November 12, 2010

Do fat books need a diet?

Now, I love a long book -- if it's a good one. Who doesn't? (I know, I know, just about everyone lately.) But it seems to me there are a lot of sci-fi and horror books out there that are way too long, for no good reason at all.

Dean Koontz, I love ya, guy but your books should be half as long. When readers skim through sections because they're not essential to the story, you have a problem. I admire your stories and recognize your tremendous talent. I just wish the tales weren't . . . let's see . . . buried under extraneous elements. 

Stephen King, you out there? I can't say I love you but I used to, I really did. Your first book, "Carrie", was a masterpiece -- a short masterpiece. Your talent was so raw and vital that it raged across every page. The story moved swiftly, showing readers only enough and never more. But now you write endless tomes that should be one-fifth as thick, by my reckoning. And if the raw talent is still there, I can't find it under such a heavy pile of words. Sorry, but I'm being honest. I miss that guy who wrote Carrie (and Pet Sematary) and I wonder if he'll ever rise to the surface again. I sure hope so.

Lately I find myself wondering if this a common writers' disease. Is it catching? More to the point, am I already infected and exhibiting the symptoms? The three books I wrote ended up being progressively larger. If the three manuscripts were sitting side by side on a table, you could identify each by its size.

"The Worlds" is 88,000 words; "The Pod, the God and the Planet" is 135,000 words; and "Xmas Carol" weighs in at a meaty 202,000 words. So have I caught Book Growitis? I sincerely hope not.

In fact, it seems my size progression may be turned back in the next edit of "Xmas Carol", the horror novel. I'm getting feedback that the beginning may be too slow. Everyone is interested at the start and it seems they're fairly interested for a while after, but it's only at the halfway point that the book seems to take off for readers. Their interest jumps there and is enthusiastically maintained all the way to the finish. At least, that's what I hear.

I grok what my readers are telling me: the pace is too slow between the opening and the mid-point. I suspect this means I need to cut, cut, cut -- something I've done little of in my short writing career. At least, I think that's the problem. It also could be that I need to insert a new, exciting element in the early portion of the book. I'll know when I read and re-edit it a couple of weeks from now (after all the readers are done).

The short version is that I think the story needs to pass through the character-building sections more swiftly. I can fix that. Once readers have pointed a problem out to me, it's a simple matter to jump in and fix it. Without my readers I don't know what I'd do. Readers are invaluable, and I thank mine here and always.

Back to the Big Boys. I'd like to edit either DK's or SK's books if I had the time. There is too much there, and that's a fact. Under it all, they're fabulously imaginative, of course, and I admire both men. Each have written gems. But these days, if they used less padding in their books I think we'd find it easier to dig our way down to the good stuff.

On the other end of the spectrum, of course, are novels that deliver a tremendous impact without using 1,000 pages. Though I'm sure many would disagree with me, I find Whitley Strieber's "The Hunger" to be a nearly perfect book: precise, compact and elegant. Another is "Sliver" by Ira Levin, a slim book about an improbably thin building, told in the most spare language imaginable. "Rosemary's Baby" is in the same class. Less is more.

What do you think? Any other writers you'd like to put on a diet?

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