RARA-AVIS: Re: 65,000 words

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@sbcglobal.net)
Date: 25 Nov 2009

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    Don't forget it's a first draft. If it's a legit publisher, be prepared to revise -- possibly substantially -- anyway. If it needs to be longer, they'll tell you. And get ready for the heartbreak of deleting some of what may be your favourite bits.

    Rubberstamp editing is no editing at all.

    If you've got a good rep or if the story's good enough, they may allow you to "write short," but in general, if the publisher asks you for 70,000 words or whatever, try to give them what they want.

    And if you have to pad, try to make the padding look like it's not padding.

    Speaking of which, Moderatin' Mario, who evidently feels he has to bait me if I don't post for a while, wrote:

    > As to padding, don't do it. Look what it did to excellent writers like Robert Parker and James Lee Burke.

    Made them rich?

    Though I think padding is a relative term. Yes, hack writers use it to bring a book to a required length, but non-essential-to-plot verbiage can also be used to enhance the reading experience.

    For example, both these writers seem to use padding for things other than just length. Parker, who generally writes pretty lean anyway (the average Spenser novel probably clocks in at half the length of a average Robicheaux, uses it for pacing and character, and Burke, who's always written denser prose, seems to do it to sustain and build mood. And they both use it to strengthen themes.

    Some people may not like Parker's banter and digressions on honour and love or Burke's evocative renderings of the bayou (or MacDonald's rants on modern consumer society and greedy land developers, Ellroy's stream of homophobic racist and misogynist epithets or Paretsky's fond memories of her mother) but all these people are quite well-regarded by critics and readers (and have the sells numbers to prove it), so while the padding may not be non-essential when it comes to plot, it does serve a purpose beyond merely filling the page: it deepens themes, or sheds light on character or fleshes out mood or tone. It can also be used to pace a novel, and build a certain rhythm to a novel.

    I like fast-paced stuff myself, but how fast a book reads depends on more than mere word (or page) count.

    Kevin Burton Smith Editor/Founder The Thrilling Detective Web Site
    "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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