How to Expand Your Novel… Without Filler

When author Sarah Kades was asked by a well-known New York agent to expand her novel, she was both excited at the opportunity and nervous about what it would mean for her story. Many authors face this same fear. If their manuscript is looking a bit short in word count, how do you expand your novel without filling it with… fluff?

On one hand, new authors are told to aim for certain word counts based on your genre. On the other hand, we’re told that a book should be as long as it needs to be and that great writers can break the rules. So, which is it? It would seem that new authors need to stick to the genre word count rule, even if just to get in the door. Get published, then make your own rules and write the best book you can.

Kades gave a great workshop on how to expand your novel at the Alberta Romance Writers’ Association recently, and has kindly allowed me to share my learnings with you all.

Start With Why

What are your reasons for wanting to expand your novel? Are your beta readers noticing gaps? Have you been asked to do so by an agent or editor? Did you fly through the first draft and now need to add in some rich detail and descriptions?

There are many really good reasons for expanding your novel, but make sure you’re clear on your reason, otherwise it can be easy to lose the magic that you’ve worked so hard to develop.

I am personally going through a manuscript re-write, which I’m fairly confident will increase my word count, hopefully not by too much. For months I’ve had this niggling feeling that my book shouldn’t be told in first person. The kinds of books I like to read are told in third person, where I often get the opportunity to hear both the hero and heroine’s point of view. First person is limiting me in this regard. So, if I want my novel to be one that I’d enjoy, I need to change some things around. Reader feedback also told me that they wanted some insight into the hero’s thought process, aligning my decision to move to third person point of view – no small task, I might add!

Caution! Purpose First

Some cautions as you begin expanding your novel:

  • Make sure that what you’re adding supports the core storyline. If it’s not, then you’re not moving your story forward. If you’re not going forward, you’re wasting your reader’s time and potentially losing them in the process.
  • Kindle Select – I’ve heard some authors say they try to write longer so that they can make more money. This is a short-term strategy that will bite you in the butt UNLESS what you’re writing is moving the story forward, per the previous point. Diana Gabaldon’s novels are epic in length, as are George R.R. Martin’s. That said, they tell a good story, so a lengthy word count makes sense for them. Make sure that it makes sense for you, before thinking only of the potential extra income.
  • Be wary of backstory dumps. Backstory should be delicately woven into your story as and when needed. Too much backstory pulls you from the action, so try and work hard to find opportunities to drop the necessary tidbits here and there. Think breadcrumbs versus a loaf.

Opportunities to Expand

  • Ask your beta readers for their wish list. In Kades’ case, a couple of her beta readers came back requesting more detail on the heroine’s cool career as an archaeologist.
  • Let your voice shine. Are you skilled in poetic description that draws in your reader? Then don’t rush through it. That’s part of what makes your writing special, so pinpoint those opportunities.
  • Show humanity towards your villains. Too often we see stock characters as villains that lack motivation, or their motivation isn’t demonstrated. If you want to make your novel more rich, give a little more thought and detail to why your villain does what they do. Who knows, it could inspire a future spin off!
  • Listen to yourself, listen to your characters. What are your characters trying to tell you? What are they itching to put on the page? What is it that you get the most buzz out of writing? The chances are that if you enjoy writing certain kinds of scenes or elements, then your readers will also.

How Long Will It Take?

How long is a piece of string! At the end of the day, ask yourself if expanding your novel is truly worth it, which means going back to the why. In my case, I know that it is worth the effort to change my point of view. I’m in the situation where I have stopped submitting my work, as I believe that this change will make it both more marketable and more enjoyable for readers.

Kades advises that you need to give yourself permission to play, to enhance and to experiment. Do you want a long writing career or a short one? Write the best novel first, the rest will follow.

To check out Kades’ work, visit her website.

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2 Responses to How to Expand Your Novel… Without Filler

  1. Nicole December 11, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    As a reader, I sooooo agree about the ‘humanity towards your villians and a possible spin off’. Some of my very favourite series are when I can totally loathe a character initially but then read the next book from their POV and completely buy into them. The one that always comes to mind is the Something Borrowed/Something Blue. So good.

    • Victoria Smith December 13, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

      Ha ha, Something Borrowed/Something Blue is exactly what I was thinking about. And the interesting thing with those books is also that the original heroine, Rachel, is not shown in the best light either. I mean… she chooses to be the other woman to her best friend. So she has traditionally villainous qualities also. I like when we show people as real with flaws and all. It’s easier to relate to them.

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