The Daily Journal, Sunday, April 14

In today’s Journal

▪ Quote of the day and thanks
▪ Another BundleRabbit bundle
▪ Yesterday I ordered
▪ Topic: “Take Your Time: Part 3”
▪ Daily diary
▪ Of Interest
▪ The numbers

Via The Passive Voice, “If you have a story that seems worth telling, and you think you can tell it worthily, then the thing for you to do is to tell it, regardless of whether it has to do with sex, sailors or mounted policemen.”
— Dashiell Hammett

I think I forgot to mention awhile back I’m in another BundleRabbit bundle called Eclectica. My short story collection S, F, & H is in that one. Today there’s an interview with yer uncle Harv over at Probably nothing you don’t already know.

Yesterday I ordered the updated, revised version of The Copyright Handbook (NOLO) yesterday. Afterward, my wife reminded me I’d bought the 2011 version earlier. If you’d like that one, email me at with your snail-mail address. I’ll charge you $10 and ship it to you.

If you’d like to get your own 2019 copy (ebook or both ebook and print), visit

Topic: Take Your Time: Part 3

Thanks to everyone who commented on “Take Your Time (Revisited)” either on the post or via email. I appreciate it and I’m glad it helped. Here’s some more.

“Take your time” has almost become a mantra for me.

I’ve pretty well mastered Heinlein’s Rules, especially the all-important Rules 1, 2 and 3. I’ve also pretty well mastered writing off into the dark, which means keeping my conscious, critical mind (the hell) out of my writing.

Yet even as I’m writing, I have to remind myself occasionally to slow down, calm my mind and my characters, and record parts of the story that the POV character is seeing, hearing, smelling, etc. that are important to the forward momentum of the story.

It usually takes only a sentence or two to describe a secondary or flat (cardboard) character that the POV character encounters. But the description needs to be there. It fills-in for the reader what would otherwise be a non-entity, a blank space where you assured the reader a person was standing just a moment before the flat character is gone as the POV character moves past him or her.

Likewise, it takes only a sentence or two or three to fill in important details (and the POV character’s opinions) about the setting that the POV character notices.

For example, as the POV character enters an office where an altercation is about to take place, s/he would probably notice the “messy” (or “immaculately clean”) desk, the desk chair, and the “thin, sickly looking” or “healthy” jade or rubber tree in a pot in one corner, and so on.

The POV character would also most likely notice if the office were “chilly” or “warm.” S/he probably would also notice an “antiseptic” smell or “a hint of perfume” or “the stench” (or “sweet aroma”) of pipe smoke.

Include those things (and the file cabinet and the “comfortable, overstuffed, brown” or “uncomfortable, stern, wooden” guest chair or the “presumptious” certificates or “incriminating” photo on the wall, etc.) in the description.

Why? Because you can’t know in advance (you’re WITD, remember?) how the altercation will go.

When you record what the POV character sees, hears, smells, feels, etc. as s/he enters the office, you give the story the space it requires to let the altercation proceed however it will.
Maybe the bad guy will end up on the floor, his head near the pot that holds that jade plant. But maybe before he ends up there, the POV character will clear the desk or upset the desk chair (or both) with his body.

Maybe the POV character will slam him against a wall, an action that will cause those certificates or photo(s) to fall or hang at an awkward angle. And so on.

But those items can’t come into play in the scene if they aren’t there. Few things are more annoying to a reader than part of a scene suddenly appearing when it wasn’t there before.

How can a photo frame shatter on the floor if there was no photo hanging on the wall or sitting on the desk before the altercation began?

“Maybe,” you say, “the POV character didn’t notice a particular framed item on the wall until it shattered on the floor.”

Of course, that’s entirely possible. In that case, probably the POV character noticed only “a ‘pretentious smattering’ of photos and/or diplomas on the wall when he came in.

Later, during the altercation when one of those items falls to the floor and shatters, the POV character zooms-in or focuses on it (notices it) and realizes it’s a particular diploma or photo that provides a clue s/he needed.

The possibilities are endless, but not if the items that produce them aren’t there in the first place.

The point is, those things are all in your mind and in the POV character’s perception. But if they don’t make it onto the page, the reader can’t see, hear, smell, etc. them and won’t be in the scene with the POV character in the first place.

The POV Character’s Opinion

One of the more difficult concepts for me to “get” for the longest time was to insert the POV character’s opinions of the setting into the scene.

Yet the POV character’s opinions of the setting are all-important because they provide a little more insight into the character him- or herself and enhance the scene for the reader.

All of the items above in quotation marks are the character’s opinions. A “thin, sickly-looking” jade plant in a chipped red-clay pot evokes a different, more evocative image than a jade plant in a pot.

Maybe when the bad guy’s head hits the pot in which the jade plant resides, half of it breaks off and lays across his face (justice). But it probably wouldn’t do that if it weren’t sickly and weak in the first place.

Maybe where the pot was chipped it breaks and a bit of dirt spills onto the bad guy’s eyes. Who knows?

Now let’s talk for a moment about cycling.

Chances are, you won’t put everything necessary into the scene the first time through. I usually don’t. My POV character (and/or the action in the scene) surprises me most of the time.

So at the end of the writing session I take a break. When I come back and read (cycle) through what I just wrote, I add things that the POV character deem necessary, whether those things are items in the setting or the POV character’s opinions of those items. Then I move on into the new writing.

(DWS does this about every 400-500 words. I do it about once every scene, so about once every 1000 to 1500 words.)

And during cycling too, after the scene has ended and the smoke has cleared, I might remove things (descriptions, opinions) that didn’t matter to the scene in the aftermath.

By the way, you can call this “editing” or “revising” or “orange marmelade” if you want. What you call it doesn’t matter as long as you stay in the creative, subconscious mind while you do it. Don’t allow yourself to be critical. You aren’t in the story. The POV character is.

When I cycle through what I’ve written, I’m usually what Stephen King calls a “putter-inner,” but occasionally I’m a “taker-outer.” (grin) In some stories I’m both.

It’s all about balance for the reader. You want to draw the reader deeper into the scene, but you don’t want to include things that are not necessary to the scene.

But be careful. Do most offices have an I-love-me wall? Yes. So it should be there, even if it’s only a quick “smattering of pretentious certificates.” Because otherwise your reader will see a bland, blank wall.

Of course, if the POV character notices the walls are “oddly bare,” that’s fine too. But put it on the page. Because that too is part of the setting.

To further enhance this topic, see James Scott Bell’s “Smell the Story” in “Of Interest” today.

Finally, by way of personal example, here’s the beginning of a scene I wrote yesterday from my current Blackwell Ops novel:

I approached Mr. Robbins’ doorway as if I’d lived there all my life. Without breaking stride, I grasped the dark, cast-iron handle, worked the thumb latch and pushed the door open.

The first thing I saw was through an open, arched doorway to my left front: the blue-white square of a ribbed a-frame undershirt stretched over a broad back.

A television set I couldn’t see cast that odd blue light as what sounded like a male news commentator rattled on in Arabic.

The man in the undershirt was broad but appeared to be a little less than six feet tall, so a few inches shorter than I am. He was standing in front of a small wooden table situated next to a dingy brown, cloth-covered recliner in the otherwise dim room. Against the wall to his right was a couch covered in the same fabric. He was hunched slightly forward, his elbows, hairy upper arms, sloped neck, dark-clad legs and sock-feet in view in the eerie light.

Only his forearms and hands were missing from that initial image. They were in front of him as he held and manipulated something.

I hoped it wasn’t a pistol. But if it was I’d feed it to him.

Apparently the sound of the television blanked out the noise of me working the latch on the door. The house was warm, too, and apparently the rush of cooler air I admitted hadn’t reached him yet. He hadn’t reacted to either one.

The initial instant over, I shoved the door with my right heel and strode through the arched entrance. As the door slammed, I said, “Hello there.”

He ducked instinctively and pivoted to his left.
In his right hand was a pistol. In his left, a magazine.

As he brought his left hand toward his right, the magazine clacked against the butt of the pistol and I hit him in the center of the face.

As I hope you can tell, this entire excerpt happened in the space of a second or two of real time. This is how you slow time down to provide the description the reader needs to pull him or her into the setting and scene while establishing a basis for what’s about to happen. Maybe most importantly, it puts the reader into the place of the POV character. (grin)

Despite my best efforts to get an early start, I rolled out just before 3 this morning. Then some of you guys encouraged me with your comments and I wrote the topic above. (See the effect your comments have?) (grin)

In fact, for the first time in a long time I’m considering teaching an in-person seminar (workshop) on the topic of Writing Scenes (to include setting, taking your time, etc.).

Around 5 I took a break. Back in the Hovel and to the novel (finally) at 5:30. Might be a short day today.

A LOT of cycling today and enough added new words to call it a good day. Especially for a Sunday.

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “Recharging” at (This post didn’t go out automatically. I’m still working on this problem.)

See “Do We Really Own Our Digital Possessions?” at A bit long, but definitely worth the read for TPG’s take on it.

See “Smell Your Story” at

See “Crows Continue to Astound Us” at Fascinating.

See “Crows Never Forget a Face” at

Fiction Words: 2087
Nonfiction Words: 1970 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 4057

Writing of Blackwell Ops 6: Charlie Task (novel)

Day 1…… 2774 words. Total words to date…… 2774
Day 2…… 1776 words. Total words to date…… 4550
Day 3…… 4190 words. Total words to date…… 8740
Day 4…… 2662 words. Total words to date…… 11402
Day 5…… 2087 words. Total words to date…… 13489

Total fiction words for the month……… 23527
Total fiction words for the year………… 241328
Total nonfiction words for the month… 17390
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 94460
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 335788

Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 5
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… X
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 42
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 193
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

4 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Sunday, April 14”

  1. Hi Harvey,
    The writing blogs you write are so helpful. The idea of taking your time when writing scenes from the POV character and cycling back to take out or add in what is needed (all with the subconscious mind), makes so much sense to me. You have yet again answered a question that I didn’t realise I needed answering. Thank you for all you share and the creative sense you make.

    • Thanks very much, Kimberley. I appreciate that. What I write in this silly blog makes perfect sense to me, of course, but I never know whether it makes sense to anyone else. (grin) Good to hear.

  2. Thanks for sharing the scene you wrote. That was terrific! I’ve learned a lot from your “Take Your Time” posts. Incidentally, I stumbled across a snippet of one of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books online the other day, and I was amazed by how she slowed the scene down and gave us all of the senses (including the emotional sense you have mentioned before). It looks like all great writers do the same thing, no matter the genre. 🙂

    • Hi Catherine. Thanks! I think you’ve hit upon an important aspect of writing fiction: that all well-seasoned, successful writers do employ many of the same essential techniques. They ground the reader, manipulate the pacing and so on to both pull the reader into the story and keep him or her turning pages. But it’s also important to rememeber that all of those things are created with the most basic tool of all writers: words. If one writer can do it, so can another. All it takes is to keep learning and keep practicing.

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