Extremely Lengthy Creation YKTTW Discussion

Extremely Lengthy Creation
A list of works that took decades to create.
(permanent link) added: 2011-10-27 15:09:27 sponsor: Hadashi edited by: ArcadesSabboth (last reply: 2015-01-03 15:16:59)

Add Tag:
A work's size, of course, rarely hints at the lengths an author went to to write, compile, and pass the trial-by-fire that is publication.

As a general rule this trope covers anything that took more than ten years to write or make, or that involved some truly labyrinthine process, or simply because of Development Hell. While a publicised work is trapped in an Extremely Lengthy Creation it is often comes to be considered Vapor Ware. Occasionally this can be a very good thing as having a long time to think about your creation can result in a worthy Magnum Opus, however spending too long on something can result in a work that is completely overwrought and filled with flaws that you don't notice because you have spent so long looking at whatever it is that you become blind to your own mistakes and used to your Purple Prose and alliterative grammar.

This trope is divided into three categories:

  • In-Universe Examples: These examples occur within a work; if the book is about Sue's decade-long fight to finish her Magnum Opus, it goes here.

  • Normal Examples: This category is for examples of works that took a long time to complete relative to the medium used. For example, if it is a book up to five years is relatively average for a first novel and one-two years for anything after that. As a general rule, anything over six years for a novel and ten years for a door-stopper should be listed. If the book was planned in advance to, say, document a long period of time, it doesn't count unless it over-runs significantly.

  • Delayed Creation: This is for works where the creator had their initial idea years before, but didn't start working on it properly for a long time. This can be because they lacked the technology, the money, the time, or the motivation, or they needed some sort of epiphany to get the creation started. Note: Beware of adding examples that are really Vapour Ware.

A series that is just incredibly long-running is a Long Runner.


[[folder:In-Universe Examples]]


  • In Middlemarch by George Eliot, Rev. Casaubon's life's work, an unfinished book The Key to All Mythologies, is intended as a monument to the tradition of Christian syncretism. It turns out that this life's work is useless as he is behind on current studies (he doesn't read German, so his scholarship is incomplete). We also learn he is aware of this but has put too much time into his research to admit it to anyone else.
  • "Leaf by Niggle" by J. R. R. Tolkien: The title character Niggle starts to paint a forest, and after many years, dies and leaves a painting of a leaf. (One wonders if it expressed JRRT's experience of writing The Silmarillion.)

[[folder:Normal Examples]]

Anime and Manga
  • Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka took decades.
  • Hunter Hunter As of 2011, Yoshihiro Togashi has been drawing it for 10 years and is still not finished. It is not a particularly lengthy series compared to its Shonen Jump brethren, but rather, Togashi took so many long breaks, one of which was 15 months, that it has taken this long to make it.

  • Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk. First issue dated February 2006, second issue April 2006 ... third issue May 2009. Three years. Apparently, after the intial delays, they decided they might as well hold onto it until the remaining issues were complete.
  • Planetary: A 27-issue, supposedly bi-monthly comic that somehow took over a decade to complete, the longest gap being between the final two issues (dated Dec 2006 and Dec 2009).

Fan Films
  • The Doctor Who Fan Film "Devious" has been in production since before 1996. (They got Jon Pertwee to reprise his role as the 3rd Doctor, in what was possibly his last filmed performance.)

Film -- Animated

  • The Bible took millennia -- though it is, in actual fact, far more than one book.
  • Dictionaries; they are always a work in progress. Examples get updated, new ones are added, old ones are removed, and it can go on for centuries. In fact, the only thing that really stops the process is when a publisher decides not to release any new editions or goes out of business.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien:
    • Wrote The Lord of the Rings between 1937 and 1949. Didn't finish the appendices and final edits until 1955.
    • Started work on what would become The Silmarillion in 1914. After his death in 1973 it still wasn't finished, so his son Christopher Tolkien continued working on it and it was finally published in 1977.
  • It took Stephen King decades to finish The Dark Tower series.
  • Charles Darwin left his book On The Origin Of Species in a drawer for almost 20 years before finally publishing it out of concern for how it would be received (which, as history has proven, was very much justified). Indeed he intended for it to be published posthumously until Alfred Wallace had a similar theory and Darwin had to publish it or lose credit for his life's work.
  • Witness of Gor, the 26th novel in the Gor series was stuck in Development Hell for 13 years.
  • The Shelters of Stone, book 5 of the Earths Children series too 12 years. Jane Auel really likes to do the research.
  • Orson Scott Card, in general, starts up a book series, and then gets sidetracked and starts writing side stories, new series, or something else entirely.
    • Children of the Mind came out in 1996, and despite fans wanting to know what happens next, Card wrote a ton of prequels.
    • It took seven years to make the fifth book of the Shadow prequel series.
    • He co-wrote Lovelock with Kathryn H. Kidd in 1994. It's supposed to be part one of The Mayflower Trilogy, and the second book still isn't out.
    • The Crystal City, sixth book of the Alvin Maker series, came out in 2003. Book seven, Master Alvin, is still in the works.
  • 3001: The Final Odyssey took Arthur C. Clarke ten years to write.
  • Gordon Dickson's Childe Cycle had a great scope: a book series that spanned humanity's development, that would have included not only several sci-fi novels, but historical and contemporary works as well. However, Dickson focused more on the Science Fiction novels, and died before he even got a chance to finish his work.
  • Robert A. Heinlein started working on a novel in the style of his juveniles and set his notes aside. Years after his death, those notes were passed on to Spider Robinson, who turned them into the book, Variable Star.
  • House of Leaves took ten years to write.
  • James Joyce spent seventeen years writing Finnegans Wake.
  • Harry Potter took seven years of planning and organizing before Jo Rowling published the first book.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell took a decade to write. Author Susanna Clarke has spoken about ideas for a sequel, but it's been in Development Hell since then.


  • Brian Wilson's album SMiLE: Production started in 1966 while Wilson was with the Beach Boys, the album was finally released in 2004.

  • Guns N' Roses, Chinese Democracy: Production began in 1994, and the actual album was released in 2008.

Theatre and Opera [[/folder]]

Video Games
  • Duke Nukem Forever took 13 years to develop. The answer to whether its quality after those years was worth the wait varies.
  • Team Fortress 2 took Valve nine years to make and were damn close to spending ten on it. The devs were working on Team Fortress 2 after they made Team Fortress Classic. Then they became part of Valve and started working on a Goldsource version, then constantly changed everything around until they released it in 2007.

[[folder:Delayed Creation]]

  • Inception was in Christopher Nolan's mind for years before he finally made the film.
  • James Cameron started to work on the film that would eventually become Avatar almost right after Titanic was finished in 1997. Unfortunately, because he kept waiting for the technology to catch up to his vision, people started to place it on lists of "movies that will never be made."

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: C. S. Lewis first pictured the faun from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when he was sixteen. He finished the book when he was fifty.
  • The sequel to the first Indiana Jones trilogy had been planned for over a decade, but it had to wait for a plot that all the major players (Spielberg, Harrison Ford, etc.) felt was worthy of the title character.
  • Elie Wiesel waited ten years before writing about his experiences during the holocaust, as he felt he was was too close to it emotionally 'to see clearly'. The first manuscript for what would become Night was more than 850 pages. He spent the next few years whittling it down to just a lean 116 pages for the American publication.
  • The Sholan Alliance by Lisanne Norman: The first book was published in 1993, the 7th in 2003. The eighth book wasn't published until 2010. Some of the delays can be traced to the author moving from England to the Eastern U.S.A., then to the Pacific Coast.

Replies: 104