Saturday, 18 March 2017

Too many words?

How long does it take to write a novel?

Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights is a one-off. It is a unique achievement, experimental and audacious, surprising when you take time to read it more than once, and is in my opinion, without doubt, a masterpiece of literary fiction. Being about a third of the way through completing the first draft of my first novel (almost a year in terms of thinking about it and seven months after starting to commit words to paper) it is salutary that Emily Brontë took only nine months from start to finish to create Wuthering Heights (October 1845 to June 1846.) My only excuse is that Emily had fewer options in daily living to distract her, and it is clear from her biography that many elements of Wuthering Heights had their seeds sown earlier in childhood games and popular reading (see my blog about her life here.)

Who should see draft novels?

I’ve reached 55,232 words in Rhenium Tales Book One: Raydan Wakes and my personal target word-count before anyone reads the full story is 85,000. Daughter Emily has given me astute and friendly critical feedback on Chapter One and that experience was valuable but provoked plenty of minor and major revisions so I know there’ll be a lot to do after draft one is complete. I’m also determined to have Book Two and most of Book Three finished before I try to get an agent or a publisher or a self-publisher. If I never get there I will simply see it as an absorbing retirement activity and carry on regardless. Did Emily Brontë ever show Wuthering Heights to anyone other than her sisters? They famously read aloud in the Parsonage lounge whilst walking round the central table.

How long should a novel be?

Emily Brontë’ wrote Wuthering Heights in 107,945 words.
Number of words in selected novels shorter than Wuthering Heights:

Too many notes?

In Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus the Emperor Josef famously (and amusingly) tells Mozart that The Marriage of Figaro has “too many notes.” This apparently was a contemporary complaint about Mozart shared by more than just the Emperor; other quotations from the time reveal many critics thought Mozart was overdoing it: "too strongly spiced"; "impenetrable labyrinths"; "bizarre flights of the soul"; "overloaded and overstuffed". Can a novel have too many words? Yes, indeed. Some novels do indeed have too many words – it’s possible you could direct that accusation at Wuthering Heights but only with a 21st Century lens because tastes for prose have changed. We’re keener on leaner now, so the redrafting and editing process now is usually about taking stuff out, not adding stuff in. I for one, though, am glad that Emily Brontë never had a serious editor because they would have probably done what most film versions of Wuthering Heights do and stop the story at the half way point, missing what I think is the heart of Wuthering Heights…. (the subject of my next blog.)
For me the heart of Wuthering Heights is the oft-neglected Hareton Earnshaw....