How to Flesh Out Our Stories Without Sacrificing Quality

How to Flesh Out Our Stories Without Sacrificing Quality

Our first drafts can sometimes end up shorter than we would like them to be.

This is often due to missing details, a need for better descriptions, areas where we did more telling than showing

We can’t always expect everything to come to mind when we need it to.

The human brain tends to work in spurts, spitting out a little bit at a time, making connections where we didn’t see them before.

Just because we learned something in high school history that’s vital to our story doesn’t mean our brain will produce that information on command.

The more we learn, the more layered our consciousness becomes.

The brain needs time to sift through all the layers, and it won’t always produce the results we want from it.

It could be you didn’t consider that piece of history particularly important or compelling at the time, and your brain chose to discard the information instead of storing it.

Or it could be there’s just too much to sift through it’ll never be found.

Who knows? The brain’s a mystery at times.

Our imagination works the same as it does for processing information.

It compiles what we know or have experienced, whether in real life or through entertainment, until it has produced a compelling image we can expand upon to create our stories.

Some people are capable of writing more than they need, then need to cut the excess during revisions.

While the rest of us need to get the basics down before they can start expanding on their thought process.

Aiming for a particular word count doesn’t always work in the first draft.

Often our thoughts come in bits and pieces, or connections are not seen the first go-around.

Sometimes foreshadowing and backstory can’t be added until you know how the story goes.

But that’s what revisions are for: to streamline and put our best foot forward.

To be fair, all genres have word count recommendations for their market, and if you’re going the traditional publishing route, you must ensure your work fits within the ranks.

But if you’re self-published, the rules are a lot less stringent, and there’s a lot more room to maneuver, particularly in the realm of eBooks.

Readers are more concerned with getting their money’s worth, now more than ever.

And it doesn’t always revolve around getting a large book for a low price.

Readers aren’t looking for fluff. They’re looking for quality.

A large book that is boring and drags all the way to the end has less value to the reader than a story half the size that holds their attention.

They want something they can walk away satisfied from, perhaps to even buy another of that author’s book.

Even if they were priced the same.

We should never intentionally add material just for the sake of reaching a word count.

Because doing so makes for a story that’s too loose and complicated, and leads to infodumps, excessive backstory, and meaningless description.

Instead, we should analyze our manuscripts looking for places needing to be fleshed out, such as:

  • A plot not large enough to encompass the story
  • Confusing character motivations and stage directions
  • Missing backstory significant to the story
  • Similar action and dialogue creating character confusion
  • Boring setting or world details
  • Telling or summarizing instead of showing
  • Missed plot points or areas where the stakes don’t increase

If your story still doesn’t feel complete or comes significantly short of your word count, you might also try:

  • Adding conflict to move the story forward and keep the stakes rising
  • Using your subplot to further complicate the main plot line or to raise the stakes
  • Increasing the conflict and decision difficulty

You might also consider adding character and setting description in areas where you have forgotten it or need more detail but be careful to add sparingly and not to go overboard.

Adding subplots or characters can also easily add words to a sparse manuscript.

However, you must ensure they improve the story and significantly affect the main storyline, else they’ll only detract attention from what’s important.


Don’t add unnecessary details just for the sake of it.

You should only add what makes the story stronger and more engaging.

The goal should be to keep the reader’s attention riveted to the page, so they buy the rest of your books, not bore them to death.

But ultimately, you should forget the rules and do what works for your story.

How do you typically write? Do you need to flesh out or cut back during revisions?



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Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.

She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.

She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.

From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.

She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.

When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.

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One thought on “How to Flesh Out Our Stories Without Sacrificing Quality

  1. I write freestyle get an idea and run with it. until i run out of ideas. at the minute the word count on my lastest woek is 16000. ihave been wring on it everyday for six weeks I just stopped working o i yesterday then another story i started on over two years ago i began to fesh it out. more location detail more descriptions of the people involved.

    Liked by 1 person

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