Author Toolbox 6: Adding To Word Count

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


A new year and I’m hoping for new ideas that lead to new outlines. I’ve been throwing around an idea about dissecting and expanding some shorts and seeing where they might go as novellas or novels.

Obviously the short would be the core of the story but adding words means adding new ideas or/and adding sub plots.

Here’s what I’ve been considering:

  • add a reversal into the main plot line
  • add subplots and characters complications
  • dig, sift, and seek out places for more tension
  • deepen the point of view, descriptions, atmosphere, arcs
  • transform summaries into scenes
  • dig into the layers of the character’s past and add some regrets, grudges, and unresolved issues

The biggest challenge of lengthening a project is making the additions intricate parts of the story, to move it forward and not be bits of fluff I’ll land up cutting on my next round of revisions.

How do you add to your word count? Any advice for me.

Gleaned from:

74 responses to “Author Toolbox 6: Adding To Word Count

  1. When I write, I write a lot. So, I’m only familiar with reducing word count. Adding word count seems like a wonderful challenge. How about adding some new characters to the short? Through dialogue with the protagonist, maybe it adds some depth to the story and moves it forward? Fun! πŸ™‚

  2. I might flesh out a scene more, but I tend to need to reduce word count, usually by just X-ing a scene.

  3. I have not had to add yet, but cut yes, so advice. Adding sounds hard to me. Wishing you much success with it.

  4. I think you have some great ideas to expand your word count. I tend to write lean and then add more description, go deeper into POV, etc. in the following drafts.

  5. I feel your pain. I think because I wrote feature articles for newspapers and magazines, I have the tendency to cut to the core of the story with no fluff. I re-released a novella last month and I doubled the size of it closer to a novel length. Talk about difficult! I fleshed out scenes and added a sub-plot and discovered I really needed to share a lot more character emotion and reactions. I believe I came up with a much stronger plot and characters who will resonate with readers because they reveal their feelings. I didn’t add much more description of homes, nature, etc. I already skip that kind of writing when reading!!! LOL..
    JQ Rose

  6. My descriptions tend to be barer at first, and then on rounds two and three, I beef those up. πŸ™‚

  7. If I needed to add words, I wouldn’t add descriptions. I’d add story. Your short story didn’t exist in a vacuum. Something happened before, and those events led to your story. Something happened after. A short story might not be the central idea of a longer work but a starting point.

  8. You definitely have some great ideas going. I’ve never had trouble adding length to a piece, more the opposite. =) Still, I’ve found adding inner dialog can deepen characters and the relationships we form as readers with them. This can’t be done to an excess, and DEFINITELY never repeat information, but pulling out motivations based on past experiences or psychological trauma/reasons for a specific response? Those are subtle ways to fatten your prose.

  9. I recently had to up the word count of a short piece, so maybe this’ll help: look at the themes, character and what you really want to achieve with the story and add to it. Good questions to ask to help you expand: Why is the character there? What is happening to the character? How did the character get there? How is this going to get worse? How is it going to be resolved?
    And, of course, use Crystal’s advice too πŸ™‚
    Good luck!

  10. Louise@DragonspireUK

    Whenever I expand on my short stories I think about how the character got into the situation in the first place, where they’re going next, and what other conflicts they could have in their lives. Adding extra characters is also a great way to flesh out a short story into a longer work πŸ™‚ The most recent short story I expanded on had two named characters. That story now has at least 8, each with their own goals and motivations, but all linked to each other!

  11. I think you’ve got the right idea as far as expanding scenes and adding subplots. You could add in things leading up to the events of the story too. When you add things in it gives you a lot more room to add details and explain things better.

  12. I’m working on a novella/novel now that started as a short story. This was many years ago, and it’s seen a number of different forms and revisions since. For me, there’s just a gut feeling that the story wants to, is meant to, be something “more.” I don’t get that with a lot of stories but there have been a handful over the years. Good luck!

  13. I have no advice here. I have never once written anything that needed additional wordcount. Now, If you could give me some advice on how to cut word count… lol

  14. All of the things you listed sound like good ideas. I find just learning about and buffing up a given character helps add to word count. You could also take your stories and try to fit them into the Hero’s Journey structure – if you go through all or most of the steps, you’ll most likely end up with a longer narrative, and you could cut the stories up and integrate them in all kinds of fun ways. Also, take your time on setting, both describing it and building atmosphere and character with it πŸ™‚

  15. Subplots are a great way to add length. And sometimes, if you examine a short story long enough, you could think of more scenes and twists to add to it. I think it’s fun turning a short story into something longer. There’s so much possibility there.

  16. I find the best way to add word count is to focus on the showing: go deeper in point of view, and amp up the emotion. But as an editor (and like many of your commenters), I’m more familiar with cutting word count, mostly because people start the story too early and have too much unnecessary backstory, or scenes which don’t move the plot forward.

  17. I have difficulty cutting down words so I don’t know if the following will help you. Basically the options you listed are all great but before you try to flesh out the scenes, I suggest jotting down an outline for each chapter/scene to see how they add to your central conflict and resolution. Then try to develop your characters in ways that help them achieve your story arc. That should take up a lot of word counts for you. Good luck!

  18. Your suggestions are all good ones. I rely upon subplots/complications to add depth to the story, but it makes sense to dig into the character’s past to add depth to the character. Another bloghop to follow – haha.

  19. Victoria Marie Lees

    These are all important tools to use in your story. Consider them wisely and drill down deeply into your characters to see what exactly is going on in their lives and why they do what they do in your story. Good luck! You have the right idea.

  20. Great post! I’m working on expanding some scenes and reducing others right now. Thanks for the tips!

  21. I tend to be overly descriptive, but what I generally need to add in is setting details so people sense what my character’s sense- like taste, smell, hear, touch, and not just see.

  22. Hi Anna. Those are some really great ways to add some word count. I tend to build complicated and intricate storylines that need cutting instead of expanding. However, I can give you one way I weave new characters or subplots into a story. I make sure I have a three-point influence. They must touch the main plot at least three times or in three ways. This way they feel intrinsic instead of disconnected. If I can’t get them to touch three times I look for other characters or plotlines that I can merge them with to enrich that one. Not sure if it really helps, but I wish you the best of luck bulking out your word count.

  23. If I want to lengthen a story, I usually try to add to the character’s journey/plot; either by putting more obstacles in the character’s way, or turning the resolution into another step.
    For example, in Fellowship of the Ring, the initial goal is to “get to Rivendell”. It isn’t until the characters reach Rivendell that they learn that there is still more to come.
    Adding more obstacles or mishaps is probably the easier of the two, but there’s also the risk of hammering the character with so many misfortunes that the story takes on a certain absurdity.

    In general though, I tend to favor letting an idea/story be whatever it naturally becomes, and I’m wary of “stretching things too thin”.

  24. jennifer@badbirdreads

    I like your ideas. I love how you work through writing woes.

  25. I aim for 25 chapters of 4000 words each in my first draft to arrive at 100,000 words for editing. I don’t worry if some are longer and others shorter but it works for me πŸ™‚

  26. I’ve learned from doing an exercise that a good way to add tension is giving your character(s) a reason to obtain their goal in a story. And deepening those reasons, making them more important than life itself, as the story goes on.

  27. Yes, adding words is a challenge. Especially when you feel your story is already tight. I like the strategies you listed. For me, often I need to really get into the mind of the character and think about the 5 senses. I may have shown the reader one sense (usually sight), but what is the character hearing, smelling, touching? This helps me not only add words but deepen the understanding of the characters. I didn’t read through all 57 (my gosh!) comments so someone may have already mentioned this technique. If so, I apologize!

  28. Gosh — clear and forthright in how to deal with a shortfall. Have known some successful writers who launched careers by adding a plot line, POV character, several combinations of your suggestions. Thanks for sharing!

  29. One suggestion I could make is, if you have more than one piece set in the same world, add in details that reference the others. That could help beef up the word count and tie the world together.

  30. When I was writing the draft of my first novel, I worried that I was going to have to add words as I’m used to writing sparsely and to the point from my time in corporate la-la land. Fortunately, my word count ended up being on target. But it remains to be seen if I’ll have to add to or reduce my word count in the final revisions based upon what changes I end up making.

  31. Those are great tips! I expand on my descriptions to add words too, and more dialogue. I’m a sucker for dialogue!

  32. Deepening is always a good technique. You win with the word count and the story engagement factor rises. I once added a character and threaded him into an existing story. It was a challenge, but I got my word count and I also added depth to the MC as well as the story. I really needed that character, but I only discovered it after I’d set my word count goal. Odd way to write a book, but it worked.

  33. In early drafts, I do such a poor job of describing the setting and what’s happening all around the characters as they speak, I have to go back through the manuscript and add them in, which significantly ups my word count.

  34. That’s a tough one–I’m with you in usually having to add. My drafts are pretty sparse. First and foremost, I try to deepen character emotion and engagement. Then I will beef up description–but only because I write little to none in my early drafts.

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