Writing fiction presents various challenges. Here’s one that’s a little different: what do you do if you’re concerned that your novel’s too short?
This topic came up in one of our writers’ groups meetings last year, and a friend brought it up recently. In some genres (fantasy, for one) readers love BIG books.
However, there isn’t a rule which says that your novel has to be 100,000 words — or any specific word length.
Writing fiction: does your novel need to be bigger?
“It’s short,” my friend said. “Can you take a quick look?”
So, I did. She’s writing in one of those “big book” genres, and is concerned that her completed novel will come in at around 50K words. After reading half the novel, and skimming the rest, I though it was great. The story pulled me in, and I loved the main characters.
My friend still wasn’t happy. She wanted to build out the novel, so I shared some of the tips from our writers’ group which might help her to extend it.
Two tips are easy; the final tip is a little challenging.
1. Easy: add another character or two — develop a subplot
The more people you add, the more plot. If you can see a way of adding another character, and their story, while braiding it into what you have, you’re golden.
A subplot needs to tie into the main plot somehow; it should enhance the plot, and offer opportunities to deepen characterization.
For example, let’s say that you’re writing a cozy mystery. Your sleuth is a veterinary surgeon in a small town, who discovers that a client (human) has been murdered. You’ve got several suspects, and your sleuth is on the trail of the killer.
You’d like your cozy to be “bigger” so you decide that your sleuth is in the middle of a divorce (subplot). Her ex cheated on her (the ex is a new character.) Her state of mind impacts her sleuthing (characterization). At the end of the novel, she’s solved the mystery and has learned a lot about herself, and life.
2. Also easy: add depth in settings and character development
I suggested to my friend that she might develop her main characters. Could she add a romance between them? That would call for a subplot, and would add to their characterizations too.
Since I wanted to know more about the story world, perhaps she might add a little depth to the settings?
3. Challenging: enhance the story question
A novel’s “story question” is vitally important:
Writers send me blurbs for their upcoming novels, or they attach the first few pages of a novel to an email message. The writing’s fine, but there’s nothing much happening. If he’s writing fantasy, the writer’s all about his story’s world. If he’s writing a thriller, the author piles up the body count. In a romance, the main character meets someone cute, but if a tree fell on the guy, her life would go on much as it did before.
Usually the story question ties into the genre. In a mystery: does the sleuth find the killer? In a romance: do the hero and heroine resolve their differences so that love conquers all?
Sometimes an author instantly sees how he could enhance the story question.
In our example of the veterinary-surgeon-sleuth and her ex, what if the ex is the killer? Not only did the ex kill, but he also killed by mistake; he meant to kill our sleuth.
If you’re in this kind of situation — you can easily see how you could enhance the story question, you need to decide whether it’s worth all the rewriting you’ll need to do.
Writing fiction: entertainment is everything
You might decide that you’d rather publish your “short” novel as-is. Rather than making the novel bigger, you’ll start another novel.
There are no rules which say that your novel must be a certain length. If you provide an entertaining story for readers, that’s all that’s required.
My friend decided that she’ll publish her novel with minimal rewriting. However, she’ll add another couple of characters and will deepen the characterization: her intention is that the novel will now be the first novel in a trilogy.
A brilliant solution, and I’m much looking forward to reading the trilogy. 🙂
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