Every writer is going to be different, but I tend to write first drafts that are very bare bones. I find a first draft painful to write so I try to get it down quickly, planning to revise. As a consequence, my first drafts are often short of the 60,000 words that are usually the minimum for a young adult novel.
I know that some of that brevity is due to things I have to work in later. One is description. I consciously have to go back and add that, aiming for a sensory detail on every page. Another is character reactions to events. I know what those reactions are but I often don’t get them down on the page. And character reactions matter because the characters’ inner arcs are what matter most in a story.
But sometimes adding those things isn’t enough. That happened with The Wind Reader. Then I draw on advice I read once so long ago that I don’t remember where. If your book is short here are three things to try.
1. Find a place where the MC succeeds and make them fail.
In The Wind Reader, Doniver is supposed to be helping to prevent an assassination. My original outline showed him succeeding in one attempt to do that. In revising I had him fail at that point. He was crushed, of course, and all kinds of plot points could follow that failure. The last 50 pages of the book come after that failure.
2. Add a subplot.
In my first draft, I had a minor character being rude and antagonistic to Doniver. When I revised, one thing I worried about was that Doniver escaped too easily from the consequences of his actions. I realized I could use this character to provide a consequence, adding words and tension as I did it. That character now dies as a result so what Doniver does though Doniver never intended that to happen. In my opinion, that’s a win for the story.
3. Take away someone or something the character relies on.
In The Wind Reader, I did this only on a minor level. Doniver relies on his friends to support him and feed him information. I eventually managed to separate him from them by both quarrels and then locking them up.
What I like best about these three techniques is that they don’t encourage padding with extraneous events and words. Rather they encourage me to add depth and tension to the story. They make the book better.
When street kid Doniver accidentally tells a true fortune for the prince, he’s taken into the castle to be the royal fortune teller. Good news? Food and a warm bed. Bad news? He can’t tell fortunes.