Oh, No! My Book is too Short.

Oh, NO! My Book is Too Short.

I have read all kinds of writing advice geared to writers who write on and on in great elaborate detail with plots and subplots galore.  These advice-givers usually dwell on how to cut:  finding unnecessary characters and eliminating them, whacking pages that go nowhere, paring down, down the 180 thousand word book (or more) into a more salable 120 or 150 thousand word book.

I’ve only seen advice from two sources about what to do if you DON’T have tons of words to cut.  Holly Lisle and the late Phyllis Whitney, who wrote popular gothic-mystery-romances.  I tend to “write-tight” and when my story is finished, usually the book is too short. My last finished draft is way too short.  Someone said that it doesn’t matter how long the book is, that it should be as long as it takes to tell the story.  I would have to disagree.  After all, we are writing for readers, (aren’t we?).   Length may not be as much a problem for authors that self-publish, but the reader still wants some bang for their buck.  I’ve read complaints in some reviews on Amazon such as :   “This was a very short book.”

Do you, like me, write tight?  Have you written a novelette instead of a novel?  Does your story rush from one scene to the next with not much description?

So what do we do if our book is too short?   One thing we don’t want to do is to just pad the story with flowery nothing.  The best advice I’ve read from both my two above sources is to insert more scenes.  Ask yourself, “What else could happen?”  “When could it happen?”  Also, go over the rough draft and see where you can add bits of description of action here and there.  Put in sensory description:  looks, tastes, feeling–mental and physical, sounds, smells.   Everything inserted should add to the story development. You don’t want to put anything in to just make it longer.

In my book A Singular Gift, I inserted two long action scenes after the book was finished, and no one else can even tell which scenes were the johnny-come-lately scenes.

My latest draft needs some major work because I feel it is way too short.  I let it sit for a couple of months while I worked on redoing my light romance, did the whole Christmas thing, and started a prequel to my three book series.  As soon as I finish A Man for Sylvia and get it on Amazon, I’m going to go over the draft to do major revisions.  My major revisions are not cutting dozens of pages, but adding to the story.  I’ll be taking the advice of Holly and Phyllis and reading through the draft with the intention of finding new pieces of action that fit into the story.  I tend to write a lot of dialogue.  Now I must see if the dialogue needs more action and description.  Here’s hoping that I’m done by the end of February.

Wish me luck!

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8 Comments

Filed under About writing

8 responses to “Oh, No! My Book is too Short.

  1. If the book is significantly short (5K or more), adding descriptive details is likely not to be enough and may actually harm the book. I tried that, and my draft was so bad I had trouble figuring out how to revise it.
    I’ve always run too short and recently have to come to see what one of the problems is. I wanted to make sure simply being too short didn’t signify a problem in the book, so I took a published book and mapped it. I went through and identified the purpose for each chapter.
    What I discovered was that because I’m a big picture thinker, I tend to get a laser focus on accomplishing the goal — to the point where I skip necessary development. I could see in the mapping how the story was developed more through a series of scenes; whereas, I zoomed through one. The result was that I turned one scene into three.

    • Sue

      I agree you shouldn’t pad with too much description, but I find that I often leave out sensory details and bits of needed action while speeding through the first draft. Turning one scene into three–did you do it by adding more action and details?

      • No. I actually added to the story things that should have been there but didn’t get in originally. The original scene was only about 1K, set during a museum exhibition. My focus was for the MC to meet his father and be warned about the coming disaster, so the scene ended on the warning. And really, it was only about getting to that. I started by breaking the scene in half.

        Scene 1: I expanded on the museum exhibit, which was about the MC’s mother, who was assassinated when he was a child (and witnessed). So it’s about his reactions to what he sees, and his interaction with another character. I added a small thing that’s a big foreshadowing of something later. I also spent more time with a character who figures very prominently in the story later — he was somewhat neglected in the 1K version. Also worked the world building (I don’t care much for WB, so I have to work at it).

        Scene 2: Shifts to a more extensive conversation the MC has with his father, which turns into a fight/disagreement (MC hisses at his father). Instead of just ending it with the threat, MC tries to get information from his father, who is uncooperative and evasive. A bit more foreshadowing turns up, and I did the world building thing again.

        Scene 3: Didn’t exist. Originally it cut to the next day and the character planning on checking out the warning. The new scene has the main character visit the Queen to tell her about the warning. More development on the father’s family situation, more world building. I also slipped in something which will be important foreshadowing near the end of the story.

        A lot of it, surprisingly, was back story, since the death of the mother happened 22 years ago. But it was also important in the context of what was happening in the now, since what happened 22 years ago is about to happen again …

  2. I have the same issue as you–my stories are too short, or I write too tight. People say I have a fast pace like a sportscaster LOL. Right now, the rough draft of my romance drama is at 44,000 + words. With the help of my critique partner, I’m realizing where more description is needed to get my word count up to 60,000 or 80.000.

    Good luck with your books!!!

    Keep smiling,
    Yawatta

    • Sue

      Thanks for stopping by, Yawatta. In addition to the description, try to think of additional scenes you could tuck into the story. Good luck to you too!

  3. What a wonderful post today. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks you for sharing.

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  4. Such a relevant post for me to stumble upon today! I came to your blog through searching ‘gardening’ in my WordPress reader, but then I saw this was a “Top Post” and had to read.
    I don’t know that I generally write too tight. My first draft of my current book (a memoir) was almost 190K. But then I realized it was actually TWO books, and once I separated them, I was left with only about 60K. I’d like to at least hit 70K, for the reason you mention: readers like more “bang” for their buck. (I certainly do! If the book is good, I always want it to be longer.) But I also agree with Linda that too much description isn’t good. You don’t want to slow the pace down. Anyway, your post and comments have gotten my wheels turning thinking of some possible extra scenes, ones that are actually necessary. So thank you! I’m looking forward to following your future posts.

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