Writing Thursday: Show Me; or, Making The Words Count

So as I mentioned last week, I had a dilemma with one of my scenes.  It was telling, not showing.  But at the same time, I was also trying to reduce my overall word count for this story.

After looking at it some more, though, I decided it was worth it to add a bit to the word count in order to put a little more tension into this scene.  So I dove in, and about 400 words later, decided that I was right.

The original scene looked like this:

By the time they were over the Black Sea, they’d stacked up enough wood to last a little while, so they all pitched in to help with the water-gathering plan.

Unfortunately, the sea’s surface was far choppier than the alpine lake Celia and her father had used before.  Even after Celia reduced their speed to a minimum, the canvas buckets simply bounced across the waves.

Here’s the revised scene.  As a recap, our heroes are fleeing across eastern Europe in the airship Sophie’s Lightning.  They’ve just escaped an enemy fortress, where they were imprisoned and tortured.  Our main character, Celia, has an injured hand; her father is suffering from pneumonia.  Eudora and Adja are two of Celia’s three half-sisters.  Lillian, little sister of Celia’s fiance, is also avidly interested in airships.  They’ve discovered that they’re low on fuel, so they’ve started to burn parts of the ship so they can keep going.  They’re also low on water (the craft is steam-powered).


By the time they were over the Black Sea, they’d stacked up enough wood to last a little while, so they all pitched in to help with the water-gathering plan.

With Lillian by her side, Celia brought the Lightning closer to the water.  Their longest rope was about ninety feet long, which meant that they’d need to skim about fifty feet above the surface.  Celia’d done it before, but during daylight over a relatively calm mountain lake, and with two good hands.  Now it was dark, she was injured, and the sea below looked rough and choppy.

“There’s too much glare from the glass.  I can’t judge the distance well enough.”  She leaned back in the pilot’s seat, rubbing her eyes with one hand.  “We have to take the windows down.  It’ll be chilly, but that can’t be helped.”

“I’ll get them.”  Eudora set down the canvas bucket she held ready to throw out the back of the ship and touched Lillian’s shoulder.  “Come on, sprout.  You can help.”

Celia turned to her father.  “Perhaps you should go below, Papa.  At least until we can put the windows back up.”

He shook his head.  “I’ll be fine.”

He didn’t look fine, though.  He looked drawn and tired, and even when he wasn’t coughing, his breath rasped in his lungs.  Celia shivered.

“Let me bring you another blanket.”  Adja disappeared down the ladder to the lower deck and returned a moment later.  She swathed her father’s head and shoulders in warm wool.  “There.”

“You needn’t fuss over me.”

“Of course we must.”  Adja smiled.  “You are our father.”

Once the windows were down, the chill sea breeze made Celia wish for a blanket of her own.  “Lillian, let’s turn her about ten degrees to starboard, to get us facing into the wind a little better.  There, that’s good.  Now, just a little lower…perfect.  Brace yourselves, everyone.  There’ll be a bit of a tug when the bucket hits the water.  Eudora, go ahead.”

“Aye, aye.”  They heard a splash from behind, but the expected tug never came.

“It’s not working,” Eudora called from the rear of the ship.  “The water’s too choppy.  The bucket’s just bouncing across the surface.”

“All right.  Pull it back in.  I’ll slow her down a little, and we can try again.”

But their second try wasn’t any more successful, nor was their third.  Celia pounded the control panel in frustration.

Papa put an arm around her shoulders.  “There is another option, you know.”

“I know.  But those ships might still be following us.”

“If they are, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Very well.”  She leaned forward and cut power to the propeller.

Adja looked from Celia to their father.  “What are we going to do?”

“Land.”  Celia couldn’t help cringing a little as she pulled the cord to vent precious hot air from the canopy.

“In the water?” Lillian asked.  “But….”

Papa smiled.  “The gondola is designed to float.”


I think the scene is a big improvement; it helps showcase the relationships between some of the characters, and adds some tension to the story–not only by showing their failure to fill their water tanks, but by showing the worsening condition of Celia’s father, and that Celia herself is tired and frustrated.

It’s worth noting that even with the addition of 400 words or so, the total final word count still came in at around 123,175 (before the addition of the table of contents, which I’ll discuss next week).  This is well below my targeted 125,000 words, and a good 60,000 less than the novel’s original finished length.

So I’ve declared this particular draft done, and I’m now looking for a couple of beta readers.  (Sharon, you’re already on the list.  Check your mailbox.)  What I’m looking for here is not a detailed, line-by-line or even page-by-page critique.  What I’m looking for is:  Does the story make sense?  Does it flow well?  Are the characters believable and engaging?  Does the story hold your interest?

If you’d be interested in giving me that kind of feedback, please drop me a comment.

In the meantime…I get to start pondering the synopsis and cover letter.  Whee!


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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2 Responses to Writing Thursday: Show Me; or, Making The Words Count

  1. Erick Melton says:


    You’re right. The scene is much improved. It’s hard to believe you only added 400 words.

    If I may, I offer this suggestion: you’re opening line tells us they’ve enough wood “for a while.” When I read the first version of the scene it seemed fine, but after your description of what happened before and your rewritten scene I think you might want to reword it. “For a while” sounds too relaxed for the situation. “Until they reached safety,” or something like that reinforces the reason they’re chopping wood from the ship.

    IMHO that is.


  2. Erick,

    Ack! You’re right. I was vague. Though in context, it’s a little more clear, since they go back to chopping wood right after they fill the water tanks. But I should say, “…for half an hour or so” instead of just “…for a while.”

    Thank you!

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