Vella, and Depth

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Shameless Self-Promotion
* Welcome
* Another Note on Vella
* A Note on “Depth”
* The Writing
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Up until now my process has always been, mainly, rushing. … flying at breakneck speed, rushing myself and missing the actual meat of the story. … I’ve never felt immersed before, and now I do.” Chynna Pace, after experience Dean’s “Depth in Writing” class

That’s exactly it. That’s why I constantly tell folks to slow down, take their time, don’t skip over what the POV character is giving them.

“I believe in the impossible because no one else does.” Florence Griffith Joyner

“The steam alone was strong enough to scald the eyelids off a bobcat. The coffee was even better.” Wes Crowley in a future novel

Shameless Self-Promotion

Whew! Yesterday, in addition to uploading the last several episodes to Kindle Vella, I designed a cover, wrote the sales copy, and updated StoneThread Publishing. I both updated the Crime Thrillers & Action-Adventure page and created a new page for Blackwell Ops 10.

To see the cover and sales copy (“blurb”) click

If you’d like to get a taste completely free of charge, scroll to the bottom of that page and click the link that reads Start reading Blackwell Ops 10. You get the first three chapters free. You guys trust me to teach you writing, right? So see whether I know what I’m doing.


Welcome to Denis, Jay, Denise and any other new subscribers or reader of the Journal. I hope you will find it useful.

Be sure to check out the Archives and all the other free downloads at

Another (Probably Final, I Hope) Note on Vella

Episodes uploaded to Vella have to be at least 600 words. Huh. Live and learn.

If I had known that going in (but it’s probably in the FAQs on Vella), I would have either included the “epilogue” (originally only 230+ words) in Chapter 30. Either that or I would have slowed down and let the characters made the epilogue itself a little longer.

As it was, I had already uploaded Chapter 30, and I didn’t want a chapter to be over 1500 words anyway.

That’s just kind’a my personal magic number. Chapters in my books are a scene, usually around 1200 to 1499 words long.

Remember that sense of urgency I mentioned awhile back? I wanted to be finished uploading episodes of this novel to Vella. So I quickly (ahem) padded-out the epilogue. It plus my About the Author bit came to 760+ words, and I shamelessly uploaded it.

I won’t have to do any such thing in the future, and now you know the requirement in advance, so you won’t either.

All of that said, when I read over the new epilogue, I realized there were parts of it that seemed necessary to resolve the novel and the POV character’s personal emotional strife.

My POV character came through for me yet again. I only had to slow down and listen. Some of it was even necessary to contrast his “regular” job as a game-show host in Hollywood with his activities as an operative for TJ Blackwell.

(Remember, every word in a novel should come through the POV character along with his or her physical and emotional senses and his or her opinion of the setting and the event. Nothing should come from you. You aren’t in the story. You are only an imbedded observer.)

So later yesterday I cycled back over the “new” epilogue, removing the chaff and keeping the wheat. When it was over, Jeremy had added right at 400 words. I spell-checked it and sent the revised novel off to my excellent first reader.

I’ve also decided I will probably revisit Jeremy Stiles in a future Blackwell Ops novel. I like the guy. He leads a very interesting life. But no doubt there are dozens of operatives I haven’t met and whose stories I haven’t heard yet.

A Note on “Depth”

Awhile back, a writer asked for my recommendations of which of DWS’ online workshops to take.

Her work had always drawn me in immediately and kept me immersed to the end of the story. (That’s the purpose of “depth.”) So I advised her against taking Dean’s Depth in Writing class.

She took it anyway, and good for her. Back when I took it, my writing improved. Or so I thought.

I read back over the opening of my very first novel WITD and the openings of a few chapters. Each time they pulled me into the story and kept me there.

And it wasn’t only me. The comment that I get most often from my readers is that they feel they’re in the setting with the character and find it difficult to put the novel down. Good. That’s depth. Well, and pacing, but that’s another topic.

To get great depth, here’s what you need to do, and I mean doggedly, stubbornly:

1. When describing the setting, write absolutely EVERYTHING the POV character notes or experiences with his physical (sight, sound, hearing, taste, feel) senses and EVERYTHING s/he experiences with his or her emotional senses: opinion of the setting (the “stench” or “perfume” of pipe smoke, the “stupid” or “ornate” library, etc.).

What the POV character notes or experiences is never “too much” description.

2. When describing the setting, write absolutely NOTHING that you, the author, “think” (critical mind) might be necessary to the scene. Always stubbornly guard against doing that.

Any description added by you, the author, will ALWAYS be too much.

Simple as it sounds, and as easy as it is to do if you trust yourself and your characters, that really is all you need to know about how to pull readers into your fiction and keep them there. Keeping them up late at night turning pages requires pacing. Depth and pacing go hand in hand.

But what about cycling? I’ve said many times that I am by and large what Stephen King calls a “putter inner.”

That’s true. But when I cycle, I don’t add anything at all. Like King, I rest my fingers on the keyboard as I read, and allow my POV character to add anything I might have missed.

So just a caution: Practice keeping your conscious, critical, learning mind out of your writing. That is the sole domain of your creative subconscious, as well it should be.

The Writing

After the frenzy of the past few days, and after everything I did yesterday morning, I decided to take the afternoon off instead of starting something new.

I have no idea what I’ll write next, unless I write the next Blackwell Ops novel featuring Jeremy Stiles. Having just finished the first, I’m used to his voice, and it wouldn’t be the first time I repeated a character.

In my Blackwell Ops series alone there are now ten novels, but only eight unique POV characters. I’ve repeated Charles Claymore Task and Philip Dunstan, and sort of repeated Jack Tilden when I introduced his wife, Georgette, who is also an operative.

I didn’t realize this until I just went to StoneThread Publishing and counted. But in case you’re wondering, the genders are only slightly unbalanced. There are 5 male operatives, 3 female operatives, and another female (introduced in the second Philip Dunstan book) who signed up near the end of the book. She might want to tell her story too once she’s gotten more experience.

We might well hear again from Marie Arceneaux from the Italian riviera, or from Melanie Sloan. Both great, exciting characters.

Eventually I will also return to the Wes Crowley gap series. I’ll toss out part of the one I started awhile back, Rose Padilla, and finish that story.

Then sometime or other I hope Wes might round his overall story out with a transition novel that will lead us back into Book 3 of the original 12-volume saga. If you’re a fan, the gap series fits between Books 2 and 3 of the original saga.

Great fun. I wish the same for you.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

The Ultimate Story Checklist — Read and absorb what you want or need, but don’t think about what you learn while you’re writing.

Business Musings: Platforms

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1220

Writing of

Day 1…… XXXX words. To date…… XXXXX

Fiction for September…………………… 52650
Fiction for 2023………………………… 204959
Fiction since August 1………………… 110199
Nonfiction for September……………… 16850
Nonfiction for the year……………… 191320
Annual consumable words………… 396279

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 4
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 75
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)… 232
Short story collections…………………… 31

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.

9 thoughts on “Vella, and Depth”

  1. Hello!

    Well, I took the depth workshop of Dean. There were some changes in my writing, like I learned during the workshop how to enter my character’s head. Before the workshop I tried to write with depth, whatever the meaning of depth was… But after, I learned how to focus on a character and what he or she has to tell about their world. However, I am not sure that it was Dean’s intention. Also, nowadays I can’t tell whether I write with enough depth? I just write what happens with my characters and what are their reactions to these things. Clearly, it’s a question about critical vs creative side of brain. If we want too much depth, there will be too much. But with enough focus, we can write the right amount of depth. The focus should be on the character, I think.

    • Exactly, but what we (the writers) “want” (critical mind) should never enter into it. Like you said, get into your POV character’s head and describe the setting, people, etc. through his or her physical and emotional senses, but never through your own. If you do that, you will have depth. And “depth” only means the story will pull your readers into the story and keep them there.

      • Yes, and this is the part where I’ve failed several times. I want a perfect story; I want more details about the world; I want my characters’ voice more serious; I want to avoid every mistake other writer’s made… Do you know how they call the novel that no one finds a mistake in? A very bad one. It’s boring.

        I think it is not bad to know what depth means. However, when I write I don’t let my critical voice to interfere. I write the story of my character’s and the world they live in in a way they experience their story. It’s their story, after all.

        And I have a question: if something interests me, or if I want to write in a new genre, how I communicate my creative voice to do it? It could be a stupid question… Maybe if I am interested in something that means my creative voice is ready to write it. But can I tell my creative voice some specification to consider? Or is it the same when the writer step into the way of their story…?

        • Yes, if you want to write something new, your creative voice will be ready. But yes also, you can “tell” your crreative mind you want to practice a particular part of the craft or write in a particular genre, and it will do that for you. Tell it, then forget about it and just write.

  2. It was surprising that depth was a big deal even in 19th century:
    “In general, the authors only have eyes and just paint. Turgenev has the sense of smell and hearing. All his senses have open doors to each other. He is full of the smells of the country, the sounds of water, the clarity of the sky, and lets himself be lulled, without any literary tradition, but by the orchestra of his sensations.” (Alphonse Daudet about French translation of “A Sportsman’s Sketches” by Ivan Turgenev)

    • Can’t go with you on that one. Not the same thing. And that “the authors only have eyes” thing is just silly. Besides, it isn’t the author’s eyes (or any of the author’s other senses) that matter. In good writing, everything comes through the POV character, not the author.

      • It can be counted for “A Sportsman’s Sketches”, because most of stories in this collection are in 1st person. Author is actually a character in this stories making a specific kind of POV (he’s an educated and rich hunter from noble family who tells stories about ordinary peasants he met during his expeditions).

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