8 tips if your novel is too short

8 tips if your novel is too short

Is it me, or are YA books getting longer and longer these days?

Okay, fine, maybe it’s just the circles I run in, but I definitely am feeling the trend of everyone and their grandma’s dogs are writing 100,000k+ epics nowadays and I’m sitting here struggling to make my measly NaNo 50k goal. Don’t believe me? Check out this very real conversation I had the other day:

Me: Oh man, I’m feeling great about my writing this year!
Real Other Person: Me too!
Me: That’s awesome! What’s your current word-count?
Real Other Person: 15846841537145 words. You?
Me: ……um

Yes, this absolutely happened and wasn’t exaggerating even a little bit.

My point is, for those of us who aren’t writing 100 lb door-stoppers, the work we put into our writing can feel a bit invalidated. I’ve seen short novels referred to as rushed, shallow, boring and accused of lacking proper character, plot and world development. Wow. Painful much? But I’m here to set the record straight. First off, none of those things are true.  A short novel is not inherently bad just as a long novel isn’t inherently good. Awesome and not-so-awesome novels come in all lengths, and it’s about time we remember that.

But what if you’re still afraid your novel is too short?

Then read on my friend. I’ve compiled 8 tips that have helped me push through when my own novels struggle to scratch the surface of 60k.


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1. Don’t panic!

First of all, are you sure your word count is really “too low”? If your best friend is writing a classic epic fantasy and you’re working on a contemporary romantic comedy, there’s probably a pretty good reason your novel is shorter than hers. Each genre is unique, and this includes word count expectations! Familiarize yourself with what’s common for your niche, and you might realize you fit in better with other books than you thought. Some genres such as high fantasy and sci-fi lend themselves a bit better to longer word-counts while others such as contemporaries and romances typically run shorter. But of course, there are always exceptions, so don’t feel trapped if you don’t completely fall in line with others!

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2. Let someone else read it

I know, it can be seriously terrifying letting someone else read your word-especially if it’s still in the rough stages. Trust me, I totally get it. BUT! A fresh pair of eyes might be just the thing you need to help you discover scenes and characterizations that can be a bit more fleshed out. Sometimes when we’re writing we can become so caught up in our world that everything is crystal clear in our minds. After all, we created it! But we may not realize we’re glossing over details that are perfectly obvious to us. We might read a scene and subconsciously fill in the details, while a brand new reader is left feeling a bit left out. A trusted reader might help point out areas that need a few more words added to them.

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3. Embrace the novella

Novellas! The sad, ignored and forgotten dustbunny of the book family. Why this type of storytelling has been so consistently ignored by writers and readers alike is beyond me, but the novella shall live on! Longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel, the novella is the perfect answer for all your 20-40k stories. Love it. Embrace it. The novella is something that deserves to be brought back out into the spotlight, and if your story is perfectly happy as is, maybe give this unique little title a go.

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4. Create an outline

Wait! Don’t be afraid! I have bunnies!

I know, the word outline has sent many writers running for the hills, but just hear me out, okay? Maybe I’m biased as a die-hard outline fan, but I do think it’s a legitimate option in helping to length a too-short novel. The first thing to remember is there is no one way to write an outline. I’m not saying you have to all in with bullet points and timelines and enough analyzing to make your eyes go crossed. A simple sketch of your overall story will likely do.

List out your main plot points, filling in any details you find necessary. Then take a step back. Are there scenes that feel like they happen too quickly? Relationships formed too fast? Obstacles overcome in the blink of an eye? By taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, it might be easier to find places where new scenes can be added to help give everything a little extra oomph.

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5. Worldbuild

Explore your world! It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about an alien planet or the neighborhood where you grew up, there’s always plenty to explore. Try creating a map or sketching out your favorite places. Think about the history, why did that place form the way it did? What animals live there? What holidays are celebrated and why? What’s the religion like?

Have fun with it! Don’t get bogged down in details that you feel like you HAVE to know. If the type of foliage that grows on the northern mountains aren’t relevant to your novel, don’t force yourself to write about them. If you’d rather discuss clothing or food, then do it! Even if these things still aren’t hugely important, they might create additional details you can weave into your novel for not only extra words but a more intricate world. Win-win!

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6. Play with your characters

Have fun with your characters! Forget about your novel for a bit and just spend some time with your brainbabies, you love them, don’t you? Write about them celebrating Hannukah or their birthday, think about what would happen if they had to get a new job or move homes. What if they got a pet or had to take a test? Check out prompts and let your imagination go wild! You might not be able to use any of these scenes in your actual novel, but you never know what could spark something amazing.

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7. Challenge your characters

More than likely your character faces some challenges throughout your novel, but are they maybe overcoming these challenges too easily? Are you sure? ARE YOU SURE? There’s always a way to make things worse. And even more worse than that. Think about it. Would it really be so bad if your characters had one or a dozen more obstacles to overcome?

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8. Have confidence!

I know it sounds cheesy, but believe in yourself! Have some confidence in your writing and what you’re able to do! Whether your novel is too short or too long or too purple, the point is you’re writing a novel, and that is a huge undertaking. Be proud of yourself and what you’re creating, it isn’t easy and it’s a goal so many people try and give up. I’m proud of you!

I know it can be disheartening to feel like you’re giving it your all and you’re still lagging behind everyone else. My first drafts consistently come up at around 60k, and I have to remind myself that’s perfectly okay. In the end, I’m extremely proud of my work and so should you.

Do your novels consistently come up too short? What tips or tricks do you have for dealing with it? What’s your favorite short novel?

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