I’m embarking on draft three of a novel I’ve been working on for quite a while. Conventional wisdom says that I should tighten things up, cut some pages and solidify the main character’s arc.
But now I’m contemplating Gertrude Stein’s strategy in The Making of Americans, a 925-page book that I haven’t read (but I’m almost a third of the way through a 16-page New Yorker article about it!). Apparently some of those pages are devoted to a fairly traditional novel. Others are not. Here’s a passage:
Bear it in your mind my reader, but truly I never feel it that there ever can be for me any such a creature, no it is this scribbled and dirty and lined paper that is really to be me always my receiver…. This that I write down for you a little each day here on my scraps of paper for you is not just an ordinary kind of novel with a plot and conversatiosn to amuse you, but a record of a decent family’s progress respectably lived by us and our fathers and our mothers, and our grand-fathers, and grand-mothers, and this is by me carefully a little each day to be written down here…. And so listen while I tell you all about us, and wait while I hasten slowly forwards, and love, please, this history of this decent family’s progress.
I want to stop, mid-novel, and explain to my readers that, even though my characters might seem boring or unrealistic, they’re in fact really good folks and I'm a hardworking writer, so my readers should be nice to me and just hang in there. I’m thinking that about 500 pages of this would be about right.