Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Fellowship of the First Draft

This week one of my favorite authors, Susanna Kearsley talked about  Letting Go (The Heroine Addicts blog), saying good-bye to one's characters. Writing that last scene in which they appear. And the wrench of sadness and loss this can bring a writer. Even if the character isn't giving up the ghost, but simply walking off stage and out of the story.

In my comment on her blog, I said: It's hard to let a character go, especially if he's been a point of view character. I just did that on Friday, wrote the last scene from a secondary character's pov, and the last scene before he walks out of the story to go his way. He was good company. I'll miss him. Even though, as you say, there's editing to be done, and perhaps he'll wander into another story one day. This is his second appearance in one of mine. But there's nothing quite like the fellowship of a first draft, between author and character, is there? 

That last line got me thinking about the relationship that forms between characters and their creator during the writing process. It holds a lot of the same chemistry, wonder, and thrill of falling in love, as I come to know these story people chapter by chapter.

I've even found myself feeling a bond with a few of my antagonists, because I've gone inside their heads and realized they have reasons (often wounded, twisted reasons) for the wrenches they throw into the smooth gears of my protagonists lives. That's one of my gauges for whether or not I've given my antagonist enough depth and motivation, if on some level I can feel for him, or her, and understand (if not like) where they are coming from and why they make the choices they do. I admit, I've wept over one or two such characters who met their end unrepentant.

When the first draft is done, there's still plenty of time to spend with the characters in each novel. There's editing, and lots of it. And while overall I enjoy the editing and polishing stages of novel writing more than writing first draft, there is one aspect of first draft writing that trumps everything else.

It's those days (and they don't happen but maybe once or twice a week during a first draft) when I emerge after hours of intense writing, when the characters have surprised me, said and done things I hadn't expected, revealed layers to their minds and hearts I didn't know would be there. That is story-writing magic. It's exhausting and exhilarating, and I wouldn't trade it for all the later draft polishing in the world.
A side note: speaking of editing, I've had my head down all week doing just that, and only today realized I hadn't blogged this week. How is it December 1 already? The year has flown, but I've just about met one of my goals, researching and writing a 120,000 word historical novel in under a year's time. I started in February. Got any goals that you're closing in on here at the end of 2011?


  1. Congratulations on reaching The End, Lori. I understand how tough it can be to bid our characters farewell. At least we have edits to look forward to during which time we get to visit them again. =)

  2. Keli, I have manuscripts I haven't looked at in months, years in some cases. I long to dive back into those story worlds again and will do so happily if they are ever contracted. Funny thing, I was driving down a road in my area, from which I got the last name of a couple of orphaned children in one of my novels. Just seeing the street sign about made me burst into tears of missing those characters, and loving them. I contained myself though, since I wasn't alone in the car. :)

  3. Lori, even though I still have 3 more books + the rest of Crucible of War ahead of me in my series, I'm already dreading the moment when I say goodbye to Elizabeth and Jonathan and all the other characters. I have the last chapter of the last book already written and notes for the "Elegy" that will close it out, summarizing their lives after the war through their children's eyes. I tear up just thinking about it. They really do become real to us, don't they? I don't think a non-writer can possibly understand the hold our characters and stories have on our lives.

    My goal for 2011 is to finish the rough draft of Crucible, though realistically I'm afraid it's going to be the end of January before I complete it. The holidays are looming, and as much as I love the Christmas season, it's impossible to get much work done in December!

  4. Joan, I can only imagine what it must feel like to say good bye to series characters (assuming you still love them, and all :) ).

    There's an important secondary character in the WIP I'm winding down who's bugging me like crazy for his own story next. Not sure I want to make a series out of this. Maybe I can work up a stand alone plot for him. He's one of the more interesting characters I've ever created, who wasn't a main character, and I'm wild about the idea of writing from his POV. I had to not do that in this book, because he held all the secrets. :) Guess I'm more than a little serious about it, since I just spent a half hour trying to cast his love interest.

  5. PS: I hear you about December. I'm not a big Christmas fan (aside from our special church service) so I don't end up being too distracted by the holiday. But even for someone who has over the years extricated herself from most of the ways our culture celebrates to excess this month, distractions abound.

  6. Loved reading this. It really shows why readers can bond so quickly to characters in the books they read. If they are that real to authors it will transfer through on the written page.

  7. Kav, I sure hope so! Reader/character chemistry is subjective, but if the writer has bonded deeply, chances are greater the reader will too.