My book seems like it’s going to be way too short. My goal was 300 pages but it seems like it’s barely gonna make 100. What should I do?

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    Elaborate the reasons behind fixing 300 pages as your goal. – xax Sep 11 at 6:11
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    May I also add that it's far better to refer to word count instead of pages? With a little formatting trickery I can turn 100 pages to 300, without changing the word count ;) – Digital Dracula Sep 11 at 8:45
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    Ctrl+A, Ctrl+], Ctrl+], Ctrl+], Ctrl+], problem solved :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 11 at 15:24
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    Read "The Wizard of Earthsea". Wait 2 years, then go pick up the book. You will be STUNNED at how short it is! The amount much story and character packed in there is an impressive feat all by itself. (just over 56K words) What I'm saying is you should look upon the MERE 100 pages with pride, rather than disapointment. – Glurth Sep 11 at 16:40
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    What's wrong with 100 pages? You can still do quite a lot in that space, for example Animal Farm is on average ~112 pages and Farenheit 451 is ~160. – BruceWayne Sep 11 at 16:51

Filler is never a good thing.

It's possible that 100 pages is simply the proper length for your story.

However, it's also possible that you have too much narrative summary and too little scene.

Some samples:

Summary:

Jane ate lunch at Luigi's. She ran into Josh, and told him about the trouble with the locusts.

Scene:

The restaurant was almost empty, a forest of crisp white tablecloths. It was nearly two o'clock. While lunchtime technically extended until three, Jane always felt faintly unwelcome at this hour, as if the staff were all eyeing her, wishing that she'd eat her soup just a little faster.

"The usual table?" asked the hostess.

"Yes, thank you," said Jane. In her hurry, she led the way to the little round table by the window, rather than following. "And a glass of iced tea as soon as you can--" She broke off. Josh? Yes, Josh, just entering through the big glass doors. What was he doing here?

(And so on and so on.)

Now, scene shouldn't be "filler". There should be some reason for all this stuff. Jane's discomfort about potentially inconveniencing others, her familiarity with the restaurant, her upcoming conversation with Josh--they should all earn their keep.

Some semi-random links about summary versus scene:

http://romanceuniversity.org/2015/06/29/narrative-summary-vs-immediate-scene-by-carolyn-haines/

https://tobiasmastgrave.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/technique-scene-vs-summary/

http://writingwithcelia.blogspot.com/2012/02/scene-vs-summary.html

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    what was josh doing there though? – chris Sep 11 at 10:53
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    I'm disappointed that your scene version doesn't tell us about the locusts – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 11 at 15:25
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    "Filler is never a good thing." Yes! As a reader, this seems very distasteful. I'm spending time reading material that does not contribute to the story. Worse yet, there's a good chance it will feel like filler. – Don Branson Sep 11 at 18:07
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    I must note that with just three paragraphs, you don't know if the empty restaurant propels the plot. You haven't seen any plot yet. – RamblingChicken Sep 12 at 0:56
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    It's important to understand what filler is though, painting a scene with elements that aren't a chekhov's gun doesn't mean it's filler. It's about conveying an image. – NibblyPig Sep 12 at 13:35

Without reading a sample I can only guess as to why your novel is so short. Unfortunately the majority of popular advice for WRITING applies to ESSAYS, SHORT STORIES, AND NON-FICTION. It is generally unsuitable for NOVELS. "Delete anything that doesn't drive the story on," Is typical bad advice. You end up with a chronicle of 'this' happened then 'that' happened.

I recall a passage in the book "Jaws". The male character spends several pages taking a pee. The female character can hear him and recalls the beginning of their relationship. She was unaware that men and women have different size bladders and believed he was some kind of urinary freak.

This passage does nothing to drive the story on. Novel writing contains two major components, plot and character. In modern times character seems to have the upper hand. The more you can build your character the greater the interest from the reader. But you do not TELL the reader about the character you SHOW the character to the reader.

I have an example where I could have written. "The morning after the party Katlyn woke up with a hangover. She stumbled downstairs."

The reason the story runs to 400+ pages is that it takes her 1000 words to get up and stumble down the stairs.

Scenes are not required advance the story but they must have a purpose. A scene may exist to develop or show character. And because characters are dynamic you may spend several scenes showing how characters interact and effect each other in different circumstances.

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    I think you might be misunderstanding what "drives the story on" potentially refers to in such contexts. The way I understand it (and I also give people the same advice) is that it refers to narrative, not plot. There are things that drive them both forward, such as an action and the way a character reflects on it; there are things that drive only plot forward, such as an action; and there are things that drive only the narrative forward, such as reflection. An author should discard what offers neither action nor reflection. – Digital Dracula Sep 11 at 9:29
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    The women thinking about another character taking a pee is called "character building", it shows the reader how she thinks, what she thinks about, and how she feels about it. It IS integral to the story, and does DRIVE the story, because choices and actions come out of personality and characters. Characters in a novel are usually far more important than the plot, and readers will remember the characters long after they have forgotten most of the plot. Character development is crucial to making their choices plausible, thus their predicament plausible, thus the plot plausible. – Amadeus Sep 11 at 10:54
  • Amadeus - I think I said that. But character building does not drive story - it expands story and increases volume. And, if we are to take the issue up a couple of grades . . . there is no such thing as "character development" in adult stories. There is only "character revelation". People don't change. The author is showing the reader who the characters really are. If I were an attorney I'd cite Scorpion vs Frog. – Surtsey Sep 11 at 11:15
  • Funny. I didn't actually read Jaws fully, and found the style pretty uninteresting back them. But I clearly remember that scene (and some other rather corny ones which didn't make it into the movie either...). So much for avoidind fillers. :D – AnoE Sep 11 at 12:01
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    @Surtsey You are misinformed. Character building DOES drive story, the whole point is to have readers care about the characters and what happens to them, and it is the decisions of the characters that create and drive the plot. Character "revelation" and "development" are the same thing, for the reader each revelation is a development that changes their internal model of what the character is doing. As for "People don't change", people changing is actually the whole point of many stories, so again, you have been misinformed. – Amadeus Sep 11 at 15:01

One of my favourite novels is all of 92 pages, I can and do read it in a single day, it tells a simple "X goes there and does that" story but it has compelling characters and a setting that feels deep and complex without being much explored. Page and even word count really aren't an issue to my way of thinking, but you feel you have pacing issues, that's a major problem.

If an author thinks they're going too fast then odds are their audience is simply going to be lost. So you need to slow things down, the key to maintaining a solid narrative that goes slow enough to be comfortable is to focus on your characters not on the events of the tale. Characters are people, they are therefore, by their nature, messy and complex. It takes a lot more time to explain a narrative from your character(s) point of view than from the exalted heights of author/creator.

From a technical standpoint text explaining the tale from a character's particular POV could be considered "filler" but it's not words for the sake of words; it should (and usually does) create a greater depth of engagement for the reader with the POV character, and hint at greater depths to the world in which the story is set.

For those who are interested that's Andre Norton's Eye of the Monster, my paperback of it is 92 pages.

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    so, what's the title? – Segfault Sep 12 at 18:23
  • I also want to read this 92 page novel! – Jimmery Sep 13 at 15:11
  • @Ash Is it 'Clockwork' by Philip Pullman? – Toby Mak Sep 14 at 11:33
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    @Segfault There you go. – Ash Sep 14 at 15:07
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    @Jimmery Have added title to answer. – Ash Sep 14 at 15:07

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman's Odyssey

This advice from one of the better writers to ever grace this earth should be worth following. Now, if you are getting paid by the word or page, perfection may not be your primary goal ...

Here is a list of possible problems that lead to too short a story:

1) Did you start it too late? Perhaps you need to begin with an earlier scene in the life of the characters. You may have the wrong inciting incident.

2) Do you have a complete story? Study story structure. Yours probably closely aligns with either 3-Act, 4-Act, Hero's Journey or episodic. Do you have all the parts that are commonly found in that structure? Are some rushed? Diagram your story against the structure and count the number of pages devoted to each.

3) Are the story parts out of proportion in length? The beginning, middle and end take up different lengths. Make sure the middle is not too short. The end should cover a short period of time with many pages, the middle a longer period of time with comparitively fewer pages per time elapsed.

4) Did you skip important scenes, possibly because you could not imagine them in a way interesting enough to write? I wrote a story where the protagonist is a prisoner. He eventually wrangles his way out of prison. I didn't describe the scene where the Warden interviews and threatens him prior to his release. It was an expected moment in the normal flow of a prison drama that I just plain skipped over. I had to write one, and it was a good addition.

5) Are both the inner and outer character arcs given their due?

6) Are some of your secondary characters one-dimensional? Could one or more of them use additional development? Should you add additional characters? Perhaps a sidekick or person who provides comic relief.

7) Could you add another reversal or two? Increase the stakes? Add more foreshadowing or false clues?

8) Can you add more conflict? More conflict means more threads that need to be resolved.

9) Have you made effective use of setting? Perhaps you can bring the setting more to life, make it take on the qualities of a character.

10) Can you deepen the theme by introducing a related theme that complements the themes you have already chosen? Can you have the antagonist or a secondary character make the wrong decisions just as the hero is making the right decisions, as a contrast?

11) Has the protagonist paid too small a price for victory? In one novel I wrote, my initial plan was to have the heroine go on trial for a crime of which she was innocent. The whole first half of the book was her enlisting allies and fighting to be exonerated so that she would be undurdened enough to fight the true evil threatening her world. However, when I got to the trial scene at midpoint, I realized that having her lose the court case and endure additional constraints being placed upon her would make the story even better.

I have often had this same difficulty. There are three things to consider:

  • Is this truly a novel-length idea? Would it be better as a short story, or a novella? Or is it just an unusually short novel? Although this might be the "right" answer, it's worth noting that novellas are very hard to place, and that both publishers and the reading public tend to prefer novels of at least 60,000 words. (At least for adult novels. Middle grade novels can be quite a bit shorter.)
  • Are you really a novelist? There are a lot of different kinds of writing. Maybe you'd be personally better suited to write this as a movie, a play or a game (all of which tend to be significantly shorter in terms of word count than novels).
  • Is your writing immersive? This is the big difficulty for me personally --my writing tends to be elliptical and to the point. Most good and successful novelists really luxuriate in their words, especially in things like descriptive prose. This helps the reader see through their eyes, or their mindset. Remember, nothing is there for the reader except what is on the page. A bare outline of the story might be immersive to you, the writer, because your imagination can fill in the gaps. But you haven't done your job by the reader.

You should NEVER use filler to pad out a book. The readers will always know. Either there's something important missing or there isn't.

  • "elliptical and to the point" ? - mutually exclusive, no? – NKCampbell Sep 13 at 21:21
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    @NKCampbell Maybe that's my problem! :) – Chris Sunami Sep 14 at 2:37

The desired page length of a novel also varies wildy depending on genre and current publishing trends (and even where you're marketing your book). For example, doorstop-length fantasy has been the rage for a while (see GRRM or Rothfuss) while sci-fi tends to be 90-120 pages for a novel, and horror was about the same or a tish shorter. That can change over time, but as with all publishing trends, write the story so that it works, and then market it. An editor or agent will advise you if changes are needed.

  • "sci-fi tends to be 90-120 pages for a novel" -- I'm not sure what kind of pages you're working with, but most of my research suggests SF publishers generally prefer 80-100,000 words (at least from new authors), which for standard manuscript format (i.e. double-spaced, 12pt) is usually around 300-400 pages. Maybe you could get up to that length in 150 pages if you're using single-spaced lines, but probably not many fewer than that. – Jules Sep 13 at 17:24

I think the thing that will help most is to find some way to outline your story so that you can see it laid out in front of you. That way you can see every piece of it and how it flows.

Now, I'm giving this advice with two assumptions 1. Assuming that the stuff you have is already well fleshed out- that there aren't any plot holes and everything is pretty well put-together. 2. Assuming that once you take a look you see that your story is either incomplete or could use some more scenes. Once you have everything in front of you, take a look and see how the story flows.

How does the situation change for your protagonist? Things start off all right. Do they get worse? How much worse? Is there a bright spot somewhere in the middle of the story? Where's the point of of no return? When does your hero decide to commit to their quest? (if that's applicable) Questions like these may help you to think about your plot in Big-Picture format. How does your story fit together from beginning to end?

Once you know that through and through you can begin to make changes. You can add some scenes which push the plot forward. Put something in which digs your protagonist into trouble. It could be that your hero wasn't dug in very deep. If the problem isn't a hard one to solve, it won't take many pages to tell a story like that. I don't know anything about your story, so you'll have to judge that for yourself. In any case, I recommend doing some kind of outline to see what the problem is. That will certainly help you to see everything from a bird's-eye view and get a fresh perspective on your book.

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