Cheating your way to 50,000 words

Now, I value integrity more than the average human being, but sometimes I think taking a few short cuts is completely fine. Don’t think hard, think smart.

Here are my top 3 cheats to boost your word count, in order of least desperate to most desperate. 

3. Get all that clunky writing out of your system

Don’t forget that NaNoWriMo serves as an outlet to get down your first draft. If you think that what comes out of NaNoWriMo is even close to publishing standards, either you are kidding yourself or you have a sad, sad idea of what is publishable these days.

First drafts are excrement. Remember that. Just get it all out of your system, and leave the clean-up for the revision stage.

What’s clunky writing? Wordiness. Adjectives and adverbs. Flowery description. Get it out now, and if you find an editor worth his or her salt (or if you know a thing about deadwood yourself), then try not to cry when 2/3rds of your manuscript seems to be crossed out in red ink after the editor gets her hands on it.

***Update: After reading my post, a friend of mine showed me this post on “The Best of NaNoWriMo”—a Tumblr page you can hope you don’t find yourself on. Please note that I recommend that yes, you get the wordiness out of your system—it comes naturally to writers. But I do NOT recommend making an effort to be overly wordy. You should never attempt to be a lousy writer. Practice makes perfect, so practice good writing, else you become a perfectly awful writer that no one wants to have lunch with.***

2. Commit the sins of dialogue tags.

“The truth is, if you have a dialogue tag,” Lara said, “It should serve two purposes.”

  1. It should be as invisible as possible, placed at the beginning or end of the sentence, or in the middle at a natural pause.
  2. It should tell the reader who is talking.

Here are the 3 sins of writing dialogue tags:

  1. Thinking your reader is stupid. If anybody with a brain can guess who is talking, leave the dialogue tag out.
  2. Thinking that zero dialogue tags = mysterious, artistic writing. It isn’t. It’s confusing and annoying. Establish who is talking as soon as the dialogue begins, and then only use dialogue tags when things get confusing or you introduce another character.
  3. Thinking that dialogues are a place to express your creativity and use vocabulary words. I have a huge amount of respect for educators. Yet I’d like to take a ruler to the knuckles of teachers who give their students worksheets like, “Other words to use instead of ‘said'” because they are instilling into those malleable minds that bad writing will give you better grades. (Hint: it often does)

Dialogue tags are punctuation. Some really wonderful writers forget that from time to time, including Ms. J.K. Rowling, who used extended dialogue tags in her earlier Harry Potter novels. You’ll notice, though, that the better her novels got, the more invisible her dialogue tags were.

“I like that hat you are wearing,” said John exuberantly.

“Thank you,” Cordelia squeaked with a blush, “for saying such nice things.”

Reading the above is pretty similar to reading something like this:



Unnecessary and loud. And while such boring dialogue shouldn’t appear in your novel anyway, if it must, make it more like this:

“I like that hat you are wearing,” said John.

“Thank you for saying such nice things,” said Cordelia. She covered her cheek with her hand to hide the blush.

Still awful, but better. If you want good examples of dialogue writing, I’ll see if I can get some time this weekend to illustrate how to do it well, using examples from authors other than myself.

But if you need more words, commit those sins! Get them out! (And then murder the tags as you rewrite.)

1. Include your notes and free-writing in there, too.

NaNoWriMo is sort of like a marathon of free-writing. The point is the word count, not the quality of what you are writing. One way to boost your word count and get the “creative juices” flowing is to start off each writing session doing a free-writing exercise. It will get you over staring at the dreadful white page and make your brain and hands get ready.

Then include this all in the same document as your manuscript.

My manuscript is a complete mess. It isn’t linear, I write different scenes from different parts of my novel at different times. I don’t have a lot of my notes included in the manuscript (yet), but I have some. (Most of my notes I typed on a typewriter and keep in a 3-ring binder.) I’ll write three versions of a scene because all of them are in my head at once. Keep it all, and count it all in your word count. When you get to the revising stage, then you can rearrange all the scenes into a logical order and decide which words to toss, recycle, or keep.

I’m hoping to get more writing done this week. I have a lot of new ideas for scenes, but they currently reside on sticky notes and hotel notepads that I have around the house. I’m not really trying to hit the magic 50,000 words this month—I’d rather go slowly building  a solid plan than a 70,000 word manuscript that doesn’t work—but once I hit 20,000 I’ll take a break to write a post on good dialogue.

Unless I hit a burn out before 20,000 words and need a break. But my breaks have mostly consisted of me trying to obtain work. Which reminds me—insert shameless plug—if you are interested in getting custom business cards designed for yourself, for writing conferences or whatever, I’ll give you a discount for being a fan on my Facebook page. Become a fan on there, and I’ll give more details this weekend.

Let me know how you are progressing, and if you’ve committed any of the sins or cheats yourself!

Short Fiction vs Novels AND ALSO…Setting

First, a little bit about my background. Then, the difference between Short Stories and Novels. Last, a word about writing setting, and why it’s more important than I thought. Skip around if you want. I won’t be offended.

my writing background

If you’d asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have had one of three answers: 1) goalie in the NHL, 2) marine biologist, or 3) actress.

1—I grew up in the desert of Colorado and none of my friends wanted to play street hockey with me.

2—As a child I was deathly afraid of whales. They still totally creep me out.

3—Seemed most viable.

Problem was, this tiny little town I grew up in had very little culture, very few opportunities for me to pursue theater until it was introduced in 8th grade as an elective. Until that point, I read Shakespeare and wrote my own scripts. Writing was a means to an end.

My eighth grade year, my school also finally included a creative writing elective. It wasn’t much, but it was my first real instruction in writing, and it was short stories. I learned that writing could be its own reward.

I continued taking creative writing in high school and decided to major in writing in college (my grandparents, who helped me pay my tuition at this private liberal arts university, forbade me from majoring in the arts. Writing I got away with because I could train as a technical writer). Halfway through my junior year, I changed my major to a combination of writing and graphic design. That choice meant I had to give up some writing classes, and one that I gave up was “Writing of Place.”

I thought it was a good choice at the time. When reading, I usually skimmed or completely skipped paragraphs of exposition, unless I REALLY liked the book and was determined to read every. single. word. Setting seemed secondary to the rest of the novel. Who wants to read twelve paragraphs about how undulating the hilly landscape is? Not I.

Sometimes I just wished that all books were illustrated…

When writing skits or plays, I don’t have to write setting—I can write a line or two and leave the rest to the set designer. Setting was an afterthought.

I have a problem few others share. Most writers write too much and then have to edit, edit, edit, edit to trim the fat. I write a skeleton of a story and then revise and revise to give it some more fat.

So it comes as no surprise that, when I decided to try NaNoWriMo a few year’s back, I got about 3,000 words into my novel and realized that I was about halfway through the plot. That’s not a novel. That’s a pathetic, anemic excuse for a novel. I learned then that a novel is in a completely different league than short stories (not to mention plays).

the difference between novels and short fiction

First, there’s a difference in length.

  • Length—Novels are longest, novellas are shorter, and short stories are shortest. See the numbers below for my recommendations. For more information, check out this post on
    • Novel                  80,000–100K words
    • Novella               20,000–50,000 words
    • Short Fiction    2,500–10,000 words
    • Flash Fiction     fewer than 1,000 words

With all those extra words, novels have more room to explore…more.

There’s a difference in scope.

  • CHARACTERS—Short stories usually focus on one or two characters. Novels often introduce a larger cast of protagonists, antagonists, secondary characters, and minor characters.
  • PLOT—Novels have longer, more complex plots. Short stories have to be simpler than novels because of the length constraint. However, I think there’s more freedom with short stories because they have a selective plot. Making Shapely Fiction is a great resource on the variety of “shapes” short fiction can take.
  • SETTING—Novels take you to more places, switch scenes more often, or stay in one place through more seasons.

And there’s a difference in depth.

  • CHARACTERS—Novels can explore depth of character in more words. But this can be a pitfall, because it tempts writers to spend far too much time in backstory. Feel free to get carried away during the drafting process, but kill, kill, kill! during revision
  • PLOT—Novels have plots, subplots and twists to keep the reader turning pages. Short stories usually focus on one plot line.
  • SETTING—A more generous word count means novels spend more time exploring setting. 


Too much setting, and the reader’s eyes glaze over and they skip a few paragraphs. Too little setting, and you have a novel that no one can connect with because all they can visualize is a bunch of nobodies floating around in nothingness doing nothing. Unless you are Samuel Beckett writing Waiting for Godot, it’s not going to work. In fact, I think that Waiting for Godot is a waste of ink.

You really don’t want to know what I know about writing setting because…I really have no idea what I’m doing yet. But the best resource I have yet found on the subject is “Four Ways to Bring Settings to Life” by Moira Allen. You can read it here. Yes, the website isn’t the prettiest, but the text is what is important.


So here’s your Monday Motivation.

  1. Take a character you know fairly well. Your WIP’s protagonist, your favorite fictional character, yourself, etc.
  2. Choose a mood for your character. Angstful? Annoyed? Embarrassed? Lonely? Something else?
  3. Pick a setting/situation and place your character in it.
  4. What is happening? How does your character react? What does your character notice? Keep his or her mood in mind—how we feel influences what we see and what we do.
  5. Write until you feel satisfied that you learned something or challenged yourself.