5 Ways to Stretch Your Word Count

writing

 

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.

 

Explore Backstory
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.

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47 thoughts on “5 Ways to Stretch Your Word Count”

  1. Thanks for the fantastic advice! I run into the same problem with my books: they tend to be too short and I really struggle to find ways to stretch them out without adding too much “fluff.” I will definitely be able to use some of your suggestions.

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  2. Reblogged this on jean's writing and commented:
    Great info! Knowing how to enhance a story is always a plus. One of my go-to tricks is using The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi or one of the other three Thesaurus books available by Angela and Becca. These guides help a writer show rather than tell traits.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I usually find that with each subsequent revision the word count goes up. This is because an initial draft of a scene usually undersells the action and it takes more words to really do the scene justice. I’m not the sort of writer who overwrites in the first draft. That’s not to say that I don’t cut words, sentences, paragraphs and scenes, but generally the trend is for the net word count to increase with each edit.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reblogged this on sjlynn87 and commented:
    hmmmm…interesting. Looks like I have 5 steps I need to take into consideration for my first novel. This actually helped me on what is expected of publishing and what my readers are looking for.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I read this out of interest, as it isn’t a problem I have; I struggle to keep my novels below a 130K word count! Thankfully that’s quite okay for my genre (fantasy), and comes about from several of the points you identified: subplots (lots of), character development and complication. With those aspects in play, I don’t have to slow the pace – I love fast paced plots and action, and written with care (and hopefully skill) those other areas add depth (and word count) without slowing things down.
    I still tend to work to industry expectation of length, despite having left the submission merry-go-round (after 2 agents and lots of positive comments from publishers, but no sale) because I feel many readers still have those same expectations when they buy a book in a particular genre.
    I am, however, also producing more short fiction as loss-leaders to generate interest in the main books – something I see even trad published authors doing these days. After all, the platform is now available to sell pieces of any length, and there is a call for short works, particularly amongst younger readers and those reading on their phones.

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    1. Although I’ll never stop writing full novels in some capacity, short fiction is becoming more and more popular with often decreasing attention spans among certain groups. That’s why I’m taking a stint to self-publish some short stories even while pursuing traditional publishing.

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      1. Good plan. Best of luck with finding a publisher – there’s no doubt these days that publishers are impressed by authors that already have a following.

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  6. Thank you for sharing! I hope to keep this in mind when I go back to my far to short novel. I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to stretch the word count without adding in too much fluff. It is nice to know I am not alone in this struggle! Once I get my novel back from a friend who is editing for me I shall be sure to keep this in mind as I address her edits/recommendations and keep this blog in mind!

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  7. Breaking in any business… “Be the rule, Not the exception” is a good mantra. One can still find a way to be inventive and unique without straying far from the standard ‘rule’… until one is well-known…. Then, They become the standard!

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  8. I usually have the opposite problem of too many words and have to pare. But the latest mystery has too few. This was good. Thanks.

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  9. Reblogged this on Helen Treharne and commented:
    Dropping by my WordPress Reader is always a joy and today I stumbled across this, so it is we definitely a “red car day”. It’s an interesting piece and a change from most advice posts on how to cut your word count and cut out unnecessary exposition, waffle and so on. I’m not one to advocate setting yourself an arbitrary word count, there’s either enough story or there isn’t – sometimes you don’t have enough words for a novel because there’s only enough story for a short story or a novella. That said, there are definitely occasions where you might need to bolster your numbers, for example for writing competitions. These seem like good tips to add a few thousand words, especially if you hold fast to the maxim that the quantity should still equate to quality. The subplot point is my favourite – one question to ask is “is the story to thin or one dimensional. What am I not saying/showing that I should be?” Definitely food for thought!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have/had the opposite problem: too many words for a debut novel. Now I have been busy cutting unnecessary back story and turning back story into action which really helps the work move along. Working on her Master’s thesis, I had been told by my English teacher daughter that she hates revisions; I love revising … so far, that is.

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  11. As with plenty of others, my problem is too many words (my WIP quickly became a trilogy!) and I could make it longer. One of the things writers are often told is “Show not Tell’ and this is certainly a way of increasing your word count if you’ve done a lot of telling in your first draft.

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