*Nonfiction* and *Fiction*
Last week we talked about trying to cram too many ideas into your book. This week we’ll talk about running out of ideas completely. While this may not have happened to you yet, I wanted to cover it so that you’re prepared if you reach this point in the future.
If you’re writing informative nonfiction and you run out of new material for your book, go back through and make sure you explained things well enough that your target audience will be able to follow your reasoning. If you still have no new ideas for material to add, congratulations! You’re done. Your book is just shorter than you thought it would be when you started. That’s okay. If you self-publish your book, its length doesn’t really matter. (Don’t do that yet, though! You need to edit first. We’ll get to that in October.) Chances are you’re not here yet, but if in the coming months you find that you just don’t have anything else to say about your topic, it’s okay to stop writing.
If you’re writing narrative nonfiction (telling a true story) or a novel, you may have gotten stuck somewhere in the middle. You wrote a great beginning and you know what happens at the end, but you’re only a third of the way in and you feel like it’s time to write the climax. How do you fix your story arc so that you don’t rush straight to the ending?
If you feel like you catapulted to the end of your book, one possible explanation is that you ended the drama prematurely. Re-read your work and look for any conflicts that you resolved too fast. Did two characters start a fight and then make up in only one page? Did the protagonist search for the super important thingy and find it in just one chapter? Did they visit a new area of your world, only to leave it in the next paragraph? These quick subplots all present opportunities for expansion.
Make things harder for your characters. Add some extra obstacles for them to overcome. Let them talk about how they feel during each situation. Explore the life events that made them into the people we see on the page. Show us why they make the choices they make, and not just how. Deepening conflict is an organic way to expand your book without having to invent new material.
Your book also might end too quickly if you’re telling instead of showing. Re-read again. Do you summarize major events, or do you show them happening moment by moment? If the former, go back through and think about the scene one second at a time. Yes, literally. Ask yourself, “What’s happening now?” and write it. Then move on to the next second. This is a great way to expand a noteworthy scene that you previously glossed over.
Finally, if you cannot expand your existing material, you can add new subplots, new character development arcs, new obstacles, new secondary antagonists, and so on. Be careful when doing this, as you don’t want to pad your book with fluff. If, however, the story lines tie together and enhance one another rather than feeling like diversions, you can create a longer, deeper story without sacrificing artistry.
You’re four months in and almost halfway done with your book, writer! Keep it up!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is (almost) as long as: Apple iTunes Terms of Service. No, seriously.
Your book is as long as: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens