Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things February 19, 2014 - 3:18pm


I just finished the first draft of my first novel. Congratulate me, please.

The whole thing was hand-written. I have an awful habit of getting caught up in editing while I'm writing, which rarely leads to measureable progress day-to-day. Choosing to write by hand was one of the best decisions I've made as a writer, because if I changed the story in the middle, then I just wrote as if I had already introduced the character or plot element I wanted to add. One of my characters changes personalities half-way, which is kind of amusingly insane when you read it. I'm planning on making the major story-level revisions as I transcribe it from my notebook onto the computer (which I started doing today).

As I'm doing this, I'm also trying to make the story consistent throughout. So give me your opinions here:

1) My main character's name is Jonas. After writing only a few sentences, I realize why writers tend to avoid characters with an S capping the end of their name; it brings up a troubling grammar issue for possessive pronouns. The proper way is, of course, to say "Jonas' hand" rather than "Jonas's hand", as we've all learned in school. But to be honest, I'm not too keen on the "proper" phrasing; phonetically, it's Jonases, and it seems like all but the strictest of grammarians are allowing s's possesiveness. On the other hand, even if it sounds cleaner, it does look a bit awkward on the page. I haven't decided yet which way I'll go, but I'm committed to the name.

2) Jonas the same age as many other young-adult protagonists, and has a mother (as most people do). However, while his mother does not play a huge role in the story, she comes up often enough that it becomes kind of clumsy to keep saying "Jonas's (or Jonas') mother", especially when she has a possession phrase as well, like "Jonas's mother's hand". Since this is a third-person perspective novel from Jonas's POV, I don't want to use a first name, and since it's not first person, it's hard to justify using "mom". I thought about using "Mrs. (Last name TBD)", but I'm not sure yet. What do you think?

Also, for anyone wondering, the first draft always feels terrible when you're reading it. But if you believe in your story, then editing is a lot of fun. I've already tried to write this story once (where Jonas was actually a minor character), and stopped because it was a complete mess and I hated it. This new story is much cleaner, and I definitely don't hate it. In fact, I rather like it. Just so you know.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore February 19, 2014 - 3:57pm

The proper way is, of course, to say "Jonas' hand" rather than "Jonas's hand", as we've all learned in school.

Did we? I always use apostrophe-s for singular possessive no matter what, to avoid confusion.


it becomes kind of clumsy to keep saying "Jonas's (or Jonas') mother", especially when she has a possession phrase as well, like "Jonas's mother's hand".

While your POV is confusing me (third-person from his perspective, yet she's not Mom? Wha?), I think most of that is avoidable with alternative phrasing. When this comes up, try to mention her first, so you can then simply say "her hand."

Oh, and congrats, writer!

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts February 19, 2014 - 4:37pm

I learned the s' instead of s's too until taking some journalism courses where the manuals started touting the s's, which I thought read more natural anyway. That might be a question best suited for a fiction editor to offer an opinion on.

And ditto to what Gordon said.

Congratulations on finishing the draft btw, Nathan.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 19, 2014 - 9:02pm

It is actually more complicated than Jonas'... I have a protag named James. I feel your pain. I can't remember the explanation, only that I learned it should be James's, not James'.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal February 19, 2014 - 11:05pm

Let me start with this: congrats.  If I could finish a first draft I'd be ecstatic.  At least for a moment.  It's an accomplishment.  Seriously.

Second, fuck what people "tend" to do, or what esoteric people think will happen.  Google the MLA whatever it is way of doing it, and do it that way.  A couple usages in, the reader won't care, probably never will (they'll get it with context clues), so long as your story is good enough to read.  Would you?  And if it's good enough to publish for readers to actually see, it's probably good enough to read.  Seriously, it's like long division when we have calculators in our phones.  Trust me, I'm an engineer.  Just do it technically correct and move on to the important stuff.  Nobody cares.  

And who sees the words anyway?  A truly good story has words on a page, but when you read it, you don't even see the page, somehow your brain puts that in the subconcious or something, and the images of everything are what you see.  I think they call it being engrossed.  It's amazing when it happens, isn't it?  Everything else is tertiary.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb February 20, 2014 - 12:30am

Congratulations on finishing that draft and credit to you for having written it by hand. I too would use 'Jonas's hand' instead of Jonas' hand.

V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow February 20, 2014 - 1:23am

I'll voice a different opinion.

Change the name to Jonah. To my ear, Jonases mother sounds even clumsier than something like Jameses mother, which doesn't sound too bad to me. Read a few of your sentences out loud and see how you feel about them.

Character names are more important than you think, but probably not in the way you think. Comments I've had from readers of my novel: 'I thought Sarah and Sophie were the same person' and 'Marcus and Martin are similar names, does that mean something'?

But this is all coming from someone who has no emotional attachment to names, having lived my whole life in a country where nobody can pronounce mine so I write under a pen name...

Good job on getting the first draft done - I also like the hand writing idea because it forces you to start the second draft from a blank page.

Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden is reading Fearful Symmetries February 20, 2014 - 3:11am

Congratulations on finishing the draft!

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk February 20, 2014 - 4:21am

 Nice one mate, 

Flaminia Ferina's picture
Flaminia Ferina from Umbria is reading stuff February 20, 2014 - 8:47am


I personally tend to sacrifice grammar to rhythm in my stuff, so I would write Jonas' hand even if Strunk & White say that should be only Jesus' treatment (or Moses', or other myths). Jonases reads a bit like an allitteration, that's why it feels awkward most of the times.
I must say my writing style takes quite some licence with correctness in general. If you choose the Jonas' way you will also have to adopt a more 'relaxed' voice throughout the entire work, or it will sound out of place. I guess.

For the second issue, I think you're the only one who can come out with a solution, and it will be a creative one because I'm getting curious as to how you have to refer to Jonas, but it's third person POV from his own perspective. That's the best with working drafts, we write and come up with problems that seem making little sense, but one morning we come to life with the eureka spark and it all falls into place.

Surprise us!

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland February 20, 2014 - 1:16pm

Congrats Nathan. That's awesome!

I'd go with Jonas's.

And Mrs. (tbd) sounds good, once you've esstablished it's his mother. But if you don't want to name her, I don't see why you can't still go with Mom or whatever he may call her.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer February 20, 2014 - 1:25pm

Jesus' and Moses' but Jonas's is the rule I always heard. On the other hand, I would try to use his instead of Jonas's as much as possible. It's much more comfortable and informal. In general, I think people use proper names too much. I've been trying to get away from it in fiction.

Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things February 20, 2014 - 4:14pm

My degree is not in English, so I may not be using the correct terminology when I say "third person limited", but I think I used it right. Basically, while I can see into Jonas's head, I am not Jonas, so I thought calling the mother "mom" might be a little more awkward than it needed to be, since it would seem like I'm bleeding perspectives together. Maybe I'll try it and see what happens.

I'm still going back and forth on the "Jonas's" thing, mainly because it's a clumsy (even if gramatically correct) sound that I worry might break up the pacing a little too much, even if I use it rarely. I'm toying with VR Stone's idea of using Jonah, which is close enough for the story's purposes, but I also don't want anyone reading any Biblical symbolism in the story.

Thank you all for the feedback, it is much appreciated. I'm debating as to whether or not I'll be posting chapters in the workshop. I might try the first and second chapter, just to see if they're powerful enough to capture an audience.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal February 20, 2014 - 8:09pm

Jonah is a clever way to get around all this...

I agree with the "mom" thing, that would be weird.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 21, 2014 - 1:07am

I write in 3rd limited pretty regularly, and I have used "Mom" like a name, and I've read it like that in 3rd limited more than a few times. If you don't feel like it works, then obviously don't use it, but you might try it on for size and see how it fits.

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies February 21, 2014 - 12:22pm

I think writing by hand would be cool because you can write more quickly and passionately and not worry about editing it until you transfer it to a computer. Seems more efficient.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal February 21, 2014 - 3:46pm


I'm the exact opposite for the exact same reason.  Much quicker (therefor passionate, and whatever else) on a keyboard.

Alan H Jordan's picture
Alan H Jordan from Reno, Nevada is reading "The Whisper Jar" and "The World Beneath" February 22, 2014 - 8:22pm


I would give credence to Jonathan's input as he is a fiction editor.

I endorse V.R. Stone's suggestion. Why not change the name? Since you're inputting this into a word processor, you'll be able to make a global search and replace easily.

This subject is covered extensively in a Kindle book that is available for free.(Or used to be anyway) See Grammar by Jae.

I have suggestion that may help you feel comfortable with your decision, whatever you decide: Visit, and submit one chapter to an editor who is at the second level of proficiency (highest)

When you award the project ask them to pay attention to the 's issue, and to provide a detailed rationale.

I hope this helps.


Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated February 23, 2014 - 12:23am

1)Why not just give him a name that doesn't end with a s?

2)Why not give her a name that doesn't end with a s?

Tim Johnson's picture
Tim Johnson from Rockville, MD is reading Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong February 26, 2014 - 7:06pm

Congrats, Nathan! That's freaking cool!

1. Back up to what Gordon suggested at the top: s's is correct depending on the style. It's totally legitimate; both are valid. Your teachers were wrong, or they were telling you s's was incorrect to avoid confusing you. Use whatever you like, and let your editor work it out.

(Note: I'm an editor. We address that sort of thing all the time. It's our job.)

2. Yes, it sounds like you're in third person, limited, and as such, you're not restricted to using the terms Jonas would use. Since it's third person, you have a narrator, even if he/she is only giving us access to Jonas' head. So it would be fine to use her first name. Mrs. Last Name would be fine, too. In certain instances, you could even go with "the woman," depending on how it feels in context (consider Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which I don't advocate as a great piece of writing but is, nonetheless, a legitimately respected piece of literature, uses only "the man," "the father," "the boy," and "the son" to reference its characters throughout the entire work).

Honestly, I think this is a good challenge to have if you can get creative with it and introduce variation without it feeling forced. Too many writers simply stick in the character's name or a pronoun to refer to the character, but they're forgetting the person has other aspects to them that are legitimate. For instance, if Jonas' (I prefer this way) mom is a teacher, you could refer to her as "the teacher ... ."

Oh, and for whatever it's worth, I suggest sticking with Jonas versus changing it to Jonah for simplicity's sake. At least for now. Work around it. See what creative solutions you can come up with. When you're on your final draft, look at it again. If you feel like it's not working or it feels forced, slip it to Jonah throughout. I think, though, working with it as Jonas could be a great chance to develop some mechnical chops, so long as it doesn't become a barrier for you.

Flaminia Ferina's picture
Flaminia Ferina from Umbria is reading stuff March 1, 2014 - 4:13am

"third person limited"

Oh yeah. It. Twas easy. Sounds like I really should stop snobbing third person narratives now.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this March 9, 2014 - 5:35pm

Cheers, Nathan! 

Fucking first drafts, man. So much potential. 

Not to just parrot on this, but I agree with the people who have suggested the name change. Jonah is pretty good. And, it's your book, you can do whatever you want! Though you have to do what's best for the story, which might mean keeping the name. 

1. If you're sticking with Jonas, I've always preferred Jonas' to Jonas's. I think it's easier to read, too, and I rarely see the latter in action. 

2. That's a tough one without reading it, but I like Renee's advice. That could work. 

Best of luck moving forward on this.