I will seek representation early next year for a novel I’m revising. I tell people I can’t say much about the story because the story could seek revenge and change on me. I tell them that talking about a story without them having read the story is like telling somebody about a movie. You’re left to explain with ambiguous language that just isn’t helpful.
Nonetheless, a few months ago, I enlisted a professional editor to help me do this well. When I got my critique letter from the editor, I paged through the letter and then the manuscript itself, following all the tracked changes, comments, and proposed corrections. One thing stood out immediately. Well, two things stood out. I’ll tell you about the first one and leave the second for another time. In a word, overwriting.
She had listed that as a kind of threat to the manuscript. Of course, that’s my way of saying what she said. She pointed to several sections where I wrote too much description, for instance, and not enough immediate action or feelings or body language. Or where I included chatty dialogue on two occasions. She highlighted times when the narrator went on too long about this or that. Overwriting. It’s writing that doesn’t move the plot, writing that affects the pacing. Incidentally, pacing is the second thing that stood out, but I will bring that up later.
I had already made it a goal to write less. And I told my editor that I, indeed, had cut a fair amount of the overwritten morass. I’ve even made it a personal goal to say less. I think words are best when chosen and offered carefully, sparingly. Words are expensive and they such be cherished and not thrown to the wind or cast in any and every direction. Less is more. Which is why the language of my stuff being overwritten is powerful.
I want to do the opposite of that. I almost want to underwrite. I almost wish I could say right under enough, using provocative words and compelling language so that the eventual reader of that novel can ask for more. So, as I’ve revised once post-critique, I’m looking forward to adding a few new scenes before resending it to the editor for that line edit. I hope the feedback in the margins will come back that it’s right on, not overwritten or underwritten.