“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

Why You Should Edit Your First Draft for Captain Obvious

This guest post is by Brian Plank. Brian is a writer and haiku-Twitter poet. He writes funny, quirky flash fiction on his blog, 8th Day Fiction, and share haiku poems on Twitter under @haikumoedee. Check it out!

So, you’ve completed a first draft. Huzzah, and kudos to you! Take a bow, pat yourself on the back, do something else that indicates you’re proud of yourself.

OK, the moonwalk was a bit much. Nice moves, though.

But now, it’s revision time. Maybe you were on a hot streak at the Writing Time Casino and you’ve produced a first draft that’s almost perfect. Enjoy that moment of triumph.

Most likely, though, you’re looking at a haystack of a story and hoping there’s a needle there somewhere. There’s a good chance you don’t know where the heck to start.

My suggestion? Make your first round of revision all about vanquishing Captain Obvious. You might not always know exactly what he looks like, but you’ll know him when you see him. Here are a few examples:

Captain Obvious has a Tell

He shows up when you tell instead of show. Do you really need Captain Obvious to tell your reader that your character is sad? Probably not—you should trust your ability as a writer to convey that feeling without having to state it.

Captain Obvious Repeats Himself

On a more basic level: Have you repeated yourself? Have you done a good job of showing, but re-reading your piece, you notice that you’ve shown the reader that the narrator of the story is tired five times in the past two sentences? Get the red pen and strike through a couple of those Captains.

Captain Obvious Can’t Spell

Are there any spelling and/or grammar mistakes that are Captain Obvious? Not the nitpicky stuff for right now, but the really glaring errors (e.g., you scribbled down “your” when you meant “you’re”). Nip those in the bud.

Captain Obvious is Hard of Hearing

And finally, read what you’ve written out loud (or at least whisper it to yourself). Are there any Captain Obvious problems in the way it sounds? Do you repeat a particular word too often? Do you, say, refer to one of the characters always by their proper name and never with a he or she (or it, if you’re writing about aliens or robots), so that it reads “Jim did this”, “Jim did that”, “Jim Jim Jim, all the Jim long day”? Vanquish Captain Obvious with a few strategically placed pronouns.

If you start revising not by trying to tackle it all at once, but by first giving a few sucker punches to Captain Obvious, you may find the whole revising/editing thing in general seems much more doable.

What’s the worst “Captain Obvious” you’ve ever found while editing? Share your story in the comments. 

PRACTICE

Flip through your papers, journals, etc., and find a piece that you’ve been meaning to revise but you just didn’t know where to start.

Spend fifteen minutes revising—not making it perfect, just vanquishing Captain Obvious. Post your piece in the comments, and mention some of the Captains you vanquished in your first round of revision.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • LetiDelMar

    Okay… I am keeping this post and saving it forever.  Better yet, I will tape the lovely picture of Captain Obvious to my computer screen.  My worst first draft mistake (which wasn’t reveled until I read it out loud) was switching tenses way too many times and using the word “had” about 2 million times.

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      Yeah, switching tenses is a big one for me, too. Probably my dumbest mistake ever that I caught on the first round of revision is that I changed my main character’s name about half-way through the story. Changed it to a similar sounding name, but still changed it.

      And it’s that’s the kind of thing spell-check doesn’t catch because, hey, they’re both names.

      To this day I have no idea how that happened. My best guess is I was probably thinking too much about the plot and not enough about the characters the first time through.

      • Brian_8thdayfiction

        Oh, and I should also say that the piece in question was a short story (so it’s not like I used one name for a hundred pages, then another for the next hundred), and, with I think one exception, the character was referred to by only his first name in the story.

        But still: Yep, just changed the name half-way through.

        • HA!  Sorry, but that is seriously amusing!  I wrote some ridiculously long  novel … editing to SHORTEN IT!!!  and I switched the spelling on Anais 3 times!!

          • Brian_8thdayfiction

            OK, good. I’m not the only one who’s changed a character’s name.

            But that’s what revision’s for, huh? To make your writing as best as it can possibly be, but also to catch those “wait–those three people are all the same person, and this isn’t a spy novel where one character has multiple aliases, so I guess I should fix that” moments.

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      Oh, and Joe gets all the credit for finding the photo, which is awesome. Playmobil rules.

    •  HA! 

    • I’m bad about switching tenses too! One of my main problems is that I like to use flashback scenes or memories, and then I get stuck going back and forth between a memory and present day reality. I think I just make things harder on myself!

  • I have to edit three times to get even close to right.  Going through the first time, I’m amazed at not only how often I repeat myeslf, but at how many extraneous adjectives and adverbs I use.  That stuff is fine on the initial run through, but you have to catch it later if you want a quality piece of work.

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      Agreed. Adjectives and adverbs often are not your friends. They’re the kind of friends who convince you to put them in your first draft with all kinds of promises about how awesome they’ll sound in your work, but then they go and make it sound pretentious and amateurish and you’re all, “Come on, guys!”, but they just point and laugh at you.

      But then you get out the red pen and they’re not laughing any more.

      • They help me decide the mood of the first draft, but I replace them with better words(and less of them) before things are complete.

        • Brian_8thdayfiction

          Yeah, I tend to do that to. Often it’s a matter of telling in the first draft (I’ll use adjectives/adverbs to tell how the character is feeling), then getting rid of as many of those as possible, by showing instead of telling.

      •  one hilarious reply after another! So true!  Loved you giving them a drunkin/shmoozy personality…. or maybe that was just my interpretation.

        • Brian_8thdayfiction

          Drunken Adverbs should be the name of an indie rock band.

    •  I hate piles of adjectives and adverbs.  I swear I avoid them, but there they are, every time I do a re-read.  Sneaky little buggers!

  • Lisa Roberts

    The yelling starts earlier now.  It used to wake me, shaking me from superhero dreams (…”Here he comes, to save the daaay!”) like a thunderbolt.  I’d have to shake my head and rub my eyes to see where I was.  The shadowy outlines of my Little League trophies, bat in hand, poised to run, would eventually tether me to my room and the gravity of the scene below me.  Two a.m. and they’d be in full swing, firing barbs and insults at one another with the explosive sound and speed of a butterfly trigger.   

    Back then I’d carefully slide off the edge of my bed, tip toeing ever so softly across the hall to turn the dull brass knob of your closed bedroom door.  It felt like I was entering an entirely different atmosphere.  Your air was warm and thick, and it smelled like a mixture of gym clothes and something vaguely sweet that I couldn’t quite identify.  I’d have to firmly shake your shoulder a few times, sometimes even whisper your name, “Jack!”, to stir you from your deep sleep.  You seemed so peaceful in those brief moments before you were awake.  Like a mask, sleep transformed the intense furrowed look of your daytime face, leaving you open and vulnerable, nearly unrecognizable. It made me wonder what filled your dreams.  Once awake, you would simply roll over, without more than a soft guttural groan, leaving the warm indentation of your body on nubby worn sheets where I’d slip in trying to fill the outlines of your stronger, bigger body.  There I would lie, still as death, squeezing my eyes shut, as though by closing them I could draw curtains on the grainy myopic film reel that replayed the incessant nightly saga of my parents scorn and anger.

    On those hot summer nights, as I lay there trying to match your shallow breathing, I would sometimes begin to panic.  The thick air began to feel like a wooden casket on my chest and I would startle you as I began to cough and gasp.  Like a well-trained soldier, you would immediately jump out of bed, taking me with you, and before I could even catch my breath, we were out your window, scaling our way down the gnarly Live Oak tree to the damp and dewy undergrowth below it.   The wet, cool mist hovering in the garden air would gradually let me fill my lungs and slowly I would begin to see the world around me again.   

    We’d lay there for hours in the dark and thundering silence, peacefulness pierced only by the cacophony of nature’s trills and calls woven through the rise and fall of our parent’s impassioned bitterness.    The proximity of our faces pressed against the fine quills of ryegrass intensified the earthy mineral smell of the dirt below and heightened the feeling of its denseness.   In those far away moments, as the grass tickled my ears, I would find myself wondering what it would be like to feel the approach of a buffalo stampede.  What would I do?  Would I run and hide behind a smooth warm boulder or would I shrink and dig to become one with the dry hard plains?  As the moon receded across the sky, the vibration from the slamming of the front door would suddenly jar us from our makeshift respite.   Just as the first glimmers of day light would puncture the dark sky we’d hear the vroom and rattle of  Dad’s old Buick as it defiantly made it’s way down the drive and around the corner.   It was only then that we knew it was finally safe to slink back in through the tattered screen door.  

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      So, I’m curious Lisa: Are there things you changed to this piece before you posted it here? I’d be interested to know a bit about the process of this one.

      One thing I noticed is that there are quite a bit of adjectives and adverbs throughout. My experience has been that cutting some of those might make the story flow a little better, a bit smoother.

      And it is tricky to figure out which ones should stay and which ones should go–one of the many reasons that when any of us write anything, it usually involves multiple revisions before it’s done. One trick I’ve used before is to put the piece away–for a day, a couple days, a week, maybe even a few weeks–and then get it back out and re-read it. Sometimes when you go back to a piece after being away from it for a while, you’ll look at and say “You know, I really liked that word choice when I wrote it, but it doesn’t really add anything to the story”, or “I liked that whole sentence, and I still like it, but it doesn’t really fit as it is now–it either needs to go or be more concise”.

      And I have to say, I really, really like how the words “you” and “your” start showing up in the second paragraph. I love how the first paragraph is the narrator giving the reader the background, telling us what’s happening, and then in the second paragraph, it’s “you”, “your”. The narrator’s addressing their brother! That change in perspective is really effective. Nicely done!

      Thanks for sharing!

  • I’m refining a manuscript in which, after all this time, I can’t believe there are still so many “he said” “she said”s.  On the other hand, I don’t want readers to ever wonder who’s saying what.  It’s a fine line twixt too many and not enough.  Isn’t writing fun!

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      Yes, that is a tricky one. Too many “he said” “she said”s can definitely be tiresome. But losing the reader can be just as bad, or worse.

      One trick I use sometimes to leave out as many of the “he said”s and “she said”s as possible while not losing the reader is, if it’s a long passage of dialogue, I’ll add a short sentence before or after one of the character’s lines to remind the reader who’s saying what:

      “What are you talking about?”

      Paul took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Seriously? You don’t know? At this point?”

      “Don’t be condescending.”

      Of course, when said dialogue is an argument (like the example above), it’s usually easier to remember who’s who. But I think this trick would work for non-argument dialogue as well.

      My point is, I think removing as many of the “he said” “she said”s as possible is the way to go. But that’s how I roll. Like anything in writing, there are no 100% always true rules.

  • Paul is sitting on the black cast iron bench that stands
    just outside the Sit N Sip’s front door. 
    I consider sitting down beside him, but decides against it. “So what did
    you want to talk about,” I ask, keeping my voice even.

      

    “I want to know what’s going on with you and that guy,” Paul
    says.

     

    Accusing me?  Accusing
    me of what?

    Stay calm. 

     

    “Nothing is going on,” I say, not calm… defensive.  Tattle tailing blood stains my cheeks, painting
    me a liar.   

     

    Paul’s fists curl into balls, his body stiffens.  He snorts knowingly and glares up at me,
    “You’re a horrible liar. Just tell me what’s going on with you and that guy?”
    he demands. 

     

    “Nothing …” I begin.

     

    “Stop lying,” Paul shouts, cutting me off.  The force of his words—so unexpected and out
    of character—pushes me into high alert. 
    I shift my weight automatically, subconsciously bracing myself. 

     

    Paul seems to sense the effect his anger is having on me.  “I’m sorry,” he says shaking his head.  And then, so much like Tom had only a few
    minutes earlier, he deflates.  His shoulders
    slump, his fingers uncurl, hands drop to his sides, fall open to reveal nail
    bitten palms, “Just talk to me… please,” he says, pleads. 

     

    “Fine, I know who he is. 
    But there’s nothing’s going on with us. 
    He’s just the new guitar teacher at Avondale’s.”  I realize my mistake at once, and wish I
    could take that last sentence back. 

     

    Paul doesn’t respond. 
    He doesn’t have to—I can easily follow the course of his thoughts by
    watching the stream of emotions play across his face.  A pained darkness tints his brown eyes black,
    and I know he’s remembering my sudden obsession with learning to play the
    guitar.  I brace myself for what’s sure
    to follow and wish with all my heart I could do something to stop it.  I watch his mind put the pieces together—his
    eyes bulge, freeze… lids crash, hiding his pain.

     

    I should never have let him buy me that guitar. 

     

    “It’s not a big deal Paul.” I say quickly, hating to see him
    like this.  “Okay, maybe I think he’s hot…
    who cares. All the girls at dance talk about him.”

     

    Paul wears his anger like a shield—its presence made known
    in the hunch of his shoulders, in the veins of his neck. 

     

    I hurry to say more. “Nothing is going on, I swear.  It wasn’t even my idea to come tonight.  Tiffany practically had to beg me to meet her
    here.” 

     

    I pause to take a breath, but when I open my mouth to continue
    it suddenly dawns on me how ridiculous this conversation actually is.  Paul isn’t my boyfriend.  He has no right to make me feel guilty about
    having a stupid crush on a guy a few years older than me. 

     

    I throw my hands up and take a step back, square my
    shoulders.  “Why are we even talking
    about this?” I ask coldly.

     

    Paul springs to his feet. 
    “Because he was looking at you,” he says, his face scarlet.

     

    “So what!” I yell.

     

    Paul makes a sound of irritation, rushes forward.  His hands are on my shoulders before I have a
    chance to back away.  He lowers his eyes
    to my level. 

     

    His next words are spoken slowly, each emphasized as if he
    were trying to explain something to a child. 
    “He was looking at you in a way he should not have been looking at you,”
    he says, his voice low, gravely. 

     

    I shake my head, first in denial and then even harder in disgust.  He has no right to talk to me like this. 

     

    Paul squeezes my shoulders. 
    I try to break free, but Paul holds fast, his hands trembling.

     

    “Let go, your hurting me!”

     

    Paul’s face is stone, eyes blazing.  “Has he touched you?” he spits, the question
    leaping from his lips, as if the possibility had just occurred to him. “If he
    touches you, I swear to God I will kill him.”

     

    Adrenalin explodes inside me. I wrench myself free of Paul’s
    grasp.  “I can take care of myself! This
    is none of your business Paul!”

     

    “You have no idea what your doing!” Paul shouts back, “This
    isn’t a game Anais, this guy is dangerous. 
    I’m trying to help you.”

     

    “You don’t even know Tom! 
    He’s not dangerous!”  I laugh
    harshly, “and even if he were, I wouldn’t need you to rescue me.”

     

    “You think your so tough, but your not,” Paul says.

    “You have no idea how tough I am,” I scream, suddenly more
    furious than I have ever been outside of a nightmare. “You say your going to
    protect me, but you’re never there when I really need you.  No ones there…” I say, my voice trembling.  “There have been times when I would have done
    anything to have your help, but you never showed up.  Well guess what Paul?  I have learned to take care of myself.  I don’t need you any more.  I can fight my own battles, I’ve been doing
    it for years!”

     

    “What?” Paul asks, the color draining from his face.  “Has someone been hurting you?  Why didn’t you tell me?”

     

    I laugh bitterly. “You can’t help me.  No one can.”

     

    Paul reaches a hand towards me, “I told you not to touch
    me!” I scream, my body shaking with rage. 
    “Why can’t you just leave me alone!  Why did you have to follow me tonight? I don’t
    want you here!”

     

    Paul stares back, stunned. 
    “You’ve really changed,” he says sadly, 
    “I care about you Anais. I’m the best friend you have, but if you want
    me to leave, I’ll leave,” Paul says, “But If I leave now, I’m not coming back.”

     

    “Good!”

     

    “Worst decision of your life Anais.” Paul says before
    turning his back on me.

     

    It isn’t until I watch Paul walk away in a cloud of pulsing
    orange that I realize my sight has been triggered.  I squint after him, expecting him to stop, or
    at least look back.  If he does, I plan
    to yell at him

    To keep walking!

    To get the hell out of here! 

     

    But he doesn’t look back, doesn’t pause, or even slow down.

     

    For the second time tonight, I wish I didn’t care. 
     

    •  I also had quiet of few POV issues.  I think I caught all of those. 

      • Brian_8thdayfiction

        I enjoyed this (and by “enjoyed”, I don’t mean I enjoy people fighting, just that it made me interested in these characters and the novel they inhabit).

        When I read this, I didn’t see too many “he said”s or “she said”s; there didn’t seem to be many at all. I did notice that the dialogue (particularly when it first starts) is surrounded by descriptions of the characters’ physical actions, or physical and/or emotional reactions to what the other person’s just said. This is good because the reader can easily follow who’s saying what, but I’ve found that sometimes cutting out some of those descriptions (or cutting them down to their bare essentials, figuring out the most important ones and leaving those while getting rid of the rest) can help the dialogue flow better. And in this case, where two characters are arguing, quickening the pace of the dialogue can help ratchet up the tension and make it feel more real.

        Another thing I noticed was there were a few “your”s that should have been “you’re”s. I notice this because I make this mistake myself, and the way I always look for it when I’m reading over what I’ve written? I’ll always read any “your” as “you are”. If it makes sense as “you are”, then I know I have to change that “your” to “you’re”. If it doesn’t make sense as “you are”, then “your” stays as is. Homophones–what gives with them, am I right?

        Thank you for sharing!

        •  Thank you!  I really appreciate you taking the time to give feedback.  I see what you mean and will be doing more editing tomorrow!   

          • Brian_8thdayfiction

            You’re welcome!

        • I agree with the cutting down of descriptions to the bare essentials.  Going between dialogue to description back to dialogue can distort the flow, and especially during such a dramatic scene such as this, you should just let it flow so that it the exchange is fast and quick.  The speed helps build the intensity whereas slowing it down delays it.  

      • Brian_8thdayfiction

        Hey, also, FYI: The fifteen minutes isn’t a hard and fast rule, just a general guideline (especially when it comes to revision–15 minutes is a miniscule amount of time for a task like that). I don’t want to speak for Joe, but I’m guessing he wouldn’t delete something you posted if it was later revealed you’d spent 17 minutes on it. Or even 20.

        Now if it was 21 minutes, that might be another story…

        •  HA!  That was some humerus stuff!

        • You’re a clown Brian. 

          But it’s true. At 21 minutes, you’re screwed.  

          • Brian_8thdayfiction

            I knew it! All right, cat’s out of the bag: 21 MINUTES = SCREWED.

  • My biggest struggle is tense. I slip in and out of past and present tense. The first several pages of my work in progress were a mess. Once I realized it, I was able to clean up the tense issues and prevent the same mistakes later on. At least I hope so! 

    Those were some great tips, Brian. It’s amazing how I can be writing along thinking I’m pouring out a masterpiece just to discover I’ve said Jim did, Jim did, Jim did throughout the whole piece! 

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      Hey, thanks! Yeah, the tendency to change tense is a big one. I do that all the time, too.

      And I don’t know about anyone else, but my first draft is almost always just about getting the idea(s) down on paper (I tend to think more in terms of plot than character, but when I do write something character-centric, it’s usually about bringing said character(s) to life on paper), and my first revision is always about going through and saying: “Hey, that’s weird that I repeated that word ten times in one paragraph”, or “Well, this paragraph apparently takes place in the past, present, AND future”, and just getting rid of stuff like that.

  • This is what I managed in fifteen.  There’s more, but I didn’t want to put it all up.  I had difficulty in the beginning with the flashback to the conversation with Juan.  Is the constant use of “had” necessary?

    Maria was on the bus with her laptop open, looking at childhood pictures of her son. It had been five years since Maria had last seen her son, Juan. She remembered that last day well. He had come over to have lunch with her. It was a two hour drive from where he lived and she rarely saw him, so she had prepared an enchilada with chicken she marinated for a couple days. Her own secret recipe that she knew he loved.

    When he arrived he was happy and excited to see her. They dined and she told him about her work and her job as a receptionist and he told her about his girlfriend who Maria had met several times and did not like and his surf shop he owned by the beach. Once they had finished lunch and were sitting full in their chairs, he reached out and grabbed Maria’s hand and held it. “

    Mother,” he had said, “Liz and I are getting married.”

    She remembered looking at him for a second before getting up and taking his plate. “Married?” she had said when she walked to the kitchen, her back facing her son. “Married to that women? No, no, no.”

    She reappeared in the room. “You can’t marry her, she isn’t Latino, she doesn’t know anything about us.”

    “Mother, she loves me. I don’t care if she isn’t Latino.”

    “But, you can’t marry her, you can’t. She’s stupid and doesn’t know anything about family.”

    “She works the shop with me,” he had said, “she is not stupid, she is very smart. You just cannot see it.”

    “I see everything. I know, don’t tell me I don’t know. You cannot marry her, Juan. You can’t.”

    “Mother,’ he had said, “I am marrying her, I do not care. We have a child on the way. I love her and we are going to have a family.” Maria had begun to cry and told her son to get out and he left. They hadn’t talked since.

    Maria knew about him though, about his life, his son, his business. Her daughter Priscilla told her. According to Priscilla, he was happy. Priscilla would tell Maria about her vacations to Santa Cruz to visit him. The fine weather and his beach house. His son, George, had turned five the last time she saw him. Maria would ask about George, if he was a good boy, a polite one, if he liked to play sports, if he was smart. If he looked like her grandson or if there was any resemblance to her. Priscilla would say yes to all of these things, even though George could be rude and demanding and he had blue eyes and not olive ones like his father and grandmother. Priscilla did not think her mother could handle any other answers. She thought that if Maria ever felt that her grandson was somehow foreign to her, there would never be any way that she would ever see Juan again. Priscilla thought of these as white lies that would seal themselves of their wrongness once Maria saw her son again.

    Priscilla then felt justified in her lies when she was able to mediate an understanding between her mother and her younger brother. George was in a school play and had a large role. Priscilla told both Juan and Maria that this was a special occasion, one that would be best for a family get together. Juan agreed, but only under the condition that Maria was soft with Liz. Maria only agreed to come as long as she would be the one to cook for her son and grandson.

    The bus began nearing the station and Maria put her laptop away in her briefcase. She got up and sat at the bus station to wait for her son to pick her up.

    As she waited she thought about what her grandson would look like. Maybe like Juan’s father, she thought, whatever he looked like. She hadn’t looked at a picture of him for a long time. She’d gotten rid of them when he left.

    It had been twenty minutes and Juan still had not shown up.

    Maria sat with her knees together and her luggage in front of her, watching the people move about her. She felt foreign there in Santa Cruz. She looked at the sun and even though it was midway through the sky and there would still be plenty of daylight left, she felt uneasy. She didn’t often go places she hadn’t been. Never alone. Her life had become routine between her house, her cat Chewy, and the neighbors she had had since raising Juan and Priscilla. Would he show up, she thought, maybe he decided to changer his mind. Maybe he didn’t want to see me after all. Maybe it was Liz that told him that I shouldn’t come.

    Her eyes began to tear at the thoughts. Her throat became dry and felt tight and she closed her eyes and bowed to her luggage.

    She pulled out her phone and dialed Priscilla’s phone number, but it went straight to voicemail. She left a message. Her voice was shaky, shrilly. “Priscilla, where are you? Where is Juan? Will you be here soon? Please come get me.” She didn’t have Juan’s phone number anymore. She’d deleted it several years ago.

    It had been forty minutes and she was becoming frightened. She got up and took hold her luggage and wheeled it with her down the street through the downtown area. The downtown was fraught with shops and boutiques and even though it was midday and the sidewalks and street were clean, Maria still felt uneasy about the homeless people and young people about..

    She walked to a coffee shop, ordered coffee and sat outside with her luggage on the porch area. She tried calling Priscilla again. She took out her computer and sent her an email after exiting out of the photo album screen that came up first.

    While she sat with her computer, a man came up and sat across from her.

    He had a rugged look to him, but he had a wide smile. His eyes were dark brown and he had a five o‘clock shadow, but his clothes, a black shirtsleeve shirt and jeans were clean.

    “Hello,” he said, “how are you?”

    Maria looked up at him and her makeup was blurry beneath her eyes.

    “Are you ok?” the man asked. He looked at her luggage, “you aren’t from around here are you?”

    “No,” she said.

    “Would you like to see the beach? It may make you feel better. I’d carry your bag for you.”

    Maria looked at the stranger. He was younger than her, but not by much.

    “I’d like to see the beach.”

    He took her bag and led her down the street. He did most of the talking. He told her about Santa Cruz and how he had come from L.A. years ago with a girl who left him. He told her that he loved the ocean and that it was the best part about being there. Maria liked that he did most of the talking. He hadn’t asked why she was crying and she thought that was very polite.

    He took her to what he called a private beach. There were people about, but he said that most beaches were much more populated and that some privacy would be nice.

    They sat on the sand and watched the waves. The sun was getting closer to the horizon and the man said he loved the sunsets. Maria was still choked up and did not say anything. She only nodded.

    The man edged closer to her. He pointed at the horizon underneath the sun and she followed his arm to his finger to the horizon with her eye.

    “Isn’t the horizon beautiful,” he said. “The place where the sky and ocean meet?”

    Maria nodded.

    “You’re beautiful yourself, Maria,” he said and put an arm around her. “You are very beautiful.” He then pulled her in and began kissing her first on the mouth then on the cheek then back on the mouth. Maria had not been in this position for years, not since her last boyfriend when she realized she was not right to love anyone because no one would ever be what she wanted in a man.

    She froze as the man kissed her. Her mouth didn’t move. It was still tight and dry. Then she pushed him away and told him that she didn’t want to kiss him. She was crying harder now and her makeup was falling down her face. She got up and walked away, leaving him in the sand.

    She cried for five minutes behind a rock before she pulled herself together. “Come on, Maria,” she told herself. “You are stronger than this, be strong Maria.” But, her throat was still tight and dry.

    When she walked around the rock, the man was gone with her suitcase. She scanned the entire beach but she couldn’t see the man and she sunk down to her knees and began crying again.

    • The captains I found were mostly “he said/she said”, grammar, and repeats.  Those guys……………….

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      I didn’t see too many “he said”s or “she said”s. Some, but not to the point it’s distracting. Nothing wrong with using them, just overusing them can be a problem, and from what you’ve said, you already eliminated some.

      As far as to use or not use “had”, that can be a tricky one. This page: http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfect.html

      goes into detail (a great bit of detail; it might be more information than you need) about when “had” should or shouldn’t be used and gives quite a few examples. Reading your piece, I don’t think the “had”s are overdone. There might be some spots where they’re not necessary and could be eliminated, but aren’t incorrect, and after the first read, none of the “had”s stuck out to me as being incorrectly used.

      One thing I noticed is you might be able to replace some of the “Maria”s with “she”s, particularly early in the story, just to avoid too much repetition. Of course, this gets harder to do once the other female characters (Priscilla, Liz) are introduced. And one grammar thing I noticed: Maria says to Juan, in the flashback “Married to that women”, which should be singular. I do stuff like that all the time, and it could very well be nothing more than a typing mistake. That’s what I tell myself when I accidentally use the wrong word, anyway: “Oh yeah, I meant that other word, the right one. I just, um, typed the wrong letters. It was really my keyboard’s fault, when you think about it.”

      This was really interesting to read. I’d be curious to know more of the story of this family. And I’m also hoping that guy on the beach gets his comeuppance.

      Thanks for sharing!

      • Thanks for the advice and the webpage!  

        • Brian_8thdayfiction

          You’re welcome!

  • Like Beck, my editing woes begin and end with tense. While for the most part, it’s just a matter of proofreading, there are some places where I see the problem and I honestly have no idea how to fix it. It’s not a situation I’m used to being in, procrastination is one thing, but being at a loss for answers is horrible :/ 

    Below is a short story I wrote earlier this year. I spent some time with it tonight and tried to get a grip on the tense, but it still needs work:

    Winter stood on its last legs in Denbury. An old beater rolled down Main Street, sputtering and coughing. The driver sipped idly at his coffee, glancing down side streets and alleys at the various pieces of his misspent youth; the odds and ends of the daredevil adventure that was growing up in a town too small for him. 

    The radio did nothing to enliven Richard’s mood as his car rolled quietly into the driveway of his childhood home. He didn’t slam the door as he got out, though he wanted to. His mother kissed his cheek when he came in and told him he could set his bags down anywhere. Kyle sat on the floor of the den, absorbed in some show, the volume at max in case people couldn’t hear it on the moon. 

    “Where is he?” Richard asked.

    “He’s lying down in the bedroom.” His mother picked a spec of something out of his mess of hair, “Don’t wake him up if he’s asleep.”

    “Yeah…” Richard said under his breath and walked down the same hallway he had walked down so many times as a child. The same hallway that always smelled of cookies, though today his mother was preparing some sort of vegetable dish and the whole house smelled much worse for it.

    He tapped on his parent’s door frame and poked his head in the room.

    “You know what your mother said to me when she got out of bed this morning?” The old man had always been gristly at his best. Lying in his bed, propped up on pillows, he looked more like a disgruntled ghost than a man. He was nearly translucent and his skin hung in wrinkled sheets.

    “Hi Dad.” Richard said as he entered the room.

    “No. Not that.” The old man grumbled and shifted the pillows behind him. “She said to me, ‘Richard will be here soon to see you.’ You know what time it is?”

    “A little past noon…” Richard said.

    “A little past noon! What the hell happened? Did you forget where the place was?” His father stared up into the closet across from the foot of the bed where a small TV sat on a wooden dresser, shouting current events into the room.

    “Do you need a blanket?” Richard asked.

    “What?”

    “Do you want me to get you a blanket?” 

    The hell I do. I need a blanket, I’ll get up and get one my damn self.” His father said. 

    “You look cold.”

    “Shut up and go help your mother with lunch.” Richard stood up and walked out of the room. Behind him his father yelled, “And maybe next time it wouldn’t hurt to show up on time!”

    Richard looked over the various pots and pans that his mother had set on the burners before he scratched his head and decided to join his brother in the living room where things were certain to be less complicated. 

    An overly colorful show shouted obscenities at Kyle where he sat on the floor with his legs tucked under him “indian style”. Richard took a seat next to his brother on the couch and rest his head in one hand, trying desperately to care about whatever bizarre thing was happening on the giant screen in front of him.

    His attention wandered to the pictures on the bookshelves and hung up on the walls. Pictures of his father and mother before the war, when they were young and careless. Pictures of them after the war: hardened, but still spirited with a baby boy clinging to his mother’s hip. With each picture, he could see his father age and sour. 

    Richard realized that his father had been sick for years now. In the picture he was holding a young Kyle and looking confused, like he couldn’t quite put together what all was happening around him. It was a funny picture, and harmless really, but it brought to mind all the slips of memory, the shifts of emotion, and cracks in his father’s reality that had followed in the decade or so.

    From the kitchen Richard’s mother called out to the two boys, “Food’s on.” 

    He stood up and took a closer look at one of the pictures on the shelf. It was a candid shot of himself as a young boy, trying to climb up a tree on an expanse of arboreal hillside with great difficulty. His father was beneath him, holding Richard up by the waist while the boy tried desperately to pull himself up onto a branch. The look on his father’s face made the whole picture. He was smiling so wide he seemed almost glowing.

    That was when his father had been at his best – when he was helping someone. Not in that philanthropic, giving sort of way, but in the “teach a man to fish” sort of way. He could have easily climbed up the tree and hefted Richard up, but he wanted Richard to learn to do it himself. Richard had scraped his knees and arms to a bloody mess and it wasn’t until he had almost given in that his father had hefted him up, saying “It gets easier when you’re taller.”

    Richard looked at his younger brother, still staring intently at the television. “Food. Let’s go.”

    “This is almost over…” Kyle didn’t say the words to anyone in particular.

    Richard smacked his younger brother gently up the backside of his head and took the remote out of his hand to turn the television off. 

    “What the fuck? There was like five minutes left!” Kyle stood up. He had somehow grown a full foot taller than Richard in the year since they last saw each other.

    “Yeah and you haven’t even said hi to me yet, dick.” 

    “Whatever.” Kyle walked into the kitchen without another word.

    Richard shook his head and joined his family in the dining room.

    He sat opposite his brother at the round wooden table they always sat at. His mother sat adjacent to them with his father across from her. They always ate in silence, save for the occasional small attempts at conversation his mother made.

    “So, how’s work?” She asked Richard, spearing a bit of broccoli on her plate.

    “Mmm…It’s alright.” Richard pushed the vegetables about on his plate. He figured the table was now minutes away from descending into a traditionally pointless argument.

    “Only alright? What about that promotion you were supposed to get?” His mother chewed her food, a tiny smile on her face. 

    “Got it.” He said.

    His father grunted. “Nice of you to call.”

    Richard didn’t look up from his plate, but he knew his mother was no longer looking at him. She would be quietly eating her food now, that same smile only slightly diminished on her face. 

    It would spill forth now. The argument. Richard braced himself.

    “Hmph.” His father continued to eat in silence for the rest of their lunch.

    When everyone was finished, his mother picked up their plates and took them into the kitchen. She hummed the same tune she always hummed when cleaning the dishes and smiled at Richard and his father when they left the table. His father stepped out onto the back porch and Richard followed.

    They eased into the old wooden rockers that were always there and Richard tried to think of what he should say to his father. What could he possibly say to comfort the solemn man who raised him? Did he try to comfort him? Did he tell him that he loved him? Did he love him? 

    The two men rocked quietly in their chairs, staring pointedly at the fastidiousness of the backyard. Richard hated yard work. His father tried for years to instill his love of the outdoors in his son, but never succeeded. Looking at the yard now, slipping away as his father became less and less capable of nurturing it, Richard regretted having never been the son his father wanted.

    “Your mother’s going to need help around here…” His father said.

    So it came. After waiting in the wings for so long, the conversation took the stage. 

    “Um, yeah…I’ll swing by when I can and she’s got Kyle.” Richard said awkwardly.

    His father laughed without mirth. “Kyle…right. Your brother’s got some years before he’s going to be of any help to anyone. Kid’s obsessed with television. Can’t pull him away from it to do a damn thing.” 

    “There’s time. I mean…You…” Richard stared off into the yard.

    “I didn’t really prepared you for this, huh?” His father said. “Wasn’t much of a father…”

    “No, you…were fine. I…don’t know what to say.” Richard couldn’t understand the tears that welled up in his eyes, but he knew his father wouldn’t have any of it so he held them back as best he could.

    “You don’t owe me anything, kid. Just take care of your mother. She’s a good woman.” 

    “Of course….” Richard stole a careful glance at his father. The old man looked longingly at his yard. He was thin – used up – and his body shook gently. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he rocked quietly back and forth in his chair.

    “I-” Richard began.

    “Your mother needs help in the kitchen.” His father said.

    “Right…” Richard stood up and opened the door back into the house. He looked at his father one last time before he went inside to help clean up the remains of their lunch.

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      After reading this, I didn’t see any big problems with tense. A couple minor things I did see: In the paragraph that begins “Richard realized that his father had been sick for years now”, the last sentence of that paragraph ends “…that had followed in the decade or so.” Right before that, you reference one of the pictures Richard’s looking at, and the decade or so refers to the time since the picture had been taken. I would recommend adding “since that picture was taken” or even just “since” to the end of that last sentence to make it clearer.

      Another thing was the sentence “He sat opposite his brother at the round wooden table they always sat at.” I would recommend rewording it so the sentence doesn’t end with “at”. And I write this as someone who is not a huge fan of the “don’t end a sentence with a preposition” rule; I think that’s one of those rules that was made to be broken. But for me, the “at” ending that particular sentence doesn’t quite read right.

      But these are somewhat nitpicky things. Overall, this is a really strong story, and it seems like you’ve worked hard on it and have already taken care of the Captains in the piece. I particularly like your dialogue between Richard and his father in the bedroom (Richard’s minimal responses to his father’s anger speak volumes about their strained relationship), and the dialogue between Richard and Kyle (really funny, and reads true to life). I also really liked the opening sentence; I dig the phrase “winter stood on its last legs”.

      Also, as far as feeling at a loss for answers when it comes to revision: The great thing about writing is that revision is something you don’t have to do yourself. When you get to the point where you’re at a loss for how to fix something, that’s when I would give the piece to a trusted friend, family member, teacher, etc., who can look at it with fresh eyes and whom you’d trust to give you honest feedback. You can even tell that person or people “The second paragraph is bugging me…any ideas on how to fix it?” For me, that person is often my wife. I can always count on her to support me but also give honest feedback–if something doesn’t work or there’s a glaring error, she’ll tell me.

      Also, if you search online, in local papers, on community bulletin boards at the local coffee shop, etc., you can find local writers’ groups that meet weekly or monthly to read and critique each other’s work. And of course, there’s The Write Practice. I’ve heard they’re good people.

      Sorry for the long-winded response, and thanks for sharing!

      • No apology necessary, Brian! This was really helpful 🙂 Thanks so much for taking the time to really critique this, it’s greatly appreciated. 

        • Brian_8thdayfiction

          You’re welcome!

  • …I once spelled the word “the” wrong. :/ In my defense, it had been a long day.

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      D’oh! Thank God for revision, huh?

      By the way, I would also say in your defense that “the” is one of many words in the English language that isn’t spelled the way it sounds (if it were, wouldn’t we pronounce it “th-eh”?). So really, it’s the English language’s fault.

    •  Every day has 24 hours, but I guess that’s not teh point…

  • Juliana Austen

    Great post – thank you! I look forward to a sequel – perhaps how to deal with Captain Precious! You know the one – those sentences that are so lyrical and fabulous that you have to rewrite the whole piece to keep them in!

    • haha Captain Precious!!!

    • I have trouble writing all the parts of a story… It’s not just one Captain Obvious or one Captain Precious. I have to deal with a whole crew of Private Parts.

      • Juliana Austen

        Ooooh Ahhhh me ‘heartie! Get thee down that plank!

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      I love that–Captain Precious!

      I was listening to the World Cafe on NPR one time, and singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell was on and was talking about the album he made with novelist/memoirist Mary Karr. During the interview he talked about what it was like to work for the first time ever with an editor, and it came up in the conversation that the editor said the number one mistake writers make is (and I’m paraphrasing) “falling in love with all the words they’ve written”.

      I definitely think that along with Captain Obvious (the glaring errors), a great first step is also looking for Captain Precious (the stuff you’re proud of but may be not as great as you think once you step back and take another look or may even be completely unnecessary). 

  • BronsonOquinn

    Great article! I think the most important thing a writer can do is get as much distance as possible from their early drafts before editing. I just published a book through Amazon and started reading it again after a couple months. It’s crazy how glaring some things are that I just couldn’t notice at the time, even when reading it through a dozen times.

    I guess what I’m saying is, Captain Obvious’s arch nemesis is Dr. Distance.

    • Dr. Distance. I love it. 

      We should start personifying all of our writing and editing techniques and pitfalls and naming them after super heroes and villains. 

    • Brian_8thdayfiction

      Definitely. Distance–the more the better, but even a few days helps–can do wonders as far as helping you see things with fresh eyes. It’s one of my favorite revising techniques, too.

  • Thanks a lot Captain Obvious.

  • Those are some pretty good tips. I also think after completing a first draft we should reread it and make sure the ‘big’ picture (what the story is about and what’s happening) is down pact.   Then killing all the captain obvious’s in the story would be next.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Rachel Evelyn Nichols

    My Captain Obvious likes repeating the same word in 3-4 consecutive sentences. He also likes to make the sound over and over consecutively. Worst of all, Captain Obvious tends to fall in love with a poly-syllable word such as consecutive and use it over and over…:)