Saturday, September 12, 2015

When your characters want one more draft

The idea I'm currently working on fleshed itself out in book form over a year ago. I think it was last May. I wrote the entire first draft in seven days. How very Hemingway of me :). I then put it aside and sat on it until last month.

After a year and a half I thought I was ready to tackle that second draft. I had a better idea of who the characters were, where they needed to go and how they needed to get there. The meat of the story is still true but the direction, the road was under heavy fog.

For a month I've been working tirelessly on the second draft. Thursday I was at the point I thought I was ready to plow through to the very end.


Something tugged at the back of my mind. It was a concept I'd put in the original draft, a concept I thought needed to be taken away, to streamline things. The problem is that concept won't leave me alone. It seems to be a very integral part of my character. It makes her more interesting, more grounded, much more three dimensional and, quite frankly, waaaay less Mary Jane.

The problem is that it will require a draft I wasn't planning on. This draft, number two, was to be the one before my Crit Partner Draft, you know, the one you send out to those trusted souls who put up with your ramblings and agree to help you edit. Well, that is not to be.

I could let this part of my character go but I fear if I do she won't be who she wants to be, who she needs to be for this story to carry itself to those fabled words The End. Not only that, this book sets up a second story - unconnected - that needs its roots to be firmly founded here and now. Though the stories aren't a series, the subject matter is similar and is required for a third book that will bring these two full circle.

Sounds confusing, yes?

Maybe it is, but that's the way my stories come to me. Confusing and cyclical.

Always cyclical.

Let me ask you: how important is it to YOU as a writer to take as much time as you need to make the characters who they WANT to be as opposed to fleshing out the story in the quickest and (for you) easiest way possible? I don't want to cop out and I'm not talking about laziness. I'm just curious. I know what I have to do (write more drafts!). Have you ever had this problem?

Happy weekend everyone!


  1. Are you kidding? It takes me longer to outline the characters and plot than it does to write the first draft. I spend a lot of time with them before beginning.
    Stick with that concept and make it work.

  2. JEN! I'm sorry it's been 1000000000000000000000000 years since we've exchanged blog comments. I am here again. I got wayyyy less active in reading blogs than I should have for a while, and I'm on one of my last stops to catching up finally. I'm sorry. I didn't abandon you on purpose.

    Now on to your question. Well, considering that I write non-fiction, the characters are always there, literally staring me in the face with mouths and actions that tell me their stories way better than I can create fictionally. But there have been times where I have sat down (sometimes to write nerdy fanfiction, other times with subject matter that's stumped me), and I have to really determine why it is a person/character is doing what they are doing and how important is it that I leave some stuff in? I write about people more than place, so they're more critical than an overarching plot. They are the plot, the theme, the motif, the beginning, middle and end. I spend more time trying to fit everything else in and around them than I do hoping they can connect to what will happen in the story later. But with that said, there's a lot of editorializing that can go on in nonfiction. Because it's about making a statement, too, sometimes at the expense of the person you're writing about.

    I just finished a piece not that long ago about my friend out here, Chris. I can share it with you, if you'd like. :) I'd like to hear your thoughts. I'll be submitting it to a literary magazine shortly. But the whole time I was writing about Chris, I did find myself trying to add myself into the story so much that a friend commented that it'd make more sense to connect whatever I'm doing in the story to how it's affecting him. And then I realized I'm not important, even if I'm there as a minor character. Really this is about my experience with CHRIS. And it's about who Chris is. Not me. Things sort of fell into place in the revising process after that.

    So if this is about your character, or she's crucial to moving forward, you just have to trust her. Trust where she's taking you. It's likely that if she's been true until this draft, things will come full circle (there we go again with circles), and what she does or how she feels will still connect to the soul of the story--it just might make for a meatier draft.

  3. If you are lucky enough to have your characters share who they are, go with it. They make the story worth reading and isn't that the goal? :-)

    Anna from Elements of Writing

  4. Alex: That's funny! I've tried outlining my characters but every time I do, they always shift on me. It's as if they keep things from me until I start writing their story and THEN they let me in on the important stuff. Now I just have an idea of who my characters are and I let them reveal who they are to me as I write. This means lots more drafts but it's worth it!

    Jennifer: I'm sending you an email response to this BUT it is SO GOOD to hear from you!! Please don't worry about not coming by. I've been out of the blog world since April. It was a much needed and unexpected break. Thank you for this. It's so hard sometimes to find that balance between putting ourselves in our work and letting the work become its own entity. We always put a little of ourselves in what we write but I've learned I have to pull back and let my characters shine, especially if they aren't like me at all. That's the hardest part!!

    Anna: Thank you! It's taken some years (and much protesting on my part) but I understand now that letting my characters have their way with the story is the best way to go. They know their world better than I do. I have to just let them run with it! And for a Type A like me, that's very hard!!


Well, hello! I'm so glad you made it. Come inside and sit by the hearth. I'll take your coat and hat. The kettle is singing and there's cake and candles and good conversation. Settle in and make yourself at home. Don't mind the wolfhounds; they're friendly if you give them a bit of lemon curd.