Beef, not lard.

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July 21, 2013 by jcfarnham

So you’ve finished your first draft. It looks pretty good… only problem being you invisioned it as a novel. It’s not close. What do you do?

First, you decide whether it actually needs to be a novel, or whether a novella would sufficient. Don’t go changing format if the story doesn’t need it. It might just come out fluffy and extraneous.

But say you’re pretty damn sure you’re not arbitrarily choosing the novel format. How easy is it to add the beef to get it up to stardard?*

One piece of advice that holds true for all longer form pieces: Have you been skimping on desription, or actions, or backstory filtered through your view point characters? Are they in too much action? Could you stand to ease the tension with an introspective, reaction scene?

Of course, there are perhaps even more important considerations to make based on what tense you are using.

3rd Person

If you’re already writing in third person, it is in some ways easier to add beef. The common advice here is to simply flesh out more characters, widen the scope of the story, and keep adding fully realised story threads until you have a novel of the “correct” length.

You still have to listen the story itself. No matter who tells you to cut or add, if the story simply won’t take it, leave it as it is. Also, be very aware of how many view points your story can take. Some can’t handle more than one or two, and some readers get distracted when you cut away from their favourite characters. Make sure you do your PoVs well. Don’t give them a chance to put your book down.

Even if you thought a tight 3rd person limited view point was right for your book, are there not any hints of otherness you could exploit? Any hidden plot?

1st Person

Unlike 3rd person, it’s probably going to be pretty difficult for you to add totally new story threads. By definition your PoV character needs to be present, and if she’s tied up in the main plot then she can’t very well have many more subplots.

Time to take a step back. Read as a reader, not a writer. Does the story blaze past fairly quickly? Sometimes that can be beneficial, but if you’re lacking substance people might feel cheated. Slowing the pace of plot doesn’t have to mean losing tension. In fact, it could very well mean creating more tension. As that other thing side tracks your protagonist, he must be accutely aware of what he’s giving up in the main plot to be there. Play with that.

It’s not, of course, unheard of for a 1st person story to have multiple points of view. Only… you should probably pay attention to how and when you jump characters. It’s usually best to have a plan (every chapter, every other chapter…), just make it clear. Again it stands to reason that not all stories can take more than viewpoint character, nor should they.

Everyone talks of cutting a manuscript down to size, but hardly ever up.


* Anything more than 120,000 words, publishers/agents cringe at. But I’ve heard stories from writers, saying their agent wanted them to beef a book up well past to 75,000 word mark. It’s complicated. Let’s just say that, it has to do with expectations of genre, the amount of risk a publisher wants riding on you vs. the cost of printing your brain-baby… The list goes on.


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