Agony Author: Literary Advice Column

Welcome to Writers SA’s member-only literary advice column, where our experts respond to your questions about writing, publishing, the literary life and beyond. Got a question? Ask us here.

For this installment of Agony Author, Georgie asks:

“Hi! I have been playing with an idea for a novel for a couple years now, but get very overwhelmed when I try to plan it. I’ve written 40,000 but can’t work out how to make it better. How can I make this task more achievable?”

Dear Georgie,

Congratulations on getting this far on your draft! I say draft because there’s so much you can do in each pass to increase your word count and make your writing sparkle, but also make sure your story is strong and can go the distance! By breaking it down into stages, you (hopefully) get less overwhelmed.

There’s a couple of ways to think about a project in terms of increasing the word count and it first comes down to plot and character. When plotting a fiction novel you want to start with goal, motivation and conflict. The who, what, why and why not. Start with your character and get as much info from them as you can, you might even want to do a character interview (most of this won’t make it to the page). The what is the goal. What does your character want after their call to action and why do they need this thing or to go on this quest. This shouldn’t be a superficial goal but something big and there needs to be a consequence if they don’t get it. The why not is what will stand in their way? If the goal isn’t strong enough, there won’t be enough conflict to sustain the book and the journey is over before it’s begun with your main protagonist triumphant without having fought for the thing/person/place they wanted. You can do this rewriting on your second draft. This might also be the point where you look at your world-building. Is it enough? Have you done enough to create a picture in the mind of your reader?


Making it better might come in the the third draft where you’ll be weeding out telling words like she saw, she heard, she touched, she felt. These are telling words and you can go deeper by making it more tactile. What did she touch but how did it feel against her fingers, her cheek, etc? She felt scared, but why and how? What’s happening around her that makes her feel this way? Show us.

More on writing deep point of view which eliminates showing.

The fourth draft might be layering in some of the five senses you might have missed when you were writing the first draft. Does your character do normal things in your book like eat, sleep, go to the toilet, get a cramp when swimming, smell something that takes them back to their childhood? Does she tuck her hair over her ear or get the sniffles when it’s cold out? And is it cold out? What season does your story take place and is that on the page somewhere? You don’t have to have a heavy hand when you’re at this stage, subtle and casual is the way to go.

More on writing the five senses.

All of these things will make a more immersive journey for your reader but it will also help increase your word count and make you a better writer.

Got a question? Ask us here.

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