Thickening

Not long ago I finished a draft of a novel. It felt thin in spots. It’s hard to describe perfectly, but rereading it, I found myself thinking, “There should be more there” about some pages and scenes. In some cases, I’d written dialogue but wasn’t revealing character’s thoughts. Or, the dialogue lacked context in the form of setting or actions, however minor, that the characters took while they were speaking. The draft was also shorter than I wanted it to be. It was under 50,000 words.

I decided that the main goal of the next draft would be to address both the thin spots and the length. Happy with the plot, adding a subplot or another character seemed like a bad idea. Instead, I think I was influenced by the Oulipo group’s larding exercise.

If you’re facing similar concerns with a complete draft of yours, try this:

  1. Determine the number of words you’d like your final draft to be. This number is your goal.
  2. Subtract the number of words of your current draft from that goal.
  3. Divide the difference between the number of words you have and the number you’d like by the current number of pages of your draft. The resulting number is your target number.
  4. Read through the draft again. Add—in some way that helps your draft—your target number of words.

For example, let’s say you’d like a draft to be 50,000, but it is currently 45,000. The difference between those numbers is 5,000. Your 45,000-word draft is 85 single-spaced pages. Divide 5,000 by 85 and you need to add about 59 words to each page to reach your goal.

The crucial thing is finding ways to add those sixty words that help the draft. For example, I reviewed ways of making setting interesting and my characters’ backstories before I started. The words I added improved characterization or setting as a result.

Vonnegut’s tips

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Epistemological storytelling

There’s something epistemological about storytelling. It’s the way we know each other, the way we know ourselves, the way we know the world. It’s also the way we don’t know: the way the world is kept from us, the way we’re kept from knowledge about ourselves, the way we’re kept from understanding other people.

–Andrea Barrett

Creatures of narrative

Memory, according to Bergson, occupies the space between mind and body. It conveys mind to body and body to mind. It gives us our quality of life—makes possible, in other words, the narrative that keeps our lives going forward to the next thing. If the thing is not next it loses its richness—isolated and unlinked to a history, it becomes meaningless, even ridiculous. Biologically and neurologically, we are creatures of context, of narrative. . . . By nature, then, the activity of the neuron is narrative, metonymic, associative.

–Karen Brennan