The Journal: Character with a Problem, Part 2

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Ooh I was so tempted
* Censorship
* Pro Writers Writing
* Topic: Character with a Problem, Part 2
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“One of the things Dean Wesley Smith talks about is how he learns himself through teaching. I feel that this has been as much about me learning as anything. Putting down my thoughts about things I’ve learned over the years has helped to crystalize and solidify them for me.” Sean Monaghan in a comment on Pro Writers Writing

“For those of you who have already transitioned to a writer’s life, please share with us the barriers you had to overcome. What advice would you offer to those who are contemplating such a change?” Steve Hooley on TKZ

Ooh, I was so tempted. But I didn’t comment. It would take too long. Here’s the extremely short version:

The barriers I overcame were all the “have-to myths” we’re all taught. You know. If you want to be a writer you have to outline, write character sketches, rewrite X number of times, shop your story around critique groups and all the other silly myths about writing.

My advice? You’ve learned everything you need to know to be a writer. Trust yourself, trust your characters, let go of all the “have-to” myths and go write a story. It’s called Practice.

And if you’ve learned that every story is about how the character reacts to the setting, and if you’ve learned to take your time and allow the POV character to describe the setting through his five physical senses, you’ve learned everything you need to know to be a good storyteller. Again, go practice.

Well, at least some of the censorship has begun. I received notice from D2D (my primary ebook distributor) that Hoopla, a company that deals largely with dissemination of texts to libraries, has decided, 3+ years after my short story “The Dawning of Dexter” was published, not to release it due to “content issues.”

I tried to determine through both D2D and Hoopla what issues those were, but found nothing beyond Hoopla’s generic, original statement in the D2D email: “Hoopla reserves the right to prohibit certain content from publishing. This title is considered to violate their content policy.”

So that you might check for yourself if you want, you can find the happy little short story, free, at If you do see any offensive content, please let me know.

The Pro Writers Writing (PWW) website will expire in 14 days unless I decide to renew it. It’s difficult to let go, but there’s really no reason to keep it. If you were a contributor and you want to retrieve any of your posts off it, hurry.

If you are one who enjoys reading writing advice and have never visited PWW, you might check it out. I added 32 posts myself, some of which appear only in that venue. Other contributors added 420 posts. But again, hurry. You can find it at

Topic: Character with a Problem, Part 2

I’ve often said all you need for a story starter is a character with a problem in a setting. The problem does not have to be “the” problem of the story, and most of the time it won’t be. The character plus a problem in a setting is only a story starter, something to get you to the keyboard and get you started writing.

Yesterday I talked about this, based on an email I received from a friend. In another part of his email, he wrote “I know DWS says the character reveals itself gradually as you write. But it’s not just a blob slowly taking shape or coming into focus.”

My friend is correct. The character is not just a blob slowly coming into focus. But neither, when the character first appears at the beginning of the story is he fully formed. Sure, he probably has a face, a body type and (with any luck) clothing. And the clothing might indicate what kind of job he has, even if you don’t know what his specific job is.

If, when you first see him, he’s wearing jeans that droop low in the back and he seems not to notice or care, possibly you can pinpoint his job based on a stereotype.

If he’s dressed in a suit, though, maybe he’s a lawyer or a doctor or a poorly paid proofreader at a major publishing house dressing “up” to try to catch the boss’ attention.

If he’s dressed in western boots, a western hat, has bowed legs and a horse tied out front, already saddled, he’s probably a wannabe cowboy. (I don’t know any real cowboys who don’t prefer to saddle their own horse.)

But what DWS said is true. No matter what state your character is in when you first meet him, the character reveals himself gradually as you write.

I had a perfectly good Texas Ranger in one book who snapped and started making deals with the worst Comanche war chief in the territory. I had another one who really was a good Ranger, but unbeknownst to his comrades (and me, until his stream-bed confession as he lay dying), he was a reformed bank robber who joined the Rangers as a way to escape his former life. Those two examples are from my 11-volume Wes Crowley saga. (You can still get the first chronological novel free by emailing me or in PDF by clicking

In one of the books in my current series, the chief medical officer on the generation ship was a pretty good guy, though he was a little gruff at times. Slightly overweight, mid-40s, greying hair, bushy eyebrows, and a little full of himself. Later in the story, he revealed himself as a nutcase who was doing everything possible to sabotage the mission. He met a grisly end.

I’ve never met a POV or other major character (and even some minor ones) who didn’t surprise me in one way or another.

But even if you don’t write into the dark, you can’t meet a character who’s fully formed anymore than you can meet a stranger who’s fully formed.

When you first meet either “real” people or characters, you see them only as stereotypes at first. Of course, you would never admit that out loud if your politically correct, but it’s still true.

Human beings make assumptions about other people all the time.

Example 1: I went to an outdoor theater (the Crest in Yuma AZ for anyone who might remember it) to see Easy Rider when it first came out. I went to the snack bar to pick up some popcorn and sodas.

I was in the queue dressed as I always was back then: western boots, a blue-plaid cotton long-sleeved shirt with pearl-looking snaps, my hand-tooled leather belt with a rodeo buckle (third place, bullriding) and my western straw hat.

There were also a lot of biker-types in the queue. The mumbling around me grew louder, until eventually one of them shoved me and called me a “****ing redneck.” Actually, I was a Marine and a poet who had won awards for my poetry and been nominated for others. But all they saw was a stereotype. Like all humans do.

Example 2: In a small town in New Mexico, I was in a bank when I overheard some teenagers making fun of a very large man with calloused hands. He was dressed in scuffed black work boots and all but threadbare coveralls over a grungy white t-shirt. One of them finally said, “Why don’t you step aside and let people with money up to the cashier?”

To my neverending pleasure, JP Townsend, a very successful local rancher and farmer, turned around and grinned. He held out a check and said, “Can’t. I have to deposit this check I just got paid for some’a my beef.” The check was for $810,000.00. Finally the boys shut up.

Everybody you meet, in real life or in fiction, is a stereotype at first. If you hang around long enough to get to know them, in real life or in your story, you’ll come to learn a great deal as they reveal, over time, who they really are. And if you get to know them while writing into the dark, you’re in for some wonderful surprises.

And if you don’t? Well, then you’d better be really imaginative. Because anything you can think-up (conscious mind) for your character to do or become, your reader can think it up too. As Ray Bradbury said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

And that’s enough on that sub-topic.

Next time I’ll come back to finish this little series of topics. In that one, I’ll answer the main question my friend asked me in his email. I had a great day yesterday and I’m anxious to get back to it.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “The 2020 email marketing benchmarks by industry” at Maybe of interest to those of you with newsletters or blogs.

See “The POV Character’s Opinion” at Related to today’s Journal post.

See “Meet YInMn, the First New Blue Pigment in Two Centuries” at See PG’s take.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1510 words

Writing of The Journey Home: Part 6 (novel)

Day 1…… 1628 words. Total words to date…… 1628
Day 2…… 2011 words. Total words to date…… 3639
Day 3…… 4722 words. Total words to date…… 8361
Day 4…… 3766 words. Total words to date…… 12127
Day 5…… 5161 words. Total words to date…… 17288
Day 6…… 6572 words. Total words to date…… 23860

Total fiction words for January……… 86963
Total fiction words for the year………… 86963
Total nonfiction words for January… 24000
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 24000
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 110963

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 55
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 215
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31