Slowing the Story Down

Many of my writerly friends face the problem of writing too long. They pen a 120,000-word fantasy novel and then try to trim it down. Maybe it’s my journalistic background or those years penning magazine articles, but I have the opposite problem. My first drafts are often short, and in following drafts I have to slow the story down, let it breathe, dig deeper into my characters’ hearts and minds and psyches and add layers.

That’s precisely what I’m doing with my current WIP. It started out as a 15K novelette that I wrote for a call for submissions for short Valentine’s stories. I soon learned, though, that the story needed to be much longer, and abandoned my quest to submit it to that particular call for submissions (which only wanted stories under 20K). I penned a second draft that doubled the story’s length to about 30K. And now, here I am in 2016, working on a third draft that should be around 40-45K.

My main concern is giving the romance time to develop. There was a scene in the second draft that could’ve been powerful and full of tension, but it happened so suddenly that there wasn’t time for that tension to build. In the third draft I hope to change that, adding a slow build of romantic tension so that scene really packs a punch.

I’m learning this is my process. Get the story out there, however long it is, and find ways to deepen it in subsequent drafts.

Last, a brief midweek ROW80 check-in:

  • Edited two chapters and wrote 1,968 words in the third draft of A Prince in Patience Point.
  • Did yoga Tuesday night—stress relief yoga for beginners (one of three for the week).
  • Checked in on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook on both Monday and Tuesday.
  • No progress yet on reading any books on the craft/business of writing.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? Are you the type of writer who takes things out or puts them in? What’s your process like?

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Fantasy & paranormal romance author. Witch. Tarot reader. Possibly a woodland sprite. Debut release TANGLED ROOTS now available. Magic awaits at

10 thoughts on “Slowing the Story Down

  1. I’m like you. I tell my stories fast. I think it is all the short story writing I did to break myself into the writing game. I don’t understand how others do it. I feel when I try to expand things, I’m just adding stuff that will need to be cut later. Still, I’m working on it and trying to figure out where I should add rather than adding for the sake of padding. 🙂

    You’ll show this round who’s boss! Keep up the good work. 🙂

    1. Most of my stories seem to be the right length by the second draft. I look at them and feel like they’re basically where they need to be, give or take a few thousand words. But this one just needed to be longer. The romance needed time to develop.

      Thanks, Gloria! 🙂

  2. The first time I write a scene, especially at the beginning of a story, I find myself including a lot of exposition, then cutting it down to the essential need-to-know for the moment upon second edit, and then adding something completely new third time around.

    1. I think it’s pretty common to just throw everything in on the first draft and cut the excess in later drafts. So I don’t think you’re alone there. You just have to get the story onto the page, and then you can shape it.

  3. Hi Denise! I totally relate to your process. I don’t have a journalistic background, yet I found when writing my last WIP that indeed the word count raised with each time I made a pass. This process works for me because it gives me a chance for the story to simmer and grow, allowing me to add important details and inner dialogue which in turn caused the word count to climb. Does this matter? I’m not sure. I think what’s more important than word count is to take into account what the story needs. Sometimes more words, sometimes less. Write on my friend! 🙂

    1. I once read that there are two types of writers: those who take words out and those who put words in. It sounds like we’re both in the second camp. Like you, I find this approach gives the story time to simmer, as you say. It’s all about slowing down and adding to the story. I don’t think it matters which approach you take, as long as you understand your process. Thanks, Karen!

  4. I’m the type of writer that adds things as I write subsequent drafts. The first draft, I get it out there. After reading it and receiving feedback, I find that I add more to the story to replace something I took away.

    It depends on the story, too. Maybe more is needed come the second draft. Maybe less. But I end up trying to add more to make a story more whole.

    1. Same here. The first draft is me getting to know my characters and getting a basic feel for the plot. The subsequent drafts are all about deepening the story. I dig deeper into my characters’ feelings and motivations; I flesh out the plot; I deepen my understanding of the story world. So later drafts are often longer. I’ve never thought of it as making a story more whole, as you say, but that’s an excellent way to think about it.


  5. Thank you for writing about HOW those words get on the page. I’d love to improve my writing productivity, but the story comes out slowly. When I find new research, details get added. Then I climb deeper into the characters (and their feelings, reactions, actions), analyzing as I write, and more words appear. My final stories are in the 95-110K range, but in the last round of edits, I’m cutting as much as putting back in. Maybe it’s because then I’m working at the word rather than scene/chapter level (or even section). Kudos on the yoga and on setting that goal to read more writing craft books (same here). May this round go well for you, Denise.

    1. I think the worst thing we can do as writers is compare our process to someone else’s and feel like we’re doing it wrong. For some of us, that slow writing is the way it works. Others write in large bursts. For me, it can work either way. Sometimes I’ll have a week where I have a huge word count and other weeks the writing is more gradual. I try to remember that it doesn’t matter how slowly I go, as long as I do not stop. Good luck this round, Beth! Thanks for commenting.

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