I just turned in Book #5 for Red Line. This one was on WWI Trench Warfare and like most of my other Red Line books needed to be 15,000 words long.
The problem was that as I went into draft #5, my manuscript was several 100 words too short. Something like 700 to be honest. Writing too short is a new problem for me. If I’m not pretty close to the mark, my work tends to be too long which is okay. I’m really good at making something shorter without it looking like I’ve carved it up.
This time I was faced with a new problem. I had to lengthen this without it looking padded. In truth there are writers who would just let it go. I’ve heard writers say that they fudge the word count by up to 10% meaning that if the editor asks for 15,000 words, they feel free to turn in a manuscript that is anywhere from 13,500 to 16,500 words. I try to get it as close as possible so that my editor’s job is as easy as it can possibly be. That meant that I had to get my word count up.
I couldn’t add a new chapter because I was already at the maximum number of chapters. Besides, a 700 word chapter would be way too short.
Instead, I looked for places to add new sidebars. A sidebar has to be related to the topic but not so closely related as to belong in the main body of the chapter. Fortunately, Red Line LOVES sidebars. I had cut one out because it didn’t quite fit. Now I massaged the chapter to create a good place for it.
I also looked for places to add specific examples. Examples, and all their glorious detail, let me show the reader what it was like instead of simply telling them. This series is for late middle school/early high school so I looked for details that were just a bit awful. Between the dead soldiers, the pieces of dead soldiers, the smell and the rats, the trenches tended to be awful places. I had all the details that I needed to not only bring the trenches into focus for my readers but also meet my word count.
To be honest, in the end I exceeded my word count by just a bit. But that’s okay. I’m really good at deleting a word here and there to get the number just right.