Entry Three: Ups and Downs

So, first off – YAY – the novel is finished. Except – BOO – no it isn’t. When I saw flyingnorth yesterday, she asked me how I felt about it. I said I thought it needed to be a lot shorter, and she gave me a surprised look and said “No, it needs to be longer – the ending felt too rushed.” And she’s right – and one of the reasons for the rushing was that my fluctuating confidence levels made me feel that nobody wanted to read any more after the initial ‘getting together’ thing  and it was time to wrap it all up as fast as possible. I originally had a longer ending in mind but truncated it for that reason, but now I’m going to go back and write up the original ending. But not immediately. First, I’m going to continue with my edit, so I can get a feel for where we’re at, and how the pacing is going, and what feels right.

Another issue for me with not writing the longer ending originally, was that I worried about the length. I know I’ve talked about the issue of length before, but by chance the other day I came across some reviews to my stories, left in a place I didn’t know people were talking about them, and because they weren’t talking TO me but about me, they were obviously being quite frank in their comments. I’ve read lots of negative things about my stories over the years, and of course I went through that whole SGA experience when I couldn’t move for fandom Queen Bees telling me off for all my writing faults. It’s necessary to develop something of a thick skin. I see no reason why everyone should love my stories – I’m just glad some people do. I do the best I can manage, and if there are ways to improve, I do work on it. I think my stories have improved a lot over the years, but I’m still me, so they’re not going to magically turn into a completely different thing.

Anyway, one of these reviewers was saying my stories are too long, that I labour the point and am repetitive, and she felt 100 pages could have been culled from one of my big epics and it’d have been much better.  As I’m already sensitive to the issue of length, I did think about ways to try and trim down any excess baggage. That’s been very much on my mind during the edit. The first draft of this novel came in at around 150,000 words. If I rewrite the ending it’ll be even longer. I AM anxious about that, but I’m going to just take it as it comes during the edit and do my best to take out anything that feels too ‘baggy’.

I said I’d be honest about the process in this blog, so I hope the process isn’t boring you all to tears. But I think it might be helpful to me when I come to write future novels to come back to this and think ‘oh yes – I felt this way then too’ because I so often FORGET just how much I’ve struggled with the creative process and always think it’s just THIS ONE that’s giving me trouble and usually they’re plain sailing. They aren’t. Ever! I’ve never yet written a long story that didn’t give me grief and heartache at some point. I think the thing with writing fanfic though, is that often I’d feel that way and then just throw up my hands and say “Oh, it’s done – I might as well put it out there. Someone might like it.” As this one isn’t fanfic, it’s harder to have that attitude.

And that, I think, is the source of all my angst generally. Because the writing honestly hasn’t been too hard. This wasn’t a difficult story to tell, and in places it was a lot of fun. It’s a light story for the most part, with a lot of relationship angst thrown in, but it’s all about romantic and sexual dynamics, so there isn’t a big case or mystery in there. I feel I’ve completely de-mystified the issue of creating original characters in an original setting. But with fanfic, you at least know people already love the characters and setting. With this one, I don’t know if they will. I’ve created a colourful but flawed bunch of people, but they don’t fit what I’m usually drawn to when I watch TV shows. In part, I think that’s because I wanted to create something original – I didn’t want to just write Tony and Gibbs avatars, or avatars of some other characters from TV shows I’ve enjoyed. I didn’t want to write about the traditionally toppy character and the funny subby boy with attitude that he’s drawn to. I wanted to do something new. So that brings a wibble factor of its own. Is my dom too un-domly for people to like him? Is my sub too prissy for people to like HIM? Etc etc. It’s all a learning curve, and that, I guess, is the point.

I do love some of the new canon I’ve created for the universe – there’s lots of new stuff, and I like how I’ve managed to bring in a little bit of something new to the universe in each story I’ve written in it. But that brings a problem of its own – this is a fully formed universe because I’ve written several novels in it already now. But if anyone came to it new in this one – is it accessible? I don’t know if it is. I’m trying to explain concepts that have popped up in previous novels, like life-bonding and sharing a plate, without it feeling like I’m going into ‘exposition mode’. But it’s hard to tell if that works.

I do feel very excited about the possibility of writing MORE novels. I’m overflowing with ideas. But I’m very conscious of the need to finish THIS one first. Unfortunately, life is very stressful at the moment, in pretty much every area, and that affects my mood and confidence about writing. Sometimes it’s hard to open up the file without thinking ‘oh this sucks so much I can hardly be bothered with it’, whereas on good days I’m all ‘yay! I love this bit so much!’. That’s part of the ups and downs of the writing process, but they have been magnified on this occasion because it’s the first OC one.

I don’t have a graphic to post for it yet, but I was thinking it’d be nice to do a teaser post, so that’s what’s up next :-)


  1. McShepletGirl

    Yay for the update!
    So, you have a compete draft….that’s good! And you have ideas on how to rework the ending…also good!
    I have no problem with reading long novels….I tackled the three volumes of Lord of The Rings when I was 12….if the story is wirth it I will read it. What I don;t enjoy is authors who write a short novel and feel the need to pad it out to make a longer one. I’ve never felt that about your works…ususally I feel they have ended too soon. It’s not that you have somehow left the story incomplete or left unresolved issues….it’s just that your characters ‘live’ and I believe the situations they have been through and I want to know more about them! I also resent authors who write a short novel…pad it out…and then decide there is money to be made and write a second and third novel which are both basically rehashes of the first one with a little extra….why not ditch the padding in volume 1, add the ‘new’ material from books 2 and 3…and have the possibility of a half-way readable book?!!!)
    I’d love to know who wanted you to cut 100 pages from one of your epics! A few whacks around the ankle with my walking stick might make them see sense! Seriously – I know that everyone enjoys different styles, but I would say for everyone who wants you to cut stuff, there are a dozen who want more added!
    Let’s see….
    24/7….Loved it, some of the earlier chapters could have done with being a little longer – but then I read it wothout ever having seen an X-Files episode so I needed more time to get to know the characters and their lives.
    General and Dr Sheppard….the length was perfect! You needed to introduce the alternate versions and show something of their universe, then you needed to bring John and Rodney to the point when they could see what was under their noses, and finally send the two alternates back home and have some steamy sex for our boys! I honestly don;t see where you could have cut anything without running the risk of leaving the reader feeling the resolution for John and Rodney was too easy and rushed.
    Coming Home….What parts could you cut here? Cut the earlier stuff and you lose seeing how screwed up Rodney is (and John in his own way). …so do you lose some of the main section – John wooing Rodney? (and just have John ask Rodney to be his sub, Rodney seys oh yes please and they go off into the sunset?…..yeah, right! Like that would ever happen with those two!)….Shorten the ending? Where Rodney and John both start to understand they are in a ‘relationship’ – well this is one part I wanted lengthened…I thought there could’ve been more when John was in his coma! (But that’s just my thoughts!)
    Two Masters…a personal favourite of mine…cut one word and they’d be trouble…a whack with the walking stick would be nothing compared to my wrath at shortening this! It is beautiful!
    Two Wolves….One of the more tightly constructed of your novels I feel. ….How could you lose any of it let alone 100 pages!…You need the length at first to build up the tension and the danger – as well as to show the slowly developing relationship between Gibbs and Tony…..the escape needs to be built up to or it would all seem to easy (Saturday Morning Picture Show at the cinema comes to mind….the heroine goes through 58 1/2 minutes of assorted peril before the hero rides up in the last possible minute dispatches the villain with worrying ease and the heroine swoons in his arms)….and how could you shorten Gibbs’ recovery? He went through a hell of a lot – that will not be reolved in one session with a Psychiatrist (…assuming he’d ever go to even one session!) and some hot sex with Tony!
    Soul Deep….another one that needs more rather than less! I missed there being more with Kate – she seemed a bit-player…but then again not really needed for the main story…I’m just greedy!
    Damage – Needs every last word to do justice to what Tony went through and how he overcomes it. Every last word!
    The First Collar…..is a short novel anyway…and romps along at a good pace.
    Hiding In Plain Sight…oh please! What could be cut from this! I know some people aren’t too fond of the part where John punished Rodney – but I just adore that section…it shows that John can make the hard decisions – when it is what Rodney needs.
    Oh, mustn’t forget Subterfuge…again I would have added rather than taken away…just an extra couple of hundred words towards the end…Fox and Skinner are captured and then all of the sudden the door opens and they are saved!
    Three Masters….well, I just know I’ll adore this when you get around to writing it…however long you make it!
    Does Back From The Well count as a novel?….much too short!…this was one where I really felt I wanted more. There was stuff that wasn’t told (I’ve mentioned before that I wanted to know the back-story to the guy who bought Carson)
    So….it is simply not feasible to shorten your epics!
    Just a quick thought about your characters in fan-fic….I see them as ‘original characters’ to some extent. They have a life above and beyond the TV series.
    I think your concerns about accessibility could be valid. A large number of readers will of course be familiar with the universe…..but others not so much. Will you include a short preface explaining a few ideas or will it all be done in the body of the novel?
    So, a teaser post next…..well let me just mention in passing that my Birthday comes up later this month! My Mum knows I am trying to lose weight and has been talking about baking me a fat-free birthday cake …and there are two phrases that should never go together…fat-free…birthday cake!!! “Don’t worry,” she said, “I could sandwich it together with sugar-free jam!”…..A teaser chapter of the new novel might just take my mind of that travesty of a cake! (I’m holding out for a Chocolate Cake!)

  2. Xanthe

    Thanks for this. I know I never feel the need to pad anything out (reining myself in is more the issue!) and I actually HATE writing sequels even though I get asked for them all the time because I tend to view a story as done when I come to the end of it and can’t think what else there can possibly be to say *g*.

    It’s interesting to see you mentioning 24/7 as that was SUCH an early story for me! And as it grew, I think I did as a writer. I only intended it to be a series of BDSM shorts and it ended up being this giant thing with massive plot arcs. I think that’s when I realised that narrative storytelling is always going to be what I’m drawn to and want to express.

    The story where they wanted pages culled was Two Masters. That one WAS awfully long and yet I remember culling about 5000 words during the final edit, so I dunno. To have cut out 100 pages would mean losing plot so I don’t see how that really works. But my worry is holding the reader’s attention and I have less confidence doing that in OC fic (well, especially as this is my first in about 17 years!) than in fanfic where the reader already knows and likes the characters and is invested in their story. It didn’t help that the person doing the reviewing wasn’t familiar with the history of the stories so viewed Walter and Fox as unwelcome interjections rather than understanding that they came from this massive epic and lent substance to the entire universe. And they thought HIPS was a sequel to The First Collar so they couldn’t understand why I was concentrating on so many other characters rather than just writing the conclusion to the story I told in TFC. The thing is, so many of my readers know and understand all this stuff and it doesn’t need explaining.

    That’s also the issue with contextualising this one, in terms of is place in a universe that I’ve established already but others might be coming to new. I’m aware of that and I hope I’ve dealt with it to a certain degree within the text, but yes, I do intend also to do a little intro explanation as well.

    It’s interesting re John punishing Rodney in HiPS because I think sometimes people confuse what I want or enjoy for the characters (and what they do) with what’s necessary for them. There are some bits I really don’t like writing but they seem necessary to me for the psychology and emotional healing of the characters. For example, the public discipline Rodney suffers in Coming Home was *really* hard for me to write. It wasn’t titillating or something I wanted to happen to the poor guy, and it’s not an aspect of the universe I find very sexy, but I do like it as a source of angst and I think it’s also consistent with the universe and the way it operates. Not all spankings are intended to be positive or titillating – sometimes they aren’t very nice, even when they’re necessary within the value set of the relationship or society that’s been set up. And yes – the punishment in HiPS was necessary for precisely the reason you state that it showed John stepping up and doing the hard stuff for Rodney even when neither of them was very keen on it. That’s the issue that was being explored in that section.

    That’s interesting too because in my OC novel, one of the things I explore is a dom who isn’t into punishment spankings of any kind. He doesn’t want to do it. It’s not his thing. He’s very much into erotic spankings but not punishments. So what does it take for him to step up and assume that kind of responsibility? It’s not the sub who is reluctant, but the dom.

    LOL re Three Masters. One day! Maybe *g*.

    And yay to you having a birthday! Insist on birthday cake! Even when you’re dieting, your birthday is the ONE DAY when you are allowed to eat cake, guilt free!

  3. sheepdogmum

    I love a good long read and have enjoyed reading your NCIS stories. Anytime i start reading in any fandom i read the longest stories I can find first. I am looking forward to seeing what wonderful world you have created for us to enjoy. It is always so sad for me when a good book is over:)

  4. Xanthe

    Thank you so much Cheryl! And welcome to the forum :-)

  5. CathyN

    Xanthe- First let me say, I love long stories that I can really get my teeth into and your stories are definately NOT too long, they are exactly the right length! Please don’t get bogged down with old negative feedback. Go with what you feel is right, it’s your story!

    As for getting your ‘Universe’ across, obviously you will have to explain/repeat certain things that you may have already said in your other ‘Fan fics’ for new readers, however that should not be a problem for readers who already know this ‘universe’; many well know authors do it all the time. I am sure that Flyingnorth would have mentioned it, if she felt that anything needed more explaination.

    I am looking forward to the teaser post

    Cathy N

  6. Xanthe

    Thanks so much Cathy!

    And yes – I’ll ask my betas specifically about that point about the universe being accessible.

  7. jacci

    I agree with what everyone has said so far. I love your long stories and if anything, i end up wanting them to be longer!!! Not because they are lacking in anything or there are holes in the narrative, but they are just so damn good I don’t want them to stop!!!!

    24/7 Was my first find when I stumbled across this whole slashy business (the niave innocent i was from the Pretender fandom) and when it was over i was devastated. What do you mean there is no more??? Please Sir, can I have some more? So involved was I in the characters and their story that when it finished it felt like I couldn’t play with my friends anymore. I know to keep going would be wrong, but that didn’t stop me wanting more.

    Then i read The Adversary and i know that is another long read, but to this day this is one of my favourite stories of ALL time, maybe second favorite now as i have decided i like Two Wolves better. And neither of them certainly couldn’t have a single line cut. I woudl cry to know things were missing from those stories, would feel totally cheated!!!

    Your instinct for characters is incredible and you have done it in every fandom you have written in, hell you have made me watch shows because of your writing, so from my perspective, they almost are original characters. To all those haters out there who do nothing but criticise and tear down things, while offering nothing themselves, they can all go hang, they don’t deserve a moment of your precious writing time considering anything they said.

    I know this novel is different, and offers new challenges, but i cannot imagine that unerring instinct letting you down now. All the great stories are lengthy as they create a world and drag you into it, and you can’t do that with a quick fix. You write the story YOU are happy with, and try not to worry about how people will respond. How do you respond to it? How comfortable are YOU with it? If you are then the ones who love you will too and hopefully lots more will discover the incredible and rich and diverse universe you have created and we all enjoy so much.

    Team Xanthe here has your back and always will!!!!!!

  8. slashtasticsam

    I just have to say that I’ve read every single one of your fics on this site. I’m not even into any of your other fandoms besides NCIS and Suits, and yet I felt that I had to read all of them. Why? Because I love your writing style so much. I wandered across Soul Deep by accident and fell deeply in love with your characterizations. I died when Two Wolves came out, it was so amazing, and I freaked out when you got into Suits (yay!!!). Honestly, the thing I love the most about your writing is the length and time and thought you put into each of your epics. When I saw your first blog about the original novel I nearly fell over in glee. :D

    Honestly, I love your stuff so much that I’ve read many of them over and over again. The length is part of why I love them so much! And, I’m sure your original work will not suffer for being lengthy. That’s part of what draws me back to your other fics when I feel the need for a good book.


  9. Xanthe

    Thanks Jacs!

    And LOL re wanting more 24/7! That was like 654,000 words long or something!

    One of my problems is that I always struggle with hating a long story so it’s hard for me to tell if it’s good or bad. Often, the reception surprises me. Soul Deep for example – I wasn’t sure anyone would like that but it turned out to be really popular but Two Wolves, which I thought was one of my best, didn’t perform as well. And yet certain people love it best of all my fics *g*.

    I’m finding it hard to feel that ‘instinct’ because it’s drowned out by the negative voices in my head, but I’m working hard on it and keeping going so hopefully I can out-ride the storm and deliver an enjoyable story :-)

  10. Xanthe

    Thank you so much Slashtasticsam and welcome to the forum :-)

    I love that you’ve read all my stories even in fandoms where you’ve never seen the show! I’m hoping this new story will be really accessible to people :-) .

    It’s really good to know that people like the length of the stories – I will try and stop wibbling about that!


  11. UprightIguana

    My two bits are that stories are as long as they need to be. If a detailed description of a particular gargoyle has something to do with the story or the background or emotional or plot punch, then it needs to be in there and detailed. If not, then it’s padding. If describing the rules of your world, your vampires, your bdsm verse goes to your story, your characters, your plot then yeah, it has to be in there, and it’s not an issue of length but an issue of story telling.

    So while I like settling down to a long Xanthe story, I never thought that they were too long or nice and long. They’re as long as they need to be, whether you’re writing about Walter’s Playroom or going shopping for tailored clothes or the the sawdust on the floor of the arena in Two Wolves or the back alleys and shortcuts of post-Olympic London.

    So, unless you’re planning to turn overnight into Terrence Malick (who directed Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and last year’s Tree of Life), your stories have always been as long as they needed to be. Terrence Malick is an American director who is hailed as one of the great and visionary directors, but whose movies make their point in the first 10 minutes, and spends the next 90 minutes saying the same damn thing until the end credits. And I say this as someone who sat through Solaris (that George Clooney movie that was a slow 2-hour remake of theslow TWELVE HOUR classic Soviet film from a few years back), and who saw and liked Moon (with Sam Rockwell).

    8) subversively yours, the Iguana

  12. McShepletGirl

    I agree that a story needs to be as long as is necessary to tell the tale…and no longer. And yes, Xanthe gets this right every time!
    However, when the characters ‘live’ they have a life beyond the story. You come to the end and you think….yes, this story in their lives is over…but I just know there is more to them!
    Sometimes it is minor characters that resonate. Take 24-7….there are untold stories….what happened to Krycek? Did he escape? (Of course he did and probably killed Franklin in the process!) ….what happened to the other couples? …I think there is a beautiful untold and very romantic story about Ian and Perry.(they accept that their needs are not a perfect match – but seem to have developed a compromise that suits them both……that didn’t happen overnight and I’d love to read about their journey!)…Lee, did he ever grow up? Did he stay with Mike? (Somehow I doubt it…and somehow I hope not!…Mike deserved better!)…..
    Some stories you jsut know are not finished when you turn the last page (or the Kindle equivalent!)…Two Masters…yes, the story was complete when it ended…but only that particular story…Tony and Gibbs still have plenty of ground to cover. Tony’s training had really only just begun!
    Maybe you can see why I keep hanging on to the hope of ‘3 Masters’….24-7 and Two Masters were both complete stories….but I don’t think that the all the stories have been told yet! (and Harvey and Mike would just fit so well into the series!)
    I have to admit I’m all agog at the thought of 5000 words of Two Masters being cut….where are they!….were they honestly just ‘padding’ or are there maybe a couple of untold chapters?

  13. Xanthe

    Thanks Iggy and McShepletgirl!

    McShepletgirl – don’t worry – you weren’t missing anything with Two Masters. I didn’t cut a single scene – I just trimmed my writing down a lot. I noticed, for example, that Gibbs was REALLY chatty – much more than on the show. So I stripped his dialogue down. That was the main thing I did. The story structure remained the same.

    Maybe it’s because I’m finding it hard to be confident writing OC, but my problem with this one is that I’m not sure if people will agree with me about where the end point is. I’m going to go back and make it what I originally had in mind, but I hope people don’t think it’s going on too long. It’s always a problem when most of the point of the story is getting the characters emotionally and sexually together – and yet after that, there’s still a couple more loose ends to tie up.

    Having said that, I felt the same about Two Wolves – I was just more confident in wrapping it up. I envisaged that final ‘healing’ chapter being about 15,000 words long, not close to 35! I did wibble a lot about the ending coming so long after their escape, and yet it felt necessary. Of course, others might not agree!

    In my OC novel, the reader might think the emotional heart of the story is resolved when they get together, but there were two other important points that I felt had to be addressed before the real closure was had so that’s what I’m going on to address. I hope it works.

    One reviewer said I belaboured the point and honestly, maybe I do. I just know that when I don’t, people ask me questions that show the story wasn’t clear. Personally, I enjoy things being spelled out, but some readers might prefer a more mysterious, subtle kind of story where they have to work harder, and if so, I don’t think my writing style will appeal to them. I do worry about waffly bits and my long dialogue sections and I try and really trim during the editing process. I also worry very much about pacing and about internal monologuing which I think can be quite dull for the reader. I try and make sure the stories are long because a lot is happening and not because I’m spending ages getting to the point – I feel a lot happens in the OC novel! Hopefully it’s also engaging enough to keep people entertained and reading, but if not, then I’ll learn from that.

    I DO think that tying everything up doesn’t mean you don’t leave people wanting more. Like you said about the other characters, McShepletgirl. In the OC novel, there’s a couple whose story I touch on but don’t resolve because I want to leave it open for people to imagine themselves or for me to one day write a sequel. That was a deliberate loose end but I think it’s the only one I’m going to leave in there!

    Wow – this is so good to discuss!

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