Underwriting: How Do I Write More?

Aaaand we’re back to our regularly-scheduled writing posts! A couple weeks ago, I introduced the topic of word count, underwriting, and overwriting. And I admitted that I am a chronic underwriter. But what I didn’t get into was how I deal with that to get my manuscripts closer to their expected word counts.

Which brings us to today.

There are actually several ways you can bulk up your manuscript, and you’ll find next week that they are similar (if opposite) to the fixes for overwriting!

Now, first a note: word count isn’t something you HAVE to worry about during your first draft. But it is something you should consider before you try to query anyone. During my personal writing process, I write the book with a target word count in mind, plotting the major story beats at certain word counts to keep myself on track. But I usually end up finishing before I hit the final target count. And when I rewrite, I can meet or surpass that goal.

Here’s how.

Look at subplots

One of the things that can affect your word count is the number of subplots you use. Obviously, a story meant to be shorter needs to have only a few subplots, otherwise there just isn’t enough space to address everything.

But if you’re writing an epic novel or anything with more length, there is so, so much you can do. Think of personal, internal struggles. Relationships between characters. A shady past that’s catching up with someone. A mystery that’s plaguing your MC.

You have so many options to add to the story. And these can even relate to your main plot. Just remember that a subplot needs to add value to the story, so avoid adding things just for the sake of adding them. Use them to strengthen relationships or build characters or develop the world.

Think about your characters

Another possibility is to add a character or give one of your side characters scenes from their perspective. But this has the same caveat as adding subplots: make sure it’s adding value to the story. Don’t add in a useless character (I had several useless characters in the first draft of This Cursed Flame…they’re gone now!). And make sure those perspective scenes are meaningful to the plot or subplots.

Add scenes

Look critically at your manuscript. Are there places you didn’t explain enough? Are there scenes you skipped that might actually be fun to show (as long as they – you guessed it! – add value)? These spots can add words to your manuscript in fun and exciting ways.

Show, don’t tell

If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard this advice. And honestly, I can be really guilty of this one. I tend to do a lot of explaining, especially in early drafts, because I am fleshing out my world and characters for myself.

Stop it.

Your reader doesn’t need all of that explanation. Sure, a little is fine. But too much is boring. And not much of this should survive editing.

Plus, when you cut the telling and start showing (by adding scenes, inserting more natural inclusions of information, adding dialogue, etc.), you will naturally increase your word count.

Talk to your betas

The last, and sometimes easiest, way to bulk up your word count is to send it to beta readers to get opinions. Then you can see where things may actually be incomplete or confusing, places you may need extra scenes, or subplots you may have left incomplete. In your next draft, you can address these concerns by adding whatever they felt was lacking (if you agree with them…beta readers can be tricky, but that’s a topic for another day).

Final Thoughts

These are some of the simplest ways I’ve found to naturally increase your word count while adding to a story…and trust me, I’ve had to deal with this a lot! But the thing to remember is that you will find ways that work for you, and your ability to hit your target count will likely improve with every book you write, as long as you make a conscious effort to aim for that.

But until next week, when we discuss overwriting and trimming the fat from your manuscript, does anyone else have suggestions for bulking up a word count? What has worked for you? Do you ever worry about this?

Talk to me in the comments!

Underwriting vs. Overwriting: Which Are You?

Do you write too much? Or not enough? And what does that mean for traditional publication?

There is so much advice floating around out there about how important it is to follow the expected and established word counts in the industry. For example, many agents, editors, and publishers will not consider works that fall outside of expected word count ranges, and it may even be a reason to reject the work.

The reason is pretty simple: these word counts have been established based on audience and genre, and falling outside these ranges can be indicators of serious deficiencies in the novel (or that it may not be a novel at all, but rather a shorter story) or a lack of knowledge of the industry by the author.

And honestly, with such an overcrowded market, some agents will look for any reason to reject manuscripts, just because they have so many submissions (at least that’s what I’ve heard… please, feel free to hop in the comments and correct me if I’m wrong!).

So it becomes necessary for those of us seeking traditional publication in any form to pay attention to our word counts. And that can identify your writing tendencies.

Underwriting is when a writer will finish a first draft with a lower word count than they need. So, for example, Sea of Broken Glass was only 74k words at the end of the first draft. For reference, a typical young adult fantasy (the genre for SoBG) is expected to be between 80 and 100k words. Once again, anything outside of that range, and traditional publishers or agents may reject it for not conforming to industry standards.

But when I finished at 74k, SoBG was missing a lot of scenes and details that were needed to pull the story together. And when I rewrote it (draft 2), I ended up adding over 20k words. Right now, while it’s with betas, it’s a little over 96k words long, by far the longest thing I’ve ever written.

It just didn’t start that way.

And then there’s the opposite problem, overwriting. In overwriting, a writer will write WAY more words than needed for a book. So let’s take an example from a friend of mine. She had a YA fantasy that clocked in at near 200k words… twice as much as most agents and publishers will allow. So when she went back to editing, instead of bulking it out, she had to find ways to cut her word count by a lot.

Every writer has their own style when it comes to drafting and editing, and even specific books by the same writer can be different from a writer’s “normal.” But in general, the more works a writer writes, the closer they may get to their target word counts after draft one and the more they will recognize where they tend to fall on the scale.

So that’s me! Underwriters unite!

In the next couple of weeks, we will discuss a few ways to resolve either of these issues, first for the underwriters, then for the overwriters. Hopefully with a few tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can figure out how to drag your novel closer to its target word count.

Until then, let’s talk in the comments! Where do you fall on this spectrum? Do you follow traditional word counts for your works?

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NEWS!

Of the Clouds releases next Saturday, so Friday’s post will be moved to Saturday, and this blog post series will continue after that! Hooray!!!