#ContactForm1 { display: none ! important; }

Monday, January 25, 2010

Help for the Anemic Novel

After last week's post about Editing for Weight Loss several people asked about what they should do for a skinny novel. What do you do when your book doesn't fit into the proscribed word count because it's too short?

Let's review the word counts real quick:
0 - 250 words: Flash fiction
250 - 2,000 words: Short-short story
2,000 - 10,000 words: Short story
10,000 - 40,000 words: Novella
50,000 - 120,000 words: Novel

For today let's pretend your novel, Awesome Beyond Words, is 35,000 word political thriller for the adult market. Your options are:
1. Double the novel length it make it fit the accepted length for traditional publishing.

2. Rewrite your 007 spin-off as a mid-grade novel with Spam the Super Flea, International Spy, as the main character.

3. E-publishing.

Option two may be difficult, especially if you don't write mid-grade and wouldn't have a clue where to start writing a book to entertain first graders. So scratch that idea.

E-publishing is tricky. If you want to look into the possibilities of publishing your novella as-is than you need to do your homework. Start with this post by Margaret Riley, Publisher of Changeling Press. Double check all facts against the Writer Beware/SFWA post on e-publishing. Then check out this guide to e-publishers and stroll past EPIC.

If e-publishing isn't right for you the only option left is to double that word count. That's kind of like turning the average geek into super man over summer break. Or a muddy waif into a princess. It's going to take work. It will mean blood, sweat, and tears.

Into the trenches!!!


Step 1: Can I Borrow Your Eyes?
Once you've decided that your novel needs to double it's current weight you need to send your baby on vacation. Pack up your latest draft of Awesome Beyond Words and send it to your very best battle buddies (i.e. your beta-readers, critique group, or crit partner). Ask them where they think the logic is flawed or the action falls flat. Find out what scenes you cut or glossed over that they wanted to see.

Besides, you need some space. Taking a few weeks away from your novel will give you the distance you need to edit fairly. Take a breather before you move to step two.

Step 2: The Devil is in the Details
Some novels are description deserts. Like the top picture in the post, there isn't much to look at. Your characters are moving around in a gray void. Not only is this bad for word count, it's deadly for reader interest. You can't create a world for your novel without details.

Read through your novel and light it up! Add description. Use the five sense. If you get lost, consult the Bookshelf Muse. They have a thesauri for everything. Give color and depth to your novel.

Change: Ted walked down the hall.

To: Shoulders hunched like a buzzard, Ted slouched down the hallway past forgotten gum wrappers and trampled homework. The sharp smell of lemon disinfectant wrapped around him like an ominous cloud.

Step 3: Don't Overdo It

Do a Wordle of your novel. Copy and paste the entire manuscript in and see what words you're overusing. If your overusing walk, look, run, or sigh you have an opportunity to boost your word count. But that doesn't mean obliterate every reference to the word walk. Sometimes, I promise, people just walk. And that's okay too.

Step 4: Engage in a Little Bad Behavior.
Remember what I said about Mad Character Love? It's kinda of like stalking, and a little bit like spoiling a child. You should never engage in Mad Character Love. NEVER.


There are no exceptions to this rule.

If your character dodges every bullet. Never has a bad night's sleep. Never breaks a nail, or a heel, or a bone, you have done something wrong. Your main character should be clawing their way out of each chapter barely alive and in desperate need of medical attention.

And you, Dear Evil Author, should withhold all help and charity. Make your character suffer. Not only does putting your character in every bad situation you can imagine boost your word count, it improves the tension and mood of the story.

Step 5: Consider the End from the Beginning
Never leave out clues. Even if Awesome Beyond Words isn't a murder mystery that someone needs to solve there need to be hints about the what will happen next. Foreshadowing. Promises. Red herring.

Whatever you call them, don't leave the clues out. Go back to chapter one and write in one character's hesitation to kill if, in the end, the character saves the day by not killing someone. Or have your vicious murderer put out bug spray and smile as the ants die.

Always make your words mean something. If your character notices a statue, make it important. But make sure the statue is there to be noticed.

Step 6: Add a Twist
If all your beta-readers say they could see the ending from chapter one you have done something wrong. Make a list of all possible endings, good or bad. Make a list of all possible twists and motives.

Shake it all together. And write new scenes. Change the ending. Change the motivations. Mix, match, win!

Step 7: When All Else Fails...
... change the POV.

If you can't add anything to a 35,000 novel you either started the novel in the wrong place, or you are writing the novel from the wrong perspective.

I've done this with quite a few novels. I tend to start my first draft in the middle of everything. It takes me three or four drafts to back up my novel and find the real start-point for all of the action.

Twice now I've written entire drafts from the wrong character's POV. Lesson learned: just because you love the character does not mean they are the main character. Try to pick the POV of the person who knows the least and has the most to lose.

How do you bulk up your novels?

Don't Forget! If you haven't entered to win the Amazon Gift Card yet you can do that HERE. The drawing is on Friday!

Photos courtesy of copyright to original owners. Black and White desert. Desert Strike. Spoiled Girl. POV. The Princess is mine. :o)


  1. Great advice. :-) Unfortunately, it's hard to shop a 50k novel anymore - even category romance wants at least 60k. That's my downfall, but all of these suggestions should help me add that extra 10k (or a little more)that I need.

    Description is my problem - I'm normally to busy telling the story to worry about mundane details like what the surroundings are. LOL That's probably good - much easier to add description than some of the other things (I'm good at character torture).


  2. Great post! I'm definitely starring it for future reference! :0)

  3. Really like this post. I'm falling behind on word count on a couple of nocvels, these suggestions will come in handy!

  4. Wow. That was a really great post, Miss Brooks. I'm bookmarking this page for future reference.

    Thanks for sharing your insights and advice.

    On that note...

    I think I'm off to make a wordle of my novel. Ciao!