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.
Cool. That makes a lot of sense. One follow-up, though. What if you’re writing a novel in first person and can’t use other POVs?
Rob check out Pendragon by DJ MacHale. He uses first person and 3rd person in that seriies. It is how you use them in Pendragon dj uses them to split up the two stories that are being told 1st person is bobby the main character and 3 person to tell the story of bobby’s best friend mark and his gf courtney as they try to do all they can to help bobby from home.
Obinna Ozoigbo says
Hi, Randy! You’re simply wonderful! One-in-a-million! The more I read from you, the more I learn!
Rob, you must be able to widen beyond limits the horizon of your imagination. I am glad you know that a full-length novel must have beef, and not necessarily lard. A full-length novel is all about beef, anyway. Randy is right: making scenes longer isn’t the answer. Like him, I am character-oriented, and would therefore like to advise you to concentrate on creating characters, besides the major one(s). Talk, or write, more about them, too. Let your reader get to know them better. Explore the power of your imagination. That is the principal thing. I strongly recommend Barbara Taylor-Bradford’s A Woman of Substance for you. The word count of that great novel, in my estimation, is a lot more than 180,000–yet it has, not just a sequel, but a number of sequels, which is quite unprecedented (kudos, Babs!).
You see, Mrs. Bradford’s characters were meticulously created, with the necessary details intact. Yet that did not, in anyway, distort the life, and after-life, story of Emma Harte, the formidable woman in the centre of it all.
Rob, may I advise you, in a nutshell, to look for A Woman of Substance. Read it, so that you learn how to “beef” up a novel without adding lard. My second novel is still going through the editorial process. It’s another good example. Just click me your e-mail address, so that I let you know when you’re likely to find it on the bookstore shelves. Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org (hope you don’t mind at all, Randy).
Sheila Deeth says
Thanks. That makes a lot of sense, and I’m about to start trying to turn one of those neither-one-thing-nor-the-other length pieces into a novella, so your advice is very timely.
I like your comment about lengths coming down again. All my novels qualify as short, so maybe there’s hope after all.
I have the same problem as Bob, I’m nearing the end of my first draft but I’m depending on adding a lot more descriptive bits (I’m bad at that and have most of my scenes consisting of 95% dialogue). So I hope Randy is wrong about not messing with a scene once it’s done or I’m in big trouble.
Rob I know what it is like not feeling like you have enough beef in your stories. My second series that I started back in 2006 that I worked on for about 3 years straight, I was updating all eight book outlines before I started writing book one, when I got to book 2 and it was good story, but I knew it needed more, but couldn’t think what to add, adding more characters wouldn’t help. I eventually decided to write the first book and worry about the second one later. Because of that I now have ideas for how to beef it up a little more. Sometimes taking break from a story for sometime is a good way to help you figure out how to improve it. Though I am with Randy about being character orientate.
I had this problem but my issue was story structure. I wrote the plot prior to finding the snowflake method and my novel didn’t follow the proper structure, of building to 3 disasters a key points to get enough meat on it. So I would check that as well. You may need a re-write.
Alex Tanner says
I am a ‘short’ writer. I seem to have the problem that no matter how much story I have to tell (and in some of my work, there’s a lot of story), my first drafts never come in over 35,000 words. I think the average seems to be 28,000 words.
Again, not quite sure why: the story is there. It can be as convoluted as possible, but for some reason the word count never does it justice.
Angela Appleby says
I have the same issue. Working on a memoir and with 13 chapters done already I was thinking I had a lot of words yet when I really look at it it came to only 40 pages if were an ebook! Help!