Making Your Story Longer

Z asks (paraphrased): “How do you extend a story? My novel is, so far, 50,000 words and I thought I had 20,000 left in me max to finish. Dialog takes up more space then prose and is easier to write, so maybe I’ll just include more dialog.”

Dear Z, you’re right. 70,000 words probably aren’t enough. Most science fiction/fantasy novels today are about 100,000 words. Only a few decades ago it was okay to publish a 60,000-word novel. Perhaps it’s the perception that you’re getting more for your money with a bigger book. Or perhaps people want to settle down with a nice long story.

I’m not saying a 60K word novel is bad. I’m not saying a 300K word novel is better, either. The issue is that a starting novelist doesn’t want to try and sell something less than 80K words. (You should consult the WRITER’S MARKET and see what minimum lengths individual publishers want).

(All bets are off, though, if you write the next STARSHIP TROOPERS or NEUROMANCER and it’s 60,000 words. I don’t know a single editor who wouldn’t snap that up!)

But back to your question. How to lengthen a story if you come up short?

Don’t simply add more dialogue. Good dialog needs underlying tension and emotional context. Adding extra just to boost word count and you risk making that dialog less interesting…perhaps even boring (the cardinal sin in writing).

To property lengthen a novel, you’ll need more conflict and tension—in short you’ll need more story.

For starters you can go back and insert some complication or sub-plot or maybe even a new character earlier in your story. Whatever it is, make sure it is just as exciting and emotionally charged as the rest.

Don’t skimp. Don’t pad.

I don’t have this particular problem (although, trust me I have plenty of other witting issues of my own) because I work out the length when I’m creating my outline. After ten years I know how long each chapter is going to be, and can estimate within 5% the final word count.

Another reason I don’t have this problem, is because these days I’m making my stories more epic—with bigger issues, more characters—a wider canvas to paint upon. Which is why they’re growing to 200,000 words or more. Maybe even a series of 200,000+ word novels.

Good luck!

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