Over the course of my five novels I have become an under-writer. (Not to be confused with the insurance practice of underwriting.)

My first two novels were hugely long things, 120k words each, bulked up with excess description and over-long scenes and boring sections where nothing much happened. I didn’t think anything of the length with my first book. When my second came in at the same length I just figured I tended to write long stories. At some point after its completion, though, I learned that I should probably be aiming for shorter books.

So with my third I made it my goal not to end up at 120k. I had learned that all that traveling between places with not much happening that my characters were doing in the first couple books was really boring, so I made a concerted effort to cut that out of this third draft. I hoped for under 100k, but the first draft wrapped up at 103k. Still, that was 17k less than the first two, so I considered it a win. That was the book I finally got critique partners for. And that was also when I realized I was still writing too much, inserting boring descriptive scenes just for the purpose of explanation. Not as much, mind you. But I was still doing it.

I learned my lesson. For books four (619) and five (Secrets) I paid careful attention to my scenes as I was drafting. Every scene needed to serve at least one purpose to the plot, preferably two. I tried to start as late as l could in each, sometimes later than felt intuitively comfortable, and end as soon as the action was done. I became very conscious of everything I was putting in as, and even before, I was writing it.

That didn’t mean, of course, that I didn’t still include stuff that later needed to be cut. But gosh, did it ever make a difference to my word count. Instead of a huge, bulky mess of a first draft I ended up with a pretty tight manuscript at 77k. I’ve ended up having to add in bits of additional description and sometimes whole scenes in places where I realized I’ve under-written the action. I’m nearly done with revisions of Secrets, and over the course of it I’ve added 10k words, 13% of the first-draft total (a good portion of which was an extension to the end, when I discovered that in my efforts not to over-write I’d ended the story too early).

Quite frankly, I’d rather be an under-writer than an over-writer. It’s way more enjoyable to add material than try to cut it.


One response to “Under-writing

  1. Amen to everything here!

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