RANT: Toddlers and Tiaras

The rainy season came and with it indoor exercise. So I went down to the gym to walk the treadmill.

Right in front of the treadmill are huge TV screens that show a variety of channels. Today, during my exercise, I watched a reality show around underage beauty pageants called ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ on TLC, which is a show about beauty pageants for infants.

I don’t mind (too much) if an adult wishes to enter into a pageant. Although I dislike the vapid nature of pageants where superficial aesthetics are awarded, I can understand why some people need the validation. I can understand pet pageants, where dogs and cats are groomed until sometimes they no longer resemble pets.

I cannot stand these beauty pageants for infants and children. Of course I’d heard of the show and I’d seen flashes of announcements, but I never watched a whole T&T episode.

Apart from dressing up toddlers as adults and teaching them how to ‘seduce’ the panel, the children seemed to be programmed to become self-centered superficial brats. An 8-year old girl was behaving horridly egotistical, smugly announcing that she’d feel bad for the other contestants who would be crying when she’d walk off with the crown. She ended up getting a price for best personality (!) and three other awards, but the ulitmate award went to a 1-year old. She was visibly upset, crying and pouting, and went into a total meltdown in the corridor behind the stage.

And the parents looking at each other with tight plastic smiles hiding the raging hatred. Talking to each other how ‘rude’ some parents were for not having their child on the stage on time, and gnashing their teeth about the injustice of a one-year old winning a 1,000 dollar award.

I look at my three-year old, smearing her face with chocolate and laughing at herself in the mirror and I realise how child abuse can take different forms. Dressing a child up as an adult and proclaiming that they ‘like’ going to these meat market pageants is just as horrific as claiming they ‘like’ to be sexually intimate with adults. These beauty pageants teach children how to behave like adults in order to please adults.

Children have an innate need to please their parents, both because they love them and because children do realise that they are dependent on their caregivers. To abuse that need for affection by parading them on superficial beauty/popularity meat markets is just as despicable as sexual abuse.

Of course the parents who project their vapid ambitions on their children will claim that the children enjoy the pageants, relish the dressing up, and welcome the competition. I won’t deny that. I’m sure they do. But you have to ask yourself ‘why’?

A child needs affection and encouragement. And children have excellent antennae to gauge their parents feelings.

These pageant children relish dressing up. So does my 3-year old daughter. She dresses up like a lion or a horse or a crocodile. Sometimes she dresses up like a princess. It’s a way for children to try out different personae and interact with the world.

The competition is a different aspect. Children are geared towards pleasing their parents and they know they’ll be praised for performance. However, competition has a dark side where sportsmanship is denied and children are encouraged to ‘crush’ the competition. Children crying because a panel didn’t consider them the most beautiful child is a clear signal of rampant egotistical superficiality. Instead of teaching children that happiness is more important than beauty, these children will become self-centered brats for whom adoration equates success. And where the lack of adoration plunges them into deep and dark despair. They’ll be beautiful on the outside, but ugly and twisted inside because their beauty becomes their only currency for affection. And they won’t have the mental development of adults to deal with this ignominy.

And no child welcomes a highly strung competitive ‘beauty pageant’, where they are taught that dressing up provocatively and wiggling their undeveloped bodies for adult strangers will get them parental adoration from ‘caregivers’ who have no idea how grotesque their ambitions truly are.

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Reprobate, a short novel? An insight into word count.

REPROBATE

I’ve had several people comment on how Reprobate is an excellent story, but ‘on the short side’. This comment puzzled me, since Reprobate clocks in at a word count of 111,932 words. This was one of the reasons why, when TOR editor Melissa Singer considered Reprobate for publication, one of her comments were that Tom Doherty Associates rarely publishes suspense novels over 100,000 words.

Reprobate’s original length was 127,000 words when the manuscript was entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest in 2010 (under the name Peccadillo), where it reached the quarterfinals and received this Publishers Weekly review:

Fast-moving and intricately plotted, this manuscript of Dutch intrigue follows assassin Katla, who’s renowned for her ability to cover up a job. When the U.S. DEA’s base in the Netherlands catches wind of a heroin ring within the U.S. military, they set up an undercover operation. When the heads of the drug ring discover the plot, they arrange for Katla to assassinate the undercover agents, but the assassination doesn’t go as planned. As Katla recovers from injuries sustained in the botched job, DEA agent Deborah Stern and her colleagues investigate. Violence, drugs, and sex abound in this intense story, and the plot is less farcical than a lot of the thrillers clogging the shelves.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I bolded the first words. Even at its most bloated, Reprobate was considered ‘fast-moving’. So I checked what the average word count of suspense fiction should be, and I found this article on Writer’s Digest by Chuck Sambuchino, who writes:

ADULT NOVELS: COMMERCIAL & LITERARY

Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.

Now, speaking broadly, you can have as few as 71,000 words and as many as 109,000 words. That is the total range. When it dips below 80K, it might be perceived as too short—not giving the reader enough. It seems as though going over 100K is all right, but not by much. I suggest stopping at 109K because just the mental hurdle to jump concerning 110K is just another thing you don’t want going against you. And, as agent Rachelle Gardner pointed out when discussing word count, over 110K is defined as “epic or saga.” Chances are your cozy mystery or literary novel is not an epic. Rachelle also mentions that passing 100K in word count means it’s a more expensive book to produce—hence agents’ and editors’ aversion to such lengths.

In short:
80,000 – 89,999:       Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:    Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:           Too short
110,000 or above       Too long

Chick lit falls into this realm, but chick lit books tend to be a bit shorter and faster. 70-75K is not bad at all.

So, if we take the above in account, Reprobate is ‘too long’ and, according to Rachelle Gardner, an ‘epic or saga’. So why do reviewers comment on Reprobate being ‘too short’ or ‘a short novel’?

Since Reprobate is available in e-book only, it’s difficult to assess the ‘heft’ of the book is, but considering that most novels are around 80-90,000 words, Reprobate is a whopping 25% thicker than the average paperback novel.

Next I went to a website where I could cut and paste the first chapter of Reprobate into a window and have the algorithms calculate the Readability Score. With these results:

Reading Ease

A higher score indicates easier readability; scores usually range between 0 and 100.

Readability Formula Score
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease 79.6

Grade Levels

A grade level (based on the USA education system) is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 4.7
Gunning-Fog Score 6.9
Coleman-Liau Index 9.9
SMOG Index 5.3
Automated Readability Index 4.3
Average Grade Level 6.2

Text Statistics

Character Count 20,500
Syllable Count 6,473
Word Count 4,694
Sentence Count 452
Characters per Word 4.4
Syllables per Word 1.4
Words per Sentence 10.4

So I can rest easily. Reprobate is not short, but my writing style evidently allows for quick reading and that makes the ‘epic length’ of Reprobate seem much shorter. If you have questions about the readibility of your own manuscript, go to Readability Score and take the test yourself.