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Does Length Matter in Scifi Prose?

How big is it?

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted a blog.  I’ve been really restricting distractions while I finished the last chapters of Ensnared, a Sci-fi themed yaoi novel. Toward the last chapters, I was using every possible distraction as an excuse to walk away from wrestling with the ending. I even cleaned the oven, for goodness sake! The oven!

I have often said to new writers without the funds or the time to go to a writing program that they don’t need a degree to be a writer. I say that with even more vehemence if it happens that I am having a flashback of some pompous dullard reading from an opus about a writer writing about writers writing. Or the endless and allegedly deep discussions on whether or not a writer needs to tell a story – can’t they find a way to have a reader not read but sense the story on some subconscious level? Wow, those memories STILL make me want to punch someone in the face twenty years after grad school! Jon is pointing out that I’m still bitter. Ah, well. Where was I?

Deb vs Random Shiny Objects

I was going to make a point about the main thing that the Creative Writing Program gave me – hard deadlines. I knew I had to have a completed story and a chapter of a book finished each week to distribute for feedback. And I knew that at the end of the program, I had to have a completed novel. That really makes for a disciplined – though often freaked out – writer. I have a lot of time on my hands, and I do try to keep my days well structured. But the lack of a hard deadline or an editor to breathe down my neck makes it very easy to get distracted. There are a lot of diversions even in our modest household. There are two cooking channels and more cooking on PBS. There is way too much on the internet that is a distraction. Aside from the feeds on the social networks, there are places where I can watch every episode of Starsky and Hutch or all the episodes of Midsomer Murders  I missed when it stopped airing in the US. This was bad before I discovered the sites where I can catch up on anime I’ve never seen or manga I haven’t read. Bad all bad.

Toward the end of the book, I had managed to filter out all of the obvious distractions because they made me feel really guilty. That’s when I turned to ‘practical’ distractions like sorting through the ponderous pile of medical records, putting those crates of photos into albums like I always planned to do, or cleaning the oven. And let’s not forget all of the cooking. Only some of that was necessary.
But wait, didn’t I turn in a feature script draft from concept to finished draft in a couple of weeks? I had a few people breathing down my neck including a co-producer and an actor. It’s hard to ignore them when they can tell you’re online…or know where you live…or have keys to your house. That wasn’t a good idea.  Maybe I should find an editor like Ailawa-san from Junjou Romantica, my favorite editor in anime. She is known for busting into a writer’s home and beating the story out of him.

What’s the issue? This is one of my naughty sci-fi books, after all. How difficult could it be to throw a couple together and let nature take its course over and over for pages on end? Well, I never just throw together anything. Even my fanfiction was some sort of exercise about character arcs or writing styles or genre themes. In this case aside from building a post apocalypse society from scratch, I knew the book would be the first of at least a trilogy.

Thus, one of the problems was how to give it a satisfying ending while it was clear that the story of the couple would continue on. There has to be an obstacle for them to overcome at the end that will compel the reader to read the next installment while not leaving them on a cliffhanger. That really ticks me off as a reader of books and a viewer of films. I finally decided to go with what I like doing with any romances — scifi, fantasy or not –, the story ends shortly after the couple figures out their relationship. From that point forward, only death will tear them apart.

That does not mean that their adventures are over or the incredible danger to them has passed, but as a couple, they are a solid union. There are no spoilers to the story here. In my romances, it is the wild ride the couple takes and whether they survive it that keeps my gentle readers on the edge of their seats not whether or not the couple stays together.

My couple’s arc finishes after one final and serious threat to their lives. It is clear that there are still gravely important tasks yet undone. There is still a significant threats to their lives ahead. Thus, I’m fairly certain my readers will want to continue to follow their story. But I hate when there isn’t a satisfactory amount of denouement. Aside from the couple, there are some supporting characters who have endured a great deal of suffering. They each need a moment or two to gather themselves for the next ordeal. In other words, I believe the book needs a little time like the end of Star Wars where the characters are being hailed by the rebels as heroes and perhaps wear really bitchin’ boots.

Okay, I know what I should be writing to wrap this up, but there was still a problem. I had gotten hung up on the book’s length. It’s the longest book I’ve written in one fell swoop at over 180,000 words or 375 pages in standard prose format. It took me a while to get over that. I was looking at the competition whose books are considerably shorter. I needed to realize that there are still a number of successful books that aren’t sparse in their prose. I’m mean, this is still less than half as long as the later Harry Potter novels. And I don’t waste pages describing every piece of furniture in a room or every eyelash on a lid. There is a lot of action in the plot and a whole heaping helping of white hot naughtiness! After slapping myself around, I finished Ensnared. At least, I finished the draft. I have to leave it alone for a few days. Then, I’ll adjust some things before sending it to the proofreaders. I’ll have excerpts and the incredible cover artwork up in a couple of weeks.

Now, I can chase shiny object with less guilt.

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