Oops I Did It Again

By Sherry where winter is rattling at the door once again

I did it again. I do it every time. I hit 50,000 words and I feel like I’m done even though I know I’m not. This time it’s book four, A Good Day To Buy. Now, I know this book is an empty shell in some ways, there’s not much description and I haven’t grounded my characters in a place that the reader can see. I know there is still a lot of work ahead of me (at least 20,000 words!).

IMG_7796I knew I’d blogged about 50,000 words once before so I looked up that blog post and re-read it. There’s some excellent advice in the comments section. In that blog I mention another one I wrote called Making A Scene. There I found another whole great comment section full of advice. One bit I’d completely forgotten. Hallie Ephron had mentioned the book Story by Robert McKee. So I went to the library and checked it out. I’ll be reading it this week.

As I started revising I kept thinking about something Barbara Ross had said in another post. I searched past posts of the blog until I finally found it. Barb in a post called, I Write Therefore I Think, said this: Lately I’ve been wondering if I could approach a novel by asking, “What do I want my readers to feel?” and “What do they need to know (or suspect, or fear) in order to feel it?” I know I haven’t pulled that off yet and I’ll keep it in mind as I revise.

Then there are three things I try to include in each book. The first is incorporating the theme of garage sales and trying to make sure it’s part of the story not something that’s wedged in because it has to be there. Second is a bit of military life. I was astonished to see a figure the other day that said only one percent of people serve in the military. One percent. The third is to share a little bit of the history of Massachusetts that I love so much. It’s a delicate balance with all three to make them important to the story and a natural part of it at the same time. I feel like I’ve done a good job with the first one this time but not much with the second and third.

Another thing I still need to make sure to include is the story arc. When I turned in book three, All Murders Final!, last June I didn’t know if there would be any more books in the series. So there is some fancy footwork in that one to make sure things are tied up but to also leave the door open if the series continued.

Then there’s the end to A Good Day To Buy. Yes, Wickeds I know last time we talked I had two endings, well now I have three. I really think I’m going to have to write the beginning of book five, I Know What You Bid Last Summer, before I can figure out which ending to use. For better or worse, I’m sending it off to Barb Goffman this week. She’ll find the weak points and plot holes so come May, book four will be off to my Kensington editor.

Readers: What do you do when a project isn’t going quite the way you planned?

35 Thoughts

  1. Ha! I too am working on Book four, only mine is due at Kensington next week! I’ve been tearing pieces of it apart (again) since midnight. Does this paragraph really advance the plot or do I just like the words? Does this chapter develop the character or can I do without it? Does the whole thing make sense? Arrgh! The only thing that’s keeping me going is that this happens every time.

  2. Great post, Sherry. I’ll have to go through and reread those comments sections, too. My current manuscript (also due May 1 to Kensington, although I’m only up to 35,000 words – gah!) is going to need the same kind of work. And it’s the last in the contract for the Local Foods, so I’m trying to tidy up the series arc and give all the regulars work to do, just in case the series is not renewed. It’s a challenge!

    1. It is a challenge! But I’m always amazed at how good you are during the whole process — so focused! And I remember Hallie saying at Seascape that she never seen anyone change a scene and make it so much better overnight!

    1. Kim, I know you can do it too! I’m in a different place with the confidence in my ability to do it than I was when I originally wrote about 50,000 words.

  3. Love your idea about starting the next book when the current one is not going all that well. I do that, too, and it helps me understand where the characters in the current book want me to go (eventually). –kate

    1. I’m so glad to hear that idea isn’t completely nuts! I’m going to send book four off to Barb Goffman with the three endings. While she’s reading it I’ll work on the next one to see how it feels. I have already written the beginning of the opening scene because it just came to me a couple of months ago and I didn’t want to lose it!

  4. I feel your pain. I just sent back edits on book 2–Tangled Up in Brew–on Friday. The manuscript I originally submitted was 10,000 words too short. With the help of my editor pointing out a few things, and me going through it with fresh eyes, I was able to add many more words. It’s still a tiny bit short, but I didn’t want to pad it for the sake of just adding words. I did throw in a couple more recipes, though. Now I’m happy to get back to writing book 3–especially now that everything in the previous book is fresh in my mind.

    1. That has happened to me a number of times, Joyce. Immersed in first draft and get edits in on previous book. I always find things to note for the WIP!

    2. Jumping up and down that you are writing book three already! It goes so fast! It’s an interesting process of writing enough words but like you said not padding!

      1. I went back and read the posts and comments you mentioned. I was happy to see the suggestion of two mysteries going on at the same time, because that’s what’s happening in book 3.

  5. I love that you incorporate your three elements. I would add a dash of character development, especially if you have ongoing characters.

    I hate that 50K mark too. I stare at the screen and say, OMG, I can’t possible fill in another 25K words–I have nothing to say. But I just keep putting one word after another, and eventually it works out. I do worry, though, that nothing is happening in the book by then, but at the same time, I don’t want to manufacture a crisis just to take up space, unless it’s central to the story.

  6. Thanks for all these great ideas. Particularly about starting the next book if you’re stuck on your current w.i.p. Will ponder as I slog along on Book 7 in the Baby Boomer mysteries. I hope the characters will pipe up and share some of their thoughts from their parallel universe


  7. These are all excellent suggestions. If you’re that short, you might need to add a subplot and/or suspect (ask me how I know this 🙂 ). It can also be helpful to go through what you’ve got and make sure your story beats are in the right places. Somewhere around the 50% mark (not what you’ve written, but the goal word count, so for us cozy writers about 36,000 to 40,000 words), there should be a major turning point–something that takes the sleuth in a new direction, such as finding another body (perhaps someone who had been the main suspect up to this point), or finding some new piece of evidence, or some kind of danger to the heroine that makes her realize things are worse than they seem. So if that point in your 50K shell happens at the 26,000 word mark, you know you need to add about 10,000 words before that happens. If your major turning point happens at the right spot, then you know you need to expand after. It’s not an exact science but it’s how I work, anyway. Good luck! And I absolutely love your titles!

  8. Thank you for the ideas, Sherry. I am in a similar place at 60,000 words and these ideas will be so helpful. One of my favorite aspects of your books is that you weave in military life. That statistic is pretty shocking – 1 percent!
    It will be interesting to see which ending Barb likes – and why. That will be an interesting blog. Or you can publish with alternate endings….
    I Know What You Bid Last Summer has to be one of my all-time favorite titles!

    1. I went down that road with the alternate endings in my head. Then I figured I’d have to right two different versions of book five to go with the alternate endings. Somehow I don’t think Kensington is going to go for that — lol! The title is long but it makes me laugh.

  9. Sherry, I feel your pain – I’m at 50K too, but the difference is I feel like I’m missing a big chunk of the story and have nothing close to an ending! Lots of great suggestions here, and I’ll just add that Paula Munier’s “Plot Perfect” has helped me immensely when I’m stuck, no matter which part of the process it is. She offers great insight on each of the major plot points – Inciting Incident, Plot Point 1, Midpoint, Plot Point 2, Climax and Denouement – and every time I’m feeling lost I make sure I have the right elements for each of these pieces. Highly recommend the book. Good luck! I know you can do it!

  10. I find posts like this one fascinating. I love looking at the book writing process. I don’t think I have anything to add you haven’t already thought of or had mentioned, but it makes me so happy to see you want to add things to make the book stronger and not just to pad out the word count. Readers can always tell.

    Good luck.

    Oh, and I still absolutely love the title for book 5.

  11. I have to add that I challenged myself in next year’s County Cork mystery: the first half takes place during one day, when the staff and patrons of the pub are snowed in during a blizzard–along with a suspected criminal. Obviously there’s not a lot of room for action there, but there are turning points, like when the presence of the suspect in their midst is revealed. But at the same time I tried to add a little to each ongoing thread–how the local people look out for each other, what’s happening with Gillian and Harry, and why Maura feels she has to involve herself in local crimes including the old ones. It was an interesting exercise, to try something so different (and the length came out right, even though there’s little action).

    1. Oh, that does sound interesting, Sheila. I can’t wait to read it! I’ve always wanted to write a book that was over two or three days. I haven’t managed it yet!

  12. My first drafts are always too short. It used to panic me to the point of paralysis (which was definitely not helpful), but now I know and expect they will be. Like you, my first drafts are more like sketches. They don’t include much about what anyone looks like, or where they are, or whether they are standing or sitting. I see it all clearly in my head, I just don’t bother to report it in that first draft when I am trying to find the story.

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