Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Shaving off a hundred pages

Dan Rhodes at the Guardian lists his top ten short novels. I totally disagree with him on the short novel front, I love long novels (but then again I am also a very fast reader), but I like the rationale he lays out in opening, and the list's very good too:

I was reading a new novel the other day when it struck me that the author might as well be a murderer. It wasn't a bad novel, it was just too long. Passages that could and should have been lopped out had been left in, but I felt I had to plough through them in case they had any bearing on the story. It might have been a really good read if the author had had the gumption, or the balls, to shave off a hundred pages. And here's where the murder comes in. Say it takes the average reader an extra two hours (two hours they will never get back) to read all the filler. And what if the book does well and finds 250,000 readers? By my calculations this author will have wasted a total of 57 waking years - the equivalent of a long human life. And what if this monster continues to publish such books? Surely that would make them a serial killer? I was about to dial 999 when I realised that maybe, just maybe, I was getting a little overexcited.

But it seems obvious (doesn't it?) that writing overlong books is at the very least plain bad manners. I can't understand why writers are so often pilloried for writing short books. Brevity is mistaken for laziness when more often than not it's the opposite that is true. My new book, Gold, clocks in at 198 pages, and I'm convinced that, apart from in truly exceptional cases, this is about as long as a book ought to be. Of course I fully expect to eat my words next time I read a run of 400 page marvels, but in the meantime here's a list of works of fiction that I love which, in the edition on my shelf, don't run a page over the 200 mark. All killer, no filler.

(NB--really what I need instead of NB is one of those little index-finger-pointers that Richardson liked to use in his novels!--I really am going to cut a hundred pages from my novel between now and June 1, it's very exciting...)


  1. Have you read "A Reader's Manifesto" by B.R. Myers? I think you might like it.

  2. Yes, imagine what someone could do with all those wasted years - read double, why, even triple as many (shorter) novels, or think of it, maybe a hundred times as many blogs.

  3. Please don´t cut too much! Some of your readers (I, for one) have been looking forward to every word, every page, every hour, of your new novel. He didn´t caculate the amount of joy that the extra 100 pages of a great book gives to ít´s readers...

    (the person formerly known as dysphoric).

  4. Nota Bene, you want one of these: ☞

    That's ☞ in the HTML.

  5. I cut 120 pp from my novel in Jan and Feb this year--am planning to go back and take a bit more out. It wasn't as painful as I thought it would be.

  6. Nomad, you are too flattering, but it really will be better if it's shorter!

    (p.s. I like the name change!)

    Ailsa: Will check out the Myers--I think I've read about it rather than reading it.

    Lucette: I find drastic cutting has some of the pleasures as a really drastic haircut. Congratulations on your work--it's hard for me to imagine a novel not getting significantly better with substantial cuts...