The Perils of Being an Underwriter

Last year, I wrote a post about the perils of being a plot-driven writer. Now, I'm going to continue that theme with the perils of being an underwriter.

Do you ever find that your first drafts end up really, really short?

Are your settings and characters consistently underdeveloped?

Then congratulations! You're an underwriter!

Now, I'll be honest: being an underwriter stinks. While other authors simply have to cut huge swathes of their manuscripts, we underwriters have to come up with completely new content to plug the gaps we missed. It seems like we have to write the same book over and over again. It's HARD. And it comes with several unique challenges.

With that in mind, here are three main bugbears that we underwriters have to face, and how to overcome them.

1. Description

Yep ... description is the big one for underwriters. We just want to get straight to the point. Who needs all that flamboyant description, anyway? It's boring!

Okay. While it is definitely possible to go overboard on description, underwriters are far more likely to skimp on it, or even skip it altogether. Readers need some description in order to build up a mental picture of the setting, characters, and motivations. Contrary to what you might think, a reader prefers not to have to imagine it all for themselves.

So, when you go back over your first draft, make sure that everything is thoroughly described. After you think you're done, have someone else go over your book and give you feedback on the description. Like anything, your description problems can be solved simply with a little positive effort.

2. Bare-bones plotting

There comes a point where you just want to get your book done. As a result, underwriters often don't flesh out their plot enough. We just want to get from A to B to C as quickly as possible ... but what if you need an extra step or two between A and B?

Take an objective look at your plot and try to figure out where you can expand it. Did you leave a tunnel unexplored? A topic unreferenced? A character undeveloped? By finding places to widen the scope of your novel, you'll go a long way towards putting some flesh on that skeleton of a plot.

3. Too-snappy dialogue

When your characters are discussing something, an underwriter will often rush through it as quickly as possible (like we do in most of our writing). Point one, point two, point three, conclusion, bam. Done! Next scene!

However, readers need some breathing room, especially when characters are discussing something really important. Consider this example conversation:
"Oh! I just realized something!"
"Doctor Gizmo didn't plant the bomb after all! He has a iron-clad alibi."
"Really? So what do we do now?"
"Catch the real bomber!"
This is clearly an important conversation, but it goes by so fast that the reader could blink and they'd miss it. It would be much better if it went like this:
"Oh! I just realized something!"
"What? What is it?"
"Doctor Gizmo couldn't have planted the bomb!"
"What?! How come?"
"Because he has an iron-clad alibi."
"What alibi?"
"He was stuck in traffic, remember? He couldn't have gotten to the center in time to wire everything up."
"Hey, you're right! But if he didn't plant the bomb ... then who did?"
"I don't know. But we're going to catch them."
And if course, in the context of a full story, this conversation could be a lot longer and more fleshed out.

So the action tip here is to think about how you write your conversations. Read them out loud to yourself to figure out if your ideas are coming too thick and fast. Chances are, you can beef up your word count just by making your conversations more realistic.

Being an underwriter is hard. But if you take an objective look at your story and try to flesh it out properly, you'll be well on your way to a well-developed, proper-length book.

Minimalism is beautiful. But not if you're an underwriter.

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