13 Tips To Help You Lengthen Your Short Story


In a previous post, we discussed shortening your story. Today, I’m going to talk about lengthening your story.

Most writers tend to overwrite and then cut back, but some writers under-write. This is often the case with writers who write for a living, like journalist and copywriters. Their entire story will be told in 750 words when they need 2 500 words.

My first draft of a short story is usually very short, around 250-500 words. I need to get the idea on the page first. Once that is done I must figure out if I can lengthen it. Sometimes a scene is simply that, just one scene, but I need to increase my word count. What can I do?

First I need to figure out what I have left out. I know I tend to skip setting and description in my first drafts so I look there first.

You can increase your word count in two ways:

Make changes to your writing:

You can make structural changes to your writing that will increase your word count:

  1. Pacing: Slow down the story.
  2. Tension: Add to the tension, by dragging it out and writing slow motion moments you will be able to add value. A time constraint, like a ticking bomb or the imminent arrival of guests, is a handy device as well.
  3. Sentence length: You need variety when it comes to sentence length, but longer sentences will help you up the word count.
  4. Add adjectives and adverbs: I’d rather say, make your descriptions stronger, by using strong nouns and verbs, but a few adjectives and adverbs will certainly add to your word count.

Make changes to your story:

And then, you need to make changes to your stories to increase your word count:

  1. Scenes: If your story is very short you will probably only have one scene. Figure out what scene came before and what happened after. This will help you add two scenes.
  2. Back story: This may be an opportunity to hint at backstory. You can even use a flashback.
  3. Add characters: Is your character alone? Perhaps he needs to phone a friend, to help him carry the corpse.
  4. Add setting description: This is what I tend to leave out, but don’t go writing travel brochure. Make sure the details you are integral to the story.
  5. Add character description: This may be an opportunity to add layers to your characters and flesh them out.
  6. Add a subplot: If you are writing a longer short story, as in 4000 or even 7500 words you can consider a subplot.
  7. Dialogue: Use dialogue to add backstory and strengthen motivation
  8. Dramatise events: This may be where you can delve in to the events that shaped your characters or the events that upset them. Write it out.
  9. Emphasis, symbolism and foreshadowing: Experiment and add some layers.

Not all of these are going to work for your story and be careful of adding words, but not value.

Happy writing.

If you want to learn how to write a short story, join us for Short Cuts. If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

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