Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,


I was seventeen when I finished my first "novel". Except that it was more like a novelette. I think it was around 50,000 words; hard to say, since it was saved in five files and I've lost all of the first file and most of the fifth to disk corruption. In theory, it was to be book one of a five-book series. This is part of why I think of Prophecy as my first book, and not book one of Riddlequest. (Leaving aside the fact that Riddlequest is utterly dreadful in most ways.)

But one of the problems I had when writing as a teenager was "What comes in between?" True, most of my writings were fragmentary: bits from the beginning and sometimes bits from the middle, with no end in sight. But on the occassions where I not only had a book idea, but I knew how it began and ended, I still didn't know what happened in the middle. With RiddleQuest, I knew that the protagonist had to solve five riddles, I knew why he had to solve them, and I knew what the solutions were and generally how he arrived at them.

But what happened in between "This is the riddle" and "this is the solution"? I had no idea. There were a handful of in-between scenes in Riddlequest, most of which had nothing to do with the plot. They were just things that happened on the way between finding out the problem and getting to the solution. Other things could have happened instead. It really didn't matter.

And even so, I couldn't pad out the story to novel-length. It was short and I knew it. But I didn't know how else to write it.

Fastforward to 2005: Now I can't remember how to make a story short.

Prophecy can, perhaps, be forgiven for running 210,000 words: it's in the Big Fat Fantasy genre and I wanted it to be long and complicated.

But Silver Scales is pushing 100,000 words and I'll bet it's got at least another 50,000 to go.

My RPGs are the worst offenders. They explode in all directions in terms of length. "Mirari" was supposed to be a "short story" of an RPG, and Tufty and I anticipated wrapping it up in 6-8 sessions. Two years and 120+ sessions later, we finally brought it to a close. Just Trust Me? Also meant to be a short story. It was shorter than Mirari but still ran for over a year. I'm not sure how many logs, but at least sixty. Game of October has been going since last July and the average player has progressed maybe ten days in that time. Time moves at equally sluggish speed in the Silver Scales setting -- a hundred entries later and thirteen days have passed.

That's part of the issue, I know. I'm afraid to speed time up, especially in campaigns. I want the players to control the actions of their characters, and that means I don't want to zap past whole days or weeks without giving them a chance to do things. To make choices. Even if I don't have any interesting plans for the next twenty days of game-time, I don't want to take away the opportunity for them to do things in that time.

Silver Scales is a bit of the same way. My mind is always thinking "And what do they do now?" I don't want my characters sitting around twiddling their thumbs in the reader's mind. And in both case, it seems easier to write what's happening now, to throw in those details that may or may not matter, then to skip them. "But what if I need that later?" I'll think. "What if that turns out to be important?" In Silver Scales, of course, I could backfill, but the audience reading along would notice if I did. In a campaign, though, you really can't. Once that opportunity is past, it's gone.

I wrote above, "it seems easier to write what's happening now". That's a key part, too. Sometimes I'll want to start a scene that's set "some hours later". And I have a hard time getting into it, figuring out the bits I need. When that happens, I turn back the clock. "What happened right after the last thing?" Especially in RPGs, this is true. I'll often turn the clock forward in my initial log starter, and then wind up ratcheting it back, thinking that my problem is that I'm glossing over too much, that I'm dictating the PC's actions instead of letting the PC make decisions. Moving the action earlier is good for filling time and pages. But not for being concise.

I don't know how worried I really am about this. On the one hand, I do fret over boring my players, or my readers. On the other, I'd rather spend time writing unnecessary words, than time stressing over how I could skip writing those unnecessary words. Writing is not only more fun than stressing, but it also takes less time.

But it does seem ironic to me that twenty years ago, I couldn't figure out how to fill pages, and now I can't remember how to stop.
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