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I am currently working on my first serious story/book. I have written in the past, but I never really paid attention to the structure or word count or really anything that made a story, a story.

For this book, I have created a general outline of how I want the chapters to go, in terms of the plot and story events. Unfortunately, I'm already stuck on the first chapter.

My story has a prologue. This can be controversial between writers, but I feel it enhances my story and pulls readers in. This prologue is one that gives you a look into an event that happens later on in the story. Because of this, though, I don't want to immediately introduce this event. My plan is to have the cause of this event occur in or around chapter five. In the meantime, I need to give some content to chapters 1-4 (as I currently have it structured, this event would actually occur in chapter 3. This is not ideal, but the compromise I made with myself because I was unsure how to fill the other chapters).

Chapter POV Plot Sequence
Prologue Hunter Wakes up in a box. Tries to find her way out. Ends on her opening the box and looking around stunned
Chapter 1 Hunter Day before incident. Hanging out with Ayla, planning a trip. Walking through Dingle while they talk. Establish characters
Chapter 2 Ayla Goes home after seeing Hunter. Excited about the trip. Helps her mom at home. Packs for trip
Chapter 3 Ayla Day of the trip. Everything going well. Decides to vlog. Hunter's fall

This outline seems very unsustainable, and I'm struggling to really write the chapter. The two characters (Hunter and Ayla) have already made the plan for their trip, and I'm only about 400 words in (goal of 2000 per chapter, give or take). For my first revision, I'd like to have at least 1000 words.
I have researched different strategies on how to lengthen chapters, but have not had very much success with those (and after a while everything is very repetitive). I am trying to be descriptive without just outright stating certain facts or details about the characters (or really giving away too much, I'd like to be able to develop the characters so the reader learns more about them as the story goes on). I also really dislike when a character just stands there and describes another character ("she had long blonde hair that glistened every time the sun hit it the right way. She was wearing black jeans, despite the summer heat." etc etc).

Descriptions aside, I am also struggling with how to lengthen the chapter in terms of content. In the chapter, they're walking through Dingle, Ireland. Would it make sense to simply describe them going into different shops? Part of me wants to summarize their trip, and then cut to a new section, possibly later that day. But even then, what would I include? It's in Hunter's POV, so maybe her when she's home? My main concern with all of these options is the story being boring. This may be an internalized thing, and I may just need to start writing for it to come to me, but I don't want to start down the wrong path and then need to rework a big portion of the story.

My main questions here are

  • What makes good filler content?
  • How much dialog is too much?
  • Is it okay to develop the story as you go, or should you outline everything beforehand?
  • Too much description vs Too little?

I am looking to avoid the lengthy answers that only/mainly advocate "Show, don't tell". This question is more about general chapter/story structure and content than how to simply make it longer.

While I have researched this quite extensively, and am currently working on trying to implement some of the tips I have found, I am still interested in a more personal answer and possible getting some different points of view.

Thank you!

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    Whether to develop the story as you go or to outline everything depends on you. Outlining is a tool. It might not be the tool for you. Try it out, and if it doesn't work, try something else. Discovery writing is a very valid alternative. See e.g. this question discussing both options.
    – towr
    Jul 18 at 17:08
  • @towr Thank you for the input! I took a look at the link and it makes a lot of sense to me. That is how I previously wrote my stories and was able to get much further, though it felt a bit wrong to do. Maybe this is part of the issue I'm having. I'll definitely look into it more, thank you! Jul 18 at 17:52

2 Answers 2

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My first impression when reading through your questions is that you could do to read around story structure more before you start. (there's a link at the end)

What makes good filler content?

  • Scenes must have some tension/conflict or they won't make good scenes. E.g. chapter 1 + 2 don't sound like anything is really happening (it's fine to set the scene, but don't spend too long)

  • If scenes don't work, either add the necessary spice, or summarise (tell) them instead

  • There's not really such a thing as a "good" filler scene. Scenes should advance the plot or character in some way

How much dialog is too much?

Again, you want enough to convey an interesting exchange between characters, advance the plot, and convey personality. It's not really about length, it's about what it does - it should be long enough to get across what you need it to, and no longer. (a few flourishes are allowed)

If you've got a long, intense and interesting conversation - great, leave it in. If it's a long, dull chat about nothing much, you might want to trim or summarise it. "We had a long chat about what to take camping, but in the end mom said 'pack light', so I did".

Is it okay to develop the story as you go, or should you outline everything beforehand?

There's a scale between "plotter" and "pantser", you'll be on it somewhere. Some people like to make some characters and set them going, others like to carefully map everything first. Most writers are somewhere in between.

Personnally, I like to have a map of roughly where I'm going, or it's easy to get lost, stuck or waste time.

Too much description vs Too little?

Both can be a problem! The same as dialogue, there's no magic formula, it needs to be long enough to convey the scene, but not so heavy that you're spending pages describing everything. The best advice is usually to "trust the reader" by evoking a nice image, and then leave them to it.

I'd suggest https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/most-common-writing-mistakes/ as a great place to start.

Good luck!

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My advice would be to write the story without the filler.

Then, look back at it. See whether it's missing anything essential.

If so, revise.

If not, you have found its natural length. Better a shorter story than a worse one.

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