What makes a book a ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ read?

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?

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4 Responses to What makes a book a ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ read?

  1. Nicole Wetherington says:

    Very true. I have noticed this as well. When I read fantasy it takes longer since it’s so much information and world-building that I have to wrap my head around and also so much more descriptions for everything so it takes time to picture it in my head and set the scene up. The transition from character to character slows me down too since I have to switch to a different head space and scene.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Some scenes are so easy to visualize; others take work. The more detailed the world-building, the more work it takes to visualize. When the author leaves more to the reader’s imagination, the reader can move through the book quicker, I think.

  2. Diane Burton says:

    I can’t imagine slogging through a book filled with techno-words or so many characters that you can’t keep them straight. I’ve had to read literary books for my book group and couldn’t get through some because they are “dense” (which is a good descriptive word, btw). I prefer a fast read. As you say, short sentences, shorter books. Life is too short to continue reading a book that I’m not interested in. I wonder how you’ll feel when you get to the end. Was it worth it?

  3. S.J. Maylee says:

    Great post! Thanks, Cara. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. My preferences can shift depending on what’s going on in my own life. Typically if things are crazy, I want a fast read, but sometimes it takes a dense read to get me out of my own head. Lol. This is one of the reasons I usually read a couple books at a time. 🙂

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