Word Count Problem

by Ela

Question: What is your advice about having trouble in reaching the desired word count? I've just finished drafting my first novel but it didn't reach my goal of 100 k+ words, it was only one-third.

Answer: You have a few options.

It may be that your story is only suitable for a short story or novella. Not every story can work as a novel. That's okay, though it does limit your market. (There are literary magazines that publish novellas.) But this is something you have to decide for yourself.

However, let's assume you have a novel-worthy idea. It may be that you have run short of words because you have not fully developed your idea.

If this is the case, here are some ways to develop your story...

1. First, do not attempt to "pad." By that, I mean do not start adding scenes, subplots, or other stuff just because you need the length. Anything that is not essential to the plot will read as padding. It will make your novel boring to the reader, and a good editor will suggest you cut it anyway, which will put you back where you are now.

2. If you are not familiar with the concept of the four throughlines, this article on synopsis writing will help...


Take a look at your novel and see if you have developed all four throughlines, which include both the external plot and the main character's inner conflict and growth.

3. Sometimes, beginning writers tend to underwrite events. Take a look at each of your scenes and see if you have included all the specific details to create the emotional impact required. (Of course, over-writing can also be a problem, so be careful.)

4. Now for the big secret...

Any event in your story can be developed by changing it from a single event into a sequence of events. A sequence is an event (change) that takes place over anywhere from three to eight smaller events. Each event, including the overall sequence, follows the usual pattern of ...

setup --> complications --> crisis --> resolution

For instance, let's say you have an event such as, "a man crashes his car into a

You can write that event as one scene, perhaps as...

Setup: A man is driving down a road at night.

Complication: A song comes on the radio that reminds him of the woman he has just broken up with. He reaches into the glovebox, pulls out a flask, and starts drinking to dull the emotional pain.

Crisis: He drops his flask at the same time as a woman crosses the road in front of him. When he looks up and sees her, he is forced to swerve hard to avoid hitting her.

Resolution: the car goes off the road and hits a brick wall.

Now, let's say your story is too short. You could take that one scene and turn it into a sequence of four scenes. For example:

Scene 1: Setup. The man's girlfriend dumps him rather callously on the day he was about to propose.

Scene 2: Complication. The man decides he needs an immediate vacation, so he packs his bags. At the last second, he buys a flask of whiskey -- the first one he has bought since he swore off alcohol six years ago.

Scene 3: Crisis. This will be the accident as above.

Scene 4: Resolution. The man wakes up in hospital, except that it's a hospital that doesn't make sense. Everything is fifty years out of date and the staff keep calling him by a different name.

Okay, that example now sounds like the start of a fantasy novel. My point is that you can go through your novel and look for events that can be developed into sequences. (In fact, events within sequences can also be turned into sequences, etc.)

The advantage to this type of development is that every scene you add is an important part of a bigger event which is important to the overall story. Nothing feels like padding, because every event is important.

Please note that events don't have to be just external events. There are also internal events, such as making a decision, gaining a new understanding, having a realization, or changing one's opinion. These too can be written as single scenes or can take place over a sequence of events.

Best of luck.

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Length of story

by Donna Nabors
(Nicholasville, Ky. USA)

Question: Even though I've told my story the way I intended in a little over 41,100 words, would it be more advantageous to add more to lengthen the manuscript?

Answer: What you have there is at the short end of the novel range. Some might call it a novella.

Short novels are sometimes published as standalone books, but they are less preferred because they often have to sell at the same price as a standard-length novel, yet they look like less value to the buyer. Also, they can disappear on a bookstore shelf.

Short novels have become more common in recent years thanks to ebooks. Ebooks can often be shorter, because, unlike with printed books, buyers don't look at how thick ebooks are before buying. The challenge is that it's much harder to market an ebook that doesn't also have a printed version.

It is also true that a long novel (over 120,000 words) can be more of a problem, because long books require a much bigger commitment -- not just from readers but also from publishers who have to pay the extra printing costs. The sweet spot for first novels is typically 80,000 to 90,000 words.

Ultimately, what matters most is how good the story is. No one objects to a shorter novel if it is brilliant and has strong commercial potential. Animal Farm and The Great Gatsby, for example, have done quite well.

You might also consider investigating literary magazines in your genre. Some of these publish novellas, sometimes serializing them in two or more parts. The advantage here is that (assuming you only sell first publication rights to the magazine) you can get paid twice. You can get money from the magazine, and then later publish the novel as a standalone work, for additional royalties.

If you decide to expand your novel, the one thing you must be avoid is adding words for the sake of adding words. Expanding the story only makes sense if you are developing it, if you are making it better -- making the plot more interesting, creating character arcs that engage the reader, etc.. Padding that doesn't engage the reader just weakens the story.

(A case where this was done successfully is the SF classic Flowers for Algernon, a short story which the author later expanded into a novel.)

Most of the time, editing involves cutting the boring bits of a story and making it shorter, probably because most writers are too verbose in their first draft. (Just a little warning -- your story could get shorter with editing.)

My bottom line answer... not necessarily.

Best of luck.

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Question: I am writing a story, I think it is flowing well. But, it seems to be so short compared to books I read and my plot seems to be developed. but in a short space. How can I increase the length of my book, whilst retaining my plot?

Answer I'm not a big believer in padding. Generally, you should write the words you need to tell your story completely, and no more. A book that contains a lot of unnecessary verbage is one that needs a good editor.

Generally, a work can be considered a novel if it is over 40,000 words. If you're over that, relax.

On the other hand, sometimes it's okay to write a novella rather than a novel. Certainly, the ebook format makes it less of a problem to publish a shorter work.

True, you can turn a short story into a novel length work by exploring certain areas in more depth, going into more detail with subplots etc. But it's not always an improvement. Personally, I enjoyed the short story "Flowers for Algernon" much better than the expanded novel-length version that came later.

Another option, if you have some minor characters who interest you, is to write two or three novellas, each focusing on a different character's story. The result is more like an anthology than a novel, except that the stories will be connected because some of the same characters show up in more than one story.

An example of this is Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Small Town which is an anthology of short stories all set in a particular community in Ontario, Canada.

Or consider Ursula K. Le Guin's book Always Coming Home which is an anthology of stories, poems, plays, a novella, etc. What unites them is that they all take place in the same fictional community in the far future.

Another option might be to write stories about different generations of the same family, set in different time periods.

Whichever option you choose, make sure you are writing material that matters, that inspires you, and that makes the work better. Don't just add material because you want to make the book longer.

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Lengthening My Book

by Paige

Question: I am having trouble making my book longer. I feel like I am at the climax of the novel on Chapter 7 and my chapters are already short. How can I increase the size of my book?

Answer: First, it is possible that your story idea is more suitable for a novella or short story than a novel. It happens.

On the other hand, it may be that you haven't taken the time to develop your idea as fully as it deserves. Here are some of the ways that a story idea can be developed.

1. Event structure. Think of a story as a big event that is a major change in the lives of the characters. That event can be divided into four smaller events or acts, representing the beginning of the pursuit of the goal (or setup), complications, the move towards a crisis, and the resolution. Each of these events can also be broken into a similar sequence of events.

For instance, if one event is "Bob gets a new car," you can write that event as one scene, or you can break it into a sequence. Perhaps it starts with a scene where he realizes his old car is hurting his image. The complication may be that he is offered a sales job that requires him to have a better car that's out of his price range. The crisis may be when his reluctant parents refuse to loan him the money for a new car. The resolution may be his grandfather's sudden decision to give him his car.

If you turn each act into a sequence of 4-6 events, your story will contain 16-24 events.

2. The four throughlines. A complete story involves four throughlines. In addition to the overall story arc, there is the main character's throughline, which shows the arc of his/her inner conflict, the impact character throughline, and the relationship throughline.

I've written a lot on these throughlines on this site, but this article may get you started...


Suffice it to say that each of these throughlines can have its own 4-part arc. That's 16 major events so far. If each of these events is divided into a sequence, you're now up to between 64 and 96 events. That's enough for a short novel at least.

3. Theme events. Sometimes you include events to develop your thematic message. For instance, if your theme is greed vs. generosity, you may have some events showing greed is bad, some showing greed is good, some showing generosity is good, and some showing generosity is bad. Of course, you make the balance of evidence support the message you want to give.

4. Subplots. You can use these to develop other perspectives on your theme, or to develop characters' backgrounds (to explain their actions), or to show the progress of their relationships. It's best to have a meaningful purpose for subplots. Each subplot can also have its own 4-part arc.

Bottom line: there are many ways you can develop a story. The important thing is to make sure everything you add makes the story better, more emotionally engaging. Make sure every event is an essential part of the what's becoming a richer story.

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Length (Overall) - Where to add

by Dawna

Question:I feel the overall length of my story is way too short, and I am not really sure where to add anything. How do I figure that out?

I have become dissatisfied with my novel twice now and rewritten it. Either I don't think the setting is productive to the story, or I think certain events move too fast. I have now preplanned my chapters and events, hoping this will solve many of my issues.

Do you have any other advice, so that I can write my novel to a satisfactory length?


1. Make sure assume you are narrating your events in enough detail that the reader can experience the story vividly (and if you're not, explore some basic resources on creative writing).

2. Have you developed all 4 throughlines (overall story, main character, impact character, and relationship), as well as perhaps some subplots that express other aspects of your theme?

3. If you've taken care of the first two and your story is coming up too short for a novel, you might try turning your major events into sequences of events or scenes. Any plot event can be converted into a sequence with its own dramatic arc, as in ...

Scene 1: inciting event
Scene 2: complication/conflict
Scene 3: crisis
Scene 4: resolution

For instance, let's say you have an event such as, "Dave gets a new job." You could tell it in one scene with Dave at his job interview. Or you could break it into a sequence such as...

Scene 1: Dave argues with his wife who is upset that he is out of work.
Scene 2: Dave learns of a job opening, but the company is owned by an old enemy of his from high school.
Scene 3: Dave swallows his price and forces himself to go to the interview and make nice to the owner, against all his instincts.
Scene 4: At home, Dave gets a phone call telling him he can start on Monday, only to have his wife chew him out because she thinks the job is beneath him.

You can also create theme sequences to explore the issues in your story. I've described the basic process here...


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