My manuscript Reunion ’92 was finished. Or at least I thought it was. You see, there’s this thing I’d never really taken into account. Most writers and aspiring authors don’t. If you look down at the bottom of the Word document, or if you Ctrl+A, Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V your manuscript into a count checker online, there’s that evil, elusive word count tool. Words: [insert word count]. And I realised my word count was too short.
As a teenager, I read a lot of crappy young adult novels, which had borne into me a word count had to be longer than all the rumours a single gossip magazine can hold. In high school, during fits of procrastinating homework, I used to write novels. In fact, I wrote two, both of which I now look at as an excuse of what not to write. They were pretty awful. When I read Stephen King had written a few great books as a teenager (some of the Bachman books), I wondered how he did it. My stories were two wordy piles of crap—one at 90,000; the other 110,000—and they weren’t publishable without considerable editing.
Then I looked at my current manuscript. The word count was barely a quarter of that first novel! In most literary definitions, it’s a novella. To those Twitter authors whose books are all part of a series, it’s basically a short story. That’s not true. 15,000 to 40,000 words is considered a novella. I thought back to those “indie” Twitter authors, et cetera, who write increasingly long novels, always in a series for no reason, and I wondered:
You might not understand. I used to be the same. Just look at the stuff I wrote in my teens. No, please don’t.
I’d already ended my novella. I’d spent time editing, making sure all the serious scenes and the things my “protagonist” (I use that term loosely) had done over the course of the 25,000 words were actually possible, as well as rewriting awkward dialogue and adding better and more descriptions.
But, you’re probably not looking to what I’m doing to increase my word count, but rather, what should you do to increase your word count. As the master of Googling (no, not unlocking, unfortunately), I’ve compiled a list. Alternatively, if you’d like to do the opposite, I can give you tips to decrease your word count as well. Just let me know in the comments.
Reread you manuscript: I know, I know, you’ve probably read it about 100,000 times, excuse the hyperbole, and you basically know the ins and outs of every single scene. But, a fresh reread after you’ve finished, preferably after a week or so break, and going through your manuscript chapter-by-chapter. Have you missed anything? Every time you go “a few hours later” or “90 million years later”, maybe you can add something extra. Considering my piece takes place over a few days, this probably won’t help me, but for you—the possibilities are endless!
Add a subplot: Most of the sites I was on for suggested this. According to Ryan Lanz, “there’s so much freedom in taking a character and developing their actions into a quasi-separate story”, and it’s true! Mix it up with the main plot, and bam, you’ve got a few thousand extra words.
Mix up the roles of other characters: Add in a new character, making sure to mix them up through the piece instead of just mentioning them once in passing in Chapter Four and never again. Increase the role of a seemingly minor character. Add in extra scenes for the protagonist to converse with these characters. Surprise the readers!
Descriptions (or dialogue): Usually, writers have a weakness. Are you absolutely awful at making your characters converse in a realistic fashion? Is it a fantasy and they speak in mismatched Ye Olde Old English? Is it set in a contemporary universe, but the characters speaks like they’re out of something by Tolstoy or Tolkien? Alternatively, do you have barely a poetic bone in your body, and heavy descriptions scare you as much as Bret Easton Ellis without his beloved 1980s? Work out your weakness and work on it. Increase scenes by adding more interesting, show-don’t-tell description and less useless dialogue. Make it work for you!
Now, I’m off to increase my word count. No longer will the bottom left corner of my Word document, right next to the page count, seem so evil and horrifying. Much like writer’s block, beating the word count beast can be possible. Hopefully.