Monday, September 08, 2008

The Cutting Will Continue Until the Book Improves

I'm not much for books that ramble. Some may argue about the short attention span of the internet age, but really, look back at something like Zelazny's Amber books, or the pre-90s Stephen King novels:

They're pretty short.

They are not 1500 page epics. They do not hem and haw and circle and backtrack and spend 10 pages talking about underwater farming in Australasia while the protagonist repeatedly tugs on her braid. Mainly, this is because folks were writing on typewriters. I'm also thinking short books sold better. These days, you pay $30 for a hardcover, and goddammit, you want 900 pages, because, seriously, $30 for a hardcover??

I haven't been able to get through Hobb's sequels to the Assassin books because Fool's Errand just goes on and on and on. It's two characters having long conversations about their bitter lives and regrets - this is how the book opens! It's like a hundred pages of the author trying to figure out what the characters are supposed to do during this book, and summing up the boring 15 years of their lives between this book and the last, which I really, really doubt is ultimately relevant to the climax of the novel.

I don't write like this.


I mean, yeah, OK, I write first drafts like this. They are long, and wind-filled, and people are always drinking tea (I was delighted when I realized that they actually had a high tea in my fictional Tirhan. Nobody in Nasheen in the last book actually sat around and drank tea. You have no idea how many stupid, pointless scenes this eliminated in GW. I had to be careful about my tea scenes in BD).

When I'm writing a first draft, I'm generally bouncing around trying to figure out where the characters are going to go, and - if they're new - what the hell they're about.

So there are these long, pointless passages about trauma and heartache and growing up in a farming community at the edge of the desert, and the economics of the Bashinda River. And when I revise a book, the first thing I do is say, "OK, do the economics of the Bashinda River have anything to do with this plot? No? Cut it out." And out it goes.

It is incredibly satisfying, after you murder the first few darling paragraphs, to watch paragraph after boring, clunky paragraph recede into the wastewater that was your first draft.

Ultimately, I'd like to cut about 10K-15, which would get this back to 95K at the most. 95K feels like about the right length for the bel dame books. I can't tell you why that is, but it is.

Different books tend to have different lengths and styles that just feel more appropriate. I've had to go back and chop up a lot of the long sentences and rambling paragraphs I wrote in the first draft, too. Nyx books are short sentences books. Curt, snappy dialogue. Bleeding roaches. Sand-caked wrinkles. Calloused feet. And, of course, heads getting chopped off.

And revision time is when you get to make sure all the shit that was supposed to be there is there. And all the shit that's just shit... well, that's what you chop out.

1 comments so far. Got something to say?

Calico said...

A quote from Colette for you as you edit:

"Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."