I’ve been reading a science fiction romance this past week. It is very well written and clever. I’m impressed by the writer’s imagination and execution. As an author, when I read another’s book, I usually think one of two things: “I can do that,” or “Damn, I wish I could that.” This person’s SFR is a damn-I-wish-I-could-do-that. She has created things I would not have thought of in a million years. Her knowledge of the world enabling the crafting of metaphor is impressive, as is her command of the English language. I’ve had to look up the definition of a few words, which rarely happens to me.
But you’ll notice I said I’ve been reading it for the past week. It’s an excellent book, but it’s a slow read. It’s about 75K words, which isn’t an enormous length. There’s a lot of techno-wizardry. in the book, and I feel like I have pay real close attention. After reading for a while, my brain gets tired and I want to rest. The book is what I call a dense read.
Quite a few reviewers have said my books are a fast read. I’m not entirely sure if that’s a compliment or a complaint. I don’t write super long novels, but I don’t write super short novellas either. My novels tend to be in the 50-55K range. I think that ‘s a decent length.
So what makes a book a fast or slow read? Obviously a reader can breeze through a 25,000 word novella faster than she can an epic 110,000 word tome, but I don’t think length as much as language and writing style make a book fast or slow. (Imagine reading 25K of contractual language or a technical manual v. 25K of genre fiction).
Complicated or convoluted plots and subplots make for a slower read, as a large number of characters. When it’s a challenge to “keep track” of who’s who and what’s happening, I think that slows the pace of the story.
But, I also think language is a big factor in the pace of a book.
I tend to use short sentences, using verbs to convey description instead metaphor or simile. I probably wouldn’t say “he cantered as fast as the winning horse in the Kentucky Derby.” I’d be more apt to write, “he galloped.” I avoid a lot of pseudo-techno jargon in my sci-fi romance, using just enough to flavor the story without dominating it. Some SFR writers glory in creative spellings of alien names; I try to keep mine easily pronounceable. My character names are alien, but you know how to say them; they’re like foreign names you’re familiar with. Hola, Juan! Bonjour, Jacques!
I think my writing style gives the impression my books are shorter than they are. I’m 71% done with this book I’m reading, which means I’ve read about 53K. It’s taken me a week. I’m pretty sure my 55K Alien Mate can be read in one to two nights.
What do you think? What makes a book fast or slow for you? Do you prefer fast reads or slow ones?