Good day everyone, I want to share an article that I found that explains fleshing out your story in great detail. I have always had problems due to the fact I am a bare bones writer. I’ve never had the ability to sit down and write a story without an editor or another knowledgeable person telling me it needs to be fleshed out. I wasn’t even sure what that meant. I write like “The cat climbed the tree.” Fleshing out, to my understanding would be like “The white cat climbed the tree with the purpose of catching a bird.”
I had a English teacher by the name of Mr. Collier. He walked into class one day and set a coke bottle up on the chalk ledge of the chalk board. He then proceeded to tell the class to write three pages on describing that coke bottle. How can anyone use three pages to describe a Coke bottle. You know, some students got an A on that assignment. Needless to say I wan’t one of them. The best I can recall, I failed.
I hope this article helps you as much as it did me. Have a blessed day. Shirley
How To Flesh Out a Story Without Padding
by Marg McAlister
You’ve finally finished the first draft – celebration time!
Or is it?
When you read it through, you realise with a sinking feeling that it seems a bit… well, skimpy. And maybe it’s a tad short.
There’s no getting around it. You have to concede that your story needs a bit more flesh on its bones. But how can you make sure that you add substance, rather than just padding? How DO you flesh out a story?
Some Signs of Padding
If a story is padded, it is packed with inconsequential detail that makes the story longer, but doesn’t enhance it in any way. Here are some signs of padding:
- Dialogue that meanders and doesn’t move the story forward.
- Too much description (flowery or technical).
- Too much interior monologue. (The viewpoint character ponders too much and for too long.)
- Extra ‘walk on’ characters who just bloat the cast without adding value to the plot.
- Grandstanding. (The author is obviously using the story as a soapbox to espouse a pet cause or to express feelings about an issue.)
- Inconsequential ‘problems’ for the characters to solve. (The hurdles put in the characters’ way are perceived by the reader to be annoying side-tracks rather than genuine sources of conflict.)
- Inefficient transitions. (The author takes unnecessary pages to move the characters from one place or time to another.)
- A delayed ending / unnecessary explanations. (The story should have been over in Chapter 29, but the author has added another five chapters to ‘make it the right length’. Sometimes this is in the form of tedious explanations about why characters did things and how they outsmarted people. This should have been obvious from the action in the story.)
How to Flesh Out a Story
If the above list shows you signs of a story that’s padded, rather than well-rounded, then what can you do to fix it? What are some good ways of adding depth and texture?
First, you have to decide what your specific problem is. Some writers have problems with their stories because they are ‘bare bones’ writers: they have difficulty adding emotional punch, exploring their characters’ thoughts, and bringing people and places to life with carefully chosen descriptive phrases. Their stories are all action.
Other writers can handle all of these things, but always seem to end up with a story that’s too short. They know it needs expanding, but how? (Sometimes their story is novella length – say, 30,000 words. Too long to be a short story; too short to be a novel.)
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
1. If your story is too short…
(a) Add a new plot twist. (This brings with it more problems and a new level of complexity to the main story).
(b) Add a new sub-plot. (This should be a secondary issue that CAN be removed from the main story without affecting its flow or the outcome of the story. However, it must add depth to at least one of your story people. It might explain a character flaw, or distract the main character from seeing something obvious, or generally make his/her life more complicated in some way.)
(c) Add a new character (A SIGNIFICANT character, whose life is interwoven with the main character’s life – not just a caricature whose job is simply to take up a few more pages and add extra lines of dialogue!)
(c) Add a new dimension to your main character – a secret in his/her past; a secret hobby or interest that for some reason needs to be hidden from others. This may or may not be related to a new plot twist or sub-plot.
2. If your story is too bare-bones…
(a) Identify what you are NOT doing that you SHOULD be doing. Explore this by reading the work of other authors. Identify writing that seems (to you) to work well, or to be something you’d aspire to. Then write out several pages of the published book by hand, or type it into the computer. Get a ‘feel’ for the way sentences flow and the way words are used. Then take an excerpt from your own work and try to replicate the technique.
(b) Look at the way you describe people, events, and places. You’re quite likely to find that you are too economical with words, and that you haven’t chosen words or phrases that evoke what you want. Rather, you settle for something that easily comes to mind, then move on with the action of the story.
Take the colour RED.
What is the red of embarrassment?
What is the red of sunset?
What is the red of a fire?
What is the red of plush velvet curtains?
What is the red of a fine wine?
What is the red of blood?
What is the red of a stop sign?
Find pictures of all of these things, if you can (do a search via Google images). Now look at the range of tones in ‘red’. What are all these shades actually called? Can you think of a creative colour name that will help readers to see exactly what you can see?
In my copy of ‘Words That Sell’, I can find these:
rose, burgundy, ruby, crimson, scarlet, vermilion, russet, auburn, copper.
Then I typed ‘Words to Describe Red’ in to a search engine. On WikiAnswers.com I found these:
Scarlet, vermilion, crimson, ruby, cherry, cerise, cardinal, carmine, wine, blood-red, coral, cochineal, rose; brick-red, maroon, reddish, rusty, cinnamon, damask, vermeil, sanguine.
No doubt a thesaurus would turn up even more.
But… don’t just think of colour names. When you look at a ‘red’ object, start using your other senses.
What is the smell of red wine?
What is the sound of a fire (or fire engine?)
What is the texture of red velvet curtains?
What is the taste of blood?
Already, you can see how your bare-bones writing might start to develop depth and texture. (If you do nothing else, start thinking in terms of the five senses. That alone will give your story more emotional punch and help the reader to picture the scene.) Your special challenge is to use this sensory detail in a well-turned phrase that will help the reader to experience your character’s life. The trap you can fall into is to write too much boring description.
Closely tied to using the five senses – for obvious reasons – is the task of getting viewpoint right. A lot of writers produce bare-bones narrative because they can’t get into the mind of the main character in the scene. They ‘tell’ the reader everything, moving along at a rapid clip, instead of playing out the scene and letting the reader become part of it.
In the end, being able to flesh out a story means that you need to develop more mastery of your craft. It will involve either adding more pages (working on plot and characters) or adding more depth (working on viewpoint and emotional punch). You should be constantly building your skills and adding to your writer’s toolkit.
Writers who work at their craft are the ones who ultimately succeed.