If your novel is too short, is there an easy way to make it longer? How do you beef it up without adding lard?
Rob posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
This is a follow-up to the question about scene/chapter length. When writing a novel with short scenes (i.e. 1000 words) it seems you run into the challenge of coming up with MORE scenes to make a full novel. For me, I always feel like I’m coming up short. If I want to write a 100,000-word novel with 1000-word scenes, that means coming up with 100 scenes. Seems like a lot of scenes to invent. I’m tempted to make scenes longer just so I don’t have to work so hard.
Is there a method to “beefing” up a plot?
Randy sez: The trend these days is to shorter novels. Ten years ago, the number I heard for a full-length novel was about 100,000 words. When I went over 110,000 (which was most of the time), my editors let me know I was stretching the budget. When I went over 120,000 they either got a special dispensation from the pope or they told me to cut back. (Hint: cutting back is easier.)
So these days, if you come in at 90,000 words you’re fine. So rather than “beefing” up your novel, you really want to “tofu” it down.
If you can’t come up with that many words, making scenes longer isn’t the answer. Each scene has a natural length. That may be 100 words. It may be 3000 words. I’m pretty sure I’ve written scenes that short and that long. If you try to make a scene longer or shorter than its natural length, you distort the story.
What do you do if you need more words than you’ve got? The simple answer is to add another story thread. Your main story focuses on your lead character (or lead pair if you’re writing a romance). If you want to add another story thread, then add another major character, write a one-sentence summary for his story, then expand that to a one-paragraph summary, then expand that to a full page synopsis. Make sure that this story thread intersects with your main story thread at every possible opportunity.
Add more story threads until you have enough of that pesky “beef” in your story. I typically have 3 to 5 viewpoint characters in a novel. Of course, one of these dominates the story, but generally one or two others have really major roles to play.
That’s how I add beef to a story, because I’m a character-oriented writer. I’m wondering if plot-oriented writers (or setting-oriented or theme-oriented writers) have a different way to approach this. What do my Loyal Blog Readers think? Do you have any tricks and tips for adding beef without adding lard? Leave a comment and share your secrets!
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Blog of the Day: Those of you who’ve been following my thoughts on the brave new e-future we face in publishing may find this blog post from a couple of days ago of high interest: “Publishing is the New Literacy” by blogger Jane Friedman on her “There Are No Rules” blog at Writer’s Digest.