Monday, June 18, 2012

Five Tips for Underwriters

So if you're anything like me (Mark), you underwrite. A lot. You underwrite so hardcore it'd make a picture book look like a phone book by comparison. Your ms, printed out, would be mistaken for a pamphlet. Your word count is lower than your weight.

Luckily, you have me to help you. I'm so nice, aren't I?

Five Tips to Turn Your Underwriting-Self into a Master of Life, the Universe, and Everything Writing-Related:

1. Describe.
Descriptions bring your setting and characters to life. They allow us, the readers, to view the world the way the author intended us to. Underwriters frequently leave out descriptions, allowing the reader to interpret the way things look and feel in their own fashion. I don't recommend this. I recommend appealing to all of a reader's senses. What does your character feel, see, hear, taste, and touch?

2. Details.
Too often, underwriters forget to include the deets. Without details, we as the reader can feel lost or disconnected. So long as they're relevant, never forget to include the small things— the streak of gray in the mom's hair; the love interest's slightly endearing lisp; the MC's nervous ticks.

3. Prose.
We underwriters love literary fiction but could never write it. We cower in fear at the five-letter word that starts with P.
...anyway.
Even if you're writing something totally commercial, try infusing your work with some prose. Just try it. Describe the way the rain on the tin roof feels like a heartbeat or whatever. You have express written permission from me to delete all that prose as soon as you write it, but who knows? Maybe, even if it doesn't fit, you'll find you like describing the leaves dancing as they fall like cigarette ashes. Or something.

4. Pacing.
I know, I know. We underwriters just have such amazing plots and characters we want to get right into the heart of them.
Slow down, killer.
We need to make sure we have the five basic story parts (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion). But we don't have to neglect everything else to get our stories there. Make sure your novel isn't moving along at breakneck speed. If you find it is, refer to tips 1, 2, 3, and 5.

5. Secondary stuff.
These include subplots, deuteragonists (protagonist's posse), secondary characters, etc. Though you don't need 4,192 characters (you're not George R. R. Martin, my friend), it's a good idea to use more characters besides the main ones as supports or foils for your MCs.
Also, subplots (side quests, getting the girl before the big football game, etc.) should enhance your overall story. They shouldn't be like in sitcoms, where they have nothing to do with the main storyline. If a subplot isn't contributing to the main plot, delete it.

Are you an underwriter or an overwriter? Leave your answer in the comments and make sure to check back on Saturday for Amy's tips for overwriters!

—Mark

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