As a writer, one of the things I have to keep an eye on is word count. A lot of advice out there tells you how to cut down your word count. After all, something that’s too long won’t sell. Readers don’t want to spend three hours reading something that could be read in an hour and a half. This is especially true when handling short stories. Keeping your word count below the upper end of the range is a good idea.
However, every writer is different, and some writers (myself included) have a tendency to draft short. When editing we can realize we’re well below the upper end of the range. We may also find ourselves below the lower end of the range.
I’ve been making what (I hope) are the final edits to a project I’ve had sitting on my computer for a while. Officially the title is Crimson and Gold. The word count sits just over 13,000 words. Roughly 7,000 too short for a novella. Although I have sincere doubts I’ll be able to bring this up to a novella, there are a few things to be done about a short word count if you need to bring it up a little farther.
Starting with descriptions some of the things you can do are simple. Setting and sensory descriptions can help by adding in details to fully immerse readers, as well as providing more information. An example:
- A kettle hung over the fire.
- A worn kettle blackened from use hung over the fire.
The idea here is the same: there’s a kettle over a fire. The second one, while longer, provides more detail and tells us this isn’t an unfamiliar occurrence. The owner of the kettle clearly uses it often.
Sensory details are often overlooked in initial drafts, so think outside of your sight. Take a look at sound, smells, hearing and feeling.
To expand on this, you can also use details to help bolster quiet moments between characters. When and where they appear, quiet moments can be used to help with characterization and character relations. A father noticing how his wife’s hair is styled while she tucks their toddler in for the night is one way of adding in details. It can also be a chance for the father to reflect on the fact this is probably the third or fourth time of putting kiddo to bed.
This isn’t as simple as you have to also be careful not to overextend your quiet moments. Dragging them on can make your story slow down too much.
Full names are also one way to add in a few words. Note that they should be used appropriately. You don’t need to call him John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt every time, but if he’s someone’s uncle they might call him Uncle John. For characters with family, trouble has a way of bringing out middle names. Keep in mind that with some family dynamics it’s not only parents using the dreaded middle name; grandparents and older siblings might use it as well.
Although these can help if your word count is just a tiny bit short, keep in mind that you won’t be adding thousands of words. The trick is to find places where the use of details, quiet moments and full names can help if you’re just scraping the bottom of the range you need to be considered ‘novella’ or ‘novel’. With most short stories it’s inadvisable to try and boost your word count. Adding too many words can water down the story.