The Journal, Tuesday, 3/21

Hey Folks,

Long post today. Get a beverage and gird your loins and stuff.

Several major gems in Dean’s post today (see “Of Interest” below).

For me, chief among them was the reminder that you can’t change the past and you can’t foresee what might happen in the future.

So right there: don’t worry about it, and don’t worry about it. Don’t look back, move forward.

Also some excellent advice on structuring a goal and on structuring your goal-setting.

And a big reminder for me that revisiting earlier topics in light of new circumstances and with new eyes sometimes adds value for writers who follow his posts. And maybe my posts.

* * *

Update on Covers to Upload

Because I create my own ebook covers and because I like the print covers to mimic them, I sent Kat, the lady who runs Covers to Upload, a list of requrements yesterday.

Those requirements were fairly stringent as I want the interiors of my paper books to look a certain way and be uniform. So margins, gutters, font face and size, etc.

I also sent along the first book I’d like her to put into paper for me. I’ll report back here with a detailed accounting of how that goes.

As I wrote in an email to a writer friend this morning, I like to support folks who 1) Do Excellent Work 2) At A Great Price. They’re few and far between.

Consider, I’d already decided (about 13 novels, 4 short story collections, and 2 nonfiction books ago) to publish only to ebooks.

Covers to Upload’s beautiful covers and apparent attention to detail combined with her very reasonable prices changed my mind.

Don’t get me wrong. A hundred bucks is a lot of money to me. But not when I think of it as an investment in my business (writing) against a lifetime plus seventy-five years of sales.

By the way, of those 13 novels, two are as yet unpublished even as ebooks. One is still untitled. (grin) Guess I need to catch up.

But first, back to more writing on the current novel and my challenge. Barring unforeseen circumstances, that will happen for at least a few hours today.

Topic: Characters

In a correspondence, a friend recently gave me the idea for this topic.

Some writers (and probably all of them/us at first) believe they have to “build” or “create” characters. Some folks even go so far as to create a “character sketch” to one degree or another.

The character sketch might be so detailed as to include the character’s educational background, childhood experiences, and anything else. It’s the story of the characters.

Most often, writers who do this begin with a stick figure and then flesh it out. Those writers “assign” various physical, mental and emotional traits and “knows” the character(s) thoroughly before they begin writing the story.

Most often, these are the same writers who plot every step of a novel before they ever begin writing.

Of course, there are “hybrid” writers who create and use character sketches but also write without an outline when the time comes.

If either of these is how you write, that’s perfectly fine. Seriously, whatever works for you.

What follows is only one take — in particular, my take — on the character-creation part of the writing process.

The way I see it, regardless of all the various ways there are to create a story, all writers fall into one of two overall categories:

The Almighty Writer On High — This writer is the god of his fictional world. He dictates (again, to one degree or another) who the characters Are (education, life experiences, etc.), what the characters say and do. In short, this writer is in complete control of his characters.

(This writer also most often dictates plot points, twists and turns, and most often knows what will happen “next” in the story, often all the way to the end, but this topic is about characters.)

The Recorder — This writer has ceded control of the story to the characters.

So yes, he is also in charge at first. After all, how can you “cede” control if it isn’t yours to cede?

But this writer’s control ends where the characters’ control begins. Basically, when the writer puts his fingers on the keyboard.

This writer realizes this is not “his” story but the characters’ story. So he chooses to let the characters tell it.

As a result, the characters go where they want, say and do what they want, and pretty much dare the recorder (the writer) to keep up.

After all, he isn’t part of the characters’ world or their story. He simply happened upon some interesting people, thought Their story would be interesting, and asked permission to come along for awhile so he could record it.

Fortunately, the characters thought that would be fine.

What ensues from that moment forward is the characters’ story without so much as a single heavy fingerprint of the human “writer” on it.

Again, whether you choose to be the Almighty Writer on High or The Recorder is strictly up to you. Either way is fine with me. Whatever works.

But just in case you’ve been the former and are interested in trying on a new role as the latter, here’s one way (my way) to get there.

Back when I first decided to become the interested but non-controlling Recorder, I envisioned myself on a battlefield of sorts, one with trenches.

The trenches are the story, and that’s where the characters are: down in the story.

When I first started writing, I set myself up in a tower, far distant from the battlefield, and observed the action through a powerful telescope.

I watched what happened, could see what was coming, and anticipated what would happen if this character moved here and that character moved there, and they did and said this or that or the other.

And I directed them.

Now get this — because I’m only human, I was unable to think any thoughts that were different than the thoughts any reader might think if he were standing in the tower with me. So the stories “I” told were not only distant, but boring and predictable.

Later, I thought if I got closer to the battlefield I could see the action in greater detail. But I was still directing the characters and events. The stories improved — they weren’t as distant and were more detailed — but yeah, they were still ridiculously predictable.

Finally, a couple years ago, for some reason I thought what great fun it might be to get closer still.

I sat down on the edge of a trench and dangled my legs over. Only now I was too close.

I could no longer see an overview. Oh oh.

I could no longer tell what might happen next. And next. And next.

I began to hyperventilate.

The only way to enjoy the tight proximity to the characters AND find out what happened next and next and next was to be in the story itself.

So when a character raced by I yelled, “Hey!”

He stopped and looked back. His brow wrinkled. “Say, you’re not from around here, are you?”

I shook my head. “Nope. But you guys are really interesting to me. I wanna come along.”

He frowned. “But you’re not part of our group.”

“Yeah, I know. But I wanna be.”

He looked at me for a moment. “Hey, aren’t you that guy used to sit up in the tower over there and tell us what to do?”

“Uh, yeah. But see, I—”

He turned away. “Sorry. You can’t. We don’t care for control freaks.”

“But I don’t wanna control anything anymore! I just wanna be in the story!”

He turned around again, eyed me. Finally he said, “Well, you can’t be in the story. It’s out story, got it? You’re living your own story out there.

“Tell you what, though, you can come along if you want. You can be our recorder. Just keep up. Take notes on what we say and do. That’s as close as we can let you get.

“You’ll be in the thick of it, only you can’t participate. A’right?”

“Deal!” I said. Then I released my grip on all things Writerly and dropped off into the story.

From then on, I’ve only been out of the trenches between stories.

Now I learn who my characters are as they reveal themselves through their actions and words while running through the story. I describe events as they happen. Sometimes I see things coming, but most of the time I’m as surprised as the characters are.

And that tells me the readers will be surprised too.

Oh, and the plot? For that I harken back to Mr. Bradbury: “Plot is only the footprints the characters leave behind as they run through the story.”

Today, and (Not, Again) Writing

Rolled out at 3:30, outside by 4. To the Hovel around 6.

As I was reading over what I’d already written on Novel Two, another topic occurred to me, so I diverted my attention to write that. You’ll see it in a day or two.

I continued reading over what I’d already written on the novel, allowing myself to touch it along the way.

When I got to the blank space, nothing came. Maybe this one’s dead for the time being.

I feel all right either way. Even if I don’t achieve my most recent goal of writing two novels this month, I’m still current with my older challenge of writing at least one novel per calendar month.

7:30, to the house for a break.

Back to the Hovel around 8:30, but nothing coming today. While at the house I found out my son’s leaving today so I’ll take one more day to visit.

I did some admin stuff, formatting and designing a cover for Without A Clue. Then I published it to Amazon and D2D.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

Dean put up a truly great post. See “Being Behind And Setting Goals” at

Regardless of your political leanings, there’s a pretty good article on writing myths at

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1680 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 1680

Writing of Novel Two (probably DOA)

Day 1…… 978 words. Total words to date…… 978
Day 2…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 33439
Total fiction words for the year………… 185305
Total nonfiction words for the month… 13740
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 503300

Total words for the year (fiction and nonfiction)…… 235635

1 thought on “The Journal, Tuesday, 3/21”

  1. I remember seeing one of those character questionnaires in a book when I was in college, and I was like “Why?” It didn’t make sense to me to answer all these questions when I hadn’t even written the story yet, so I didn’t know what I needed. And besides, why did I need to know when a character’s birthday was or their favorite color if I wasn’t using it in the story? I never understood how you got characterization from identifying a favorite color or favorite type of food. Characterization is so much more than checking the box on a bunch of questions.

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