September 21

Next update October 5

Last update I was a bit down and depressed, but I’m feeling much better now thanks to a quick trip to Vegas (I lost less than I expected, so that’s like a win) and a visit from some good friends from Canada.

To make things even better, we just got back from celebrating my friend’s birthday and my anniversary (lucky 13!) by going to Fogo de Chao, my favorite restaurant in Austin. (Warning – do not click the link if you are a vegetarian.)

But it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. My golf game is in a rut, and I’m 1-9 to start the season in the NFL pool I enter every year. (I won the last 2 years, and this is a sorry-ass way to begin a threepeat.) Still, the good outweighs the bad so I can’t complain.

I was hoping to have more details on New York Comic Con, but that will have to wait for the next update as we’re still hashing out the schedule. So instead, let me offer the following: a cool blog by Alex Freed, one of my SWTOR co-writers, on expanding the story of the game through comics/novels; and an interview with yours truly over at Newsarama

Speaking of Star Wars novels, don’t forget that Revan comes out on November 15. I’m excited because this is going to be my first Star Wars novel available in both hard cover and digital formats at release. (The Bane novels are in digital format now, but it took a while to get there.) I’m curious to see what that does for sales.

I’ve seen a few people grumbling about Revan’s listed page count on the Amazon and Barnes&Noble product listing.  The complaint seems to be that the book is “only” 320 pages. I can’t help but find that both funny and frustrating – when did the culture of books become so obsessed with page count?

The modern trend – especially for fantasy and sci-fi – seems to be for books to have 500+ (and often approaching 1000) pages. I guess people want to feel like they got their money’s worth when they shell out their hard earned $$$ to buy a book. But length doesn’t equal quality. I’d rather have 300 great pages than a 500 page novel with a couple hundred pages of “filler”.

Of course I realize this is a matter of personal taste. So let me give you my opinion – you’re perfectly entitled to have your own.

I’m not going to point the finger at any specific writers; that’s a good way to get my inbox jammed with e-mails from people trying to defend their personal favorite author. But I will say that there are very few writers who are so amazingly talented they can hold my interest for 500+ pages. 

Fantasy and sci-fi in particular seem to have gotten very “fat” over the last decade. There’s a lot of pointless wandering by characters, endless description of insignificant events or locations, boring details of meals, stories stretched and drawn out to make one more chapter, or one more sequel. Personally, I think this is stuff editors should be chopping away like an angry dwarf with an axe. 

Some of this is economics. Suppose I write a book a trilogy, and the publisher thinks it can make more money by stretching it to 5 books instead of 3. Obviously they’ll encourage me to draw the story out. I’m honest enough to admit I probably don’t have the integrity to resist if they drive the dumptruck filled with money up to my door. There’s a good chance I might just decide to “pad” the writing a bit. 

It’s a good deal for the writer, but I think it actually hurts the story and, by extension, the reader. Some of this blame can be traced back to Tolkien. (Huh, guess I’ll be pointing the finger after all.) I like the Lord of the Rings, but I don’t love it. (Blasphemy, I know.) There’s too much “down” time, too much stuff that doesn’t move the story along. I appreciate world building, but I prefer it to be done in the flow of the narrative instead of bringing the story to a grinding halt.

For me a story is about characters *doing* stuff. If they’re traveling from point A to point B and it takes more than a page or two to get there, something interesting and significant better happen along the way.  

When I plan out my novels I use a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline to plot the course of the narrative. If something isn’t important enough to be included in a summary explaining the story, it doesn’t get a chapter. This helps me keep the story moving; it helps me manage the pacing. It keeps my writing tight, and pulls the reader along.

I’m not saying this is the key to great writing. Hell, even I wouldn’t call my writing “great”. But I think it’s “engaging”. It’s “entertaining”. And it tells a good story without getting bogged down in trivial crap half the audience will just skim over anyway.

That doesn’t mean I’ll never write a 500 page epic. Or a 1000 page opus. But if I ever do, you can be damn sure the book will be that long because that’s what it takes to tell the story. It won’t be stuffed with boring “filler”. (Unless that money truck rolls on by….)

So, Revan is “only” 320 pages or so. Because that’s how long it took to tell the story I wanted to tell. Some readers might be disappointed by this. Some readers might finish the book and feel like they wanted more details about what happens to Revan and the other characters in the book. But for me, that’s not the worst thing.

If somebody wants more, that means they enjoyed what was there. That means they were entertained by what they read. They were engaged in what was happening. And to me that’s a far, far better thing than boring my audience with filler.