The Daily Journal, Saturday, March 16

In today’s Journal

▪ Repeating a reminder… ProWritersWriting blog
▪ Topic: On Character and Setting
▪ Daily diary
▪ Of Interest
▪ The numbers

I thought I’d repeat this reminder… the PWW blog goes live on March 18. I believe this will be a valuable new resource.

If you subscribed to through a “form” on the website in the early days, you need to subscribe again.

I got rid of the form and that subscription service. Now you only have to click a link in the menu at the website.

If you want to subscribe via RSS, you can do that too. The feed URL is If that doesn’t work, use http://prowriterswriting/feed/.

Topic: On Character and Setting

A few days ago I was talking with a writer about my nonfiction book, Writing the Character-Driven Story.

He asked why I put such emphasis on character and setting. Aren’t the events of the story what matters?

Well, yes, they matter, but only as a catalyst to drive the characters’ reactions and dialogue.

Overall, maybe 20% of a fiction is comprised of events and those take place in a setting. The other 80% is the characters’ reactions to that event, which also take place in a setting.

Nothing in real life — either events or character interaction — takes place in a white space. There is always a background.

Characters wear clothing. The reader should be able to see (smell, feel?) that clothing.

A general description is fine if you’re dealing with a secondary character or a gaggle of them (the guy wore jeans, a t-shirt, scuffed work boots and a ball cap).

Or the airport was filled to overflowing with men in suits and women in skirts and blouses or pantsuits. The whole place smelled of travel, and a boring automated announcement about unattended bags repeated every few minutes.

Or everyone at the worksite was dressed in dusty jeans, stained t-shirts, scuffed workboots and ball caps in varying colors. Or they all wore a blue ball cap with the sweat-stained Smith & Sons logo in white across the front.

Why? Because that’s all your POV character would notice in passing as he’s focused on a particular goal. He wouldn’t notice specifically what they’re wearing, but he would notice that they weren’t naked.

For more prominent characters or for secondary characters who figure prominently in the story, a more detailed description is necessary.

In other words, in every case describe what your POV character notices. This is not difficult once you learn to trust your character and to filter everything through his or her physical senses.

A house or other building has a façade with particular attributes.

If your character is going to walk into that building, the reader should be able to see the door and any windows, feel the doorknob or pushbar in his hand, smell the scent or aroma or stench when the door opens, hear the sounds washing out over him.

Likewise a room has a particular look and smell and sounds (even if the sound is an eerie silence) and feel. Let your readers experience it right along with your POV character.

All of that is setting. Again, nothing — no event, no conversation, no character wondering internally what’s going on — takes place in a blank space.

Rolled out way early at 1 a.m. To the Hovel shortly afterward to swap the topic for tomorrow with the topic for today. I wanted to give everyone a chance to read Tony DeCastro’s post (in “Of Interest” today) before seeing my take-off on it in tomorrow’s Journal.

Then I wrote the rest of this stuff, finished poking about the internet, and took a break up to the house at 2:40.

Dan won’t be here until around 3, so I should have a good writing day today. We’ll see.

Knocked out the first thousand words and took another break to release the hound. (My chihuahua spends the night in a kennel. He feels safe there.)

Back to the novel shortly after 6. Added another thousand words, then back to the house for a long break: breakfast, get dressed, finish packing, etc.

Back to the novel at 9.

Finished up for the day with another thousand words.

The Daily Journal will talk with you again tomorrow. I’ll talk with you again on Monday or Tuesday. (grin)

Of Interest

See “Eight Days In” at

See “Critical Reading” at Good post. I’ll comment on this in tomorrow’s topic.

See “Harlan Coben Wants The Reader To Decide” at

See “Who Really Killed JonBenet Ramsey?” at

For more on critical reading, see “三体 (Three-Body)” at

See “The Long Strange History of Novelists Who Became Spies” at

Fiction Words: 3076
Nonfiction Words: 780 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 3856

Writing of Blackwell Ops 5: Georgette Tilden (novel)

Day 1…… 2494 words. Total words to date…… 2494
Day 2…… 3107 words. Total words to date…… 5601
Day 3…… 3076 words. Total words to date…… 8677

Total fiction words for the month……… 31757
Total fiction words for the year………… 190815
Total nonfiction words for the month… 12610
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 63830
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 254645

Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 4
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… X
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 41
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 193
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

2 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Saturday, March 16”

  1. <>

    But if you travel at all outside of the pro levels of writing, it’s almost the opposite viewpoint. Plot is important, and perhaps even more important than characters, though that ranks second. It may be the illusion of thinking that an eye catching plot sells the story. That there’s some kind of magic.

    Outside of a small circle of writers who talk at a higher level, most of the writers talk about setting as if it was something you checked the box on. Though I see mention of a white room in various places, it is very common to see variations of “Keep description to a minimum.” Your characters’ clothes–phatt! We’re not doing a fashion show. Or setting–it’s don’t bore the reader with too much setting. I actually saw in a book on the shelf in the bookstore, a writer telling other writers not to bother with the five senses. After I took the productivity workshop, I realized I had to separate myself from writing message boards, a lot of writing blogs, and be very selective about the craft books I purchased. There’s a lot of really bad advice out there, and everyone keeps reinforcing it.

    • Exactly. And that’s precisely why I avoid “travel[ing] at all outside of the pro levels of writing and seek advice only from those farther along the road than I am. Of which, at this point, I can safely say are few, at least who share their knowledge. (grin)

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