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Size Matters – Tips for Enlarging Your Manuscript by Kris Bock

You’ve typed ‘The End’ but your story falls short of the required word count. Now what? Author Kris Bock [1] shares her insight and offers tips on how to expand the length of your story. 

Welcome to RU, Kris! 

I write concisely. See that sentence? Direct and to the point. That comes from a combination of natural style, training in journalism, and years of writing for children, where you often have to write a story in only a few hundred words. In general, tight writing is a good thing. Stories automatically move faster without unnecessary wordiness, and many of my educational publishing contracts require me to pack a lot of information into a few pages.

However, there are times when less is not more. For example, several years ago I developed a series idea for middle school kids about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show and try to help the ghosts. My first manuscript was a tight, action-packed 20,000 words. An editor at Aladdin/Simon & Schuster said he loved it, but it needed to be 35,000 words to meet their standards for paperback series for ages 9 to 12. Yikes! I blogged about the process of expanding that book in detail here [2] and here [3]. It became The Ghost on the Stairs, the first novel in my Haunted series [4].

Then, after years of writing for children, I decided I needed a change. Since I’d mainly been reading romantic suspense in the previous year, I took Kris_Bock_for_web [5]that as a sign of what I should write. In many ways, writing novels for adults is not that different from writing novels for children. But in one major way it is – most of my children’s novels are 35,000 words. A category romance is 60,000 words, and other titles are typically 80,000 words and up. That’s more than two children’s novels! I was afraid I’d write a draft and wind up far too short.

Over the years, I’ve become more of a plotter and outliner. I understand the appeal of “pantsing” it, but story planning and outlining saves me a lot of time. So for my first “grown-up” novel, I started by developing a detailed, 15-page outline. I estimated how many pages each scene would take. I added plot twists and complications until I thought I had enough material for an 85,000 word novel.

It actually worked. I couldn’t have done this when I started out, but I guess I learned something from 20 years of experience and writing more than a dozen novels.

That’s not to say Rattled [6] is perfect. It’s definitely action-packed, but I focused on plot twists over relationship development, so it’s really more of an action-adventure with a romantic subplot than a true romantic suspense, where the romance is as important as the action. In my following novels, I practiced slowing down, allowing the hero and heroine more time to bond and letting other relationships develop. I think I’m getting the hang of this complicated thing called writing.

People have their own processes, and you have to do what works for you – though I’d encourage you to experiment, as what you did in the past may not be the best thing for the present. I couldn’t outline successfully until I had enough experience with story structure to understand what would work. But if you have a problem with writing novels that are too short, or if you are about to experiment with a longer format, or if you need to expand a work in progress, here are some tips.

Here are several sources for analyzing your plot, which may give you ideas for ways to expand. Even if you don’t have length problems, these tools are also great for reviewing a manuscript for other issues.

Do you tend to write too long, too short, or just right? How do you control or adjust the length of a manuscript if necessary?

Author Kathleen Collins presents the Business Side of Writing on Friday, March 21st. 


Whispers in the DARK [17]Whispers in the Dark [18] – archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins – is on sale for $.99 through March 21.

Bio: Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Counterfeits [19] starts a new series about stolen Rembrandt paintings hidden in a remote New Mexico art camp. In What We Found [20], a young woman finds a murder victim in the woods. Rattled [21] follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. Read excerpts on her website [1] or visit her Amazon page [22]. Connect with Kris via Pinterest [23], Goodreads [24], Facebook [25] and twitter [26].

Chris Eboch writes novels for ages nine and up. The Eyes of Pharaoh [27] is an action-packed mystery set in ancient Egypt. The Genie’s Gift [28] is an Arabian Nights-inspired fantasy adventure. In The Well of Sacrifice [29], a Mayan girl in ninth-century Guatemala rebels against the High Priest who sacrifices anyone challenging his power. To learn more about Chris, visit her website [30]or her Amazon page [31], or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog [32].



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15 Comments To "Size Matters – Tips for Enlarging Your Manuscript by Kris Bock"

#1 Comment By Lori Schafer On March 19, 2014 @ 6:54 am

I generally do not struggle with too-concise writing. In fact, my books tend to end up about twice as long as I had originally planned! However, I did recently write a 7,000-word short story that I’d like to expand into a YA novel, and your tips will prove most helpful. I particularly like your subplot idea – what a great way to expand a story while simultaneously adding another level of interest to it.

#2 Comment By Carrie Spencer On March 19, 2014 @ 9:19 am

Morning Chris..

I write short….50K is really a stretch for me! So these are some great tips to help out. =)

I’m thinking a nice subplot might just work on my current WIP…=)



#3 Comment By Chris Eboch On March 19, 2014 @ 9:54 am

Glad to help. Expanding a short story into a novel is a great example of a place to use these techniques. I’ve heard a number of children’s book writers say that they thought they were writing a picture book (< 1000 words), but critique partners convinced them it really needed to be a middle grade novel (30,000 words+). Switching genres or age ranges, or developing a short story idea into a novella or novel, requires a lot more development.

#4 Comment By Terri L. Austin On March 19, 2014 @ 9:59 am

I loved this post! I’m very much a pantser and would love to get more organized to streamline my process. Thanks for the tips!

#5 Comment By Mildred On March 19, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

I love this post. I tend to write to short. I will definitely use your advise.

#6 Comment By Jennifer Tanner On March 19, 2014 @ 6:38 pm

Hi Kris,

Happy to have you with us today!

I have the opposite problem. I write long and have to cut swaths from the ms. I’ve learned that outlining the story first and determining the turning points keeps me from writing myself into a corner. Thanks for the great links.

#7 Comment By Chris Eboch On March 19, 2014 @ 7:18 pm

Good point, Jennifer, some of these techniques – especially analyzing your plot – work equally well for cutting down an oversized manuscript.

#8 Comment By Becke Martin Davis On March 19, 2014 @ 11:10 pm

Great post, Kris – I look forward to reading your books! Thanks for the recommended reading list. I’ve read some – but nowhere near all – of them. Looks like I’ve got some catching up to do!

#9 Comment By Merry Bond On March 20, 2014 @ 6:54 am

It’s so nice to hear that I’m not the only one to struggle with manuscripts which are too short. In my last two books (books 2 & 3 of a series) I had to go back a few times to get them close to the length of the first book. I added sub-plot and increased the tension and difficulty in almost every scene. But it’s hard! Now I’m plotting a new book and I know I’m going to have the same problems all over again! Thanks for sharing your ideas. I really like your Plot Arc Exercise.

#10 Pingback By Posts I loved this week | Taylor Grace On March 21, 2014 @ 7:04 pm

[…] But I write novels not novellas and they have to be a certain length. Here’s  an amazing post about how to ensure that novel has that length. A big thank you to Kris Bock for the amazing […]

#11 Comment By Robyn LaRue On March 22, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

Thank you for including the links. I’ve just been to several of them and like them very much. My first noel is only 63k, though all the others are at least 75k, so have had to work at this. 🙂

#12 Comment By Cara Langston On March 23, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

I have a business background, so I learned over the years to write very concisely. After all, you practically need to fit everything into short bullets within the industry. Unfortunately that carries over into my fiction writing, and I find that (1) I have too many short sentences and (2) I get to the point too quickly.

#13 Comment By Chris Eboch On March 25, 2014 @ 9:59 am

I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who writes short! It seems like you more commonly hear about the opposite problem. And certainly I’ve critiqued lots of manuscripts where the author could have trimmed anywhere from 10% to 30% for a tighter, faster paced manuscript. It makes sense that those of us with journalism, advertising, or business training learned to keep our word counts down.

Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting.

#14 Pingback By Some links to egg you on | Becky Black On April 5, 2014 @ 12:03 am

[…] Size Matters – Tips for Enlarging Your Manuscript First draft come up short? Check out Kris Bock’s tips for upping the word count. […]

#15 Pingback By Hug Your Story with Bookends by Kris Bock | Romance University On September 20, 2017 @ 12:28 am

[…] written guest posts for RU twice before – “Size Matters: Tips for Enlarging Your Manuscript” in March 2014, and “Before You Climax,” on the crisis point or moment of failure […]