How much can you cut from a published novel—and still have it reflect the original story?
I've pondered that as I've been acquiring audio books for an upcoming road trip to Phoenix, Arizona. I plan to attend a book-collector's convention, so all summer I searched at garage sales and thrift stores for audio books by the authors who will be attending.
The main author has been writing since the mid 1970s, so many of his books were published on audio cassettes. (I drive one of the last cars built with a cassette player.) An interesting thing about those books on tape: while a version with the entire text of a novel contains twelve cassettes, the audio versions of some of his earlier books contained just four. If there was comparable time on each cassette, then only a third of the text made it onto tape.
I can't blame just the cassettes. I've acquired some similar novels on CD that came with five disks. But when I looked in the library for audio books by the same authors, they contained twelve and even fifteen.
If you had to cut two-thirds or even half from your novel, what would you omit—and what would be left? Listening to the five-disk version of Jack Du Brul's adventure novel Havoc, I was shocked to realize the entire opening chapter—fifteen pages dramatizing a maguffin-carrying passenger's experience on the final flight of the German airship Hindenburg—was gone. Better than nothing, yet in some ways like the false-front buildings on the street of a movie set. If you want sub-plots, don't listen to a shortened audio version.
But this past week I did see one book on cassette whose short original length meant the full version could be presented on just a few tapes—even if the labeling did make me shake my head:
The Bridges of Madison County—Unabridged