The Journal: On Setting, Pseudonym, and Reparations

In today’s Journal

* Writing Setting
* Using Pseudonyms
* On Reparations
* Of Interest

Writing Setting

I received a question about writing setting: In describing the setting, how much is too much and how much is too little?

First, you, the writer, describe nothing. You have a point of view (POV) character. He or she will describe the setting, albeit through your fingers.

1, Anything the POV character sees, hears, smells, tastes or feels, physically or emotionally, should make it onto the page. Nothing the POV character sees, hears, smells, tastes or feels, physically or emotionally, is too much.

2. Anything the writer adds of his or her own volition — anything that is filtered through the writer’s senses instead of the POV character’s senses — is too much.

3. This is always true.

For more, see Writing the Character-Driven Story. You can also key “writing setting” into the search box in the sidebar at the Journal website or on my author website.

Using Pseudonyms

I was also asked what I think about using pseudonyms.

My answer? Unless you have a very good reason for a pen name (e.g., you’re a pastor or a priest who also writes erotica), I recommend against using a pen name. Why? Because who wants to build “discoverability” for more than one name?

At one time, I chose to write different genres under different names. I wrote under four personas, meaning false-author personalities complete with photos and bios.

I shared my mainstream, Hemingway-like fiction between my own name and the persona Nicholas Z “Nick” Porter. I wrote odd, strange stuff as Eric Stringer, magic realism as Gervasio Arrancado, and erotica as M J François. I also wrote short stories under a few pseudonyms, made-up names like Ray Sevareid and Rufus Stamper and Gryll Stenson. You know, maybe.

But eventually, I rebranded almost everything I wrote under my own name, an effort that meant redoing covers, the manuscript title pages, etc. and then re-uploading everything. Since then, I’ve written primarily under my own name. Because again, why build “discoverability” for more than one name?

Speaking of discoverability, get a clue and do a little promotion. Build an email list. Don’t buy into the bullshit, as I did and as I’ve often repeated here (I apologize), that the best promotion is to write the next book. Take it from me, it isn’t.

I’ve written 66 novels, 8 novellas, around 250 short stories, almost 20 nonfiction books on writing, around a thousand poems, and countless articles, blog posts and essays, and pretty much nobody knows my name or my work.

On Reparations

I also wrote a fairly long piece about reparations, but I decided it wasn’t about writing so I deleted it. You can see the gist of my take (a few short paragraphs) in the comments on “Can We Repair the Past?” Just so you know, my comment was more in response to the other comments than to the post itself.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “22 Influential Women You Probably Didn’t Learn About in School” at

See “Now For Something completely different” at If you’re a film buff, you’ll enjoy this.

See “Setting Description Mistakes that Weaken a Story” at

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

7 thoughts on “The Journal: On Setting, Pseudonym, and Reparations”

  1. If a pov character goes into a familiar setting, they would notice anything that has changed since they were last there, and possibly details related to the time of day – it doesn’t take much and the reader knows where they are.

    More than that, and you’d better have a reason for getting in the way of the story which is in the actions, dialogue, and thoughts of the pov character. Foreshadowing is such a reason – if you’re going to use something new, it may be necessary for that detail to be noticed by the character – lightly and in passing – so it doesn’t come from nowhere later.

    • Exactly. As long as you write what the POV character notices of the setting, you’ll be fine. But if you go into a thought experiment re what to include (and why) and what to leave out, you’ll either bore the reader with including too much or confuse him with omitting something necessary.

  2. I agree on reparations. I am Acadian and for centuries the Acadian people were treated like crap by the English, we were even driven off our land (the Acadian expulsion) and hundreds died as a result, got separated from their families etc.
    But I don’t expect to be given anything for the suffering of my ancestors, nor do I want it (or think I deserve it). Why should I? I never went through it.

    • I knew there was something I like about you, Matt. (grin) Some of my favorite folks live south of I-10 and west of Baton Rouge in Louisiana.

      • That’s cool (grin). Many distant relatives of mine live in Louisiana (as I’m sure is the case for many Acadians). My own family was able to flee to French territory and later return to Acadia/Nova Scotia, which is where I’m proud to say I’m from.

  3. One really good reason to use a pseudonym (just one, except in rare cases) is that when you get asked for an autograph, you don’t want to give anyone your legal signature.

    Others’ mileage may vary, of course, but I prefer to be a little paranoid. *grin*

    • Good one, Peggy. I never thought of that. But then, I never sign my name in an autograph the way I would on a legal document anyway. But that isn’t something I’ve thought about consciously.

Comments are closed.