When your novel comes up short

I just finished my latest novel.

Yay!  Right?

Umm, well not really.

For the first time in my life … My novel came up short.

I normally write huge, sweeping epic novels.  The last one I had to hack up into five novels.  The one before had three parts.  My mind just thinks “big”.

This time, I tried to center my mind on a one-week timeframe.  I carefully plotted it out, and assigned word counts.  I thought it would be close, but I didn’t expect to be WAY OFF my target word count.

Do I have stuff to add?  Well, yes, thank goodness.  There are a few things that I found I needed at the end that will need to be introduced earlier on.  The problem is, I need about 12,000 words, and I imagine the additions will only total to about 1,000 words.  11,000 more to go.

Yikes again.

I’ve edited 23 pages, and have added 230 words.  I figure the total added for general editing will be about 2000 words.  That’s 9,000 to go.

I don’t want to write unnecessary scenes just to make word count.  I wrote tightly.  Everything is spot-on.

Maybe a little too spot on.

Has anyone else ever had this problem?

 Well I don’t like it.  Nope. Not at all.


36 responses to “When your novel comes up short

  1. I can’t imagine being under-wordy. It’s actually painful to think about. hehehe

  2. Sounds like you’re on the right track. I believe in: dump, plump and clump.

  3. Kourtney Heintz

    This happened to me but it was only three thousand words under wordcount. I wrote really tightly and got in and out of scenes quickly. But I tend to hate writing setting, so I was able to go back in an add a couple thousand words of setting to set each scene better. I’m doing revisions where I add a second POV (alternating from the beginning) and that is seriously jacking up my wordcount. If all else fails, this might be something to consider–if it works for your story. 🙂

  4. No, I have not run into this problem. I’m like you–I have loads of ideas when I write and end up writing too much so I have to cut, cut, cut. I used to think that was a horrible way to go about it, but after reading your post, not so much.

    I always wondered what would be more difficult for a writer–to write a novel that is too long, or to write a novel that is too short?

  5. I’ve never had a problem with my stories being too short. In fact, my novel keeps getting longer every time I revise it! My revision draft started at 90k and now is at 110k and counting, which I know is unacceptably long. So I really need to learn the opposite, and figure out how to cut stuff.

    I think I know how I end up getting more and more words, though:
    My ‘tell’ becomes ‘show’, as I turn narrative into dialogue. Lots more words that way.
    I split my blocks of description into smaller bits and drop them in at intervals, ending up with more description but less intrusion on story flow. (I hope!)
    My minor characters got more interesting parts, and had their own subplots and character arcs.

    Good luck adding words! I think you’ll do fine. 🙂

  6. It’s never fun to come up short but it’s happened of course. The worst thing is when you edit and you’re book ends up losing words when you were hoping to add them! That’s the real problem, but I think if you’ve written a good book, even if it wasn’t as long as you’d hoped it shouldn’t matter. It’s quality, not quantity of course.

  7. Krista said everything that I was going to say. I give myself a rough word count of 80,000 words for my novels but it isn’t written in stone (or more like blood for my stories). If it’s a little longer or shorter, not a big deal. If it has everything it needs, then I wouldn’t add more just to reach a predetermined word count.

    • I’m actually finding that I have missed a lot of setting, and I’m finding a lot of very subtle “tell”. The words are racking up as I fix these issues.

      When I say short, I mean I cam in at 35,000 in my first draft. I don’t want this to be a novella. Novel-length in YA is 50,000 and up. Right now, 50,000 is an easy target from the looks of it. I may go higher.

  8. I’m just curious here, but it comes up short according to who? If it’s your own word count, then I’m not so sure that I would worry about it. I know that when I write, I don’t pay attention to word count until I’m done. Sometimes it’s longer or shorter, but really what I try to focus on is if I have everything that’s necessary to the story. If so, then maybe that’s how long it should be.

    • I contacted my publisher, and they will not print in hard copy unless it is over 80,000 words. I did find another publisher that will print at 50,000 and over. I don’t want this to come out as an ebook only novel. I am really shooting to get that word count up.

      And Hi Krista!

  9. Carrie Rubin

    I’ve never come up short; it’s always the opposite. Then again, it’s not like I’ve written a lot of novels. 🙂

  10. First of all, congrats on reaching “The End”!

    Coming up short isn’t as bad as it seems. It just means you have room to flesh out characters, dialogue, and setting a little more. It’s also an opportunity to review the manuscript to see if you ‘chickened out’ with tension between characters. For example, when a character feels wronged by another and they speak up, but then scene/chapter ends before the wronged character either makes things worse or feels vindicated. This helped me add depth (and word count) to my current novel.

    Also, thanks for the ping!

  11. Perhaps another “mysterious stranger”?

  12. My process seems to produce shorter novels in first draft to begin with. Then then grow with editing. The Mirrors of Bershan trilogy novels grew by about 10k or so each. And then there’s the first novel of my Necromantic trilogy, which grew by a whopping 35k by the time I’d finished the FIRST bloody pass. 😮

    Where does all that adding come from? Texture mostly, adding the nuances, filling in tags and actions for dialogue I raced through writing. Maybe unpacking a few things I was a bit too tight on for the importance of the event or encounter. Sometimes it’s the reworking of a whole chapter, but mostly it’s those three things. Still, that last one kind of boggled my mind a bit. I’m afraid to see what’ll happen with the one I’m writing now… Ah well, that won’t be a worry until probably October. Then… well, we’ll see where I get with it.

    • I gave myself a goal of adding 25 words a page to make the “novel length” minimum. So far, I have been adding 100 plus words per page just removing the show verses tell. Feeling good!

      • Excellent. That’s another reason I end up adding a fair bit, taking care of that little problem. At least we recognize it without someone having to paint a neon red sign around it though, right? 🙂

        • Ha! Oh, yes.
          I am just as brutal on myself as I would be on a beta.

          I usually “feel” myself making writerly mistakes as I’m writing, but — especially in an action scene— I am too busy writing quickly to get it all down. I just know I can go back and add the “art” later

          • Totally the same here, except I know I’m worse on myself when I’m editing/revising my own work. I say things about my own manuscripts that I wouldn’t on another person’s. If you could see the sticky notes on my marked up pdf’s from first drafts. 😮

  13. at least you finished…!

  14. I tend to have the opposite problem in writing too much and then I have to cut back:)

  15. I also tend towards long epic sagas, though my Atlantic City historicals (interlocking series books) are generally way, way, way, shorter. I personally never considered those books novels, since they’re so short, and the word “novel” to me always conjured up images of a meaty book.

    The four books in my introductory Atlantic City series were way shorter than I remembered when I finally converted them out of MacWriteII and reformatted them. I always knew they were deliberately short when I was handwriting the rough drafts, but not that they were novella-length. I was very proud of getting the first book up to 60,000 words, from 38,000, after a significant rewrite and restructuring. The second book is currently 35,000, the third is 36,000, and the fourth is a novelette, at a bit over 11,000. I’m really looking forward to lengthening them somewhat, even keeping in mind that I planned them out as short books with vignette-style chapters.