If you are an avid fantasy reader, this question has probably come across your mind once or twice. This was at least the case for me when I first discovered my passion for reading fantasy.
I always wondered why fantasy writers would write hundreds and hundreds of pages in their published novels. After a while of contemplating, I finally caved in and decided to investigate these curiosities in depth.
In this article, I will share what I have found to be the most valid reasons why fantasy books are so long.
Fantasy books are long because authors must build the fictional universe from scratch, the fantasy community has grown to expect lengthy novels, and readers want more story content. These reasons have pushed authors to lengthen their fantasy works so that their books are more marketable in the long run.
This is not to say that all lengthy fantasy novels adhere to the reasons listed above. There are some other aspects to consider when determining why a fantasy book is the length that it is. Read further to discover all of the elements that factor into why fantasy books are so long.
Building Up the Fictional World from Scratch
The fictional universes that fantasy authors handcraft require a high volume of content to be described appropriately.
Think about all of the variables concerning the fictional world that a fantasy author must address in the span of a single novel. There are a ton of them!
The writer must describe the environment, the topography, the weather, the culture, the language, the people, the magic system, and the society in a comprehensive fashion.
One weak link in the chain could topple everything that the author has built.
Much time and effort is dedicated to describing this sundry of fictional elements. This time and effort is manifested in the form of an immense number of pages.
This dense amount of content is not meaningless either. The descriptive passages that depict the laundry list of aforementioned elements help to paint a picture for the fantasy reader.
A major point of attraction for fantasy readers is escapism.
If a reader cannot properly envision the fictional world, they cannot properly escape from reality.
Writers are acutely aware of this fact, which is why they are willing to put in the extra work and write additional vivid content to construct the setting properly.
Of course, not all fantasy authors necessarily need many pages to adequately illustrate their fantasy world. But, by the same token, I must also mention that this breed of authors is hard to come by.
The majority of fantasy authors absolutely need those supplementary pages to avidly communicate their imagination to the reader. This extra bit of illustrious explanation translates into longer fantasy books.
Multiple Story Lines From Multiple Perspectives
The complexity of the narrative plays a massive role in the overall length of a fantasy book.
If multiple storylines happen concurrently throughout the narrative, there must be more content to adequately support this intricate story structure.
A book that only follows a single character on a single quest does not necessitate nearly the amount of writing compared to books that feature several character perspectives.
Linking various character arcs into one cohesive storyline demands an extensive amount of writing.
Even if the writing in a multi-perspective book is done relatively concisely, it is still hard to cut down the length to a book that only observes one protagonist.
So why do fantasy authors integrate more characters into their novels if it means more work on their part?
It is simple, really.
More characters equate to more writing opportunities.
More writing opportunities typically translate into a more interesting novel.
Basic, predictable fantasy stories do not make headlines anymore. Instead, the fantasy community craves twists and turns in their readings, which requires a greater depth of content.
The most convenient way for fantasy writers to add more depth of content is to add more variables to the equation. This is why fantasy books have been trending toward multiple characters and multiple storylines.
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No Room for Ambiguity
Very little can be assumed in worlds that are completely designed from scratch. Therefore, novelists must address every nuance in the domain of fantasy to make the story as understandable as humanly possible.
This trend applies to all literary facets in a fantasy work. The author must explicitly describe things like major plot developments, internal workings of characters, subtle themes, elements of foreshadowing, etc.
Any areas of confusion will lead the reader astray, which usually does not make for a good reading experience.
Precise, meticulously written story descriptions call for more length and composition than the average novel.
It is a tedious process to have to explain everything that transpires within the story. Having to translate every figment of the imagination into words requires a lot of words to get the point across!
With non-fiction novels, the writer at least has something to base the narrative on. Unfortunately, fantasy authors have no such luxury.
As a result, the fantasy genre sports some of the longest books in literature.
Authors Fall In Love with Their Worlds
Fantasy readers are not the only ones that can fall in love with the fictional world. People neglect that the fantasy authors themselves can fall in love with the worlds they have built.
When you put your blood, sweat, tears into crafting something from nothing, it is hard to let it go. Your literary creation becomes like a child to you. Closing out the fantasy novel means severing this close-knit relationship for good.
Fantasy writers know this better than anyone else.
Many fantasy authors have a painful time coming to grips with this fact, which is why they draw out their fantasy novels for as long as they can.
They continue to write and write to avoid having to say goodbye to the world they single-handedly brought to reality.
Going through the laborious process of designing a fantasy world from scratch is especially tedious during the beginning stages. Not knowing where the world is going to take you as an author can be extremely intimidating.
Once a fictional world has an established foundation, it only sparks further inspiration and motivation for the writer to keep building layer after layer. It is far easier to continue building upon a fictional world with a solid framework than to construct the framework itself.
This is a subtle fact but an important one to consider for why fantasy books are so long.
Expectations of the Fantasy Community
The expectations of the fantasy community are another major driving factor that spurs on the extensive length of fantasy novels.
At first, not all fantasy novels were very long at all. In fact, most novels in the fantasy genre were geared toward children early on. These fantasy books did not contain very much content so as not to confuse the children.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien set a new precedent for the length of fantasy novels.
As you probably know, The Lord of the Rings revolutionized fantasy, propelling it to new heights and forever cementing the genre into literary legitimacy.
The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book of The Lord of the Rings series, consisted of 480 pages. This was vastly different from the length of other fantasy works at the time.
The success of J.R.R. Tolkien prompted many other fantasy authors to take after his work. This included jam-packing future fantasy works with richer, denser, longer content.
Soon, what was initially perceived to be a temporary trend took steady hold in the fantasy genre. Longer novels became something of a staple in fantasy.
Authors started to see this extra content as a mandatory requirement for success rather than a mere bonus accessory.
This phenomenon has carried on into contemporary fantasy works, such as The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks. Modern fantasy pieces typically feature no less than four hundred pages of content.
Much of this has to do with J.R.R. Tolkien and the expectations that we, as fantasy readers, have pushed on to fantasy authors and publishers.
Long Stories Are What Readers Want
At the end of the day, the best writers give their reading audience what they want. If long stories are what readers want, fantasy writers are going to give them longer stories.
Readers keep on reading faster and faster.
Consequently, they finish their beloved fantasy novels a bit faster than they prefer.
The most dedicated and loyal fantasy fanatics want to be with their favorite fantasy narratives for as long as possible. These novels fuel their lust for adventure and help them to explore the creative reaches of their imagination.
When a seasoned fantasy reader finishes a book series, there is an element of pleasure at seeing the journey through. But, at that same token, there is also an underlying feeling of sadness knowing that you are saying goodbye to some of your most cherished fantasy characters.
I have felt these mixed feelings of happiness and sadness many a time before. Admittedly, it is a difficult sensation to cope with.
This is why fantasy readers demand an exorbitant amount of story content from their favorite fantasy writers. They want to live vicariously through their beloved fantasy characters for as long as possible, even if it comes at the cost of a bit of extra “fluff” in the story.
Additionally, more content typically makes it easier for the reader to immerse themselves in the fictional universe.
Writers with a set limit of descriptive material to work with are at an inherent disadvantage compared to authors with an unlimited amount of subject matter at their disposal. Stories are better able to fully encapsulate the reader when they are bombarded with intricate details.
The characters and the fictional world come alive when the reader is presented with the fascinating little peculiarities that many writers overlook. These small details help the reader dream up the fictional world the way it was meant to be seen.
Furthermore, readers want to get the most bang for their buck.
This last reason lies more on the economic side of things rather than the abstract end of the spectrum. Nonetheless, the logic still applies.
As a hypothetical example, say that you went to the bookstore and only had ten dollars to spend on a fantasy book. If the bookseller only presented you with two options, an 800-page book and a 200-page book, which book would you be more likely to choose?
If you chose the 800-page book, you air on the side of the majority.
Readers naturally gravitate toward lengthier novels, especially if they are on a budget, to get the most out of the money they spend in terms of quantity.
Although the shorter novel may be superior in quality to the lengthier novel, it cannot compete with the more verbose book in terms of pure volume of subject matter.
Are All Fantasy Books Long?
The short answer is no; not all fantasy books are long.
This question is contingent on what you define as a long fantasy book and a short fantasy book. I consider a long fantasy book to be anything that is above 600 pages in length. Anything under 250 pages I consider to be short by fantasy standards.
Of course, your definitions may differ from mine.
Short fantasy books do exist, though in much lesser quantity. Fantasy books that are relatively terser dominate specific fantasy sub-genres more than others.
For instance, abbreviated fantasy novels are a commonality in children’s fantasy. This contrasts markedly with the sub-genre of epic fantasy, where novels are typically hundreds if not thousands of pages in length.
There are exceptions, however.
For instance, the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett are only about two hundred to three hundred pages in length and still qualify as epic fantasy.
So if you are looking for a fantasy novel that is not so densely packed with content, you might be in luck!
Are Long Fantasy Books Even Worth Reading?
The answer to this question ultimately comes down to preference.
In my opinion, there are plenty of long fantasy books that are worth reading from start to finish. In fact, almost all of my favorite fantasy novels are above 600 pages in length. I find that I can engage with the story far better with lengthier narratives relative to abridged ones.
Reading tastes vary from person to person.
It is up to you to figure out what types of novels suit you best. The only way to discover this for yourself is through trial and error.
If you want my advice, I would recommend challenging yourself at least once and picking up a longer fantasy novel. You might surprise yourself with a newfound lust for fantasy reading.