how to increase word count in a novel

How do you increase the word count in a novel when the book is too short? In today’s Behind the Rewrite, author Clarissa Gosling gives us a glimpse into how she fleshed out her YA fantasy Dragon Shift during the editing process. Writing too short is an issue that many writers struggle with, especially after they trim the fat and tighten their sentences. Below, you can see how Clarissa handled this common problem.

Change #1: Add Description

I write short, so before I go through and line edit I have to add in more details. My first draft is a whizz through the story and what happens, but is incredibly light on description. I think this is because I often skim over any description when I’m reading, so the first thing I have to do is go through and sprinkle in descriptions of the characters and the settings. Having a clear picture of what my characters look like is often one of the last things I know about them, sometimes not til I’m fairly well into the editing process. The same for details of the settings. It is only when I’m going through to revise that I search online for images or details that I can use. And in every scene, I aim to include details from other senses as well as what it look like. This adds to the variety and makes it more immersive for the reader. For Dragon Shift, I also chopped the first two scenes from my first draft and the last five scenes to tighten the pacing.

Change #2: Add Emotion

As well as adding in description, I look for ways to add in emotion. I find The Emotion Thesaurus an invaluable resource for this as it gives so many options for ways you can show the emotion of your characters. And showing not telling is the maximum for good fiction. So for every scene I think about the emotions that the main characters are going through and how I can portray that through their actions. Do they bite their lip or cross their arms and frown? And adding in their body language helps to break up dialogue and make it clear who is speaking without saying he said, she said all the time. (Note from Stacy: Also check out my Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions e-book and mini course for another tool about body language and emotions.)

Change #3: Include Specific Fantastical Details

My story is an epic fantasy set in another world with shifters, dragons and magic, so I want to portray that through my word use. Terms for measuring time and distance, the way they talk about magic, etc, these all need to be consistent and some to be different from what we use in the real world. For example, in my story the main way they measure time is with water clocks, so I used the words drib, dram and drogue for increasing lengths of time. It is a reminder that their time measurement is dependent on water when their terms for time are also based on liquid measures. Then I hope that the way I use those words makes their meaning clear in the text. This is a way I can show that there are differences between my fictional world and our real one. These terms add flavour and interest in an easy way, though choosing them so that they are internally consistent with how your world works takes a lot of thinking. And you need to make sure you don’t overdo this. Choose which terms you want to change and then keep others the same so that you don’t overwhelm your readers.

Change #4: Check Consistency

As I go through my first draft I look for consistency. On a large scale this is consistency in things like Point of View. As I read through Dragon Shift, I realised I had started writing the story in first person, but after a few chapters I changed to close third. On going through to revise it, I decided to switch the first section to close third to keep it all the same.

On a smaller scale, this is looking at how things work and what I’ve called them. For example, the main mode of transport in my world, at least for those who can afford it, are magically powered barges that sail through the air. As I had written my first draft I had changed the names of these through the course of the story, so in revising I picked one term (floatship) and used that the whole time.

Change #5: Increase The Romance

Though the main change I had to make was increasing the romance in the story. My first draft went from her first impression of him as a “gangly, pimply boy, a couple of years younger than her,” through very little interaction, to a heartfelt and emotional scene at the end. (I can’t say more about the end scene without giving away too many spoilers.) Needless to say, he is now a couple of years older than her, a bit more attractive-looking, and I’ve elaborated on their relationship through the story as they get to know each other. There are now more scenes where they talk more and learn about each other, as well as showing how they interact during group scenes. Increasing the screen time for the two of them together automatically develops their relationship to, I hope, a level where the final scene is more believable rather than coming out of nowhere.

At least, this was my intention to do. If you are interested to see how well I managed this then read Dragon Shift, the first in my new YA Fantasy series.

Dragon Shift

Want To Read The Book?

Half-bear-shifter half-dragon in a world where dragons are thought extinct, Birgith must face the ultimate test of her shifting ability to be accepted as an adult in the Bear-shifter clan.

If Birgith manifests any sign that she has dragon blood, she will be killed immediately and her dragon family hunted, as they are feared by all four clans in the continent of Kaitstud. But when the test comes, she is unable to shift at all. So she is exiled and classed as a human, with all the restrictions on her that designation entails. Leaving behind everything she’s ever known, Birgith sets out on a perilous journey away from her forest home to make peace with her dual heritage. A journey to find her hidden dragon family. A journey that puts her life and theirs at risk. Or that will help her embrace who she truly is.

The first in an exciting new series for readers who love magic, adventure and strong female characters.

Buy it on Amazon.

More About Clarissa 

Clarissa has always lived more in the world of daydream and fiction than in reality. In her writing she explores purpose and belonging across worlds. Having never found her own portal to faeryland, she is resigned to writing about fantastical worlds instead. She now lives in the Netherlands with her family, where she writes as much as they will let her. When not reading or writing, she drinks too much tea and has a burgeoning obsession with Bundt cakes.

Visit her website and follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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