Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Overwriting vs. Underwriting

So I think I'm going to try to get one post out each day this week...even Saturday! It may be brief, little more than a status update, but I just want to see if I can do it.

I decided not to send out a query letter today because the agent I planned on sending the letter to also wanted a synopsis. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I don't like the synopsis I have written, so I'm going to re-write it over the next week, or so. Then I'll get back to querying...although I may query agents who only want query letters.

Anyway, I was reading Kiersten White's blog from last Friday, and she said something that got me thinking. Basically, she chose to overwrite her manuscripts because it's easier to cut words out than it is to add words to a story that is too short.

When I finished the first draft of my first book (which I'm officially throwing out the window because it was SUCH a bad Tolkien knock-off), I saw that I was short by over 12k words to consider it a full novel. When I went to edit the book, I cut another 10k-12k words out making it WAY too short.

One day, while I was studying my craft in a secret monastery in the Scottish Highlands (okay, it was my bedroom at my parents' house...yes, I lived with my parents at the age of 20. To be fair, I did live on my own in Portland for a year!), I read something in HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY (all caps are used because I don't know how to underline on my blog) by James N. Frey that changed how I looked at writing. You see, I planned on making my next manuscript over 110k words so that when I finally finished editing it, I would have a decent sized novel (around 50k or 60k words). Then this writer laid out a simple outline process that could be used in just about any form of fiction. He also made a point to tell the reader that, as a writer, as long as the plot is solid, and as long as sufficient care is put into second and third drafts in during the revision stage, the word count would fill itself out.

These are certainly two different ways of looking at the writing process, and the second one really worked for me! When I finished the first draft of DEFENDER OF THE CROWN, I only sat at 42k words. But without really adding anything to the story (except for one or two 2k word scenes) I managed to revise the manuscript and end up with 81k words total! That was simply by fixing the imagery and language that I used to narrate the story.

That doesn't make the other process of writing any less valid. Plenty of authors write that way, and they're successful at it. More so than I. For now, anyway :)

That's all I have for today. Time to get ready for work.


  1. good thoughts ... glad you're learning & growing ... & not living @ our house anymore!

  2. I'm horrible about underwriting, so much so that in the book I'm working on now, Scions of the Shade, I frequently go back through the chapters to add description and character-developing action because, if I don't, the word count will come in far too low.

    To be honest, the reason The Ninth Avatar is so long is because it's actually two books that became one. If you split it, each half would be about 72000 words or so, but ultimately there was no reason to split them story-wise.

    I'm still working on how to avoid underwriting, but right now the only system I have is what I described above; combing through my "draft zero" to add things, since it's much harder to add to a "completed" first draft.

  3. Todd, I think underwriting is more efficient. It gives you the opportunity to expand, rather than forcing you to throw away "scraps" that took up a ton of time already...that's my opinion, anyway.

  4. You would think so, and I am definitely all about efficiency, but it also reflects on how much story you have that you can tell. You and I both know that in Fantasy the conception is that "length begets quality." Unfortunately, a lot of times with length comes padding, and that's what I try to avoid (but that's what editing is for). I just always have to keep in mind that there is no "right" word count, just a goal, and there is no "right" way to write a novel.