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Thread: Four Simple Ways to Expand the Novel's Wordcount

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    Four Simple Ways to Expand the Novel's Wordcount

    This question seems to come up at least once a week in this forum, and I just wrote yet another reply, and then decided to post it here for the next person asking this. Some people find it hard to reach even 50 000 words, not to mention a 100 000. Here are some basic tools of text expansion if you really think you need them.

    Let me repeat that: if you really think you need them. Once more: use these tools only if you really think you need them. No one is saying you should use all four in every situation. These are tools for when your chapter reads a bit thin, and you wonder how to beef it up a bit without having to invent a subplot or introducing some random character growth catharsis.

    1) Descriptions
    The MC enters a room--describe its size, color, atmosphere, furniture, temperature, etc, etc.

    Dean Koontz example of description carpet-bombing through simple enumeration (Phantoms):

    The double sink was filled with jewelry. Mostly rings and watches. There were both men’s and women’s watches: Timex, Seiko, Bulova, even a Rolex; some of them were attached to flexible bands; some with no bands at all; none of them was attached to a leather or plastic band. Bryce saw scores of wedding and engagement rings; the diamonds glittered brilliantly. Birthstone rings, too: garnet, amethyst, bloodstone, topaz, tourmaline; rings with ruby and emerald chips. High high-priced pieces.
    Bryce dug his hands into one of the piles of valuables the way a pirate, in the movies, always drenched his hands in the contents of a treasure chest. He stirred up the shining baubles and saw other kinds of jewelry: earrings, charm bracelets, loose pearls from a broken necklace or two, gold chains, a lovely cameo pendant…
    (Instead of simply "The sink was overflowing with jewlery")

    Raymond Chandler
    (Little Sister) example of more elegant detail presentation:

    You could know Bay City a long time without knowing Idaho Street. And you could know a lot of Idaho Street without knowing Number 449. The block in front of it had a broken paving that had almost gone back to dirt. The warped fence of a lumberyard bordered the cracked sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. Halfway up the block the rusted rails of a spur track turned in to a pair of high, chained wooden gates that seem not to have been opened for twenty years. Little boys with chalk had been writing and drawing pictures on the gates and all along the fence.
    Number 449 had a shallow, paintless front porch on which five wood and cane rockers loafed dissolutely, held together with wire and the moisture of the beach air.
    The green shades over the lower windows of the house were two thirds down and full of cracks. Beside the front door there was a large printed sign “No Vacancies.” That had been there a long time too. It had got faded and fly-specked. The door opened on a long hall from which stairs went up a third of the way back. To the right there was a narrow shelf with a chained, indelible pencil hanging beside it.
    There was a push button and a yellow and black sign above which read “Manager,” and was held up by three thumbtacks no two of which matched. There was a pay phone on the opposite wall. I pushed the bell.
    (Instead of simply "I reached the place--it was pretty shabby--and rang the bell")

    2) Back stories
    Let's say there's a TV set by the north wall of the room you're describing. Need to squeeze in a few more paragraphs? Add the back story of the appliance. It was impressive ten years ago but even then he couldn't have afforded it--his brother gifted it for his marriage. The marriage was gone, the TV was still here, etc, etc.

    Example of pet's genital status back story from King's Pet Sematary:

    Louis’s mind turned to Ellie as he had last seen her tonight, fast asleep with Church purring rustily on the foot of the mattress.
    “My daughter’s got a cat,” he said. “Winston Churchill. We call him Church for short.”
    “Do they climb when he walks?”
    “I beg your pardon?” Louis had no idea what he was talking about.
    “He still got his balls or has he been fixed?”
    “No,” Louis said. “No, he hasn’t been fixed.”
    In fact there had been some trouble over that back in Chicago. Rachel had wanted to get Church spayed, had even made the appointment with the vet. Louis canceled it. Even now he wasn’t really sure why. it wasn’t anything as simple or as stupid as equating his masculinity with that of his daughter’s tom, nor even his resentment at the idea that Church would have to be castrated so the fat housewife next door wouldn’t need to be troubled with twisting down the lids of her plastic garbage cans—those things had been part of it, but most of it had been a vague but strong feeling that it Would destroy something in Church that he himself valued—that it would put out the go-to-hell look in the cat’s green eyes. Finally he had pointed out to Rachel that they were moving to the country, and it shouldn’t be a problem. Now here was Judson Crandall, pointing out that part of country living in Ludlow consisted of dealing with Route 15, and asked him if the cat was fixed. Try a little irony, Dr. Creed—it’s good for your blood.
    3) Breaking up simple actions into chains of sub-actions
    The MC didn't just pick up the phone: he walked over to the desk, swiped away a few pieces of paper to clear space, pulled over the plastic stationary phone, leaned his head to one side as he wedged the receiver between the side of his chin and his shoulder, etc, etc.

    Example of borderline absurd zooming in into mundane activity from Hammett's The Maltese Falcon:

    Spade's thick fingers made a cigarette with deliberate care, sifting a measured quantity of tan flakes down into curved paper, spreading the flakes so that they lay equal at the ends with a slight depression in the middle, thumbs rolling the paper's inner edge down and up under the outer edge as forefingers pressed it over, thumbs and fingers sliding to the paper cylinder's ends to hold it even while tongue licked the flap, left forefinger and thumb pinching their end while right forefinger and thumb smoothed the damp seam, right forefinger and thumb twisting their end and lifting the other to Spade's mouth. He picked up the pigskin and nickel lighter that had fallen to the floor, manipulated it, and with the cigarette burning in a corner of his mouth stood up.
    (Instead of simply "He lit a cigarette")

    4) Internal dialogues and memories and sensory input of POV character
    So the MC drives a car, and to beef up the scene you've described the movements of driving, the car itself, his clothes and mood, the landscape outside, the weather and state of the road, and how and when he got the car. But you still need a few more paragraphs and feel that enumerating every blade of grass by the road will bore everyone to death. In this situation, expansion of wordcount can be achieved by adding to the mix of his thoughts and feelings about things, memories of events and conversations, angry opinions, the glare of the sun in his eyes, the smell of upholstery, etc, etc.

    Example of a quiet moment being filled up by the MC's internal world--On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Ian Fleming:

    It was one of those beautiful, naive seaside panoramas for which the Brittany and Picardy beaches have provided the setting - and inspired their recorders, Boudin, Tissot, Monet - ever since the birth of plages and bains de mer more than a hundred years ago.
    To James Bond, sitting in one of the concrete shelters with his face to the setting sun, there was something poignant, ephemeral about it all. It reminded him almost too vividly of childhood - of the velvet feel of the hot powder sand, and the painful grit of wet sand between young toes when the time came for him to put his shoes and socks on, of the precious little pile of sea-shells and interesting wrack on the sill of his bedroom window ('No, we'll have to leave that behind, darling. It'll dirty up your trunk!'), of the small crabs scuttling away from the nervous fingers groping beneath the seaweed in the rock-pools, of the swimming and swimming and swimming through the dancing waves - always in those days, it seemed, lit with sunshine - and then the infuriating, inevitable 'time to come out'. It was all there, his own childhood, spread out before him to have another look at. What a long time ago they were, those spade-and-bucket days! How far he had come since the freckles and the Cadbury milk-chocolate Flakes and the fizzy lemonade! Impatiently Bond lit a cigarette, pulled his shoulders out of their slouch and slammed the mawkish memories back into their long-closed file. Today he was a grown-up, a man with years of dirty, dangerous memories - a spy. He was not sitting in this concrete hideout to sentimentalize.about a pack of scrubby, smelly children on a beach scattered with bottle-tops and lolly-sticks and fringed by a sea thick with sun-oil and putrid with the main drains of Royale. He was here, he had chosen to be here, to spy.
    Flip open King's The Stand or IT to see how relentless application of these principles make any scene swell into a protracted multi-thousand word section. Thus, if there is enough story for 10 000 words, there is enough story for 100 000 words--entirely up to you to what extent you wish to inflate each scene. It's also entirely your responsibility to maintain interest of the reader in every chapter.
    Last edited by dondomat; 06-17-2014 at 07:12 AM.

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