The first draft is for you, the writer. You put in everything that comes into your head. Throw it in there. You never know where it might lead. Describe everything. Talk boringly about the weather. Have your characters move from point A to point B to point C in excruciating detail. All this helps you see in your mind what’s going on and helps you make sure that things are possible

Draft Business Stamp 1 by Merlin2525 - A slanted solid orange business stamp, with the words,

When working on the second draft, it’s time to think about your reader. She doesn’t want to know every detail, every play-by-play, or read paragraphs about the weather. Or what roads your character took to get from home to his favorite restaurant (a favorite peeve of mine).  Sure, leave in the weather if it pertains to the story–the bad weather is making it hard for your protag to do something she desperately wants to do. Sure, leave in some play-by-play to up the tension in an action scene and to enable the reader to “see” it happening. Leave in a main road in a major city that everyone’s heard of–it helps the reader “be” there with the character.

Yes, it’s a fine line. And some readers like more description than others. If you’re writing a historical romance, you can leave in more than if you’re writing a hardboiled detective story. But you may still have to take out some in that historical romance so the reader isn’t bogged down in the details. And you will want to leave some in that hardboiled story to ground the reader, to help him see what’s going on.

Be sure to save your first draft in several places such as a thumb drive, CD, “off-site,” and/or in the cloud away from where you write. Then save it as a second draft and whittle away. Then if you think you’ve cut something you should have kept, you still have it. Do the same for the next draft, and the next.

Nothing is more exciting or more excruciating sometimes than writing a first draft. But the sense of satisfaction when you type “the end” is always exhilarating, too. Go for it! Now, I’m off to work on my first draft for the second in my series about Tina, the professional organizer. She’s having a time of it, and so am I.


I write a lot of short stories. Some people ask me how I come up with all those ideas. I’ve found all that’s needed is a situation, which of course includes a character or two, and a small detail. My latest story involves a vacuum cleaner salesman who dupes old women into buying a vacuum—the premise—and paperclips—the small detail. I don’t outline, so when giving some background about the woman who helps the older woman get her money back from the vacuum cleaner company, I mention that at work the younger woman had to undo the paperclips her boss had strung together. I have no idea why I came up with that, but it was, to me, a fun detail, so I kept it. And I was able to tie the whole story together at the end with those paperclips. Very tidy.

So, I suggest trying that. I didn’t realize until just a while ago how well this trick can work. I used it in my novel, ORGANIZED TO DEATH, with a candy bar. I had my protag, Tina, stop for gas and buy a candy bar, which she forgets about as things get hectic. A couple of days later, I needed her to go outside for a nasty encounter with a bad guy, and I used the missing candy bar to get her out there. She hasn’t eaten in a while, she’s hungry, remembers it, but can’t find it in her purse. She figures it must have fallen out of her purse in the car. I had no idea I’d need that candy bar later in the story. I never know what detail I’ll be able to use later. If they become too numerous, it’s easy enough to take them out later. But they can also add veracity to the story all on their own.

I’m going to be doing this more consciously as I write. Try it; see if it works for you.


Many readers (most?) will tell you that your characters are the most important part of your story. Sure, the plot needs a lot of attention and has to be believable and make sense. Yes, setting can be evocative and sometimes almost a character in its own right. Good dialogue is vital. Narration has to be punchy, necessary, and is often used for a change of pace.

But your characters—they drive the whole story. Few stories are told without them. They need to be unusual, compelling, some need to be quirky and difficult. Some writers do whole biographies of their characters, writing down hair and eye color and their favorite food. They list every single thing they can think of about each character.

Isn’t that interesting? When I first saw the clip art above, I thought she was holding a long knife. Must be writing too many mysteries. If you can’t tell, it’s an umbrella. I think . . . She’d make a great character, wouldn’t she?

Since I don’t outline, I also don’t do character bios in advance. When I need a character, I introduce him and sketch in a description. In my notes file, I put down full name, hair and eye color because these are the things I’m most likely to forget later. I am learning to immediately also give the character something to distinguish him from the rest. An unusual name, a different physical characteristic (really tall, or in one case, two different colored eyes, a facial scar—you get the idea), a tic or habit (winks a lot, chews gum, etc.), a certain way of speaking (drawl, in clichés, uses unusual words, and so on), or anything else I can come up with that will work for the character.

After the more superficial things are covered, each major character and some minor ones will need specific motivation(s) to drive them. It’s recommended writers use two motivations that are counter to each other, such as love and jealousy. Another one could be the character is motivated to cover up an affair and run for public office. How about greed and the care of a disabled relative? Just by what you’ve written before the character arrives on-scene, you can usually pick out the major motivation. Next try to pick out another, conflicting one. You do not tell the reader about these motivations, you show her by the character’s action and reactions what the main ambitions are. The character arrives pushing his sister’s wheelchair and by his actions, we can tell he’s devoted to her. Later we see him find a wallet, surreptitiously remove the cash and put the wallet back where he found it and pocket the money. Right away you’ve made the character more than one dimensional, and the reader senses that greed is going to cause him trouble, but the reader is sympathetic to the character because of the sister.

I hope you can see that both tiny details and large motivations are important for your characters to “come alive on the page.” No need to agonize over all of this. I do it all on the fly and somehow it all comes together in the end. The small details are there to help your reader keep track of who’s who. The larger motivations are there to keep your reader interested in the character and anxious to find out what happens next.


The current advice to is avoid using “he said/she said” and instead show the characters doing something. There is also a similar tendency for some authors to write too many of the details of, for example, the character getting from Point A to Point B.

Details can add texture to our writing, for sure. But let’s not allow them to get in the way of the story.

Sometimes, a simple “he said” is perfect. Because if you put in instead, “Tom shrugged,” you add a bland action and interrupt the dialogue for no good reason. Unless you describe him thus:

Cool Dapper Shruggy Smiley by Viscious-Speed -

If you put in, “Stella shook her golden hair and some fell over her right eye. She brushed it aside,” you’ve really interrupted the dialogue. The only possible reason for this is to show Stella has blonde hair, if it hasn’t already come up. And of course, to avoid using “she said.”

Nothing irritates me more than not knowing who the speaker is in a section of dialogue. It used to be said (!) that “he said/she said” was invisible to the reader—it helped the reader keep track of whom was speaking, but it didn’t get in the way. Lately, however, that is not the advice being given. Instead, we’re told to put in those “small” actions to indicate who’s speaking.  And some authors do that so consistently, I want to stop reading.

Another reason given to not use “he said/she said” is to show what the character is feeling or thinking. This is sometimes a good idea, but it can also be overdone. What the reader already knows about the character will give him a clue as to what the speaker feels or thinks. Or the words in the dialogue alone can convey the emotion. In other words, as the story progresses, the reader should know how the protag and several of her friends, relatives and enemies think and how they feel. No need to “show” us those reactions on every page and during every chunk of dialogue.

The other, similar problem, which fortunately is still frowned upon, is putting in too much detail when a character goes from one place to another. We’re given a laundry list (what is a laundry list, anyway?  I know what a grocery list is, but a laundry list must be something done by our great-grandparents)—we’re given a list of street names, right and left turns, type of roadway, shifting gears, and pushing hard on the gas pedal or the brake. Give me a break! Or we spend time with the character actually getting in and out of a car, what kind of car it is, the color of the upholstery, and so on. Is any of this important to the story? That’s the ultimate test. If it’s not important, no matter how interesting to the author, cut it out!

And that should be the final test for any detail inserted anyplace in your story. Does it make the story better? Is it important to the story? It is interesting enough in itself to leave it in? If none of these apply, get rid of it. Your readers will thank you. This reader in particular will salute you.