5 Fun and Easy Ways to Lengthen Word Count

We see a lot of hype these days about books that are too lengthy for agents or editors to consider. But what about books in which we need to lengthen word count? In comparison to giving your overweight manuscript liposuction, fattening up an anorexic story often feels like trying to create something out of nothing. There your story is—complete. What’s left to add that won’t feel extraneous, rambling, and even pointless?

This was the dilemma I faced this spring after realizing my historical manuscript The Deepest Breath, which was supposedly “complete” at 80,000 words, contained a hefty subplot that absolutely did not work. I cut the subplot—and ended up with a puny 60,000-word featherweight of a book. What do to?

First thing I did was scream—a lot. “Finished” manuscripts with big holes in them are about as cheerful as alarm clocks at five o’clock on Sunday morning. Next thing I did was comfort myself with the usual panacea of Starbucks’ bold dark espresso roast and Belgian truffles. And then I got to work. I looked over the story and started making lists of anything I could expand.

1. Brainstorm additional plot beats.

After listing all my current plot threads, I started coming up with ways to expand upon them. One of the plot threads in my story included a character’s attempts to cover up her past. I started brainstorming ways I could expand upon this thread and came up with several scenes in which the character’s attempts are threatened or discovered, which led to further complications, more scenes, and—you got it—more words.

2. Deepen connections between characters.

Make a list of all the characters in your story and how they’re connected to the point-of-view characters. Could you add scenes to further explain or deepen these connections? In the original version of my story, I hinted at the strained relationships between one of my characters and his siblings, which left me the perfect opportunity to add an entire subplot exploring his interactions with them.

3. Add characters.

The more characters you have, the more you need to lengthen word count. Never add a character just for the sake of adding him, but take a look at the needs of your story and sniff out any likely gaps where a new character could add dimension. My story’s dark realism didn’t offer much in the way of humor, so I added a character who could occasionally lighten the mood. I made sure to tie him back into the plot by making him an accomplice to another character’s secret business.

4. Emphasize important character traits.

What are some of your protagonists’ most important, salient, or appealing characteristics? Do you explicitly illustrate these traits in scenes? If not, look for places where you can insert these important bits of characterization. The friendship between two war buddies is crucial to my story, so I added an early scene that shows them watching each other’s backs while on a dangerous hunt.

5. Dramatize summaries.

Finally, once you’ve added all the feasible characters and subplots, zoom in on the nitty-gritty of your story. Are there any scenes where you’ve summarized (told) instead of dramatized (shown)? Can you expand upon your characters’ interior monologue? Can you flesh out the descriptions of your settings? Don’t go overboard with any of these insertions; remember balance is always key. But every word counts, and these little expansions add up quickly.

By the time I finished applying all these techniques, my story had transformed from a skinny novella to the optimum fighting weight of 100,000 words. Not only did I achieve my word count goal, I also ended up with a story whose characters, themes, and plot progression were deeper, chewier, and more memorable. I credit the success to the Starbucks and truffles—mostly.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever written a story you felt was too short?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Thank you so much, I’m at 190 pages and I need 225 for the publisher and I got serious writers block, this helped a lot, and once again, thanks

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Nothing more frustrating than realizing you’ve told your story – and it’s just not long enough! But it’s also fun to get to dive back in and flesh thing out.

  2. thank you! This was exactly what I was looking for! I do not at all think its adding “fluff.” Many publishers seem to want at least “x” amount of words and when you fall short, you need to reevaluate whats keeping your story from being a novel. I think this is a wonderful list of ways to force yourself further into your story.

    Once again. THANK YOU!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Stories need to be the length they need to be. But there are almost always legitimate ways to ease them toward a word count goal.

  3. Hello. Excuse me, but I’m a young writer interested in writing fantasy and dystopian style novels… I was wondering if you had any tips? Thanks in advance if you do.

  4. Oh, yeah. I have a cat burglar thriller that I thought was “complete” at 65K words. But when I went to shop it around I found out quickly that it needed another 20K words. What I did was to take a scene from book three in the series, another heist, and fold it into the original story, which then gave me the opportunity to have my protagonist get in more trouble, even getting set up for a murder she didn’t commit. My story ended up stronger in the long run– and it was a whole lot of fun to rewrite!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      One of the good things about writing a series is that they give you a lot more fluidity in word count, since you can often move certain events from book to book without affecting the flow of either story too much.

  5. Viola June says:

    This is pretty much the post I have been waiting for my entire writing career (Or, preliminary practice to writing a decent book, call it what you will). All of your posts are extremely helpful, but this is by far my favorite. Thanks so much!

  6. Sara Baptista says:

    Thank you for the tips, I am definitely going to “Deepen connections between characters” and “Dramatize Summaries”

    I remember reading this post 2 years ago, when my dark fantasy novel was in 70k words. Then I rewrite it, make it to 90k, the plot sucked, I rewrited again, and now is an anorexic story with 60k. At least, I prefer to fill up a story then shave one ^^

  7. Halle King says:

    Oh boy. I’m not so good at writing (still in high school, but I’ve been told I write better than my English teacher who he was in college) and my books come in at a meager 10k words (ack!). I love writing and I wanna go somewhere with my stories. This really helps me.

  8. I so appreciate your advice, realism, and humor in this article. Fleshing out my novella doesn’t sound as scary now. Thank you so much!

  9. Yes, I ended up cutting out a terrible subplot and a chapter that really had no point off being there.

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