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View Full Version : 1st draft weak on character. Too late to fix?



quillman
June 16th, 2020, 02:02 PM
My story is still in first draft. I have a decent plot and premise. The characters are basic. You could tell one from the other, but I havenít spent as much time on the charactersí charactethe as on the plot.

Am I too late to fix this..in the sense that first draft version is built with inadequate focus on character, therefore the story doesnít spring from the characters?

I donít believe that my story is a sequence of events with some characters stuck in there, but..maybe itís just the first draft/ get it down on paper mentality.

thoughts?

Cephus
June 16th, 2020, 04:16 PM
First drafts are just for getting the story down. You fix everything in revision. Don't worry about it and just write.

EmmaSohan
June 16th, 2020, 06:16 PM
Two key features for building strong characters, IMO, are acting plausibly and consistently. That's not easy to do. If you could now give your characters a strong charactethe, that would probably conflict with the events in your story. sooner or later, a little or a lot. I think this conflict between plot and character is impossible to avoid. I decide on my characters in advance, then my plotting is handicapped.

So, basically, if you can give your characters more character, you might end up with conflicts. One common resolution is to try to figure out how to change things so your plot still goes in the right direction but your characters can behave in character. One common resolution is simply to have your characters behave out of character. This can be handled elegantly; I would rate anything beginning with some (for some reason I ...) as inelegant. I suspect the normal strategy is to explain nothing unless you have a good explanation.

Another strategy is to have their personality comes out of something they do. Which gives you a start on making their actions plausible for at least that one scene.

And I am happy to read a book with a good story. So I appreciate you wanting to improve on your characters, but that's just a bonus, and it makes sense to give your book atll the plusses you can.

vranger
June 21st, 2020, 05:06 PM
First drafts are just for getting the story down. You fix everything in revision. Don't worry about it and just write.

I agree with this up to a point. It's more important to write and finish than to have details hang you up to the point you get frozen.

However, I think as our skill and understanding improves, the more life we can provide in the first draft, and that's helpful. I'm a bit on the opposite end from quillman, in that one of my strengths is deciding on a character's personality and getting it into action, reaction, and dialogue. That helps me drive the story, since I'm building scenes based on what the characters in the scene would do. Occasionally their actions or dialogue change my plot and improve it. I wouldn't have that happen without well defined characters.

On to qullman's question:
It's never too late to fix anything. I think it gets more complicated if it wasn't in the first draft, though. You might need to read through and make notes on what each character has done. That gives you some foundation. Then you can spice up each character based on what you discover from your notes. I'll bet your characters have more life than you are worrying about.

I try to give important characters a unique voice in dialogue, and play off of personality differences. My main characters tend to be more middle of the road, because I don't want the main character to drift into a caricature. But I partner them with livelier characters who spice up the scenes. You'd like my main characters, because they have determination and worthwhile goals, but they don't usually say the funniest things or make grandiose promises. Plus, they generally receive wisdom, rather than dispense it.

Cephus
June 21st, 2020, 07:23 PM
I agree with this up to a point. It's more important to write and finish than to have details hang you up to the point you get frozen.

However, I think as our skill and understanding improves, the more life we can provide in the first draft, and that's helpful. I'm a bit on the opposite end from quillman, in that one of my strengths is deciding on a character's personality and getting it into action, reaction, and dialogue. That helps me drive the story, since I'm building scenes based on what the characters in the scene would do. Occasionally their actions or dialogue change my plot and improve it. I wouldn't have that happen without well defined characters.

Yes and no. Over time, you will naturally improve in your writing skills and the first draft will naturally improve from a completely unreadable mess to something that hangs together on the first go. But that takes a long time and most people on writing forums simply don't have the experience to be thinking in those terms. The second I see people saying they are editing as they go, I immediately wonder how many novels they have completed. Not started, completed. The answer is usually none. When someone is just starting out, the important part is to get your story finished. It doesn't matter if it's a complete pile of crap, you need to be able to put "The End" on it and go back and fix the problems. It's a lot more important to be a finisher than a writer. Starting a thousand stories means nothing if you can't manage to complete any of them.

RD Meyer
June 21st, 2020, 08:15 PM
From what perspective is the story being told? I think that affects how to develop the character a great deal.

vranger
June 21st, 2020, 08:56 PM
Cephus, we may both be making assumptions that apply more to ourselves than a community. In some ways, you more or less repeated what I said, possibly losing track of my first sentence.

We're not talking about fixing passive voice, spelling, or purple prose in a second draft. The question is about characters. In fiction, characters are, to me, the most important element of the story. I think that's why quillman was worried, and he was right to be.

Now, departing from quillman's question... so don't get worried here, quillman!

If someone can't do better than trash in a first draft, they haven't yet reached square one. They're not yet ready to be a writer, and finishing isn't relevant. They need to do a lot of study, put that in practice, do some more, put that in practice ... until they reach the point where they write something worth reading. I'm not preaching, that's what I did ... and still do. I learn new things, and get better at older lessons, with every novel. Learning to finish was an important lesson, but it was no more important than every other lesson. Writers need to learn with every first draft to get more and more things right in that draft. And as I alluded to above, if I didn't personally start out with strong characters, I'd have nothing to fix, because my story wouldn't be any good at its core.

Cephus
June 21st, 2020, 09:23 PM
My point is that without having the entire story laid out in front of you, you can't look at it as a cohesive whole and decide what needs to be fixed. It doesn't matter if it's characters or plot or setting, you need to know what it is that you're dealing with instead of just trying to fix it piecemeal and never actually getting anywhere. People need to get used to their stories as a cohesive whole instead of a sum of the parts. It's only then that they can go back, recognize what doesn't work in that cohesive whole and start to get a handle on fixing it.

Kallisto
June 21st, 2020, 10:43 PM
It's not too late to fix this. It's a just a question of stepping away from your story and figuring out what themes you want to emphasize and how those relate to the characters.

elancassandra
August 9th, 2020, 09:47 PM
Most books, scripts, and stories are weak in some way or another in the first draft. It often takes that first draft to figure out what your story is really about and who your characters really are as people. I'm 99% certain that it's not too late to fix your characters; you just might have a longer rewrite process than you would have if they'd been an integral part of your writing process from the beginning.

I have to say, it makes me think a bit about the Snowflake Method--if you'll forgive me rambling for a minute. The Snowflake Method is comprised of a series of steps that start with the big picture and get progressively more detailed. After the first two steps, you start going back and forth each step between story and character. Each time, as you get more detailed with your character, you make an adjustment to the story, and vice versa.

The basic gist is, it's okay to change things about your story once you've figured out something new about your characters, and it's okay to change the characters based upon the story. They're too interconnected for that not to happen as you're still figuring things out.

I'd recommend checking out the system. A quick google search will bring up the website with the steps laid out. Good luck! It's going to be okay. :)

EternalGreen
August 10th, 2020, 03:14 AM
Ha, is a first draft too EARLY to fix it?

Cephus
August 10th, 2020, 07:59 PM
Ha, is a first draft too EARLY to fix it?

Everybody starts out bad. Then, hopefully, you'll learn from your mistakes and stop making so many. You might make a whole bunch of new mistakes, but if you keep this up long enough and keep learning, then eventually, your first drafts aren't horrible. They might not be great, but they'll certainly be readable.