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Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Guest Post: The Long and the Short of it

I am delighted to have Linda Strachan guest blogging here today as part of her blog tour for her latest novel Dead Boy Talking. I'm going to hand over to Linda now.

The Long and the Short of it
Thank you, Becky, for inviting me onto your blog and for such a great review of Dead Boy Talking.

[Sorry to butt in but Linda, you are most welcome!]

A long book or a short book, does it make a difference?
When I started writing Dead Boy Talking I had no idea how long it was going to be but I don’t think that matters because I firmly believe that any book should be whatever length the story needs it to be. By that I mean that the writer shouldn’t compromise on storytelling because they are concerned about how long a book it will become.

 If I had been worrying about the length of Dead Boy Talking I might have added more about some of the events and experiences in the past or the present as the story progressed but I didn’t want to lose the pressure-cooker effect that causes snap decisions and knee-jerk reactions. If Josh had more time to think, or hadn’t been so wound up, he might have done things differently, but as we all know it is often easier in retrospect, when we know the consequences to our actions, to see what we should have done or said.

I felt the reader should be able to share the experience with the characters, to feel the tension. Josh and his friends have very little time to consider their actions or reactions as events built up to the climax and I wanted some of that to stay with the reader. Josh tells us at the beginning that he has 25 minutes to live and we follow the minutes with him as he counts down. It was important to keep the pace of the book going and I think it would have been a mistake, and would have lost a lot of pace, if I had taken too much time away from Josh just to make the book longer.

But does it really matter how long a book is? A short book, like a short story, is a slice of life, but no book can tell the whole story - there is always more that could be told. A writer’s skill is partly about knowing which part of the story to tell and what to leave out.
It is often mentioned that a short, accessible book is good for reluctant readers, but surely that is only true if the story grabs their attention and holds it. Good, enthusiastic readers can also enjoy a short book because reading is not about how many words or pages a book has; it is about credible characters and good storytelling. Any book, long or short should have a great beginning, a satisfying end, depth of character and layers of story but most especially no saggy bits in the middle.

I appreciate you may choose which book to read depending on your mood or how busy you are, or even whether or not you are a confident reader but if you wanted to watch a film would you be put off choosing to watch one film because it was slightly shorter than another?

There are times when I love to get settled into a long book because it means you get to spend more time in that fictional world or situation, with characters that you can get to know almost as well as your own friends or family. But not all long books are filled with story, some are padded out to make them longer, which is plainly bad, lazy or sometimes merely self-indulgent writing. That is not to say that short books are necessarily better written, just that they have their place and are neither less worthy nor better than long books. They are, hopefully, just the right length for the story.

Website - www.lindastrachan.com

Blog - www.writingthebookwords.blogspot.com

Linda, thank you so much for taking the time to share your reflections on writing shorter books. I personally love both short sharp bursts of books and also long and winding stories. But what I find most important is impact. Does the story grip me? Do the characters move me? If they do those two things, the number of pages is irrevelant.

Thanks again Linda. Thoughts anyone?


Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

I always love to hear from authors! That was a great post, I enjoyed reading it.

Sadly, My Love Lies Bleeding is no longer available for download, but I read the prologue and the first chapter and I loved it!

Becky said...

Irena, sorry I forgot to take the My Love Lies Bleeding info down yesterday. I have so much going on at work with the end of term that I can't keep up with my blog.
Glad you enjoyed Linda's guest post though.

Rachel Star said...

I just picked up My Love Lies Bleeding from my local library, can't wait to read it. Great guest post by the way, love hearing authors talk about their books :)

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

No problem, Becky. I'm still the sort of girl who needs a book in physical form, so I'll buy it eventually.;)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Cool post with excellent points!

CoffeeShopBloggers said...

Love your blog! I am adding to my blog roll.

Pragmatic Mom
Type A Parenting for the Modern World

I blog on children's lit, education and parenting.