The Daily Journal, Sunday, March 31

In today’s Journal

▪ One potential taker…
▪ Topic: On (Not) Developing Characters
▪ Daily diary
▪ Of Interest
▪ The numbers

I’ve had one potential taker on my offer to work with other writers as a tutor. I really look forward to working with this writer and hope s/he decides to go ahead.

I’m thrilled to be able to share now the awakening that happened for me some 5 years ago. Finding Heinlein’s Rules and then the writing into the dark (or as Michaele L. calls it, “writing into the unknown”) technique was literally life-changing for me.

I only wish I’d learned it when I was in my 20s or 30s or 40s or 50s. (grin) But I haven’t looked back since I did finally get a clue.

Looking back changes nothing and does no good. The only thing that changes a writer’s life and skill level is looking (and moving) forward. And flattening the learning curve when and where you can.

That’s what I’m offering with my tutoring: a chance to flatten the learning curve and move your skill as a writer forward, never back.

If you have a particular block or hump that you’re having difficulty getting over, email me at I like sharing the unbridled joy I’ve found. If I can help, I will.

A last note — everyone has only 24 hours in each day, and my time’s as limited as anyone else’s. So at the moment, I have one or maybe two spots left (depending on what the student needs) for tutoring.

So if you’re thinking of taking me up on this offer, email me. It has to go “first-come, first-served.”

Topic: On (Not) Developing Characters

I had a question posed by a brave writer who asked about characters. So I don’t belabor the point (or put words in his mouth), you can read his question and comment here and my response HERE.

I thought I’d add to that response in today’s topic.

Back when I first started writing short stories, I bought into all the myths, including that the writer has to “develop” characters. It was even a good idea to write character sketches, various teachers said, even including things that might or might not make it into the story later.

To be as blunt as I can in an effort to save you all a lot of time, that’s all hogwash. Or bovine (or ovine or bat) excrement.

Meeting and writing a character always happens in a setting, and learning about the character best happens over time as the character reveals him or herself to you during the course of the story.

Think about it. Your characters are real people to you (and to your reader).

When you first meet another human, you meet a sterotype. (This is true no matter how “woke” you are or proclaim to the world that you are.)

When you first meet another human, you probably immediately learn his or her name. You probably immediately recognize his or her gender. Depending on where and how you meet, you might also know what s/he does for a living.

And you make certain presumptions based on what the person says and does, how s/he talks, how s/he presents him or herself, and your own past baggage. That’s the stereotype.

If you are intrigued (in either a “good” or “bad” way) you’re also interested. You actively want to learn more about who the person (or character) is. (If you aren’t intrigued either way, you and s/he go your separate ways and probably never meet again.)

Only later, as your interest-in and meetings-with the person grows, do you learn more about the person.

As you continue to speak-with and observe that person, your presumptions shift to assumptions, some of which you believe are facts.

After that your imagination begins to take over and you think the two of you might become Friends (or Enemies) or that this is a person you might want to hang out with (or avoid).

But at this point, the person will become someone you don’t or can’t easily forget. You’re hooked, at least for awhile.

If you’re having fun with your writing, your relationship with your character(s) develops in exactly the same way.

If you make the HUGE mistake of creating a character sketch or otherwise “developing” your character(s) with your conscious, critical mind, you automatically limit the character(s) to a pre-defined, uninteresting shape.

And no, you can’t have it both ways.

If you write a character sketch and stick to it, your character can’t just be who s/he is. Just as if you outline your novel (a conscious, critical mind function) and then stick to that outline, your characters and situations can’t simply “happen.” In other words, your new acquaintance can’t simply live his or her interesting life because s/he’s forced to do what you tall him or her to do and to act in ways (and say things) that you prescribe.

In other words, your characters (and situations) can’t surprise you. And as Ray Bradbury once said, if your characters don’t surprise you, how can you hope they will surprise the reader?

Surprise is perhaps the most universal element in good fiction. Without the element of surprise, your characters and situations will be bland. Why? Because if you can “think-up” what the character will do or say next in any given situation, so can your readers. And they will.

The shortest route I can think of to a brief, unsuccessful stint as a writer is to write things (characters and situations) that are predictable.

So how do you avoid predictability?

By letting your characters speak, act and react the way they want to in whatever situations arise during the natural flow of the story.

You are the first person who will be entertained by your characters and the situations in which they find themselves.

This doesn’t mean every character or every story you ever write will entertain you equally.

But if you’re surprised and entertained at all, your readers will be too. And you’ll make money at this crazy business.

Think about that for a moment: You’ll make money for sitting alone in a room, allowing your characters free-rein to be who and what they are. You’ll make money by allowing your characters to entertain you.

If you’d rather not make money, that’s fine too. Just continue forcing your charactera into a predetermined mold. Force them to be an extension of your critical, conscious mind instead of allowing them to simply be who they are.

Being a control freak over your characters will bear its own punishment, just as it will if you levy control over your friends or your spouse. In every case, they will become bland, uninteresting people. In the end, you would rather not be around them.

And neither will your readers.

Rolled out at 2, got coffee and headed for the Hovel.

I wrote all the stuff above, but again today there will be no fiction writing. Visiting, and later in the day will be filled with a trip to the grocery, etc.

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “New Line! New Line!” at

See “From Beer to Bookshelf” at James Scott Bell begins with “In keeping with last week’s post on risk-taking and writing what pleases you…” and it just gets better from there. As you read, think of what you saw in Dean’s “New Line! New Line!” above.

See “My Great Galapagos Adventure – Part 2” at

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1300 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 1300

Writing of Blackwell Ops 5: Georgette Tilden (novel)

Day 10… 4416 words. Total words to date…… 24564
Day 11… 2948 words. Total words to date…… 27512
Day 12… 2721 words. Total words to date…… 30233
Day 13… 2510 words. Total words to date…… 32743
Day 14… 1620 words. Total words to date…… 34363
Day 15… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 58743
Total fiction words for the year………… 217801
Total nonfiction words for the month… 25850
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 77070
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 294871

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

4 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Sunday, March 31”

  1. I think this is a life-changing topic, Harvey. And it bleeds over into all sorts of areas in writing fiction. If anyone needs permission to just go for it and enjoy the writing process, take heed to what he says.

    • Thanks, Anderson. Much appreciated. I’m always happy (and a bit surprised) when I get such a positive comment. (grin)

  2. Yes! I LOVE getting to know characters as I write. Like real people, some are forthcoming and open, and others have trust issues or are simply quieter by nature. Some love attention, others don’t. It’s fun to discover their quirks, likes, dislikes, personalities, and back stories as a story moves along.

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