Wednesday, 27 May 2009

What Is The Perfect Length?

For a novel? [and apologies for those who were expecting something infinitely more racy.]

The concensus of opinion of all the writing articles I have Googled appears to be - It Depends!

Incredibly helpful - not. I admit I began this post whingeing about having to cut another 18,000 words from my current wip to: 'appeal to a wider publisher base'. In no position to argue, I will accept this rigid criteria: After extensive searching for ideas, I found this blog from Darcy Pattison with this post on
6 Techniques for Cutting a Novel’s Length
which I dived on gratefully.

Here are some gems:
Use chapter breaks - instead of living minute by minute with your characters - Take key events and give your readers credit for being able to make accurate assumptions about what happens in the interim.
Start scenes later and leave them sooner: Readers will correctly assume the mundane things that happened before or after the good stuff. i.e. we know the main character plans to or is headed to visit another, that scene can begin with an important line of dialogue from the middle of their conversation instead of the arrival and broaching of the subject.
Writers don't want the reader confused: But sometimes, details obscure. When those details are removed, the action feels more intense because the whole scene moves faster.
It can be acceptable to tell: Ms Pattison quotes her editor as saying: “Sometimes I wish ‘show, don’t tell,’ had never been invented.” Choose judiciously. Sometimes, Ariel didn’t need to have her skin go clammy and the nape of her neck prickle — she could just be scared.

I do, however, have a question: What about the 500 page tomes which sit quite happily on my bookshelf with the labels, 'debut novel' on the cover?

If every paragraph was crucial to a scintilating plot, I could understand why not a word might fall foul of the editor's red pen. In my opinion as a reader, most of these books tend towards the self indulgent with whole chapters that veer off subject and would benefit from a ruthless cutting session without losing any of the plot.

So where do these 'rules' come from and more importantly - who breaks them and will they read my novel in all its 98,000 word splendour?


Anne Gilbert said...

I think you're right. It really does depend! For instance, if you have something really "big",like I do(though it didn't start out that way), and you're a "newbie", it's better to have it shorter. I got around this by dividing what would have been a 1000 page monster if I'd done it the way I originally wanted to, into three books of around 350 pages, which is reasonable. I also am in the process now, of cutting out a lot of stuff that doesn't need to be either told or shown. OTOH, if I was "established", I'd probably just go ahead and write "big" but with some judicious cutting.
Anne G

Anne Whitfield - author said...

Don't forgot to keep all what you cut from your work. put it in a spare folder and when the book is published, you can put the cuts up on your website for the readers, as sneak peeks of what they've missed.
I've yet to do this myself though! LOL

Jen Black said...

That's a good thought, Anne - always assuming the bits you've cut are good bits in their own right! Must hunt out my own bits and pieces and see if I can think of a good use for them. Unhappily, I think I may have jettisoned the lot in a moment of freak tidiness

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Bah, I just dropped a 129K ms. in the mail to my agent. Now you tell me!

Dawna said...

Great post, Anita! These are really good tips to have in our arsenals!

But I agree with Gemi - I call BS on the concept that a novel can't be "longer" and still be publishable. And if anyone doesn't believe this, have a look at "Pillars of the Earth" or "Outlander".

Glynis said...

I am learning more each day! I certainly have learned something here.