E41 – Dealing With Under-Writing

Show Notes

In this episode, Miss Catherine M.H. and V.E. Griffith discuss how to fix writing too little!

Book Mentioned
The Emotion Thesaurus (2ed) by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com

Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2426


[V.E. Griffith]
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m V.E. Griffith, and I’m joined by the Scikit co-host, Ms. Catherine M.H. I’m an underwriter.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
This is episode 41, and we are here to talk about what to do with underwriting, and some tips and tricks, uh, for the editing phase. First off, what does underwriting mean?

[V.E. Griffith]
Underwriting is a situation where you wind up with a manuscript that is too short to tell your story. There are several reasons this can happen. You might skeleton draft your manuscript and come out with something that is only 20 to 30,000 words, but basically tells the entire story.

You might come out with something that’s 50,000 words when your genre and your target is 80,000. This is something that happened to me with a manuscript that I’m working on. That’s the gist of what underwriting is.

It’s when you get to the end of your story, and there isn’t enough story, there isn’t enough meat there. Yeah, you’ve just got the bones. Yeah, you just got the bones, and there needs to be more.

Figuring out how to fix that is what dealing with underwriting is all about.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Yes. One of my lovely favorites is probably because I love world building, but usually if you are skeleton drafting, your world building is lacking. You probably have a lot of the dialogue, maybe quite a bit of the action, but they’re mostly floating heads chilling in a room.

You probably need more settings and description of things going around. I like to suggest the five senses. Does your chapter at some point have these five sentences?

We usually do. We hear, and we see, and sometimes we smell things, but what does stuff feel like? What is the person feeling?

And definitely taste. It’s one that’s left out quite often.

[V.E. Griffith]
Yeah. The other thing that I run into a lot of times with clients who are underwriters is they have left out simple things, sometimes like dialogue tags and body language that help readers figure out who’s speaking. They have done, for example, a mostly or all dialogue draft where everything is dialogue, and they don’t have any details about who’s talking.

So it winds up being confusing. Yeah. You, the author, know that the reader’s not going to know who’s talking.

So as you’re going through, this is one of those editing passes that you can do. Go back through your manuscript, look specifically at the dialogue, add body language, add dialogue tags, add reactions to dialogue, add emotion. Those kinds of things can pad out, but also can help your manuscript really come to life.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Depending on the point of view, sometimes the inner thoughts are really important. We’ll say a lot of things, but what are we actually thinking? Like, I could be sitting here and wondering why VE is holding his hand up in such a strange way, and then all of a sudden, things, little bubbles pop up, and there’s a thumbs up on his page.

I don’t know if you noticed that, but it did happen. And then you’ll be sitting there, and that person is thinking, and it could add a little bit to a story. Maybe they’re at a dinner table, and it’s really tense, and all the main character can think about is the fact that the mother-in-law’s hair has one hair out of place, or there’s a spider crawling on their shoulder, and they want to say something, but it’s a very serious conversation.

And it could be really interesting to see that inside thought process of your characters while they’re having conversations with people. That can add to the scene, and it can add to the reader really enjoying or really disliking your character.

[V.E. Griffith]
The other thing that I like to put into internal thought and internal dialogue is snark. It winds up giving a little bit of comic relief to your manuscript when your character has to be polite and then can think what they really think. You can’t see that in real life, but we can see it in a book in the point of view character.

That kind of thing can give insight into what your point of view character is really thinking, how they feel, and flesh out their personality. I think that’s a really interesting tool to help people deal with a character who’s a point of view character, but who doesn’t have enough emotion behind them. It helps you round out the character.

It helps give you a character who is more of a real person, fully fleshed out, instead of just a cardboard character.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
And speaking of characters, what do your characters look like? Usually, if you’ve written a bare bones story, then you probably have left out what your character looks like. Describe them.

Go ahead. It’s okay to describe your characters. Give me, you know, a little bit more about what their hair color does, or like how does their skin complexion look.

Those kinds of things can help you out. It can help you when you need an emotional moment in the book. Does your character blush when they’re really flustered and embarrassed?

That’s really good to know. That’s a physical thing that we can see. Even if they’re not talking, we can see that they’re getting embarrassed.

So it gives more to your world to have some character descriptions in there, to have how their body reacts to the world around them. Are you the kind of person who literally will laugh uncontrollably because you’re uncomfortable at a funeral? If that’s something, that’s kind of really cool, because then you would have other people’s reactions to why is she laughing?

Why is it this sense? Is she blushing and like giggling and everybody thinks she’s probably had too much champagne or something? So those kinds of things add more words to your story and make your story feel more full.

[V.E. Griffith]
The other thing that people commonly leave out is emotional description. Show us, don’t tell us what the character is feeling. It’s fine in your zero draft or in your very first draft in your skeleton draft to say the character is angry.

That’s great. That’s fine. That’s one word.

That’s telling us what the character is feeling. Show us how they get angry. Do their fists ball up?

Do their shoulders bunch up? Do they get tension headaches? Do they grit their teeth?

What do those emotions look like? The best resource that I have ever seen and one of my favorite craft books is the Emotion Thesaurus by Ackerman and Puglisi. Invest in a copy of this.

It’s got a list of dozens of emotions, all alphabetized. Then you open the book to that emotion, to anger, and it tells you physical sensations. It tells you internal sensations.

It tells you external appearances. So if your character is dealing with somebody and making them angry, what does the other character look like to your point of view character? What would your point of view character see when they pissed their mom off?

What does mom look like when she’s mad? What does dad look like? And there are enough suggestions in the Emotion Thesaurus that you can have a number of characters who all look different but convey the same emotion.

So every character can be unique.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Now let’s say you’ve gone through this and yeah you’ve done all of that already and you still have a skeleton style book. Then start looking at other points of view. I know that sounds strange, but what would happen if you have a chapter from the villain’s side?

What’s going on behind the scenes that the character doesn’t know about? How many extra things do you need in the story to really make this plot really good? How many plot twists do you have?

Do you have any at all? And then look through to see if you’ve written a plot twist and then failed to deliver on anything in that. If you’ve written yourself something that the reader is going to expect to happen and you forgot about it, that’s a section that you can add into your book that will make the story better, that will make the reader happy because you didn’t forget about them, and will give you more of a word count.

[V.E. Griffith]
When you are going through your manuscript, sometimes it helps to create a reverse outline. So if you’re a pantser and you have written a manuscript but you’re an underwriting pantser, which is actually a thing, go through your scenes and write a reverse outline. These are the scenes that I’ve got.

Then you can look at your scenes against a story structure that you’re going for. So let’s say you’re writing a hero’s journey and you do your reverse outline, you match it to the hero’s journey structure, but you realize you have left out three key scenes. Suddenly you have found 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 more words that you need to go back and add because you have missed obligatory scenes.

If you don’t have the call to action and the refusal of the call and the acceptance of the call using the hero’s journey for example, the reader is going to notice that you’ve missed something. The story is not going to work and you’re going to get negative feedback about your story. So make sure that your story structure matches what you want to do by using a reverse outline and finding the scenes that you need to add.

I know that I’m an underwriter. In my most recent manuscript, one of the problems that I had when I got to writing the end was that I just didn’t have enough scenes. So I had to go back and skeleton draft and outline to catch what scenes I missed.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Yeah. I mean, just take Star Wars, for example. If Obi-Wan just never showed up, that would be a very different movie.

[V.E. Griffith]
Yeah. So you need the old hero or the mentor figure who dies in the middle of the movie. You got to have that in that kind of story.

And if it’s missing, the whole story doesn’t work. But if you have forgotten to write in your villain, that’s another situation where we’ve seen that happen. Going back and adding your villain in can really help your word count and get you closer to both a story that works and a word count that works for your chosen genre.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Question for you. Who do you think out of writers are more likely to be underwriters? Plotters or pantsers?

[V.E. Griffith]
My guess would be plotters.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Oh, why?

[V.E. Griffith]
I guess. I mean, it’s hard to say. I know that I’m an underwriter and I’m a plotter.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
I think I’ve heard more underwriters be plotters. And I think it’s just because they have the book set in their brain or on paper and they follow it point for point. But there’s, like life, other things can also happen.

And so they write it so strictly to, I think, that outline idea that they get underwriting.

[V.E. Griffith]
Yeah, you wind up underwriting and you wind up writing, especially when you’re writing fast, you miss those details that we’ve talked about, like emotion, like senses, like setting descriptions, those kinds of things. And you write past them because they’re not as important the first time getting the story down. So again, especially if you’re a plotter, going back to your outline and looking at it versus your story structure or versus your genre conventions can really help you flesh out those scenes along with your emotions passes and your settings passes and your dialogue passes to get all of those things right.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
I agree. I don’t know. Got anything else on underwriting?

[V.E. Griffith]
I think we’ve got it for the moment, unless somebody in the audience has questions and everybody’s free to reach out.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
And if you’re an underwriter, don’t worry, there’s help for you out there. It’s called the editing phase.

[V.E. Griffith]
Exactly. Alrighty. Well, I think that about takes care of us for this week.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
All right. Stay magical.

[V.E. Griffith]

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode. You can find every episode on your favorite podcast player and on YouTube. For transcripts, please visit our website at revisionwizards.com.

They go live the same day as our episodes.

[V.E. Griffith]
If you’d like to reach out to us separately, you can find me at vegriffith.com and Miss Catherine at scribes-pen.com.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Stay magical.

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