The Too-Short Game Plan

IMG_8812I did it. Yesterday, I typed “THE END” on the last page of my manuscript. I’d like to say it was a momentous occasion, but the truth is, whatever feelings of relief and accomplishment I might have anticipated were sorely absent. At 67,500 words, the manuscript is about 20,000 words too short.

I expected this to happen. A quick peek at my publication history will tell you, I write short. I always have. As far back as high school, I struggled to reach minimum word counts on my assignments. More than once, I had professors note this…and then add that they wouldn’t penalize me because I’d still covered all the necessary points. I may write short, but it’s not out of laziness or corner-cutting. I’m concise. I know this is who I am as a writer.

Seeing as I’m still an unpublished novelist, I also know that “who I am as a writer” doesn’t amount to a hill of beans out there in the publishing world. I need to add words. Luckily for me (and for you, if you’re a writer who faces this problem), adding words is totally do-able.

Here’s my plan of action:

1. Go scene by scene. I just completed a class on scene-building, taught by Trai Cartwright at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Over the course of two weeks, she laid out the building blocks of effective, interesting scenes, including plot, conflict, character, suspense, information, atmosphere, and theme. I know that, while the foundation of my novel is in place, each individual scene might not be pulling its full weight, so step one in fleshing out the manuscript is making each existing scene as good as it can be.

2. Do some unpacking. Chuck Palahniuk wrote a great article on how to write beyond some of the shortcuts writers sometimes take. His advice:

From this point forward – at least for the next half year – you may not use “thought” verbs.

I’ve had these words in my head the whole time I’ve been working on this novel, which is why I’m absolutely certain there were times I ignored them. Faced with a second draft where I need to add words, now is a great time to go back and unpack those “thoughts” and “felts” into something more substantial.

3. Flesh out subplots. When I first started my novel, I used Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s wonderful Book in a Month to structure my plot. That book recommends drafting without subplots. I found that the subplots simply presented themselves as the writing went on, but expanding the word count is my chance to weave them more thoroughly into the story. Janice Hardy’s article on “bulking up” at Fiction University offers a perfect set of questions to analyze and expand subplots, along with a lot of other useful advice.

I think these three steps will get me pretty close to where I need to be on my word count. If not, well, there’s always a prologue. Maybe a nice, long one with lots of juicy backstory?

(I’m kidding about the prologue. Please don’t hurt me.)

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