How to Increase Your Word Count (Meaningfully!)
Different types of stories have different target word counts:
Short Stories – 1,000 – 5,000 words
Novellas – 20,000 to 50,000 words
Novels – 50,000 – 110,000 words
Epic – 110,000 words and up (though these are rare)
Different age categories also have target word counts:
Middle Grade novels – 25,000 – 40,000 words
Young Adult novels – 45,000 – 80,000 words
New Adult: 60,000 – 85,000 words
Adult 65,000 – 110,000
Even different genres have target word counts:
Literary novels – 80,000 to 110,000 words
Romance novels – 50,000 to 80,000 words
Fantasy novels – 90,000 to 110,000 words
Mystery novels – 70,000 to 90,000 words
But how do you make sure your story gets anywhere near your target word count?
1. Know what you’re writing about… know what your story is about.
All too often, inexperienced writers sit down with only a tiny seed of an idea, and they start writing with no plan, no idea what the story will be about, and no direction. This is fine when you’re just writing a zero draft–sort of a precursor to the first draft, where you’re just playing around in your story’s world and seeing if the story takes off naturally. But at some point you do need to flesh your idea out into a well-structured story. There are loads of resources online, not to mention amazing books, that can help you figure out plot and story structure. Making sure you hit all the right beats in your story is the best way to get it into the right word count range.
2. Write out a scene list.
Scene lists are one of the handiest tools a writer can use. They help you plan out your story, they act as a guide to keep you on track while you write, and they also break your story down into manageable chunks. Its a lot easier to write a scene than it is to write an unknown chunk of your story. If you know what the scene is, you can see its beginning, middle, and end. You can focus on letting the words flow just in that scene because you know what needs to happen.
3. Don’t skimp on description.
When writers say they’re struggling with their word count, quite often part of the problem is they’re not describing things. Their stories end up being a laundry list of activities:
Sarah walked out the front door and climbed into her car. She drove into the city and parked near the river. It was a pretty day, so she decided to walk for a little while before she was supposed to meet Walter. The river was pretty when it was iced up along the shore.
That’s nice and all, but it’s just so boring. What was the weather like when Sarah walked outside. What did she see? What does her car look like? Does her car and its condition tell us anything about Sarah’s life? How far away is the city? Now, let’s try it another way:
Sarah walked out the front door into the bitter cold of a January afternoon. Her car, an old Volkswagon, sat in the driveway, seemingly daring her to drive it. Between the peeling paint and dirt-crusted windows, it wasn’t much to look at, but it hadn’t broken down on her–yet. She climbed in and started the rumbling engine, hoping it would make it into the city today of all days.
I’m not going to keep going, but you get the idea. In the first example, it only took eleven words to get Sarah from her front door into her car. In the second example, I expanded that to 70 words just by adding in a little description. And, not only did we expand the word count, now we know a lot more about Sarah, her car, and the day.
4. “Show” more often than you “tell.”
In the same vein as #2 above, make sure that you’re doing a lot of “showing” and not relying too much on “telling.” Author Anton Chekhov is supposed to have said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass,” and that’s really the best summary of “showing” vs “telling” you can get.
Sarah looked out the window and saw that the moon was shining isn’t as interesting as Sarah looked out the window and saw nothing except moonlight glinting off the lake, cast down from a black sky filled with gauzy, glowing clouds.
5. Avoid “floating head” dialogue.
This is a BIG one. All too often, budding writers tend to write dialogue that sounds like it’s being spoken by two heads floating in a dark room. They don’t seem to have bodies, because all they do is talk. They don’t physically interact with each other or their environments in any way. No one slides their hand down their face in frustration. No one runs their finger along the edge of their glass. No one reaches across the table to hold the other person’s hand. Not only does this make for a weird, boring, and unrealistic dialogue scene, but it you also lose out on some valuable words. You can double and even triple the word count in a dialogue section just by making sure your characters are physically interacting with their environment and with each other.
I hope that helps! 🙂