Stories aren't just about books

April 13, 2015

I’m someone who really likes to get her teeth into a big, fat, juicy book. I’ve been known to pass over a book if the spine isn’t wide enough. I don’t like thin books, books with not enough pages in them, books with too few words. I don’t like short reads – no short stories, no novellas, and I eye shorter full length novels with suspicion. Why? Because I’ll blast through them in less time that it takes to eat a meal. To me, a short novel is like a starter – it has whetted my appetite, but where’s the main course? I don’t want to settle down for a darned good read, only to find it’s over before I know it.


I like lots of pages, books with lots of words. But is this the best thing for the story being told?


For example, I recently reviewed a novel of around 315 pages. The story itself was sound enough, but the way it was told wasn’t. And that was because there were too many words in it. Words that add nothing. Words that in reality detract from the story. Useless, filler words. Words like ‘just’, ‘that’, ‘felt’, ‘seemed’. Words that slow the writing down. Waffle words.


In this particular novel individual sentences aren’t streamlined enough. Ten words are used when five would have done a better job. Here’s a typical example: “Whiskey seemed to be the only remedy to dilute the memories that haunted his mind.” How many ways can you come up with to convey the same idea but in a more succinct way. I came up with six.


Another example, and one of my personal dislikes, is using ‘feel’ or ‘feeling’. For instance, “she felt her knees give way.” Take out ‘felt’. It’s not needed. It’s her knees, so of course she’s going to feel them give way. Instead, “her knees gave way”. Sharper, more concise, and less annoying for the reader.


That novel is actually much shorter than the 315 pages suggest. A good copy editor would have spotted this sentence (and all the others), and this author’s writing would have been much tighter by losing the excess word fat.


So the moral of the story for me is, don’t judge a book by its page length, and don’t fixate on word count in my own writing. My stories should be as long or as short as they need to be. The important thing is to tell a good yarn and tell it well.


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