Mar 26 2012
If you haven’t yet reached your word-goal for your novel (probably 80-100,000 words for a professional-length manuscript or 50,000 for NaNoWriMo), here are some ideas for making your book longer without just dragging it out.
1. Add a new complication. If something goes wrong with what your characters have already done or are doing, it will take them time to resolve the complications. I would recommend using this extra space to develop characters and/or advance the plot and/or raise the stakes. For example, in the Hunger Games series, the main character (spoiler) survives a Rollerball-style death match, but her new fame makes her a symbol of a brewing rebellion and puts her family at risk of government reprisal. Before, (only) her life was at stake, but it gets even worse for her.
2. Add intermediate scenes, ideally fleshing out character development and/or smoothing out the plot with necessary details. If you’re inserting a scene between A and B, it should add something you didn’t have before.
3. Add another goal or a change of goal for a major character.
4. Expand scenes you’ve glossed over. For example, if Silence of the Lambs had been shortened by paring back the conversations between the main character and side-antagonist Hannibal Lecter, the plot would probably have been much less interesting. In this case, additional material with a side character developed a main character and gave the main character a few tantalizing scraps of information with which to accomplish her goal (find the main antagonist before he killed again).
5. Let the villain make a major play, affecting the heroes’ plan and/or prompting a response by the heroes. For example, if your team of superheroes is trying to find Dr. Nefarious, what is Nefarious doing in the mean-time? Especially if the team has made a major choice, you can use the villain to show that there are consequences to the heroes’ actions. (For example, maybe the team decides to look for him in mainly City X, but he actually attacks City Y, causing the team’s leaders and/or residents of City Y to second-guess the team and/or become a lot less helpful).
6. Add a side-arc. In superhero stories, popular examples include romances, notable inter-group conflicts, anything major going on in the heroes’ day jobs and/or daily lives, and any other character goals besides saving the world and/or beating up the villains, etc. As always, please develop characters and/or advance the main plot with this space. For example, the ambiguous romance between the two main characters in the Hunger Games novels affects their ability to survive and draw support from outside sources.
7. Complicate the villain situation. Instead of just one villain and perhaps his henchmen, maybe we have multiple villains vying for power, antagonists that aren’t actually villainous, a major conflict between a hero and a non-antagonist, a villainous mole on a superhero team, etc.
8. Add side-characters and/or spend more space on them to develop the main characters and/or the main plot. For example, in The Incredibles, Edna develops the setting by showing us how superheroes in this world think and work. (She says no to a cape because it’s impractical and will lead to gruesome accidents). She’s hilarious to boot. If side-characters don’t develop the main characters and/or the main plot in some way, they’re probably diluting the story (which, by the way, isn’t a huge problem for now–just finish your manuscript and then worry about perfecting it).
9. Make the supervillain’s plot more complex. Some aspects you might consider:
- There are multiple steps to the plan, possibly with connections that don’t necessarily make sense to the heroes. For example, if a villain has broken out of prison and has assassinated two people, the heroes might want to figure out who else might be on the hit list and/or what the villain’s goal is.
- The villain has framed somebody (a hero, a side-character, or another criminal) to conceal his guilt and/or create a conflict between the hero and a third party.
- The villain uses a former associate or a dupe as a fall guy. This could be to help the villain survive and/or avoid the attention of the heroes/police and/or to wrap up a loose end that would have been inconvenient for whatever reason.
- The villain makes use of some other red herring, causing the heroes to run down false leads because they don’t know what the villain’s actual goal is.
- Betrayals! Not just for Risk. For example, maybe you put your villain in a situation where an associate is too much trouble to save and/or is suddenly not worth saving. In the X-Men movies, Magneto casts aside Mystique after she gets de-mutated, which leads her to give some useful information to the authorities.
- Maybe there’s a social component to the villain’s plan (like sowing discord among the heroes). That will probably be more complex and involved than if the villain just rushes in like Doomsday.
- A villain wavers. If a villain has second thoughts, it will probably take extra time to resolve his doubts one way or the other.
- The villain forces the hero to make a difficult choice and/or struggles with a choice.
10. Add a noncombat scene between the hero and main antagonist. If so, please make this deeper and more interesting than the villain threatening, the hero standing tall and the villain slinking away, okay? If your first thought was to have the hero ask “Is that a threat?”, I’d recommend checking out Dostoyevski, Kafka, Silence of the Lambs, Watchmen, maybe Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 12 Angry Men, the Batman/Joker/Harvey Dent triangle in Dark Knight, any story where the conflict is mainly social rather than physical (e.g. Mean Girls), etc.
11. Maybe the plot prompts characters to try something new, either temporarily or long-term. For example, in Jump Street 21, the jock cop (rather than his nerdy partner) takes advanced science courses. There’s probably more dramatic potential here than there would be for the nerd because the obstacles are harder for the jock to overcome.
12. Develop something unusual about the background and/or setting. For example, Arkham Asylum is one of the most memorable places in Batman’s universe. Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley helped introduce readers to Rowling’s world of wizards in an impressively immersive way. Besides Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University, where else could you find a Head of Inadvisably Applied Magic or an Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography?
13. As a last resort, maybe spend more time developing a character’s capabilities? Just make sure you advance the plot and/or develop key character traits–the capabilities by themselves are probably not terribly interesting.
- Mental activities, particularly in a story heavy on investigation and/or searching.
- How does your Peter Parker go from a neophyte with superpowers to the sort of guy that can plausibly web across town without splattering himself on the pavement?
- Training scenes? Ideally, keep the stakes high and, as always, advance the plot and/or develop key character traits. For example, you could use training scenes to develop conflicts between teammates. That will also help develop the traits which led to the conflicts.
In the last Hunger Games book, a character is perturbed by a tactic that is brought up in training. When a similar tactic is used to kill a loved one, the character wonders whether the murder was actually carried out by ostensible allies. The training scene raises questions in our mind about what actually happened during the murder and helps develop a contrast between the character in question and his/her allies.