Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The First Draft

This post is about starting your first draft.

Summary of where we're up to:
You have your idea.
You know your characters
You have planned your story

Now, it's time to write. So exciting.

The first thing you need to consider is:

In other words, is the story narrated by:

  • One character
  • Multiple characters
  • Someone else

There are advantages and disadvantages to each option.

One Character

If you tell the story through one person's point of view (notice I'm not talking about first person or third person here, I'm only thinking point of view) then you can only have things that this person knows.  So he or she can't express thoughts and opinions of another character (unless, I suppose, they have telepathic powers). And they can't see things in another room, another country, another world unless someone tells them.

One character's point of view is limiting.  However, it is powerful - the reader begins to identify deeply with the character.

Multiple Characters

In my book, A Necklace of Souls, I got around the single-character limitation by having two persons telling the story. Dana, the heroine, as first person (the I-voice) and Will, the hero, in the third person limited (the he-voice).  I told the story using two character's perspectives.

If you write your story with multiple characters as narrators you have an advantage of the story not being limited to one place or one perspective. However, there are disadvantages with this technique:

  • It can be confusing to the reader, especially if the perspectives jump around too much
  • Multiple narrators may slow the plot development.
  • The voices of the characters need to be very different, so technically it can be tricky. Your narrators are supposed to be different people, so they shouldn't have the same beliefs, syntax or sentence structures.

This is one of the reason I chunked the points of view - only one narrator per chapter. Now there's disadvantages to this technique, too. Have you read Breaking Dawn, the last book in the Twilight series? I hated Jake. Absolutely hated him. (Sorry, Jake. nothing personal, honestly) But I loved Bella. So I skimmed all of the Jake chapters.

This, to me, is the main difficulty with multiple narrators - the reader might hate one of them!

External Narrator

Finally, there's the narrator who stands outside the story, and knows everything about everyone.  This is a very traditional fairy-tale story-telling technique, and its often used in film making, because in film its hard to get into the character's heads.

However, for fiction writing its a nightmare, because it is so distancing.  Neil Gaiman uses this technique in Neverwhere. Gaiman is such an amazing writer - he slides around, moving from omniscient narrator to character narration, blurring the boundaries seamlessly.

Omniscient narration does have one great advantage - it allows the writer to make ironic comments about the characters. This can add an awful lot of humour to a story. Jane Austen used this technique very successfully - when talking of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice: 'The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.'

Confused? Thinking, so what should I do? 

This is what I do: I write a paragraph or a page first as one character, then as multiple characters, then as an external narrator.  It takes time, but believe me, its worth it. Your narrator makes (or breaks) the story.


  1. interesting idea to try out the different view points, will keep this in mind :)

  2. Thanks Kura - I have just realised that of course, there could be another person narrating and that's the writer. Which of course is the technique used in non-fiction, although very occasionally one sees it in fiction, especially in victorian literature. You know - the 'Dear reader...' kind of address. Sometimes the whole stream of consciousness really drives the impression that the writer is the narrator (How We Live Now by Meg Roscoff is a great example) although that's amazing technique, because the events relayed by Roscoff are clearly fictional. And now we have it: a lecture in response to your comment! Sorry. I could talk writing all day :)