Sometimes, I get about 50,000 words into a book and realize that I’m a bit too close to the ending. If I keep going straight through, I’m going to end up with more of a novella than a novel. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s generally not what I’m trying to do.
When this happens, it’s because I only wrote the meat of the story, the main scenes with the main characters that lead directly to the climax. While that can work, it’s not going to push the story to its full potential. See, a great story is like an excellent meal: there’s a first course, an entree with sides, dessert, and some fabulous wine (or a beverage of your choice). There may be even more courses than that. Sure, you could get full from the entree alone, but it’s not as emotionally satisfying. It also doesn’t have the same build-up.
On the first run through, I tend to overlook the salad, the bread, and even the wine. I go straight to the heart of the matter, and about 40,000-50,000 words in, I start to feel like something is missing.
At that point, I go back to my post-it plot and start adding scenes, minor characters, and everyday stuff. The more I add, the more complicated the plot becomes, and the more fleshed-out the story gets. Once I’ve beefed up the story up to that point, I move on.
I don’t know how many authors write this way (if any). Many are probably better about planning out all those smaller details and writing them from the beginning. I know I get better at it with each book, so maybe someday this won’t happen anymore. Or since it works for me, I may work this way no matter how many books I write. Who knows?
Along with my usual “find the way that works for you,” my point is that you can always add intricacy. If the idea of keeping track of twelve different points-of-view or hundreds of tiny plot points makes you panic, you can simplify the story to begin with. To mix my metaphors, you can write the skeleton first and then add the flesh and other systems to it.
Remember: you’re writing a rough draft. If your first draft of your book is a bit short or not fully fleshed out, figure out what it’s missing and start adding it in. Add new scenes, tweak existing scenes, etc. You can always put more in, and sometimes, it’s easier to add the complications once the main path is solid.
After all, don’t you usually plan meals around the main course?