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I'm writing a book and I was wondering how I could expand it? My chapters feel like they have 500 characters while 1 chapter should become 3000 - 5000 words.

Is there a way to expand it?

Note:
I'm writing a first-person ghost romance story in which I'm a ghost and buried in a graveyard and then I meet my love.

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    500 characters indeed seems to be very short for a chapter. If you are writing a novel (for example), do you feel it would also be very short, or it's going to be a 1000-chapter novel?
    – Alexander
    Feb 1, 2021 at 18:39
  • IDK but I do plan for it to be more than 120 pages @Alexander
    – Coder2195
    Feb 1, 2021 at 18:39
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    I'm still trying to understand how your style works. For example, one scene in which characters are having a non-trivial conversation can easily run for more than 1000 words. How does it work in your case - your characters speech is very laconic, you split long scenes into small chapters, or there are no such conversations in you book?
    – Alexander
    Feb 1, 2021 at 18:48
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    You refer to two different measurements: characters and words. Clarify your question to only use one of them. Feb 1, 2021 at 19:28
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    When you say "My chapters feel like they have 500 characters", do they just feel like it, or do they actually only have 500 characters? There are about 350 characters just in your post. Do you mean 500 words? (Or do you mean characters in your book, like there are 500 people in it?!) Feb 1, 2021 at 21:33

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A chapter should be exactly as long as it needs to be, no longer, no shorter. I’ve seen chapters as long as a single word. Proust has blocks of text that run for a hundred pages or more without so much as a paragraph break.

So the question is, what’s happening in your writing? The very first thing that you need to be doing is reading, and reading with an eye towards craft. Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer is a good starting point if you’re unfamiliar with reading with an eye towards understanding craft. She comes at things with an implicit expectation that her readers are reading and writing literary fiction, but the same rules apply for genre work as well.

Above all, don’t be obsessed with word counts (or page counts). Be obsessed with whether you’re telling your story with exactly the words that it needs.

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It is true that your chapter should be as long as it needs to be and no longer.

However, I believe what you're really asking is: How do I write my story so it "shows" the reader instead of "telling" the reader.

Show Don't Tell

bad / tell:

He felt sad that he had been rejected by the beautiful woman.

The author has told you how he felt. He has not allowed the character to act it out before you to expose the story to you.

better / show:

Stanley looked up at the beautiful red-head standing in front of him.

"Would...would...would you like to go out for a drink, Margaret?"

Margaret wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something bad. "Uh, you're just not my type, Stanley." She scurried over to the office printer and fumbled with its buttons.

Stanley let his shoulders fall and he slouched over as he scuffled back to his desk. He sat down in his chair and dropped his head to his desk and sniffed as a tear formed in his eye.

Use more exposition -- describing things as they happen in front of the reader

than you use narrative -- telling the reader what happened.

Really, what you want is more exposition -- more seeing it played out in front of you and less narrative -- less of the author telling you something.

Showing The Reader Takes More Words

This type of exposition takes far more words because you are showing exactly what the characters are doing instead of summarizing things.

How To Start Showing

To begin showing you are going to have to :

  1. Imagine the entire scene.
  2. Do not write, until you've sat and imagined the scene

Imagine you are watching the scene play out like a movie.
Now, begin writing the things that the characters do.

Do not tell me what they do, show me what they do.

Do not say,

"John was sad."

Show me,

"John frowned and fell onto the couch making a loud crashing sound. He winced in pain as his arm bumped the wooden arm of the couch. He pulled his elbow in and his face turned hot and tears rolled down his cheeks."

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    This kinda feels like a "I don't like your question, so I'll answer this other question instead."
    – Weckar E.
    Feb 2, 2021 at 13:04
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You should describe the characters, setting, and action more. I will focus on writing regular descriptions and taking the extra step - showing not telling.

Start with the characters

Before you even write the scene, imagine the characters externally. Ask yourself

What clothes are they wearing?

Describe what clothes they have on and what their clothes look like. Do they have a scarf on? What color are their clothes?

Then, you can add into the internal dialogue, dialogue, or narration about what inferations you and your characters are making.

For example, if they are wearing shiny, new Air Jordans? Maybe they have $$$. Or are they wearing beat-up, old tennis shoes? Maybe they have $.

Incorporate the descriptions into the character's narration. Then, take the next step and have the character think about what they are seeing.

This strategy will effectively add more words and details to your story.

Show don't tell aspect to what the characters are wearing:

For the show don't tell aspect to this, give some clues about what the characters are wearing through dialogue, action, and first-person narration.

For example, show by the characters talking about a different character's clothes rather than telling us what the character is wearing.

What do they look like?

Describe what they look like. Is their nose sharp or rounded? Hair color? Eye color?

Then, (again) you can add into the internal dialogue, dialogue, or narration about what inferations you and your characters are making.

For example, if their nails are obviously bitten, they might be an anxious person. Or do they have perfect, painted, groomed nails? They might be a perfectionist or someone who lives a luxurious life.

Incorporate the descriptions into the character's narration. Then, take the next step and have the character think about what they are seeing.

This strategy will effectively add more words and details to your story.

Show don't tell aspect to what the characters are wearing:

For the show don't tell aspect to this, give some clues about what the characters look like through dialogue, action, and first-person narration.

For example, write about the character wearing glasses rather than just saying they have bad eyesight.

How are they standing?

Describe how they are standing: are they standing confidently, nervously, slouching, etc? Which direction are they facing?

Then, (again) you can add the internal dialogue, dialogue, or narration about what inferations you and your characters are making.

For example, are they standing in a relaxed pose? Then they are probably in a conversation where they feel comfortable speaking to the other person. Do they look rigid and straight? They might be feeling uncomfortable.

Incorporate the descriptions into the character's narration. Then, take the next step and have the character think about what they are seeing.

This strategy will effectively add more words and details to your story.

Show don't tell aspect to how the characters are standing:

For the show don't tell aspect to this, give some clues about how the characters are standing through dialogue, action, and first-person narration.

For example, you could talk about them making a squeaking sound with their feet rather than saying "___ was nervous so he kept shuffling his feet."

Describe the setting

Give a detailed description of the setting. And, instead of blatantly telling the reader where the character is, imply it in a way that shows the reader where the character is.

The setting of a story usually consists of the

  • the general time period

  • place/s

  • exact times for each scene

  • mood/atmosphere of the scenes

  • geographic features

Make sure that you vividly describe each of these in their appropriate places. Not only will doing this increase your word count, but strengthen your story.

Let's look at a basic sentence and then how we can apply this setting rule.

Basic sentence:

Ralph hurriedly exited his old car and rushed into the saloon. It was raining outside and Ralph was overjoyed to finally finalize the payment. He was meeting someone inside the bar at 7:30.

Good example:

The 1970 car skidded to a stop in front of the town's saloon, Silver Dollar Saloon. Ralph threw on his raincoat before grabbing his rusty car's door handle and pulling it open. His gaze drifted downward to check his pocket watch, 7:28. "Perfect," he thought. Ralph's mouth curled upward in a restraint to a full-on grin as he strode the dusty stairs to the entrance. Before entering the building, Ralph reached into his blue overalls and pulled out his wallet. Finally, Ralph pushed the brown saloon doors open and rushed in.

You can tell that I applied almost all of the elements of a setting into that sentence to grow it from around 34 words to about 92 words. That is almost 3 times more words! It also helps the reader understand what is going on in each scene.

Show don't tell aspect for setting:

For the show don't tell aspect to this, give some clues about what the characters look like through dialogue, action, and first-person narration.

For example, talk about the sun setting rather than bluntly giving out the time.

Describe the action in the scene

If you are stuck after describing the characters and setting in a regular and show don't tell way, you are ready to describe the scene's action.

When I say action, I mean anything action related. Doesn't have to be a car blowing up, it could just be a small thing.

Your job is to take that small thing, beautifully write it with perfect descriptions, before spitting it back out for the writer to enjoy.

Well, you're probably wondering, how to do this.

A lot of it is skill and practice, but let's look at a 10 step basic chart of how an action scene could go.

  1. Start with describing characters and setting
  2. Basic dialogue between characters to set the scene
  3. Start to build up a scene
  4. Give a look into the character's brain (internal thoughts)
  5. Rise tensions
  6. Make it clear what the scene's purpose is
  7. Climax of scene
  8. Drawback a bit, more description (reset scene)
  9. Resolve the scene (end at cliffhanger, peace, satisfaction, etc.)
  10. End the scene

At every step, you should add details but the biggest detail loads should be near the beginning and at the near end.

This way, details don't get in the way of the action too much, but still giving enough explanation of what's going on.

This strategy will effectively add more words and details to your story.

The show don't tell aspect: Show don't tell is very important in action scenes. It excites and moves along the scene faster.

Showing vs telling

This list from TCK Publishing illustrates when you should show and when you can tell:

(the following is taken from here)

When to Show

You should show in your writing when:

  • You need to demonstrate a character’s most vital experiences, emotions, or beliefs

  • You have an opportunity to use interesting dialogue to illustrate an idea or concept

  • You need to convey information that is crucial to the story arc or a character’s arc

  • You need to convey information that is crucial for the reader to understand the plot (if you simply tell the reader about an important plot point, it can seem a bit too obvious later on, but if the reader has to notice that information inside a scene of action, the reader will feel good for having figured it out).

  • When you need to go into more detail

When to Tell

You should tell in your writing when:

  • You want to convey information to the reader that isn’t crucial to the plot, character arc, or story development (such as the color of a character’s eyes or brief background information about a character that is interesting but not crucial to the story)
  • You can’t think of a way to convey that information in a scene or action
  • You need to quickly convey information so you can get back to a scene or action, and there’s no good way to show it

TL;DR

You should always use descriptive writing and most of the time that writing should be show not tell.

You can apply descriptive writing to three basic sections of your book: (there are many more but I only picked what I thought were the most important three) characters, setting, and action.

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    Why the downvote? Feb 2, 2021 at 15:09
  • It wasn't me, but: I don't understand what "a balance between show don't tell and regular writing" means; describing a character looking in the mirror is a common cliche; there is such a thing as too much showing. I do also think this question is pretty difficult to answer without further input from the OP about what exactly their issue is, but that's not your fault! Feb 2, 2021 at 15:23
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    @DM_with_secrets Later today, I will fix those issues to clarify my answer. Feb 2, 2021 at 16:18
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    @DM_with_secrets Does my edit help? Feb 3, 2021 at 0:56
  • Yeah :) My personal opinion is still that show-don't-tell is overrated, but your answer does a good job of advocating for it Feb 3, 2021 at 7:44

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