173,570 Words or How I Inadvertently Wrote a Fantasy Epic

Open book with pages forming a heart.
Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

In publishing there exist some basic expectations on length. This comprehensive, and I think sensible, source tell me that most novels are between 60,000-100,000 words. Fantasy, which spends more time and space world-building, tends to weigh in at 90,000-120,000 words.

Here are the word counts for The Mythic Series:

The Mythic – 99,137
The Mythic and the Horses of Doom – 99,767
The Mythic and the City of Sweet Sorrow – 108,780
The Mythic and the Illustrious Lie – 115, 132

That’s a slow uptick, but even Book Four is still within the “traditional” fantasy novel range.

Then The Mythic and the Rosetta Engine happened. I say “happened” because its final length was not at all intentional. I wrote the outline. I wrote the first draft. I don’t pay attention to page or word count when I’m in that space. In the planning stage I have a basic idea of what is a “novel” length but I’m ultimately guided by what the story needs.

The first draft process is about getting words on the page, the best words I can at the time. I don’t look at overall length at that time, I’m singularly focused on turning that outline into a living draft. At the time I do recall thinking it was a hefty beast of a book but only a wee bit longer than the preceding entry.

But it’s not. Book Five tips the scales at a massive 173,570 words. In traditional terms that is apparently “an epic”.

How did this happen?

One, the first draft was written over a period of four years while I was working full time. I plodded along with it whenever I had the headspace, and free time, which was not often. It was not my main focus, which I assume is why I was unaware of the sheer amount of story the book contained.

Two, I initially planned to publish it in parts, even carving up the text so I could better concentrate on each section. I did this even before I had finished the first draft, feeling I needed to immediately start thinking of it in parts rather than a single piece of text. By dividing it up this way the manuscript’s true size was disguised.

Three, the story simply is this long. Book Five is where I test Lucy Knight by taking everything away from her, quite literally, and seeing how she operates. I put her up against not one, but two major antagonists, including her “arch-enemy”. I pay off four previous novels of character growth, make some mind-blowing revelations, and add about another two billion characters to the series roster. I can see why I might need a few more words than usual to achieve this.

Four, I’m a verbose writer even when I’m trying not to be. I use three words when one would do. Ernest Hemingway probably could have told the story in half as many pages but Hemingway also never had to write dialogue for a cat. Cats are notoriously long winded.

In fact, The Rosetta Engine could have been even longer. Once I realised just how large it was I excised the back fifth of the book. This didn’t just reduce the story, it enhanced it, forcing me to come up with a different conclusion that ultimately improved the tale and the series as a whole.

That’s the “how” and also “why”, I guess. So “what” about Book Six?

I can confirm it’s an epic tale, but not in size. Repeating Book Five is something I’ve been painfully aware of during the planning process for its successor. Having now birthed such a massive baby I have no desire to repeat the process. Rewriting and editing The Mythic and the Rosetta Engine was…something.

Which isn’t to say I don’t have another epic in me, or in The Mythic Series. But it is to say if I write another single piece of work that long I’ll do it on purpose.