There are three types of writers in this world:
- Those that drag out the story for so long that you start to lose interest and begin thinking of all the other books you could be
- Those that race to the finish – so just when you start to get into it, it’s all over, leaving you feeling short-changed.
- Those that get the balance just right – creating enough tension and complexity to hold our interest until the very end and perhaps leave us wanting more.
Having just completed the NaNoWrimo challenge in November 2015, I now have a wordcount of just over 50,000, which puts me in the 2nd category. While January is traditionally the time when we are told to shed bulk, I am once again bucking the trends and hoping to pile on pages as I attempt to ‘beef out’ my novel, without adding any lard! And therein lies the rub; how do you tease out your novel, without affecting the pace or losing the reader’s interest?
We’ve all read a novel where the writer has obviously been told to make the story longer in order to fit some publisher’s guidelines and the story has suffered as a result. You don’t want to just add length to your novel for the sake of it – you want to draw out the pleasure of letting your story unfold, keeping your reader entertained along the way with various diversions and sleight of hand. I like using NaNo as a tool to get a rough draft of my story down, but in order to get the readers to fall under my spell, the real art of seduction begins now.
According to Erika Mailman’s article in The Writer, your novel should have somewhere between 6 and 11 threads (based on her research of bestselling novels).
Some beginning novelists create plots that are too straightforward, with all the attention focused on a single pending event in the book. Readers, though, prefer a little more complexity, a story that better mirrors the intricate interweavings of real life.
If you want to increase your thread count, consider some sub-plots for your secondary characters (who can often end up like minions, there to do your bidding). Give them their own conflicts that ultimately tie in with the overall plot. Consider your overall themes when introducing new plot threads and if done correctly, your story should feel as rich as Egyptian cotton!
One of the cardinal rules of writing is ‘show, don’t tell’. See if there are any scenes where you’ve summarized (told) instead of dramatized (shown). Now is the time to get back in there and write the scene almost like a screenplay. This is an excellent opportunity to increase the allure of your book to the reader. Unless you are writing non-fiction, there is no point in describing the action to your readers – you want them to live it and keep them wondering ‘what will happen next?’
Adding characters is another way to add to your word count, but you need to be careful not to overwhelm the reader with random people who don’t have very much to do with the plot. It might be easier to develop a character who already exists by exploring their relationships and deepening the bond between them and the main characters. Creating ‘bonding moments’ between characters in your novel can give the reader a chance to breath between scenes and enjoy the natural progression of these relationships. You could also explore their character traits in more detail, focusing on their unique qualities which eventually tie in to the overall plot.
Fleshing out characters is probably the most important aspect of editing, but fleshing out the descriptions of your settings is equally important. It’s much easier to fill in these vital pieces of information after the first draft is completed, as you can really take your time and luxuriate in your descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of your setting. Just be careful not to overdo it – remember that you’re not writing a travel guide!
Finally, in order to steady the pace of your novel and avoid giving it all away too soon, you could expand upon your characters’ interior monologue. Again, this is a clever device that allows the reader a greater insight into your character’s thought process, while keeping the pages turning.
We all want our heroes to win out in the end, but that doesn’t mean we want an easy ride. We want to be taken to the edge, challenged, surprised and led up the garden path just long enough to make the journey worth while.