A Note on Craft: Nightstand, Bedstand, Midwood

Elliott - Gutter Road

As I have been reading these various books this summer, I have noted the excellent craftsmanship, especially by Robert Silverberg, inRS-Rotslerdelivering books that always reach the 50,000 words mark.

In his seminal essay, “My Life as Pornographer” (from Penthouse Letters, reprinted in Sin-a-Rama on in Kemp’s el), Silverberg states his books for William Hamling were 12 chapters, each chapter 14-16 pages (or 4,000 words); his memory is fauluty, because every Don Elliott and John Dexter he did consist of 14 chapters, 12-13 printed pages, and always reach 192 pages.  Every Nightstand/Ember/Midnight Reader/Idle Hour was 192 pages — if the novel only reached 188-190 pages, they would add in a list of available books to get that 192.  Earl Kemp once told me this was necessary for gang-running books — printing four at a time, all the same length, which saved on money; if books were more or less than 192 pages (later, 224 pages as Reed Nightstands), they would have to be printed separately from the gang-run.

Beauchamp - Unwilling SinnerSilverberg’s Beauchamp Midwoods were also the same length, with 12-5 chapters, reaching 158 pages in Midwood’s format and type front.  Bigger font, the books reach 186-188 pages. Ditto on the Bedstand/Bedtime Books.

Other writers kept to the same — it was a matter of craft, of sketching out a story so that it would reach that length with that many chapters.  This is not unlike writing for TV, when scripts need to be 45-50 pages, broken into a teaser and four acts that are 10-15 pages each.

I find this admirable, because I have a hard time writing that way.  My Blue Moons varied from 120 pages to 260 pages, and I never plotted them out for x amount of chapters to reach x amount of words.

Such discipline, Silverg notes in his essay, helped him plot his SF novels in the 1970s-80s better.

Bum - Sin

Dexter - Bra Peddlers

Elliott - Sin Hellion

Elliott -- Sin Bait

Bellmore - Shame Sheet

Back then, the min. word length for a book was 50,000 words.  The decade before they preferred 40,000 words (like the Ace Doubles).  In the 1970s-80s, it was 60,000 words.  Today, commercial publishers don’t want to see a genre novel less than 80K words, and like them up to 100,000.

Is more better?  The end result, sometimes, is a lot of padding and unneccesary banter dialogue, dreams, or sub-plots.

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