Padding or adding?

The dreaded word count.

Back in the day — I’m talking high school — we had to write 500-word essays. It seemed like a lot of words to fill in the lines in that little blue book. And sometimes, if I was enthusiastic about the subject, I had too many words to fit in the space.

Later on, I counted words for short stories and newspaper articles. I carefully counted the words in the finished piece, making a check mark over every hundredth word and then tallying them up. For longer pieces, I used the formula of 10 words per line, 20 lines per page, and then averaged them out.

Now, of course, I have a word count capability on my computer and I have only to click on a tab to see exactly how many words I have written. Many of my fellow writers keep track of how many words they write every day as a self-challenge.

I finished my WIP (work in progress) only to discover I am woefully short of the word count I need. Just as in high school when faced with an essay, I have to figure out how to add to it. Simply padding it with adjectives and adverbs won’t do. Any editor — or reader, if it gets that far — will spot this in an instant.

No, every word I add needs to count. So how do I do this?

I’m going through it again and looking carefully at each scene. What does the heroine see, smell, hear, or touch? Is she in a closed room? Is the air stuffy, does it smell of candles or wood smoke? If she touches a chair back is it plush velvet or smooth leather?

Is the window open? Does a breeze come though it, does she smell the flowers in the garden, does she hear birdsong?

All of this adds flavor and sense to the scene, bringing it alive in the reader’s mind.

Then I will go through a second time, letting the reader know what the heroine is thinking. I do this by relating her inner dialogue in italics.

Lastly, I will go through the story again and let the reader know what the heroine is feeling. This may be completely different from what she is thinking, because she, like ourselves, has a capacity to fool herself. She may tell herself she mistrusts the hero and his motives, but deep inside she feels a bond she doesn’t recognize.

Thoughts can be revealed in words, but feelings are revealed through action or reaction. If someone says something to her, does she smile or recoil? Does she tear the paper she is holding in half, does she stand abruptly, spilling her sewing from her lap? Does her gut wrench, do the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand up? Or does an unbidden blush color her cheeks and do her toes curl in her boots?

Adding to the word count needn’t be a chore. It can deepen and enrich your story, bringing it and your characters to life.






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