The Death of the Long Read: Is the Writing on the Mobile Phone Wall?

(⚠ Rant alert!)

The reviewer’s comment on the initial chapters of my story left me shaking my head: 

Keep doing what you’re doing in terms of world building and magic because that’s definitely awesome… but make your chapters shorter with smaller, more easily readable sentences otherwise it’s too straining and slow-paced.


Before Wattpad pulled the plug on the community writers forum (that’ll be a rant for another day), one of the most common thread questions posted was “What should the word count of my novel’s chapters be?”

Time and time again, between 800 to 1200 words was the sweet zone most recommended by Wattpad.  The reason given?  The majority of readers are on mobile phones and cannot handle / follow / make sense of anything longer in one go.  So what does that mean for writers wanting to share novels with an audience online?

When I refer to the death of the long read, that’s what I’m talking about, book-length novels; full blown multi-chapter stories where ‘smaller, more easily readable sentences’ could never build the foundation of a descriptive paragraph –let alone build a magical fantasy world.

Yes, I often compose long sentences (see right above). I’ve never met a semi-colon or em-dash I didn’t like. But I write prose, not data bytes. My fantasy story chapters range anywhere from 2500-5000 words on average. The mere thought of constraining myself to an 800 word “chapter” just so it can be screen-swiped through fast and easy makes me shudder, if not weep.  

Is anyone reading this blog on a phone screen right now feeling insulted by Wattpad’s assumption? Am I being a dinosaur here? Or is it true fewer people read “long-chaptered” novels on their platform because of an inability to read anything except in short, rapid bursts when on a mobile phone? Say it isn’t so.

Perhaps the fundamental question is whether a mobile phone screen lends itself to reading books at all.  I think it can.  Why not?  Reading off a mobile phone screen needn’t mean traditional story writing is doomed to R.I.P (in this case “rest in pieces”), does it?

What I am certain of is that I want to craft stories, not dispense them.  And if it means people won’t read my works because they contain too many long sentences and lengthy chapters, so be it.  I write as I think and I’m not going to change now.  Am I being stubborn? Probably.  Do I need to get with the times? No, because I trust the earnest reader to embrace the story and adapt to the medium of their choice, not the other way around.  

Any writers or readers care to weigh in? Please comment below.

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October 24, 2020 05:02

Your fan base has only grown because you stayed true to your individual writing style. Don’t change and keep up the great work!! Especially the YH/BQ stories 😍!!

Elisabeth Long
Elisabeth Long
October 24, 2020 09:27
Reply to  nyct_cobrel

I want to develop and improve my writing but certainly not at the expense of my individual style. No worries there. Like I said, I’m stubborn, lol 🦖. No “one size fits all” pigeonholing of storywriting is going to keep me from spinning a good yarn the way I like.

October 24, 2020 02:01

That’s just bonkers!!! I read novels on my phone all the time. Long sentences doesn’t bother me. What’s important is the narrative flows well and conveys the story that’s being told. Long sentences are there to create the scenarios and imagery required to tell a great story. You definitely is not a writing dinosaur.

My opinion is there is a trend for shortcuts in everything because of the mistaken perception that people’s attention span is getting shorter. I believe that if the story is good, the reader will stick to reading it.

You’re a great writer and don’t compromise your writer’s integrity to kowtow to the likes of Wattpad

Elisabeth Long
Elisabeth Long
October 24, 2020 09:10
Reply to  jayredj65

A trend for shortcuts in everything… I believe you hit the nail on the head. I truly fear the day beloved classic stories are edited for length of content in order to be read online. Imagine? As for me and my humble stories, I will continue to work on improving my writing. There is always room to learn and grow with practice and constructive feedback. But I will not change my style for the likes of “shortcutting”.

Carol S Cunningham
Carol S Cunningham
October 23, 2020 19:24

I love all of your works I have read on Wattpad and would hate to see you change your style. I read on my laptop and phone and don’t care how long the stories are as long as they are well written. Of course, maybe I’m a dinosaur too.

Elisabeth Long
Elisabeth Long
October 23, 2020 19:49

Dinosaurs unite! Lol. Thank you for the kind compliment ☺. I’m with you. If I’m enjoying someone’s well-written story, it doesn’t matter to me one bit how long it is regardless if I’m reading it on my phone or my computer!

October 23, 2020 18:45

This is actually a topic that’s been on my mind lately. Shorter chapters work well for certain types of stories while longer chapters make sense for others, but I think the general idea of a writer having to abide by a word count is a gross simplification of how storytelling works. Conciseness is important, but shorter sentences does necessarily equate to that. Further, for a writer to have to cut the flow of their story (or on the opposite end, pad out their sentences with unnecessary fluff) in order to to meet some arbitrary chapter length seems too forced and unnatural.

As a reader, I welcome longer chapters when it comes to fantasy/historical novels that are full of visual descriptors, appreciating it even more when I’m reading an on-going web novel that’s yet to release it’s next chapter. If I don’t know when the next update will be, why not immerse myself in the current chapter as long as I can? The one thing I’d say is unavoidable with the rise in mobile reading is reducing the number of sentences per paragraph, since our screens can only accommodate so much text at once.

Elisabeth Long
Elisabeth Long
October 23, 2020 19:34
Reply to  fruitydeer

Gross simplification indeed. Well said.
Storytelling cannot be some formulaic construct of predetermined word count.

Longer chapters are the definite framework of fantasy/historical novels that employ rich description as an example. How can imaginative detail be done justice otherwise?

I really like what you say about how a lengthy chapter in an on-going web novel allows you to immerse yourself in it while you await the next update. It’s pleasurable to be able to do so.

Marie Bisset
Marie Bisset
October 23, 2020 17:39

I couldn’t agree with you more. Imagine reading Tolkien’s LoTR trilogy if it were composed of short 800 word chapters and written with simple, uncomplicated sentences. Much of the breathtaking world of Middle Earth would be lost and all of the nuance would disappear. It would be difficult to become fully immersed in the story. It’s a tale that would never work with such limitations.

I’m not saying short chapters and simple sentences are all bad. There are authors who can utilize them quite effectively. But longer, more complex prose should not be discounted. Language is beautiful and it can be used to create beautiful and complex ideas and images when not constrained to short, simple sentences confined to short chapters. I believe there is a place for a variety of writing styles and all should be embraced and encouraged. Traditional writing should be just as welcome as other formats when read on a phone screen. And I don’t believe authors should feel pressured to limit themselves because of changes in technology or the pace of life.

Elisabeth Long
Elisabeth Long
October 23, 2020 18:04
Reply to  Marie Bisset

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve written short pieces and thoroughly enjoyed doing so. The flash fiction, poems, and one-off chapter stories I’ve done have challenged me to make the most of what I can with brevity. I 100% believe that good sentence/paragraph/chapter/story structure should be a blend of long and short together. And I 100% agree with your final point that changes in technology and the resultant pace of life should not dictate how writers pen their words.