A Note About the Format of Redshirts
Many of the reviews of Redshirts note it, and the original subtitle of the book (which you can still see on the Amazon page for it) points it out explicitly, so I thought I’d write a little something about it here. It is:
Redshirts is not a novel.
More accurately, the book Redshirts is not just a novel. It is a novel with three codas.
The “codas” in this case are three short stories presented after the novel, which offer some additional perspective on the events of the novel. The novel itself is a complete story — you can read just the novel part and have a complete narrative arc, plot and character resolution and so on. But the complete experience of Redshirts, the book, includes the three stories at the end. The three stories at the end aren’t throwaway bits; the three stories at the end matter.
This is an unconventional format for a book; I’m hesitant to claim a first, but at the very least I don’t know of another book formatted this way. The closest would be novels that have extensive appendices at the end of them: Dune is one, and The Lord of the Rings (which was written as a single novel) is another. But the Redshirt codas are different in form and function than these appendices.
So why did I format Redshirts this way? Here are some reasons, some practical, some craft-oriented.
1. Because the novel was short for a modern science fiction novel. It’s about 55,000 words. As context, Old Man’s War is about 95,000 words, and the contractual length specified in my contracts for a novel is 100,000 words (we’re given leeway). Bear in mind that novel lengths are not set in stone: average novel lengths vary from genre (your average SF novel is longer than a romance, shorter than a fantasy) and from one publishing era to another — Little Fuzzy, published in 1961, was about 55,000 words, and was just about a standard-sized science fiction novel for its era. I also suspect this dawning digital age of ours is going to bring more flexibility in novel sizes. Nevertheless, right here and right now, 55k is an odd size.
When I sent along the novel, the folks at Tor didn’t blink at the length, but I personally felt there should probably be more there. But I also felt the novel was the right length for its story; I didn’t want to go in and pad it out by a third because there’s nothing that sucks worse than a novel you feel is faffing about to reach a contractual length. So I asked the folks at Tor if they would mind if I added some related stories at the end, which I thought would be interesting and would enrich the entire reading experience. They did not mind.
2. The stories at the end were stories that I wanted to tell but they didn’t fit contextually within in the novel itself. They take place after the novel and deal with the consequences of the storytelling of the novel (and no, this is not a spoiler; it’s not a spoiler to note the universe continues after the events of a story). Jamming these stories into the novel itself would have warped the novel and have dissipated its narrative drive, as well as its tone, and I didn’t want to do that. I mean, I suppose I could have done, and I flatter myself with being talented enough as a writer to make it work. But the thing is that I like the novel that I wrote, they way I wrote it, and I didn’t want to mess with it. So I didn’t. I wrote the stories separately.
And as a result, incidentally, I think the stories themselves are much stronger as well. They are better than they would have been if they were integrated into the novel, because they didn’t have to be beholden to the same tone or structure. I had room to let the stories tell themselves, not fit them into an existing structure. As a result, I think the entire experience of Redshirts as a novel with three codas is better than it would have been as Redshirts, a single, larger novel. There’s something to be said with letting stories be the size they want to be, and then putting them into the right sequence for an entire experience.
3. As far as I knew no one had thought to write a book that consisted of a novel and three separate but related short stories, so, hey, why not? I like doing things that other people haven’t thought to do yet and seeing how they work; often they work out in really interesting ways, some of which are hopefully good. As a bonus, on a metatextual level, this structure works really well for this particular reading experience, and that’s all I am going to say about that.
Or, as a shorter answer: I wrote Redshirts this way because it was the right way to write it. And why write it any other way?
One consequence of writing a structurally unconventional book is that people are used to their books being conventionally structured, so when they get to the codas, there’s a possibility of being thrown for a bit of a loop, which is something I’ve seen in some of the reviews. We’ve tried to make sure in the book design that people see they are separate stories, which helps a bit, but even so.
And naturally, this is fine and perfectly fair. When you play with format, you run the risk of people scratching their head and deciding they don’t like it or that they think it doesn’t quite work. Speaking as the author, I think it was worth the risk to get the whole experience right. I do think it works better than it would have the other way. And as a writer, that’s the goal: Get the thing as right as you can get it, before you get it to the readers.
So. Redshirts: A novel with three codas. I hope you enjoy the whole thing.