Some time ago, Lois Elsden shared a post about long books… she was in the process of writing a novel herself, and very conscious so its length, as she explains here:
I am in the process of reading a very, long book for one of my book clubs, having just finished another very long book for the other book club. I read at night, in bed before I go to sleep, or in the car on long journeys. Most of my days are spent writing, and at the moment I am working on my next book Magick but I am trying to make it shorter… so I’m reading something very long and full to the brim with thousands and thousands of words, and I am trying to make my own book slimmer.
If I explain why I am making my book shorter… It still will be over 120,000 words so it is not a slim volume, but I am trying to make the text clearer, trimming out the repetitions. The reader knows from the beginning that the main character, Thomas, loves his beautiful partner, so I am just cutting back on the number of times he tells us this, and slimming down the descriptions of exactly how beautiful she is. There is a lot of research about family history; I am cutting out a lot of the extraneous material which Thomas discovers… it tends to muddle and worse still bore the reader!
I know I have a tendency to write conversations verbatim, and I have been told by my friendly critics that this is boring and even annoying! So I am trying to convey the idea of the conversation, its tenor and tone, without reporting every last syllable which was uttered by the characters. Because the book is written in the first person by a non-literary character, his style is quite conversational… this helps build a picture of him for the reader, I hope, but I don’t want him to become boring, silly or unbelievable. His little language tics should convey something about him, but they don’t need to be there all the time because this is a fiction, the reader wants the character to carry the narrative. Once he is established as a character, although there can be little reminders by things he says, asides he makes, the reader actually just wants to know what happens. Does Thomas find the history of his Magick family? Does he find the missing girl? Does he get over his panic attacks and anxieties?
So… the long books that I’m grappling with. The writers are renowned and fêted novelists; they are professionals, they are the top of the class in fiction writing, queens of their genre… and they have written really, really long books. Do I read every word… well, actually no… actually… (and I am criticising me here, not the writers) actually I got bored with knowing every last detail of what someone wore/looked at/said/thought/was reminded of. After a while I found the mountain of words muddling… and this is me being a feeble reader; I became confused with the histories of each character, muddled as to who had been married to whom, which problem parent belonged to which troubled man/woman, I just really didn’t care about what happened to them as young people and their relationships with friends – even though within all this were nuggets of information which helped resolve the main dilemma of the novels. I really am not criticising the writers – but for me as a reader, in the end, I felt like giving up.
I read Dickens, I read Wilkie Collins, I read Game of Thrones, I read The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale and Heartstone by C.J.Sansom… so I can read long books… War and Peace? I’ve read it. Anna Karenina? I’ve read it twice… Lord of the Rings, read it at least four times… So why am I struggling with the long books I’m reading now? It must be me!
Ten long books I’ve read:
183,858 words – Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
198,901 words – A House for Mr. Biswas – V.S. Naipaul
208,773 words – Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
211,591 words – Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
316,059 words – Middlemarch – George Eliot
349,736 words – Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
364,153 words – The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
418,053 words – Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
455,125 words – The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
587,287 words – War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
Her is a link to Magick, by Lois: