Does length matter?
Of course it matters (and not only if you forget how short your cute new skirt is, and bend over), but exactly how it matters depends on mood, desire, whim, commitment level, and even the comfort of your bed. So many factors to consider. Sometimes you want it long and thick. Sometimes, not so much.
No, I’m not talking about collecting sex-toys of different sizes to suit your whim de quim (although I support that idea) or whether longer or thicker has more to do with how much fun you get from a particular cock.
I’m talking about short stories versus novellas versus novels. And since my mind spends so much time in the gutter I pay income tax to the Rat King of the Sewers, I’m talking specifically about erotic versions of the above.
But the cock/fiction analogy doesn’t really hold, other than the appeal of being able to weave some penis and sex-toy innuendos into what’s basically a post about reading and writing. Stories, novellas, and novels aren’t very much like cocks. They’re more like sexual encounters, or even relationships.
Whether you’re the reader or the writer, you embark on an adventure that requires more or less commitment, more or less attention. You’re exploring, seeking pleasure and satisfaction, and often some more complex elements as well… suspense, romance, growth, connection, knowledge. And whether you’re the writer or the reader, the other “partner” is with you, not just along for the ride, but the reason for the ride. Readers can’t read without writers. And writers can certainly write without an audience, but like masturbation, it’s a different form of gratification than having a partner, a lover… a reader. (Not always worse, but different, and after a while it can get lonely and frustrating.)
You don’t want the same thing from every literary “relationship.” Luckily, readers and writers can enjoy variety without guilt, regret, confusion, calendar-juggling, or anything worse than lots of bookstore charges on the old credit card bill. Reading and writing are wide open to explore—although after a while you may find you have definite preferences, as you do in the bedroom.
Sometimes you want a quickie, a little slice of something sexy and fun. Maybe you want to rev up for a real-life date, or to make the most of a quick pocket of alone time to, well, get yourself off. Maybe you want to explore something a little different, say BSDM or Rubber Sex, but don’t to commit to something long and involved when you’re not sure you’ll like it. Short erotic fiction is what you want then. It can be a flash-fiction quickie, the reading equivalent of a stolen encounter in the supply room, or the slightly more leisurely 2500-word afternoon delight where you have time for some foreplay, some tenderness, some connection, but it’s still really about the action. Or maybe you’ve managed to set aside more time for your “encounter” and can enjoy 4000-6000 words, like the Black Lace Wicked Words anthologies…more setting, richer characterization, more depth, and of course more sexy details. It's like having a leisurely date where you take the time to tease and flirt and get to know each other better before going home to rip each other’s clothes off.
I’m talking from a reader’s perspective here. It’s all different if you’re the writer. Those flash fictions? Minutes to read, incredibly hard to write well, like a poem that may have only a hundred words but takes a dozen revisions to get right. (Then again, an excellent quickie expends a lot of energy in that short time!) Longer short stories, on the other hand, run the risk of bringing a moving van to that first date and setting up housekeeping on your computer. The world-building and character development take over and the next thing you know you have a budding novella or novel on your hand. Which, like a serious relationship, is a wonderful thing if you’re ready for it, but potentially daunting if you’re not.
A novel, whether you’re reading it or writing it, is a more serious commitment. An erotic novel, like a long-term relationship, may be drenched in sex, but it has a lot more going on and probably needs to appeal on more than just the gut sexual level to keep you involved. In the case of the novel, it could be a mystery, werewolves and witches, a touch of fantasy, a great love story, an interesting setting, or simply fascinating, flawed characters complicating their lives in ways that compel you to keep reading. (I was going to link to examples of each, but there are too many, even among the LustBiters, let alone other favorite writers.)
With so many ways to entertain ourselves these days, reading a book takes time, commitment, willingness to set aside other distractions to finish it. There’s risk: It could be a stinker that frustrates you in the end, or conversely so good you stay up all night or read past your bus stop and end up late for work. Like a relationship, it could make you laugh or cry or think about things in a new way or get so turned on you can’t think at all—all of the above, if you’re lucky. Will you open that cover, read that first page, and take that chance? Or has your heart been broken too many times by novels that started out promising and petered out into boredom or worse?
For a writer, it’s worse. I don’t know if a better analogy is the obsessive lust/lust stage of a new relationship (because you can’t think about anything else, can’t sleep, eat, breathe without it somehow connecting back to the beloved/Work in Progress), or to marriage. Of course one hopes a marriage will last forever, while writing a book will come to an end—but a novel, like a committed relationship, is a huge undertaking that requires a lot more work than you’re likely to consider when you leap into it, excited and blinded with passion for your story and characters and oblivious to the reality of dirty laundry and snoring, or rather “mid-book sag” and revisions. And like any relationship, you can’t neglect your novel too long, or the Muse may pack her suitcase, slam the door, and leave in a huff. (Fortunately I was a quicker learner about marriage than I was about novels.)
And what about novellas, you may ask. To me, as both a reader and a writer, novellas are the ideal length for an erotic tale. (Unless, of course, you’re in the mood for something shorter or longer. I like variety! How about you?) For readers, they’re like that two-week vacation in Tuscany with your beloved and without the kids. You can immerse yourself in another world, one full of sensuality and passion and wild sex and larger-than-life romance—but in a short burst that fits easily into your busy life. And unlike that perfect romantic vacation, you won’t have to wait years and save up scads of money to enjoy another one. Just find another likely collection, or download a juicy-looking ebook, curl up in your favorite comfy chair, or in bed with a big pile of pillows, and set off on another sexy adventure!
For me as a writer, novellas allow far more depth and scope than a short story, but offer a little more “instant gratification” than the seemingly endless process of writing a novel. (The only thing I love more than sending off a manuscript is getting a contract back for one!) They also create interesting technical challenges. In Lady Sun Has Risen, for instance, I had to convey enough of my fantasy world to make it real for readers, but not so much that the details bogged down the story. The first draft was too sparse. The second was too long, cluttered with too much mythology and made-up history. The third was apparently the charm.
And while I can’t speak for anyone else, I find that in writing a novel, I can either get carried either by the sex scenes, including snippets that, while smoking hot, have nothing to do with the plot (I’m fairly sure I lost the plot altogether on one novel that’s waiting to be revised—a lot—but boy howdy there’s some great kinky sex going on!), or conversely make the overarching plot so complicated that it might become a good book of some kind, but it’s not going to be erotica or romance because the main couple is too busy saving the world to hook up. Because I know I have a shorter word count in a novella, it’s easier for me to focus, to find the right balance between hot sex and good storytelling to satisfy on both counts.
So, readers and writers, what do you think? Is there a perfect length for tales of lust (with or without the romantic ending) or is that, like the perfect date, subjective and dependent on the situation?
Monday, June 2, 2008
Does length matter?
Posted by TeresaNoelleRoberts at 2:00 AM