In the first draft, there are three protagonists. They are all women; they all order a dirty martini with three olives. In the first draft, nothing else is the same. There are three character arcs, three plotlines, and three endings. Each woman has a purse, but the contents vary: different shades of lipstick/different forms of payment/different objects deemed necessary. There might be a weapon: pepper spray/gun/switch blade.
Each woman has a conversation with the bartender but the banter changes: flirty/witty/sarcastic. How the bartender responds to her depends on her tone. Depends on what she has come there for. Depends on the contents of her purse. But mostly depends on how she orders the martini: straight up/extra dirty/shaken.
In the first draft, the perspective switches back and forth between the protagonists. It is unclear whether each is a protagonist or an antagonist. Maybe she is just an extra. Maybe she is an understudy. Maybe she is a friend. Maybe she is a mother. Maybe she is the villain. Maybe she will be deleted from the final draft.
In the second draft, lines are struck. More showing is done than telling. The dialogue between the protagonists and the bartender is expanded. The description of the bar is more specific: the lighting, the crowd level, the volume of the music playing in the background. Punctuation is corrected. An entire scene is tossed into the slush pile. The writer exercises restraint. The title of the story is deleted, rewritten, deleted again.
In the third draft, the setting is clearer. The reader feels they are transported there, into the scene with the characters. The writer adds a flashback, to give more depth to the character, to help the reader understand her core motivations. The writer is ruthless, chopping out unnecessary words. Changing “car” to “Mini Cooper” and “flower” to “orchid” and “fish” to “salmon.” Adding in more compelling verse like “harden” and “delicate” and “feverishly.” Maybe the language flows rhythmically. Maybe the writer takes control of the tempo, slowing the reader down with punctuation, drawing out syllables, then speeding her up with a frenzied onslaught of words. Maybe the pace is just right. The reader can’t stop reading.
In the eighth draft, you can’t turn away after the first line. It’s too good.
In the final draft, there is only one protagonist. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. The reader never knows what’s in the woman’s purse. Never knows her back story. You forget whether you are the writer, the character, or the reader. You follow along as the woman sips her martini, stirs the skewered olives around the glass. Maybe the writer and the character and the reader are different. Maybe they are the same.
One story. One martini. Three olives. Three ways.
Maybe you picture yourself in the story. Maybe the character stops speaking to the bartender, starts speaking to the reader instead. The writer is the character is the reader. Maybe the story isn’t finished. Maybe you’re not ready for it to end.