A while back, I met an aspiring writer, named Peggy, at a local pet supplies store (I spend a lot of time there....what can I say, I love to shop for my furry children!) who asked me several questions regarding my writing but this one stood out:
“All the books I've attempted to write so far have always resulted in little more than short stories with a page count of under a hundred pages instead of full-length books. Because of this, I've been reluctant to approach an agent or even attempt to self-publish. Do you have any tips or tricks you don't mind sharing how to develop my storylines and/or characters further to make my books longer?”
This week I decided to take the gist of her questions, and turn it into a blog post. Thank you for the inspiration, Peggy!
My debut novel has over 400 pages, and a word count of over nearly 115000 words, my second historical fiction piece has over 360 pages, and even my current project already exceeds the 320-page mark. As I started to think about what I have done so far to reach that amount, I came up with these three points:
Respect the Setting
One way novels can lack depth is by overlooking the setting and instead focusing too much on the characters and plot. It can be hard to get the setting "just right.” Sometimes we make a mistake by not including enough details, especially when we attempt to develop a fast-paced plot. Then, at times, we err by randomly tacking on setting details like some sort of after-thought.
Instead, we should strive to give the setting the respect that it’s due and to do so, we should focus on descriptions and sensory details that relate to the plot and the mood you wish to create. When we accomplish that, the setting becomes another character in your story that we can slowly and carefully nurture.
When we view the story environment as more than just a description but as an essential component, then we should be able to add the right details at the appropriate times, in order to keep our readers engaged without overloading them.
Add More than One Conflict to the Basic Plot
Many story writers develop their plot around some kind of conflict, often involving an antagonist. While there's nothing wrong with that approach, there are many other ways to add more conflict to your storyline. Consider man vs. society, man vs. nature, man vs. time, man vs. machine....the list is nearly endless.
I try to remember to weave more than one of these types of conflict throughout my story. The more types of conflict we add to the plot, the more complicated our stories become. Just keep in mind that there's also such a thing as too much of a good thing!
Give Your Characters Internal Struggles to Conquer
Another way to add layers to a story is by delving into our character's hard, emotional issues, go below their skin as it were, and straight to their hearts. But please keep in mind that this is more than just our characters expressing their reactions to the plot, which is, of course, important as well.
While they need to show and express appropriate feelings in regards to the antagonist, an emotional struggle is a bigger internal conflict that we can weave throughout the entire story. This is usually a character flaw or struggle such as a personal insecurity, fear of the unknown, pride, etc. that is somehow related to main our character’s backstory.
The more we intertwine this emotional plot with the world that we have created, the richer our story will become, giving our readers greater opportunities to connect with our characters.
There are many ways to add substance to your story including adding subplots, supporting characters and their viewpoints, creating more scenes, etc. As writers, when we’re looking to increase our story's length, we obviously don’t want to add more words just to reach some arbitrary word count goal. Instead, we should strive to make every word count.
How do you add depth to your writing? Please feel free to share your insight in the comment section!
Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added two historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty and The Country Girl Empress. When she isn't busy typing away on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Goodreads and Google+.