Monday, August 10, 2009


I skipped blogging on Friday because I was ill. When my body temperature goes over 100F, I start having trouble forming sensible thoughts. But somehow I found myself sitting on Amazon rating books I've read. Just rating them with stars, not trying to say anything about them since my brain was mushy, but I quickly noticed there would have been one recurring comment had I been making them.

Some books I gave fours and I can't say what would have bumped them to fives. One I gave two stars because I was too nice to give it one and nothing could have saved the book for me short of completely rewriting it as something else. But there was a passel of three star “It's okay” books. And in almost every case, the reason the book failed to get a fourth star out of me was... It needed at least one more revision. To flesh it out.

The writers and the non-writers probably differed by their reaction to what I just wrote. The non-writers started thinking of books they thought would have been better with more actions around dialog or if the author had bothered describing anything anywhere in the text or if there were a few more scenes adding depth to the relationships portrayed. The writers winced. Because writers in the modern world are obsessed with cutting their word counts. Google writing tips and you're going to get a ton of suggestions for shortening a story. Read agent blogs and you'll find hordes of complaints about queries for books that are just too long -- a few people mention folks seeking representation for books that are too short, but in general the hate is on length.

Sometimes less is more. I get that. But sometimes it's just less.

Let's go back to that raven, shall we? With the Internet's help, we already rewrote his line "Never," said the raven. There's no adverb to cut, so we don't have to worry about the raven being allowed to say something mysteriously or ominously or mockingly. But why do we need a dialogue tag at all? Let's trim that. And remove the nonsense about the statue he's perched on, it just makes people wonder who the heck Pallas is and causes them to make jokes about busts. When it's the bird's turn to speak from his bust-less seat over the door, all we need is "Never."

I wonder about our fixation with brevity and who we're doing it for. I cannot count the number of times I've been told to aim for sixty thousand words in my YA or how many times I've seen someone write that he or she won't even look at a YA novel that's over eighty or ninety. Yet, what's the most popular teen novel out there right now?

Yes, writers, I'm offending my entire species again by invoking the T-word. Twilight.

Twilight runs one hundred and thirty thousand words. And whether you like the book or not, you can't argue that it isn't popular. Not only can people read something that long, they will. They may even go on to write fan-fic about it because they want more time with the characters.

When Stephenie Meyer started trying to find an agent for Twilight (then named 'Forks' ::shudder::), she says she had no idea her book was twice as long as it was supposed to be. Getting someone to look at a writing sample rather than laughing, saying yet again that authors need to learn what acceptable word counts are in their genres, and happily sending a rejection without ever reading a word of the actual book was a miracle.

Now I'm not trying to say that everyone who has written a longer-than-average novel is Stephenie Meyer. Most of us authors probably can stand to cut a lot of our words. BUT, when I read a book that was published as something I'd classify as an outline but it could have been one of my favorite books had it not been so skimpy, it makes me want to weep.

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