50,000 Words

By Sherry Harris in Virginia where summer, judging by the traffic, is in full swing

IMG_4783The writing process continues to amaze and surprise me. I wake some mornings thinking the well is dry and then I go to my computer and words flow out of me. But for some reason when I hit fifty thousand words I feel like I’m done. It happened when I was writing Tagged for Death last summer and it happened again about a week ago. Unfortunately, fifty thousand words does not a novel make.

I know when I reach this point in my first draft, I haven’t written much description. I haven’t grounded the people talking – they are floating heads or talking heads. They don’t move or use their senses. I’ll go back and layer some of that in. But if I make up the whole 20,000 words I still need to write in this manner I’ll have written one terribly boring book.

After a bit of panicking, I turned to the Wickeds. This is what I wrote to them last July:

IMG_4784Well, I decided I’m done, Unfortunately, I only have 50,000 words – so I guess I’m not done. I laid out all my scenes on a calendar today. I have two days near the end of the book where nothing happens. So I hope those two days will take up a lot of the remaining word count. I’ve realized a couple of things. While the yard sale theme is fun it also requires some planning because yard sales are almost always on Saturdays so I have to work around that. And then I have to remember where I live isn’t where my book is set. I was going to have Sarah drive to West Virginia. It’s an hour and a half from here but not from where, Sarah lives in Massachusetts. Yeesh!

This is what Barbara Ross wrote back:

Things to check (you can send this back to me on Monday when I finish my first draft which will also be too short.)

  1. Do you have enough red herrings—i.e. real true alternative suspects? Do some need to do something more suspicious to heighten their red-herringhood.
  2. Does your heroine meet enough resistance—or do people spill their guts the first time she asks them?
  3. Do any of the scenes need to be split up—i.e. some of the clue given earlier and some of it later? This will also give you more words because you’ll have more scene-setting to do.

I know you’ll get there.

IMG_4785I did get there last year and turned the book in on time. (I have the cover to prove it.) I pulled the list back out for this year. I realized I don’t have enough red-herrings. The ones I do have can be written off pretty easily – there is some obvious reason that they wouldn’t commit murder. My heroine does meet a lot of resistance. I almost wonder if it’s too much – if there can be such a thing. I’ll read back through the clues. I hope I have some. I hope they aren’t too obvious.

I’m adding this to Barb’s list – how does the scene end? I blogged last year about ending scenes. I’m going to take a look at how each scene ends, how it propels the story forward, does it leave a question in the reader’s mind that will make them want to keep reading.

I know I’ll get there — I have to get there but my, oh, my 50,0000 words.

What do you do when you feel finished but aren’t quite there?

36 Thoughts

  1. My current book is also done, and also too short (although not THAT short). I also go through and look for every sense in every scene. Does my protagonist react to what’s happening. Does she have enough obstacles in her way. And there’s there’s always the advice from Donald Maass: What does your protagonist fear the most? Make it happen. And then make it worse. And then make it even worse. You’ll get there, Sherry!

  2. Add me to the too short club. Adding movement to my talking heads and “sensory images” helps a lot, but what works best for me is just letting the ms. “rest” for as long as possible so I can go back to it with fresh eyes. So much easier to find the gaps after a little break!


  3. My editor often tells me that I may see a scene or chapter very clearly in my head, but somehow the details never made it to the page. She’s usually right. It may seem silly to us, who see our characters so clearly and know our settings well, to put in a lot of those details, but remember, our readers may never have read an earlier book in the series, and they most likely aren’t immersed in it.

    And I’m terrible at red herrings. Anyone I throw in always seems so obviously contrived to me. I’m more interested in the “why” than the “who”, which may be part of the problem.

  4. Funny but I’ve always written too much and had to cut- until the first draft of my current WIP which has, you guessed it, 50,000. Thanks, Sherry for a great blog and the assurance we’ll get there… Makes me feel better-hope it does you too!

  5. Sherry, in Connecticut and Massachusetts (at least the parts I’m familiar with), tag sales are often held on Fridays, and sometimes Sundays–for the leftover stuff usually sold at super-bargain prices–as well, so that may give you a little more room to work. A technique I use (and it remains to be seen how successful that will be!) is to have two mysteries going on at once. One big one (the murder) and one smaller one (related to the murder, if only tangentially). The smaller one can explain why a suspect who didn’t actually commit the murder was acting funny. Or it can show why something is the way it is in your little town. It’s a good opportunity to add depth to your story world by bringing one supporting character forward so the reader can get to know him/her. Maybe you could think beyond this particular book and add material that supports your series as a whole? Can you set up something in book 2 that will be resolved in book 3, while still playing fair with the reader? Just brainstorming, here. I know you’ll find the extra words you need. And I can’t wait to read this series!

    1. Thanks Susannah for all of your great ideas! I will check into the Friday/Sunday sales! Some place we lived (my husband was in the Air Force) had them on Thursday mornings. I always thought that was a bit odd. Your series sounds wonderful!

  6. What great advice you’re getting. The first draft of Musseled Out was, you guessed it 50,000 words. It sent me into an existential panic, especially because I didn’t have that time to let it rest that Kathy Emerson advises. Almost done now. Not sure how many words I’ll ultimately get, but it will be enough to be a book.

    1. You always bail me out, Barb! I wish I had more time to rest the manuscript too! I know Musseled Out will be a great addition to the series!

  7. Hi. I don’t have a suggestion off the top of my head to your direct question, Sherry, but I had an idea. You may have no interest in it at all, but here goes. You mentioned how yard sales happen on the weekends, which leave a lot of days to deal with. What if … in the next book, your town decides to become a yard-sale town. (Bear with me.) I’ve seen a little trend lately (had a Malice panel on it this year) of theme-town books. Krista Davis has a town where many of the businesses revolve around animals. Leslie Budewtiz: food. Lorna Barrett: books. Maybe your town could decide to become a yard-sale town (good for taxes and tourism), with the county and/or private land owners renting out space, so people come from all over to sell their goods, knowing that tourists will come from all over to buy stuff because this is where the yard-sale action is. And wallah, a lot of new characters in every book and yard sales going on all the time, giving your character a lot more places to sleuth and you more people to kill.

      1. There is one book (series?) set at Brimfield–I read the first, but unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of the author (bad me! but I think I still have the book). But whether or not you want to use it, you should attend one–it takes over the entire town for a week, three times a year. I try to go at least once a year, and always come home with something. But don’t go to the July one–it’s kind of dead. The May one is good because people seem to have cleaned out their attics and are itching to get out.

      1. I catch the writing bug from time to time, but then I lay down until it passes.

        Seriously, I don’t have the patience to work on something for that long to come up with a good finished book. After about an hour, I’m ready for others to see my finish product, and I’m ready to be done.

  8. I have the opposite problem–I’m at 50,000 words and nowhere near wrapping up the mystery. All I have time to write is 75,000 words, and I’m worried about needing more words to finish up. My plan for the final section is to resolve subplot #1, resolve subplot #2, and solve the murder. Maybe you could have one of my subplots, Sherry. That would address the problem both of us have. 😉
    Susanna’s suggestion of a small mystery loosely related to the big one is good. I have one of those, plus a personal problem/mystery not related to the murder. BTW, estate sales in Virginia often run from Thursday through Sunday; maybe you could use that schedule in one of your books. I’m looking forward to reading book #2 in your series.

  9. I’m at 40,000 words right now, so I feel your pain. I think my draft will come in somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000. I know I don’t have enough suspects/red herrings, and my descriptions are pretty lean, so there will be a lot for me to fix. I plan on referring to this post often!

    Also–how in the world do you get 243 pages with 50,000 words? I only have 142 pages with 40,000!

    1. Good luck, Joyce! Big print is the answer! I have it set at a 14 pt font — easier to see while I work! I’m looking forward to your series — the research must be fun!

      1. 14 pt! Of course! I thought you were doing some kind of magic formatting, lol.
        Yes, the research is fun. I thought I knew a lot about beer, but I’m learning how much I DON’T know.

  10. Great blog, Sherry! It’s a keeper for future reference–comments and all! I haven’t reached 50,000 words in my second mystery yet. You’ve given me a lot to think about on the way.

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