Friday, September 18, 2009

Adding More is not Adding Depth

This is an issue that I think a lot of writers face. The base of the story is finished and when they look at the word count, they find the number to be a bit low. Maybe, they have submitted the story to someone and gotten the response that the story lacked depth. So what do they do? Add more words. In the end, this is a huge mistake.

Just adding more of what you have already done in the story is not adding the depth the editor or agent asked for. Along the same lines, if the story is short, just adding more smaller scenes that duplicate the scenes that have already happened, isn't going to work either. The result is just a very repetitive story.

Adding depth to a story involves providing the reader with more information about the characters and the conflict. This is not simply backstory but more of an idea of how they react to situations. Instead of the heroine simply walking over to get a cup of tea, we need to be able to understand a bit about her by the way she does it. Does she measure out her sugar in a refined way or just dump it. If she is angry how does she stir her tea?

The key is to think about giving the reader a three dimensional feel for the story.



  1. I'm struggling with a slightly different problem. My middle grade story is pushing the boundaries of what I've read is a good length. I'm at 55K words and I've read 30-40K is appropriate. I have no problem editing it down. There are some scenes I can cut (the boring parts) but I also see areas that could really use some deepening.

    Donald Maass talks in "Writing the Break Out Novel" about writing "big" stories. He doesn't necessarily mean long, but he does say that could be one outcome. So what happens if you really think the story could use more words than the industry says you should, to tell your story as fully as it deserves.

  2. I understand what you are saying. In this case, I would look at your sentence and paragraph development. I am betting that you are someon that is just into concise writing. Take the time to really develop the scenes and the descriptions. Instead of just saying the food was good, show us the food was good. Use all of the senses.

  3. Hmm... Scott, I don't think we are on the same page here, but thanks for the thoughts. My problem isn't concise writing (if anything I tend to be a bit wordy). My problem is what happens when you finish editing and the story is a tight as it can be without losing the depth or "bigness" you're after, and it is just too long?

  4. Ahhh, got it now. It has been a busy day.

    The best way to approach it is to cut sub-plots. Look at your main story arc and if you have included material that does not DIRECTLY fit with the main story arc it goes away, or is reduced significantly. Also, take a look at material you have inserted that might be useful for you as a writer but is probably not needed for the reader.

  5. Thanks Scott. That is good advice. (we finally got there :-) And believe me, I understand about long weeks.)

  6. My tendency is to run short (I used to be a short story writer), but it's been a long battle to understand where all the problems have been.

    One was a lack of understanding of types of subplots. The first thing I did with subplots was seek out the how-to books--bad advice for me. All the examples were for character-driven subplots, so I completely missed that I had plot-driven subplots already that just needed more development.

    Another was simply making sure that I answered all the story questions. When I did short stories, I could get away with "I'll make up an answer when I get to it," but in a novel, I'm ending up doing revisions to fix that. Just doesn't work when the ending comes up, and I haven't answered one important question.

    On what to edit: Look for repetitions. It's terribly easy to say something, and then say exactly the same thing a paragraph or a page later, or throughout the book. In one editing pass of a previous project, I caught numerous instances of references to how come it was and bad guys leaping out from the trees. I was working with a cowriter then, and he had a tendency to add repetitions in. He'd not like the way one sentence was worded, and instead of revising it, he'd add a new sentence next to it that just said the same thing rephrased.

    I've also bee chopping out things like dialogue tags and action tags where they aren't necessary.

    Linda Adams