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Advice for Underwriters (1 Viewer)

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Senior Member
Let me walk you through my writing process. I will outline a story that has the same amount of plot as a100k word novel. It's got the 27 chapters; the cat is thoroughly saved; there are twists; there is character growth; it's all there. Then I write it out and... it comes to 20k words.

So I try to add more. I add a subplot, another character, more thematic development, more description of setting, what the characters are doing with their hands when they talk to each other, anything I can think of. Now it's 30k words, and it's horribly bloated with superfluous stuff that will just get cut in editing.

The next step is to go online and look for advice, which inevitably brings me to some article telling me that I'm “telling rather than showing.” So I go back and I check. But everything that happens, everything that characters feel, it's all demonstrated. There is nowhere in the story where you find a sentence like “Jackie felt sad.” It will be a whole scene in which Jackie's sadness is shown with dialogue and physical actions.

The last thing I can think to do is grab a short novel and go line by line, counting how many words it takes someone to write [and then MC finds the gun], and it's the same. There is no more description than I would include when writing out that scene. And the number of plot points also comes out the same as what I would write. But the total word count is three times higher! Where are the extra words hiding?!? It's making me pull my hair out and toss it in the air like confetti. What on Earth am I doing wrong?

Phil Istine

WF Veterans
One thing I might mention is the word 'underwriter'. Here, in the UK, it's - well look here.
I suspect you are using the word differently from what I understand.

As to your question, I've found it better to write out the first draft then cut stuff out; it's surprising how many extraneous words can be removed when tightening up the language. At the end of that, if it's a 20k-word story, so be it - if you pad it out, people will probably notice anyway.


Staff member
I don't have that problem, as I generally get my word count right to my spec. I haven't read yours, so all I can do is describe some of the things I'm getting words from and ask a few questions. I'm not trying to pad length, but I know where a lot of my content is coming from.

One is characters thinking and planning, both in internal dialogue and conversations between characters. Then, since the story shouldn't be too easy on the characters, their plans don't play out smoothly. So then there is content where the plan fails partially or entirely, and then the characters have to realize what went wrong and plan to try again. At the same time, this is a good opportunity to explain just how difficult the challenges are, so the reader will be more impressed when the character finally overcomes them. ;-)

I don't do a lot of location description or description of a characters' looks or dress, but I do throw it in where it's needed to understand the story. Whether a woman is notably beautiful can affect a number of story elements, so I tend to include things like that that.

You can take some time setting the scene for action. In my last chapter completed, two characters had to explore a spooky abandoned factory to scout it for a future encounter. I spent three or four pages on that place to imprint the spooky feel, including things the characters did as they explored it.

In fact, that chapter was maybe close to what you're asking about. I was about 2500 words into that chapter (my normal chapter is round about 5K), and after those 2500 words I was nowhere. I couldn't decide what the action should be once it commenced. Doing the spooky scene setting came about because I was sneaking up on the action without really getting there yet. I also wound up inventing a new character to add to the action, so then my protagonist had to go find him and add him to the plans. I finally got to the action, finished the chapter, looked at the stats and was astonished to find I'd just topped 7K words.

Maybe you need more material about the characters' journey between your scenes. You may be fixed on the highlights without giving the reader a break in between the action. When you break it down, I'm pretty sure EVERY book could have hit the highlights, and therefore told the salient points of the story, in 15k-25k words. Maybe less. So every book has filler that isn't essential to the story, but adds color and sometimes excitement.

A character is tied up in a cellar. You could say "He managed to work the rope free, climbed up to the window, broke it, and escaped." But you can also spend a few pages on just that action. What's his mental state? How does it affect his determination and confidence to escape? How does he get free of the ropes? What did he find to balance on to reach the window? How did he find that object? How did he break or open the window? How hard was it to squeeze out? Was he worried about being caught or spotted? How did he mitigate that danger? Did he get cut on glass shards? If not, how did he avoid it? Where does he immediately go to try to find a safe place? Was an ally nearby to help? Did he have to abort or delay his actions because he heard the doorknob rattle (or footsteps on the stairs down) and had to pretend he was still restrained? Did a captor come in and have a conversation with him?

I ask myself questions like these in every writing session. The character gets to ask and answer those questions both in thought and deed. Any of them I decide to include is anywhere from one to several paragraphs. If you wanted or needed to, you could probably come out with a half chapter just from that escape.

A big element of a "page turner" is to tease the reader with what the character must eventually do, discuss how near to impossible it is, and then string the reader along for pages (or even chapters) while they wonder what's going to happen.

So when I call extra content "filler", I don't mean any of that is uninteresting. The "filler" has to be as interesting (or more so) than the central action.

I've thought about just this question many times. I think of a movie, and I realize I could tell a friend what happened in five or ten minutes. So how did they make that story stretch out to 2 hours? LOL But they do, and you will, too.
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Senior Member
My drafts increase about 2/5s with inclusion of prepositions, and the def/indef. In fact, 300 often becomes 3000, and ‘sense’ perhaps resides somewhere @2500 words? No addition of ‘story,’ for better OR for worse. ‘Sense’ is my issue & tightrope. :)


Senior Member
Yeah — and I’d say maybe not post the first chapter, which is usually about “the hook” or whatever — but something where you’re into the meat of story that might better indicate what could be missing.

That’s still a tall order, given the overall lack of context, and it will depend somewhat on how you set things up — but WTF, right?
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Olly Buckle

As theManx says, drop a chapter in the workshop if you really want help . . .

Our new members will have to reach ten posts to do that, but I guess that should be soon.

I had a similar 'problem', it was much shorter than anticipated. I notice in novels there are often longish descriptions which go into some detail. It is a deliberate tactic for me to say something like 'She was dressed in an appropriate manner for a woman of her age and position.' and leave it at that where they go into the colour of her dress and make of handbag. My feeling is that if these things are important to the reader they will invent them for themselves from my description, and if they are not they won't have to skim a lot of tedious stuff whilst wondering if it is going to turn out important later. I thought about it and thought that's the way I want to tell the tale. Now I am thinking I could record the chapters and release it as audio/podcast/submit to radio and it wouldn't be too long.


Senior Member
Synopsis and outline will lie about your word count as much as the imagination going on in our head.

That's what I learn so far.

Since you've realized it's bloated, then that's good. The only solution I can give now is to overhaul from the beginning (because it didn't work) or restart from the beginning but let the writing grows outside the outline.


Also remember, quality over quantity. I don't know how your work looks like, but maybe your story fits to be told in fewer word count.
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