5 Signs You May Be a Windbag

5 Signs You Might Be a Windbag

This week’s video discusses the problems of overly long books and how to avoid them.

Video Transcript:

I love long books: those big fat hardbacks that are too heavy to even hang onto, and you just have to let ’em flop open in your lap. There is something so delicious about being immersed in an amazing story and knowing that you have three hundred pages still to go before you reach the end. Love it! But, of course, this all has a flipside. What I—and the majority of your readers—don’t like are long books that don’t have to be long. In other (blunt) words, books that are written by windbags.

These are the books that just never seem to be over, the ones that have you counting the many, many pages to the end without ever really seeming to get any closer. Nobody likes these books, not just because they’re tedious, but because they’re bad writing. And that means that none of us wants to write one of these books.

Regardless the size of your book, how do you know if you’re running the risk of becoming a windbag? Consider a few signs.

1. You’re trying to write a long book. You’re afraid you’re not going to meet your word-count goal, so you’re padding your story’s events.

2. You’re meandering into rabbit trails and dead ends. This is fine in the first draft, but they have to be edited out.

3. You’ve given every single character in the book a POV, just because you want to make sure readers see everything there is to see.

4. You’re describing every little detail, not just in setting descriptions, but in the minutiae of your characters’ actions. Instead of just staying, “He crossed the room,” you describe every step.

5. Same goes for internal narrative. In fact, I would say it goes especially for internal narrative. You want to establish a credible evolution of character thought and feeling, but most of the time, you’re not going to need to spend chapters telling readers how your character reached a certain decision. When in doubt, opt for brevity.

Tell me your opinion: Are you more likely to have to add words or cut words at the end of your first draft?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I was definitely a windbag with the first novel I wrote. So much so it made two novels. Now I write sparingly bare bone first draft and sprinkle the shows and further fleshing out in the second.

  2. Usually, I’m cutting, though I do have one draft that was so slim that it is too linear, so when I go back to edit, I’ll be looking for ways to expand scenes, add some complexity to both the characters and the story. It shouldn’t be any surprise that it’s the one successful attempt at NaNo I’ve done… and it came in just over 50,000 words!

  3. @J.L.: My wind-bagginess tends to come out most if I’m not sure where a story is going. So long as I’ve not my prep work and am following my outline, everything works out much better!

    @Liberty: I have to admit, I do find cutting much easier than adding in those later drafts.

  4. Oh, I do too. I prefer to write new scenes than have to try to figure out ways to enhance current scenes!

  5. The goal is always to get stuff right in the first draft. Never quite works out that way, but the closer to perfection we are, the easier the edits will be.

  6. I fear I am a windbag, but not for any of the reasons you suggest. I simply tell colossal stories. I rely upon my test subjects (my alpha, beta, and gamma readers) to tell me when I go too far.

    No, I am not a windbag, although, I am a bag of hot air. Like a hot air balloon, I drift serenely through the cerulean skies of fantasy.

  7. Beta readers are our compasses. If they like what we’re doing, we know we’re on the right track. If they’re telling us we need to cut something, they’re probably right.

  8. Windbagging is one of the Seven Deadly Writer Sins, akin to (word) gluttony and pride. As you say, there are long books and overweight books (I think Henry James called them “baggy monsters”).
    Your outline system is a very good one, KM, although it doesn’t eliminate the temptation to add too much flesh to the lean outline, producing an overweight draft. Perhaps the overuse of chocolate – the writer’s comfort food – plays its part, though I’m not saying don’t eat chocolate!
    A published novel shouldn’t be overweight if it has been properly edited, so indulgent editors must share some responsibility. The self-pubbers who skip the editing stage have only themselves to blame.
    My way of keeping my drafts lean and mean (and reader-friendly) is to read each scene aloud, and if I trip over my tongue or find the aural read hard going, I know I need to trim.
    My other technique is to remember I’m a story teller, and just tell the story – no frills.
    Anyway, I’ll stop now, before I get windbaggy!

  9. Reading aloud is a fantastic habit. We tend to lose quickly objectivity about our precious words. Changing things up, even a little, by reading aloud can help us see what we’re doing in a more objective light.

  10. Last year I read Les Miserables, the unabridged version, and realized how excruciating it is when the author shares every single thought that’s ever crossed his/her brain pan. That and as Trevor says, reading aloud to my crit group should help me tone done my windbaggery.

  11. At first, in the early drafts of my current WIP, I was content to be slightly long-winded and rambling. Somewhere in the middle there, I found my poetic voice, and after that I became far less tolerant of the fat because I got into the habit of reading my words aloud. Interestingly enough, though the novel’s grown about 200,000 words between the first and final drafts, It’s got much, much less fat than it had before. But then, I added scenes, some of which I’d written for the next volume in the series…

    Maybe my liberal use of caffeinated drinks and rock ‘n’ roll had something to do with it too. Maybe.

  12. @Beverly: Many classics edge a little nearer to the windbag line than most modern readers would like. Partially, this was due simply to the different “rules” of the era and partially, I suspect, because many of these writers were paid by the word.

    @Dennis: Sometimes we have to be long-winded to “find” a story. Much better to let the words flow and our imaginations with it than to close off the tap on both.

  13. Good tips to follow. I opt for brevity.

  14. That’s the spirit! 🙂

  15. I have the opposite problem. My first draft is too thin. Now I need to fatten it up with scenes that are relevant and push the story forward.
    Any creative suggestions on how to do add calories?

  16. You might find this article helpful: “5 Fun and Easy Ways to Lengthen Word Count.”

  17. I used to have to cut a lot from each draft when I pantsed things, but in terms of what’s needed in the story, I find I still often have to add in things that I’ve overlooked — character motivation, appropriate setting detail, and so forth.

  18. Stories are made up of so many unique components. It’s hard to remember them all in the first draft, even when you’re working with an outline.

  19. OMG! This is SO true! We´re all delighted by an amazing neverending story, but when the author seems to just wander around aimlessly that´s TERRIBLE!
    I like what you said about every character´s POV. Readers indeed do not need to see everything. I´m now in my WIP struggling on how to make the reader see something a character wthout POV is thinking!
    Oh, and it´s true we have to be careful with internal narrative. Thank God it ca always be edited out 😉

  20. Generally, when we have to share out-of-POV material, we’re limited to two choices. Either we can manipulate the POV character’s perceptions to allow him to be privy to the info (e.g., maybe he’s only semi-unconscious, instead of totally out of it, so he can still hear the bad guys’ whispered conversation), or we have to let another character tell the POV character about the happening.

  21. *sighs* Yes, the options are limited, but there´s the art in it, isn´t it? Everyone would do it if it was any easy…

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