Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Over-Writing Vs Under-Writing

In the January 2011 issue of 'Writing Magazine' (a mag I would, incidentally, recommend all writers read), Lorraine Mace discusses the fact that writers fall into two categories when it comes to writing first drafts: over-writers and under-writers. The former group end up with a first draft containing too many words; the latter end up with too few.

Over-writers end up having to murder their darlings in re-writes. Like Lorraine Mace, I am an under-writer. My first drafts are rarely more than 50,000 words. I tend to stick to the facts in the early drafts. I don't worry myself with little things like description in the first draft. Or sub-plot.

So, serial under-writers like me have to spend several drafts fleshing out the story. It's one reason why I don't let anyone read my first drafts. If my first draft was a person, it would not only be naked, but have bare bones visible through the flesh - a stark and somewhat scary being really not fit to be seen in public.

Over-writers on the other hand have to go at the manuscript with a sharp object, hacking away all the excess flesh that's dragging down the plot and making the manuscript unwieldy and unmanageable.

The problem I have with being an under-writer is that when it comes to the second and third drafts, in a desperate attempt to increase the word count, I will sometimes overcompensate by adding too much unnecessary padding (a fact I'm sure my editor can verify). The final draft has to be a careful balance - enough description to add atmosphere and flavour; not so much that the manuscript has become an unwieldy tome.

Thankfully, that's why first drafts exist. They're allowed to be rubbish. By the time it gets to the fifth or sixth draft, my WIP will emerge, blinking, into the light, hopefully a halfway presentable manuscript.

So over-writer or under-writer? Which are you?


Misha said...

Under-writer. Definitely.

If I don't just get through the bare-bones story as fast as possible, I'd still be stuck editing and fleshing out chapter one.

Mine is a race against the inner sensor.


Nerine Dorman said...

**waves scalpel at Sara's manuscript**

It's a case of being able to make judgment calls with regard to which information is going to move your plot forward and what is just that: padding.

Another thing that I've learnt to watch out for is "talking heads" syndrome with dialogue, when characters are nattering and what they discuss also has very little to do with the plot.

I have, in the past, been guilty of all of the above.

Anonymous said...

My very first novel - the one that's locked up in a trunk never to see the light of day - was definitely a case of overwriting. Since then I have tended to underwrite.