CUT, CUT AND CUT AGAIN (28/01/2014)
Cut, cut and cut again. Not a comment on government policy. I’ve just finished reading John Lanchester’s Capital. I liked it, but found myself, as I do so often when reading fiction, ‘it’s a bit long this, innit?’
Lanchester’s a fine writer – I loved his ‘Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay’ romp through the wreckage of the recession, I always enjoyed his Guardian food pieces. And Capital starts off brilliantly, sketching the diversity of a London street nicely and setting up the criminal plot that ties it all together.
But somewhere around the middle the attention starts to wane, and you’re checking how many pages are left. He’s still introducing people and developing their characters 300 pages in.
Time is a truly precious commodity, thus brevity when it comes to writing is, to my mind, something to be treasured. There are loads of US writers I won’t go near, despite a welter of recommendations, because I really can’t be bothered with another bloated, overly wordy attempt at writing the Great American Novel. It’s as if once a writer has established a reputation and can be considered “box office” their work can’t be touched by an uppity editor. Balls to that – most novels could lose 50 pages at least without it having any detrimental effect. Films too, but let’s not go there.
It’s one of the reasons I’ve fallen a little bit in love with the crime fiction sub-genre in the last few years. Largely being a non-fiction reader I’d only ever dipped in and out of crime fic but I got into George Pelecanos on the back of his association with The Wire and was hooked – if you’ve never read his Washington DC-based books, get involved. Since then I’ve got into Lawrence Block. Dennis Lehane, Mark Billingham and was delighted by The Killing Pool, the first crime fic outing by Kevin Sampson, in 2013.
Crime fiction, as a rule, doesn’t mess around – the story’s the star. To use the phrase omnipresent in John Niven’s Kill Your Friends, there’s no crapping on about extraneous stuff. Any showing-off is done through sharp dialogue, neat twists and wry observations. That’s fine with me.
Too often in many areas of writing, people are cheated with flabby copy, in my view – padding out of points and issues, to hit a word count, or to satisfy every point a client might want made. I’ve winced when PRs have blitzed my inbox with 500 words or more on a topic, submitted more or less blindly, in the vain hope this will make it into print as a pure, untouched advertorial for the client. It’s a massive wasted effort – I can only think a lot of companies are being billed far too much for their PR.
If this feels like it’s turning into a sales pitch, then… it might be. Just a bit. As a magazine editor, I never really minded slicing down flabby copy, shaping a story is one of the best parts of the job. People don’t have ages and ages to spend reading things, and if anyone out there wants some help chopping down some weighty marketing copy, online how-to guides, or blogs, I’m waiting right here with a large pair of comedy scissors.