Monday, April 7, 2014

4 Healthy Ways to Expand Your Story

A lot of writers tend to overwrite their first drafts. As an engineer, I tend to do the opposite. I often try to get my point across in as few words as possible. Sometimes I’m very successful, but when it comes to first drafts it often creates confusion for the reader. So I have to look for healthy ways to increase my story without adding words just for the sake of inflating my word count.

Character development
When writing characters, you want them to have more than one dimension. You want them to pop off the page and feel like real people, even your minor characters. Some questions to ask yourself when developing and expanding on characters:

  • What does each character want?
  • What are they hiding?
  • What are they trying to discover?
Think about where your characters are at the beginning of the book, their thoughts and feelings, then think about where you want them to be by the end. Then as you write each scene consider what the character feels, thinks, and wants. Also think about how your character would act in certain situations, everything from facial expression to how they might walk. Are they the kind of character that flies off the handle easily or do they go with the flow? What are the good traits of your characters and what are some of their flaws and shortcomings. No one is perfect and your characters shouldn't be either. If you are able to show all that then the reader will have a much better understanding of your character.

Each scene should add to the plot. Take a look at each scene and determine what the purpose is. Are you introducing a character? Finding out new information? Are your characters hitting an obstacle? Whatever it is, every scene should have at least one plot advancing reason for being there. Think of each scene as a mini story. It should have a beginning, middle, and end. Start it late and get out early. If each scene doesn't have a way to advance the plot consider editing so it adds to the story arc or consider cutting it. 

Add tension and conflict to your scene. Are there things your characters need to learn? These may be things you used to define your character and their journey initially. What obstacles can you throw in their way to make it more difficult on them? Are there other characters that wish to withhold the information? Are there physical obstacles keeping your character(s) from getting where they need to go? What other tension can you add on the quest for discovery? Answering all these questions will help add layers to your scenes and your overall story arc. It may also help you build in smaller subplots.

Setting/World building
Determine what the reader needs to know about your world. Is there anything that is confusing readers? Are there things that are hard to visualize? Are there things that should be left up to the readers’ imagination? Setting can be as complex as another character at times, so consider what might need to be added to advance the plot and help add to the character's conflict.

Focusing on the above items can not only increase your word count in a healthy way, but can also increase the richness of your story. It will help draw your readers in and make them want to stay in the world you’ve created, which will ultimately make your story stronger.

What other ways do you add to your story when it seems to be lacking?


Mirka Breen said...

Not an engineer, but I also tend to terseness. I've learned that, for me, subsequent drafts are much more *add* than *subtract*, and so my experience with editors has been in this direction.
Good post.

Jamie Krakover said...

Thanks! Yes it seems like add add add then maybe some subtract then more add. But definitely more add than subtract.

JEN Garrett said...

Hey, I'm an addition reviser, too! I thought I was alone in the world. I'm usually adding the most setting/world building, but, boy, can I tweet a pitch in 35 words or less.

Jamie Krakover said...

You are definitely not alone. And I too lack in the world building/setting the most. But for some reason I'm long winded on twitter! I envy your ability to short pitch. It's a tough skill.

Yanting Gueh said...

I sometimes underwrite in my first draft, then overwrite when I revise (adding descriptions and details) in my second, but am glad I keep tightening up after that. Those Care Bears were a sweet part of my childhood. :)

Jamie Krakover said...

Yeah i do the same thing, under then over then find my middle ground. And yes! Love the Care Bears!

Anonymous said...

Good tips. I'm another 'thin' writer. Then I plump up each chapter during revisions.

Jamie Krakover said...

wow there's way more of us than I thought! welcome to the club :)

JustSarah said...

I've sort of found a workaround, where each story takes place shortly after the previous story arc. Each story is a semi-separate story, that has a different antagonist. Or for the more internal conflict stories, issue-driven.

Jamie Krakover said...

I think breaking stories into smaller sub stories definitely helps. It adds to conflict like you said, you just have to make sure each piece fits together for a larger overall conflict.