I don’t know how many of you read fantasy, but if you do—or if you ever took a wrong turn in the library (I mean, clicked the wrong link on a website)—you’ll probably have noticed something.
Fantasy books tend to be really, really long.
It’s completely normal for fantasy books to head into the thousand page mark; trilogies are pretty much considered a staple. In fact, it’s kind of accepted that any decent fantasy story needs four books, each eight hundred pages long, to be told.
I’m sure every fantasy reader has their own opinion about this, but I’ve always found it to be annoying. I mean, it really isn’t necessary to devote an entire page to describe a sunset or write out the full lyrics to a drunken bar song—or, for that matter, to stretch every plot point into multiple chapters. I find myself skimming—a lot—when reading fantasy.
Which got me thinking. Why do fantasy authors do this? The official answer is, “Well, that’s fantasy for you,” which is about as meaningful as when your subway train is stalled in the tunnel and they tell you it’s due to traffic, even though you waited ten minutes for that train and there wasn’t a single train before it. Sure, us fantasy fans love vivid worlds filled with dynamic characters, but there comes a point when crucial world-building becomes needless filler that just drags everything down. What makes a writer lose sight of the fact that their work is in dire need of some good editing?
A while ago, I came up with an answer. Simply put, writers like to write and readers like to read—and those two urges aren’t always the same. As a writer, we’re driven to create—to write something profound, something beautiful, something truly unique. We want to play with sentences and form staggering mountains of pose, to write sweeping, majestic masterpieces that will forever be remembered.
As readers, we just want to enjoy a good read.
And here’s the funny thing. As soon as I realized that, I started noticing how insidious that urge to forget about the reader and just write really is. I’ve lost track of the amount of times that I’ve leaned back, satisfied from finishing a truly masterful piece of writing, and looked at my work through a reader’s eyes—only to lunge forward, staring in horror at the unholy mess I created.
Reading fantasy has taught me to ask myself two questions—two questions that, weirdly enough, tend to get very different answers. One, I think, is instinctive to us as writers to ask: am I proud to have written this? But then comes the next question—one that is much harder to answer.
If someone else had written this . . . would I read it?
Thanks for reading, but this blog post is only the beginning. Now it’s up to you. What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree? Have I completely missed my mark? Let me know in the comments!
Eli Landes is one of those weird writers who just can't get enough. A marketing writer by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time, he spends his spare time working on his novel, writing short fiction, or daydreaming (I mean, researching). His main genre is Jewish fiction, but he's been known to dabble in the weird, the absurd, and the truly dark.