I get quite a lot of emails/letters from young people who are writing their own stories. One of the most common things they say is “I’m writing a book. I’ve nearly got to the end of the story and it’s only 20 pages long. How do you make your books long?”
Well the answer is, I don’t set out to make them any particular length, that’s just how long it takes me to tell those stories.
Not all stories are book length.
Writing, just like any skill, takes practice. There might be some particularly gifted writers whose first novels are perfect and end up being best sellers. That doesn’t happen often. It certainly didn’t happen to me. After I decided I wanted to try writing I wrote nine short stories, seven articles for newspapers, two movie scripts and the history of the local primary school. It was only then I tried writing a novel. It was eight years after my decision to try writing before my first novel was published. It was my third novel. The other two remain unpublished.
Here are a few ideas. And bear in mind, *these are things that work for me*. Other writers might have entirely different advice.
- Perhaps the story you’re writing isn’t a novel. Perhaps it’s a short story. Short stories are good. Many famous authors have made a living from writing nothing but short stories.
- You still want to write a novel? Okay. Work out what it is your main character (protagonist) is trying to achieve: winning a basketball final, killing all the zombies, finding a girlfriend, saving the planet.
- Make it hard for them to do that. Really hard. Introduce someone (antagonist) who is trying to stop them. Put obstacles in their way. If you make it easy for them, your story will be over by chapter three.
- Introduce some subplots. If you have three or four characters, give them all their own little story.
- Tie in the subplots to the main story. They must have some impact on the main story or reflect the theme of the novel in some way. If they don’t, take them out.
- Have you given your readers enough information so they can picture what’s happening in their heads? You don’t want to bore them with paragraphs of description of the scenery, but some detail of the interior of your protagonist’s space-station, bedroom or dungeon will help them get a feel for the location of your story.
- What a novelist needs as well as ideas is patience and persistence. It takes me at least a year to write a novel, and writing is my full-time job. Some people take a lot longer. So keep at it. And good luck with your writing.