How to Edit as an Underwriter


Some writers are overwriters, needing to trim away a lot of words while editing. Others, like myself, are underwriters. We get to the point almost too quickly, and often risk leaving our readers feeling a little uninformed or needing time to breath.

In this article, I provide some tips about how to edit as an underwriter.

Overwriters use too many words, potentially making their prose clunky, slow, or simply too wordy. Underwriters use too few words, leaving out important details, or risk making their writing feel empty or rushed. Good writing finds the right balance between these extremes. Every word and sentence should have a purpose, adding meaning and depth to the story without overwhelming the reader. Effective editing involves knowing when to cut unnecessary words and when to add important details, creating a clear and engaging narrative.

Let's look at a few ways to edit as an underwriter.

Assess Your Story’s Structure

Before delving into the specifics, step back and evaluate your story's overall structure. Look at it from a distance. Do the major plot beats work? Does it flow smoothly from start to finish, or are there gaps in the narrative? Are there major time-skips that should be reviewed? Do the characters get from point A to point B just a little too easily or quickly? Look for issues with key plot points, character development, and pacing issues. Make note of areas that require more detail or explanation.

Once you've assessed your story's structure, look at each scene and chapter for opportunities to provide additional context or clarity. You'll want to view it from a distance, looking at big-picture gaps. Are there important moments that feel incomplete or unclear? Focus on deepening your characters' motivations and relationships, adding subtlety and emotion to their interactions. Think about how to balance action and reflection to maintain reader interest throughout the story. As you identify areas that need expansion or clarification, make notes in [square brackets] saying "expand" or "this scene needs more dialogue", etc. The square brackets make it easy to ctrl+f these notes throughout the manuscript. For more advice, see my article: Some Tips on Writing.

Add Descriptive Details

Identify where your writing lacks descriptive elements. Make notes throughout your manuscript where you find opportunities to enhance the reader's experience with sensory details. As all writers know, you don't want to drown the reader in pointless description or purple prose, but sometimes us underwriters forget to put sufficient details into the scene, which prevents the reader from really seeing what we want them to see. Bring the setting to life through vivid language that engages all five senses. Instead of merely stating the current weather, immerse readers by depicting the sound of raindrops, the scent of damp soil, the coolness in the air, the colours of the clouds and the way they reflect in the puddles in the mud, etc.

By incorporating sensory imagery, you captivate readers and draw them deeper into your story's world. Use descriptive language to evoke rich, immersive environments that resonate with your audience. Show, rather than tell, by painting scenes with words that allow readers to experience the story through their senses. Use those senses to build up the atmosphere, characters' moods, and maybe even touch on some of the themes in your story.

Develop Your Characters

Underdeveloped or flat characters are a common pitfall of underwriting. Readers want characters who feel alive, deep, real. To remedy this, put some effort into crafting well-rounded characters with unique traits, goals, and backgrounds. Readers want to see beyond the mere surface of these people. Reveal their inner conflicts and external challenges through their behaviors, conversations, and inner monologues. Take this editing opportunity to spot moments or scenes in which their personalities might shine through, places to use other characters as foils, ways to show internal hypocrisies or conflicts. Dive into their emotions and aspirations to forge connections with your audience.

By fleshing out your characters, your story only becomes richer. Ensure each character serves a purpose in advancing the story, contributing to its themes or conflicts. Avoid stereotypes and clichés. Instead, try to create individuals with complexity and nuance, and veer away from the norm. Think about the characters' past experiences, their dreams and motivations, allowing these elements to shape their actions and decisions throughout the plot.

Explore the relationships between your characters. Show how their interactions reveal different facets of their personalities and the internal convictions that they hold. Conflict can arise from clashing desires or competing agendas, driving the narrative forward and adding more tension to the story. This will improve the storytelling experience, and can only be accomplished by careful writing and taking the time to develop your story.

Ultimately, the strength of your narrative hinges on the depth and complexity of your characters and their interactions. Take the time to fully explore their identities, aspirations, and relationships. of personalities that drive the story forward. Keep working away at them, and try to increase the number of interactions and situations in which they might find themselves.

Expand Dialogue and Interactions

Dialogue serves as a cornerstone for unveiling character relationships and propelling the narrative forward. It can also be used for some subtle, brief worldbuilding, or to provide alternate views on various scenarios. If your dialogue appears lacking or hurried, explore opportunities to enrich it with substantial interactions among characters, as well as less serious moments where they just chat or discuss less-important things. These latter moments can be just as useful as all the serious dialogue in showing us who these characters are and what they want. Add some underlying meanings, subtle hints, and mounting tensions to render the dialogue genuine and captivating. Think about characters' gestures and facial expressions  and how you can use more of them to convey emotions and unspoken intentions convincingly.

Expanding dialogue allows for deeper exploration of characters' personalities and motivations. Each exchange should serve a purpose, whether it advances the plot, unveils character traits, reveals hints or new tidbits about a mystery, or heightens conflict. Avoid verbosity for its own sake. Try to aim for concise yet impactful exchanges. Make the reader care. You will want authenticity in dialogue, using natural rhythms and the nuances of human speech to enhance realism and immersion. This might require a little more description and some expanded dialogue.

Dialogue should be a dynamic interplay of voices that propels the story forward while providing insight into characters' thoughts and feelings. Think about the power dynamics at play in each conversation and how they influence the characters' interactions. Craft dialogue that reveals hidden agendas, conflicting desires, and shifting alliances, adding depth and complexity to the narrative. Through meticulous attention to dialogue, you can elevate your storytelling, creating scenes that resonate with authenticity and emotional resonance.

Enhance the Atmosphere and Mood

Crafting a compelling atmosphere is essential for engaging readers and transporting them into the heart of your narrative. Should your writing seem devoid of atmosphere or mood, return to your scenes and ponder ways to amplify their sense of time and place. Employ evocative language to establish the ambiance and evoke particular emotions in your audience. Whether it entails instilling a sense of unease in a shadowy alley or fostering a feeling of coziness beside a crackling hearth, aim to immerse readers so thoroughly that they feel as though they're experiencing the story alongside your characters.

To enhance your story's atmosphere, you must appreciate the role of sensory details in creating a vivid and immersive world. Describe the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures that characterize each setting. Adding sensory information will help readers envision themselves within the scene.

Experiment with metaphor and symbolism to deepen the emotional resonance of your prose, and make them work with layers of meaning that hit readers on a subconscious level. Themes can be layered into these elements too. Tailor the pacing of your story to evoke different moods, such as quickening the tempo to heighten tension or slowing it down to evoke a sense of tranquility or peace. Varying the sentence length can also assist pacing. For more on this, see my article: Improving Your Prose.

Ultimately, the goal is to craft an atmosphere that resonates with readers and enhances their overall reading experience. By adding rich sensory details and emotional depth, you transport readers into the story. All it takes is a little more description, adding useful sentences and colour to the world and characters via the senses.


Editing as an underwriting writer is all about adding depth, detail, and nuance to your prose. By assessing your story’s structure, adding descriptive details, developing your characters, expanding dialogue and interactions, and enhancing the atmosphere and mood, you can transform sparse writing into something better, something more. Remember, writing is a journey that involves constant learning, editing, and refinement. Embrace the editing process as an opportunity to hone your craft and elevate your storytelling to new heights. Happy writing!

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