The Journal: Whose Story Is It?

In today’s Journal

* Topic: Whose Story Is It?
* Quotes of the Day
* Some Videos to Check Out
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Topic: Whose Story Is It?

Well, today is mostly quotes. You’ll see those below. I didn’t write fiction yesterday. Didn’t even move over to the writing ‘puter.

Though some have come close, it dawned on me yesterday that I’ve never heard any other writer repeat my own mantra: It’s not my story, it’s the characters’ story.

But let me elaborate. I truly believe the characters’ life, their story, is ongoing even when I’m not looking in on them. Just as my neighbor’s or my children’s or 7.64 billion other people’s lives are ongoing even when I’m not looking in on them.

I also believe this certainty is essential to becoming a prolific professional storyteller. Aside from myself, this belief is born out by the experience of Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Lee Child, James Lee Burke, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and any number of others.

Actually, I can distinguish only two types of professional storytellers: those who “know” (as I, King, Burke, et al do) the characters, not the writers themselves, are living the story, and those who are “that close” to breaking through to that realization.

Why do I say those other writers are on the verge? Because almost every one of them—even though they won’t quite admit or allow themselves to believe the characters are actually living the story, and although as a result of that they fall back on the safety nets of plotting, outlining, etc.—universally admit that Character is the story.

I’ve long been enamored with DWS’ “Stages of a Fiction Writer” (see it at or free at

I personally think Dean got one thing wrong—that whole bestseller thing—because becoming a bestseller is a dream, not a goal (meaning it’s something that is outside the writer’s control), whereas advancing through the Stages is a goal, meaning it IS within the writer’s control.

But the Stages still form the essence of a profound truth. And that truth is this:

Until a writer comes to understand that the life of his characters is completely separate of the life the writer is living, s/he can’t break through into Stage 4.

And there’s nothing to be afraid of. You might want the safety net of an outline or plot, but you don’t need a safetey net. It’s strictly a conscious, critical-mind, fear-based decision. And nothing is more freeing for a writer than flying without a net.

Looking in on your characters’ life and trusting them to tell the story that they, not you, are living is no more fraught with danger than looking in on your *friendly neighbor’s life and committing part of that to the page. (*Note: If your neighbor happens to be a serial killer, there might be some inherent danger in looking in on his life.)

If you were doing the latter, would you attempt to outline and plot your neighbors’ life, or would you just write down what the neighbors say and do (albeit omitting the boring parts) as they move through their day?

If you want it to be a true account, you would just write the story. You wouldn’t try to control or direct what they say or do. You would simply report it.

Likewise, if you want your characters’ fictional story to be a true account, you won’t try to control them either. You’ll simply report it, writing down what they say and do.

If you just thought, “But the characters live in my head,” please take a moment to check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “So what?”

What difference does it make where the characters live? Your neighbors live down the block or across the street. “In my head” is a different location than “in my house” or “across the street” or “in Moscow.”

As Stephen King said to Lee Child in one of the videos I watched recently, “We are stenographers. The story is being told to us and we write it down.”

Okay, so here are some writers talking about writing. Afterward I’ve listed a few videos you might want to check out as you have time.

Quotes of the Day

“I never ‘wanted’ to be a writer. What I wanted to be, broadly speaking, was an entertainer. I wanted to do something that made you [pointing to the audience] happy for an hour or a day or two days just to make you feel good. I’m completely transparent about it. I understand myself very well. I am trying to get, from you, the love and approval I did not get as a child. Lots of writers are like that.” Lee Child (I included this one because I can relate.)

(As an aside) “The difference between a mystery and a thriller is an extra zero on the advance.” Lee Child

(On writers keeping a notebook of “ideas”) “I think a writer’s notebook is the best way to immortalize bad ideas. The good ideas are the ones that hang around.” Stephen King

“You know, sometimes people say to me, ‘Why do you choose to write that creepy stuff?’ And I usually say, ‘What makes you think I have a choice?'” Stephen King

“I feel like you have to follow the characters and you have to follow the story where it leads. The last thing I want to do is spoil a book with plot. Plot is the last resort of bad writers as a rule. I’m a lot more interested in character and situations.” Stephen King

“It begins with a character, all I can do is trot along behind him trying to put down what he says and does.” William Faulkner

“Once I learned to value and respect my characters, I could really hear them. I let them start talking.” August Wilson

And finally, there’s “Writers on Characters” at

Some Videos to Check Out


Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Day Four” at An observation: If he isn’t consciously (critical mind) allowing the move, etc. to keep him away from the novel, my money’s still on Dean for this challenge. Only he can know for sure.

See “I Just Write the Thing” at

See “The Space Shuttle Engines Will Rise Again” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1060 words

Writing of WCGN2: The Comancheros (novel)

Day 10… 3220 words. Total words to date…… 28916
Day 11… 4036 words. Total words to date…… 32952
Day 12… 4848 words. Total words to date…… 37800

Total fiction words for July……… 11304
Total fiction words for the year………… 539983
Total nonfiction words for July… 2870
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 128660
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 668643

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 10
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 63
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

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.


4 thoughts on “The Journal: Whose Story Is It?”

  1. Yesterday I was look at old printouts of writing advise, and came across the stenographer’s quote of Steven King. I thought of you and your attitude. Now you give me lots of quotes.
    Wow! Thank you.
    I need some posters to embed this.

    • Thanks, Loyd. Glad they helped. For a long time I had an actual physical yellow sticky-note that read “Just Write the Next Sentence.” And a poster on my screensaver read “Writers Write.” (grin)

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