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NaNoWriMo: Increase Your Word Count

Writers, we are just a week away from the end of National Novel Writing Month. I don’t know what this month has been like for you, but I am losing stamina. Despite having a great cast of characters to play with, a familiar setting, and a closet filled with snacks—I’m ready to ditch my project and spend some quality time on the sofa reading a book. (I already have a stack of books waiting for me.) If that’s ever going to happen, I need to find a way to increase my word count fast without breaking the rules. Here are five ways to increase your word count and finish faster:

1. Describe. Before National Novel Writing Month started, I made a list of the features I dislike in a novel. Long, boring descriptions topped my list followed by pedantic prose and long chapters of philosophic musings where nothing happens. Still, I have to admit that all three of these techniques, including long, flowery descriptions, use up tons of page space. In addition, anything you describe as you write a rough draft of your novel is going to help you understand the setting and convey it to your readers when you revise your novel. So, describe away! Tell us about the carpet your protagonist put into her dining room to cover up the water damage. Let us know what the characters are wearing. And please do wax eloquently about the shape of the clouds! Your word count depends on it.

2. Add adverbs and adjectives. As a writing coach and editor, I tell my clients to eliminate unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. They do not enhance your story. Instead, they mark you as an amateur writer. Still, adjectives and adverbs can really, really, really increase your word count fast—especially when you repeat them ad nauseum. So hide your Puritan sensibilities and add as many modifiers as you can think of!

3. Use long names. This year, my characters are helping the humane society raise money. To add extra words, I gave the humane society an extra long name, The Greater Milwaukee Metro Area Animal Rescue Center. That’s eight words added to my manuscript—8!—every time a character mentions the rescue. If you want to add some extra words fast, give your characters, their towns and favorite businesses, meals, and even the books they read the longest names you can think of. The only downside to this is remembering the names. I’ve developed a cheat sheet—a separate document with an alphabetic list of all proper names in the book. That way, I am not wasting valuable time reading back over the book trying to remember that my character Evie’s full name (which her mother always uses) is Evangeline Madeleine Mackenzie Sweet.

4. Eliminate Contractions. I was halfway through my first NaNoWriMo project when someone clued me in on this clever little trick. I know it sounds quite silly for the hard core low-brow villain to say, “I have elaborate plans to annihilate you.” instead of “I’m gonna kill you.” But, you must admit, it adds more words.

5. Import Story. One of the unofficial NaNo rules is to start fresh and not use the month to finish a half-written novel. The one year I started and didn’t finish NaNo, I used one of those half-written novels. I figured I had lost because I’d cheated. (Ahh, the gods are out to get me.) Now I know what happened: I was not significantly engaged in the story to build the momentum necessary for National Novel Writing Month. You are probably too far into your book to plop in an old half-finished novel. But perhaps you could import an old article, poem, or letter you wrote? Last year, while working on my NaNo novel, I had my characters interview two people who had been to the big march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Of course, a few years earlier, I had done the same interview as part of an article I wrote. I created the setting, crafted the questions, and replaced my interview subjects with my novel characters—but I imported the answers from the real-life interview I had done. When I go back to revise the novel, I probably won’t use the interview—but it helped me move forward on a day when I was struggling for something to say!

Your turn: What’s your trick for increasing your word count? Leave your answer below!

6 Responses

  1. I am three days behind on Nano, so your post is well timed to help me out. I find it useful to write out of order and to include any freewriting I’ve done on characters. Doing this will usually spark additional words.

    1. writenowcoach

      I think that’s a great idea, Barbara! I am doing the same thing–adding character description and so forth. It won’t make it to the final version, but it helps me add words AND understand the characters better.

  2. Katie

    When my character needs to think about things, she takes refuge in her job. Coincidentally it is the same as my job, so inserting detailed step-by-step descriptions of the process is super easy. Totally boring, of course, but wordy!

  3. Great advice!

    I’m OK for this NaNo, but when I’m really desperate, I add a ton of dream sequences. They might have nothing to do with the plot, but hey: They’re dreams, right? 🙂 And every character can dream, even the dog = more words.

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