40. Troubleshooting Craft: Expanding & Elaborating
This week JJ and Kelly continue their series on Troubleshooting Craft, this time focusing on expanding and elaborating, or What To Do If You Need to Flesh Out Your Manuscript. Also, Kelly has strong feelings about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and JJ is resigned to having no time for fun until her deadline passes.
When you are getting the comment that a book feels "thin," it's not necessarily that the manuscript is too short in terms of word count; it's that some aspect of the story (character, worldbuilding plot, etc.) is underdeveloped.
Coming in drastically under word count is generally a symptom, not a problem in and of itself.
When Worldbuilding is Underdeveloped:
A world feels underdeveloped when there is a lack of specificity. Details add depth and texture. Capital Letter Worldbuilding is lazy and a shortcut.
Choose details that contribute to a complete sensory portrait of the world.
Good worldbuilding is thinking about the why of the details. Thinking through the cause-and-effect of the details.
When Characterization is Underdeveloped
When a character is called out as "underdeveloped," it's often character relationships that are underdeveloped.
This often happens not because of inherently thin characterization, but because you're telling the reader what the relationship is like, not showing it them.
Scenes should be more than transactional between major characters; there's the surface/plot level of content, but there should also be emotional subtext.
Possible fixes for when a character is two-dimensional:
Characterization actually comes out in behavior/action, not necessarily dialogue or narration.
When secondary characters feel flat, it's often because they don't seem to exist when they're off-page. Do they have a life outside the protagonist? What are their desires? What do they want? How do they approach getting what they want? How does that come into conflict with your protagonist?
Adding depth doesn't necessarily mean adding word count, but still means a lot of labor.
When Plot is Underdeveloped
You don't often get the comment that a plot feels underdeveloped; you are more likely to hear that the plot is "too quiet."
When a book is considered "too quiet," it generally means that there isn't enough at stake. If obstacles are too simplistic or resolved too easily, if characters are complacent or aren't challenged or stretched in an emotional way, if there aren't any costs.
If conflict is resolved too easily or quickly, then we don't have a building of tension. It's hard to have a proper climax if you don't have a build-up to it.
If stakes are both universal and personal, then the reader gets more emotionally invested in the plot.
Physical danger =/= stakes. Why a character is in physical danger = stakes. Stakes arise from characterization.
If you are looking to fill out word count (without making it seem bloated) because you are drastically under word count, it's likely you don't have any subplots.
Word counts are guidelines; as long as book doesn't feel too long or too short, it should be fine.
Books Discussed/What We're Reading
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
What We're Working On
Kelly has written words—actual words—in her YA WIP!
Y'all know the answer to what JJ's working on.
Off Menu Recommendations
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella
That's all for this week! Next week we're continuing with our Troubleshooting Craft series with EARNING EMOTIONAL PAYOFF. As always, if you have any questions or comments, leave them here!