I finished the first draft of a novel I'm writing. Right now, it has 17000 words. I've heard that novels these days range from 60,000 to 150,000 words, so I'm a little bit worried (I'm hoping to have 200~300 pages).

Is this normal? (I didn't stop and edit any single line. And I didn't describe actions, dialogues, and settings with much detail, because my priority was to get the story done).

Should I go back and add the details before starting the second draft?

5 Answers 5


At first, I thought this is a bit of a tricky question. Normally, I would say that about half the words that are in your first draft probably shouldn't make it to the second. Then they are usually replaced by others (and then the same thing happens again for your third draft (and fourth (and ninth))). But if you are lacking all detail, then I think you would be hard-pressed to say you have a first draft. Perhaps you just have a very thorough outline or a treatment (to borrow a screenwriting term).

It's great that you haven't stopped to edit. That is the easiest way to derail progress. If you feel good about the direction you are heading and are enjoying what you are doing, then don't change a thing. No one should ever read your first draft anyway, so you could use hieroglyphics if it kept you moving forward.

At this point, the last thing you want to do is get bogged down by draft numbers and word counts. Just continue until you are "done" with this stage. Then you can go back, see where you need more, identify the words that aren't pulling their own weight and kill them, and fill the plot holes you inevitably left in your wake.


And I didn't describe actions, dialogues, and settings with much detail. Should I go back and add the details before starting the second draft?

I've seen your writing. The answer is yes. :) (And I mean that in the nicest way. You work very hard. You do need to flesh out your dialogue with descriptions.) Go back and review these two questions of yours and my answers:

Has this dialogue enough suspense to engage the reader?

First conversation scenes I've written (looking for errors, conventions, and improvements according to writing standards)

  • Agree, except that I would probably call this fleshing-out process the second draft in itself, not something that needs to be done 'before starting the second draft'. Mar 9, 2021 at 12:09

I had the exact same problem with my first work, so let me tell you how I dealt with the problem.

I was trying to aim for 60k, but my book ended at 20k. There were several reasons the book came up short. The main was that I had tried to write the book without any thinking- sort of like the pantsing or discovery approach (see this question). Like you, I did not stop at all.

I found that this approach did not work for me. While I hate plotting in detail, I found that I have to do some plotting. I usually write 20-30 bullet points scenes, which I then try to flesh out. Since I had done no plotting at all, my steam ran out, and the book finished at only 20k.

The other reason was, the book was mainly dialogue and action, with sparse description. Now I try to flesh out my work. The best way I found is to imagine you are in the scene you are writing, and then write the scene.

The third reason was- I had too few characters. If you only have 2-3 main characters, they can only have so many problems, and your book can only be so long.

Now , to answer your question, yes for some people, 1st drafts are much shorter than the final works. This advice flies against the accepted dogma/canon, that says you have to write a long 1st draft and then cut it down. For a few us (the silent suffering minority :) ) this advice is not true.

If I aim for 60K, my 1st draft comes out at just 40-50k. I add another 10-20K in my other drafts.

However, in your case, the gap is huge. I can tell you what I did with my 1st project. 1st, I added more characters, with their own problems. I also add more scenes, taking another project I was working on and merging it.

Do a rough calculation. If you write scenes that are 1200 words long, and you need a 60K book, that means you need about 50 scenes. You can be very flexible about how you use the scenes. If I plan 50 scenes, I usually throw more than half away, and add new scenes as I'm writing. However, I find that while the plot comes out by writing, I do need some scenes or bullet points to guide me towards the end, or else my muse gets bored and types "The End."

So my advice to you is: Put the book away, for at least a month, then come back to it. Read through it, and figure out where you can add more plot. Can a minor sub-plot be expanded? Can the minor characters be given more important roles? What else can make the hero's life difficult(eg, he gets kidnapped by aliens while trying to save his girlfriend from the Mafia)?

Write down 40-50 scenes, and then start expanding your book. While the task may seem daunting, my experience is it gets easier as you get along.


The answer to your question is: It depends on how the writer works.

This is a question that's impossible to answer in a general sense, since different writers will approach a story in different ways. Some will rough things out and add detail later on, some will dump everything down on the page and trim it down later on. Without seeing a manuscript, it's difficult to comment on it.

It's possible that the story you're telling simply isn't a novel at all. It could also be that you've only written part of the story. But whichever of these is the case, when fleshing out this story, I highly recommend against adding things to simply pad your word count. Let the story find its own length. If it's too short to be a novel, so be it; you can find another, novel-length story later on.

But maybe what you have is closer to a very detailed outline with notes. In that case, go ahead and fill things in and let the book find its length that way.


When I wrote my first book, the first draft was super short (20,000 words), got progressively longer from 2nd to 4th (up to 160,000). Then it cleaned up at 140,000. Now obviously, I added a lot of content, including new scenes and POVs, but I still call it my first draft.

No writer is the same. No process is "correct." For me, it goes: 1st: discover story 2nd: world build in that story 3rd: flesh out characters 4th and beyond: polish prose and general editing on all the above aspects.

Just keep running through your manuscript and each run through is a draft. Do that until it's where you want it.

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