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Column Ten: Back to Page One and Homonyms

By Janice Alonso

Your first draft is complete . . . Halleluiah! You’ve come up with an idea and sketched out a few characters to act out the theme of your story. You’ve selected a time and place, and settled on the perfect point-of-view. Adhering to the fictional foundation model, you’ve created the skeleton of a tale. Now, the work begins, and I promise you it will be a long and arduous journey.

There are many directions to take from this point, but I will explain what works for me. It is certainly not the only way to proceed, nor am I saying it is the best. My way is like creating a painting. I’ve drawn the initial outline of what I want to express in the first draft, and now it is time to color in the details. Each time I rewrite, I focus on specific points, making notes as I work. Often by the end of a rewrite, I’ve removed a plotline that I originally thought was vital to the story. I’ve taken out characters, added new ones, and altered personalities.
I wrote a mystery with an amateur detective widow. I wanted her to have a romantic encounter with a much younger man, Levi. By the middle off the first draft, as I got to know these two characters better, I sadly realized the two were never meant to be. They simply were not a believable fit. First, the protagonist was attracted to and falling in love with another man heavily involved in her life and the mystery unfolding at the time. Second, Levi had no role in advancing the plot either. I had to constantly invent things for him to do to keep his character active.

The younger man was also causing me another problem: while making up things for him to do, I was traveling down side roads, leading me on tangents and non-relevant storylines. Levi was blocking me at every turn. I finally ditched him halfway through the first draft, and then removed him completely when I began the first rewrite.

The same sort of thing happens when a writer begins to develop an idea. After some writing, he/she realizes that the novel planned has only enough substance for a short story. If you find yourself “padding” to simply achieve a word-count goal, stop. The reverse is also true. At the close of an intended flash fiction, its creator may realize that a short story would be a better way to showcase the idea. On the completion of your first draft, re-evaluate your story to see if another fiction form would be more appropriate.

Point-of-view may also change at the end of a first draft. The writer understands that another character or entity should be the reader’s guide through the story. Review your POV options and select one that works for the story, not one that works against it.

In another mystery, I had an entire story worked out – complete with an amateur sleuth, victim, murderer, suspects, legitimate clues, and red herrings. Upon completion of the first draft, I had a different murderer. As I wrote and learned my characters’ personalities and motivations, there was only one person who had a reason, opportunity, and the ability to commit the murder. My characters simply took over and steered the plot in a direction I’d not even thought about. I finished the first draft, and when I began the rewrite, I adjusted the storyline accordingly.

For all the above reasons and more, I advise writers there should be no rules for the first draft. Don’t worry about sentence structure, spelling, and consistency. Don’t labor over strong verbs, too many adjectives, and wordy paragraphs. Take that fiction foundation and go with it. The rewrites will provide ample opportunities for these modifications.

When we began this series back in September, I defined the “mechanics” of writing as “the routine or basic methods, procedures, techniques, or details of something . . . in our case, the art of writing.”  I have focused most the columns on how to use characters as tools in the writing process. A sound understanding of character usage is an extremely important skill for new writers to learn and experienced writers to master. Many books/movies/television shows have gained popularity from character driven rather than plot or action driven storylines.

For the next series, we will examine the mechanics of writing from a different angle.

Our homonyms are “by” and “buy.”
By – near to or next to
ex: Please, sit down by me.
Buy – to purchase
ex: Would you like to buy a cookie at the bake sale?

Step Ten: Write every day.

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