The Journal, Sunday, July 1

Hey Folks,

Long post today.

Yesterday I published a list of the top six things I’d learned from Dean and Kris about writing fiction.

In retrospect, it wasn’t really a countdown list. It was actually a list of things I’ve learned that all vie for number one in importance. (grin) I’m even thinking about putting them in a nonfiction book.

One writer commented that she would’ve added “Have fun with your writing” to the list.

I agree with that, except that having fun with writing is something I kind of take for granted. And that gave rise to this topic.

Topic: Have Fun With Your Writing (or Don’t Be An Intrusive God)

Let me be clear: if writing fiction wasn’t the most fun I could have with my clothes on, I probably wouldn’t do it at all.

Writing fiction is an escape for me. Like going to the beach or going camping or taking a cruise is for other people. It’s just fun, something I love to do.

I enjoy writing stories I haven’t read before. I enjoy practicing (subliminally) new techniques I’ve learned from a mentor or from my reading. Occasionally, I even enjoy re-reading a short story or novella or novel I’ve written. Because even if that story has been told before, it’s never been told the way I tell it.

And by “the way I tell it,” I don’t mean only my authorial voice. Let me explain that.

I see my role as a writer as twofold: god and reporter.

As the god of the story, I create characters with completely free will. Then I give them a problem and place them in a world. That’s it.

Then, as they are wont to do, Things Happen. Situations come up. And the characters, not I, deal with them. Hey, I have my own life to live, my own situations to deal with.

Sometimes the situations in which my characters find themselves are thrust upon them by external forces (or other characters). Sometimes they occur as a result of the characters’ own actions.

But in either case, I don’t “save” them. I let them work out their problems on their own. If you’re a religious or spiritual person — or even just a person who believes in personal responsibilty, an increasingly foreign concept — and if you believe you have free will, this should sound familiar.

I’m aware that many writers are unable to trust their own subconscious, their own storytelling ability. That causes them to take the “god” responsibility to extremes.

They write extensive outlines, create in-depth character sketches, develop rising and falling action in graphs, carefully add plot points etc. (Ahem. None of which is writing.)

They effectively create and control every situation and everything their characters say and do in response to a given situation. Thus their writing “process” becomes laborious, even tedious. Often the process itself takes precedence over the writing! Then the worst among them hang out at launch parties, sling one forearm across their forehead, and proclaim writing “drudgery.”

I don’t wonder.

Now I’m no less the god of my story than they are of theirs. But I’m a different kind of god. I don’t lounge on a pedestal among the clouds, micromanaging or directing the actions and voices of my characters from afar. Or at all.

I gave them free will, remember? And I meant it.

Once the story is peopled with one or two characters, I kick off my robes and become a mild-mannered recorder. An observer. I’m just another reader, waiting to be entertained. And that’s where the real fun of writing begins.

As the recorder of the story, I roll off the parapet into the trench of the story (or into the interconnected trenches of the novel) and run through it with them.

Sometimes, though very seldom, I can foresee what the characters will do or say next. But more often, just as in “real” life, I’m surprised by what they do or say.

Most of the time, I don’t have a clue what’s about to happen, and frankly, I don’t give it much thought. I’m too busy racing along with them, trying frantically to keep up, and writing down what they say and do.

That free will of the characters and letting situations unfold as they will is all-important. And not only to me.

In a recent interview, Lee Child said his New York editor mentioned that the book he’d submitted might have been better if a set of situations had occurred in a different order.

Child agreed with him at first. “Yes, it might.” Then he said, “But that isn’t the way it happened.”

And this isn’t anything I’ve learned recently.

Back in the early 1990s, when I was fairly well known for my poetry and was making the circuit, doing presentations at writers’ conferences and in private seminars all over the country, writers occasionally asked about my fiction “process.” (I’d written some even back then.)

I smiled and said the same thing I’ve said ever since: “I don’t really have a process. I just follow the characters around and write down what they say and do.”

Which brings us back to the notion of keeping writing fun.

What could be more fun than being a perpetual spy and evesdropper on a group of characters? And getting paid for it?

Still, even with all the military training I’ve undergone in my own life, I seriously doubt I’m clandestine enough to avoid detection if my characters really wanted to notice me. In fact, I suspect they know I’m there. But they never mention me.

They’re so busy living their own lives that my presence doesn’t bother them. After all, who, as they move along a busy city street all wrapped up in their own tense situation, notices a non-threatening stranger loitering on the corner?

In an alternative view, my characters pay about as much attention to me as most characters pay to their creator. They know I’m around, and that’s fine. But they’d prefer to work through their problems themselves. And who can blame them?

So once I put them there, my influence is finished. It’s up to them to lead their own lives in whatever manner they see fit.

My only job is to have fun and be joyously amazed at how they do that.

And I am.


Rolled out at my “normal” time as of late, at 3:30. I spent a little time on the Internet, then wrote the stuff above this.

It’s a weekend, so I probably won’t write much over my goal today, then spend the balance of the day with my wife.

Well, surprisingly, I’m in the end game of the WIP. It will be a novella, not a novel. It’s all about one event. So I’ll finish it tomorrow and get to start something new.

See you soon. ​

Of Interest

Somewhat in contrast to my topic above (but whatever works for you) see James Scott Bell’s “Building Characters Layer by Layer” at As you read the post, note his caution regarding locking a character into a particular profile.

See “I Am Not a Gatekeeper” at Be sure to read The Passive Guy’s take on the article too.

Fiction Words: 2005
Nonfiction Words: 1180 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 3185

Writing of Stern Talbot, PI: The Case of the Burned-Out Building

Day 1…… 1926 words. Total words to date…… 1926
Day 2…… 2884 words. Total words to date…… 4810
Day 3…… 1874 words. Total words to date…… 6684
Day 4…… 1716 words. Total words to date…… 8500
Day 5…… 2107 words. Total words to date…… 10607
Day 6…… 2105 words. Total words to date…… 12712
Day 7…… 1491 words. Total words to date…… 14203
Day 8…… 2005 words. Total words to date…… 16208

Total fiction words for the month……… 2005
Total fiction words for the year………… 236221
Total nonfiction words for the month… 1170
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 80346
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 316317

Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 5
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 11
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 31
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 5
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………………… 193