Among the struggles I had with Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned was the length of the thing. I didn't want to write a 200,000 word story, because that felt like a betrayal of one of my own principles. I kept telling myself, if I really had my druthers, I would have been able to whip through the whole thing in 150K or less.
By the time I finished my last edit pass, I was more divided than ever as to whether those 200K could have been shaved down further. Much of the story I wanted to tell relied on details about the past, before the story officially started — things that cast big shadows on the present moment. I could have relegated all of that to a single, highly compressed chapter, but then I felt like I would have gutted the story's impact. And there are some moments where time seems to slow down terribly, but again, that's part of a specific effect tied to what goes on in the book.
I still don't know if a far shorter version of this book would have been viable. My guess is there are some people who'll read the book and immediately think: this can go, that can go, yeah, a lot can go. But there are others who will see all that as necessary, and the two parties could fight it out forever. (Bring popcorn.)
What I'm trying to get at is not which one of these two is right in this particular case. It's more that I look at what I just wrote here — about why I ultimately kept a lot (even if I cut quite a bit) — and realized how easy it is to make excuses for your habits, or to rebrand those behaviors as the necessary thing to do in the moment.
Another of the excuses, or justifications, or whatever you want to call them, that I came up with for AONO was that it's just one self-contained story. Going a little top-heavy with it is not the worst thing (I said to myself). It's not as if you're telling three stories like this (I said to myself). But I know what impulse lies behind such statements, and I'm not proud of that. It's not the conclusions I drew; it's the motives I had for making them.
The next book I have on deck is not intended to be anywhere nearly this long — 150K tops — and I've set a few ground rules for myself about how to accomplish that. I know that, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, no good story is ever too long and no bad story is ever too short, but there's a lot I can do outside of falling back on such a catchphrase and hoping it vindicates me.