their money's worth.

I know that traditional publishing has an unavoidable 100k word maximum for first time writers but I raised two stiff digits to traditional publishing a long time ago.

Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring: 187k
The Two Towers: 155k
The Return of the King: 131k

A Song of Ice And Fire - George R. R. Martin
A Game of Thrones: 284k
A Clash of kings: 326k
A Storm of Swords: 404k
A Feast for Crows: 300k


message 29: by Jase (new)

Jase (jase811) | 5 comments For Swords & Sorcery I prefer novels of about 160 pages such as Lin Carter's Thongor series and John Jakes' Brak the Barbarian. I think the longest S&S book I read is the combined "Swords Trilogy" which is great but took a few extra reading sessions to complete. Any longer than that I would consider "Epic Fantasy" or perhaps "High Fantasy". S&S is a very specific genre and length of the story or novel should be considered standard.


message 30: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman Speak for yourself.


message 31: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman Mary wrote: "Way back in the day, when sword and sorcery was the predominate subgenre of fantasy, books in general were shorter -- about 60k was typical.

The length has been inching up for marketing purposes."


The length has been inched up to make a better read.


message 32: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman Charles wrote: "I think somewhere between 60,000 and 75,000 words is about right for most books, but especially adventure novels. That comes out to be between 150 to 200 pages or thereabouts."

I won't by a book that is less than 100k words


message 33: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman C.B. wrote: "Books have gotten much shorter across all genres. I remember when they cut from 130K to 100K...a lot of writers had to do serious gut-jobs on already written books. Probably the price of paper has ..."

Mr Martin is such a good writer that a publisher would be cutting his own throat by not printing the book.
He sells.
End of story.
(Pun intended)


message 34: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 761 comments Andy wrote: "The length has been inched up to make a better read. "

Some stories are better at a longer length, but some are better at a shorter one, and can make it longer only with padding.


message 35: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman Mary wrote: "Andy wrote: "The length has been inched up to make a better read. "

Some stories are better at a longer length, but some are better at a shorter one, and can make it longer only with padding."


The first fantasy books were dime novels, pocket sized for ease and you got what you paid for. Some writers, of course, wrote a more engaging story than others. As literacy levels flourished in the first half of the twentieth century, and wages increased as the great depression abated, readers began asking for more, hence the increased word count.
The 100k word mark allows the optimum number of books to be packed in shipping boxes and fitted onto bookshelves in the stores.

A shorter story may be enjoyable but it will be forgettable and not epic. People like escapism and so 'epic' appeals to many. Lord of the Rings is far better known than Conan. (the geezer with the sword, not the ginger presenter.)

Content is entirely subjective, what some consider 'padding' others will see as depth and detail.

No two writers see a story in the same way and no two readers will visualise it in the same way either.
Vive la différence, in my opinion.


message 36: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 761 comments Andy wrote: "A shorter story may be enjoyable but it will be forgettable and not epic."

Many short stories have outlived "epic" works.


message 37: by Andy (last edited Nov 14, 2015 10:01AM) (new)

Andy Farman Such as?

Whatever you say, I will counter with The Iliad (179K) and The Odyssey (117k) and both over 2800 years old.
:)


message 38: by S.E., Gray Mouser (last edited Nov 14, 2015 10:07AM) (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 2304 comments Mod
Andy,
Most here would argue that Robert E Howard, H P Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith.... Wrote almost exclusively short stories and their work predates (inspired actually) much of contemporary epic fantasy.

The Iliad and Odyssey are fine and epic. Merely different forms of literature. If the question is "which form came first?" ... I won't argue. But if the question is "can short stories have longevity...and perhaps more so than novels?" than the answer is clearly yes.


message 39: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman Mr Howard started off as a pulp fiction writer, banging them out for a wage but he wrote a better story than most.
As I already said, people wanted more and the 6"x 9"novels, of twice the word count and more, came into being to meet that demand.
Nobody wrote Conan better than Mr Howard, but he was exceptional.


message 40: by S.wagenaar (new)

S.wagenaar | 393 comments I cannot comment on many of today's huge epics of fantasy because I don't read them. I find them too overstuffed and wandering to hold my attention for long. I prefer my S&S short and fast. Short story collections or novels running about 150-200 pages. Don't get me wrong, I do read some longer books, like Wilbur Smith's historical adventures, and like them a lot. I find that many books have bloated word counts due more to marketing than actual story requirements. I would rather have a great, fast-moving adventure of 200 pages than an over-stuffed epic of 1000 pages, even if the price tag was the same...


message 41: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman The last epic fantasy I read was the LOR saga but SF, in particular, has some worthy epics.
I can enjoy a 1000 word story but it is better if that thousand words is published as a trilogy.
Series writing is a different discipline, much harder to keep the threads fresh and engaging, and of course the writer has to recognise when he is just regurgitating because he has run out of ideas.

Each to their own. I have never read a short story without feeling it was pointlessly brief.
I liked an epic to escape into during the trials of commuting to work on public transport.


message 42: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman Michael wrote: "Are sword & sorcery novels generally shorter than your typical fantasy book? I know they aren't epic tomes and there are many that are short stories or collections of such, but the novels I've been..."

Hi Michael,
Good debating thread, you have put up!


message 43: by S.wagenaar (new)

S.wagenaar | 393 comments I can totally understand where you are coming from; it's fun sometimes to be totally and completely immersed into an epic adventure on an epic scale. Can't be done in the short story format.
But traditional S&S is usually on a much smaller scale with one or two plot threads over a shorter period of time. These types of action-oriented minimal world-building tales just don't need all the detail or lavish description required for the likes of LOTR. And work well in the shorter format. Epic fantasy and S&S are two very different forms of the fantasy genre.


message 44: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman Mr Howard's recipe was simple
1/ Beautiful damsel/princess/thief/prostitute... in distress, of course.
2/ Conan's stated aim for the story, ie, Get drunk, or, steal something fabulous.
3/ Stated aim thwarted by beautiful thief or wicked wizard with licentious designs on a damsel or princess.
4/ Breaks heads, kills wizard, gets the girl then dumps her before riding off poorer than he started.

(Of course, he told it more inventively)


message 45: by S.wagenaar (new)

S.wagenaar | 393 comments Sounds good to me...


message 46: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman I never could understand how the later writers of Conan, just didn't get that.

Booty, Beauty, Booze and Black magic (with a few "Crom!" oaths for good measure.)


message 47: by S.wagenaar (new)

S.wagenaar | 393 comments Yes sir, I like cheese...


message 48: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 2304 comments Mod
I echo the lauding of cheese


message 49: by Andy (new)

Andy Farman Fortunately, Camembert and Parmisan are not S&S, one is a book of non-rhyming poetry and the other is anything written by Andy McNab.


message 50: by S.wagenaar (new)

S.wagenaar | 393 comments I like Andy McNab, light and fun reading. Cheesy-oh yeah, but satisfying in it's own special way!
As a matter of fact, I generally prefer writing that is looked down upon by the "literary elite". You know, pulp adventure, S&S, sword and planet, horror (80's style!) and the dreaded "men's adventure series" from the 70's and 80's. Good clean fun...


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