Too Many Notes

One of my favorite scenes from any movie is this one.

I know the joke is about banal criticism, uttered by a witless fop who knows nothing about music, but I also think — maybe it doesn’t apply to Mozart, but I know what the emperor (who I will always see as Principal Rooney in a ridiculous costume) means. Music can have too many notes. It can be overly notey. Have you seen the winnowing rounds of American Idol, when every vocalist wants to show their stuff by hitting as many notes as they can on their way through a syllable in the lyrics? Too many notes. Cut a few.

Writers are more used to be critiqued on economy, and though it’s obviously not shared by all acclaimed novelists (even famous ones), most of us would roll our eyes at an author who claims their bloated novel has “just as many words  as the piece requires.”

I think, in many ways, my first three novels have too many notes. The first draft of Mudville had so many notes it was a cacophony; you have no idea how many subplots and backstories were  shoved into it. A lot of that was cut, but if I had a fresh crack of it I think I would boil it down to two thirds its current length.

I think that middle grade has gotten overly long and notey as a genre, to be honest. Why when I was a kid (waves cane) when I was a kid there was nary an elementary school book that topped page 200 and you could read the whole thing in one sitting. And books were made out of paper!

That being said, I’ve been working on something since January that is still only 10,000 words long — I’ve had the file open for most of the year, so it’s not for lack of working on it, but it is painstaking and doesn’t want to write itself, and doesn’t want to go away. It’s either my masterpiece or I’ll never finish it. No matter how much you love economy, 10,000 words ain’t going to cut it. 20,000 is all right if you’re Andrew Clements, but for most of us 40K is short. Will I ever get there?

If I do, this is my masterpiece. But you can’t expect it until (does math) 2018, and that’s if I find a publisher three days after writing THE END on the last page (by the way, nobody actually does that, it’s figurative).

I have told people about it, even entire schools full of people, but I haven’t blogged about it, and not many people have read it.

Here’s the first sentence:

Rafael Reyes ran up bleacher steps of Tetelo Vargas stadium flapping his arms and pretending to fly.

That sentence — believe me, I’ve worked on it enough — that sentence has no superfluous notes.


2 thoughts on “Too Many Notes

  1. I look forward to reading the masterpiece, whether it’s 10,000 words long, or 40,000. It will be great, I’m certain.

  2. Bring on the masterpiece! I agree that MG works are running long these days. My current WIP is way too long and I’m having trouble cutting it down. Luckily I have CPs who will help me get started with that.

    FYI, my first thought while watching that video was “Is that Principal Rooney?” 🙂

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