I know that the general tendency of authors is to write too much on a first draft. It’s entirely understandable; you want to get all of your thoughts down on paper, so you just pour out all of the words that come into your head and then pick out the good ones later. However, there is a subset of people– generally, I’ve found they usually start as short story writers– who tend to write too little at first, so that they have to go back and add more later. I am absolutely one of those writers. My last novel, a YA thriller (generally a short type of book) ended up almost 20,000 words under target. If you’re one of these writers, it can be hard to find advice for how to fix it; most advise is aimed towards cutting back, not adding on. So how do you add more words without making it feel bloated?
(Now, I know it seems obvious to some of you, but I should say it anyways; this is what I do, and it won’t necessarily help all writers who struggle with this. But I figure it’s a decent enough place to start.)
One of the first things that I always do is look for somewhere to add more description. I have a massive case of “White Room Syndrome” (the tendency to never describe character appearances or story locations), and so going back through and adding in more description wherever it seems a little sparse always adds a good thousand+ words to the novel.
After that, I find that the best thing to do is sit down and read through the book. I know, I know– I personally mildly loathe reading my own work, and I know that a lot of people feel the same way. However, it’s actually incredibly helpful, especially for things like pacing. Are there any spots where your book rockets along at light speed? Are there any spots that feel slow and plodding, like nothing is happening? Is there anywhere where you skip over a day or a week or even longer that it would maybe be pretty interesting to describe? Fixing these things takes a lot of effort, but lucky for you, it also takes a lot of words. And what’s writing without effort?
Finally, and this one may be hardest, I usually will look through my book to see if there’s anything… missing. I can’t really describe what “missing” means; it changes from story to story, from chapter to chapter. Generally, though, I’ll find things like minor plot threads that I may have dropped, holes in conversations where a new character could add something, even other points of view throughout the entire book. These things absolutely take the most practice to find and the most effort to fix, but in my last novel, it was from these “missing” things that my 20,000 words emerged.
As tough as it is to cut down on too many words, I think it’s even harder to add extra words when you come up short. (Of course, I may be biased.) This isn’t an easy issue to tackle, but with enough determination it’s quite possible. But remember, whatever happens, just keep writing.
Alindra is an author, dance teacher, and choreographer. If you want to keep up with whatever the hell it is she calls her life, follow her on social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, etc) @alindrawrites or support her Patreon at patreon.com/alindrawrites