Years ago I watched and was very impressed by the movie, “The Naked Jungle” with Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker. The set up had everything a romance should; a man who has carved an empire out of the South American jungle during the early part of the 20th century but hasn’t had time for anything else including women or relationships (which means he's a 34 year old virgin) and the caring but feisty widow he ends up with who is surprised to find he’d requested a virgin. Their go-between, who knew them both very wisely decided to neglect certain information in both cases thereby insuring a very interesting story.
Heston’s character was hungry for what he wasn’t getting, a wife and a glimpse of a world so outside his own realm that he literally wanted to devour them both. In the process of achieving his goal, he has built a house and furnished it with expensive furniture and an entire library of books that he’s bought by the pound.
I realize that as readers, we are all hungry for a good story and thanks to progress and the internet I don’t have to buy books by the pound to appease my appetite because trust me, it would take more than one boatload. Today, I can be selective and choose what story I want to read, whether it’s a little five or ten-thousand word short story or a full-length novel. When I buy a story, no matter what length, unlike Charlton's character who had no idea what he'd purchased, I have a good idea of what to expect.
To paraphrase a quote I once heard and can’t remember who to attribute it to, “Every story should have a beginning, middle and an end.” I have always assumed that this would be true for any length of story and have been surprised to find many short stories given low marks on reader sites because they found them “too short” and wanted more.
I have to admit my confusion. Do some readers feel cheated monetarily because the story was so short or were they so in love with the engaging characters that they didn’t want the story to end? This is rarely explained and I’m surprised when I see them admit they would have given the story a better rating if it had been longer.
Hmmmm…did the story fall short when it came to setting up the premise? Were the characters introduced somehow lacking in dimension? Did they not have a clear goal and/or was that goal not met or revised to suit the story being told? Was the ending abrupt or did it actually answer all of the questions presented and/or resolve any conflict in a satisfactory manner? Did it deliver the story that was promised according to the blurb or excerpt, which I’m assuming was the reason they’d purchased the story?
If the reader’s problem was with loving the story and not wanting it to end then I believe that the author did her/his job and have to wonder why a reader would penalize it with a lowered rating because of its length. I admit that I am perhaps slightly prejudiced in favor of giving full marks to the author who has managed to capture and express a small slice of life in the difficult medium of the short story.
I am truly interested in how readers determine their rating for a story/book. What is your first consideration when deciding how to rate a book/story? Do you have an automatic expectation in relation to the price you pay? How do you determine whether or not the story has met your expectations? I'd really like to know.
Thanks, and until next month
PS: I could probably write an entire blog about “The Naked Jungle” because Charlton and Eleanor portrayed wonderfully romantic characters in a lush setting plus you get the added adventure of Chuck heroically battling swarms of large hungry ants to save his home and his wife. What, I didn’t mention they were married by proxy? If you're a sucker for old romantic movies you really need to check this one out!
Now I'm really out of here:)