How Do You Avoid Underwriting Or Overwriting?

Published: 25th June 2012
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We have all done it, you have checked your manuscript for the hundredth time and you suddenly realize that you have been skating through the story lines. An easy mistake, trying to get as much done as possible, without giving any thought to the quality. You have made a common error and this is called underwriting the scenes of your novel.

You have to put this right so you begin filling in the missing pieces without considering what is needed to keep the right balance. You write furiously and end up unintentionally overwriting the whole novel.

So how do you avoid these common mistakes? How do you get the right balance between underwriting and overwriting? What is overwriting and how do you prevent it from happening time and time again?

You should aim for a happy medium between the two by giving your intended readers just enough information about the file scene and the characters. You have to keep reminding yourself about the thread of the story and what you are trying to convey to your intended audience.

Overwriting is one of the most common mistakes new writers make. Many submit their work only to be told it reads like bare bones. So in desperation they rewrite it and submit it again only to be told that it is now too long and slow-moving.

Now frustration sets in as you ponder how to rectify it and get the right balance. It is like trying to get the right balance of baking ingredients in order to bake the perfect cake. If the cake has not been baked before, then there is bound to be a lot of trial and error involved before you get the right mix.

Another cause of overwriting is when new writers become emotionally involved in the story line. This is because you are living the part and it can be difficult to view it objectively.

Being told you have overwritten, what you were convinced was a brilliant novel, and need to cut out redundant words and sentences is a task you are not about to enjoy. With your emotions on high alert you read through your story and you begin to wonder what you can delete to make it more interesting. You feel that everything you have written is important to the story. Sadly this is not so.

Ask yourself, is every part of the story important to your reader and would it make it less interesting if you removed say twenty five percent of it? How much can you remove before it loses its appeal? Being ruthless is not only for businessmen and at this stage it is very important for you to become a tyrant to your story and get rid of any waste. Removing redundant words and sentences can make your story more active and interesting.

Being ruthless is not the only way you can improve your writing. Writing at your own pace and thinking about every word you write is, in the end, about making your story sellable. Your goal is to try and make people clammer to read what you have written and that there are no wasted phrases words or sentences.

If you are not prepared to do this then you are not prepared to be a writer. Assembling a group of words into an exciting sentence that people want to read is a skill and one that can be finely honed with constant practice and dedication.

Sometimes professional writers delete whole sentences and whole paragraphs, if they consider they are not relevant or vital to the storyline. This can be quite a painful process for new writers and is called 'killing your darlings'. With enough practice you can become quite good at being callous.

The best method is to plan your story beforehand and then, as you progress through your novel, you must try and keep the thread of the storyline firmly in your mind. Like all professions in the arts, practice can help to make perfect. But this does not guarantee that it will sell.


Ian Nicholson is a writer who loves his craft and he is inviting you to view his latest children's novel at

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