Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Fifty Blank Pages

I’ve got a new gimmick for novels that no one will even know is a gimmick until they finished the book. I’m putting fifty blank pages at the end of my next novel. It's terrible for trees, but I'll print on recycled paper if that will fix things up ecologically. It's just got to be done. I've got to fool readers into believing the book is longer than it is.

As much as they might want to, most readers don’t ride a book. They're smart and critical and look for all the clues. They can decipher the theme behind Gatsby’s riches before the first party is over. They register that a third of the way into Stephen King's Dead Zone, Mr. Smith has only begun to get the powers the plot revolves around, and judge King’s efficiency. They catch not only foreshadowing but all character and plot details to build a mental schematic of what is possible in the book, and thereby predicting what's to come. In building such schematics nothing is as useful as book geography - that is, what page you're on out of how many pages are in the book. They simply can't have figured out the killer in a twist-a-thon mystery with a hundred pages left. The terrorists must have an escape plan if they're busted with so many pages left to go.

Everyone does this, which is to say: I do it, and do it often enough that I can convince myself that everyone else must. Hey! Don't shy away from that. That's Dostoyevsky-level introspection and honesty right there. I am a repentant asshole when I read; I constantly apologize and keep on sinning. There are a few wonderful readers who sink deep into the book and turn the last page in the hopes that there’s a brief final chapter on the inner book jacket. These wonderful people will forgive so long as the book is good (that part I’m working on), while the schemers require a scheme. Their reader's foresight is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night, knowing no matter how hard I plot, whether my audience can or can't predict exactly what will happen, that they will expect something to happen based on the typographical real estate remaining.

Very few writers can beat the schematic-building readers. That’s why I’m doing this. Fifty blank bonus pages at the end of my next novel so you’ll be sure there’s another reveal. Is she really his mother? Were the jewels real? Surely I’ll reveal it in the end. Except those twists are stupid and I’d never dream of including them. Instead I’ll give you the space to invent your own filler, which you might have hated had it been there.

You'll think there are sixty-five pages left when there are only fifteen. By this means you’ll remain comfortable, not bracing yourself for detachment. It’ll tie up before you’re ready, when you’re still at the height of feeling and full of schemes about where this is going. Fifty blank pages will be the painting of the tunnel on the mountainside, or the sharp turn that sends the coyote off the cliff, or whatever your favorite Roadrunner analogy is. The main character dies in the shoot-out, is pronounced dead and does not make the miraculous recovery you thought he would because those next several dozen pages aren't part of the plot at all. They're simply recycled red herrings.


  1. Unless you're someone like my daughter, who looks at the last page first... :)

  2. I suggest 50 pages in the middle - I always read the first chapter or 2, then skip to the last page. Kill joy. Peace, Linda

  3. Dude, just started reading your blog. It's awesome in general... and this post cracks me up. What a great way to subvert the reader's all-too-predictable expectations!

    Glad to find you on the Internets,

  4. I'm glad you liked it, Chandler. Welcome!


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