The Stress Test: Defining the Character

I've argued in previous posts that emotions always, regardless of circumstances, play a bigger role in everyone’s choices and actions then do reason, logic, or cognition.  Yet it is not a human pattern we admire.  We admire those who, in times of crisis, quell their emotions and at least appear to apply a rational mind to the conflict or challenges they're facing.  We call these people "cool". He was cool under fire. Wow!  Did you

Stories: Where They Begin and How They End

Two common questions asked of writers are, "Where do your stories come from?" and, "Do you know the ending before you start?"  For me, the answer to both is, "I don't know." With all due respect to the reader, that's not a facetious answer.  In fact, if I'm citing his meaning correctly, the great storyteller Stephen King gives this answer in his small, excellent book about his working methods, On Writing.  We all repeat from books the thi

Emotions Create Characters’ Actions Or: Why our Brains Cause Trouble

My last entry, Characterizations, is a logical lead-in to this one.  Why and how do an individual's characteristics make him/her unique for the purposes of a particular story? While each of us has a different life experience, a piece factual reality can be known by both of us.  That knowledge is something we have in common, but how we act because of it, or in spite of it, defines who we are as individuals.  This creates our distinct emoti...

Finding Characterization in Fictional Characters

An uncomplicated topic that may not even warrant a separate blog post, characterization is the writer's efforts to take a character from concept to three-dimensional human actor (or non-human, if that fits).  It will encompass everything from height, weight, and coloring to speech mannerisms, gender attitudes, time and place of birth, and much more.  All that the character shows to the reader (and to fellow actors in the story/plot) is part of ch

My Plots vs. My Stories

This post carries on from my last entry “Story vs. Plot—Really?”  I’m going to reflect here on those ideas as they pertain to my work, so please take a look at that one before reading this (or, a second look, in case it put you to sleep before).  Non-Spoiler Warning:  None of the following gives away anything that will diminish your reading experience. The Brass Ring:  The story if of a young man is feeling, perhaps groping, his w

Story vs. Plot—Are They the Same?

Story vs. plot—is there a true distinction, and is it material?  And if so, who cares?  I see a distinction, and I think it is material, but this is territory over which you can have some real arguments. To me, a narrative’s story is the universal psychological and emotional human unfolding that the characters are living between the novel's covers.  It is generally not specifics-dependent, while the plot brings it to life, turning a story

Your Why It’s Called Creative Writing

I had completed The Brass Ring, and I told my friend Christopher Buckley, renowned poet and creative writing professor.  I said, "Hey Chris, I've written a book." His reply was "Who says?" Chris was right.  The months passed, the years passed, and no one recognized that I had written a book except me (and a few friends).  What could I do?  I started on another book.  Like Ring, this one would involve a global stage, lots of t...

The Origin and Value of Story Titles

Titles are a never-ending source of curiosity, inspiration, and befuddlement, to authors as well as to readers.  Sometimes one hits you, and it is the unmistakable, gold-plated moniker by which that book should be forever known.  I like the title "The Brass Ring" because it captures a piece of emotional mentality in every one of the major characters.  Alex Corlett, Samantha Bergman, Gilbért, Kudelka, Modrzewski, Tito — all are pursuing an ob...

Why Your Own Writing Concepts Work Best

The first novel that I satisfactorily completed, The Brass Ring, came out of my first venture in the wine business.  I had sent a pallet of California zinfandel to some rugby friends in London with a UK-based import-export firm, but the venture never got off the ground because of a high US dollar and cheap imports from Europe.  However, I came across an obscure fact in my research: Colombia, third largest importer of American wine, had just stopp

The Mechanics of Showing

This essay was inspired by, and is based on, a discussion with the novelist and teacher Lee Martin at the Vermont College of Fine Art’s 2016 Postgraduate Writers Conference, directed by Ellen Lesser. # Show, don’t tell is one of the great dictums of the writer’s art and the editor’s science, aimed at extruding an end-product that breathes and throbs on the page or screen.  At the basic level, though, in the creative process, the vivid pictures that