PubCrawl Podcast: Troubleshooting Craft – Expanding & Elaborating

This week JJ and Kelly continue their series on Troubleshooting Craft, this time focusing on expanding and elaborating, or What To Do If You Need to Flesh Out Your Manuscript. Also, Kelly has strong feelings about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and JJ is resigned to having no time for fun until her deadline passes.

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Show Notes

  • When you are getting the comment that a book feels “thin,” it’s not necessarily that the manuscript is too short in terms of word count; it’s that some aspect of the story (character, worldbuilding plot, etc.) is underdeveloped.
  • Coming in drastically under word count is generally a symptom, not a problem in and of itself.
  • When Worldbuilding is Underdeveloped:
    • A world feels underdeveloped when there is a lack of specificity. Details add depth and texture. Capital Letter Worldbuilding is lazy and a shortcut.
    • Choose details that contribute to a complete sensory portrait of the world.
    • Good worldbuilding is thinking about the why of the details. Thinking through the cause-and-effect of the details.
  • When Characterization is Underdeveloped
    • When a character is called out as “underdeveloped,” it’s often character relationships that are underdeveloped.
      • This often happens not because of inherently thin characterization, but because you’re telling the reader what the relationship is like, not showing it them.
      • Scenes should be more than transactional between major characters; there’s the surface/plot level of content, but there should also be emotional subtext.
    • Possible fixes for when a character is two-dimensional:
      • Characterization actually comes out in behavior/action, not necessarily dialogue or narration.
      • When secondary characters feel flat, it’s often because they don’t seem to exist when they’re off-page. Do they have a life outside the protagonist? What are their desires? What do they want? How do they approach getting what they want? How does that come into conflict with your protagonist?
    • Adding depth doesn’t necessarily mean adding word count, but still means a lot of labor.
  • When Plot is Underdeveloped
    • You don’t often get the comment that a plot feels underdeveloped; you are more likely to hear that the plot is “too quiet.”
    • When a book is considered “too quiet,” it generally means that there isn’t enough at stake. If obstacles are too simplistic or resolved too easily, if characters are complacent or aren’t challenged or stretched in an emotional way, if there aren’t any costs.
    • If conflict is resolved too easily or quickly, then we don’t have a building of tension. It’s hard to have a proper climax if you don’t have a build-up to it.
    • If stakes are both universal and personal, then the reader gets more emotionally invested in the plot.
    • Physical danger =/= stakes. Why a character is in physical danger = stakes. Stakes arise from characterization.
  • If you are looking to fill out word count (without making it seem bloated) because you are drastically under word count, it’s likely you don’t have any subplots.
  • Word counts are guidelines; as long as book doesn’t feel too long or too short, it should be fine.

Books Discussed/What We’re Reading

What We’re Working On

  • Kelly has written words—actual words—in her YA WIP!
  • Y’all know the answer to what JJ’s working on.

Off Menu Recommendations

Submissions are still open for another query critique! If you have a query you would like us to critique, email us at with the subject line PUBCRAWL PODCAST QUERY CRITIQUE. As we did the last time, we will be critiquing 5 queries with all identifying information removed. All genres and categories welcome! If you’ve submitted to us before but your query didn’t get selected, feel free to revise and resubmit!

That’s all for this week! Next week we’re continuing with our Troubleshooting Craft series with EARNING EMOTIONAL PAYOFF. As always, if you have any questions or comments, leave them here!

One Response to PubCrawl Podcast: Troubleshooting Craft – Expanding & Elaborating

  1. Making A Killing Aug 11 2016 at 7:56 pm #

    I must say it is a superb post. You might want to meet the classic author duo L. Hart and Olivia Rupprecht who have already created a classic novel before: “THERE WILL BE KILLING”.

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    In case you want to know a short description of the story, here lies the summary:
    The CIA’s most valuable assassin, Agent J.D. Mikel, wasn’t supposed to fall in love with anyone – especially not Kate Morningside, a woman coveted by another powerful world player. When Kate is kidnapped, J.D. is pulled into a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and one false move could cost him everything. Indeed, there are players – and then there are the masters who make the rules only to break them.
    It’s not an even match for those joining an epic search for Kate on a twisted dark hunt down the Mekong River in the midst of a bitterly disputed war: Izzy, a brilliant young psychiatrist assigned to the Army’s 8th Field Hospital and counting the days until he can return home; and his best friend Gregg, a gifted psychologist who served his time only to be driven back to Vietnam by his own inner demons and a rivalry with Mikel that burns as intensely as napalm.

    There are other wars within wars in turbulent 1970. From the CIA to the American mafia to an International cartel helmed by a master of the sadistic, all eyes are on Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle. And when it comes to a certain cash crop flourishing under the dominion of the mysterious Poppy King, everyone wants a piece of the action. Money talks. The currency? Heroin. It’s a spinning maze of intrigue, politics, and mind games; a hotbed where sex, drugs, and Janis Joplin aren’t always a beautiful thing. But even when no one turns out to be quite who or what they seem, one rule remains fast across the Devil’s chessboard: Winners live. Losers die.

    The sequel to the national bestseller THERE WILL BE KILLING, MAKING A KILLING artfully weaves a spellbinding tapestry of dark history, psychology, and seduction – the best and worst of our humanity . . . and the hunger of our hearts.

    In case you are being a bit too curious to know about the novel, take yourself through to the following page:


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