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I have a story in my mind and put it onto paper. The contains a lot of content: characters appearance and personalities, plot, action. My issue is usually I end up having several pages while giving away load of ideas.

Then I look at some published novel, that is considered good reads. Somehow I see 15 pages of text which I read in no time. Somehow this experienced writer could produce such an amount of text without actually describing any action.

Here is the example. I've just written the chapter of my crime story. This part is the main character being introduced to the case. To summarize the action described:

  • short description of the hero's morning
  • hero comes to the coffee place and meets a friend. Description of the surroundings and the friend
  • Small talk between characters about the coffee
  • Hero's friend talks about the case
  • Hero's friend explains why he can't act on the case and asks the hero to pick it up.

I ended up having around 12 pages (A5) of text.

Looking at the book I'm currently reading similar progress in action would take 50 same pages.

I want to make clear I'm not asking of how to extending my book. I don't put in question the length of what I'd wrote.

It is also not about stretching the plot. I don't want to put any new events.

While comparing my text to professional writers I can see I produce way less text for the same amount of action. I suspect it may be a matter of style but I am yet to understand.

Given answers, while being valuable and well-written, don't really address my issue. I'm taking a focus on single dialogues and scenes rather than a book in general.

I hope I made my concern clear. I will be happy to listen to any advice.

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    @Laurel this is a similar question and I will dig into it. But it is slightly different as I don't want to simply add more words, but to understand how to give more space to the events I'm describing. – Rico W Mar 3 at 17:26
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    Time and experience. Keep reading, keep practising. – DM_with_secrets Mar 3 at 17:41
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    If the only problem you have with your story is the length, it's fine. Far better for a story to be good but a bit too short than to be excellent but too long. – DKNguyen Mar 4 at 2:02
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    I wonder if the author of the book your reading would see your 12 pages and ask "How did he reach that point so quickly? It took me 50 pages, am I being too wordy?" – BruceWayne Mar 4 at 16:00
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    I voted to reopen. I think Rico W's explanation for how their question is different makes sense. The question close voters selected is very broad and seems content with just making a story longer as an end to itself. In contrast, Rico W suspects that the short length of their story indicates a structural problem and wants advice on how to identify and fix that problem. – Kevin Mar 4 at 22:40
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I think there are two pieces of advice I can give you that would both make your writing stronger and lead to longer stories. Both of them are pretty basic pieces of advice, but they don't mean you're a terrible or beginning writer - they're the kinds of things that are so deep that you will spend your entire writing career learning more about them. But at the end of the day, you also may just need to accept that some stories want to be short, and there's nothing wrong with that.

First, I think your stories will naturally grow if you focus on showing, not telling. And second, I think you'll find that it takes longer to get through a story if you think carefully about story structure. From the way you described your detective story, it sounds like you are focused on plainly describing a story that moves along orderly. As a result, I think your writing could be stronger if you both focus on implying who your characters are instead of describing them and allowing character growth to mold the shape of your story instead of the order of events you want to see. And both approaches will naturally make your story longer as well.

Show, don't tell

If you ask ten different writers what "show, don't tell" means, you'll get twenty different answers. And at the end of the day, it's the kind of thing that really can be personal to each individual writer, maybe even each story. But the gist of it is still important. Lengthy and strong writing refuses to describe a character once and then assume the reader knows who they are. Instead, it weaves a complex tapestry revealing who the character is, gradually showing different aspects of the character in different situations and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.

The outline you gave says that you provide a "short description of the hero's morning." If your hero is interesting enough to follow for an entire story, the morning won't be enough to reveal much about them at all. I might structure their introduction something like this: As they walk from their run-down apartment to their office, they see a homeless person and give them their sack lunch, showing them to be a person of compassion as well as someone who isn't afraid to acknowledge the parts of their city everyone else would rather ignore. When they get to their office, they acknowledge the other police officers with curt but yet polite grunts, giving a taste of how Brooding and Introspective (TM) they are. Then when they get a call from their friend, they light up in a way we haven't seen yet, showing the depth and trust they put into this friendship.

Your hero doesn't have to be a hardboiled detective like I described them. But I don't really have much of a guess from the information you provided. Everyone has a morning routine, you won't be able to reveal much about your hero in such a simple scene. You won't be able to reveal much about your hero in a single scene, period. So either you are boringly telling us who your hero is, or your hero just isn't complex enough to hold up in multiple scenes.

Figure out who your hero really is, and figure out what your main themes are. Then give your hero time to go through multiple introductory scenes. Use them to gradually reveal different aspects of the hero as well as plant the seeds for themes and plot points that will show up later. If you can weave all of this together successfully, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how many scenes it takes to cover the ground the story calls for as well as how long each individual scene wants to be.

Character-driven story structure

I'm also struck by how oddly the outline you gave is structured from a narrative perspective. In your outline, it appears that your hero gets a call from their friend and immediately accepts the case. To be frank, while some stories do take this kind of approach to kicking off the adventure, it's very rare and does not work well without being done very deliberately.

Are you familiar with Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey? Campbell is a philosopher who realized that many traditional and religious myths follow the same very specific structure, and modern fiction writers have been deliberately adopting this structure to write their stories. I have my feelings about whether his structure is really as universal or useful as it's often purported to be, but I do think it's worth being familiar with.

One thing that sticks out to me about the Hero's Journey structure is that it is laser-focused on how the main character relates to and is changed by the world around them. The call to adventure isn't a call to take action - Campbell explicitly describes it as a call to travel to an unfamiliar world. Modern writers take this as a metaphor, but the point remains that the main character finds themselves interacting with a part of their world they are at least unfamiliar with and often want absolutely nothing to do with. The major beats throughout the middle of the story are again described not as events that happen but as aspects of this strange new world the main character is forced to come to terms with. And the denouement is described as a return to the original world with new treasures, or as straddling both the old and new worlds. The main character has successfully come to terms with the new challenges placed in their way and is not only able to thrive in this new way of life - they're able to enjoy what they used to have at the beginning of the story more richly as well.

You don't have to use the Hero's Journey structure. It's overhyped and, even when followed religiously, needs to be reshaped and interpreted significantly for almost any modern piece of fiction. But I do recommend adopting its character-driven approach to structure. If you do so, your hero won't be able to check off each story beat in a nice, clean, and miserably concise fashion. You'll find yourself writing in setbacks, moments of giving up hope, scenes where the main character's worst tendencies get the better of them, dark and restless passages where the main character simply does not know what to do and feels the heavy weight of the potential consequences if they misstep.

To be specific, your main character accepts their friend's case very quickly. If this case is the kind of thing your hero does routinely, there's not going to be much of a story. Some interesting things might happen, but your hero won't be stepping outside of their comfort zone, won't be challenged, and won't be forced to change. What is it about this particular case that makes it interesting enough to be the focus of an entire novella or novel? What about it will shock or frighten or disquiet or anger or confuse your hero?

The Hero's Journey has beats where the hero has a chance to begin their adventure almost immediately - but they turn it down because it challenges them in ways they just aren't ready to accept. Then they meet people who encourage them to engage with the challenge at the same time that the stakes are raised to the point that the main character can no longer afford to ignore the adventure. Armed with this newfound wisdom and feeling the gravity of the consequences of not trying, the hero finally accepts the quest. There are stories that take other approaches to kicking off the inciting incident, but this part of the Hero's Journey really does work well and is a safe default to go with if you don't have a compelling reason to take a different approach. It gives you a chance to explicitly explore what about this story is going to challenge your hero so severely that it's worth writing an entire book about. It very clearly signposts what the central questions and themes of your story will be, which is both smart writing and subtle yet effective foreshadowing for everything that comes next. And it establishes why your hero must take this case, even when they would be perfectly happy if turning it down were an option, keeping your story from going off the rails.

What would happen if your hero initially balked at their friend's case and told them to get someone else to take it? Would you be ok with having your character avoid this case for as long as they could until the circumstances surrounding it threaten their comfortable way of life so much that they have no choice but to take on the investigation? If that structure does sound compelling to you, then I don't think it will come as a surprise at this point that it will take many, many more scenes to set all of this up. The length of your story will explode on you - and it will do so in a way that is very organic and compelling.

If that structure does not sound like it would work for you, that's great! That means you have something else in mind, or at least an objection where you don't believe it would be honest to who your hero is and what their circumstances are. Lean into that reason and figure out what kind of introductory structure would work with it. But still focus on making the structure character-driven. Figure out how your hero is challenged by this case and what about it forces them to engage with themes that push them out of their comfort zone. Navigating that in a way that establishes your core themes and plants the seeds of your hero's transformation into a better person will also require you to write additional scenes, growing your story's length organically.

Some stories just aren't meant to be long

If you are already revealing character through scene interactions instead of up-front descriptions, and you are already structuring your story in a way that prioritizes character growth over checking off the main events of the plot, then it might be best to accept that this particular story is a short one. Some stories simply do not work as entire books. Some stories don't work as short stories! Some need to be told through the written word, some need to be movies, some need to be video games, some need to be performance art pieces acted out in public in the middle of the street in New York City.

To be sure, most stories can be molded to fit any medium or length. Part of the art of writing, especially if you're going into it to make a living, is being able to adjust a story to the requirements for how it's going to be told. But this just does not work for every story. You might have come across one that boils down to one profound moment that needs to be expressed concisely and pointedly, with as little build-up leading to that moment as possible. And if that's the case, you'll do your story, your readers, and yourself a disservice trying to force your story to be something that it isn't.

Do your best to mold your story into the shape you want it to be. If, in doing so, it tells you that it needs to have something specific to work, you can and maybe should fight it for a while, but at some point you have to admit defeat. If it's not possible to write this story as a full novel, then it just isn't possible.

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    Thank you for your thoughtful answer. Interestingly enough, I am reading Hero's journey at the moment and I had put main character's hesitation to the quest in my current story. From now on I will focus more on conveying various traits to the reader via scenes and interactions. Cheers. – Rico W Mar 7 at 15:13
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First things first is that don't go by page or word count: If your using a word processor, most are written to 8.5x11 inch paper at 12 point font... most books are not that big (not only are the pages smaller, but the font is... but not as much) meaning that what happens on your page 17 might not be the same on page 17 of the final book.

Additionally in this scene, you should put in details... normally with mystery cases, you would want to layer your evidence into the scene... Most mysteries are written puzzles and the writer takes great care that the person who did it is properly foreshadowed with Chekov's guns... items that are innocuous now but will be important later as well as a few red herrings... (items that seem important, but are intentionally leading the reader to the wrong conclusion). Both of these need to be done in subtle ways so that they get attention enough that they can be recalled, but not enough attention for the reader to focus on. This could be something the friend says about the case... choice wording...

And of course you'll need to get to the crime scene and look for clues. Also you should describe the character's involvement in the case... is it like Encyclopedia Brown, where he's a genius and the cop buddy comes to him cause he's stumped (As the hero's police chief father does once a book)? Is he Sherlock Holmes, where he demonstrates the police are out of their league with a case he's learned about and "consults" with them and is able to see what they're missing? Or is he an average guy who gets involved with a local case independently because they are just curious and are leveraging their lack of rules to find the perpetrator (i.e. Cops need evidence but can't get a warrant. It just so happens the character is a friend of the suspect and got an invite to the suspect's big party... and can find the evidence and report to cops, giving them the warrant.)?

When all else fails, have a frustrating but trivial problem arise to pad out the scene... like the barista keeps messing up... they don't understand the order... they get behind due to the the rush crowd, they mispronounce or misspell the character's name, and they forgot the pastry entirely and claim you never ordered it. Or maybe one of the characters is there with their young child who is antsy and making some mischief... Dialog does not take place in a vaccuume so look for little details that the characters can observe to spice up the scene... if your scene contains a lot of exposition, these should be a bit of small comedies to help keep the reader focus... one can breeze through exposition, but if you want to know the outcome of the background character's antics, you have to pay attention. Harry Potter uses this to good effect as the Trio might be discussing plot critical stuff, but there's some other thing going on around them... be it Prof. Binn's boring History of Magic Lessons, Snape having to deal with someone's potion being poorly mixed and is now smoking or misbehaving, or even the set up and delivery of pranks from Fred and George or Peeves that are going on around them.

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It is possible that you're writing a shorter story (i.e. you need to add more events, a sub-plot, twists, and turns to make it into a full-size novel). Or you may be "telling instead of showing". But things like characterization, foreshadowing, etc will also add size to your novel. Or maybe, you're just a very effective writer?

Count words, not pages

In writing, and especially publishing, it's more common to count words (writing) or even characters, than counting pages.

In order to figure out the word count per page of your novel I suggest you go to a site with word counts for published works or just count the words on a random page to get an idea.

Then you compare word counts of that novel with your text to get a better idea of sizes.

If, however, you still find your novel is much shorter, read on!

Are you an effective writer?

Maybe you are just that effective and you're able to do everything I'm listing below (and all the rest your novel needs) in much fewer words?

Then, by all means, don't add words just to make your story longer. Make it epic by adding more plots and events.

For an example of an extremely tightly written story, check out the TV series, Alias. I'm amazed at what they manage to pack into a single episode.

Or let your text be a short story! That's hardly a failure. Just make more than one and you have a collection of short stories, or maybe they will coalesce into a novel anyway once you've produced a few of them.

Twists and turns

To make your story longer, and usually give your reader a more dramatic read, you can take as a rule to end scenes in bad outcomes and setbacks and only give the character a "win" when it will cause larger risks or leading to another setback, one or a few scenes away.

This creates a meandering story that could potentially take forever to get from "A" to "B", but throwing problems in the way of the characters does make the reading potentially more enjoyable. (Who doesn't want to read about other people's problems?)

Worth noting is that these setbacks can come from both external circumstances as well as internal. What would happen if your main character was a drug abuser, or had phobias, or was a "House M.D." type of character that forced his sidekick (the POV-character? The Watson?) to mend fences all the time, or something else preventing them from just doing the job?

Show, don't tell

As has been mentioned before, showing instead of telling will inevitably use more words.

Compare:

He was angry.

To:

His skin was taking on a hue of red and his eyes opened wide. He breathed fast through his nose, almost making his nostrils moving and it seemed, if I didn't stop, he'd bare his teeth and lash out or run out.

Scenes and Sequels

To avoid overdoing showing you could use Dwight Swains Scene-Sequel system, following up some or all shown scenes with a sequel.

The sequel is used to "transport" the reader from one scene to the next by telling or at least by employing very minimal word usage. (It shouldn't be more than one or two pages long).

This way you can splurge on the scenes and fast forward between them.

The sequel also adds a reaction to the setback of the previous scene ending. Not all, but some setbacks could be deepened by also showing the subsequent reaction to them.

Add a subplot

Sometimes your text can be really improved by an appropriate subplot.

For an action story, a romantic subplot could give the leads a chance to reveal more of themselves, just as an action/conflict-based subplot in a romance novel can do.

A subplot, of course, will add anything from a fraction of the story to more than half of it (check out "Witness" where most of the movie is spent in the subplot... hmmm or maybe it's a romance movie with an action-based subplot?)

Things to do in a scene

Sometimes the first draft will be short because it lacks things a final draft must have that can potentially be added in editing.

I.e. you may not have a short story once you've edited it to a finished story.

Here are some examples:

Showing character—maybe you have to do more in dialog and action than just getting from "A" to "B" when you have to do it in character Cs typical way of doing things?

Compare:

"Did you steal the bike?"

"No?"

To:

"Did you steal the bike?"

"I can tell you for a fact that I did not steal the bike. I wasn't even near the bike when it was stolen!"

To:

"Did you steal the bike?"

"What is a theft after all? Depriving someone of something they sorely need? Was that bike needed? Was it sorely needed? In order to steal one might also suggest that you need to have been there at the movement of the actual theft. Was I there? Am I even aware of the actual moment of the theft? One might suggest in order to steal there must be a need. Did I need a bike? Desperately enough to break the law? I say no to all of the above. There was no need! No desperation! There was no awareness, nor any presence and there was certainly no deprivation!"

Introducing character—falls a bit under the "showing" above but you should take some extra care to polish the reader's first impression of your characters.

Building suspense—using action, description, dialog, character psychology, and pretty much any other element in a story to build an atmosphere of suspense will make the text longer.

And you must have this element in every scene.

The suspense can vary between genres from romantic suspense, to will-they-be-murdered suspense, to comic suspense, etc. Your reader needs to be on the edge of their seat pretty much throughout the novel.

Foreshadowing—falls a bit under the suspense building above. In editing, you know what will happen next, and adding hints and clues early on in the text isn't just great fun, it also has the potential to heighten the quality of the text! So much so that it is a vital component in some types of twists or the reader won't buy it.

And of course, you can't just tell the reader what's going to happen... you need to be subtle and subtility usually uses up more words.

Centering the world and the setting—If you don't create an image of where the people are, and give the place character, you risk having "talking heads"-syndrome. I.e. just dialogue and the reader has no clue where or how this really happens.

You can do this by introducing the setting as we see it the first time and then remind us again with some shorter descriptions on subsequent visits. You can also show the setting by having the characters interact with it throughout the scene.

But then there are more complex elements of the world and setting, such as cultural and political factors that may have an impact on the whole story. (E.g. a catholic priest in North Ireland in the 80ies, or a black person in South Africa in the same decade, etc.)

There could be added complications that your text could or should address, and in doing so, using more words...

Using all five senses—falls a bit under both setting and characterization above. You could describe scenes, characters, and settings via the POV-character using more senses than just vision. How does the antagonist smell? What's the structure of the tabletop in the main character's office? What sounds can be heard? What does kissing the love interest taste like? Or how about fear? What does it taste like?

Working towards a theme and message—Sometimes you would add things in the story that aren't effectively moving the plot from "A" to "B" because you want to work with the theme or the message of the story. For instance, by using anything from symbolism to adding scenes that may not necessarily be needed to defeat the villain to adding a full subplot.

Using symbolism—You can use symbolism to do everything from revealing character to describing setting to conveying theme and message and to do so, you might find yourself spending an extra paragraph on that toaster in the murder victim's apartment because you know, the weather and climate change, right?

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Maybe you shouldn't. Fast-paced stories are fun to read, and they are definitely better without some obsolete scenes/conversations/descriptions, that mean nothing to the story as a whole and won't have an emotional impact on the reader, which is the most important thing IMO.

If you want to make it longer, make sure that will add value to the story: character backstories, vivid descriptions, dialogues that reveal character motivations, more dramatic scenes, more obstacles for the characters...

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