Underwriting: 6 Problems And Fixes

If you read last week’s blog post, you’ll know we looked at some common writing gremlins, such as overwriting, multiple gestures, extra staging, etc (check out the full post here).

When the post went live, a few readers commented on underwriting being one of their gremlins.

As a chronic overwriter, underwriting hadn’t occurred to me, so I looked into it. Turns out it’s not just finding it hard to write enough words. Underwriting also involves leaving out details that can rob your characters of depth and your story of important info.

Those are things I have definitely done when penning my manuscripts. If you have too or would like to know more about underwriting problems and fixes, read on…

Underwriting: Problems And Fixes

Problem #1: Low Word Count

This is probably the first thing most people think about when they hear the term underwriting.

Not reaching a certain word count, or not being able to “write enough” to complete a scene, is the most common form of underwriting. If this is you, don’t worry, there are ways to fix the problem. All it takes is practice and new habits.

Fixes: set yourself a word count. Just like a short story might be capped at a certain length for submission/publishing purposes, so will a book. Industry standards are a Google search away and will give you something to aim for. With your word count in mind, break it down into chapters and then scenes.

Knowing a scene needs to be 1,200 words could be all the push you need to raise your low word count.

For an underwriter, that’ll be overwhelming at first, but the more you get used to writing a certain amount of words, the easier it will get.

As for what to write to fill those counts, it shouldn’t be filler. The words need to be important to the story, and that’s where the fixes for the other underwriting problems listed in this post should help you out.

Problem #2: Missing Internal Thoughts/Feels

If you’ve ever connected with a character in a book, it’s because you relate to them and/or have gotten to know them. One way writers achieve this is by using internal thoughts, aka, putting the reader inside the head of the character.

If your story doesn’t include internal thoughts, or enough of them, not only are you robbing your readers of that connection, but it’s contributing to your underwriting.

The same goes for feels. What are your characters feeling when things happen to them? Make sure you include it.

Fixes: add/increase the level of internal character thoughts and let the reader know how they feel about things, especially the big stuff.

You can do this with a monologue of thoughts or even via showing. Everyone knows to show emotion rather than tell it, for example, “She threw the chair” vs. “She was angry,” but don’t forget to add the thoughts behind the anger from your characters. It’ll help your underwriting and add depth.

Problem #3: Plenty Of Scenes But No Sequels

As a reader and a writer, I prefer books that get straight into things and keep it moving to the last page. I don’t need chapters wasted on characters sitting around doing nothing. However, just sticking to the exciting parts can contribute to underwriting.

If it’s all go-go action, not only will you fail to write enough, you’ll also miss out on creating a well-rounded story and characters.

The same applies to reactions. For everything that happens to your character, there should be a reaction. Don’t just drop a bombshell and then move on without showing the consequences for your MC.

Fixes: any action/event scenes need to be balanced with a sequel where the character and reader process what has happened.

It doesn’t need to be a 3,000-word chapter on their feelings, but if there’s a scene where your MC is hurt and they then go about their business like nothing happened, it’s not only unrealistic, it’s bad underwriting.

Include immediate reactions to the events in your book and watch it drive up your word count.

Problem #4: The Main Plot Doesn’t Stretch Far Enough

Well, you’ve done it! A brilliant idea popped into your head, you executed the premise perfectly, the characters wrote themselves, and the plot flows perfectly from the first page to last—all 50 of them.

As good as your main plot is, if it doesn’t stretch far enough, you won’t just be underwriting a book, you’ll be creating a short story instead.

Fixes: explore a subplot. Brainstorm ideas, think about characters that might be missing, events that could happen if your characters did something else between robbing the bank and then getting caught.

Subplots could help round your book out in ways you hadn’t expected, which will only make the main plot even stronger and help you craft a story that is far from underwritten.

Problem #5: Skipped Decision Processes

Sometimes when we’re eager to get from one event to another, we forget to add those little in-between moments, that although small, make a big difference to your story.

One such example is decision processes. When you omit a decision process from a character, not only is it another form of underwriting, it’s also confusing for the reader.

For example, a character being adamant they don’t want to go to a party with their friends and then turning up at said party is jarring. But, if you’ve established that they’ve changed their mind and put that decision on the page, it won’t be so out of the blue.

Fixes: check that your character acts are backed up by decisions the reader is told about or that the act can be surmised by what you’ve written.

Sometimes this missing info isn’t there because you’ve accidentally edited it out or it’s in your head but not on the page. We’ve all been there.

Problem #6: Thin Set Ups And Resolutions

This kind of underwriting pops up when you rush the set up with poorly detailed setting descriptions, or by not putting enough into your world building.

When your book’s world is thinly set up, it makes it hard for the reader to get into the story. It also robs your book of vivid, image-inducing paragraphs that will give you the kind of word count an underwriter dreams of.

Another place where a lack of words can be increased is in your resolutions. You might have nailed the MC getting their objective, but if it happened so quickly that it’s over in a page, it does little else than create an unsatisfying read.

Fixes: ensure your settings and endings are well-described, vivid, and aren’t underwritten so readers get the full picture.

So, there you have some underwriting problems and fixes. While this post doesn’t cover everything, hopefully, it provides enough info and inspiration for you to add more words and depth to your manuscript if underwriting is a gremlin for you.

— K.M. Allan

Find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

37 thoughts on “Underwriting: 6 Problems And Fixes

  1. Hi Kate! Some great tips on an important subject. I didn’t realize this was a common problem for writers, as I also tend to overwrite. While not chronic for me, I still deal with it from time to time. It usually happens when I’m really tired and the creative flow screeches to a halt (#2 and #5 are my downfalls). Often, I don’t see it unless someone else raises a red flag.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always have word count anxiety, so I tend to overwrite. That gives me material to cut, when I get to that stage. 🙂
    I suspect some people underwrite because they’re afraid to include description or backstory, having read that those things are bad practice. And characters’ feels may be omitted because “feel” is a “filter word.”
    It’s a matter of proportion and balance. Unfortunately, some of the “rules” one reads have a paralyzing effect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re spot saying it’s a paralysing effect, Audrey. I know that’s what hinders me when I write. I’m always worried about how much description and backstory to include and I tend to overwrite and then cut so much when editing that I’m left with an underwritten world. It is a hard balance to get right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lol the ‘low word count’ thing is such a problem for me, especially if I’m adhering to submission guidelines, so what I do is—if the publisher says that I need to write 60,000–80,000 words, then I aim for 80,000–100,000. I always fall short, but at least I’ll be able to make the original requirements. Anyway, great post! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Low word count? Am I the only one who underwrites at 200k words?
    Anyway, good post, though you may want to break up the paragraphs a bit more, at least at “fixes”, it seems hard to navigate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 200k and underwriting! You might be the only one, Tomas 🤣.

      Thanks for the feedback about the paragraphs. I’ll take a look. Sometimes WordPress pushes it all together, and no matter how many times I make sure the breaks are there, it reverts back when you look at the post through the reader or in the app 🙄.


      1. I’ve checked the post and the layout looks fine for me and everything is spaced as it should be. Is it still an issue for you? Are you looking at the post through the WordPress app or a browser?


  5. A helpful post. Thanks.
    My underwriting comes from wanting to get the story down. If I’m enjoying it, which I should be, or no one else will, I want to get all the exciting bits down. Thus underwriting, and missing those things you mention.
    Fortunately, I’m in an excellent critique group, whose members will tell me ‘I’d like to know a bit more about this. What are the things she sees, hears or smells,’ or ‘how does he feel about this?’ all helpful to overcome underwriting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. petespringerauthor

    Excellent topic, Kate. I have seen examples of underwriting before, but I think overwriting tends to be a more likely culprit. It’s undoubtedly one of my gremlins.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Pete. Overwriting is definitely one of mine too. I usually use more words than necessary in my sentences when a simpler version will do. It was pointed out during my last round of beta feedback so it’s something I’m actively trying to work on.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. vishalbheeroo

    The devil lies truly in the detail Kate and so well you explored the merits and flows about underwriting what with how keeping the characters engaged or filling in the denouement. Absolutely enjoy the write filled with so many lessons on characterization. I am open in trying to do underwriting, though my forte is basically descriptive of not just characters but backdrops like people and city.

    Liked by 1 person

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