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I have a word count goal for my fantasy novel (climate fiction/fantasy) of 100 - 120,000 words. It doesn't need to fall in this range, but that is the typical length of books I read when I pick up a new author. So it's a metric, and I am not wedded to it, but if I come out at say 50,000 words or 400,000 words then I am not writing the sort of thing I am trying to write.

My first draft was 110,000 words. The story arc was what I wanted, and the characters developed well enough. I thought through the edit process I might lose 10% and end at 100,000 words, fair enough. But, I'm losing closer to 25%. I'm now to Chapter 7 (of 21 chapters) and have lost over 6000 words already. At this rate the manuscript will be just over 90,000 words when I am done, and that is just the first edit. I expect I will tighten it up a second and third time.

I don't want to add words for the sake of words, obviously. What I'd like, though is to add depth to the characters and story. It looks like I will have room to do that.

My question: What sorts of elements can add depth to a story or to characters? (and incidentally lengthen it.)

If a character feels weak, for example, would more internal dialogue, or more external dialogue, or more memories, or perhaps a new minor character to throw him into relief... Are these all equal options? Since it is fantasy, would there be devices that would be appreciated by the reader (history of the world, told through interchanges between the wise elder and the young hero, for example?)

What are the tools (and tricks) that advanced writers use to deepen their stories? I know I am flailing a bit here. I bolded the question that you can focus on, if you want to ignore the surrounding fluff.

Edit: Since asking this question, I've found The Emotional Craft of Fiction to be a great resource for adding depth (and therefore length) to the manuscript.I believe that working through this book with my manuscript in hand added at least 10% to the length, and much more to the emotional depth of the story.

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First, 90K is a very respectable word length for a novel, so make sure you're not just trying to meet an artificial goal when your book is already complete. Personally, I much prefer books lean, and with no extra fat on them.

Second, it's hard to give generic advice without knowing where exactly your book might be weak. Your characters might be thinly drawn, or lack backstories, or internal lives, or be unsympathetic, or your descriptions might be weak or your plot might benefit from a subplot, but it's impossible for us to know which (if any) is true. So my advice would be to not start from "I need words, what good ones can I put in" but rather "what is my book lacking?" If your intervention isn't filling in a specific gap in your story, it's likely to feel grafted on and superfluous.

As a push in the right direction, mainly we as writers err by not putting on the page those things in our heads that help us see vividly and understand the characters and their world. Remember, if it isn't on the page, in some fashion, it doesn't exist for the reader.

  • Aha subplot. That was in an earlier iteration of my notes. thank you. – DPT Oct 3 '17 at 19:11
  • "Remember, if it isn't on the page, in some fashion, it doesn't exist for the reader." --This would seem to convert mental imagery into word length. Nice suggestion! – Mark Maruska Oct 9 '17 at 22:18
  • Very nice suggestion. +1 – WritingNewbie Aug 3 at 14:44
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I think in general you want your character to suffer pain, or inflict it. You want to create conflicts where there were none before; not tectonic conflicts but more minor ones. Problems that reveal something about their character (which of course demands you invent something about their character, consistent with what else is known).

Most stories are about the obstacles that keep the hero from getting to a position in which they finally can confront the villain and stop their nefarious plan. It sounds like you already have the part about the plot and story arcs, you just need to add some more obstacles that serve to reveal heretofore unimagined soft spots or hard spots in your characters.

  • I like this too. Someone suggested things like personal abuse from one character to another. It felt false to me at first, but as a device it does allow vulnerabilities to be explored. – DPT Oct 3 '17 at 19:18
  • Perhaps. But it can be something without such ramifications for your characters. For example, In an episode of "Elementary," the stone cold hit man is a die hard soccer fan, and ends up killing himself in his cell because he received a secret coded threat against his sister, (by Moriarty the super villain, so absolutely believable), the only person on earth he actually loves. The death in prison of the hit man is necessary to the plot: But the portrayal of a hit man as more than cardboard was not absolutely necessary, and it filled some air time and made him more believable and enjoyable. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 3 '17 at 20:06
  • To me such an abuse would change the relationship of those characters and have a domino effect of changes throughout the story, you can't have a man punch his wife without that having any effect on the rest of their relationship. I know a girl that divorced a man just over his threat to hit her. You can add dimension by having an argument over what to do next, where before you had none. Or a char helps somebody, where there was nobody to help before. Or indulges a vice where there was none before (oh they have the best carrot cake here ...). – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 3 '17 at 20:17
  • I'll take it into consideration. The interesting thing about the comment from friend, about abuse, is the relationship was already abusive, and led to one character's choices. But this person didn't pick up on the abuse. Except, she kind of did, if you see what I mean? Because she then suggested it. I decided that instead of hinting at verbal abuse in the narrative, there should perhaps be explicit verbal abuse, and hints of physical abuse. Anyway, that progression did allow a little more freedom with the psychoses of the MC, which has been interesting. – DPT Oct 3 '17 at 21:06

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