Uncategorized, Writing Advice

How to (Productively!) Waste Time in Your Novel

Are you struggling to add to your novel’s word count? Do you feel like some of your scenes or your overarching plot lack the emotional depth your story deserves? 

Why I Struggled to Add Wordcount

When I first began writing in my mid-teens, I wrote extremely stripped-down, fast-paced novelettes and short stories. I didn’t mean to do this. My writing style is actually very wordy and chock full of purple prose (useless flowery descriptions) and I have to work diligently to maintain brevity in my work. I didn’t understand why I kept writing entire novel-worthy stories in less than a hundred pages.

My real problem was a soul issue, not a crafting one. I was struggling with a shortage on confidence. I had no problem believing in my story, or my characters, or getting excited to write about them… but when I thought of someone else reading my work, I pictured a faceless and impatient reader who just wanted me to get to the point already. This might come from my real-life way of rambling on and on when it comes to my characters and plot, which is usually met with an eyeroll and a half from those who just aren’t interested in hearing about it. But that isn’t the nature of a reader

When you tell someone about every little detail, they won’t care. They want to experience every part of it for themselves.


How to Fix It

Your readers come to your story to sit down, drink a cup of coffee, and lose themselves to an immersive world of characters who will become their friends, brothers, and companions—possibly for the rest of their lives. As a reader of fiction, I’ve revisited my friends often; Jay Gatsby has become my charming but troubled neighbor; Erik the opera house Phantom is my tragic estranged brother, whose reprehensible deeds profoundly shock me and my good friend The Persian.  I enjoy re-discovering the deep sea with Captain Nemo, French marine biologist Pierre Aronnax and his servant Conseil, and the Canadian whaler, Ned Land.

We come to the table to dine with these people. To know them, to hear their stories. To find a little bit of ourselves in them. So have faith, slow down, and let us get to know the wonderful people you have introduced us to.


How it Works

In my current WIP, my protagonist Milo suffers a disturbing loss. The next day, he goes to the home of his close friend and companion, Clyde, who has no idea anything bad has happened. Milo isn’t a very expressive man, but he needs comfort. Rather than cut straight to the point with on-the-nose “something bad happened and I’m disturbed by it” dialogue, I show a calm and characteristic moment in Clyde’s daily life, and Milo draws comfort in knowing that despite the bad in the world, his friend and this little corner of the universe is fairly normal and unchanged. He still has his friend, and his friend is still living life and being his regular good-natured self. Milo hopes that will never change.

Soon after this peaceful moment, they exchange some productive small-talk that hints at a larger story than the reader is currently unaware of. It’s like eavesdropping. We get to listen in on some gossip while also eagerly waiting for the emotional resolution to the tension we have been feeling since the Disturbing Thing took place. We want to see Milo tell his friend the bad news, but we also want to be able to trust Clyde as his fidus Achates; this scene happens early on, still within the first act, so it was imperative that I take a moment to show why Milo would have come to this particular person while he’s experiencing such a low point. I want it to feel natural, for the reader to think, ‘Yes, of course, I would go to a friend like that to feel better, too.’


The Bottom Line

Use your slow moments to give the reader information, to show a character in a simple yet characteristic moment, to foreshadow other important events, or to delay a resolution. Give your readers a break from the plot typhoon, but find a way to keep them engaged with a trickle of new information.


Good luck!



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how to waste time in your novel

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