The Story Isn’t Fiction to the Characters

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Personal to Buck Turgid, and a Video
* The Story Isn’t Fiction to the Characters
* Past Tense
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“[T]he first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page, the first ten pages, the first chapter: This is how you will be judged, quickly and ruthlessly…. Nobody is going to invest the time to read your whole book or story if these alienate them.” Unknown (see Of Interest)

BUT what “alienates” one reader might well engage another reader and drag him through to the end. As evidenced by my inability to read even one James Patterson book despite his massive sales.

“…mastering and then mentally releasing one’s craft is key to achieving the high creativity and productivity associated with flow states.” (See Of Interest)

Personal to Buck Turgid, and a Video

Well, sort of. personal. I decided on the spur of the moment yesterday morning to broadast Live from the Hovel again. The video is only about 5 minutes long.

I talked a little bit to Buck, and a little about cycling, and a little about first readers, and a little bit about my (currently upcoming) visit with Russ, my own first reader.

You can see the video here. (Buck, if you’re out there, take a look.)

Another spur of the moment thing—

I have several names lined up for main (POV) characters in the Blackwell Ops series. But if there’s a particular first or last name (not both, please) you’d like to see in an upcoming story, email to let me know.

Bear in mind, the name generally informs the personality, at least for me. (grin)

If I use the name you suggest, I’ll send you a free copy of the novel. In fact, I’ll even include you as another first reader if you’d like to see it early.

Won’t I, Dave? (grin)

The Story Isn’t Fiction to the Characters

If you approach a character sitting on a pier at Boston Harbah and say, “Hey, you’re only a character, aren’t you?”

He might respond, “No, you ah.” (grin)

To the characters, YOU’RE fiction.

Writers constantly talk about “creating” stories, but the good ones don’t create anything. They simply drop into the story and run through it with the characters as the events and the characters’ reactions to those events unfold all around them in real time.

Have you ever heard writers talking about characters as if they aren’t real? As if they don’t exist anywhere other than the writer’s mind?

I’m willing to bet you have. And I can’t “prove” to you that characters exist in another world or another dimension.

But then, I can’t “prove” to you that a particular person or group of people I’ve never physically met exist on another continent or in another nation on our tiny little planet either. Yet you “believe in” them, don’t you?

Imagine for a moment two of my characters are talking, both with folded arms.

One says, “Yes. Sure humans exist. I know, because one of them, this dweeb in a place called Arizona, is writing my story. Guy shows up every morning, usually a little later than he said he’d be there. But when he arrives, he drops right into our world.

“Then me and the boys set off, and this guy does his best to keep up. And get this: he actually takes notes on what’s going on as we go through our daily lives. Makes me feel pretty stinkin’ important, I tell you what. It’s a good feeling.”

And of course, the other says, “Nah, humans don’t exist either. Well, except in your addled mind. You really believe anyone out there in the ether is interested in what happens here, or in how we respond or react to any of that I think you’re mental, my friend.”

Which is to say, to each his own. Believe whatever you want about your characters. But if you don’t trust them, remember they’re free to believe whatever they want about you too.

Past Tense

The best vehicle for conveying a story is past tense. But that isn’t because the story happened in some distant or long-ago place or time.

The story is conveyed in past tense because you can’t report what hasn’t happened yet. Duh.

But remember, your reporting “live on the scene.” You’re reporting what happened in the second before you were able to transmit it to the screen with your fingertips or to the page with your pen or with your pencil stub.

A couple of days ago we had a guest post and one or two Of Interest items on backstory.

A Couple of definitions—

  • Story is what’s unfolding around you as you and the characters run through it and experience it together.
  • Backstory is that thing I mentioned above: something that happened to the character(s) in an earlier time or place.

Backstory has gotten a bad rap, even from writers like Stephen King, who wrote “…(a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.”

That quote surprised me a little. Because King practices a version of writing into the dark.

Two thoughts occur with regard to backstory:

  • The backstory is interesting to the character, or he wouldn’t have told you about it, and
  • If you’re writing into the dark, how can you possibly know in advance whether something the character included in the backstory will be important later in the story somewhere?

The answer is, You Don’t. So overcome your critical mind and write it anyway.

The instant you take that road of gently (or otherwise) “correcting” the characters, you’re lost to the critical mind. Don’t go there.

If you do, at best the story will be “different” than the characters’ authenic story from that point forward. And in the worst case, the characters will realize you don’t trust them. Then they might cross their arms, turn their back, and refuse to talk with you anymore. Maybe ever.

A couple of caveats—

  • Of course, if you’re making up the backstory, it ISN’T interesting, to any number of people.
  • But then, if you’re making up the backstory, you’re making up the story too, and it won’t be interesting either.

Just some thoughts to ponder.

Very special thanks to Russ and Michael Jones (an excellent game designer, see Of Interest) who stopped by for an all-but perfect day-long visit yesterday. The only thing that could be better is if they packed up and moved to Southeast Arizona.

Of Interest

Unlocking Flow: The Neuroscience of Creative Bliss (Thanks to James for the tip.)

ARK Scorched Earth Ascended + Bob’s Tall Tales Trailer Any gamers out there? Check out this trailer. It is hyper-cool!

The first page of your novel

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1120

Writing of

Day 1…… XXXX words. To date…… XXXXX

Fiction for April…………………….….… 36261
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 262053
Fiction since October 1………………… 565109
Nonfiction for April……………………… 10190
Nonfiction for 2024……………………… 139910
2024 consumable words……………… 401963

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 7
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 89
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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4 thoughts on “The Story Isn’t Fiction to the Characters”

    • Of course. It all boils down to one simple thing: Write the character and the story as it exists.

      Oh, trust me, I would love to have been Nemerov’s first reader on anything at any time.

  1. Yessir, I read The Journal whenever possible. And thanks for another “Live from the Hovel” segment. I enjoyed it while I looked for an unexpected gem such as your mention of Nemerov in an earlier broadcast. It sent me digging for my copy of his collected poems. (His play about Cain and Abel? How’d you like to be HIS first reader?)
    But the YouTube Comments must’ve been turned off after the first response appeared and it wouldn’t take mine.
    I’d love a copy of your latest in PDF. (

    • Hey Buck! Thanks for stopping by! As you probably suspected, I don’t have a clue about comments on YouTube. Don’t know anything about turning them on of off. Thanks for trying. I’ll send your PDF right out.

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