Finding Ten Thousand Words

Edith here, nearly delirious with our warming trend, the vanishing of the last piles of snow,barefeetdeck the ability to sun my tootsies, and all the little green things popping out of the ground. Must schedule a pedicure!

Before my surgery (which went very well, thank you, and from which I am healing alarmingly fast), I finished the first draft of Grilled for Murder, the second local foods mystery, due August 1. Unfortunately, it was about ten thousand words short of the minimum specified in my Kensington contract, 75000.

This often happens with my first drafts, which tend to be a bit, well, sparse, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Within a week of my surgery I found I could sit and type for extended periods, so I am back at work finding ten thousand words. How do I do that?

The easiest way would be to realize I needed five more scenes here and there, so I went looking. I did find one empty scene, which I had labeled Thursday Lunch. My note card for it read, “Bring Tanya back in. What happens?” Oh. That wasn’t very helpful. But I started writing, brought Tanya back in, and a day later had a nice 1200-word scene with several elements of suspense and suspicion, and which connected with something I’d already written that happens later that day.

1200 down, 8800 to go. I didn’t really see any other obvious gaps in the story, though. Back to that sparseness thing. I started reading through every scene to make sure I’d hardware storeincluded at least several senses. What does the hardware store smell like?  Did I describe how the air felt on Robbie’s skin during one of her long bike rides? What did the villain’s hair look like in the final action scene? How did Abe’s rabbit stew taste at the Hoosier Hollow restaurant? And so on. That process added a couple thousand words.

I went looking for fun southern expressions that a couple of my characters can use, and found some like “Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit,” “Easier than sliding off a greasy log backwards,” and “He’s busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.”

Another trend of mine is forgetting to have people reflect, especially my protagonists. A typical refrain from my critique group is, “Wouldn’t she be thinking about what happened in the last scene?” So I did a pass through looking for that. Another 500 words. Next I’ll check all the areas that Chris Roerden mentions in her excellent, Don’t Murder Your Mystery and see what else I can fix, and make sure I’ve tied off all the red herrings and subplots.scissors

In the process of successive read-throughs and fixes, I’m up to 69,111, with plenty of time to go. I know after I hand it off to my brilliant and trusty editor, Sherry, for a pass before I send it to my editor at Kensington, she’ll find gaps in the story I need to fill, too. I’ll also need a trimming pass as well, of course, eliminating trite words and dull language.

FlippedcoverI know I’ll get to that magic 75000 words as I keep working on the story. If I’m a little short (hey, no jokes!), I don’t think they’ll mind too much. And remember, you can already preorder book one, Flipped for Murder!

Readers, how do you achieve the quantity you need, in writing or elsewhere in your life? Other tips for fleshing out a story? Readers, would you rather see a short cozy or a longer one? And how’s spring by you?

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About Edith Maxwell

Agatha-nominated and national bestsetlling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing) and the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries (Midnight Ink). As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries series and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries (both from Kensington Publishing). Edith has also published award-winning short crime fiction. She lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.

34 thoughts on “Finding Ten Thousand Words

  1. Great post! I would rather read a short cozy. Books over three hundred pages intimidate me! Right now I am reading something very different for me, All The Light We Cannot See. It’s 530 pages! Fortunately, the book is delightful and an easy read. I had to get the last few Harry Potter books on tape because the size of the hardbacks alarmed me. I like to read in bed and I was sure I’d sustain a concussion if I dared to fall asleep.

  2. My, that sounds familiar! A former editor used to say that I might have written something in my head, but it never made it to the page. I’d go back to the bare-bones version (where I’d set down the essential plot) and fill in all the things you mention–emotional response, sights and sounds and scents, and, yes, reflection (what? the protagonist thinks?). That 75,000 words seems to be the magic number.

    • Snort I know, we have opposing tendencies, Ramona. Come to think of it, I’d better make sure Robbie thinks about her romantic interest when he’s not around. You know what I mean… That could get me a thousand words right there!

  3. Thanks for the shout out, Edith! I find I leave out emotional and physical reactions that Sarah should be having when I write my first draft. I really look forward to reading Grilled for Murder and the final version of Flipped for Murder! I was so impressed with how different the voice is in this series than your other two series!

  4. So, Edith, how do you keep all these people straight in your head? 😉

    I find that any time I need to go back and add another thought into something, either the few short stories I’ve written or a review, it always interrupts the flow I’ve set down in what is already on the screen, and I have to rework a lot. It frustrates me. So my hat is off to you for being able to go back and do that.

    And I’m glad to hear you are healing so well. Here’s hoping it continues. (We won’t discuss my spring weather because I don’t want you to hate me.)

    • Mark, remember that I am a Californian! And I live here voluntarily, so no worries about sharing your weather. It’s when I go on about how much I love the snow that I worry about people hating me. As regards the writing, it’s true. Sometimes the flow is interrupted and lots needs to be reworked. But that’s the business we’re in. I barely notice any more.

      • Mark, I’m glad you mentioned flow. I have a lot of difficulty dealing with that in my writing.

        I know that I am very late, Edith, but if you feel disposed to comment a little more about how you overcome interrupted flow, I would be very interested.

      • Reine, I think there’s two kinds of interrupted flow. When I’m deep in a scene and Hugh comes and knocks on my office door. Grrr. Then there’s the flow of an already written scene,which is I think what Mark refers to. I have to deal with the latter so much during revision because sometimes you just have to change something and it ripples through the book. I make notes. I jump around and change it (a name, where somebody was, what somebody mentioned) as soon as I can so I don’t forget. The Search function is, of course, invaluable. As is having an editor go through it when you’re all done and point out the spots you missed! Hope this helps.

      • Thank you, Edith. I’ve recently started using Scrivener to organize and track everything in my various writing projects. It’s difficult getting used to, but I think that’s because I have a misguided belief that any attempts at being organized will interfere with the flow of my writing. Sometimes I know that I have to just write, but I struggle with the two modes of “getting it done” and “tracking.”

  5. I’m a short writer, too, although I wear long jeans and shoes. I’m lucky that I only have to get 70K, but I have to work for that! My first draft is usually an alarmingly short 50-55K. Some of those effortlessly soar to 85, but some are pulled kicking and screaming up to 65-70. When are novellas coming back into style??

    I’m so happy that you’re healing so well! One less thing to worry about. Hang in there, lefty.

      • Yes, Malice, God willin’ and the crick don’t rise! I don’t think my next self-published book (STROKE, God willin’ etc.) will be tremendously long. 🙂 Those for publishers–that another story, a longer one.

  6. Isn’t it interesting how everyone leans in one direction or another? For my first couple of books I wrote them really lean because my natural inclination was to write something bloated and then to cut the fat. I was so sure I couldn’t possibly know what I was doing that I fought my instincts. Now, I write whatever comes spilling out and then I worry about wrestling it down to size. I’m glad you’ve found the process that works well for you, Edith!

  7. I also write lean. And I’m always in a panic at about the 45-50K mark, paranoid I don’t have enough story to make my word count. But as long as I work through the fear and keep going, I’ve always made it to at least 73K, which is close enough.

  8. Thank you for your wonderful tips. Having been a technical writer at one point in my career, my inclination is to write very lean. So it is hard for me to get my word count up. Also, lots of what I’ve read put a fear into me about incorporating back story. So every time I start to add additional detail, etc. I’m always concerned that someone is going to tell me to cut all “the back story.”

    • I’m a reader who likes my back story worked into a novel as needed. I know I need it, but sometimes it is dumped on us and stops the story. Work it in, and I don’t think most people will complain.

      Just one reader’s opinion.

  9. I tend to write what I consider to be “sparse,” but I usually have more scenes than I need, and often cut a few out. The trick there is to make sure that anything in the scene that is absolutely essential gets transferred to another place.

  10. I belong to the “write short and fill in later” school, too. But I also don’t know what’s wrong with short books. I like them!

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