What a Character!

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Welcome
* What a Character! (Guest Post)
* From B&N
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“Indie publishing favors prolific writers, just as the pulp era did. … Readers are the gatekeepers. Writers do not need opinionated editors two years out of Vassar to tell them what to do.” Dean Wesley Smith

“Needing beta readers is one of the most damaging and funny myths that have come about in Indie publishing. Grow a spine and trust your own writing. … If you think you need a bunch of people to read over your book, you have a fear and confidence issue that you need to either get past or get therapy on.” Dean Wesley Smith

“Characters make their own plot. The dimensions of the characters determine the action of the novel.” Harper Lee (via Dan Baldwin)

“Her incorrect statement was one reason I decided to end the quest for traditional publication and self-publish instead. I didn’t need to fight another uphill battle in the face of arrogant ignorance.” Debbie Burke

“Why would they have book covers if we aren’t supposed to judge the book by them? It makes no sense.” Ingrid Weir


to Adam K, a fictionist and writer of traditional poetry, Philip S, “a working man by day and a short fiction writer by night,” and to any other new subscribers or readers of the Journal. I hope you will find something here that will help you.

Be sure to check out the free downloads at https://hestanbrough.com/the-daily-journal-archives-gifts-dvds/ and at https://harveystanbrough.com/downloads/.

What a Character!

This is a reposting, with his permission, of Dan Baldwin’s Writing Tip of the Week. To sign up for his tips, email baldco@msn.com.

I had a discussion recently with a couple of novelists who are not only plotters, but who also invest considerable time and energy into developing in-depth biographies of all their major characters. Some authors extend this exercise to some of their more prominent minor characters. One of my fellow conversationalists said, “That way I know exactly what my characters are going to do in every situation.”

How omnipotent.

And, as my good friend Jim Reed used to say, “Why is this a good idea?”

In my experience, you never know what anybody is going to do until they do it. Often what they do is one hell of a surprise. That’s why I don’t create character sketches. The characters reveal themselves throughout the writing of their adventures.

Even the closest members of a family or the best of friends never fully reveal everything to each other. Why should the relationship between writer and character be any different?

I enjoy discovering bits and pieces of my characters as I get to know them by transcribing their adventures. I believe my readers experience the same thrill.

Another benefit of the slow reveal is the surprises characters deliver – surprises that can radically alter and improve the work in progress. I’ve often thought to myself, “Wow! I didn’t see that coming” about some sudden change in direction due to an unexpected act or statement from one of the characters. That, folks, is a thrilling feeling you can’t get if you already know what’s coming.

Fairly early in my Gabby Durango mainstream work one of the major characters gets murdered. I don’t plot, but early in the work it seemed in my mind that he was headed for quite an adventure. Out of the blue a very minor character killed him in a fit of rage.

I did not see that coming. Beyond that, the killing brought out an unexpected character trait in the young man’s partner. What he did based on that trait changed the course of the remaining book. The effect was dramatic and significantly improved the action and character building in the rest of the work.

While writing another mainstream work, The Ad Club: Quest for the Phoenix Award, I assumed throughout that a certain character was the villain of the piece. Again, the book wasn’t plotted that way; that’s just the way it was developing. When I tapped out the words of the last chapter, another character reached up through my keypad, slapped me in the face, and shouted, “I’m the villain, dummy!”

She was right. As I thought back through the novel, I had unconsciously set her up all the way as the villain of the piece – that is, throughout the piece she had unconsciously let me set up the surprise ending. Had I plotted the piece using character sketches, that plot twist may not have developed and it certainly would not have been such a dramatic revelation.

My Western novel Slott Canyon features a murderous villain—the worst I’ve ever written. He slaughters men, women and children across half the Old West. At one point he was about to shoot a young girl. He stopped, looked at her closely, picked her up and took her to the nearest settlement.

I didn’t see that coming, but it set him off on an unexpected journey for a number of chapters and helped make the ending of the piece more powerful than I had hoped. Had I developed character sketches up front, I am certain that the dramatic change in plot would have been telegraphed in earlier chapters with a subsequent loss of emotional impact. As they say, no surprise for the author, no surprise for the reader.

I like the surprise and joy of discovering my characters right along with the readers. I don’t criticize authors who write up character sketches. I’m just offering a different perspective. For me, the process of writing character sketches would leave my novels a bit… well, sketchy.

From B&N

I just received an enticing email from Barnes & Noble Press. It’s titled “Meet Our Trusted 3rd Party Partners and Unlock Your Self-Publishing Potential!”

Under “Meet the Experts” the first item is something called Inkubate, which “analyzes your writing style with AI-based technology to (1) identify the bestselling author whose readers you should target; (2) evaluate the language these readers use when they search for the next book to read; and (3) discuss how to use this language in your marketing efforts to connect with your targeted readers.”

You can even register for a free websinar concerning Inkubate to see how it works. (Even if you don’t actually use Inkubate, the webinar might provide a story or novel idea.)

To read the entire announcement Click Here.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “A Second Way to Go” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/a-second-way-to-go/. (Erin, PLEASE read this. He says it much better than I did.)

See “How the brain changes when we grieve” at https://www.axios.com/2023/05/07/neuroscience-grief.

See “Tips on Hiring and Working with a Book Cover Designer” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/tips-on-hiring-and-working-with-a-book-cover-designer/. Note: I posted this primarily for Erin, a young writer who emailed me. I still recommend doing it yourself. And if you don’t, I also recommend not spending more than a few hundred dollars.

See “This beer is made from recycled shower water. Is it the taste of the future?” at https://www.theguardian.com/food/2023/may/02/recycled-wastewater-beer-epic-cleantec-san-francisco-drought-california. Only in California….

See “Forget ChatGPT. These Are the Best AI-Powered Apps” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/forget-chatgpt-these-are-the-best-ai-powered-apps/. Note: I do NOT endorse creating with anything more than the human mind, but those of you who do should read this. Note 2: As for Grammarly, nobody should use or endorse a self-styled grammar program that defines a run-on sentence as “a really long sentence.” That would be like hiring a carpenter who refers to nails as “you know, those skinny round steely things?”

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 550

Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal 2 (WCG9SF4)

Day 11… 0323 words. Total words to date…… 19819
Day 12… 2445 words. Total words to date…… 22264
Day 13… 3184 words. Total words to date…… 25448
Day 14… 3509 words. Total words to date…… 28957
Day 15… 1595 words. Total words to date…… 30552

Total fiction words for May……… 5104
Total fiction words for 2023………… 88568
Total nonfiction words for May… 8090
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 89780
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 178348

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 72
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 221
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

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

2 thoughts on “What a Character!”

  1. Thanks, Harvey! Your posts are always helpful. As are DWS’s. I love the series he’s writing now. It’s been very helpful reaffirming my feeling that indie publishing is the best way to go.

    • Hi Erin. Thanks. Yup, I’ve posted a link to every chapter of the book he’s writing in his blog right now.

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