I have discovered that I am most definitely not a pantser, especially when writing longer pieces. The last couple of times I've tried to write a novel, I didn't feel like I was writing enough. I didn't plan either novel.

For my latest attempt, this time a sci-fi novel, I have an outline. A 3000-word outline that goes over the whole plot, chapter by chapter. But I still feel like my story isn't going to be as long as I had hoped.

I'm pretty confident that my plot is deep enough, and that I could write a whole novel out of it, maybe 80000 words. But at the start of the 5th chapter, I'm headed more toward half that size. I think the problem is that I'm sticking too much to my outline, and only writing the parts that are crucial to the plot.

I know word count isn't everything, but I'm still a bit worried the book won't be what I want it to be when I'm finished. Am I worrying too much about length? What can I do to add details and interesting stuff to my story, other than just the major plot points?

7 Answers 7


This is very much a Your Mileage May Vary question, and one with no "correct" answer.

My advice, however, would be to not worry about it at this stage. Finish your story, work through your plan and then put it down for a while. Come back to it later, after giving yourself a break, and read through the entire thing, start to finish, and ask yourself - what's missing? What needs more detail? Or better yet, get someone reliable to read through it and take note of their feedback - knowledge and detail that you take for granted because you've created it might not be apparent to the reader.

Find out what works, what doesn't work and everything in between. Expand where you need to expand. Alter the journey where you need to do that. Make sure that all the senses are being used in scenes (where relevant).

A book, a good book, will never be finished after the first draft, no matter how good your planning is.


I think it's easier to cut than to add. Therefore, since you seem to be very good at outlining and sticking to your outline (yay!), perhaps you would benefit from adding more branches to your tree, i.e. your outline.

So -- see if you can add some subplots, built around side characters.

Perhaps it would be helpful to read Middlemarch by George Eliot, and think about all the different characters and subplots that could be going on, and interacting, in the place where your novel takes place.

However, there is something to be said for novellas.


What I do is, write a chapter with just the necessary details. No extra details. Just the core of the chapter. And after I finish the chapter I look at every place I can add small details. For example, I look at sentences where I can explain the setting (i.e. Couch color and texture, wall color, window size and shape, and so on...) And progress with the novel. Whenever I read the chapters one by one, I would find unnecessary details or details to add, so I do the needful. For me, my book will never be complete unless I do multiple reads of the same chapter and make necessary adjustments.


A very neat way to expand the size without loss of quality is to add a secondary plotline. Think of some secondary cast in your novel - what did they go through to arrive at the point where they became important. Maybe it was much harder than it feels at a glance. Maybe they had their crowning moment of awesome where nobody witnessed it, and their humble contribution at the end was in fact brought through blood and tears and loss.

Simply, write a mid-quel, a sequel that takes place during the events of your main novel, except elsewhere, and weave it in.


Finish it. Leave it alone for a while. Go back to it and rework it. You may have to set it aside again, and then compare the original with the edited version.


As noted above, there is something to be said for novellas. In fact, there are many famous works that come in at about half the length of what most folks would consider a novel. These are works that, to paraphrase Joseph Conrad, have something to say and proceed to say it.

You can find lists of such famous works online. Here is one list:


I do not know how those authors developed their works, but my guess is that they worked from an outline.

You can always put two novellas into a single book, if you want to make it thicker.

I particularly like the "long short stories" (novelettes) of Algernon Blackwood, several of which together make a weighty book.

Also have a look at the "incredible shrinking orchestra," a San Francisco ensemble that takes works written for large orchestras, and cuts them down (in orchestration) to a small number of instruments.


I also tend to write very short. Sometimes you're working on a concept that works better as a shorter piece. But if you have a idea that can support a novel, and it's coming in at half the length, you're probably missing something important. It might be one of the following:

  • Subplots: Is this a linear journey for a single main character? If so, you might look for opportunities to comment on the main narrative with subplots. Just make sure they're a thematic fit.
  • Details/descriptions: This was my problem for a long time. I was basically writing scripts, all dialog and a few stage directions, and very little else. When you do that, the readers feel like they're floating in a featureless void, or just hearing voices as if over a phone. Rich details, integrated into the dialog, help give the readers a sense of place, and also double as an opportunity for you to convey mood, symbolism and foreshadowing.
  • If that's not your problem, maybe it's the opposite: Too little dialog. If your characters are just saying directly what's on their minds, no subtext and no hidden agendas, it may feel artificial, stilted and obvious.
  • Along with the above, you may be doing more telling than showing. A little bit of telling isn't a bad thing, but too much of it, and your reader will feel cheated out of the experience. And telling is always more compressed and brief than showing.
  • Skipping the good parts: Do you have a lot of scenes of your characters talking about something big and exciting that just happened, but didn't make it into the book? It may sound stupid, but writers do it all the time. I do it all the time. But don't do this. Again, you're cheating the reader.

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