Cutting novels


James Buchan had a review in Saturday’s Guardian of Colum McCann’s novel Let The Great World Spin, which I mentioned last week. Although he’s broadly sympathetic, he thinks it too long, and suggests a useful rule of thumb for editing novels which is worth repeating here:

Almost all novels are improved by cutting from the top. On their first pages, authors parade those favourite effects which disgust the impartial reader. McCann’s first chapter reads like Time magazine at its most solemn and sentimental. (“Those who saw him hushed. On Church Street. Liberty. Cortlandt. West Street. Fulton. Vesey.”) The story proper, as in so many novels, begins some way into the second chapter.

I liked his combination of ‘parade’, ‘effects’, and ‘disgust’. He also has another rule of thumb about the role of vintage cars in fiction: don’t do it.

Two of his characters, downtown junkie artists, are given a 1927 Pontiac Landau, which is forever parked across the narrative. Classic cars should be avoided in fiction.

The rest of the review can be read here.

The picture, of Chris Locke’s ‘scissor spiders’, can be found at the 2dayblog.


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