Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
Writers tend to either write long or write short. I've always written short, so I understand where you're coming from. I will say, however, that every first draft I write is longer than the previous one. I think it's because I've gotten better at creating more complex story ideas before I even start the book. So just because your novels are coming out at 40 or 50k now doesn't mean it'll always be like that.
But if you want to make your first draft longer, you need to:
Add a subplot or plot layer
The easiest way to beef up your story without adding senseless filler is to add a subplot or plot layer. What's the difference between the two?
Subplot: Has everything a regular plot has only on a smaller scale. Has an inciting incident, a black moment, and a resolution. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the storyline of Buckbeak, Hagrid's hippogriff, is a subplot - it has a beginning, middle, and end.
Plot layer or thread: This is something that enhances the main plot. Things like the main character's best friend getting kicked out of her house and bunking up with her. While that thread will likely resolve by the end of the story, it's not something that has all the elements of a plot.
Going back to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione's impossibly heavy class load and her strange ability to take classes that overlap each other, is a plot layer. It doesn't have a beginning, middle, and end. (Though, you'll notice, both the subplot of Buckbeak and the plot layer of Hermione's secret play a part in the resolution of the book.)
Here's what I do when I'm trying to add a subplot or plot layer after having written my first draft:
- I write each scene of my manuscript on a note card and post them in chronological order on my cork board.
- I brainstorm what additions I could make to the story. I try to think of things that will deepen the conflict for my main character, since those don't feel like filler. As opposed to things like, "Ellie gets a cat." (Though if you plan for the cat to go missing, that could certainly deepen conflict.)
- Next I examine the other characters in my cast. Who could use more fleshing out? Or who has a rich backstory that I'm not utilizing as much as I could? I give myself time to brainstorm ways I could enhance my cast as well.
- Usually after a few days of brainstorming, I have some clear winners (and losers) in my pile of ideas. So now it's time to brainstorm big scenes that need to be added. Usually there are two or three bigger scenes that need to be added per plot layer/subplot. I write those down on different colored index cards and post them on my wall with my original note cards. This way I can see where I think the new scenes will fit in.
- Then I skim over all the note cards and mark scenes that I already know will need revisions because of my new storylines.
- I write my new scenes and plop them into the manuscript.
- I reread my entire manuscript and make revisions along the way to weave in my new stuff.
That's what has worked for me!