A Great Point, and Types of Fiction Writers

In today’s Journal

* A Great Point
* The Two Types of Fiction Writers
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

A Great Point

In a comment on yesterday’s post, Bob B wrote, quoting me, “Don’t make stuff up.”

Then he wrote,

“So, when into-the-dark writers say they sit in a room and make stuff up, what they really mean is they sit in a room and write down what their characters do? More writers, including DWS, should be more clear and say that, in my humble opinion.”

I thought that was a great point. Here’s my response, much expanded for this post:


And I can see how, with my admonition “Don’t make stuff up” (meaning don’t allow yourself to intrude on the story as the writer/outsider), I seem to contradict myself when I say I “sit alone in a room and make sh-stuff up.”

So let me clarify.

First, a disclaimer and a definition

The disclaimer: I am not speaking for any other writers, including DWS, who hardly ever writes about writing anymore.

The definition: Each time I use the term “story” below, the term means “short story, novella, or novel.”

Clarification: When I personally say or write that “I sit alone in a room and make sh-stuff up,” it’s just a smart-aleck way of saying I write fiction. Nothing more. And it definitely is not intended as instruction.

But I DO say much more often that the characters are as real as anyone else, that they are actually living the story.

The fiction writer — every fiction writer — is an outsider to the story.

As such, s/he is only looking-in on the story, observing. S/he is able to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel what happens and how the characters react in words and actions. But again, every fiction writer is an outsider. S/he is not part of the story.

Unfortunately, from that point, fiction writers diverge into two separate types and groups.

The Two Types of Fiction Writers

Type A fiction writers

The fiction writers in the Type A group do not intrude on the characters’ story.

This group includes such notables as Stephen King and Lee Child a Vin Zandri and every other fiction writer who simply lets the characters be who they are and do what they do.

The group also includes almost every long-term professional fiction writer. And at least most of them, including me, started out as Type B fiction writers until they were fortunate enough to recognize a better way.

Again, Type A fiction writers, upon observing the characters living their story, do not intrude. They only record (write down) to the best of their ability whatever happens in the story and how the characters react or respond. End of process. Then they publish the story, and they move on to the next one.

For them, the individual story does not matter. It is only a story, only a few minutes’ or hours’ entertainment for the reader. Nothing more. To Type A writers, what’s important is THAT they write, not specifically what they write.

Type B fiction writers

These writers comprise the far more vocal group and therefore the group you hear a great deal more about. They populate blogs, critique groups, writers’ groups online, etc.

Members of the Type B group intrude strongly on the story, with a heavy hand.

The writer controls not only the characters’ reaction or response, but even the event(s) to which the characters are reacting. This writer, in fact, “sits alone in a room and makes stuff up.”

S/he outlines the story in advance and controls every aspect of it as s/he puts it on the page strictly according to the outline. S/he knows in advance (and manipulates) every major twist and turn and most often even the ending.

S/he does not create, and s/he does not allow the characters to create. S/he designs, builds, constructs. S/he focuses on words and sentences instead of Story. S/he is not a mere observer, but a construction foreman.

If asked, s/he will say “Of course it’s the characters’ story.” Yet publicly s/he refers to it as “my story.”

In actuality, thatstory is neither the writer’s nor any longer the characters’. It is populated by the characters, but they are slaves. They do not act or speak without the writer’s blessing and micro-management.

These are the writers who complain that writing is such “hard work.” Those more prone to drama even call writing “travail” or “drudgery” and say they would much prefer to do almost anything else if not for their special “calling.”

Meanwhile, the writers over in Type A are having far more fun simply telling stories than the writers who are mired in the Type B group can ever imagine. And we’re turning out higher quality stories in which readers seldom see coming what happens next.

All of this fiction writing business boils down to how authentic and true you want the story to be.

If you outline, revise, rewrite, consult with critique groups, etc. you have wrenched the story from the characters and levied control over it. Therefore it can never be the characters’ authentic story.

Conveying the story authentically is much easier and will also render a much better story. To do that, the writer needs only to run through the story with the characters and record (write down) what happens and what the characters say and do in their reaction to what’s unfolding around them.

All of that said, how you write is strictly up to you. My opinion does not matter in the slightest, nor should it.

Your preference is your preference, and far be it from me to try to persuade you otherwise. I’m only the reporter, and I’m only reporting facts — the way things are — not the way they’re twisted to appear.

If you need to outline etc. go for it, but this Journal probably is not the place for you. I will never teach the myths of writing here. But you can find those almost anyplace else. In fact, you probably can’t avoid seeing or hearing them almost constantly.

If you want to learn the freedom and joy of simply conveying the characters’ story, stick around. Once you trust yourself and try that approach, you will wish you had found it years ago. And yes, I speak from personal experience.

The Writing

Even though the novel is racing along, I fell short of my daily goal yesterday. It was a rough day for me both physically and emotionally, and I lost a good chunk of it (about 4 hours) to a necessary chore.

Back in the saddle this morning. Every day the goal resets to zero.

I’ll talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Episode 883: That One Book and Kindle Vella Update

A Fifty Year Perspective of Learning If you’re just starting out, this nine-week course might be well worth the $250 price tag, especially if you’re thinking of unsubscribing from the Journal. Knowing Dean, he’ll probably drop a ton of writing gems in this without even realizing he’s doing so.

Designing Thriller and Mystery Twists That Work Notice the word “designing.” I recommend this for awareness only.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1170

Writing of Blackwell Ops 19: Soleada Garcia: Trying Times

Day 1…… 4398 words. To date…… 4398
Day 2…… 4889 words. To date…… 9287
Day 3…… 3412 words. To date…… 12699

Fiction for January……………………. 92910
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 92910
Fiction since October 1…………… 395965
Nonfiction for January……………… 25880
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 25880
2024 consumable words…………… 118790

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 2
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 84
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 239
Short story collections…………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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