Writing Perspectives: Things that Make a Long Fic

After nearly 10 years (this past August was its 9th) Wayward Son is coming to an end, my friends. I just published chapter 79 and it’ll all be over with chapter 83. I made that point, among others, at the end of the latest chapter, and I also made a promise: To post some entries on my blog about Wayward Son before it’s finally complete! Thus, today I’ll discuss my fic’s ridiculous length.

Not only have I been working on it for a damn good chunk of my adult life, it’s also gigantic by most standards. While not the longest fanfic I’ve ever seen (that would be the Subspace Emissary’s World Conquest, at over 3 million words), it’s easily the longest thing I’ve written and the longest English fic in the FE section. When I started it, I never anticipated it would be THAT long. Maybe 250,000 words, 500,000 at most. But things sort of spiraled out of control. Why? Well, there are a few reasons.

1: Lack of an editor. As proud as I am of Wayward Son, if I were to really go back and rewrite it there’s probably a lot of stuff I could cut out. I could compress the Civil War and Renault’s wandering with Varek, possibly remove some plot threads that didn’t go anywhere, clean up the writing, etc. etc. etc. A good editor probably could have helped me pare it down by a third or even half! Again, I’m proud of my work, and IMO it’s as good as I could have expected a fanfic of its nature to be, but man, I see why editors are considered indispensable in professional publishing.

2: The number of themes expressed over the course of the narrative. Wayward Son would have been MUCH shorter if it was just Renault’s personal story. Heck, some early drafts were as short as 10 chapters! However, and perhaps unwisely, I decided I wanted to pack in a lot of stuff in Wayward Son. I wanted to really flesh out Eliminism as much as I could, as well as other religions across Elibe, as well as the political systems and popular cultures of each country, all while making points against anti-religion, about warfare, tolerance, and personal growth, fleshing out a large cast of entirely original characters, and foreshadowing/explaining many of the events we saw in Fire Emblem 7!

That’s a whole lot of stuff, eh?

Combined with a lack of editing, the expansion of my ambitions also resulted in the huge expansion of my fic, far more than would otherwise be expected. So let that be another lesson for me, and any writers reading this: It’s OK to set high goals for yourself, but the *number* of goals is important. If you set too many in terms of plot like I did, you’ll find yourself writing more and more and more, far more than you originally wanted!

3: Related to the above, the number of segments/plot arcs you set out for yourself. Wayward Son can be pretty evenly divided into these:

A: Renault’s early life as a mercenary (about 15 chapters)

B: Etrurian Civil War (about 25 chapters)

C: Renault’s time with Nergal (about 10 chapters)

D: Renault’s wandering across Elibe (another aprox. 10 chapters)

E: Renault slowly inching towards redemption with Varek as they travel together across Elibe (another 10 chapters)

F: Renault’s personal journey of redemption after Varek passes away (about 13 chapters; the last arc, which we’re in now).

So 6 main story arcs, each of which could be divided into smaller ones, of course. Cutting or combining a few of these might have reduced the length of the fic quite a bit.

3: Finally, plain old ending fatigue. I’ll admit I’ve felt a lot of that with Wayward Son, though that’s a subject for another post. While you’d expect ending fatigue to result in a shorter fic, the opposite can also sometimes be true–if someone’s really tired and exhausted, they may trade editing and really thinking about the plot in order to pare it down for just going with whatever they can, even if the latter choice requires more writing. I’m almost done now, thankfully, so it’s not so bad when I can see the end in sight, but I think the final third of this story might have been a lot more “efficient” if I had the energy to really go back and think about its plot.

So, yeah…while it’s a sign of dedication, persistence, and effort to make a fic over 1 million words, it’s also not necessarily an unalloyed good, and can indicate some things you might change if you could do it all over. But, of course, at this point it’s too late to change now. Just have to keep pushing forwards! So that’s the note I’ll leave with today. Dunno what I’ll post next week, perhaps my writing method. We’ll see 😀

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3 comments

  1. It certainly could have been shorter. I won’t lie that my yearly rereads of WS Part 1 take me over a month. But I do love the depth, and all the time that was spent on Part 1. With Part 2, I can see where you could have shortened things, like the culture chapters of each land. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed them, but they were quite long at times.

  2. reveilles · · Reply

    A nice analysis of writing a long fic and the mixed bag that can result. I particularly liked your acknowledgement of the key role editors play! There’s a mark of maturity in your development as a writer. 🙂 Congrats on writing so much, though! Sticking with a project for 9+ years, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, even if there was a bit of diarrhea of the word processor. 🙂 I’m writing a story that is about 3/4ths done, and I expect it’ll be about 450,000 words total. Short, compared to yours, but I’ve been learning many of the same lessons. I’ve relied heavily on beta readers, which has helped me a great deal in pruning things.

    1. Thank you very much! 😀

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