How to add words without bloating.
So you have a killer story and want to send it to a publisher who you know will love it. Only they insist submissions be a few thousand words more than what you have in your book.
Here are some ways of adding in words without making your story feel like it’s been padded.
The order you apply them depends on how you write, but this is the order I use.
Go through the book scene by scene. Have you placed the reader into the scene through description? Do they interact with their surroundings? Shifting from simple description to the characters walking through touching, smelling etc will add words. The advantage of interaction is the setting becomes part of the plot, instead of stopping the action while we look around.
Again looking at your scenes. Do you have your balance of narrative summary and showing right? Showing is using action, dialogue, internal thought to create a scene. Narrative summary is talking about the scene. Showing takes more words, so converting a few key scenes from narrative to showing will add words and depth. The trick is to pick scenes which will deepen your characters and plot, so don’t expand scenes which are repetitive or don’t have any weight in the plot.
Now, dialogue. If you’re like me, you get typing those words so fast you forget to add speech tags-that is ‘he said’ etc. I once added a thousand words just with speech tags. Then I took them all out again and used beats. Beats are lovely sentences which show expression, emotion, setting, action and more. In one review of an early book of mine, they made the comment that my dialogue became talking heads a couple of times. Beats will prevent talking heads from overtaking your book.
While we’re on the subject of beats and emotion, work your emotions on several levels. The first level is the words the character says. Next are the things the character thinks. Deeper yet are the physical sensations of the emotion.
Say you have a character who is sad. Having them say ‘I’m sad’ works in some contexts, but it doesn’t connect us to their feeling. You could have them say. ‘I’m fine.’ but think I wish someone understood me. This difference between thought and speech sets up a dynamic tension. Take it even further by giving the reader the physical sensations.
“I’m fine” I wish someone understood me. John’s stomach sent a stab through his body, but he’d perfected his ability to hide all pain from the world.
If you need more than a few thousand words, you’ll need more than these tricks. At this point you’re looking at developing minor characters and side plots and maybe adding more twists to the plot, but that is a subject for another day.