Bringing Back the Fiction Character Draft

It's been like that drawing of the Evolution of Man...

Except instead of hairy, slope-browed knuckle-draggers transforming image-by-image into a Hip, Modern Nudist...

Now it's more like a two-dimensional archetype with poorly-executed slapstick sensibilities changing slowly into a competent lead character who surprises me occasionally and annoys me little.

As far as writing goes, I'd call it a minor success.

What I'm talking about is the evolution of the lead character in the novel I've been working on. I've almost completely drafted this thing three times since college. And as I slide into the home stretch of Draft Three, I have to wonder:

What will become of all the characters I changed, zapped from the plotline, and offed with, y'know killing and future non-life?

I can just see bringing my lead character, in his many iterations, into my office and sitting them down.

"Look, guys, I've called you all here because we need to talk.

"We've shared a lot over the years. Spent long hours working things out. We had our rough patches. But we've had some good times, too.

"As time has gone on, however, the plot has changed, and we have had to change with it.

"As you probably know, the book is almost finished. And I think this draft, with some minor tweaking is, well, this is 'It.' The Keeper. And our friend Lead Character Three, here, he's really getting the job done. He's got layers. He's put up with all the crap I've thrown at him. And he's holding his own. I'm proud of him.

"So, Two... One... I do appreciate all the time and effort you've put into this project. I couldn't have done it without you. We never would have gotten where we are today...

"...But I'm afraid I no longer have need for your services. I might eventually re-purpose parts of you for other, more minor characters in future works. But for now, it really looks like Three and I will be moving forward into any sequels."

Here One probably shrieks in melodramatic grief, while Two has a panic attack, gets on his knees, seizes my hand and begs me to reconsider. "But-- but-- Where do we go now? We have nothing! This storyline was our lives!"

"Er, Two, it's this sort of one-note, high-strung behavior that encouraged me to take another direction in the first place," I tell him.

"It's all so futile! So disappointing! So--"

Eventually, I'd have to write them into a nice spa in the country. One of those Victorian-style high-end hospitals, where the nervous and afflicted can go to recuperate. Given the way I rewrite, I imagine the place would soon be packed.

"Hi, remember me? I was the female lead from Draft One," a woman with over-sized spectacles and a fluffy white bathrobe would say, extending her hand in greeting. "The author decided I was too circa late 80s early 90s, and my analytical personality lacked potential reader connection. While at times my stoicism was whimsical, overall it left very little opportunity for growth."

"Sure, I remember you!" Lead Character One tells her, his face breaking into a smile. "I never could understand why she didn't include you in Draft Two."

"Oh, she drafted some fiesty, more down-to-earth female she felt she and today's readers could better identify with."

"How horrible!" One gasps.

"Could be worse," she tells him, waving it away. "I could have been Minor Support Characters One to 22. They're here, too."

"I haven't noticed them," says One, looking around dramatically, as if they might show up at any moment.

"And you won't. They fade into the background unless they're needed. We'll only see them if anyone needs integral comments that further the daily plot. Otherwise, they're completely invisible."

"Oh my gosh, no! Really?" asks One, eyes wide with shock.

Draft One Female Lead shrugs. "If one of them does a good enough, stand-out job, they might get a cameo later on. You never know."

One still looks horrified. He'd spent most of the first draft in the same way. It had to have been exhausting.

"Well, off for my mud mask. No reason not to keep trying to look my best. You never know when you might be needed again." The former Female Lead turns on a heel. "Oh, but One?... I don't know if you've taken a walk around the whole grounds yet, but... I don't advise it."

"What? Why?"

"Well, there's just the graveyard... the character reshaping wing... The plot chopper... Trust me. You're not up for it."

"NOOOOOOOOO!" shrieks One, extending his gaze to the heavens.

Unfortunately, not all characters can be rehabilitated.

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Have you ever written something, thought it was okay, and then later wondered-- what the heck were you thinking?

9 comments:

Cari said...

Have you ever read the Jasper Fforde "Thursday Next" series of books?

If not, do it do it do it! Your little character conversation could have fit right into at least 2 or 3 of his books.

*thumbs up*

Jenn Thorson said...

Cari- Heh-- thank you muchly. I have read some of them-- he's a lot of fun.

The irony is, this really is pretty well how the drafts shook out. That first draft-- yow!-- embarrassing.

Lili said...

Honestly, since I'd listened to Hitchhiker's Guide in high school and read some of the early text Jenn is talking about in grad school, Jasper's work often comes across as derivative. [Yes, I know in some ways he means to be...]

Clever, yes, fun, certainly, but nothing that a bunch of manic English majors couldn't have produced when they should have been working on their "official" projects.

One of the things about first drafts is that they have to exist. Some things are worth commenting on at that point, and others...? No, they just need time to evolve. Good writers are the ones who know how to hang on and do the difficult revising when the time is right.

[Waves at Draft Female Lead] Hey! Long time no see! Want to work in Biotech? I know some companies that need you...

Jenn Thorson said...

Lili- Well, Hitchhiker's Guide covered the genre so well, I think pretty much anything has a big chance as being perceived as derivative.

It's a constant battle of second-guessing on whether an idea will be perceived as fresh enough. Especially when you still want it to be readable.

Female Lead from Draft One still may show up in the tales someday. I'd just had had a weird little plot flow go a different direction and I realized I'd be crazy not go to with it.

It's been a lot of fun. :)

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

I recently interviewed a guy who spent 15 years working on his first novel. He did it in his spare time, perfecting it word by word until he thought it was ready for the public. And then he published it, and it was declared an instant classic. You might have heard of it and him. It was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.

So I guess what I'm saying is, keep at it, Jenn. You never know.

Well, to be honest, sometimes you do know. But I'm trying to be encouraging here.

Jenn Thorson said...

Mike- Heh, thank you: I'll take it. I'm pretty sure I can get this final draft done. Where it goes from there, though, is anybody's guess.

But really, that's okay, too, as I have a few other writing projects in the works.

At the least, it keeps me out of trouble. :)

jay said...

I have this trouble, too! I save all my previous character drafts in text files because I'm convinced I'll need them some day, or ... is it because I feel sorry for them?

There was a great storyline in Star Trek TNG about a fictional character developing sentience. Watch, learn, and then? Watch your back. LOL!

screwdestiny said...

This post was amusing. I think it would have been even funnier if I could have identified with it at all. I am absolute shit at fiction writing. Truly. I've never tried it except when forced to in school, and it never goes well. So I have never had to go through the process you just described.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jay- It could be character pity. It could be you'll have some minor detail you wrote earlier which becomes really important-- and you can't look it up if the draft has been deleted. Or maybe it's just posterity.

Screwdestiny- Well, forced assignments in school are always a LOT worse than when you're just working on something on your own. Even just reading classics now as an adult, it's been WAY more entertaining than when we were forced to read them in class. That was a horror.