IWSG—Resisting the cookie-cutter culture

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of the month. Participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

This month, the IWSG question is:

How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

I definitely want to break out the red pen so many times! I understand even the best-edited books sometimes have embarrassing typos or errors that somehow fell through the cracks, but some books have a LOT of grammar, punctuation, and language that needs cleaning up.

I also want to bang my head against the wall when I catch things like “As you know, Bob” dialogue, too many unnecessary adverbs (esp. coupled with non-standard speaking verbs), infodumps, rushed-along action, huge time gaps between chapters, lack of front and back matter that would really enhance an understanding of the story (e.g., list of characters, family tree, pronunciation guide), and making a big deal out of introducing a bunch of characters who never appear again after the first 20 pages.

One of my favorite YouTuber writers, Maya Goode, recently discussed this in a vlog. I highly recommend her channel!

I had a very surprising encounter with an older friend recently. We were discussing how I’m having a book cover revamped and will be having physical copies soon, and she was very interested in buying the book. But as soon as she asked how long it is and I gave her the guesstimated page length (700ish), her tune changed drastically.

Instantly, she began insisting she wouldn’t and couldn’t read it, and was almost hostile and yelling while telling me books “shouldn’t” be that long. She’s only read a handful of long books (Anna Karenina and Roots, and maybe some of the Harry Potter franchise). I kept trying to explain:

That’s the length I naturally write at.

There are lots of people who enjoy long books more than short ones.

All the great long books there are.

My short books (under 100K) are actually the ones that need the most editing, since I didn’t plot, plan, and write them as carefully as the ones I deliberately planned at saga-length.

I do have some shorter books, but that’s the length that works and naturally unfolds for them.

I’m not cutting out hundreds of pages for no other reason than making a book shorter to please other people’s tastes.

I don’t write for people with short attention spans! Why should I contribute to the perpetuation of a culture that refuses to write anything by hand or think outside of 140-character Tweets?

Long, saga-length books are kind of the traditional standard for historicals, particularly considering they often take place over many years and have large ensemble casts. Look at Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, James Michener.

I don’t force myself to write at a certain length.

Many people have said they’d love to see more longer books, and can’t understand why so many modern-day agents refuse to look at anything above a certain length, sight unseen. If these agents don’t read any of it, how will they know if the length is merited or a result of genuine overwriting?

People who love reading make the time to read long books. No one says you have to spend your entire day reading!

One of the reasons I went indie was because of these modern-day wordcount policies in traditional publishing.

I’m not going to rush along a story just to keep it short. That length actually IS the core story, carefully planned and plotted at that length. With many short books, there’s no room for detailed character development and worldbuilding.

Long books weren’t considered automatically overwritten and “too long” as recently as 20–30 years ago. That was more the norm in certain genres.

Many of us prefer to climb into a long book we can live in for a few weeks, as opposed to something so short we can breeze through it in a few hours.

**********************

I understand genre fiction tends to be shorter (e.g., police procedural, YA contemporary, romance, thriller, horror). I’d wonder about a genre book that’s over 400 pages. However, I write historical sagas, which come from a very long tradition of being at least 400 pages, if not 700 or more. My Atlantic City books are only so short because they typically take place over much shorter timespans. Were I to combine the ones that lead right into one another, they’d be much longer!

I also know many people nowadays have much shorter attention spans than they did 50+ years ago. But I don’t consider that a good thing. Times change, but good stories remain the same.

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12 comments on “IWSG—Resisting the cookie-cutter culture

  1. Arlee Bird says:

    If I like the story and the writing style then I’m glad if a book is long. There are times when I’ve read a relatively short book that I’m really enjoying and then it ends, for my taste, far too soon.

    I’m often pretty forgiving of certain writing weaknesses as long as I don’t stumble over them and they distract me, but if they are so blatant then I might become annoyed. I tend to be fairly patient when a story is a good one. But really, the errors shouldn’t happen if care has been put into publishing a book.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Like

    • Carrie-Anne says:

      I’ve read some short books that seem to drag on forever because they’re either boring or not written well, while many long books fly by if they’re that absorbing. I would’ve thought someone of my friend’s age, 15 years older than I am, would’ve been more used to long books. That kind of attitude seems more common on someone under 25!

      Like

  2. patgarcia says:

    Hi,
    You know, I actually proofread a book I was reading about five years ago and sent the author a nice, respectful email, pointing out the many errors. I even offered to proofread her work for her. She did write me back but I don’t believe she was happy about what I did and she let me know it through the tone of the email.
    All the best.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat

    Like

  3. Erika Beebe says:

    Very true. A good story is memorable and no matter the length I keep them close and reread them. 🙂

    Like

  4. Stick to your guns. You know your genre. Heck, Harry Potter is for kids, and those books are really long.

    Like

  5. Olga Godim says:

    A story takes as many words as it takes. When I was a young girl, my grandma tried to teach me baking. All her recipes ended the same way: “… and flour.” When I asked: “how much,” she would reply: “as much as it takes.” It drove me crazy, but she was right. The same goes for a story. As much as it takes.

    Like

  6. rbyrnes says:

    Oh my goodness, thanks for the youtube video channel. I’ll have to check her out.
    Danger, Love, and Mystery

    Like

  7. Chrys Fey says:

    Historical books and epic sagas tend to be longer. Next year, I actually plan to read two books that are a little over 1,000 pages! There may be specific word counts that agents like, but a book can be however long (or short) it needs to be.

    Like

  8. Books are shorter for economic reasons. They’re cheaper to produce. You know, not saying you have to cave, but I wonder how your sagas would look/sell as 3 book series instead of single sagas?

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    • Carrie-Anne says:

      When I was querying this particular book, before deciding to go indie, I began pretending it was a trilogy, but I grew to realize it only works as one continuous book. Everything is driving towards the climactic Part IV, and Part IV doesn’t feel the same way if it’s detached from everything that led up to it. My first Russian novel also wouldn’t work as two books, since the protagonists have only just gotten engaged and started sailing to America at the end of Part I. So much is still up in the air, and the title has significance for everything in the story, not just Part I. I couldn’t imagine a book like Forever Amber, Gone with the Wind, The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, or one of Leon Uris’s novels as two, three, or four books, since they’re written as continuous stories.

      Like

  9. Ed Hoornaert says:

    Writers write what they gotta write, whether that be long or short — and if you’re like me, preferred length may change over time. Who know, in ten years you might be writing 50K shorts.

    Like

  10. jamieayres says:

    Love this post! You definitely shouldn’t change just because of people’s squirrel-like attention spans!! All great points you brought up to your friend, too. People who love historical will devour your pages 🙂

    Like

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