Wayward Son was started on August 31, 2006. In just under two months, it will be the seventh year I have been working on this story. Over the course of those seven years, Wayward Son has grown far, far larger than I ever intended it to. At the moment, it is 780, 583 words long, according to Fanfiction.net’s word counter. As far as I am aware, it is the longest Fire Emblem story on that game’s section in FFn, and perhaps the longest made so far among English-speaking Fire Emblem fans.
Not that it’s the only one, of course. FoxwolfJackson’s “Spellbinding Radiance” is another one of the FE fandom’s long ones (at 571, 439 words as of this writing) and the longest piece of fanfiction I’m aware of is AuraChannelerChris’ “The Subspace Emissaries’ World Conquest”, at 3,521,795 words and counting right now (It was written for Super Smash Brothers, not Fire Emblem). I bring these up to emphasize that I don’t think Wayward Son is the “greatest thing ever” or anything like that. I don’t think it’s worth reading solely because of its length, and I don’t think I’m a super-impressive author for writing something that long. I am well aware there are other writers who have accomplished feats equal or greater than mine (needless to say, this applies even more so to professional authors who’ve actually gotten works published of over a million words). I also have nothing against shorter pieces. Indeed, the fic I, personally, am most proud of is Certainty, a smaller, three-chapter story written a bit before I started Wayward Son. I have gotten some flak over my “super long epic” and how people perceived I perceived it before, so I include this disclaimer to make it clear I’m not trying to puff myself up or put others down.
I do think, however, that other people can learn from my experiences over the past seven years. Perhaps authors who are writing or planning to write “epics” of their own will be able to avoid my mistakes and replicate my successes, or at least appreciate a fellow author’s perspective. Perhaps authors of works of any length can appreciate my observations, coming from as strange a place as they are. With that said, let me share what lessons I’ve picked up over my years of writing:
1: Sometimes you’ll find your stories “running away” from you. This is how my “epic” started, at least. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.
Initially, Wayward Son was slated to be around 10 chapters long—a loose series of vignettes depicting various stages of Renault’s life. It turned out to be an exhaustive examination of virtually his entire (very long) life. Alas, I don’t remember when I made that decision, though I must have an idea of what I was getting into when I posted my first chapter, which definitely set itself up for a longer narrative. However, I do know for sure that I didn’t intend to write a “massive epic” when I first started drafting Wayward Son. I’m pretty happy, overall, with what I’ve accomplished, but the same might not necessarily be true for everyone who’s experienced this. Just remember that sometimes your stories will take a life of their own, and when that happens, it’s up to you to direct them towards a good outcome.
2: Setting up a constant publishing schedule is a good thing, I believe. It lets you pace your writing better and keep reader interest. However, I think once a month is the least frequent you should go, while weekly may be very challenging.
Posting a schedule has two advantages: First, it gets you used to deadlines—even if they’re self-imposed, it’s still good practice for when editors and employers may require them if you publish original fic or nonfiction. Secondly, keeping yourself at a steady rate of production rather than intermittent, randomly distributed bursts of productivity will keep you encouraged, positive, and ultimately more productive, IMO. Finally, I think publishing on a predictable schedule will help you keep regular readers. If you fail to update for a long time, people may get bored of waiting and even forget about your fic.
3: On that note, whatever your schedule is, it’s a good idea to keep ahead of it for a while.
As I’ll mention later, you may want to change things quite a bit as you progress through the story, but it’ll be harder to “retcon” something if you’ve already shown it to your readers. That is one of the disadvantages of publishing serially, chapter by chapter rather than letting loose with everything at once. You can mitigate this to an extent, however, by really pushing yourself at some point, either the beginning or middle of your story, to get several chapters out well ahead of schedule, so you have a store of things waiting to be released on the day you have to publish just one chapter. It’ll be hard work at first, but the extra breathing room it’ll give you later can come in handy if it turns out you have to do some reviews and re-editing further down the line.
4: “Long Epics” do not appeal to everyone. Do not expect yours to. In fact, you should expect many readers being turned off by the length right off the bat, and even a degree of hostility, if you’ve made any e-nemies.
As someone on Serenes Forest told me, “I’m not gonna read Wayward Son because it’s too damn long. That will suffice as my critique of it.” There are some folks who prefer longer stories, but there are also many who prefer shorter ones, and I think the latter group outnumbers the former, for too many reasons to get into here. This goes double for “M” rated stories and those about relatively obscure characters (Wayward Son is both). On the one hand, big fics can get a very devoted readership, but on the other hand, that reading pool may be smaller. Don’t expect massive amounts of popularity if you write an “epic” fanfic…though, if you’ve written something like Spellbinding Radiance or the Subspace Emissary’s World Conquest, you may get it anyways. 😉
5: As I’ve mentioned before, your first drafts may be very different from your actual drafts. Expect a LOT of cutting and editing, often a lot of cutting. It’s not a bad thing.
I’ll go into more on this later, but as you could probably tell from my previous entries, Wayward Son had a lot of stuff cut out of it or changed around—the first drafts looked very, very different from the final drafts you see up on FFn. Quite frankly, I don’t think I cut nearly enough; again, I’ll say this in a future entry, but I think I could have pared down the story by at least 100k words, probably more, with removing characters and plot points which ended up going nowhere. Learn from my experience: Be prepared to make a lot of cuts and a lot of edits (if you write a 1 million word story, only about 500,000 words of it may be truly good), and in accordance with lesson # 3, try to do as much as you can to give yourself time to do so!
6: People can change a lot over the course of a year…or three, or seven. Don’t be surprised if your writing reflects this, if the fic changes direction from where you thought it’d go, or even and especially you no longer feel as passionate about it.
When I first started writing Wayward Son, I thought it would just be mainly an adventure with a bit of spiritual stuff thrown in at the end. During the middle sections, however, I got involved with some debates on religion and atheism and ended up concentrating MUCH more on the conflict between the “traditional” political system of Etruria and a secular “revolutionary” movement. Now, though, I find I don’t care that much anymore, so Wayward Son is back to being an adventure with the religious parts waiting for later. Needless to say, I foresaw the changes in story direction about as much as I foresaw the changes in my attitudes towards religion, which is to say, I didn’t see it coming at all. One nice thing about writing an “epic” fic is that it charts your growth as a writer, both in literal terms of improvement as well as even your personality, I believe. You can see how your views on politics, religion, or life in general change by comparing your early chapters from seven years ago to those today. It can be strange to observe when you first think about it, but don’t get surprised—I think it happens to a lot of authors, not just me.
That said, however, you also shouldn’t be surprised if your passion wanes, and that makes itself evident in your writing. I’m no longer as enamored with Fire Emblem as I used to be, and I’m not even as enthusiastic about writing as I used to be. I hope it’s not too evident, though, since Wayward Son is catching up to a story arc I feel pretty passionate about, and one of my side stories, The Confessor, is something I’ve wanted to write for a very long time. Still, you may find that you’re getting more and more bored and irritated with an “epic” you’ve been writing for a long time. In my case, I don’t have much choice other than to continue, but you may have the option of just abandoning it if you want. You might not, though, if you’re publishing things professionally. My only advice, if that is the case, is to find some way to work in ideas or themes that you actually are passionate about, even if you no longer care as much about the story or writing in general. If you can do that, it might give you just enough motivation to see things through to the end, or your next deadline. 😄
Well, that’s all I have to say on this subject, at least for now. As always, feel free to give your own thoughts and/or disagreements in the comments. See ya next Friday, when I may discuss what I like and what I’d change about Wayward Son 😀