Why is James Patterson bringing back the dime novel?

James Patterson is launching a new series of shorter novels he calls bookShots.
James Patterson is launching a new series of shorter novels he calls bookShots.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, something happened.

And I don’t know why.

But my writing style changed.

I began writing short.

Then shorter.

I didn’t sit down one morning, stare down at my keyboard, and say, “Well, I think that sentence would work better if it were shorter.

But there they were.

Scattered on the page.

Short words.

Short sentences.

Short paragraphs.

Short chapters.

Shorter books.

Jump into the story.

Don’t tarry.

Leave when the story is told.

Now, apparently, the great James Patterson sees short as the future of novels.

Patterson is launching a whole new line of books.

He calls them BookShots.

They are short, 40,000-word novellas designed to be read quickly and cheaply and at one sitting.

You can race through these, Patterson says.

They’re like reading a movie.

He calls them stories at the speed of light.

Patterson says he wants to tap into a new market: the twenty-seven percent of Americans who have not read a book of any kind in the past year.


Books, they say, are too long.

Hardcover books, they say, are too expensive.

In reality, Patterson is bringing back the dime novel. Whatever he does, listen to him. After all, Patterson and his writing team have published a hundred and fifty six novel that have earned more than three hundred million dollars.

In today’s hectic, fast-paced, impatient world, there’s no reason to write long when short can do the job much better.

For example, I no longer write a chapter describing the sunset.

I merely wrIte: “The sun fell red like blood beyond the trees and into the river.”

No more.

No less.

I don’t need to write a thousand words to describe the sun going down.

We’ve all seen it go down.

We know how it looks.

More and more, I am embracing the admonition that’s it’s best to enter a story late and leave early.

Others in the writing profession have been doing it for a long time.

As August Wilson said, “The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is.”

And Josh Billings pointed out, “There’s a great power in words if you don’t hitch too many of them together.”

Even Thomas Jefferson had an opinion: “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

As far as Baltasar Gracian was concerned, “Good things, when short, are twice as good.”

John Rushkin believed, “Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them, and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”

Said Diderot: “Pithy sentences are like sharp nails driving truth into our memory.”

Mark Twain warned, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”

And Friedrich Nietzsche summed it up by writing: “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”

When it’s all said and done, however, I prefer the insights of Arthur Plotnik and Robert Southey.

Said Plotnik: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside of you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

Southey then drove the point home: “It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”

That says it all.

No need to write anything more.

I’ll quit.

And let Southey’s words burn and be read at James Patterson’s speed of light.

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  • Don Newbury

    Reminds me of a short, short story of how faculty viewed my university presidency. At its end, the faculty presented a beautiful painting to Brenda and me. “Said if I’d retired sooner, they’d have given us two paintings.”….

    • Roger Summers


    • Caleb Pirtle

      And, Don, that makes me wonder how you wound up with three paintings?

  • Roger Summers

    CP3, can’t resist:

    Brevity has its place, in writing and elsewhere.

    Tell you what I mean.

    Lady goes to her local newspaper to place her husband’s obit.

    Lady is told she can have a 10-word obit for free.

    Lady is told she will have to pay for any additional words.

    Lady dictates this obit to the editor:

    “John Doe, 70, died Friday. For sale: Red Ford pickup.”

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Read more like a novel to me, Roger.

  • Shorter is fine – IF and ONLY if you can depend on your reader’s mental database to supply the rest of the story given a few cues.

    I think it makes for a lot of repeated stories. You are depending, when you say ‘the blonde,’ on all blondes being the same – good enough. I, as a blonde, don’t like it. I don’t want stereotypes when I read. Or the reader pulling up and appropriate blonde from his memory that will do. Good enough.

    I don’t want characterization to slow the story – and your sunset image will do just fine. IF it’s good enough and not important to the story.

    But I have an empty feeling at the end if there is not enough to make THIS story different, and THIS character matter enough to change my mental stereotypes.

    So no, Mr. Patterson – you do your thing, and I’ll do mine.

    Besides, if his new ‘books’ are meant for people who never read, then they won’t be repeated stories for those readers. They will be brand new.

    Maybe later they’ll be ready for less generic fare – nothing that improves literacy in general and gets people reading who don’t normally read (such as adults and 5th grade boys) is bad.

    But there are going to be a LOT of stories competing for that market. There were tons of readers who loved the dime novels.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I love a good, strong, solid opinion, Alicia, and you always have one.

      • You calling me opinionated, Caleb? Them’s fighting words.

        I value your comments – they always make me think.

  • Darlene Jones

    Short and sweet. Start where the story starts and end where the story ends – no prologues or epilogues – and no meandering.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      No meandering is the best advice I’ve heard.

      • Darlene Jones

        Thanks, Caleb.

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