Tuesday, May 08, 2018

More on Novel Length

by Rick Blechta

Following on from our weekend guest blogger Christine Poulson’s excellent piece, I’m going to keep this week’s post from moi short and sweet.

As for book length, my feeling is that it’s up to the writer (and editor) to make the length work. I generally put down novels that feel as if they’re padded, either because the writer did a lot of research and obviously feels it must all be thrown in or because the writer has fallen in love with their deathless prose.

You see this quite often in the later novels of successful writers. Almost invariably the page count goes up and up. The poster child for this is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series. In her case I found the length was due to plot complications and multiple threads, and for the most part, it didn’t bother me. With other writers, longer length often feels like padding. Sometimes I suspect that the poor editors feel they can’t trim out excess if a very successful author’s novels — we’re talking top of the bestseller lists here — are obviously increasing in length without good reason. What do you think would happen if the million-selling author complained to the publisher when the editor wanted to trim huge swathes of prose? The editor at best would be told to back off.

For newbie authors, editors can — and often for good reason — prune brutally.

In the best of all possible worlds, it would all work out for the best. As a reader, though, I will either skip over parts of novels that feel self-indulgent in the prose, or I’ll just give up and toss them across the room.

On the other hand, we’ve all no doubt read novels that feel as if something important has been left on the cutting room floor.

It’s a fine line to walk.


Unknown said...

I too have noticed that the novels of successful authors tend to get longer and longer. I stopped reading Elizabeth George a few books ago for this very reason. Are their publishers afraid to challenge them? I'd like to see that experience brings these authors the wisdom to know when to keep the length manageable (as in a writers' equivalent of the Serenity Prayer, perhaps?).

Eileen Goudge said...

I would point to the two versions of Stephen King's THE STAND. The first version is edited, the second includes many of the scenes or passages that were trimmed from the first one. I'm a huge fan of SK, don't get me wrong, but after I'd read the reissued version without the edits, my first thought was "This is why we need editors."

Christine said...

You are so right, Rick (and thank you for the kind compliment). We can all think of highly successful writers whose editors became afraid to wield a red pen and Eileen's example shows what the result can be!

Rick Blechta said...

Yup -- too all three of you.

Many thanks for your comments!