This will be a difficult concept for many of you to grasp.
Why? Simply because of all of the myths that have been drummed into us during our entire lives. The big myth here is that your appropriate role as the writer is Almighty Writer on High. (Hear the angelic chorus?)
But if you grasp this concept, it will start you along the path to Freedom as a writer and more fun than you’ve ever had at a keyboard.
And you CAN do what you want. Understand? YOU are the writer. YOU are the boss of you.
You may choose between two roles as you write fiction. Those two roles are Almighty Writer on High and the Recorder. In the interest of full disclosure, these are my terms.
Let me explain both roles.
Then you have to choose.
The Almighty Writer on High
As Almighty (ahem, control freak) Writer on High, you control everything. You carefully outline pretty much every step your characters will take, from the overall goal of the hero to which stumbling blocks the evil adversary tosses into his path and when.
Those stumbling blocks and whatever the hero does to overcome them become the conflicts. Of course, on your outline, you know exactly where they will occur in the story and exactly how he will overcome them. And you know exactly how overcoming each conflict will enable the hero to advance toward his goal.
You know how and where and under what circumstances the great Final Conflict will occur, and you know how the book will conclude.
Goodness. I’m bored just writing about this.
I mean seriously, if a trusted friend tells you about an excellent new book in your favorite genre, you might want to buy it and read it, right?
But what if he tells you every major plot point, every conflict, the climax and then how the book ends?
Still want to buy it? Of course not.
So how can you force yourself to write a story that you’ve already outlined to death?
If you already know every major plot point, every conflict, the climax and how the book ends, where’s the fun and excitement of filling in the details of the story?
Just sayin’. Ever wonder why so many would-be writers think of writing as drudgery?
Of course, I’m talking about those who REALLY see the process as drudgery.
I’m not talking about those who circulate about the release party with one forearm flung dramatically over their brow and a glass of wine in their other hand, pinkie finger raised appropriately.
You know, the ones who are looking for someone, anyone, who will understand (and be impressed with) the terrible suffering they must endure for their art.
Those gentle souls who, despite the fact that they detest the absolute drudgery of writing, simply must shoulder the heady responsibility that has been thrust upon them and blah blah blah.
But I digress.
If you see your role as the Almighty Writer on High, probably you also make certain not to repeat the same sentence structure too many times in a row. (You probably make no allowances for the valuable and intentional use of repetition.)
You probably also count the number of times you use “that” and “which.” If you do not understand the difference between them (there is a huge difference) you even consider alternating them, using one and then the other as you progress through your manuscript.
If you’ve listened to people who have no clue what they’re talking about (i.e., they haven’t published a LOT of novels and stories) you probably also check for the number of times you use “had” and the state-of-being verbs and the “ing words” (gerunds) because you’re laboring under the false assumption that those words create passive voice.
Of course, as you can tell from my tone, they do not.
I could go on. And on. And on.
But the point here is that as the Almighty Writer on High you’re controlling every aspect of the book. You are totally the General Manager of your characters’ universe, and they will say or do NOTHING without your approval.
That’s one way to do it. But let me tell you this:
No good creative writing EVER came from the conscious, critical mind.
As Ray Bradbury said, if you don’t surprise yourself, how can you ever hope to surprise the reader?
And chances are, you know, if you’ve outlined the story? And you know every conflict and every plot point? And you know, like, in advance, how everything’s going to turn out?
Umm, so does the reader. Almost from word one.
And that sound you will hear is your book being slapped shut so the reader can find something more fun to do. Like poking himself in the eye with a stick.
So how do you surprise yourself when you’re the writer? After all, you have to know the story to write it, right?
The short answer is No.
In fact, if I already know a story, I refuse to write it. Writing a story I already know would be zero fun for me. And I’m a writer first and foremost to entertain myself. Or rather, to allow my characters to entertain me.
I’m not the Almighty Blah Blah. I’m the other kind of writer. I’m the Recorder, AKA The Frien’ with a Pen. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
The Recorder (or Friend with a Pen)
When anyone asks me about my writing process, I tell them the truth. I have a two-step process. Ready?
- I follow the characters around.
- I write down what they say and do.
In other words, I let the characters tell the story they want to tell. After all, they know it much better than I do. They’re actually living it.
As the Almighty Writer on High, you DIRECT your characters to say and do exactly what YOU tell them to say and do.
As the Recorder or the Note Taker or the Friend with a Pen, you control nada.
- You don’t worry about where the characters or story are going.
- You don’t worry about what your character will say next.
- You don’t worry about who the character used to be and who he will grow into.
Your subconscious mind knows all of that stuff is necessary. It will plug in all of that when and where it’s time.
And you? You’re just the conduit. You are the fingers on the keyboard.
You are no more important to the story or the characters than the mechanic is important to your car or yourself.
The mechanic provides the parts and skill to keep your car is running so you have a safe, fun vacation. But he doesn’t tell you where to go and what to do, right? (If he does, seriously, fire him.)
The writer provides the fingertips through which the characters tell a story. That’s it.
When Bradbury was asked how he wrote Dandelion Wine, he said the same way he wrote everything else. He got up in the morning and poured a cup of coffee. Then he sat down at the typewriter (later, computer), put his fingers on the keyboard, and wrote whatever came.
I can hear you saying, “But that’s Ray Bradbury.” The fact is, he wrote that way from before he was Ray Bradbury, when he was around 12 years old.
When you’re the Recorder, you don’t control anything. You resign as General Manager of the Universe. You abdicate the throne of responsibility for (and control of) your characters.
And you get down in the trenches and run through the story WITH them. How could anything be more fun than that?
Instead of suffering the unbearable drudgery of having to figure out how this sentence connects to the next one or how his paragraph leads to the next one or whether and where the current scene will fit in the overall story — You. Just. Write.
Next up, Chapter 3 — Story Starters and Where to Get Story Ideas
‘Til then, happy writing!
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6 thoughts on “Chapter 2 — Determining Your Role in the Story”
Just had a character tell me that she didn’t do it…I was sure she would or had done the murder but it just ain’t so…I hope the real culprit shows up…haven’t met him or her yet so am a little nervous about when and where I will meet up…but thanks to Chapter 2, Harvey tells all, I’m feeling better…He or she is out there somewhere and should reveal themselves soon. Thanks again, Harvey
Yup. Lot more fun when you resign as General Manager of the Universe and let the character do what they do.
I’m no writer but I love to have a peak at how writers work, which is why I follow regularly Dean Wesley Smith’s blog. It is interesting to see the same type of ideas here, but expressed in a different way. So thanks for sharing!
If I may, there is a typo in the first line: “Now on to Chapter 2: Determinging Your Role in the Story”.
Hey, thanks. I follow Dean’s blog too. In fact, I also have a daily blog over at HEStanbrough.com. And thanks for the catch on that typo.
Yes, I came here from his blog (noticed you as one of his regular commenters), and I’ve been lurking on HEStanbrough.com as well for a few days. It is interesting to see the differences in both your daily bloggings, and the similarities.
Well, thanks again. Let’s hope your lurking encourages others. 🙂 When I re-met Dean back about February 2014, I learned of Heinlein’s Rules and his writing into the dark technique. It literally turned my life around as a writer. I haven’t looked back. 🙂 But what he says about telling others is true too: If you tell 100 writers maybe 1 or 2 will actually come away using the technique. I’m just glad I was one of those.
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