Five ways to expand your book
Have you completed your book? It’s done? Revisions made? Maybe, but there might be a problem. Are you short a few thousand words? Maybe more? Sometimes, that happens. Especially after the revision stage and definitely after an editor or beta reader looks at it. If an editor looked at it, hopefully they helped you pick it apart a bit so you know where to expand. If you’re in a different position, though, I’ll help you out. There are many ways to expand a novel that you might have only been able to get to that 50k-word mark or even 60k. Just ask yourself some questions. Before I continue, though, this is my one request: Do not write fluff just to expand your story. Writing something insignificant just to increase word count reduces the impact and value of your story. Don’t do that. Just don’t.
Does the story move too fast?
Sometimes, your idea is so set and firm in areas of your writing that you write straight to the point. Most of the time, that can be a good thing. Sometimes, though, it makes you eager and you get through it too fast. So, ask yourself a few questions first and think about a few things. (There are a lot of questions in this post.)
- Do you know of any scenes that could slow a little?
- Think about everything that happens in each chapter. If you have a lot happening in any chapter, consider its length and see if you can break it up a bit.
- Toward the end of your story, does the climax reach the denouement too soon? In other words, after the story reaches its peak of excitement or revelation, does the story end shortly after? Readers like a little story after all the excitement so they can receive closure. Not all books require this, but it’s something to consider.
- Consider how much time your book extends over. If it spans a year or more, does something happen within all that time that would help build your character? Any subplots that could pop up? These two questions are touchy because they tempt fluff writing, which leads me to the next big question.
Do you spend enough time developing your characters?
Characters are what drive the story. Your story could be plot driven, but if your character isn’t strong, neither is your book. I don’t mean strong as in strong willed or powerful. I just mean well developed. Here’s an article I wrote on creating realistic characters. I think that one was in 2015, so I probably need to update it. But, work on those characters.
You don’t have to spill their backstory and let everyone know everything that happened before the book began. What’s important? Their past can help create subplots or obstacles that hinder them from reaching their goal. Something like this would require a lot of revision, but it would boost your word count substantially.
Hopefully, you’ve had a few beta readers, so ask them who their favorite character was and why. Least favorite and why. What did they think of your main character? How did they feel about their reactions to events and environment? Find out what those characters meant to your readers and build on that. Find out what you’re missing, and fill in the blanks.
Did the ending come too quickly or was it unearned? (not the same question as the first)
I mentioned this in the first question, but now I’ll expand a bit. It shouldn’t take a week for two people to fall in love. A “chosen one” shouldn’t be able to win a battle they weren’t trained to fight until the book started. At least, not after training and a lot of downfalls. A final battle or encounter shouldn’t only last one or two pages. The strongest enemy will likely be the most life-threatening, so keep that in mind.
I’ve edited many novels where the exciting revelation happens then one or two chapters later, the book is over. Sometimes, it needs to work out that way. But, when the most exciting thing happens, hindrances can often create necessary tension or suspense. Don’t make things easy for the main character just because that main piece of your story is finally there. Take your time. Not too much time. I mean, make it worth reading. But, take your time. If an obstacle fits in between the climax and the ending or if you have secondary questions to answer, gaps to fill, take care of that. It’s like a puzzle. Just because you finally know what the puzzle will look like doesn’t mean you’re done. You still have to find the holes for those final pieces.
Especially if you wrote fantasy/sci-fi, did you spend most of the time telling readers about your world/secret/knowledge/etc. instead of showing them?
This is a big one, and don’t disregard this question if your genre isn’t sci-fi or fantasy. Info dumps are common in all genres, but they’re superfluous in genres where more information is required. Sci-fi and fantasy usually have larger word counts for that reason. Mysteries are also among the genres where info dumps are hard to avoid.
Again, things like this can be identified by figuring out all that happens in each chapter and recording all that is revealed as new information or a new subplot or new whatever. If it’s new, take note. The chapters that have a lot of new information will likely be the chapters where info dumps are scattered throughout. This doesn’t mean chapters with one or two events don’t have info dumps, but it’s easy to take care of the primary suspects, first.
If you are building a world, look at the beginning or wherever it is that the world is revealed to the reader. Do you have paragraph upon paragraph of what the world is about? Do you have reason to do so? If the main character is finding it all for the first time, keep in mind that things look different first when you see them and again when you know them. When you watch a movie, you won’t immediately recognize things in the background or the small things happening on the ground or beside the main object(s) of interest. That comes after seeing the move the third time or the fourth, and sometimes the tenth. Worldbuilding or even just introducing a new place will require all your attention because what the main character(s) see initially isn’t what they’ll see later. To clarify, things look different in the light than they do in the dark. Give it time, and you can reveal more secrets or things about the world you’ve created.
If it’s not a world, it’s a secret or knowledge or maybe even just a person. Unless a criminal is giving his guilty statement, you can likely avoid info dumps here, too. Break it apart with dialogue, interruptions, character reactions, and story twists. If it’s not relevant, don’t do it. But, keep in mind that you have more than one place to apply these options.
Is there another subplot you could have expanded on or a new one you could create?
I’ve mentioned subplots all throughout the post, but how on Earth do you decide a spot is deserving of a subplot? Let’s take this story for example: A single mother finds out her abandoned baby from ten years ago has been looking for her and she wants to meet him. When the kid finally meets her, you’d imagine or maybe think (as the writer) that it would be a happy reunion. But, what problems does the mother have of her own? The kid will wonder why he was abandoned, and will she tell him? They already have a rift, so what would prevent that rift from closing? Who’s raising him now and what do they think of his venture? Does the mother want him back? Does he want to come back? Why is he looking for her in the first place?
There are many chances for a subplot to form, including legal issues that would require more research. But, let’s say I went with the mother having let him go because her boyfriend left her and she didn’t want to raise a kid alone. And, let’s say the kid is eager to meet he and the adopted parents are against the chase. When they meet, he finds out about his father but in the end, he goes home to his adopted parents because she knows he’s better off. Where can I expand? Subplot: Adopted parents didn’t know he left. Subplot: Ex-boyfriend finds out she had his baby when she tells a few of her friends that she found the boy. Subplot: Ex-boyfriend knew about said child and has been sending money to the parents in her name, as well as letters because he feels guilty for leaving her but he’s too cowardly to face either of them. (That would fit into the main plot, but whatever. It would be a subplot.)
Things happen between the time a story begins and the time it ends, and sometimes, previous events cause other things to jump in at the wrong time or at the same time as something else. If you think of these as you write but don’t want to include them, write it down and save it for later. If not, think about what might happen as a result of past events or because your plot is occurring. It’s a chain reaction. It doesn’t only affect the party you’re writing about. Subplots can keep your story fueled and active, and it’s not always fighting or new information that does that. Your characters move your story forward as much as your plot does. They can keep it interesting. Just find those extra pieces to complete the puzzle you started.