Last week, I did a writer’s residency at John Marsden’s Candlebark school; working with year 7 and 9 students as part of the 1000 Pencils project for 2011.

The students had been carefully selected not just for their writing ability but for their dedication to their craft, and they were an enthusiastic and very talented bunch of young writers.

They will  be working on an anthology of short pieces which they will record and present at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival.

Throughout the day, there were many inspiring discussions about writing, but one of the questions that kept coming up was, “How do I write a novel that’s longer than 10,000 words?”

It’s a question I get asked a bit by young writers so I’ve dedicated this post to trying to provide answers. Every writer works differently, but here are some tips that work for me.

The key to writing a longer piece is not to flesh it out with flowery description or mundane detail, but to add things that matter – add action and layers to your story.

When I need to do this I go back to my characters and plot for answers. I look at what is happening in the story at the moment and why it seems to have stalled.

I go back and do a kind of brainstorming/mindmapping to generate new ideas for my story. I ask myself these questions:

  • What can I make happen for my main character next?
  • How does my main character react?
  • What does this cause to happen next?
  • How will this affect the overall outcome of my story?
  • How can I raise the stakes for my main character?
  • How can I develop the subplot to add to the tension?
  • What are the themes in my story? What am I really trying to say and what needs to happen for me to say it?
  • What flaws does my main character have?
  • How can that lead to more difficulties for them?
  • What can I do to reverse things for my main character – to take them off in a different direction from where they want to head?
  • Can I introduce new turning points for my character – revelations that change things for them?
  • How can I develop my main character’s relationships with others?

Once I have the answers to these questions, I write them on ‘post it’ notes which I then place on my plot arc/diagram in the order I think they should appear.

Something else that might need developing is the world of the story. Have you included enough setting to allow the reader to step into your main character’s life and inhabit the world you have created.

Can your reader picture exactly what is happening to your character? Have you created realistic scenes that will resonate with your reader? This could be another area you can develop further.

How long your story should be is not an easy decision. We have to work to publisher submission guidelines, but I always try to write the story I need to tell and focus on the story itself rather than how long it should be.

I’d love to hear how you get moving again after your story has stalled. Feel free to share this post and leave your tips and stories in the comments section of this post.


  1. Thanks for another good post Dee. I like brevity in storytelling but often have to layer to stretch stories and meet word counts. It’s helpful advice.

  2. Many thanks for all your advice, Dee. My main plot outline is complete at 15,000 and the work is on the back-burner until July, when all should be finished for the present deadline and I can start again. This will be most helpful then – the aim is a good draft by SCBWI Sydney in February. Having been trained to write scientific abstracts, I find cutting words much easier than adding them. This is just what I need.


  3. Another excellent post Dee.
    I tend to be brief, and usually add something else to increase the words. It’s amazing how one slight change can have repercussions and more words throughout the book.

  4. Thanks, Alison,

    A slight change can make a big difference, can’t it? I usually find if my story is over too quickly then I haven’t developed my character and plot enough.

    Happy writing:)


  5. Hi Dee,
    Congrats! What a fabulous post!
    Loved all your brainstorming/ mind mapping questions. I’ll be printing this one out for future reference … Karen T.

  6. Hi Dee, my first visit to your blog. Thanks for this advice, you reminded me of a few things I need to think about with my character and her flaws. I’m interested in knowing if you have always written using this process or whether you developed it over time. I starting to think all writers have system of thorough planning despite the fact that they say – not all writers do this but…
    Thanks again 🙂

  7. Hi Fiona,

    Welcome to my blog and thanks for dropping in. Everyone has their own way of writing and I must admit that my methods are not always the same. A lot depends on the length, content and focus of the story and how easily the words are flowing.

    I generally know where I’m going with my story as you would have seen from the plot diagram I included in the post. I write the story first to the length I need. I tell the story I want to tell.

    But as a writer i need to be flexible. I want my work to be published and I want people to read it. So if a story of a certain length is rejected by a publisher I look at other avenues and this could mean that I need to make the story longer. So in this case I revisit my characters and plot in the ways I outlined in the post. I also do this if i realise that the story isn’t working for some reason.

    And sometimes with a full length novel I know where it starts and I know where it ends but I have to just write my way through the middle bits. So if I’ve hit the brick wall, I go back and plan what I’m going to need to do to get to the next stage in the story.

    There are no hard and fast rules about writing. It’s what works for you. But I think that whatever problems you are having with a manuscript, character or plot are usually at the heart of them.

    The process I use to find words for my story has evolved over time as I’ve learned to recognise the problems with my own writing and have sought ways to keep the manuscript moving and develop it further.

    Lots of writers don’t plot at all. I think I’m a bit of a flexible plotter – I develop a basic outline at the start and then throughout the story I go back and plot when I need to.

    Good luck with your writing:)


  8. Great post, Dee, with some great tangible tips for expanding story.

    I think sub-plots and side-kicks/other characters are great avenues to explore and grow a story too. These bring a wealth of new possibilities, new locations, and balance, not to mention lots of new words.

    Cheers, Chris.

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