Writing the Character-Driven Story: Chapter 4, Part 2

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* The Bradbury Challenge Writers Reporting
* Writing the Opening: Another Case in Point
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“When tackling the art of fiction writing, it’s common to immerse yourself in the fundamentals: plot, structure, characters—the building blocks that demand time and mastery.” CS Lakin

Thing is, you’ve been “immersed” in those fundamentals all your life with your reading, sitcoms and dramas and movies on TV. All you have to do to “master” them is practice. And that means trusting that the knowledge is there and putting new words on the page. Harvey

The Bradbury Challenge Writers Reporting

During the past week, in addition to whatever other fiction they’re writing, the following writers reported their progress:

Short Fiction

  • George Kordonis “Under The Weather” 4572 Supernatural Horror
  • Adam Kozak “White Hart” 3571 Horror
  • Alexander Nakul “How the choir died” 1617 Historical
  • Christopher Ridge “Mice” 3500 horror
  • K.C. Riggs “Ice” 1873 Fantasy

Longer Fiction

  • Balázs Jámbor *Kylen’s Story* (tentative title) 4000 Fantasy (31000 to date)
  • Alexander Nakul *Under the Lighthouse* 6 021 Historical Fantasy (46,128 to date)

Writing the Opening, Part 2

Another Case in Point

Several years ago, the name (and person) Wes Crowley came to me. He was a short, scruffy-looking cowboy-looking guy, clean-shaven but with scraggly blond hair protruding below his cowboy hat almost to the collar of his button-down shirt.

He was sitting on a saddle on the ground, his legs and western boots splayed out before him. On the heels of the boots were thirty-degree Kelly spurs.

He, the saddle, the legs and boots were near the bull holding pen alongside the stands at a rodeo. He was working rosin into the grip of his bull rope.

I wrote an opening that became a short story titled “Same Ol’ Bull, Same Ol’ Rodeo.” It was a contemporary western mixed with a little horror and a lot of psychological suspense.

That Wes Crowley must have been the great or great-great grandson of Western Z “Wes” Crowley, who came to me a year or so later.

Western Z Crowley showed up in a period-western short story titled “Adobe Walls.”

He was a deputy US marshal, and he was standing at the rough-hewn bar in an adobe building in the real ghost town of Charleston, Arizona (the town of Adobe Walls in the story), a bedroom community across the San Pedro River from a stamping mill where the workers extracted silver from ore.

When they didn’t feel like riding all the way into Tombstone, the “cowboys” gang, many of whom worked at Clanton Ranch, hung out in the bar in Charleston.

You can visit Charleston today about halfway between Tombstone on the east and Sierra Vista on the west, but it isn’t an easy hike. And be sure to wear your rattlesnake-proof underwear. This is me in the same bar at Adobe Walls roughly 140 years later:

Sometime later, Western Z Crowley tugged at my sleeve: “Don’t you wanna know how I came to be in Adobe Walls?”

Of course I did. That was in late October 2014. I sat down and wrote an opening that became my first novel, Leaving Amarillo. Then I wrote two sequels and thought the overall story was finished with that trilogy.

But Wes came back. “Don’t you wanna know about the early years?”

Yes. So I wrote three prequels to Leaving Amarillo: The Rise of a Warrior, Comanche Fire, and Wes Crowley: Texas Ranger.

Then, over the years and while I was writing other stories and novels in other genres, I wrote six more sequels. So a total of twelve novels. At last the Wes Crowley Saga was finished.

Uh, no. Wes came back one more time. “Y’know, don’t you, there’s a sixteen-year gap between Comanche Fire (the second prequel) and Wes Crowley, Texas Ranger (the third prequel), right? Wanna know what happened during that gap?”

Sure. Why not. So I wrote ten more novels and called them the Gap Series. And that is how a simple opening for a short story eventually became a 22-volume saga and a bunch of other short stories.

It all started with writing that one opening of around 200 words years earlier.

And there might well be more to come, probably about some of the other characters in those novels.


I think I’ve never told anyone this.

During those first three novels, Wes was in southeast Arizona looking for a ranch. I can’t tell you why without spoiling the story.

But I knew where the headquarters of that fictional ranch was located, in a bend of the San Pedro River. One day, strictly on a lark, my wife and I drove down there and parked near Charleston (Adobe Walls).

We stepped out of the truck and spent a few hours literally bushwhacking our way through heavy mesquite, white-thorn acacia, and creosote, all the while watching for rattlers.

We made it to that bend in the river. Lo and behold, we found the foundation of an old house. We also found half-buried piles of broken fine-China plates, cups and saucers. After hours on the site, she finally talked me into heading back to the truck.

But I really wanted to stay. I fully expected to find a Texas Ranger star somewhere in the sand. I’m still convinced it’s lying out there.

That’s how real Wes and the guy he was stalking are to me. On my oath, your characters are just as real if only you’ll listen to them and trust them to tell the story that they, not you, are living.

Or you can keep not believing, outlining and planning a story that hasn’t happened yet (and that you are not living), and even letting complete strangers help you write it. Keep your characters in chains, and you’ll never know the truth.

It’s completely up to you. The story you write can have authenticity that you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste, or you can write one more bland, made-up, cookie-cutter story from your conscious, critical mind.

So Here’s the Whole Point

Believe in yourself.

When an idea occurs, write the opening. Right Now.

If it doesn’t work, throw it out.

If the idea is good, write the opening again. (Don’t rewrite. Throw it out and write a new opening.)

If the idea is not good (doesn’t interest you or doesn’t run), come up with another character with a different problem in another setting and write another opening.

The more times you do this, the easier it becomes to turn an idea into a story. So

  • Step One: Write the Opening.
  • Step Two: Keep Writing Openings.

Don’t worry about how it “feels.” Just write the opening.

Don’t worry about where it’s going or what will happen. Again, just write the opening.

This isn’t a lifelong commitment. It’s just a character with a problem in a setting. What does the character say and do to solve or alleviate the initial problem? Write it.

Next up, Chapter 5. Talk with you again then.

Of Interest

How to Develop Your Unique Writing Style Whatever. See my note below the Quote of the Day.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1170

Writing of Blackwell Ops 20: Soleada Garcia: Into the Future (tentative title)

Day 1…… 3681 words. To date…… 3681
Day 2…… 3044 words. To date…… 6725
Day 3…… 3375 words. To date…… 10100
Day 4…… 3349 words. To date…… 13449
Day 5…… 4262 words. To date…… 17711

Fiction for February……………………. 21397
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 139001
Fiction since October 1……………… 442058
Nonfiction for February……………… 14730
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 46690
2024 consumable words…………… 185691

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 3
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 85
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 239
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.

If you find this Journal of value and want to make a one time or recurring donation, please Donate Here. If you can’t donate monetarily or don’t want to, that’s fine, but please consider donating by sharing this post with friends.