Are You an Over-writer or an Under-writer? Revision Tips

Thursday, May 16, 2013
You want people to say this about your draft!
I read a lot of novel drafts--I am a freelance editor, an online novel writing instructor, and a critique group member as well as being a novelist myself. I've noticed lately that writers fall into two categories when they are writing their drafts:  over-writers or under-writers (not that kind of underwriter, just stick with me. . . ).

Over-writers: If you're an over-writer, you like to explain to readers that your character feels sad, then you like to show your character feeling sad, and then just in case your reader hasn't picked up on it yet, you like to have the character actually say, "I'm so sad!"

It's not that you don't trust your readers; it's that you have a lot of ideas about your novel and your characters, and you want to make sure that your readers have those same ideas. Nothing is left up for interpretation! Besides the above example, over-writing can occur when we describe something not that important to the plot for three paragraphs because we love writing description, or when a character goes through a horrifying experience, which the reader reads about, and then the character re-tells the entire story for the reader to read again. Many, many of us are guilty of over-writing. If beta readers or critique group members are telling you that your pace is slow, you're probably a victim of over-writing.

Under-writers: If you're an under-writer, then you're afraid that your reader is too smart, and so you are constantly worried you are giving too many hints about your plot or main character. Therefore, your first draft is really hard to follow because you leave holes. You don't give enough clues or details or information for anyone to follow the story, so at least you accomplished what you set out to do--you didn't give too much information and make your plot predictable. But no one can understand it. Your readers are smart, of course, but remember the reason why the clue or detail seems so obvious to you: You are making up the story; you know what's going to happen; and you know what your characters are capable of. This is where beta readers and critique group members can help you again--if they're telling you that they're confused--listen to them. You may be under-writing. If you find yourself explaining your plot to someone who's read your first chapter, then look for the holes and plug them up!

So, writing is hard. We all know that. But which writer are you when you're working on a draft? An under-writer or an over-writer? If you know yourself and your "issues," then it will be easier to revise your story and make your readers happy!

photo by Enokson

Margo L. Dill is the author of the award-winning historical fiction middle-grade novel, FINDING MY PLACE:ONE GIRL'S STRENGTH AT VICKSBURG. She also teaches children's and YA novel writing and short fiction online classes for WOW! To find out more, visit:


Renee Roberson said...

Definitely an underwriter here! I blame it on my years of working as a journalist. I'm always under tight deadlines and word counts, with little room for revisions and I have the old mantra "just the facts" pounded into my brain. I'm trying to work on it!

Unknown said...

I am also an underwriter and like, Renee, I think it comes from my freelance, nonfiction background, writing magazine articles-- short, to the point, use bullets and make it easy to scan.

MonetteChilson said...

I'm an over-writer—hence the 27 pages my editor and I removed from my new book. Turns out not a word of those 27 pages were necessary! Thanks for this great perspective on our writing inclinations. Hoping we'll have some more over-writers join me here in the comment section!

Margo Dill said...

Monette: I'm a fellow over-writer myself. It's easy for me to see it in everyone else's writing but my own! :) LOL We over-writers need to meet the under-writers and find a happy medium. Although that's what revising is all about.

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