Short of words? Throw in a crowd. Or a recitation

Arrow upSome days you just can’t get your word count up there no matter what you do. You’re pushing forward the major events you need in your story, but you just can’t think of enough to say to add to that precious word count. Everything already seems to be said. So you resign yourself to coming up short today, hoping that you’ll find a way to make up for the missing words tomorrow. Nothing else you can do, after all.

Nothing else you can do? Au contraire, mon ami! You can throw a party, of course. Or perhaps have a mob scene or some other reason for a gathering of people in considerable numbers. You might also stage an interrogation of some sort or perhaps find a reason why two or three of your main characters need to explain to another character—preferably in great, infinitely verbose and  minute detail—what they’ve been up to lately. After all, everybody needs to be kept up to speed.

THROW A PARTY!

PartySurely you can think of plausible reasons to have an unexpected party or gathering. Somebody has thrown a surprise birthday party for one of your main characters, say. That would explain why you haven’t written about an upcoming party, to this point in the story: your character didn’t have a clue that it was about to happen. (You can be coy about the fact that you didn’t either.) And of course, the characters around him or her weren’t about to mention it, because they didn’t want to let on that something was up.

Why a party? Think of it. You suddenly have a lot of people in the same room. Some of them will need brief descriptions, at the very least, as your main characters interact with them. It could be that your three main characters get separated, just when they need to huddle together and whisper in a corner about the latest clues that each of them has discovered in the past few hours. They have to peer over and around other people to try to find each other, all the while trying to carry on small talk with others nearby and not sound rude. If they finally catch sight of each other, can they catch each other’s eyes too? Or do they start doing silly things to try to get each other’s attention and then have to explain to their current companions what the heck they’re doing, jerking their head sideways like that and gesticulating with their elbow?

And when the three characters do finally notice each other, then each of them has to try to push his or her way through the crowd, which seems to be getting bigger and more obstructive with each passing moment. Just how many people have been invited to this party, anyway? Or have a few uninvited people actually crashed it? That could add another dimension of description as the people who belong there try to deal with the people who don’t.

herd of sheep

Someone might get waylaid by the principal of the school or by the boss or by her mother. You can write their brief conversation, throwing in small bits of description of the mother or boss or principal along the way. Does the person look a bit harried, perhaps, with hair slightly mussed? (Was the person in charge of the party, and is he or she a bit nonplussed by the crashers?) Are the person’s glasses crooked on their nose, so he or she keeps having to adjust them? You can describe how the waiter moves in and out of the crowd with a tray, offering glasses of champagne to people. One character spots a small table nearby and makes her way toward it, setting her glass onto it. Meanwhile, another character decides to find his own way to the snack table—acknowledging to himself how predictable or unusual this is of him—before meeting up with the others. He spends some time examining the various available snacks—and there you’ve got yet another bunch of words as you describe these delectable delights.

You could use up quite a bit of your daily word count just describing that party. And remember the idea of “winging it” or writing by the seat of your pants? Once you’ve thrown this party into the mix of the story, you might discover that a very important missing character shows up there. Or one of your characters hears a casual remark made by someone, a remark that suddenly casts a whole different light on the dilemma in which the characters find themselves. Who said that important thing? Your character doesn’t recognize the voice and looks around frantically, trying to listen in on every conversation within fifteen feet, hoping against hope to pick up that thread again and learn more. By the time you’re done with this party, your plot may have shifted in an entirely different direction, or the last missing element in the resolution of the plot might have fallen right into place. Your characters may decide to go somewhere, after the party, where they hadn’t originally intended to go. And the story may do the same thing.

HAVE A CHASE!

Times Square in ManhattanYou could do either a party or a chase—or both! A chase provides just as much opportunity to build that word count in a hurry as a party does, and maybe even more. Your characters might be going through the secret files in that supposedly locked room whose lock one of them has picked so easily (and don’t think the other characters haven’t noticed that suspicious ease and that they don’t suddenly have private and disturbing questions about the fact), but suddenly they’re discovered. They race frantically away before they are recognized, and off you go on another word-building (and maybe world-building!) adventure. Through the hallways they race, rattling the knobs or levers of locked doors, trying to find places to hide, or stumbling down stairways, or standing in an elevator lobby as one character stabs and stabs at the “Down” button while another one keeps a lookout at the corner.

If they get out into the street, you’ve got an infinite array of alleyways, pedestrians, taxis, pigeons, shops, roads, traffic lights, crosswalks, weather, and cracks in the sidewalk to describe. Your characters could duck into any number of stores and notice all sorts of intriguing merchandise as they fly by, shoving their way into the back and out the rear door into yet another alley. One character might see the exact gadget that she’s been hunting for, for weeks, and want to stop and quickly try to buy it while the other characters try to persuade her of the urgency of racing out the back door instead. Does she stop? (And are there consequences to her stopping?) Or does she demand that the proprietor tell her the address of the store and then race along the back streets for a while, muttering the address over and over again so she memorizes it for later?

MAKE AN EXPLANATION

As mentioned earlier, there might be a need for each person in your little group to explain to all the others what he or she has discovered or been up to in the past day, as they’ve all gone about their separate investigations. Or the group as a whole may decide that they are in way over their heads, and perhaps it’s time to bring in someone in authority. You can bet that whatever it is they’re up to, it’s going to sound awfully dodgy to some adult or some captain or some older cousin or whoever it might be, until they explain the whole situation to him or her. In—of course—excruciatingly specific and minute detail. Oh, the words you can add as you do that! The characters might tumble over each other in the rush to make their explanations, so some things might get referred to for a moment and then be dropped as the group backtracks to cover earlier details. Then that topic is picked up again.

And of course there may be arguments. The new person will probably need to do the usual, “What were you thinking?” and “Why didn’t you call the police or our mother or the principal or the janitor right at the beginning?” speeches. You know they have to. And then come all the explanations about why this Just Wasn’t Possible.

Torture

But of course, there are other sorts of interrogations too. Remember that person who decided to take the risk of staying behind to buy that gadget she just could not live without? The others could get disgusted and leave, and then the pursuers burst into the store and she gets caught. Or the others could wait, and the pursuers could burst in and she could do everything possible to try to occupy them while her friends get away while having to leave her behind as a sacrifice. (This would be especially difficult if she was also the romantic interest of someone who functioned more or less as the leader of the group. That person would have to put the group’s greater needs first, and then would agonize over the necessity as the rest of them escaped. [More words!])

And once the person is caught? Or once the whole group is caught? Oh my, the interrogations! If they are caught by police who are otherwise the good guys but who still Can’t Be Told The Important Thing, there could be all sorts of travelling back and forth between two or three interrogation rooms, with the different police interrogators comparing notes from time to time or listening in on each other’s interrogations. They could find discrepancies in the nonexplanatory stories they’re getting from the three different rooms, or they could be frustrated at how similar the stories are (because of course, your group foresaw this possibility and planned ahead of time what they would all say).

But what if your characters are not caught by the good guys but by the very people they are trying to thwart? Those interrogations might be considerably less pleasant, if the people they are trying to thwart are not nice people, and they might include some nasty actions too, like hitting. And yelling, naturally. (She said, trying not to think of the Vogons.) If some members of your group got away and others were caught, then the escapees, rather than doing the previously agreed-upon thing and fleeing altogether, to nobly carry on the fight while nobly sacrificing their companions, would almost inevitably start plotting a very clever plan to enact a rescue of their captured friends. (This also provides still more opportunities for lots of words later, when the rescued people yell at the rescuers for not following the plan, before they finally relent and admit that, well, yes, of course they’re still grateful, but it’s the principle of the thing.)

Or maybe the whole group is caught, and each person has something to contribute to a wider (and spontaneous, naturally) escape plan that is ultimately successful—after a lot of questioning and tense moments with the bad guys, of course. This is a great chance for each member of your group of characters to show off his or her special talents or useful personality traits. If they can escape in such a way that the bad guys are immobilized or seriously thrown off the trail for a while, so much the better. And if, while they were captured, one or more of them learned something that is terribly useful for resolving The Big Issue leading to their ultimate success, why, even better still!

You see what sort of word count bonus it can be if you throw in an event that either has a lot of action or involves a great many people? You don’t even need to add superfluous words, necessarily. There’s enough going on in scenes like this that you could end up doing two (or more) days’ worth of word count in one go. You will probably think of several useful things that your characters can accomplish at this party that you hadn’t planned on but which will really push the plot ahead. So it’s a big win, all around.

When short on the word count—have a party!

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Filed under * NaNoWriMo, * Writing tips

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