You’ve spent hours upon hours, just pouring yourself into your novel and now, it’s finally completed. It’s still only a first draft, but you’re proud of yourself. Your little brain child is finally on paper, stored away in one of your top secret files, and you’re ready to take a good, long break from it for awhile.
A few months later, you decide it’s time to open the document again. You’re so excited because you remember how amazing this little thing was and you can’t wait to start editing. You jump on your laptop and pour yourself a cup of coffee to enjoy while you fully immerse yourself in your fictional world.
And that’s when your eyes flicker down to the word count.
“What?” you gasp, nearly spilling your hot drink. “How can it only be 60 pages long?”
Your mind races as you try to remember how this happened. You could’ve sworn it was at least 50k, not a lousy 24k.
With a sigh, you down your coffee and prepare for a long, tiring night of brainstorming how on earth you’re going to make this thing longer.
What you have just read is a nightmare. As far as I can tell, the majority of writers face the problem of shortening their novels, rather than visa versa. That’s a great problem to have, but it really doesn’t help those of us who tend to end up with things that are a lot shorter than we want.
A quick google search will reveal countless articles that are dedicated to solving this exact problem. This is a good thing, but it still leaves my mouse hesitating above the link. See, when I was in high school, I took a writing class to prepare me for writing college level papers. It was a great class, but one of the things my teacher drilled into me was how to avoid writing fluff, which is great when you’re writing academic papers. But for novels and fiction…not so much.
As a result, my novels tends to be pretty blunt and straight to the point in the first draft. This can be good for building the backbone of your story, but it’s absolutely terrible for hitting a high word count.
However, having this “no fluff” mindset does have it’s perks. One being that it makes me do a double take at all those articles I mentioned a little bit ago. In my opinion, a novel that’s 90 or 100k shouldn’t be that long because it’s stuffed with filler words and fluff; it should be that long because it actually takes 100k to tell the protagonist’s story.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have ANY fluff in your novel. I actually think a little bit of fluff is good because it can help flesh out your characters and, particularly with fantasy, your setting. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so hang on, kiddos, cause today we’re gonna explore how to add some length to your novel without adding all that boring fluff that will make your reader hit the snooze.
#1. Add a subplot.
I’m probably the worst person to ask about subplots, but here we are. Subplots are, in a nutshell, side stories or characters that support the overarching story or protagonist. A good example of subplots can be found in Lord of The Rings. The main plot revolves around Frodo and Sam as they try to destroy the One Ring. Almost every other character in the story is part of a subplot: Aragorn trying to recover the hobbits, Pippin in Gondor, and Eowyn’s entire character arc, to name a few.
Your subplots don’t have to be as intense and detailed as the ones in Lord of The Rings, but the more fleshed out they are, the more your word count will thank you. My only warning is to take caution because if left unchecked, subplots can quickly overtake your main plot and ruin everything. So, use them wisely.
#2. Setting descriptions
I know, I know, I literally just said that setting descriptions can be total buzzkill. But that’s only if you go completely overboard and describe like, literally EVERY setting. (Don’t do this, I beg of you. Unless you’re J.R.R. Tolkien, then you can do this.) Setting descriptions can be good, as I also said earlier. If used correctly, setting descriptions can enhance the reader’s experience and make them feel like they’re inside the protagonist’s skin.
I honestly have yet to master this skill, so instead of giving you my amateur knowledge, here are a couple of articles that explain it way better than I ever could.
- Story setting ideas: 6 effective setting examples and tips
- How to write descriptions and create a sense of place
#3. Throw some more obstacles at your protagonist
*rubs hands together and laughs evilly*
Even in a first draft, your protagonist should have something they want. And I’m guessing you probably made them work for it. But that begs the question: how badly did you make them suffer and/or work for it?
Did they get what they wanted after only a handful of challenges and setbacks? If this is the case, it might be wise to consider brainstorming some more ways that you can torture your book babies before letting them have whatever it is that they want. Not only will it help your word count, it’ll also add to your character’s journey and force them to grow in new ways. So don’t be afraid to try something a little outside of the box. How can you best push said character outside of their comfort zone? What could another character do that would put your protagonist in the middle of a huge dilemma? Use your imagination and have fun with this one. ❤
#4. Write chapters between 4,000 and 4,500 words.
This is entirely a personal preference, but I’ve noticed that it’s a LOT easier to hit a higher word count if you write long chapters. According to my very quick google search, the average chapter length is 3,000-5,000 words. Now, this is by no means a hard and set rule that you have to write long chapters. In fact, a lot of very good novels have REALLY short chapters (Challenger Deep and 100 Days of Sunlight, to name a few), so it really just depends on your preference as an author and what works best for the story you’re telling.
That being said, my fairytale retelling had VERY SHORT chapters and turned out a little over 24k. My contemporary summer romance is going to have much longer chapters because there’s only one POV and it just works better for this specific book.
Another good idea is to compare your book genre with what is out there. You don’t have to make your book the exact same length and chapter length, but it is a good idea to at least know what your audience expects from the genre of your book. Here are a some word counts to consider based on some popular novels of different genres:
|Genre||Literary Fiction||Fantasy||Romance||YA||Middle Grade||Dystopia||Thriller||Horror||Science Fiction|
|Average Word Count||80,000-110,000||100,000-115,000||80,000-100,000||55,000-70,000||20,000-60,000||60,000-120,000||90,000-100,000||80,000-100,000||80,000-120,000|
|Popular Example(s)||The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (47,094 words)|
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (83,645 words)
|Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (106,821 words)|
*Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (197,371 words)*
|The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (48,000 words)|
*Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (123,360)*
|The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (60,438 words)|
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (89,048) words)
|Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (30,644 words)|
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (73,053 words)
|The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (99,750 words)|
Divergent by Veronica Roth (161,498 words)
|The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (138,952 words)|
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (145,719 words)
|Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (75,380 words)|
The Shining by Stephen King (217,076 words)
|Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (100,609 words)|
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (136,048 words)
In the end, how long your chapters are is entirely up to you. This is just one of the ways I’ve found that helps me increase my word count. *shrugs*
Which of these tips did you find the most helpful? Do you have a nifty little trick to add to the list? How long is your current WIP and what’s your word count goal for the finish draft? Let’s exchange ideas and keep the conversation flowing in the comments down below!