How to Capture the Beauty of Life in Your Novel

Writing is, essentially, a snippet of life with a plot that could have happened and people who could have lived. It’s true that sometimes the exciting tales of a book are a little more exaggerated than real life, but underneath that, it’s all a reflection of human life: emotions, people, and moments of living.

Back around when I started turning this into a writing blog, I started writing posts on my vision for a novel. I started to notice the little things in life. Listening to indie music at midnight by lamplight. Falling asleep to the rain. Being bold and trying new things. I couldn’t explain the feeling it gave me, but I wanted to share it, because it was giving me inspiration and passion for not only my writing, but my life.

Once you find the beauty in life, like I did in those small moments, you want to share it. But in the writing world, happiness and beauty doesn’t exactly sound like it’ll make for a good story. Would anyone go see Jurassic World if people went to see the dinosaurs, said, “That’s cool!”, and left without a problem?

Except there is a way to share it, and believe it or not, it can improve your theme, keep readers reading, and up your style. 

Want to share the beauty in life and improve the quality of your story? Read this article!

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1. Recognize the Beauty in Your Life

There is beauty in happy and sad moments, when you laugh and when you cry, and when you feel something. It’s the warm hug of a friend after a heartbreak. It’s feeling loss because you have loved. Sometimes, it is good to feel alive. In order to be able to share the beauty in life, you must see it yourself first. 

When we think of a good life, we think riches, fame, friends, and no complications. However, in novels, that’s not exactly possible. For example, in situations when: everyone’s trying to kill the main character, the novel is set in an evil dystopia or third-world country, the characters are nobodies, or any book following the idea that you can never have too much conflict.

Instead, hone in on the smaller aspects of life. It’s not about having good friends — it’s laughing surrounded by people you love, looking around and seeing them smiling, then realizing you’re happy. When we focus on the smaller areas, it’s more realistic to write and it’s happier and easier to achieve. 

Recognize the truly beautiful, smaller moments. Observe them in your own life and in the lives of others. Those are what you can write and share freely.

Let Your Character Have Momentary Victories

This is a lesson I’ve learned as a reader, not a writer. If you’ve written your character well, your readers will be rooting for him to win. They know he likely will by the end, but throughout the pouring conflict of the plot, they’re worried about his physical and emotional safety.  

While “happyland” would make a terrible story, that doesn’t mean your character can never, ever win until the end. Let your detective find a clue. Let your scientist make a breakthrough. Let your emotional character be happy for a small scene. Don’t overdo this, or your novel will become boring, but allow readers to enjoy a brief moment of happiness with your character — even if it’s a false victory — or they may get frustrated and put your book down. That’s where you can fit these smaller moments.

Get Into a Character’s Head

As I said above, it’s not always the happy moments that are beautiful. They can be sad or bittersweet moments. No matter what’s going on, give your characters time to react.

Again with my experience as a reader, they want to know how your character feels, so don’t worry abut boring them as long as you don’t go on forever. Let your characters feel things, because there is beauty in emotion and in growth.

The trick to creating great emotions? Do your research. But don’t just write what you think you know.

When I was in middle school, I took an art class, and I remember struggling to draw the base of a ballerina figurine. I asked my art teacher for help, and she looked at my work and said, “You’re drawing a circle. In your head, you know the base is a circle, but use your eyes and you’ll see from here it looks more like an oval.”

That’s great art advice, but it also applies to writing. We often draw conclusions about emotions, like smiling equals happiness and crying equals sadness. But would you describe happiness as feeling your face crinkle, laughing without care of judgment, and feeling so happy you forget there’s sadness in the world? Or would you describe sadness as squinted eyes, trying to be happy, and feeling as if you deserve it?

Don’t just write what your head knows as an emotion, write what you, as a human, feel.

Focus on the Smaller Picture

When outlining, we focus on creating a good plot, when drafting we try to hurry things up, and when editing we want to finish as soon as possible. During all our rushing, we forget to slow down and look on the smaller side of things.

It’s important to have a good bigger picture, but once you’ve created that, remember that everything must lead to the bigger picture. Readers won’t keep reading through a terrible opening to see your bigger picture. They’re reading it scene by scene, page by page, and word by word. Every word, every page, and every scene must contribute to the bigger picture, including the style and feel of them.

So, slow down. In life, we don’t get to see the bigger picture right away, and neither should our characters. Part of living life happily is learning to live in the moment, and through our books, we can achieve that. 

Showcase Hope and Uniqueness 

Throughout every trial, we should have hope. Hope is hard to learn, especially the older you are. As a writer, and even more so if you are a Christian writer, your job is to create hope even when it seems there is none. There is no better place than in a novel.

There is hope in life, and that is beautiful.

Another thing that is wonderful about life is that no one is the same. Not even two snowflakes are the same, and the same should go for your book. 

Find beauty in uniqueness. Include people of different backgrounds, personalities, interests, and appearances. Write no two same characters or plot points. Be vastly unique.

Once you have found it, how this beauty in your novels. Not only to improve your story, but because the point of writing — dare I say, the point of art itself — is to affect hearts. Beauty is one way to do it. Show people the happiness in life. Show them how the little things are so important. Inspire them to live in the moment.

Writing, without purpose, is meaningless — but more on that next week.

Where do you find the beauty in life? How do you write it into your novel? What are some unique things about your characters?

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How to Choose a Successful Story Idea

After finishing a project, you pull out your story idea list in search of something new. There’s a lot of good options, but you choose your personal favorite: space dragon adventure. You outline it and start to write it. However, in the middle of your draft, you think, This is terrible. Why did I choose this and not baseball vampires?

No, we’re not discussing whether or not baseball vampires are better than space dragons, but if you’ve been writing long enough, you know how it feels to choose the wrong idea and only realize it after hours and hours of hard labor.

It could be in the outlining, drafting, or editing stages, or even when you try to get it published only to realize it’s not publishing material. I’ve been there with six books — it’s not a pleasant experience. In the past, I mentioned I know I’m going to finish my work-in-progress because, in my words, “That’s what makes the difference for me every single time: clear commitment.”

Commitment is good, but in order to write a story I could finish, I needed a story idea that wouldn’t let me down again — I story I could commit to. I was right; I’ve made it through to the third draft, which has only happened once before five years ago out of seven or eight completed first drafts.

Learn from my mistakes. Here are seven things you should aim for in a story idea, and four different areas to consider.

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Should You Value the Market?

Why should a serious writer attempt a project that won’t be published? In the late 1990s, it was wizards (Harry Potter), then vampires in the 2000s (thanks, Twilight), dystopian America spiked in the early 2010s, (see Divergent, The Hunger Games), and now it seems to be contemporaries focused on social issues (e.g. The Hate U Give). If you want to get published, it makes sense to write what’s selling.

Or… don’t, unless you’re a currently published author who has an editor telling you what to write and when they’re going to publish it.

If you’re writing a good quality book, especially as you’re unpublished, you probably won’t be able to write fast enough to keep up with the trends. Plus, trends get old. For example, most fantasy publishers want nothing more to do with wizards or elves or creatures of any sort. Sometimes, if your book is a superstar, you set the trends.

However, don’t takethis an excuse to go crazy. While you shouldn’t mold your entire story around what’s selling, there are expectations for your story. Genre conventions are important. Cliches are boring. Don’t break the writing rules willy-nilly just because you can.

With that in mind, here are the first two points. 

1. Don’t choose a story just because you think it will sell.

2. However, choose an idea that is enjoyable to readers in general.

The Role of Passion

So, if you don’t pick something simply because it will sell, what should you do?

Passion. How much you love the story.

If you don’t think you can sell your story idea, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. But it you don’t have passion, it definitely is. We worry that our passion won’t make a good enough story, but the contrary is true.

If you have enough passion, you can work through any story idea, good or bad, because you will have the motivation to make it better. When you have passion for an idea, it’s a sign that it’s truthful fiction.

But when you write an idea because you think it’ll sell or that other people will like it even if you don’t, you’re cheating yourself and the reader. The only motivation you’ll have is money, but money is proven not to be fulfilling.

When it comes down to it, if you can’t decide, choose the idea you’re most passionate about. When you’re passionate, you’re willing to pour your soul into an idea and put as much effort as required to make it work.

3. Choose an idea you have passion for.

Strong Story Origins

Where I always went wrong was not having everything I needed for a substantial story. Structure and outlining forced me to see what I was missing, but things could have been easier from the start.

4. Choose an idea with a protagonist and an antagonist.

A protagonist and an antagonist are two people directly against each other, or as I told my middle-school writing class, like a superhero and a supervillain — except they don’t need to be necessarily a good character and an evil character to be protagonist and antagonist. They just have to be directly against each other. Without them, there is no true conflict.

5. Choose an idea that has a plot to go with the characters.

While characters are great and many argue the most important, characters need a plot to revolve around, otherwise the story will flop. Do not write a story about characters thinking a plot will just come around. Even if you’d say your story is character-driven, there is nothing to drive the characters without a plot.

6. Choose an idea that’s flexible.

This isn’t a necessity, but it’s a luxury. The speculate fiction genre has an advantage in this area, because they don’t have to follow the rules of a world or history. It makes its own rules. Think of flexibility like this, only with plot. If you choose an idea with a lot of “musts” — “it must take place here”, “it must take place now”, “the character must be this age”, it will be harder to work out plot holes.

When you have these, you will find that your story is much easier to build off.

A Story by Any Other Theme

… would be entirely different. Look at your story ideas and consider themes that would go well with them. What can you toy with? What does this story idea bring to the theme?

Theme is what makes a story mean something, so it’s not to be overlooked. Theme is an intricate part of character. Theme is what resonates with people.

If you have a strong story base, that’s great, but as I’ve talked about before, theme is what takes stories to an entirely different level. Plus, having a story with a unique theme will ensure its success. “Does love always win over evil?” is a cliche theme question, but “How do you keep loving even when you want to break-up/divorce?” is less talked about.

Theme also has to do with passion. Choose a theme that resonates with you and you will find more passion, which will give you more motivation and make your story better.

7. Choose a story that can provide a good look at a specific theme.

Here’s the recap:

1. Don’t choose a story just because you think it will sell.

2. However, choose an idea that readers will enjoy in general.

3. Choose an idea you have passion for.

4. Choose an idea with a protagonist and antagonist.

5. Choose an idea that has a plot to go along with your characters.

6. Choose an idea that’s flexible.

7. Choose a story idea that can provide a good look at a specific theme.

When you have the foundation for a good story idea, you’ll reduce the risk of wasting countless hours on a failed one. Plus, you’ll have an easier and more fun time in the long run.

What factors do you consider when choosing a story idea? What’s most important to you? Have you ever worked hard on a story idea only to see it fail? How many story ideas do you have lying around?

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What is The Truth Behind Your Fiction?

Truth? In fiction? We don’t write biographies, memoirs, or how-to books. It’s fiction, for crying out loud. It’s all made up. At least, that’s how it may seem on the surface.

When you think of truthful fiction, what may come to mind is those stories “based on real events” told in a dramatic way, or perhaps historical fiction that educates students through stories. However, today, we’re going to talk about a deeper kind of truth: one that creates fiction that tugs at the heart and tells a deeper story.

Why Good Fiction Isn’t Completely Fiction 

Think about the most fictitious story you can come up with. 

If we’re really going for nothing true at all, we should be thinking of aliens in a different universe speaking different languages dealing with alien emotions and problems no human can relate to.

It’s easier to start to realize just how “non-fiction fiction” is when we put it that. Even if you write speculative fiction about elves or goblins or some other magical creature, they still deal with human-like problems and emotions. Otherwise, how will readers care or even understand what they’re going through?

Take the popular book series Harry Potter. None of us are wizards, but Harry Potter’s childhood of being a muggle allows readers to connect with his curiosity. None of us are house-elves, but we can pity their poor treatment, especially if you know what it’s like to be taken advantage of or abused. Or Jane Eyre –while modern readers may not be a woman in the 1800s who was orphaned, had to live with a terrible aunt, went to boarding school, then fell in love with a man twice your age, they can relate to her struggle for freedom and a place in life.

Look at every story you’ve read, and you’ll see some truth to the fiction. But that’s merely the start.

There are three main ways stories are truthful, beyond being about human problems — that’s just a building block. You must understand this before we go on.

1. Truthful Fiction Reveals Facts About the World Around Us 

When you look at the world around you, you see many stories being told by life. If you’re a hopeless romantic like I am, you make cute pairings and watch them develop into a successful couple. You see someone new at school or work and watch their life develop there: who they make friends with, how their personality changes, how well they do. If you have siblings/work with young children, especially infants, you get to see how they go from being a little helpless baby into a fully-functioning human.

Life tells us stories, but in the same way, stories tell us about life, in a way that only fiction can. Truthful fiction meant for more than entertainment attempts to try to change your outer life and the way you view life’s stories.

As we talked about above, those human emotions change us. Who could ever be the same after reading a masterpiece of a book? 

Much of this is due to character arcs and theme, both of which are based on truths we must find in the real world. 

2. Truthful Fiction Tells a Story… Through a Story

Not only do stories have truths with theme and characters, but they show truths by having stories underneath of them driving the story of fiction.

Brave Enough by Kati Gardener, a novel coming up later in August, is a story by a woman who wanted to see more books about kids with cancer used not just as a plot device. White Wolf and the Ash Princess by Tammy Lash was written by a woman who used her fictional story to share her real story of sexual abuse.

While it may not always be obvious this is going on, it changes the emotional quality of a story. When an author pours in his story, the emotion he’s felt, and the experiences he’s had to a fiction novel, you get a plot that’s emotionally well-done. That’s the kind of story that makes you feel like you lived in right along with the character. It’s why we can enjoy stories that are otherwise badly written.

My challenge to you? Look into information about an author of your favorite book or a book you’re about to read. Try to find how any personal stories they share affect the quality of the story.

3. Truthful Fiction Uses Research to Make You Believe Make-Believe

Let’s talk about historical fiction again. When I was in elementary school, my library had a shelf full of Dear America books, all set as diaries from girls in different time periods. As I read the stories, I learned about that time period.

But historical fiction has a truth that’s far better than mere education on a topic. It has the emotional impact of “Oh my gosh, stuff like this actually happened.” Why did Lois Lowrey’s Number the Stars win a Newberry? History has dark events. Hearing the story of a girl hiding from Nazis, despite her non-existence, is heart-wrenching, because it actually happened to people just like her. And when we read that, we suspend our disbelief to the parts that are false.

Suspension of disbelief is mostly talked about in fantasy writing, but it applies to all genres. Essentially, it’s when readers pretend to believe your story is actually true. Now, of course, there are specific ways to do this in fantasy, but for truthful writing, it’s using what’s true to let the reader believe what is false.

Your character might not be real, but her emotions certainly are because of the psychology you put into her character. The wild west town you’ve created might not exist, but because you’ve put so much research into realism for that time and area, it feels like it is.

The truth behind your fiction’s research makes the falsehoods believable.

How Can We Intentionally Write Truthful Fiction?

As we saw, truthful fiction can create a powerful story and there are many benefits. However, as easy as that is to say, it’s harder to do and figure out how to do them. 

1. Use Your Own Emotions

No matter what you’ve been through, every (mentally functioning) human feels emotions. While the reasons for your emotions may be different, the emotions themselves, no matter what the cause are relatable.

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation… not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon. -E.L. Doctorow

While this applies to description, it can also apply to emotion. Don’t just tell a reader the character feels sad or happy, describe what it feels like to be sad or happy which you know from your human existence. This will place the readers into the character’s shoes and remind them how it feels to have emotions like that. It is this type of fiction that goes on a deeper level of connection and stirs hearts. 

2. Look to Lessons You’ve Learned and Share Them

There’s a reason Jesus told so many parables in the Bible: because we learn so easily from a made-up story real-life truths that are otherwise harder to understand. Choose truths and life lessons you understand and turn them into a theme and a character arc.

Don’t just choose any old theme, of course. Choose one that you have grown to learn and understand. You will be able to write it more truthfully if you yourself knows what it feels like to learn about that theme, to question it, and to struggle with it.

3. Find a Way to Share Your Experiences

As I mentioned above, some authors explicitly write fiction stories based off their own lives. Although the fictitious story is different than the author’s personal story, it leaves its subtle footprint. Being subtle, however, is easier said than done. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Utilize symbolism in your characters and plot events
  • Use a theme for your story based on your experiences and anecdotes
  • Look to events that happen in your life as inspiration for a scene
  • Write a character who struggles with what you struggle with (but beware of making your character a clone of yourself)  

4. Do Your Work 

Research. This can mean many things.

  • Researching for historical accuracy
  • Researching for a sci-fi or other science-heavy novel so it’s actually science, not fantasy
  • Researching weapons and fighting techniques for novels with action
  • Researching psychology to create realistic characters
  • Researching settings
  • Researching writing techniques (😉)

Basically, anything and everything. Go the extra mile. Even in my genre, contemporary drama — which you wouldn’t think you need much research for, seeing as it’s set here and now and not much action happens — you’ll find plenty that needs research. So don’t go saying, “Not my genre!” 

In the end, it’s all about the source of story theory and what fiction really is, and learning how to write a story that changes lives. That’s my personal goal with my writing: to make readers feel emotions and question their lives, to make them think, and eventually, change their lives. This is the starting point.

How do you define “truthful fiction”? In what ways do you write the truth? What types of research do you use to create a sense of realism?

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How to Craft Characters from Concept to Completion


How to Craft Characters From Concept to Completion

Characters are essential. They make or break your novel. Even most pantsers find it a good idea to make sure they have solid characters before writing a first draft, lest they have to do painful rewrites.

Don’t have time to read the post? Click here for the cheat sheet!

I’ve talked before about how to stimulate character growth and how to combine plot, theme, and character, but developing unique and realistic characters are essential to all that. 

There is no right or wrong way to prepare a character as long as the end result turns out. We’re going to talk about ideas of how to develop your character, common pitfalls you can avoid to make character creation easier, and tips for creating unique and developed characters.

Ready? Let’s get started. 

The Basics of Your Character

1. Craft Your Character’s Name

Start with your character’s name. Don’t just slap any name on your character, though. You need to find the correct name. Particularly in third-person novels or when looking at your book’s synopsis, readers will make their first judgement on your character’s name. Get it right.

First, look to your genre. Since I write contemporary, names like Starr and Hazel are bad ideas for my female mc, since they’re currently popular. Don’t accidentally copy someone else as you plan only to find out after years of attachment to the name it must be changed.

Also, do research in your genre. If you write historical fiction, research correct names for that time period. If you write dystopian, research futuristic names. Baby naming websites are amazing for finding all kinds of niched named — even though you may have to constantly explain to those around you that you’re not pregnant.

Find out name meanings as well. This can be a subtle way to introduce symbolism and theme. You can check name meaning after you find them or search up names based on meaning.

2. Look For a Face

Having an image to look at as you develop your character is immensely useful. Try not  to come up with strong details of how they look before you begin your search. Look through actors and character boards.

I often find that the perfect face claim will scream itself at me if I don’t get hooked on the details. I’ve had ethnicity, hair color, and much more change because I found a face claimed that was my character.

Come up with a few similar options as well, and compare them to your other characters to make sure you don’t have lookalikes.  

3. Find Their Source of Pain

A couple years ago, I gave myself a writing “rule”. Every major character I include in my novel must have something giving them pain. This has always worked well for me to create realistic characters, as everyone relates to having pain.

To do this, look to backstory or a current situation. Look to family, friends, hardship, and physical struggles. Make sure that it’s something giving them pain at the time of the story. If it’s something in the past they’ve overcome, it won’t do anything to advance the plot.

It’s important to know your plot at this point. That way, your character’s pain will advance the plot. It’s also helpful to let all your characters’ pain have the same theme if they’re going to be prominent. 


Art, Style, and Personality

4. Collect Music and Lyrics

You know when you’re listening to a song and the lyrics hit you because you relate to them so much? Your characters do too. Find songs they can relate to, on the topic of their backstory, and that show off their personality. 

Music is also a good thing to play in the background as you brainstorm, outline, and write if you don’t find the lyrics distracting. Listen to the song and let yourself sink into the character’s shoes.

Sometimes, certain lyrics will stand out for the character even if the entire song doesn’t. Take note of them and add them to your aesthetic: 

5. Create Character Aesthetics

This is a fun and artistic way to develop a character. Character aesthetics are something you can do in a million different ways. I personally prefer to save them on Pinterest. Here are some ideas of what you can add to a character aesthetic.

  • face claims
  • quotes that describe the character
  • quotes the character would say
  • clothes they would wear
  • pictures of their hobbies (musical instruments, sporting equipment, etc.)

Get to know the heart of the character. Figure out small details and explore new possibilities.

Character Voice

6. Write Journals and Diaries

Journal entries are a great way to start discovering a character’s voice. Write down, from their POV, a day in their life. I recommend first, even if you write in third, as first is closer than third. You can record an ordinary day, an event in the story, or an important part of their backstory.

You can also flesh out smaller details of essential events to the plot and come up with new ideas. Get closer to the character’s emotions, how they relate to the other characters, and what goes on in their personal lives.

7. Make Voice Decisions

While it’s good to let a character’s natural voice come out, there are some things you will just decide need to happen. You might decide you want your character to be sarcastic, have dry humor, or make the cheesiest jokes, or that your character writes in very long sentences. Or perhaps they don’t think much at all.

Once you have base decisions down, that can help you with the overall style of the book.

8. Go for a Trial Run

Give your character’s new and improved voice a test on the page. Write a scene from your book in the POV you’ve chosen and experiment with how they act and how they show up on the page. Try out your decisions on voice and so you’re prepared to write it for the first draft.

When you’ve finished, edit it over for voice specifically and see where you can improve. Write down what this has helped you discover about your character. If the character isn’t showing up right, analyze the problem. Is the voice flat? Is the character bland? Fix it and try again.

9. Daydream

Think about your characters and all the possibilities. When you’re driving, cleaning your room, and taking walks, let your mind wander to think about your characters. You can think about scenes that will happen in your novel or just go crazy.

Utilize what Stephen King calls “the boys in the basement”, aka your subconscious creativity. Let your characters live in the back of your mind. When you dream about them, analyze what happened.

When you let your brain come up with anything, everything will be helpful as it’s exploring the possibilities. This is how to get to know your character without having to do all the work of writing.

The Specifics of Your Character

10. Find Strengths and Flaws

Dig out personality traits, bad habits, good habits, quirks, what people like and don’t like about them, and more. Find out the more detailed aspects of the bigger pictures.

Know your character’s bad habits and good points. Know their weak spots and where they excel. Remember to keep an even balance. Too much bad and the reader will hate them. Too much good and the reader won’t relate to them. 

I recommend using the Positive and Negative Trait Thesauruses. They explain the psychology behind certain traits, how those traits develop, and more.

Once you have these traits down, if you have a particularly fun or helpful interview, go ahead and fill it out. I find it a lot more fun and more effective when I answer an interview from a character’s point of view. While it might not be the best idea to create all the big parts of your character, like name and backstory, on the fly, this is a good way to nail down smaller details and understand how your character feels about everything that’s happened to him. 

If you found this post helpful, download the cheat sheet of this post! It’s got all the basic information from this post in a printable, easy-to-reference guide.

What are some unique steps you take to develop a character? Do you use character interviews? What do you find is important to have in a character?

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How to Make Your Book Longer – Without Fluff

Some writers are lucky and get the perfect novel length every time they write a first draft. However, most of us either write longer or shorter than needed, and it can be a struggle to make our works the right length.

I’ve almost always found myself on the shorter side. It seems to me like it would be easier if I could write longer novels. After all, that’s what everyone else does and it’s easier to cut words than add them. When I add words, it always feels like they’re unnecessary. I looked at writing articles and asked for advice, but all I seemed to get added up to “Just add stuff.”

That, of course, didn’t help very much. I could go in and add extra words and get maybe 10,000 — a small fraction of what I needed. It wasn’t that my ideas couldn’t sustain a novel. I could look at my writing and think “That’s not long enough. There’s not enough here to tell the story.”

Are you in the same position? Are you tired of getting the same advice over and over again and not having it work? I’m going to share what finally helped me learn how to write longer and how you can too.

Find Out Where You’re Cheating the Reader

“What are all these buttons?” I press them randomly. That’s actually pretty fun.

“No! Stop touching!” He fixes whatever it is I messed up then demonstrates how to use the button.

I’m forced to choose from an odd array of characters and a go kart. I end up in twelfth place. “Is that good?”

He smiles. “Yeah. It means you won.”

As I went to edit my first draft, I read this. To give context, my character is playing Mario Kart for the first time at a friend’s house (it’s important to the plot, really 😉 ). As I read it, I started to wonder. How did they go from pressing buttons to fixing them to finishing the game in 61 words?

So, I rewrote it to look something like this.

“What are all these buttons?” I press them randomly. That’s actually pretty fun. The screen changes colors and a bunch of things pop up on the screen; I laugh. Mason’s not laughing.

“No! Stop touching!” He grabs the remote from my hands and undoes whatever I did. He breathes a sigh of relief and puts it back in my hands.

I shrug, tempted to do it again just to see him sweat. “Sorry?”  

And that’s not even all of it. I had to cut it down for sake of a readable post. Here, you can see a difference from the above snippet. It slows the pacing down and gives a more clear idea of what’s happening and shows who the characters are. 

My writing isn’t perfect — especially since these are early draft snippets — but writing that made me realize: I was cheating myself and the reader. My writing was short and jumpy, and because of that, there wasn’t enough characterization for the readers to get to know the characters, the readers couldn’t picture what was happening, and I wasn’t leaving any room for subtext.

What may be holding you back from lengthening your word count is wondering if they don’t matter, but they do. They’re important for all the above reasons, so look at where you’re cutting yourself short.

Fill in the Gaps

My fear of writing fluff made me leave many gaps. That’s how you can tell if your novel needs to be lengthened. If you see no gaps, then perhaps your story is better off as a short story or novella, and adding words would harm the story. However, if you can see clearly that your story is being cut off, that’s when you can add.

Write a list of elements that need more development in your story. It might look something like:

     1. A character the reader doesn’t get to know very well.

     2. A piece of the plot that’s confusing.

     3. A place where the reader can’t picture what’s going on.

     4. A scene where you’re not giving off the right mood, emotion, or pacing. 

Figure out places where you can flesh those elements out so you’re showing the reader exactly what you’re trying to communicate. To some extent, this is putting the “Show, don’t tell” rule into further practice.

Fleshing Out Character

Character is a funny thing. Just like in real life, you can see character in many ways: through action, speech, and thought.

We can see character through actions on a bigger plot level — if a friend betrays another — and on a smaller level — if a boy opens a door for a girl rather than letting it slam in her face. Do you include those small actions too? Are you allowing for scenes that show who your characters are?

Speech is also important. There are a million different ways to say “Yes” that are more wordy and show other sides of the character. Is your character sly? Drip some gossip into her conversation. Is your character nervous and shy? Have him say “I’m sorry” often. 

First-person point of view allows for great characterization of the POV character, if done well. Third character is harder, but still possible. Giving the character time to think and react to what’s going on around him isn’t fluff, it’s important. Believe it or not, if readers are attached to your protagonist, they want to know how the he reacts. I’ve found myself screaming over books: “Something huge just happened! Don’t you have anything to say about it?”

Fleshing Out Plot

This is where it’s important to make sure you’re filling in gaps, not just sharing for the sake of it. There are going to be places where you haven’t foreshadowed properly or explained things that have happened in between scenes, and in order to keep readers from being confused, you need to show these.

Beta readers are good at telling you these kinds of things — if you’ve skipped something over or if you’ve added too much. It’s valuable to keep testing.

Fleshing Out Description

This is the most common advice given when talking about adding word count, but there isn’t very much advice to go around with it. Here are a few tips for adding meaningful description:

Look to the Senses

Is sight the only sense you’re using? Sound, touch, smell, and taste are great senses to use to resonate with people. Would you rather read “She looked at the ocean” or “She felt the sea spray against her face as gentle waves lapped at her feet, creating a soothing sound as she smelt the salt around her”? Now, the second was a little much for one sentence, but it did give a much greater sense of grounding than if I just described how the ocean looked — because you’re already aware of how the ocean looks. You can Google that instantly. However, you can’t picture the other details unless you’re at the beach, which is why the second description sends you there.

Remember the Small Details

We see buildings, cities, schools, and people all the time. That’s why it’s important that you don’t just say “He walked into a building.” Otherwise, it’s nothing special. Think about the details nobody cares to notice, because that’s what writers do. 

Think Emotion

Description is not only important to help the reader visualize what’s going on, but to evoke emotion. What makes you feel? This is an area where I’ve always been quite strange, perhaps because of wanderlust. I always feel something when I’m caught up in a little moment and see a small string of lights or a friend laughing or rain on a quiet night, or when I see a neon city or a field of flowers. Noticing how I feel in those situations helps me write that into my novel. What makes you feel? Write that into your novel.

Make Sure the Reader Sees What You See

Often, we’re so caught up in our own mental vision of what’s happening in the scene we forget that we’re not putting that onto the paper. Read your writing objectively and send it to others to see what you’re failing to describe. If you love Pinterest like I do, you likely have images for certain places and characters you’re trying to describe. Share those images with beta readers and make sure you’re describing it how it is.

Fleshing Out Feeling

Manipulate all of that to give off the right pacing and emotion you want. Feelings are useful to writers in the editing process. What makes a novel truly good is making someone else feel something. Sure, we use structure and characters and prose to do all that, but the main point is to get across a message and a feeling. When you’re writing too short, you’re failing to give readers that feeling and emotional attachment you could.

Summary: A sign you’re writing too short isn’t always word count, it’s when you’re leaving gaps in your writing that are cheating the reader of everything you’re writing about. Fill in those gaps by describing characters, adding scenes to make the plot less confusing, describing what’s important, and manipulating emotion.

Do you underwrite or overwrite? How do you get your writing to the right length? What are your tips for increasing word count?

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