There is a fine line to walk in deciding how much information to give the reader. Because every reader has their own likes and dislikes, there is a balance that often needs to be struck. Before writing the novel, you need to ask yourself some questions. What is my target audience? Do I want to be a word miser? A prattling fool? Do I need all of the words that I want to put in? How much do I really want to say?
The first step is to know your audience. If you have a small, select group you are targeting, then you have more leeway in deciding how much to write. Find out what they want and tailor your novel to them. It’s still you. It’s still your own writing and your creativity, but you are given free roaming rights in the field of readers that you have created.
One advantage of this is that you develop a specific style that people can quickly recognize. A trademark, if you will. You write long, fleshed out descriptions of every person, place, and thing? You’ll have an audience for that! You don’t want to draw it all out, but would rather leave descriptions up to the reader to “create” and you focus on plot instead? Plenty of people will appreciate that!
Personally, I like to write somewhere in the middle. I want to leave enough to the imagination while still providing enough flowery words to keep my readers’ interest.
Next I’d like to provide five tips for making your novel more descriptive, followed by five tips to eliminate extra fluff, and wrap up with three tips for striking a balance to allow your novel to appeal to the most people.
Tip #1 for making your writing more descriptive is to pad your writing. Using an example of 10 words per line, 36 lines per page, and approximately 20 sentences per page, if you were to add 1 word to each sentence, you would add 20 words per page, or 1 new page for every 18 pages. If your book is 360 pages, you’ll be adding 20 more pages of material – just from adding a word to each sentence.
Now please note, I do not condone doing this except as a blend of techniques. Adding words just to up the word count is not the way to go. But, if you are able to add quality words to your writing, by examining each sentence and adding a word, or a few words, to several on each page, then you can effectively lengthen your book.
Another idea for padding your writing is to add an adjective to every noun and an adverb to every verb. Along the lines of the previous idea, I don’t condone doing this just to increase word count. But if you examine each sentence and see if a descriptive word would make the sentence stronger, it can be a good strategy to blend into the novel.
Tip #2 would be to add transitional chapters. If you are re-reading your work for the nth time and you feel there is no flow between two of the chapters, you can add a chapter in between them to bridge the gap. Say you have a detective who is at crime scene A, he discovers something intense to end the chapter (cliffhanger, you know) and then in the next relevant chapter he is just at a restaurant with a suspect, eating lunch. How did they get from the crime scene to lunch? Is it the next day? Was the cliffhanger just used to evoke emotion from the reader, but never resolves, and instead the story just plods along? Throw in a transitional chapter to take the detective from A to lunch. You’ve already written 300 or so pages, what’s another 4-6 to smooth the transition between chapters?
Tip #3 involves creating a minor plotline. I’d suggest using this if you are sorely lacking in material, but have a solid main story. You like what you’ve got but you just need to add a little something. Just create a new character and give them a problem to solve. Use several events to anchor their plot to the main (or another minor) plotline. This could add a good 12-50 pages to your story, if you play it right. But you need to make sure the plotlines coincide on the overall timeline. See my article Novel Writing Tips: Plotlines for suggestions on writing multiple plots. Also, make sure you find a way to incorporate it into the main story. Just anchoring it to the main plotline will not give it relevancy in your story. You’ll need to make the new plot important to what happens in the overall story. It’s actually easier to do than it sounds. But it will take some work.
Tip #4 is to add character descriptions. When you first introduce a major character, give full details. Tell about their eyes, their hair. The mole on the side of their ear. Describe what they are wearing, perhaps an item they are carrying with them. If you just tell people that the dark haired mage cast a fireball spell, no one will see what you are envisioning. But when you talk about how the dark hair caught in the wind, flying away from the midpoint of his back as his charcoal colored hand raised into a fist above his head, then you paint a better picture. Now we know it’s a guy, he has long dark hair and is black-skinned. He raises his fist into the air as a physical element of using his magic. The reader is still free to make some assumptions about how the scene and the mage look, but they get a better image of what you see.
Now when you reintroduce a character, just briefly describe them. Pretty much note a single change or two…if they are wearing something different, or if they have a tired look in their eyes. Don’t go into full detail of their new outfit though unless it plays an important role in the story and you want the reader to focus on that.
Tip #5 is to add more action sequences. Everybody loves action. Give them more of that. More feelings of danger or excitement can keep the reader on the edge of their seat and then you are in control! You make them go where you want them to, feel what you need them to, think what you would like them to think.
The first tip for removing extra fluff in your novel is to trim down long, drawn out sentences. Break them up into multiple smaller sentences if you need to, but make sure you dont run on and on because then your reader will easily get bored and will start skimming before putting up your novel for good in place of some other, less agonizing activity like rubbing their knuckles with a cheese grater. Sorry, still here? That sentence was an example of things to trim down.
Second, do your best to avoid unintentional repetitions that you don’t mean to have. Do you see what I did there? In this example, “unintentional” is the same as “that you don’t mean to have”. Pick one or the other, and if you are trying to trim it down, I’d get rid of the longer phrase rather than the word. Some phrases that are common that can be avoided are never ever, forever and ever, the bright light shone brightly. Getting rid of phrases like this will strengthen your writing and help to cut the text down to a more manageable level.
Third, wipe out material that is not relevant to the story. This is a difficult one for me, because I always find an excuse for why it needs to be in the story. “I like it!” or “I wrote it” are not valid excuses to keep the material. Even if you need to remove entire chapters from the novel, it can be a very freeing moment. One thing I would do though, is archive the material that you cut out. You never know if you’ll want to either put it back in a better way or use that material as a spin-off or for another book.
Fourth, check to see if you have any awkward sentences. If you do and they are extremely important, rewrite them in a better way. If they are not that important, just cut it out entirely.
Fifth, and quite possibly even more drastic than Tip 3, eliminate a character from the story, and thus all material related to the character. This may warrant several chapters of unimportant writing to be removed at once. You’re almost certain to archive that and use it in a future book, but if it’s not that important to the story here then it might be a good idea to let it go.
This requires some literary surgery though. While removing a chapter may not take much more work than selecting it and pressing delete (or archiving it), the character you are getting rid of may make some work for you in other parts of the story. If they talked to another character before, now the interaction never happened. So why is the character you are keeping still doing this? Every anchor point to the main story needs to be patched up. You might even need to change the outcome of an event in the story, which may lead to a completely different ending.
So now that you have some tips for adding and taking away from your novel, how do you strike a balance? My first tip is that if you want balance, never pad your writing. Sure, you can add things where you feel they are lacking, but don’t pad it just to add word count. If you need to bulk it up, add relevant content instead.
Second, don’t add too many plotlines unless you have two middle names that both start with “R”. Less empty plotlines and more solid plots will make a stronger story, and an easier read for your audience.
Third, break up long detailed descriptions with some form of action. In the midst of describing a character for the first time, you can describe with action. Something like “she raised her hand, the glove sparkling white in the sunlight” is more interesting (to me) than “she wore a white glove that sparkled in the sunlight”. The action brings life to the description. But too much action in the descriptions give you the appearance of trying too hard. And that rarely works.