Friday, July 26, 2013

Some Books Are Too Long

background of old books

Last night, I finished a novel that my book club is reading for our August discussion. The book is 511 pages which I consider a pretty long read.  As I closed the book for the final time, I couldn't help thinking that the story had been drawn out far longer than need be, that the author could have told the same story in about half that number of pages and maybe had a better book. There were so many parts that were not necessary to the story line. A police detective narrates the story and we are in his head far too much. I got so I didn't give a darn what he thought about this character or that one, especially when it had no relevancy whatsoever to the plot. Nor his constant one liners meant to inject humor into several murders, a pretty serious subject. Nor were the sex scenes necessary to the plot. Even though I did enjoy the book, I found myself skimming a lot of it.

Which brings me to today's topic--writing too much. I used the just-read book as an example, but there are many more which are published that do the same thing. The writer comes up with a plot that is probably worthy of being published, then pads it to add more pages. The same can be said of some personal essays or memoirs. When I read a book like that, it makes me wonder why the editors didn't recommend some cuts.

Redundancy becomes the keyword in some books. I find it almost an insult to my intelligence when an author continually repeats the same thing but using different words. Why do they do it? I think that sometimes an author fears the reader might not 'get it' so they want to make it as clear as possible. Writers need to give their readers a little more credit. If it's written clearly one time, most readers are going to know what he's trying to say.

The old more is better doesn't always work, especially when writing a story. I would rather see a shorter, satisfying story than a longer, frustrating-to-the-reader tale. Some authors carry description too far. I don't need three pages to tell me where the protagonist is. A paragraph or two will do it. I don't need to spend pages learning what the hero thinks about one small piece of the puzzle. An author risks losing the reader's interest doing these things.

We read writer's guides that tell us over and over how important those opening lines are so that you capture the attention of the reader. Agreed! But it's also very important to keep the reader wanting to read more.

Another thing books on the craft of writing emphasize is to write tight. Say what is necessary in as few words as possible. Take out the fluff  and leave the important parts. Write that way and the story is almost always stronger and will hold the interest of the reader.

In my critique group, one of the most often raised criticisms is saying more than is necessary. Over and over, critiquers advice cutting senetences, even entire paragraphs from a story. Some writers tend to ramble on and on when they should say what needs to be said in as short a way as possible and still make the point.

Have I read long novels that I had no problem with? Yes, I have. Far too many to list here but those books kept my interest with nearly every page. The authors were very skillful in weaving a long but good story that didn't have unnecessary parts to it.

If you write a short story or novel, when you go back to self-edit, ask yourself if you have any unnecessary information. Check paragraph by paragraph to make sure each one is relevant.

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