I’m working on a new novel. I know, shocked, SHOCKED to hear there is gambling going on in this establishment. (#48, for those of you keeping score at home.)
The definition of a novel is fluid, and depends on who you ask. Some consider it as low as 30,000 words. Others range up to 60,000. I use the Hugo Awards definition, because I primarily write science fiction. (Not that I can ever see myself getting nominated for a Hugo, unless someone pulls a Chuck Tingle on me. I’m old, white, nominally-cis, and Euro. But weirder shit has happened.)
So, forty thousand words. The first novel I ever wrote was Imposters, and it was a novella where I added enough bits of story to push it above 40. I’d written a lot of novellas and shorter before that, so I just really had to add a single extra story arc to the thread and I was good. The second novel was Auberon, although it came out first for technical reasons. I’m way better at my craft today than I was then. Just reading from Auberon to Petron will show you that, but there are several million words written between those two books.
So my novels fall into a handful of categories.
Forty-five thousand words is enough to tell a full story, but you have to keep it tight, fast, and action-packed, or you start meandering into slush and dullness. I have a number of those because it forces you to up your craft and focus on just the parts of the story that matter, leaving out all the sidequests that do not advance story.
For me, the next cluster runs around sixty-five thousand, plus or minus. Same action-packed, but now I can add a second main character and give them a full story line to themselves. WinterStar is like that, with both Daniel and Kathra having equal parts of the story. Kathra fades some as the main second character later in the series, but that’s because other characters rise and each get their time in the sun. Ndidi, Ife, and A’Alhakoth all factor largely in later novels, plus the two villains get to chew scenery.
Above sixty-five, right now, you have Jessica. Auberon is the shortest at 78,000 words and they creep up from there as my craft got better. The last four all clock in around 135,000 words.
The Jessica Keller Chronicles are all generally fast-paced action space opera, with enormous casts of characters so big I had to include a list at the front of every one, with clues you could discern before reading, if you were sharp.
Those long novels pace just like the shorter ones though. They just happen to tell 2-3 times as much story. Epic Space Opera requires that.
But this week, I started a new project. I first had the idea in about 2016 or so but I wasn’t good enough at my craft to even consider writing it, because the scope of world-building was enormous. Each of them felt to be 175,000 words in my head then. Still do. Large enough casts, but big personalities. Big problems. Epic, cataclysmic clashes even greater than Winterhome, Petron, or the Star Tribes books. And even the Star Dragon introduces actual gods at the end.
I’m going beyond that here. Not in scope, because how do you top a story about conquering the entire galaxy and everyone in it?
No, here, I’m taking a different approach to the storytelling itself.
I have a Triumvir of heroes, each of them flawed in their own way but striving. I have a megalomaniac who doesn’t see himself as the villain at this point, fighting his own war against the galactic overlords. I have an alien species of conquerors who take me back to the old D&D days.
In the way back, Half-Ogres were drawn as huge, disgusting slobs of fat and anger. Which was how they were described.
However, when they published stats for them, one set listed them as a playable race at 7’6 and 350 pounds. Shaquile O’Neil, in his playing days, was 7’2 and about 300. That sort of description is just Shaq’s bigger brother. And he was a world class athlete, as long as he wasn’t shooting free throws.
So my uber villains run from 8-10 feet tall. 400-600 pounds. Short, broad versions of Nordic giants, if you will, because given the physical stats, half-ogre just implied to me quarter-stone-giant.
Blue, with red to white hair, because I could. Muscular, because I wanted them to be physically imposing. Mean SOBs.
But pacing is the key. I’m 13,500 words in right now. Nine chapters, which have introduced each of the four main players, and each of the problems those four will have to overcome by the end. Characters, in a setting, with problems.
I haven’t even really gotten to the try/fail loops. Just world-building on paper, trying to micro-setting a sentence at a time as part of opinion and observation. Problems, conflicts, and the beginnings of a whole raft of triple-crosses, because all of the heroes are flawed in their own way, and malice and misunderstanding is everywhere.
Writer-brain keeps going back to a pace Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) suggested we call Epic. Not exactly slow, but I’m also not starting with a bang like a pulse pounder here. I have a HUGE sandbox into which to cast story, rather than trying to keep it fast and tight. I can wander, but at the same time, writer-brain wants tightness, because I have a lot of story to tell.
Right now, it might just be a trilogy. Dunno. Three big stories to tell. which will combine over 400,00 words, and I might have something even bigger, because of the way the universe open-ends at key places. There are other stories that could be told, if I want to pursue them. Other lost races and forgotten technology to consider.
But for me, this project is all about practicing pacing. With each novel or story, I am trying to practice some aspect of craft. Depth. Voice. Visualization. Emotional manipulation. Something.
Pacing right now.
And I’m having a ball. How about you?