Slash and burn …

It’s been a while since I stopped by; sorry about that.

Anyway, the book goes well. I’ve had some feedback from three editors, all of whom said much the same thing:

  1. It’s a great book, Dom – really, really great.
  2. It’s a long book, Dom – my God is it long!

I suspected the first point, and I was pretty sure of the second: the characterisations are working well, the dual story line was pacey and well-timed – and the whole piece weighed in at 200,000 words. That is a lot of words for any book, especially a piece of LGBT erotica.

As you’d expect, the web has varying opinions on ideal book length, which led me to believe that there is really no such thing; however, there are some pretty strong indicators that publishers aren’t too fond of books that go beyond 180,000 words (that’s just for sci-fi and fantasy). It’s not just a question of maintaining the reader’s interest; there is also the cost involved in producing longer length works: editing, copy-editing, printing, getting it reviewed. That adds up and makes the book expensive or the margins shallow.
And the same applies if I head down the self-publishing route: CreateSpace gets more expensive as the page count rises.
Now, all this sounds as if I’m about to sacrifice the book on the editing altar, just to get it down to an acceptable word count.

Not so.

As a writer, I aim to tell a great story in as few words as possible, because if I don’t then I’m just padding for the sake of it. Fortunately, there are always a stock set of areas where words can be cut and which will actually make the whole piece read more smoothly.

  • Dialogue – ask yourself, does Stephanie really need to say that? Isn’t it implied by the way she’s sitting, or the way her hands are shaking? Needless dialogue is a great way to pad a book, so cut it.
  • Wordy exposition – sometimes you find your characters gliding effortlessly towards the exit of McDonalds with the grace and fluidity of a prima ballerina. You know what? She could … just leave!
  • Pointless segues – it’s all very nice drifting off into the dreamy world inside your protogonist’s head, but that uses up a lot of the reader’s time and doesn’t often move the story forward. It also breaks the ‘show not tell’ rule that folk like to bang on about.
  • Er … tell, don’t show – yes, I know what everyone says, but sometimes it’s just quicker to tell someone that the phone is ringing, instead of inventing some clever device to show that something is happening in the office that takes Steve’s attention away from the pouting lips and smooth ankles of the devastatingly attractive widow sitting across from him smoking a cigarette and showing no regard for the fact that smoking in a public office has been illegal for quite some time. Just say the damn phone rang! What happens after Steve picks up the phone is the important detail.
  • Repetition – read through the passage and always be ready to ask yourself: ‘Do I know this already?’ The chances are it has been mentioned before, or implied by something someone has said.

Where you’ll find the biggest cuts depends on the kind of writer you are. My work tends to be heavy on the dialogue, so I often find I can cut a lot of dialogue tags because it’s obvious who is speaking. In my latest piece, I’ve even cut one or two of the sex scenes. They were nice to have, but they didn’t tell you anything about the characters involved and didn’t move the story forward.

So, words cut so far: 12,000.

Now I take a break for a week or so, and go again 🙂

Book review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

I was a bit surprised when this one turned up in my ‘recommended’ list. I blasted through The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo series and thought that would be the end of it since the original author, Stieg Larsson, has passed away.  This fourth outing sees Mikail Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander thrown together again for another intricately woven conspiracy which seemed to be  aimed squarely at computer geeks. The new writers, David Lagercrantz & George Goulding, have made a commendable effort, though I think they’ve possibly missed out on much the shock value of the original. I wonder if it was toned down slightly to appeal to a wider audience. The characterisations are good, and for those familiar with the originals, might seem a little bit wordy. I was left thinking, “I know all this about her”, but then I guess a lot of people this might be their first Lisbeth Salander novel, so I didn’t get too hung up on it.

the_girl_in_the_spider_webLikewise with the technical detail; no prior knowledge is assumed so the first part of the book is a crash course in computer hacking and security (with a little bit of cryptography thrown in for good measure). I did find this a little bit dull, but again that could be because I know little bit about this stuff already. Still, I’m not sure it was entirely needed, certainly not all of it.

This isn’t one of the those book that goes in for the whole ‘show don’t tell’ style of writing. It’s unashamedly a tech thriller, so you were handed all the facts about someone’s life history and personality in one easily digestible paragraph. Got all that? Good, then let’s crack on … Still, I do prefer to discover people, rather than just be handed a dossier on them.

Despite the huge cast list and the complexities of the plot, the whole piece held together extremely well. I did find myself getting lost in one or two places, but the occasional literary signpost soon had me back on track. The writing style itself was fairly stark but not at all taxing to read.

So, information dumps aside, a really enjoyable book – though I’m not sure it’s quite reached the level of the originals.

A respectable six out of ten.

Book review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter

This one’s been on my reading list for a while, but ended up being pushed to the back. I wasn’t sure why, but now that I think about it, I reckon I’m just ‘prolonging the Pratchetts’: the great man is gone now, so at some point I’m not going to have any more of his work to read – and I’m really not looking forward to that. Anyway, it seems sort of stupid to deprive myself of some really good books just because I don’t want to run out, so here we are: The Long Earth.

This is the story of the human race following the discovery that homo sapiens can travel to other versions of planet Earth in an infinite stream of alternate dimensions. All that’s needed is a box of electronics (plans freely available on the internet) – and a potato, preferably a large one (I feel the Pratchett influence here). The premise is established early on, and from there we’re taken on a whistle-stop tour of the Long Earth: millions of alternate Earths that are, for the most part, empty – but not always.

The_Long_EarthThe Long Earth is the first book in a series, so I’d probably describe it as the preamble. To be honest, we learn an awful lot about how things work, and the effects that the discovery of the Long Earth has on history, and make no mistake this is thought-provoking stuff. There are now enough raw Earths for everyone to have one to themselves, so the real Earth pretty much empties out overnight. Gold loses its value because everyone can have their own goldmine on an Earth somewhere else. Blimey!

The idea is big and sprawling, so it’s no surprise that the first book is pretty much a preamble to set things up for the books that follow on. It lays everything out, but doesn’t really lead to any conclusions. Still, it’s gripping, witty, and has Mr Pratchett’s fingerprints all over it. The characters are strange and engaging (who doesn’t love eccentric nuns!) and though you quickly get the feeling that this perhaps might not lead anywhere, it’s still very readable. The action seems to amble along at several hundred earths per minute, but occasionally hits the brakes to show you something; that, to me, felt a little bit artificial, almost like a tour guide holding up her hand to point out an interesting monastery. 

Still, I enjoyed it immensely and I reckon I’m going to stick with the series.

Seven out of ten. 🙂

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