Writing the Character-Driven Story

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* A New Story
* Writing the Character-Driven Story: Introduction
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Madeleine L’Engle

“What’s preferable, to struggle with a paragraph for days or to finish a story in the same amount of time and move on to the next story and get more experience by writing more?” Adam Kozak in a Substack Note to another writer

A New Story

“Carmen, Whose Face Was Cracked,” the fifth story in an interconnected series of ten magic realism stories, went live yesterday on my Stanbrough Writes Substack. If you enjoy magic realism, you probably don’t want to miss this series of stories.

To subscribe, click the link above and then the Subscribe button at the end of the story. You’ll receive a new short story every Friday, and it’s free.

Below the Subscribe button, there are other short stories you can read in most genres. Enjoy!

Writing the Character-Driven Story

Introduction to the New Blog Version

I originally posted this series of posts on my Pro Writers blog over at HarveyStanbrough.com. (Don’t look. Once I published the book I marked all of them Private. Besides, I’ve updated the series here.)

As I bring the posts forward and post them here, I will update them in some ways. Even if you have bought and read the book, I encourage you to read these posts. If the changes are significant, I will publish a second edition of the book.

One quick note: Please don’t climb up on me about minor typos. (grin) When you typically type 4,000 to 5,0000 words per day or more in fiction and a daily blog, typos sometimes happen.

Writing the Character-Driven Story is currently available only as an ebook. I have no plans to publish it in paper, but a printable PDF version is available directly from me.

You are also welcome to copy and paste this “blog version” into a document for your own use. However, please remember that all content on this blog is ©Harvey Stanbrough in the current year.

I ask that you do not share what you copy from here with anyone except perhaps your significant other. And of course, if you quote from any of this material, please be sure to attribute authorship to me.

As you read the chapters on the blog, I encourage you to leave comments in the comment section. I also encourage readers to read not only the chapters, but the comments as well.

Often the comments will provide, or evoke from me, additional information that was not in the chapter originally. (This is still true today even though the book has long-since been published.)

Introduction to the Actual Book

The very first thing you should know about this book, Writing the Character-Driven Story, is that the title is intentional. You’ll notice it isn’t called Writing the Character-Driven SHORT Story.

That’s because it’s equally effective for writing short stories, longer stories, or novels.

It’s great for flash fiction, which I always have defined as double-digit fiction, meaning it can be no longer than 99 words, not including the title.

It’s also great for short-short stories (the short-short), which is what many today are calling flash fiction or quick fiction or sudden fiction or whatever. Doesn’t matter. You can call a duck and eagle, but it will still be a duck. For me, the short-short is from 100 words up to 1,999 words.

If you use the techniques in this book, you can effectively and more than efficiently write anything longer: the short story (2,000 to 7,999); the long short story or novelette (8,000 to 14,999); the novella (15,000 to 24,999); or the novel (short novel, 25,000 to 39,999; novel, 40,000 to 80,000; long novel, over 80,000).

Before you ask, these lengths are not “official” in any way. They are my own defined lengths. I use them only to determine approximately how much to charge for electronic and paper editions of my own work.

But back to the techniques in this book. Will I guarantee they will work for you?

No. Not unless you’re asking me, for you and for your writing career, to be what a Personal Trainer is for a professional athlete. I mean, I can’t even guarantee that you’ll sit down and put your fingers on the keyboard, so I certainly can’t guarantee anything beyond that.

What I can tell you is that if you DO sit down at the keyboard and if you DO use the techniques in this book, you will have a great deal more fun than you’ve ever had with your clothes on. So that’s pretty good, right?


Different writers and different writing instructors sometimes use different terms for the same thing. For example, what others call a “narrative beat” I call a “tag line.” If you don’t know what those things are, chances are you would benefit from my book, Writing Realistic Dialogue & Flash Fiction and/or my book, Punctuation for Writers, 2nd edition.

If you would rather listen to me blather on about such things, you can sign up for some of my Audio Lectures over at HEStanbrough.com/of-value-to-writers/. The courses are not expensive, and once you purchase one (or more) you may listen to them at your leisure, as many times as you like, as often as you like. Okay, end of advertisement.

Just to be sure we’re on the same page, here are my definitions for the following terms:

Story Starter — This is not a story idea. This is a catalyst to GET you to a story idea. It can be an idea born whole (a character with a problem in a setting) or it can be only a character. Or a problem. Or the setting. It also can be a lyric from a song or a line of dialogue or a sound or a smell or another physical stimulus.

Idea — This is a catalyst to get you to the keyboard. Nothing more, nothing less. An idea typically consist of a character with a problem in a setting.

Hook — This is the first striking sentence or paragraph. This is the first bit that forces the reader to read the next sentence, and the next, and the next. Give your character the time to say or narrate this excactly the way s/he wants to, but do not intrude. Do not overrule what your character gives you.

Overall Opening — This is the introductory scene of any story of any length, but I apply this term mostly to stories that are longer than one scene. In the opening, the reader is introduced to a character (described) with a problem in a setting (also described). That’s it.

And the problem doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story. The opening is usually 300 to 500 words but it can run much longer, though seldom shorter. If your opening runs shorter, you probably haven’t included everything the character gave you and grounded the reader. The POV character can fix that when you cycle back if you let him.

The purpose of the opening is to pull the reader into the story via the aformentioned descriptions of character and setting, anything that happens, and anything the character says or does in response.

Scene or Chapter Opening — This is the first few sentences or paragraphs of a major scene or chapter. In that space you need to be sure to ground the reader in the story again. Reacquaint him with the setting, etc.

Beginning, Middle — In the original posts, I defined these terms. But in my own writing I never think in terms of the “beginning” “or “middle” of the story. I internalized all of that (as have you, probably, without realizing it) long ago. I use them, but not consciously.

I’ll say only that the beginning and the opening are not the same thing. If you need definitions for “beginning” and “middle,” you can find them pretty much anywhere, along with unnecessary terms like “act” and “rising tension,” etc.

Ending — This is the final one-quarter or so of the story. This is the final big try-fail or try-succeed scene, the resulting big climax, and the validation.

Validation (Resolution/Dénouement) — This is a few sentences (short story) or paragraphs (longer works). The validation serves to wrap up any loose ends. This is the part of the story that tells the reader in a moment or two s/he can close the book.

Setting — This is the specific and general location in which the scene takes place.

A Note on Setting: A popular writing myth says, “In desription, include only what’s important to the scene.”

Nope. You are not IN the story. You are a visitor, only CONVEYING (recording) the story for your characters, and you’re there by invitation. Be polite.

In description, write whatever the POV character gives you (whatever appears in your mind) that the character sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches or feels (emotionally). You can’t know in advance what will be “important” later in the story. Don’t add anything of your own volition. If you do, you’re intruding.

Scene — This is what happens within a setting.

Story — Whenever I use the term in this book, “story” refers to a complete piece of fiction, regardless of length. Flash fiction is a story. A short-short or short story is a story. A novella or novel is a story.

Tomorrow, Chapter 1 of Writing the Character-Driven Story.

I’ll talk with you again then.

Of Interest

Who Owns This Sentence?

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1540

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

Day 1…… XXXX words. To date…… XXXXX

Fiction for February……………………. 3686
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 121290
Fiction since October 1……………… 424345
Nonfiction for February……………… 2590
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 34550
2024 consumable words…………… 155830

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.

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