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 masterpiece. 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 vaporware.
- The eponymous Mr. Holland's Opus. Mr. Holland takes a temp job teaching music appreciation in a high school to support himself while working on his opus and it still isn't done 30 years later when his position is terminated, but that doesn't stop his former students from coming together to perform it at his retirement party.
- 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.)
- Midsomer Murders: In "Fit for Death", Miranda Bedford has been writing a novel for decades: to the point that many people don't believe it actually exists. Towards the end of the episode, another character attempts to destroy the manuscript (thinking it may contain incriminating information) only to discover all he has destroyed is her handwritten copy. The novel has been sold to a publisher, and her transcriber has been delivering each chapter as it is finished.
- Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka took decades.
- Hunter × Hunter As of 2020, Yoshihiro Togashi has been drawing it for 22 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. The latest chapter was released in November 2018, and the current hiatus has lasted almost 2 years.
- Berserk, similar case with Hunter × Hunter as the manga artist takes long breaks in between.
- The Five Star Stories
- Ultimate Wolverine vs The Incredible Hulk. First issue dated February 2006, second issue April 2006. Third issue... May 2009. Three years. Apparently, after the initial 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 December 2006 and December 2009).
- 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
- Princess Mononoke: Hayao Miyazaki took 16 years to fully develop the characters and plot of the film.
- Bambi was meant to be the second Disney feature after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with development starting in 1936, but production went slower than expected as animators struggled to get the realism Walt wanted for the film. By the time it was released in 1942, three other features had premiered in the meantime.
- Sleeping Beauty took six years to produce, as Disney wanted it to be a "moving illustration", rich in detail.
- George Lucas worked on Strange Magic for 15 years before production began.
Film — Live-Action
- Boyhood was filmed over a period of 12 years (although the total shooting time was only 45 days) in order to follow its young protagonist as he aged naturally, rather than have different actors play the same character at different ages.
- Quentin Tarantino:
- It took six years to write the entire script for Kill Bill before being split into two parts. The original draft was about two hundred twenty pages long.
- He spent just over a decade writing the script for Inglourious Basterds because, as he told Charlie Rose in an interview, he became "too precious about the page", meaning the story kept growing and expanding.
- He worked on the script for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for five years.
- John Milius wrote the original script for Apocalypse Now in 1969 and he and George Lucas spent four years developing it, with principal photography expected to start in 1971 before it was shelved. Francis Ford Coppola came across the property in 1974 and started filming in 1976. What was supposed to be a four week shoot balloned into fourteen months before it was finally completed. In fact, it took so long to complete that it was dubbed Apocalypse When? and Apocalypse Never.
- Michael Cimino submitted the script for Heaven's Gate in 1971, but the project was shelved when it failed to attract big-name talent. Production started in 1979, but wasn't completed for another two years.
- A New Hope: George Lucas had the idea for a space-fantasy film in 1971. However, he has said that he had the idea long before then. He began writing in 1973 and production started in 1976.
- The Bible took centuries — 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.
- 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.
- The Shelters of Stone, book 5 of the Earth's Children series took 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 Ender's 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.
- 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.
- James Joyce spent 17 years writing Finnegans Wake.
- Harry Potter took seven years of planning and organizing before JK 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.
- George R. R. Martin began A Song of Ice and Fire in 1991 and is still writing it. The first three installments came out rapidly beginning in 1996, but once he hit plot snares while writing the fourth installment, each subsequent book has taken about five years to be released.
- Stephen King started writing "The Gunslinger", the first short story in The Dark Tower, in 1970, but only managed to finish it in 1978. This was followed by four more short stories between 1980 and 1981, which were collected as The Gunslinger in 1982. This was followed by The Drawing of the Three in 1987, The Wastelands in 1991, and Wizard and Glass in 1997. Then, in 1999 King got hit by a car, realized he might actually die one day, and released Wolves of the Calla, The Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower within a year, 2003 - 2004.
- Robert Caro's multi-volume biography about President Lyndon Johnson. Caro started research in the late 1970s. The first volume was published in 1982, the second in 1990, the third in 2002 and the fourth in 2012. A fifth volume is still in the works.
- The Divine Comedy took over 12 years for Dante to compose, leaving him only a year on Earth left after writing an adventure set "midway through the journey of our life."
- According to Christopher Paolini, he worked on To Sleep in a Sea of Stars for around a decade before it was published.
- Margret Mitchell began working on Gone with the Wind in 1926. The book wasn't published until a decade later in 1936.
- Mrs Mike by Benedict Freedman was published in 1947. The sequel, The Search for Joyful, came out in 2002 followed by Kathy Little Bird in 2004.
- 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. A long-running joke held that China would become a democracy before the album would ever get released. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
- Wish Upon a Blackstar by Celldweller: Production began in 2005; the full album was finally released in 2012.
Theatre and Opera
- The Master And Margarita opera took Alexander Gradsky 30 years.
- 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 GoldSrc version, then constantly changed everything around until they released it in 2007.
- Duke Nukem Forever took 14 years to make, in part thanks to all the engine switching and extra features added to 'be the most technologically advanced game ever'.
- The Doom mod Mordeth was planned to have at least two episodes, with the first one coming out in a fairly reasonable time frame. The second one? Well it started sometime in 1997, and has spent so long in development that Duke Nukem Forever ended up being announced, developed and released in the meantime.
- Tobias and the Dark Sceptres spent 13 years in development. Its creator even made a video about it titled 'the game that time forgot' going over why it took so long.
- The Super Mario World ROM hack Brutal Mario has spent 11 years in development so far, with a final release nowhere in sight. Well, we think it's spent 11 years in development, since the first ever demo was actually the sixth one, meaning that it could well have spent many more years in development prior to that.
- Mother 3 took over 12 years to make. Work started on it as soon as Earthbound released in Japan in 1994. Originally planned as a Super Nintendo Entertainment System game, it was soon moved to the Nintendo 64 as the SNES was nearing the end of its life. Specifically, the game was planned to release on the Nintendo 64DD add-on, which itself faced several delays and flopped in sales after its eventually release in 1999, and was never released outside of Japan. This led to the game being further delayed so it could be released on a standard N64 cartridge, but the team's inexperience with the then-new technology of 3D graphics (and the absence of Genius Programmer Satoru Iwata) caused development to progress slowly even before the DD failed, and the game was ultimately cancelled in 2000 when it became clear it was not going to be done while the N64 was still relevant. The project remained dormant for a few years until Nintendo decided to try again on the Game Boy Advance, where sprite-based graphics would hopefully result in a less overambitious project; even then, it didnt release until 2006, the very end of the GBAs life, which was a major factor in why it never came out outside of Japan.
- Koei Tecmo's Nioh had been in development as far as 2004, years prior to the merger between Koei and Tecmo. Initially conceived as a PlayStation 3 Eastern RPG based off of an unfinished Akira Kurosawa movie script, the game had its development shut down and restarted numerous times throughout the years. Eventually, after the merger, Tecmo's Team Ninja was brought onto the project in 2010, but their first attempt at the project also ended up being shut down due to it being too similar to their own Ninja Gaiden games. After the project shifted from the PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 4, production was restarted on the game in 2014, with the game now envisioned as a Souls-like RPG. This time it did stick, and the game was released in 2017 to rave reviews and commercial success, receiving a PC port later that year and a sequel four years later.
- Final Fantasy XV is one of the most infamous examples from video games. Originally announced at Sony's E3 2006 conference, it was originally titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII and was set to be part of a trilogy that consisted of Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Agito XIII (later renamed to Final Fantasy Type-0), and Final Fantasy Versus XIII, collectively named Fabula Nova Crystallis and set to be released exclusively for the PlayStation 3. However, news on the game was scarce for more than half a decade aside from trailers being shown in 2008 and 2011, and the game hadn't even exited the preproduction phase by the time of the latter year. In 2013, after undergoing a change in directors and been heavily reworked, the game ended being reannounced to the world as Final Fantasy XV, this time as a Multi-Platform game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, with the intent to release it in 2016 at the latest, a deadline it was able to meet. Whether it lived up to the decade of development and years of hype still remains a debate among fans, but it was commercially a success and sparked a Newbie Boom for the Final Fantasy franchise.
- At 29 years, Richard Williams' animation opus, The Thief and the Cobbler, a.k.a. The Princess and the Cobbler, a.k.a. Arabian Night, currently holds the Guinness World Record for the longest production time for an animated feature and the fourth longest production time for a film overall. Development began in 1964 and Williams was in and out of production working on other things, repeatedly getting into trouble financing it, having it go through all kinds of Development Hell, eventually losing the rights to the movie, before it finally saw a release in 1993.
- Very common in the Disney Animated Canon:
- Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953) and Lady and the Tramp (1955) were in various stages of production when feature film production was halted in 1941 when America's entry in World War II rerouted the studio's output to the war effort. (Alice, in fact, was one of the stories considered for feature adaptation before Snow White.) Some of the segments in the "package features" of the second half of the 1940s were also unfinished feature projects from before the war, particularly the The Wind in the Willows segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, which was already being animated in 1941.
- Disney originally planned to update Fantasia every year, but its initial failure put a halt to that. After the success of the 50th anniversary re-release in 1990 and subsequent home-video sales, a second Fantasia feature was put into production, with each segment being made during production lulls starting in 1995. Fantasia 2000 was finally released in 2000, sixty years after the original.
- Treasure Planet was first pitched back in 1985. It only went into production in 1997 because the directors would only do Hercules if the studio let them do Planet after that.
- The king, or queen of Disney examples is probably Frozen. Disney had ideas for adaptations of The Snow Queen for seventy years, and had initially wanted to do a hand-drawn feature, but by then there had been changes in management and the audience had grown tired of Disney Princess films. It wasn't picked up again until the success of Tangled.
- The King and the Mockingbird began production in 1948 and was released unfinished in 1952; director Paul Grimault was dissatisfied with it and spent the next fifteen years trying to get the rights back, then another ten years attempting to gain financing to be able to finish it the way he wanted it. That definitive version finally came to theaters in 1980.note
- Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie (which was meant to be the series' Grand Finale) began production in 1998 and had been partially animated in 2001. A Made-for-TV Movie called Arnold Saves the Neighborhood was developed alongside it. However, Nickelodeon expected the film to be a hit after the two Rugrats movies took off and gave it a theatrical release in 2002 under the title Hey Arnold! The Movie. The Movie did horribly and both critics and audiences responded negatively to it. The Jungle Movie was then cancelled and the series ended with two big unresolved plot pointsnote . In 2009, fans of the series began petitioning for the film to resume production and the series gained a new surge in popularity once it began airing as part of The '90s Are All That block on TeenNick in The New '10s. In an attempt to Win Back the Crowd and cash-in on 90s nostalgia, Bartlett confirmed in late 2015 that The Jungle Movie would resume production. The film ultimately premiered simultaneously on Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, and NickSplat on November 24, 2017.
Film — Live-Action
- Christopher Nolan's ideas for his later films came well before he turned famous. He decided to sit on them until he had the experience and the backing to make big-budget films. Inception was in his mind for years before he finally made the film. The initial idea for Dunkirk (2017) came to him in 1992 when sailing to Dunkirk (France) with his now-wife Emma Thomas.
- James Cameron started to work on the film that would eventually become Avatar almost right after Titanic (1997) was finished. 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 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, Lucas, and Harrison Ford) felt was worthy of the title character.
- George Miller thought up the concept for Mad Max: Fury Road back in 1997-98. After a long pre-production (during which he released three other movies), over seven months of filming with a very Troubled Production, and over two years in post-production, it finally released in 2015, nearly twenty years later and thirty years after Thunderdome.
- Sergio Leone first got the idea for Once Upon a Time in America after reading The Hoods in the mid-1960s. He spent much of the sixties and seventies trying to get the film off the ground, meeting with author Harry Grey several times to understand America through his point of view. Casting for the film began in 1975 and at one point, Leone passed on directing The Godfather in order to get it made.
- Gandhi: In 1962 Richard Attenborough was contacted by Motilal Kothari, an Indian-born civil servant working with the Indian High Commission in London and a devout follower of Gandhi. Kothari insisted that Attenborough meet him to discuss a film about Gandhi. Attenborough agreed, after reading Louis Fischer's biography of Gandhi and spent the next 18 years attempting to get the film made. He was able to meet prime minister Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi through a connection with Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India. Nehru approved of the film and promised to help support its production, but his death in 1964 was one of the film's many setbacks. Attenborough would dedicate the film to the memory of Kothari, Mountbatten, and Nehru. Attenborough first offered Candice Bergen her cameo role in 1966 while they were filming The Sand Pebbles.
- 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.
- 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.
- Iginio Straffi had wanted to make a "flesh-and-blood" version of Winx Club since 2011. He hesitated to pitch the adaptation until he gained some experience with live-action himself. After working on Nickelodeon's live-action series Club 57, Straffi approved Fate: The Winx Saga for production, and the first season was filmed from September to December 2019