When Bigger Really Isn’t Better
Following our recent discussion about book formats, I took a quick trawl through my bookshelves to confirm my suspicions; that over the past few decades books have become ever longer and ever more bloated.
I’m afraid to say this at the risk of upsetting fans, but it would seem the rot set in with Stephen King’s lengthy doorstops. Never one to use a word when twenty would do, his mass market paperback edition of ‘The Shining’ certainly split a few pockets and soon became the norm. If we go back to past classics we find this:
Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ – 189 pages
Ira Levin’s ‘The Stepford Wives’ – 116 pages
Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando’ – 218 pages
Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One’ – 127 pages
JG Ballard – ‘The Drowned World’ – 170 pages
Thornton Wilder – ‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey’ – 124 pages
James Vance Marshall – ‘Walkabout’ – 125 pages
EM Forster’s ‘Where Angels Fear To Tread’ – 138 pages
These page numbers make the Jackson appear positively overblown. Now compare those to:
Stephen King’s ‘11.22.63’ – 752 pages
Dean Koontz’s ‘Watchers’ – 512 pages
Well, I don’t need to go on – the point is made. Virtually every big popular novel tips the 500 page mark now. Publishers often push writers to go beyond the natural page limit for their pitched novels – I’ve been asked to do this many times (although never by Transworld, who don’t dictate the length of my books).
‘The readers expect value for money’ is the usual reason given – but since when was lazy over-explanatory scene-setting and random verbosity commensurate with good storytelling?
King, for whom I have the greatest respect as an ideas man, once said; ‘Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but it should finish in the reader’s,’ doesn’t follow his own advice, but neither does anyone else now – perhaps because the publishers simply don’t trust their audience to accept that, in a good writer’s hands, less is usually more.