Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Remember, It's Okay To Be Expansive When Writing A Novel

Folks who've been following this blog for the past few years know that, until fairly recently, most of my published fiction was short stories. In fact, I spent the first few years of this latest leg of my writing career doing nothing by churning out short fiction to get into as many collections and anthologies as I could. And while I feel I learned a lot during that period, as I said in What I Learned Writing Short Stories For Two Years, I did pick up one, tiny, problematic habit.

I forget that I have 100,000 words to tell my story, instead of 10,000.

Shit... I'm almost to the denouement and I'm just rounding 30k...
While anyone (myself included) will tell you to ax unnecessary words, there's another side to that coin. Namely that you should feel free to spread out, and give your story a little elbow room while you're writing when you want to have a fully-realized novel.

Breathe Deep, Dive Deeper

One of the best things about writing short stories is that you learn to think in word count... unfortunately, the word counts you write to tend to be on the shorter side. 10k words for a short story is pretty long, and I've never submitted anything longer than 13k for publication. So when you train yourself to keep it short and sweet, you tend to focus on hitting the high points while not spending a lot of time on the events in between.

But if you're writing a novel, you have at least 50k words to play around with. And if you're writing sci-fi or fantasy, then 100k words seems to be more the speed folks are looking for.

Einarr, we're short words. Time to pillage again!
Don't just toss in scenes just to have them; that's just as bad from the other direction. At the same time, though, feel free to include stuff you would normally cut from a manuscript because you didn't have the words for it. As an example, say your protagonist is on his way to have words with the local mob lieutenant. Rather than just giving us a brief, inner monologue of what the protagonist knows about that mafioso, turn it into a conversation with a contact of his. If he's a police detective, he should talk with an informant, or his partner. If he's a private eye, hash out the details with another gumshoe who's had run-ins with this person before.

You could go a little further than that, too. Show our hero tracking down the place, and put him through the rigmarole of going into the meeting. Have him meet some of the goons, and find out one of those goons is a long-nosed switchblade by the name of Sal, and his nephew is a big bruiser from Jersey named Jeffrey. People gave him shit about the name until he busted a couple of chops over it. Show our hero getting the pat down, have him chat with the secretary, mention the shotgun she has rigged up under her desk, etc., etc.

Those details are what's going to help decide the flow of your story. They're going to suck the reader in, and they're going to reveal a thousand little things about your protagonist, and their world. Things that may not be completely necessary to your telling, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing their job.

You don't need to add scenes to pad your word count. But remember that you have plenty of room to breathe when you're writing. So take a look around the room. Mention the weather. Give that bartender a name, a face, and some dialogue. Go through the ritual of sharpening a sword, building a campfire, or reconnoitering a place before an assault. Talk about what your protagonist is cooking while reviewing their case, or mention some of their carousing before things go sideways at the bar that fateful night.

You've got the space. Use it so that your story doesn't feel rushed.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully it helps folks out there who struggle with overcoming an anemic word count. For more of my work check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page to find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

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