by Michael Cristiano
This time last year, I thought my newest New Adult speculative fiction work-in-progress about the collective subconscious and evil corporations was finished and ready for the world.
Since then, I have gotten sidetracked by the release of my first novel entitled The Black Oracle and by the launching of my full-time writing career. During all this time, I have been on a steep learning curve, growing exponentially in the world of writing, publishing, and editing. It wasn’t until I *actually* went to prepare my New Adult speculative fiction novel for publication that I realized I had a problem: the word count of 50,000 words was too short.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. In fact, I’ve already heard it from my critique partner. “When your novel is done, it’s done.“ That is to say that once a piece is finished from beginning to end, and it has been edited to the point of being ready for publication, it’s silly to go back. It is what it is, so to speak, even if it is a little short.
But that didn’t stop me from doing research. In fact, Literary Rejections has a fantastic post about standard word counts for all genres, and they peg the average for New Adult at between 60,000 and 80,000 words. “Be the rule, not the exception,” they advise.
And whether or not writers want to admit it, word counts count, and editors and agents judge you on them every. single. day.
So that’s when I decided to pump 10,000 to 15,000 new words into my New Adult speculative fiction novel. Currently, I’m trudging through it, daily word count goals slowly driving me insane. It isn’t easy to add more words to a novel that I thought was finished. I needed a plan. Luckily, I was able to find 5 tricks that help to stretch word counts without adding mindless filler and unproductive storytelling.
For me, this is going to be one of the best ways to gain a few thousand words. Writers spend a lot of time fleshing out a character’s past experiences and thinking about how those experiences lead them to their actions within the story. The problem: much of this backstory stays with the author. These character sketches don’t always make it to the finished product.
But why not? Why not make those experiences available to the reader?
Write a good flashback. Have a character tell a story about a past event. Have your main character reflect back on a past event. There are many ways to weave backstory into your plot without writing entirely new scenes and without info-dumping, and doing so is a great way to increase your word count.
Slow Down the Pacing
I must admit, I am a fast-paced sort of writer. I don’t like writing filler scenes, and I don’t like taking my time. I want the action to happen, and I want all my storytelling to be as productive as it can possibly be.
Downside: I write shorter manuscripts. It’s not a crime since some of the bestselling books of all time have been short, but it definitely makes me a touch insecure when I read about word count expectations. So when writing, I try to keep mind to slow my pacing. One of the techniques I use is to plan out my scenes before I write them. Without a plan, I could probably write an entire novel in ten pages (a crappy novel, no doubt).
Secondly, I aim to slow my pacing through my word choices and sentence structures. We live in a society where a lot of description in prose is frowned upon, and though I don’t go all Tolkein-esque and spend pages upon pages detailing trees and rocks, I use my sentences to better flesh out ideas and settings. A longer word count is just a happy by-product of that process.
Develop Your Characters
One-dimensional characters are often the death of a potentially great novel. No one likes to read a character that has no goals, no genuine emotion, no life. The best ways to develop your characters are to give us access to their thoughts and dreams, give them a backstory (see above), and give them reasons for being in your story.
Again, by-product: all of this character development takes a time, thus stretching your word count.
Write a Subplot
This is my favorite word count stretching technique. I love subplots. LOVE. I would write an entire novel of subplots if I could. There’s so much freedom in taking a character and developing their actions into a quasi-separate story. And then when the subplot mixes and mingles with the main plot? Gold. GOLD, I TELL YOU.
Make Things Complicated
Last but not least, stay away from easy. This technique sounds like a given, but believe it or not, a lot of authors fail to make their stories complicated and thus interesting. Some stick to the A-event + B-event = Conclusion model, and this is terribly boring.
Give your reader something more. Add additional events to your plot-development equation, ones that make the main character work for their reward. If the story is straightforward and predictable, the reader will also find it straightforward and predictable. Add some uncertainty. Add some misunderstanding. Add some betrayal.
All of this will help to enrich your story and yes, stretch your word count.
Got any techniques for increasing your word count? Do you even bother to try to meet industry or self-imposed word count standards?
Guest post contributed by Michael Cristiano. He works in editing and acquisitions for Curiosity Quills Press, and his freelance work has appeared on websites such as Nexopia, FluentU, and BlushPost. Check out his blog for more of his work.