Saturday, August 23, 2014
Three Cheers for Lady Striker!
I've been haunted by one memory for nearly twenty years. And it's much on my mind as I work on RC, my upcoming winter release...which continues a battle I've fought for as long: the word count required for a book to be called a novel. RC, when it's finished, will weigh in at just under 40,000 words. In terms of length, tight narrative and speedy style, it's cut from the same cloth as Nobility, April Yule and The Vanishing Magic of Snow. My three 'action mysteries' starring Boss MacTavin aren't much longer, really--45,000-50,000 words.
The short form seems naturally suited to me. And I won't object at all if my books are called Short Novels. But they are not novellas or long short stories. Let's come back to this in a minute...after you've met Lady Striker.
On board a train to work one day, I watched a well-dressed and very pretty blonde--clearly not a nutcase--defacing a thick hardcover book. Estimated length: 800 pages easily. She wielded a black felt tipped pen. Her expression was calmly, but happily, sadistic. At a pace of three pages a minute or so, she blacked out words, sentences or entire paragraphs. She did not deliberate, moving on decisively.
I wondered then and wonder now: Why not return or trash the book if she felt that strongly about it? Why destroy it in that time-consuming way? My personal impression: she was a writer or an editor, or just an angry reader, who'd had it to here with the padding and fluff used to pump short stories up into epics. I believe she may have taken this book as an example--a chance to see what was actually left when the padding and fluff were removed.
I came to call her Lady Striker. And I've known since that day I did not want that woman taking her Sharpie to one of my books.
The length issue's made out to be far more complex than it should be. A good starting point on the subect can be found on the website goodshortnovels.com:
When I first started writing Nobility, the first of my Short Novels, I met with such length resistance that I sent out a full-page list of short books sold as novels on the shelves of major stores. The list included The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Old Man and the Sea, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, etc. I'd also noted gift holiday books made up of a few dozen pages but sold as novels nonetheless. But publishers and agents then were unenlightened on the subject--except when, beyond doubt, bucks were to be made.
I believe we need general guidelines. A twenty-page book printed in 16-point type should not be considered a novel. But, regardless of its page or word count, short and long novels deliver these goods: character growth, thematic richness, narrative complexity and resolution.
Now, we don't always want a twelve-course meal:
But even the shortest of novels should offer us more than a bon-bon:
We should finish a novel, regardless of length, with a pleasant sense of fullness...not a hollow craving for more after this: