Before I dive in, here's a heads up that I'm visiting Writers in the Storm today to chat about a fun way to get you out of a writing rut. Come on over and say hello!
We spend a lot of time talking about what to cut from our manuscripts, but there are times when we really do need to add words. Even if a novel is the right size for the intended market and genre, we might feel the story just needs deepening to make it stronger. Here are some common reasons to add words to a manuscript.
Since we know what everything in our novels mean, we don't always make it clear why a character is acting as they are, or what that world building detail really means. If you're unsure readers will get it, or if you're getting feedback that shows readers aren't picking up on something, it might be worth adding some words to clarify what you mean.
One word of caution: Readers are sharp, so make sure what you feel is unclear really is unclear, and not just subtle. One of the most common places to overstate or repeat ourselves is when we explain, because we often feel like the reader won't get it unless we bash them over the head. Readers usually pick up a lot more than we expect them to (and see things we planned). Good beta readers are invaluable for checking clarity. Those outside eyeballs catch details we know way too well to see the uncertainty.
(Here's more on what to do when your novel is too short)
To Control Pacing
Another good excuse for adding words is to control the pacing. While you never want the pace to drag, there are times when you need to slow it down and give your readers a little breather. Fleshing out some internalization, or allowing a character to take stock of their surroundings allows your reader to absorb what just happened and can even put more focus on the story elements you're taking your time with. Maybe there are good spots to elaborate on a key piece of information that needs a little infodumping to get across well.
While adding words to pick up the pace might sound counter intuitive, the right words can help increase tension and move the story faster. Adding fast-paced dialog to a heavy descriptive passage can turn a slow scene into a quick scene.
(Here's more on fixing pacing problems)
To Flesh Out the World Building
Usually, this is high on the list of places to cut, but sometimes adding a line or two here and there can deepen your world and story. The trick is to find examples that achieve multiple things. For example, a detail that not only describes the street, but shows the economic status that is causing your protagonist trouble, shows the obstacles in your protagonist's path, and shows a personal opinion from the protagonist.
If the words you add do double duty, then you achieve a much more layered and complex world. Not only does it set the scene, it also helps show character, and can even create conflict and tension.
(Here's more on making the most of your world building)
To Add Internalization
Internalization is often lacking in early drafts, so it's another area that might need fleshing out. If the story is feeling distant or readers aren't connecting to the characters, that could be a red flag to get a little deeper in their heads. Try looking for ways to get inside a character's head to reinforce their goal, remind readers of the stakes, or show another side of the character that adds a layer of conflict. Maybe those thoughts hint at a dark secret or foreshadow a major set piece. Knowing what goes on in a character's head goes a long way to making readers care about that character.
(Here's more on crafting natural-sounding internalization)
Sometimes adding words is what a novel needs, so don't be afraid to flesh out a scene or chapter. Unless you're revising specifically to cut words, the end word count probably won't change all that much, you'll likely cut as much as you add. I spent a week revising my second novel, Blue Fire, and my word count fluctuated by just three thousand words. I'd cut what wasn't working, add more to make it work, cut more, add more, wash, rinse, repeat. If you just looked at the word count, you'd think I hadn't done a thing, but it was a much better book in the end. The right words are more important overall than the number of them.
How often do you add words?
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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