Okay, I know I should know this, I know I know the answer. Still, I am just trapped. I am trapped at 65,000 words –and I have opened up every contraction I can find! But still, I am well under the commonly accepted, off the cuff answer to how long a novel should be – 80,000 words*
The * means this is the most averaged answer I get. Enter Voltaire, who famously wrote an apology to some king, sometime long ago, when the cutting edge of writing was the feather quill processor, this preamble to his letter has guided me in writing ever since I heard it. He said, and I am paraphrasing, “Please excuse the length of this letter, I did not have time to write a shorter one.”
The literary lesson I derived from that is the value of the economy of words is hard won, using less words takes longer to write, especially if you hold the standard of not sacrificing the quality. Now I know that Creative Writing 101 is not about efficient communication, but art. But what if economy is art of a kind. What if seven pages of didactic description, although certainly one way to write, and if done well, holds the reader at the interest point, isn’t the only way to accomplish the same literary effect, what if it can be done in one page? Or one paragraph? Does the word/page count diminish its value or story value.
Here the movie Mozart enters the discussion. Specifically the scene where the Emperor, having reviewed Mozart’s score for an opera he was looking for royal approval of, indicates his dislike of the work because, “It has too many notes!”
Mozart says in his defense, there are neither too many or too little notes but just the right amount.”
So even a ‘hack’ like Mozart was held to some kind of word/note count scrutiny. So maybe I’m in good company. But then sleep beckons, but is never attained as I toss and turn wrestling with the question, is the story perfect, as it is in 65,000 words, or is it not a big enough story to be a book? Maybe a story that can spew 80 – 100 thousand words without thinking, without spending too much time with Voltaire’s quill, is the desirable “throw weight” for a manuscript. Anything less is seen as just not having gravitas by the Emperors that be.
Believe me, I know writing is hard, and requires a certain kind of courage, faith and discipline. I have written books that landed at the right word count, some even needed editing down prior to publishing. It is not the work of expanding or adding scenes, characters, narrative or exposition that is the issue here. I spend just as much time writing a short 65,000 as I would a 90,000 piece. I just don’t know if this current work needs the extra ink.
By the way, typing these lines makes this blog exactly 500 words long.