21

This question already has an answer here:

I've had a few 'great ideas' for books. I'm a big sci-fi fan, especially Michael Crichton. I'm not sure if that's relevant but there it is.

I want to write a full length book, not a short story, a full length hundreds of pages long book. I draw up a plot of what I want to happen, figure out bios for all the major characters, then hit the keyboard. All sounds right, right?

Roll forward a few hours (or days) and I've written a few pages, maybe 5 or 6 and I'm half way though my plot. This is my issue. I could go back though and pad random paragraphs here and there but it feels like I'm doing just that - padding. I know word/page count shouldn't matter but I want to write a long story. I want to invest the time and energy and see what I produce, even if it never sees the light of day.

How do I make my stories longer without just padding for the sake of padding?

marked as duplicate by Craig Sefton, JP Chapleau, White Eagle, Thomo, Ken Mohnkern May 18 '18 at 18:17

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 1
    Have you done a nanowrimo? – Don Branson May 16 '18 at 13:59
  • I did look at doing a nanowrimo... but again, my story ran out of steam. – user6916458 May 17 '18 at 14:17
25

You definitely don't pad. If you are starting with plot, it sounds as though you may not be getting into the characters as much as you might need to.

Here's an idea: Take your favorite Crichton book. Write a quick outline (one page) of what happens in the book:

Ex: Jurassic Park : My quick outline off the top of my head:

Kids go to island, dinosaurs get loose, Kids in danger, High drama and T Rex saves the day against velociraptors.

That might be the basic plot. But there's a lot missing between that recollection and what he actually wrote. Those things might (or might not) be the things you're missing. Think about what's missing in my recollection of JP from the story:

  1. All the stuff up front - Alan at a dig in Montana. Establishing relationship with Sadler as his student. Them needing cash (NSF funding is never very good) and taking the deal from the JP guy. Character development. Seeing nifty apatosaurs and triceratops with kids; a little bit of learning/teaching about dino's becoming birds. Humor with Ellie Sadler digging through poop.
  2. The guy that is smuggling the eggs out of the park and gets eaten by dinosaurs. this was a few chapters. Absolutely crucial subplot woven through. Crichton could have had a mundane reason to kill power to the fences but this was better way to do it.
  3. Sadler needing to .... do something with the electrical equipment? (I forget but Sadler did something in a bunker with a bad leg and a velociraptor in pursuit.)

Crichton split the people up and had multiple lines going simultaneously. He had all that fun stuff at the beginning. He had science about genetic engineering. He had Mr. DNA give a little narrated film. These things aren't padding, they're deepening.

Here's an idea: Map out the parts you've written in a story ... to one of Crichton's novels. Put the 'equivalent' things lined up to one another.

What does Crichton have, that you don't? Did you skip the character establishment stuff at the beginning? The subplots? Just ... Ask yourself what else he built into his story that you don't have.

Crichton follows a standard 3-act structure. If you aren't sure what that is, go ahead and learn about that, too. It might help you spot what's missing ...

  • 4
    I'd like to add, Jurassic park also succeeded because of its effective theming, e.g. chaos. Stories aren't just plotlines and events, stories are ideas. And ideas can take a lot to develop – user1675016 May 16 '18 at 14:28
10

If it is your first time writing, then I would not recommend starting with a novel, as a video game character advised to me. I'll put the full quote here if you want.

Here's Monika's Writing Tip of the Day!

Sometimes when I talk to people who are impressed by my writing, they say things like 'I could never do that'.

It's really depressing, you know?
As someone who loves more than anything else to share the joy of exploring your passions...
It pains me when people think that being good just comes naturally.

That's how it is with everything, not just writing.

When you try something for the first time, you're probably going to suck at it.
Sometimes, when you finish, you feel really prout of it and even want to share it with everyone.
But maybe after a few weeks you come back to it, and you realize it was never really any good.

That happens to me all the time.

It can be pretty disheartening to put so much time and effort into something, and then you realize it sucks.

But that tends to happen when you're always comparing yourself to the top professionals.

When you reach for the stars, they're always gonna be out of your reach, you know?
The truth is, you have to climb up there, step by step.
And whenever you reach a milestone, first you look back and see how far you've gotten...
And then you look ahead and realize how much there is to go.

So, sometimes it can help to set the bar a little lower...
Try to find something you think is pretty good, but not world-class.
And you can make that your own personal goal.

It's also really important to understand the scope of what you're trying to do.
If you jump right into a huge project and you're still amateur, you'll never get it done.
So if we're talking about writing, a novel might be too much at first.
Why not try some short stories?
The great thing about short stories is that you can focus on just one thing that you want to do right.

That goes for small projects in general - you can really focus on the one or two things.
It's such a good learning experience and stepping stone.

Oh, one more thing...
Writing isn't something where you just reach into your heart and something beautiful comes out.
Just like drawing and painting, it's a skill in itself to learn how to express what you have inside.
That means there are methods and guides and basics to it!
Reading up on that stuff can be super eye-opening.

That sort of planning and organization will really help prevent you from getting overwhelmed and giving up.
And before you know it...
You start sucking less and less.

Nothing comes naturally.
Our society, our art, everything - it's built on thousands of years of human innovaion.
So as long as you start on that foundation, and take it step by step...
You, too, can do amazing things.

... That's my advice for today!
Thanks for listening

Source - Spoiler warning if you're playing DDLC

As you tagged your question , I assume this is the first story you're writing.

The intention is always good, and maybe you already know some writing techniques, but if you're already halfway your plot in five or six pages, maybe you want to keep it that way for starters, tidy up the story to make it perfect even for a short one, then look back and see what made it too short.

My point here is maybe you want to start aiming too high, and maybe you already made something above average for a lower standard, which is not a bad standard, just lower than what you aimed for, so it would be like a good practice to re-do the same and then one day, you can go for the multiple volume best seller story ever.

You won't beat the Holy Bible's reading and selling rates though

  • 2
    Wow, didn't expect DDLC to pop up here. I instinctly knew when I read Monika's name lol. IMO it was well written and has a lot of depth. – Keale May 16 '18 at 7:58
  • @Keale trying to apply her advices to myself as well :) – gl_prout May 16 '18 at 7:59
  • 3
    "As you tagged your question first-draft, I assume this is the first story you're writing." I wouldn't make that assumption. Even the 20th story written by someone needs a first draft, well, first. The first draft might become more and more polished with greater experience in writing, but there will still by definition be a first draft because, honestly, I don't think anyone writes well enough that the first set of words put on the page is good enough to be published with no further editing. – a CVn May 16 '18 at 11:34
4

There are several potential issues that could affect the length of your story.

How you tell it

Let me start with an example, from Jim Butcher's Storm Front (the first of the Dresden Files novels).

What could have been

Harry made a love potion with Bob's help

is instead

I grumbled, and set the first potion to simmering, then started on the next one. I hesitated, after Bob told me the first ingredient.
"Tequila?" I asked him, sceptically. "Are you sure on that one? I thought the base for a love potion was supposed to be champagne."
"Champagne, tequila, what's the difference, so long as it'll lower her inhibitions?" Bob said.
"Uh. I'm thinking it's going to get us a, um, sleazier result."
"Hey!" Bob protested, "Who's the memory spirit here! Me or you?"
"Well-"
"Who's got all the experience with women here? Me or you?"
"Bob-"
"Harry," Bob lectured me, "I was seducing shepherdesses when you weren't a twinkle in your great-grandcestor's eyes. I think I know what I'm doing."

and it goes on in this vein for a couple of pages.

The example above isn't padding. It isn't merely "showing vs telling" either. It shows Harry making a potion alright, but it also shows something about his character, something about Bob's character, something about how magic works (worldbuilding). It is also interesting, it has juice, it takes the reader onto a journey, as opposed to the dry "he made a potion".

To be able to write such a scene, you must know the characters and the world enough to be able to give the details and the tone. And then - look at what could be expended. Look at what scenes look bright and vivid in your mind, and write them. You can always cut things out later, if you've slowed things down too much.

How much is happening

Back to Dresden Files. Harry Dresden is a wizard and a detective. In a short story, he gets a case (for example a lost child), he goes and solves it, there's one or two complications along the way, one or two support characters, but the plot is fairly straightforward.
In a novel, on the other hand, Harry might start with a case, but then there would be multiple factions not wanting him to solve the case, or wanting him to do something else instead, there are several problems he needs to solve, there are complex interactions with multiple support characters. There are multiple things going on at the same time, plotlines interacting with each other.

Are your characters fully fleshed out, with their own attitudes, passions, ways of seeing the world?

Does your plot follows one problem from start to finish with only a couple of hindrances, or do your characters face multiple issues that affect each other?

These are ways to add flesh, content, to your story, while avoiding empty padding.

3

I've always had the same problem --my writing is too concise. I'd head about writers struggling with producing too much material, and wonder how something like that could ever happen.

Here's what helped: More worldbuilding. When you know more about your characters, their backstories, the setting, the backstories of the places, and so forth, the writing naturally gets richer and the plot takes longer to unfold. Keep in mind, here, that worldbuilding isn't just for fantasy and science fiction. Even for contemporary, realistic fiction, you still need to take the time to fully immerse yourself in your characters' worlds.

You'll also need to be more detail-oriented. You're a big picture person, right? That's normally great, but now you're missing the trees for the forest. It would be possible to write an entire full-length book about the events of a single hour --if that hour was observed acutely enough.

2

You haven't posted excerpts of your half-a-story-in-six-pages draft, but I can already imagine some of the things you're probably not doing that novels inevitably do:

  • "And then X happened" is a whole scene, and the author ensures we can visualise its setting, and the characters' activities and relative placement within it.
  • The progression of a scene is liable to occur via a fair few lines of dialogue, some of which are part of a paragraph that makes clear what's happening during the speech.
  • Every appearance of a character is either true to what they've been established to be or part of how we know who they are. The latter occurs not only in their introduction, but also any key part of their character development. What's more, events unfold according to character traits, which might result in stumbling blocks other characters have to overcome.
  • Writers don't tell us characters' mental states; they let us infer them through the behaviours we are shown. This usually takes more words, but that's not why we do it.

Redo your planning phase, but this time work out how the above would be accomplished in the scenes, not just that X would happen then Y then Z.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.