The Poetics of Science Fiction and being paid by the word
I found The Poetics of Science Fiction on academia.edu and downloaded it and am mostly enjoying it and learning things from it.
Stopping to note, though, the section on Pulpstyle, which is actually pretty cool and illuminating in a few ways (specifically comments about the use and effects of particular pulpy techniques). But then–
More noticeable than these stock lexical variations are adverbial qualifications to reporting-clause verbs. This addition of adverbials helped the pulp writer to earn an extra few half-cents. Characters rarely just say or sigh or mutter something; they do it „meditatively‟, „savagely‟, „bitterly‟, „softly‟, „curtly‟, „briskly‟, „carefully‟, „doubtfully‟, „uncomfortably‟, „profoundly‟, „heavily‟, „dispassionately‟, „beatifically‟, „urgently‟, „tiredly‟, „unhappily‟, „drily‟, „unsympathetically‟, and so on. Even more profitably, pulp writers often expanded adverbial qualification into an entire extended phrase, so characters do things „hurriedly and efficiently‟, „slowly and thoughtfully‟, „extending his arms in a similar gesture‟, „in Rod Blake‟s voice‟, „between a cough and a sneeze‟, „sighting the ion-gun at the nine flapping, rapidly vanishing things scuttling across the red dusty planet‟, and so on.
Now, this stylistic feature is inarguably part of the described style. He goes on to quote a few sentences:
Blake stared. He stared with steady blank gaze at that perfectly impossible Japanese maple. He gawked dumbly.
Rod Blake sat down and laughed. He laughed, and laughed again.
They moved. They moved hastily back across the sand dunes to the ship.
The author here explains this as a product of the writers wanting to make more money–they were, after all, being paid by the word, and therefore had no incentive to be efficient, and on the contrary plenty of incentive to pad things out.
Here’s the thing. Publications that pay by the word don’t generally just want huge-ass manuscripts. They have upper limits–either explicitly stated in their guidelines, or unstated but definitely influencing what they’re likely to buy and publish. When you’re writing for such a publication, there’s no percentage in needlessly padding out your story for a couple extra cents. In my experience, you’re far more likely to be ruthlessly economizing, slashing whatever you can to fit your story in the amount of space you have.
And speaking just from my own experience, these examples don’t sound like deliberate padding to me. They sound like hurried writing. In fact, they all remind me very much of the more egregious examples on display in the work of Lionel Fanthorpe, who rather notoriously wrote whole novels over a period of days, hundreds in the space of a few years, mostly by, from what I can tell, free-associating into a tape recorder and passing that off to someone else to type out.
And I gather the writers for these pulps weren’t making their money on the extra cent or two in every ms–they were making it by sending out as many stories as they could to as many magazines as would buy their work. They had to write quickly and efficiently–no long and careful polishing for the successful pulp writer!
And editors aren’t–weren’t–stupid. They had a certain amount of money to spend, a certain number of pages to fill, and readers to satisfy. The whole “it was so long because he was paid by the word” thing is just foolish–the editor would reject it or if you were lucky cut it down or demand you cut it down to within acceptable limits. And the result needed to be something the magazine’s readership would probably enjoy, or at least enjoy enough to be willing to buy the next issue, otherwise the magazine would lose readers and hence advertising dollars.
No, those repetitions and extra words are more likely due to super-fast writing, by people who weren’t (yet, or ever destined to be) very good writers, who were typing on paper that cost them money to begin with and a fair amount of effort to make corrections on, and who had a pressing need to finish the story and get a new blank page onto the platen ASAP.
Seriously, I’m enjoying this book, but I do wish the “it’s padded out because they were paid by the word” thing would be seen for the foolishness it is.