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Putting on Weight...


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So I'm looking for ideas and thoughts on how to make a story longer (50,000 words is the goal for my next) without...well...putting on unnecessary weight. Most people seem to have little trouble with this, so I feel that I must be missing something fairly major. Do you go into more character background? Add multiple subplots? Describe scenes in lengthier detail? Something else?

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I just had to start doing this myself on my work in progress. Here's my advice.


Don't pad individual scenes, because that's where readers get bored. The story beats and events just get spaced out, and then things draaaaaag.


You need to add more subplots and/or characters. I figured out that I needed to develop one subplot conflict scene into an entire arc that took three or four scenes to resolve. This actually improved the whole story greatly. Then, I also realized that my villain wasn't getting enough mention early on, so I added some scenes that brought him into the story earlier and set up the conflict more directly.


I think the key is to look at your story from 35,000 feet and try to see where you could improve the overall movement and structure of it. Because adding words needs to be for an actual useful narrative purpose. Add complications to conflicts. One description of the three act structure I just read was great for this:


Your characters get stuck in a tree. The tree catches on fire. The characters escape, or they don't.


It is usually the tree catching on fire part that is where I find my own stories lacking. Not enough complications. Those are also easier places to get narratively compelling words to add. 

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41 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

Which story are you talking about, Zee? 


It’s the new one I’m planning now. I’ve accepted that my first two books aren’t meant to be long. I made them the best they could be for my current skill level, and part of that meant they weren’t very complicated, hence not very long.


But for no. 3, which I’m putting together in my head right now, my goal is to make it at least 50,000 words. That’s the next step in writing improvement, I think.

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It’s going to be romance. I figure I can write another romance while what I learned about/from writing a suspense story is percolating, and then vice versa. 


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Not to be nit-picky, but it might be helpful to first think you're adding depth, rather than weight... more on that in a moment...


You might look at your previous stories and list out the main conflict and most important milestones: the milestones that couldn't possibly be removed from the story and still get the characters to the end. What's left may be interesting journeys between the milestones, or in the worst case, just story filling. (The first might be considered depth, the second, just extra weight...)


Often, a simple conflict leads to a quick resolution and a shorter story. Metaphorically, you put a cover over a little fire, and it goes out.  A more complex conflict might take a longer time to get to the resolution, especially if trying to resolve the conflict brings unexpected consequences that become deeper problems. You throw water on a grease fire, and suddenly have a whole lot of additional fires, spreading everywhere...


Start with a simpler problem, and figure out the milestones needed to get to the solution. the reader will probably presume the same outcome. Now, surprise the reader as the grease fire suddenly explodes everywhere, suddenly there are many different milestones, and lots more of them.

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First rule of Romance: Love loves an obstacle. Add more obstacles.


  - Jealous of third party?

  - Competition for time from work?

  - Liars spreading maliciojus gossip?

  - Misinterpreting a situation, meaning of something said

  - ex-boyfriend or husband shows up to cause trouble

  - debt collectors

  - other skeletons from the past




  - A secondary romance between two other characters that goes wrong, as a counterpoint.

  - A rival at work or in the family unrelated to the Romance

  - A character who does not choose romance and finds happiness or misery - grass is greener


Character flaws:


  - Add an additional flaw, and character arc for how to fix it, or enable the lover to come to accept it


More than romance:


  - The plot has to be about more than the romance. Add more reversals to the non-romance part of the story related to work, school or family troubles.


Imagination and emphasis:


 - I was a beta reader for a good writer, but her "first kiss" scene was too short. Make sure the important events in the genre's expected flow are given the space they need.




  - add a sidekick

  - have the MC write a blog with funny anecdotes

  - make the humor relevant to the plot, not just for laughs. I came up with a humorous flaw for my heroine: obsession with her body odor. Someone recommended a great new perfume with exotic ingredients. However, while the perfume attracted lots of (the wrong) men (including the friend, who was really trying to hit on her, taking advantage of the situation), it smelled repulsive to the man she was after! Turns out, a spy also used that same perfume, and discovering who that spy was hinged on noticing that odor. 




  - Add some new and interesting locations.

  - Make sure you get the most out of the locations you already have.




 - A powerful, universal theme (often unrelated to the romance, but instead the character flaws).

 - Develop the theme both through the romance and the non-romantic scenes.


Impossible disaster:


- My heroine in A Most Refined Dragon had her spirit change places with that of a dragon, but she loved a man. She is drawn into a conflict, and based on her actions and the actions of the dragon whose place she took, is sentenced to remain in that body forever, or face death. Finding a way around that took the whole second half of the book.

 - My hero in my current WIP, The Loyalty of Trolls, just when things were going great with his girlfriend, turns into a goat, and his friends the trolls are the mortal enemies of were-goats. (Notice my fondness for turning people into animals?)


God bless your efforts!







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But, I would advise you not to force, it Zee.  Keep writing, and if your romance ends at 35,000 to 40,000 words, that's okay, because I think there is a developing market for short romances.  You just mind find you to develop a following for short romances, and I'm serious.

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Okay - here is a crazy plot twist idea. 


Every chapter heading is a blog post related to details of the MC's life, but with a cute internet pseudonym. But as it goes on, while the heroine begins to be attracted to Steve, the Pseudonym is becoming attracted to Mike. You think you are seeing an interior conflict building throughout. Then at the end, you learn that an identity thief has been spying on the heroine. She thinks that Mike is the right person for the MC, not Steve, and is trying to get involved and wreck things with Steve. When Steve finds out about the blog and thinks that the heroine doesn't really love him more, it almost ruins things. When Mike thinks that the heroine does love him, he makes his move - he has secretly been in love with her, too. Now the MC is really confused - and scared that someone has invaded her life. Then the unthinkable, she agrees with her identity thief and chooses Mike instead, after Steve shows his true character. The identity thief is Steve's ex.


Yeah - seen too many soap opera episodes.

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Good food for thought, everyone. Thanks! 


Novel #1 was scrapped for parts. It was around 38-40,000 words. 


Novel #2 was romance with suspense elements. It had two subplots and ended up around 40,000 words.


Novel #3 (now in the hands of beta readers and still open for modifications) is a suspense with some romantic elements. It’s just under 39,000 words.


I still want to push for more next time, but maybe it’s not the end of the world if I don’t.

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1 hour ago, Zee said:

I still want to push for more next time, but maybe it’s not the end of the world if I don’t.

Push for more, but my advice would be to treat it like building a muscle - a gradual increase with each project rather than a leap. But if you never challenge yourself to go further, you won't grow.

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The book I'm working on now got longer when my hero needed to stop for lunch so that he wouldn't get home too soon - in which case I would have had to write another bazaar scene which I didn't want to do. I crossed his path with a contact who knew a part of his father's life that he had never heard and which is pertinent to the story. So if you have a secondary theme and can clarify opposing viewpoints over a meal, that might give you some more words. Maybe build up the possibility of an antagonistic significant other to heighten the stakes?? 

You've got this, Zee! 

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8 hours ago, Zee said:

Most people seem to have little trouble with this, so I feel that I must be missing something fairly major.


I have to say this was not the thread I thought it might be only because of the COVID-19 thing.🤣


I tend to under write too.  Don't worry about it.  Write as you want in the first instance. Your beta readers will spot where the plot/characters need fleshing out which will point you in the right direction. 


Note to Self (My version).

1. Have I got all the info I want in this scene?

2. Do my characters in it develop in some why?

3. Did I mention where they are? What time of day it is?

4. Have  I describe the place the scene is taking place in (If it is the first time).

5. Have I mentioned at least one smell my m/c smells (that is the one I always fall down on.)

6. Have I mentioned their physical attributes -ie what are they wearing - regarding the time of year.


If you are still short of words as I said hand it over to fresh eyes.


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14 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:


That brings to mind the idea of pacing. Lots of dialog usually increases the pace, as information is exchanged and progress towards solving mysteries or understanding people is made. 


Less dialog slows down the pace, as you need to have lots of description, action, changes of scene, and the like to convey emotion, conflict, etc. A too-short story might be one where you lost control of pace. Pace should ebb and flow or the story is dull. Also, towards the climax, slow time down. Spend more pages to pass shorter amounts of time as every detail and word becomes crucial.

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