Staying relevant is a desire of any public writer, right? You publish something and you want your work to be read, to get feedback, gratification, affirmation. So, as joy-sapping as it can be, knowledge of the market is important–but it can also be fascinating.
In 2012 Writers Digest said anything over 110,000 words was too long and anything under 70,000 words was probably too short for a fiction novel:
80,000 – 89,999: Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999: Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999: Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999: Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000: Too short
110,000 or above Too long
(With some leniency depending on categories IE: sci-fi and fantasy)
But where are we now? Nearly five years later and still on the wave of the digital e-book and self publishing. Back before the Netflix mobile streaming era, the appropriate time slot for television shows was 22 minutes for a half hour show and 45 for an hour. Anything over that was considered too much detail or story, that audiences wouldn’t care and something needed to be cut to maintain audience attention. (See script writing guides here and here.)
The numbers that cut stories short rose even over the years as the influx of commercial advertisement was in demand. But, in the past three years Netflix shattered the standards and superstitions of appropriate run time with hit shows like Stranger Things or Daredevil, its longest running episode being 61 minutes, 16 minutes over the demanded standard.
As fiction writers where does this leave us? Is it like in the 70s when directors were given more freedom to create the art they wanted rather than what the standard was?
Yes and no.
With E-Books, authors have an ability to create whatever content they want, allowing them to push whatever they want without needing the approval of a publisher. But the caveat to that of course is the over saturation of authors existing now. It, in short, discredits author’s works.
But with this creative freedom, a need to be recognized, and a lack of support from a controlled establishment, there is the idea wonder for the future.
People have been saying that books are dying, and well that may be true it is not true to the extent that people see it as, I think. Less and less people are reading, sure, but are there more people looking for writers?
Consider the television industry again, with companies like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon publishing their own content under their own rules (not having to fill advertisement slot times or adhere to broadcasting cooperation guidelines) there is a new market of stories being created and craved. With the over saturation, then, this new market leads to the need for Good Stories, aka, books and the story tellers.
Is the digital entertainment market shaping the written story industry?
Bring in the idea of gaming, too. Video games, when you think about it, are just interactive stories. You are the character, and you determine the story yet you still have the idea of Story Mode.
The Hero’s Journey
As a writer this excites me, because it means that the stories I want to create can not only be experienced by others, they can be lived by them. But with the rise of the gaming industry, does that mean the collapse of the old written ways?
We haven’t seen it at full capacity yet, but what will it look like when video games are turned into movies like comics are? Where will the need for a book be?
Now here is the last crazy idea. What about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.
Those worlds can only be so cool for so long before the pizzazz wears off, and people need a story to interact with. Where will the fiction writers exist in these worlds? Will they exist or will the dominating forces that drive games be a means-by-gain system (where the story doesn’t matter to players, all players want to do is get better and acquire more in game stuff, Aka, play online.)
The graph above shows how many players actually complete a story mode
Although that shows a depressing amount of people caring about stories, the next graph shows that games are losing attraction. This brings light back to the consideration of the value of stories. Consider Call of Duty (yes the franchise is declining) If you had an online interactive fiction story that (theoretically) never ended, would the games fall of ratings be so progressively high? It begs the question, what do people value more: an online story mode that never ends, or a game mode that can be played over and over?
Because when you really consider it, what is the point of the online modes? To win the round? Again. And again. And again? I think this is what opens up more of the discussion on the direction of Fiction. What is the value of a good fiction story teller? Can one drastically change how people interact with something like a game, or a Virtual Reality experience, or a TV show? Books may see less and less attention, but will story die?
Thanks for joining the reading, now join the discussion. In the comments below let me know what you think about fiction and the direction it is heading.