You’ve been working on your novel or your short story, but you’re stumped. There’s something off about your story, something that makes it hard to believe, not to mention your word count might be lower than you anticipated.
How do you go about remedying this? How can you expand your work?
One way is through narration.
- Force your characters to do more, go bigger. You want to push them outside their comfort zone.
- You want to make sure there are enough obstacles in your characters way to make what they’re doing have a big emotional and physical impact.
- Find ways to reveal your characters’ internal states of mind – their thoughts, beliefs, ideals, fears– through their actions, or lack thereof.
Another way to expand is through description.
- Find ways to show tension and movement through description.
- Show what’s happening through sensory details. Make readers experience the same sensations your characters are. If your characters are blindfolded and bound, make it so your readers can only experience what your characters can. In this instance, that means both readers and characters can’t see what’s around them, but they can hear, smell, and taste, and though they have a lack of movement, they can feel the material of whatever is binding them.
Along a similar vein is exposition.
- Sometimes a part of the story that’s told would be much more effective if shown. Think of it this way: instead of telling that the protagonist was in a car crash where her best friend died two years ago, show a flashback of it. It will have a much stronger impact and will cause your word count to spike.
Through dialogue you can also expand your writing.
- What is said is just as important as what isn’t said.
- During a conversation between multiple characters, shift back and forth between internal thoughts and spoken words. Give your protagonist – and readers – time to digest what’s been said, to process it. If the protagonist is called a very bad word, she’ll have a reaction. Show that reaction.
Speaking of reactions, the internal mind of a character is a wealth of information.
- A character’s thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, dreams – her memories – give insight into the character by showing what she thinks is important, how she sees the world, and lets readers know what she considers is at risk during different situations throughout the novel.
- By showing the internal tensions of a character, readers get invested in the character and in the novel. Readers know that the character is at odds with the world around her, and they see her struggle to overcome both external and internal obstacles.
Expanding your writing might seem like a monumental feat, one you feel you may not be able to overcome, but once you know the techniques to expand your writing, you’ll find you can break your story down, and when it all comes back together, you’ll have a much richer piece of work.
How do you expand your writing?
Fiction is a conglomerate of information. It can’t just tell you something. It has to serenade you, pull you in…perhaps romance you a bit. Bottom line: fiction needs to suspend your disbelief.
So, how do we, as writers, go about this?
There are five main ways to categorize fiction. Each way adds to the whole of the story, creating a richer, fuller world.
- Narration. This tells you what happened. It’s the meaningful actions that characters do. Narration can sometimes include meaning movements as well.
- Description. This deals with details, often sensory details (taste, touch, smell, hear, see). Description includes giving details about people, places, actions, gestures, speaking, etc. It tells “how” something is done, whereas narration tells “what” occurred.
- Exposition. This is information that is told by the author/narrator to readers. Exposition has a bad rep (the whole “telling” vs. “showing” concept), but it is necessary in fiction because it provides context, meaning, history, etc.
- Dialogue. Spoken words.
- Internal. This includes the thoughts and feelings, both immediate and long term, of a character(s). The internal category gets inside the character, and involves a character’s internal reactions to something. For instance, two characters might see the same event, but their internal reactions will be different.
Narration and dialogue speed up the pace of a novel, while exposition, description, and internal slow down the pace. A big part of the reason why all five of these ways are important to include in a novel is because there are times in a story where you want the reader to go fast, and times where you want the reader to go slow.
Some common mistakes:
- Description. It can be easy to bunch description together. For instance, describing every aspect of a character all at once (hair, eyes, body type, clothing, posture, personality, etc.). When you bunch your description, you (1) don’t include it anywhere else in the novel and (2) create an imbalance. You want to reveal details when they’re important. When you use the right details, at the right time, the story feels organic, connected.
- Exposition. Just as too much exposition is a mistake, so is too little. There are some things/information you need to know to understand and grow attached to the character. For example, if a story begins in October, maybe the protagonist’s parents died four months ago, and that piece of information would help explain why the protagonist has a drug problem, and create some understanding, maybe even sympathy.
- Internal. Don’t let your writing get too internal. It can be easy to get lost in a character’s mind, but that can result in readers falling out of the story. Also, sometimes showing or telling is enough. If you write, “She curled up into a ball and cried.” You don’t need to also say, “She was sad.” Readers already know she’s sad because of her actions.
Which of the five ways are you the best at? Which ones should you focus on improving?
Pacing is about building the thrill. It’s about keeping readers intrigued for the entire novel without exhausting them. This tends to be especially true for young adult novels, where events occur at a faster pace than adult books.
Pacing is the speed of your prose. For example, shorter sentences increase the pace, while longer ones slow it down. So, for action scenes, shorter sentences work better. For those languid, romantic ones, longer sentences will do.
Good pacing has an ebb and flow. There’s a balance between slower scenes and high-speed scenes. If you have a breakneck pace for the entire novel, readers will burn out. So much will be occurring so quickly that everything becomes a blur, and nothing, or very little, will be remembered. However, have too many slow scenes, and readers will be more likely to put down the novel. And not pick it back up.
Here are some tips to reach that right balance:
- Begin the story at a critical point. The protagonist is at a crossroads. Difficult choices must be made immediately. Doing this will instantly draw readers in.
- Cut the boring bits. Novels aren’t like real life in many ways. One of those ways is that only the most tension-filled and vital moments are included. Readers don’t care what random dreams character A had, or the three different outfits character B spent an hour trying on, or the multiple paragraphs on character C’s elementary school crush that moved away in the third grade.
- Dialogue vs. Description. Dialog tends to be read more quickly because the sentences are usually shorter. Descriptive scenes are denser, and so read more slowly. But, you need to be able to put both dialogue and description together to truly keep readers interested. Description that quickly sets the mood and shows that something’s about to happen, will lead readily into important dialog, and give readers a clear picture of what’s going on.
- Start each chapter with a crucial moment. Chapters allow for breaks in the story. However, many readers will read the first sentence or two of the next chapter to see what’s coming up. If those first sentences grab them, they’ll keep reading, instead of putting the book down.
- Don’t put all the action in one scene. By splitting the action up into several scenes, readers will be left with cliffhangers that will keep them reading. And when finishing off a series of scenes always include something that makes the story move forward.
- At times, slow it down. Sometimes pacing needs to slow down to keep balance in the novel. These times are when you add in relevant description. What people look like, what the weather is like, or where the events are occurring. This allows people to build images in their minds, and to add to those images later as more description is added throughout the novel.
- Unpredictability. When readers see what’s coming, they’ll assume and anticipate what happens. This takes a lot of power away from your scenes. If readers can’t guess what’s about to happen, then scenes become fascinating.
What kind of pacing do you prefer?