I'd like to write a story and I have plenty of elements for it, up to and including a set of locations, characters and events, as well as some loose sequence for those.

This is still a planning phase, though, and I can already see it would span much, much longer than suitable for a beginner. I consider the scope of the story quite epic, but huge chances are I won't become the next Oda Eiichiro, let alone Tolkien.

Therefore, primarily for the purpose of speeding up the introduction of new major characters (which would take ridiculously much time at the current pacing), I'd like to tweak on the scope.

The problem, however, is that for irrelevant reasons, some of the locations visited and introduced in the story are rather fixed already. Some are only relevant for one arc/chapter, but I can't really let them out.

With this in mind, what are some rules of thumb I can use to cut down the length of the story?

I know, leaving little time at each location is one option, but that is quite vague of an idea.

  • For what reason do you think your story might be too long? I mean if you say you are a beginner, how would you judge the size of your story? Why don't you just start writing the way you intended and see where you end? You can always start cutting where needed after your first draft. But adding will be way harder. Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 10:21
  • @TotumusMaximus many of the arc/chapters I envisioned might even be worth a book on its on. Moreover, I have project and time management issues, and am also aware of the often limited attention span of the audience. I can already see it would take too much time to reach the parts about which I'm the most excited. Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 11:01
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    Since you're mentioning Oda, and by extension I presume One Piece, they do have a lot of locations. The series has gone on for over two decades, giving us new locations every now and then, but only one at a time, and moved to the next one only once the story at one location is finished ("finished" in a somewhat loose sense in some cases, but still). Take another fantasy favourite of mine, Codex Alera. The first book is almost exclusively dealing with the valley Calderon. Then the next book introduces the capital. And in each successive book, at least one new location is explored.
    – Arthur
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 12:29
  • What a well written question!
    – Sam Weaver
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 14:47

4 Answers 4


Your question may be good, but I would advise: Don't cut down your story with force.

If I start to read a story, I want to explore a whole new world, with beautiful locations, dangerous places and all the stuff. In the case you cut that down, there is the problem, that your world could be less attractive. It depends on the genre you're writing.

In fantasy I want to enjoy the world, want to know every little detail and be absorbed into the story and learn almost everything interesting about the world. So I would suggest: Don't cut.

Even if a novel is larger it is not a negativ thing. It's the opposite I would say

  • The problem is that as I said, the current pacing is not exactly in align with my goals about the story. I'd like to explore a handful of diverse characters and their interactions to each other, but given their vastly different background, meeting them in the first place, takes some time, up to and including travel. Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 9:05

It's a bit hard to give advise with so little information to base it on, but if your story is about the characters rather than the locations, and your problem is that it takes the characters to meet in the first place, couldn't they all (or at least some of them) meet at some event outside their place of birth?

Consider, for example how the Fellowship of the Ring all meet in Rivendell, at the Council of Elrond; Tolkien never (not in The Lord of the Rings, that is) takes us to Mirkwood (Legolas's home), Erebor (Gimli's home), and it takes more than half the book until we reach Gondor (Boromir's home).

@Pawana is right - if a place is introduced, I want to experience it in full. But if it's relevant only for a chapter, is it all that relevant at all? What is it that makes the place relevant? Can't this aspect be conflated with another place, or shown in a different manner than actually visiting the place? For example, Tolkien sets up Gimli's home in one passage, instead of taking us to a place that's irrelevant to the story at hand:

In metal-work we cannot rival our fathers, many of whose secrets are lost. We make good armour and keen swords, but we cannot again make mail or blade to match those that were made before the dragon came. Only in mining and building have we surpassed the old days. You should see the waterways of Dale, Frodo, and the fountains, and the pools! You should see the stone-paved roads of many colours! And the halls and cavernous streets under the earth with arches carved like trees; and the terraces and towers upon the Mountain's sides! (Lord of the Rings, II 1 - Many Meetings)

In this short passage, we get what the dwarves do (smiths and architects), how they live (under the Mountain), something of their history (dragon), and a notion of what excites Gimli (aesthetics). Couldn't some of your locations be condensed the same way, instead of being visited?

  • About place relevance: my characters are travelling, but by "vis maior", they stuck there for extended time. Maybe should I change on this? Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 11:49
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    @ZoltánSchmidt if your characters getting stuck somewhere for a long time doesn't serve your story, then absolutely - change it. Or, if you need them to waste time so seasons work out the way you need them, just skip over that time, the way Tolkien skips over the months Frodo's stuck in Rivendell. Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 11:56

Make the settings serve the story.

If a setting does that, it doesn't necessarily need to be cut.

It sounds as though it may be fantasy with characters from different locations. In that case, give us a snapshot of each character and their setting but - and most importantly - have them already on the course of action to get onto the main stage of the action ASAP.

As the others said, fix a set bit of action in one place and give us the flavour of it. If the structure of the story is a journey, you already have the excuse to introduce multiple places and give us a set piece of action at each one so we can enjoy it.

If it's arc based, then ground the action in one location until the situation is resolved.

Much of this will depend on your style - the pilgrimage style or the arc based as mentioned, but there is also the multiple narrative thread style.

If action is going on in several places, you could have storylines for each and hop between them - as long as each thread is building towards some resolution as a whole. A story with multiple kingdoms probably in conflict with one another would suit this approach. Then the only editing needed would be to make sure the whole thing is pacy.

However, if you want a thriller-ish feel then location hopping can build excitement - it adds a chase against the clock sensation (e.g. The Da Vinci Code) but probably works best with real world locations everyone can picture instantly.

Secondly, don't over describe. If it's pace and volume that are the problems, give us the flavour of the place - especially if it's a setting only appearing for a few scenes.

Thirdly, if the setting is only needed to introduce a character, consider cutting that scene and then just move their introduction later on. This could also add more mystery about their motivations.

Finally, as mentioned before, make the setting work. If you need a particularly tense scene or moment the setting should match - a narrow alley, the edge of a cliff, etc. Otherwise if you can get away with reusing a previous setting, do it. This will cut down the description needed to introduce the reader to a lot of new places.


What do your readers really need to know about location #73 in book 1? They probably don't need a scene there, with the landscape and biodiversity described in intimate purple prose. Oh, sure, you can have that for location #5. But at this stage, a lot of locations can be referred to in passing in dialogue, and the reader can infer the rest. For example, if there was a widespread problem affecting multiple regions, a leader could receive an advisor's summary of what's happening:

A's reporting civil unrest among the goblin slaves. Spies think B's about to invade C. And the plague has already decimated D.

Obviously your place names won't be single letters, and feel free to drop a few more species names, but that's the idea.

Of course, that's just one example of how dialogue can tell us something. It's probably not even the best one, because it has something of an infodump feel (although you can improve that by fleshing out the characters' reactions through their expressions and movements). Another option is to show how group A feels about group B through the way a member of one mocks a member of another. And a group C member's sticking up for the victim, which adds even more information, has the added benefit of giving the scene some conflict.

Those are just some ideas for you to play around with. If you revisit your favourite works that have a similar difficulty to yours, be they books, films or TV shows, you'll notice little time-saving tricks like this everywhere.

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