Come Up Short? Here’s Help


Saw an interesting exchange between writers in the online writer’s group I frequent. Seems a young writer had pushed a story to about 40,000 words, short of the minimum 50,000 words usually expected of a novel length work. Now what? she wondered. G. Russell, ever the nice guy, told her: “While I have not had to face the issue of having less than 50,000 words, perhaps I can be of some assistance.” The assistance, however, was never revealed.

G. Russell Gaynor

So, because I’m a notorious snoop, I wrote to G. Russell and asked “Wonder what kind of help you might provide an author whose manuscript comes in under length requirements? My own fiction manuscript sits at about 88,000 words, which seems like a good length for the market, perhaps a bit plump. But, I fear the day may come when I find myself with a less than a full-length product. What to do then? Pardon my curiosity and thanks.”

G. Russell Gaynor is president of Atlanta-based Quicksylver, Inc., a multi-faceted art production company. He has written 9 books, 20 screenplays, 2 stage plays and scores of poems. With astonishing graciousness, here’s what G. Russell Gaynor told me:

“It has been my experience that when a manuscript comes in under length, it is usually for one of two reasons: Author’s Pacing or Perspective. And though they may sound like the same issue (and are often intertwined), they aren’t.

To put it simply, pacing deals with a writer’s anxiety to reach the climax of the story. You want things to move along and get to it already! Oft times this leads to a good description of the action, but not the things which perform the actions. I wrote an entire novel beginning to end with absolutely no descriptions of anyone or any place.

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I just didn’t slow down long enough to write them in. All of the emotions and drives were there, just no notion as to what anyone looked like – an entire world in silhouette! LOL! No mention of how the mid-Autumn morning smelled at dawn with the character clinging to refuge amongst the pines… never a mentioning of any music that might have been playing. I was so eager to reach the finish that I left out a good bit of the race!

Perspective can get a little trickier and it depends greatly on the sort of story you are trying to tell. Unless the story is a functional narrative where the reader is inside the character’s mind, don’t be afraid to develop and implement the view points of the not-so-main character(s) not to mention (if at all applicable) the audience’s view. Oft times the audience knows things the characters don’t, but that tracks more with the style of expression you opted to employ.

All in all, the answer (what to down when your novel’s too short) is best found in any reflective surface. Which is good because that means you don’t have to go too far to find your way out of the woods. You can either do it in stages, whereby your first writing is all passion and then you go back and edit from your head… you can choose to generate outlines, of varying specificity, to guide you as you are writing. My personal best solution is getting out of the way.

Most of my pre-production is spent in the development of the main characters and then the environment I am about to insert them into. The characters have their agenda and I let them go about their business, allowing the environment to create avenues of assistance or hindrance. I find that often creates character(s) (sort of on the fly) that are more accessible.

For instance, I have a fantasy adventure story whereby the key to magic has inserted itself into a person. Needless to say anyone and anything that knows anything about magic is after this poor man. But as I create the world that story takes place in, I sit back and ask myself who is involved in the chase and why. Next thing you know, I have a plethora of characters all falling over themselves, clamoring for the prize. Little do they know that it might be best they never try to claim it!

So the best advice I can tell you is to serve the voice in the manuscript. The character(s) have voice, but so does their world and the more you make of it, without going 4-5 pages overboard, the more the reader feels like they’re a part of what’s going on, instead of merely witnessing it. I hope this helps and the best of fate and skill with the manuscript!

Check out the many art projects under construction at Quick Sylver

Published by Kate Campbell

Writer, editor, photographer, novelist, short story writer, poet.

2 thoughts on “Come Up Short? Here’s Help

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