Friday 5 – Revision tips for the under writers.

Some people over write. Some people under write. And, yeah, the latter would be me. Here are five areas I’ll be working on when I revise (in a couple weeks).

Internal thoughts:

  • Expand internal thoughts. My fault. Totally me. Deep down, I fear the reader will get bored, so I miss out on opportunities for the reader to connect.
  • Look at the importance of a scene and the weight of the event happening; and in proportion to those elements, expand the main character’s internal thoughts. Not just fluff or padding. Thoughts that dig deep and deal with emotion.
  • Delete the repetitive thoughts from chapter to chapter.


  • Flesh out the setting with more specific details and sensory details.
  • Tweak it so the setting is part of the emotional tone and written in the voice of the main character.
  • Make sure the details are important to the story.
  • Show the characters interacting with the setting.

Secondary Character emotions:

  • My first draft is all about the main character. I try and flesh out my secondary characters beforehand but I need a pass to add depth.
  • Through their body language, facial expressions, dialogue, and through the reactions of the main character, I try to show that these secondary, but important, characters have goals and struggles too. And that they are the hero in their story.

Important scenes:

  • Often times, the key scenes are there, but I need to revise a bit, which usually means adding words, to show the emotional impact on my main character. Usually, I need to slow time down and add more action beats.
  • Make sure a scene follows the action/reaction sequence.
  • Check that my character shows enough of a reaction to important events. And most importantly, check that the main character is the one making choices and dealing with the consequences.

Backstory/set up

I know, I know. Most people need to eliminate info dumps and backstory. But I commit the opposite sin and withhold too much. Again, maybe it’s fear that I’ll slow down the action or bore the reader? Our reader should always understand what’s going on in a scene. The mysteries and secrets are different from a well-executed set up in the opening chapters. My crit partners usually help me figure out when I need more backstory. And adding it in the right way is a whole ‘nother issue!

Are there any other under writers out there?  If you’re an over writer, what problem areas do you have to revise? Tell all!


33 Responses to Friday 5 – Revision tips for the under writers.

  1. Rachael Harrie January 21, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Fantastic tips Laura. I’m an underwriter myself, and I’ll be using these for sure. My critique partner found it hard to imagine I didn’t do detailed character studies for my secondary characters before I wrote my first draft, so now I can point to someone else who does that too *chortles*


  2. Amie Kaufman January 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I thought I was the only one! Oh, the relief! I’m in revisions right now, and I’m going to check my MS with every single one of these. Thank you, thank you!

    • Laura January 21, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

      Amie – I’ll be starting revisions soon and these were all the thoughts running through me head of what I had work on!

      rachael – Actually, I do somewhat motivation character studies for my all main characters, but somehow they’re never as realized as my mc until I’ve written about them.

  3. Jen Daiker January 21, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    I’m one that tends to under write as well. It’s an addiction. Actually, to be honest, it’s more of the fact that a new idea/scene pops in my head and if I don’t begin writing on it I’ll lose it, so I tie up the end of something and begin on something new. Jumping ahead. It’s fun while you’re doing it but a mess when trying to revise it!

  4. Jennifer Shirk January 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    I underwrite too. Sometimes. But I know it and will usually leave notes for myself like “beef this up”. LOL
    But I also tend to be repetitive with internal thoughts too, I’ve noticed.

  5. Laura January 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    Jen – I can’t believe when I hear that writers jump around. For some reason, I can’t do that. I might want to write a scene, but I hold that s motivation to get me through all the scenes! I’m an in-order kind of person!

  6. Steven K. Griffin January 21, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    My first drafts are extremely thin. I tend to write straight action and dialog to get the primary thread of the story down, then go back and add details across multiple revision passes.

    I’ve always wondered how some can tell you to take your first draft and cut it by 10-20%! I usually have to add that much to get the manuscript to a point where I can begin my editing passes.

  7. Kelly Polark January 21, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    Yeah, I tend to go back and add stuff to the story while revising. Of course I cut stuff too, but I sometimes need more description. I like the sensory idea. I’m going to check mine so I’m using all the senses in my descriptions! Thanks!

  8. Laura January 21, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Steven! I understand. cut, cut, cut was the worst advice for me as a new writer because I really needed to add, add, add! And flesh out. I mainly write the action and dialogue too. And writing is so much more than that!

    Kelly -I try and add those aspects when I write but I try not to enter edit mode when writing the first draft!

    Jennifer – I do that. In brackets I’ll say, expand, add detail, add reaction, add research – stuff like that!

  9. Stina Lindenblatt January 21, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    Great post as always, Laura. I both overwrite and underwrite, depending on the element. I definitely underwrite when it comes to setting. That I have to go back and add.

  10. Andrea January 21, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    Thanks for your awesome tips! These are really going to help me, because I’m guilty of a lot of the above. Must be an under-writer.

  11. Nelsa January 21, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    Another Under Writer here (anyone else hear the theme of UNDERDOG! in their heads? No? Just me? Okay)
    Anyway, I definitely have to layer in more stuff in the second draft – usually description and setting and tying that into the theme/emotions of the characters. I absolutely HATE cutting and find that process way more traumatic than adding in new scenes or more elements that add to the reader understanding the characters motivations.
    Great post, as always, Ms. Pauling.

  12. shelley January 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    These are great tips. I find that usually in my first draft, I underwrite important scenes…especially if there’s action and a lot going on at one time. I kind of rush it. I have to practice making it in super slo-mo for myself so I can get in everything that happens.


  13. Jill Kemerer January 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Yes, I’m an under writer too. I follow the same steps–adding thoughts, adding action, adding sensory details. The end product is so much better for it!

  14. Laura January 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    Well, I’m just glad that I’m not the only underwriter out there! and I remember underdog but can’t remember the theme song. Too funny. Thanks everyone!

  15. Lydia K January 21, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    I used to over-write, and now I under-write! Great post and tips, thanks!

  16. Bryan Russell January 21, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    I’m a charter member of Overwriter’s Anonymous. Everything must be cut! Repetitions, wordiness, excess dialogue and description… my scissors needs much sharpening.

  17. Matthew Rush January 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Crap. I’m an over writer. Still this is great advice, and you can kind of, almost, apply the opposite!

  18. Catherine A. Winn January 21, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I am an underwriter for fear, just like you, of boring the reader. I know this about me so when I have finished the first draft it goes in a drawer for at least a couple of months. When I take it out, hopefully by writing other things in the meantime, it becomes new again. This is when I can make notes as a reader of what seems disjointed or lacking. After a read through, the revision begins.

    • Laura January 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

      Lydia – I don’t think one way is worse than the other – both ways require work!

      Bryan – I still have elements that repeat too, and filler that can go, but mostly it’s fleshing out.

      Matthew – Crap indeed! 😉

      Catherine – After macro revisions then i put it aside for a bit.

  19. Katie Ganshert January 21, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    I’m SUCH an overwriter. My first draft is always uberdy duberdy bloated. I read it and think “Oh goodness girl, could you be anymore redundant! We get it already!” So yeah, I have to do a lot of cutting. Too much internal dialogue.

  20. Paul January 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    Cool post, Laura. You know, I’ve done both over and underwriting on first drafts. I think I started out as an underwriter and turned into more of an overwriter.

  21. Laura January 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Katie – They definitely have their pros and cons. I’m sure in some areas I over write too.

    Paul – I think I’ll always be an under writer! Unless something drastically changes – like my ego. 🙂

  22. Robert Guthrie January 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    The advice “Show, don’t tell,” crippled me for years. Trying not to tell, I didn’t say anything. I’m glad those years are over.

  23. Carolina Valdez Miller January 21, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    Great stuff here. Your plan would be ideal for any writer really, even if only to make sure they’d done these things. I’m an overwriter and I still think it’s a great checklist. Really great advice!

  24. Karen Strong January 21, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    An Underwriter checking in. My first drafts are pretty skeletal. I always have to go back and beef up my manuscripts.

    This is a great list too. Going to keep these in mind as a checklist.

    Putting in internal thoughts are key. Editor Krista Marino from Delacorte mentioned it was the #1 thing missing in manuscripts that come across her desk.

  25. T. Anne January 22, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    I think we’re cut from the same cloth! I usually go back during edits and put that stuff in. I’m going to bookmark this blog. Great tips!!!

  26. Lisa Green January 22, 2011 at 1:16 am #

    Oh thank goodness! I’m an underwriter too, and sooo happy to hear I’m not alone. It seems like most people are overwriters. Thanks for the peak into your process, all good tips!

  27. Jemi Fraser January 22, 2011 at 1:48 am #

    I am a ridiculous underwriter with description. Ridiculous. I always have to go back and add.

  28. Tessa Quin January 22, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    Very interesting. I overwrote my YA and underwrote my MG ^.^ I suppose I’ll need to find a middle path.

  29. Marcia January 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    Laura, your tips are so excellent, always. To add thorns to the issue, I think we can be overwriters in some aspects and underwriters in others. I have a tendency to overwrite thoughts and emotions. I’m always examining the meaning of everything. One of my crit partners in particular always tells me when I’m slowing the action to over-analyze and to get the show on the road.

  30. Sherrie Petersen January 22, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    This is awesome! I’m definitely an underwriter. Just this week my cps were telling me I needed more setting to ground the reader in my current wip. I’ll be hanging on to this little tip sheet. Thank you!


  1. Tweets that mention Friday 5 – Revision tips for the under writers. – Laura Pauling -- - January 21, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Talei Loto and Jennifer Shirk, Laura Pauling. Laura Pauling said: Friday 5 – Revision tips for the under writers. […]

Leave a Reply