I was watching a "making of" feature on one of the "Star Wars" DVDs with my son recently and discovered that George Lucas' original script for the first movie alone comprised about six hours of screen time.
Turns out it wasn't conceived as a trilogy after all--the script was just too darn long. He shot the first third and called it "Episode IV." (Where he got his system of numbering was not addressed).
Does "War and Peace" need to be 1,400 pages? Maybe. But did the first draft of "Ring of Fire," my contemporary suspense (or so I thought at the time) novel need to be 184,000 words? Most decidedly not. But coming from someone who consistently writes 34-second TV spots (note: industry standard is 30 seconds. Always has been. Always will be), it was hardly surprising. The frustrating part is I spent nearly six months just planning the book: character outlines, chapter-by-chapter analyses of books I was trying to emulate, a chapter-by-chapter outline of my own book, and so on. And still I filled it with things that I needed to know but my reader did not.
With my less-than-stellar publishing history, I decided I wasn't going to tell my wife about this book--just in case I never finished it. So how did I write it? You've heard of the "lunch hour novel?" There was some of that. A little bit after work, too. But mostly at home, late at night or during times when Susan was out with friends or otherwise occupied.
Ultimately, it took about two-and-a half-years to "finish" it. And when I presented it to Susan, in December 2004, I couldn't have been prouder. I had finished my first novel, and I actually thought it was pretty good. So confident was I, that I gave it to a few friends and relatives to be "test readers" for me. Not one of them took me to task over the sheer length of it, but my mild-mannered mother-in-law demurely asked "Does it have to be so...detailed?"
Reluctantly, very reluctantly, I decided to revisit it. I had heard others say "when you think you're finished, put it away for a month or two and then come back to it." Easier said than done, but oh, so true.
Meanwhile, having learned not to approach publishers directly, I began my search in earnest for an agent. I began shopping my 184K-word manuscript to agents. More on this quixotic endeavor later.