The 50-page Rule: “Tension Is Important!”



Years ago — a time when men were kind, when their voices were soft, and their words inviting; a time when love was blind, and the world was a song, and the song was exciting — I would muscle my way through books I didn’t even really like. The point was: I had to finish it.

By the time I was thirty, I narrowed it down to 200 pages for an author to grab my attention. (In fact, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible was the only book I finished after almost giving up at the 200-page mark.)

Then came forty and I scaled it down to 100 pages. Today, you’ve got 50 pages to capture my resolve to slog through more words.

Which brings me to the book I was reading until earlier last night, Rachel Cusk’s Kudos. If agents, publishers and arts councils give you anywhere from 1-20 pages (double-spaced) to catch their eye, then why should we the public have to invest so much more time?

As Mr. Bob (above, Bill Murray) is told in Lost in Translation by his Japanese director for the Suntory whiskey ad, he needs “more intenshitty” and “more tenshun.” The same is true for fiction. You’ve got to bring something to the table early on, or else fogetta ’bout it.


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