Sunday, July 22, 2012

In Praise of Brevity: Guest post by Eric Beetner

IN PRAISE OF BREVITY: a long-winded appreciation of shorter books with detours into screenwriting, knife sales and a few cheap shots at my gracious host
by Eric Beetner

While we wait (and wait, and wait) for Heath to finish up his Fightcard entry, he has graciously given over his blog real estate to me to ramble on a while. Rambling is not typically something I do. I’m a reticent kind of guy. I’m sure many coworkers consider me aloof and odd since I go to lunch each day by myself clutching a book under my arm. But that’s their issue, not mine.
And I try not to be long winded in my writing. I have five books out in the world right now and three of them are novellas. I freely admit to reaching for shorter books when I’m book shopping. I enjoy brevity and focus to my writing.
Many times I think the novella is the perfect length for a story. They remind me of movies. No one would accuse a great two-hour movie of being only half a story, would they? Hell, no. Figure if you go by the minute-a-page guideline for a movie script that’s a 120 page screenplay. I’ve written screenplays, sixteen of them to be exact. Some for money. I’m here to tell you, 120 pages of script format is about 60 pages of prose. That’s way shorter than even the 25,000 word Fightcard books (which usually end up more like 26-27 thousand.)

So if you think you can’t tell a fully fleshed out story in that amount of time, I have a several million Star Wars fans who will disagree to your face with a homemade light saber and while you’re writhing on the ground they will taunt you with that Ewoks song.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about Pulp and what is it, how do you know it, how do you write it, etc. It’s taken the place of the What is Noir discussion that is so played out.
I’m not trying to write pulp. Really, I’m not. Most of what I do happens to fall easily into that category, but only because I’m writing to entertain myself first, the audience second. That’s not as snobby as it sounds. I only mean to say I don’t try to write what I think might be the next (fill in the blank), I only write a story I want to read and that is the only way I can be sure to do my best work, because I will feel the most connection to the story I’m telling. See? Not snobby, right?
In my brief, but brilliant flameout as a screenwriter, my undoing came when my then agent started steering me toward what she felt the “market was looking for”. Deadly words for any writer. If you go chasing after the elusive “next thing” or even try to capitalize on the current zeitgeist, you may as well pack a bag, head off into the woods, and search for Bigfoot. You’re about as likely to be successful.
For me, I tried my damndest to do it. I tried to fit my square peg in a round hole, but I couldn’t figure it out. I did not do well being told what and how to write a story. Kudos to those who can, by the way. I do not fault any Hollywood writer or novelist for tapping into what an audience wants. I wanted to be able to do it, really I did. It’s not selling out or anything like that if you enjoy writing it and can please the audience. It takes a highly skilled writer to be a bit of a chameleon. 
If I could write a deep, insightful novel about the human condition that everyone found pieces of themselves embedded into the main character – I’d write that right away. Not gonna happen, though.
I’ve learned my lesson and my limitations.
I’m damn lucky enough to have a job I enjoy that makes me a decent living so I’m not reliant on writing for income. If that ever happened, great. But for now I’m independent and stupid enough to solely write for my own pleasure first and then try to find an audience – something I seem to be inept at doing, but then again I was a film major in college, not a marketing and PR major.
In fact, (told you this was a ramble) I’ve only had one sales job in my entire life and that was selling knives part time in college. I don’t think I was particularly good at it, either. I know I never stabbed a customer while handing them a 10-inch carving knife to look at. And I never was stabbed myself, a risk the manager warned me of only after I had the job. I still want to use that in a book someday. Guy goes into a knife store, asks to see that kick-ass SOG with the six-inch blade. Turns it over in his hands, then stabs the sales clerk (for our narrative a nerdy college kid) and runs out. Free knife.

So I don’t sell well. Kinda like writing a big blockbuster screenplay, it’s not for lack of trying.
Back to the novella. What I’ve tried to do, and what all the writers on the Fightcard team have done, is tell a complete story that cuts out all the fat, gets to the action, and – in screenwriting terms – cuts to the chase.
Now that I’ve written a sequel to Split Decision, my first Fightcard book, you can read SD first and then follow it up with A Mouth FullOf Blood and you get a full novel’s worth of words if that’s your thing. Very soon I’ll even be packaging them together in one print volume kinda like the old Ace doubles from the real pulp era.

If you like ‘em short and tough as nails, check out Dig TwoGraves. If you like your pulp noir vintage-style check out my first two novels with JB Kohl, One Too Many BlowsTo The Head and Borrowed Trouble.
So that’s my sales pitch, buried here at the end.
Really, my best selling point I can give you is that you’ll need something to read while we’re waiting for Bluff City Brawler from Heath. Seriously, what is taking this guy so long? It’s only a novella!


  1. Bonjour! Eric Beetner...
    What a [very] nice post...I just sent it to my and I will Tweet it too!

    "I’m a reticent kind of guy..."
    I agree with your comment above, but I think that is a good thing in your case...Because your silent bring out the best in you as a writer.[IMHO]

    [By the way, your photograph floored me...Because I think it's detrimentally, the opposite Of your personality. LOL]

    Merci, for sharing!
    deedee :-D

  2. [By the way, your photograph floored me...Because I think it's diametrically, the opposite Of your personality. LOL]
    Oops! I meant to type the word...diametrically, in my previous comment.

  3. I'm with Tenebres on the photo - I like it and you still look nice, but harder than I always imagine you. Then again, your fiction packs real punches. I'm reading shorter work, too - not exclusively, but I'm enjoying the novella length more and more.
    This post makes me realise how far behind I'm getting on your work - I'm keen to catch up. I've read quite a bit of it now and think you do something you can be very proud of. Your talent and quality is beyond question, it's just that not everyone in the big, wide world has heard yet (and they never will, though that shouldn't stop us trying to spread what you do).
    Glad to see Heath is doing a Fight Card - I've just finished one of his Westerns (novella length) and loved it.
    Keep up the great work and don't shoot anyone.


  4. I'm in 100% agreement about novellas, Eric. You can tell a story in 35-40,000 words if that's the way it plays out. My latest novel is only a novel because during the rewriting process, I fleshed it out from 37,000 words to 51,000, without adding any scenes or clunky subplots. At 37,000 words, the story was there and it did not feel rushed.

    This plays to a larger issue, though. Because of the digital revolution and because of the lifting of the stigma from self-publishing, length is no longer the deal-breaking issue it used to be, and still is in the legacy publishing world. New York will tell you over and over about how the reading public "doesn't want" shorter fiction. What they're really telling you is "We don't want to have to pay the same setup costs to the printer and only come out of it with a short book that we can't charge $26 for in hardcover."

  5. Mike - I agree. I think with ebooks people are actually gravitating back toward shorter works. Nobody needs to be impressed by the thousand page "important" book you are lugging around for all to see. A Kindle doesn't care how long the file is.

    Nigel - thanks for the kind words. I keep wondering if you got to Borrowed Trouble on your vacation. Seems like you did nothing but read. Hope you got out to see some sights with the family!

  6. Funny you should mention the novella, as it's something I've also been tossing round in my head, both with my last thing (which blew out size wise in the end) and the current story I'm doing. Great ramble, Eric - and have I told you I'm a huge fan of your covers? Plus dead-keen to read Dig Two Graves.

  7. Thanks for coming by, Eric. A great post that I'm in total agreement with. Re: Bluff City Brawler-- it's done, at last, and will be out in early September.