Character Driven Stories

Character Driven Stories

My writing preference is character centered stories – focusing on the characters, their challenges, their triumphs, and their despair rather than on plot and setting.  I go even further in my stories – prejudices, dark motives, hatred, and jealousy.  Good raw emotions.  Don’t get me wrong, I think plot and world building are also important, but I don’t want them to be central focus of my stories.

Some of this, of course, is based on the “21 Days to a Novel” from Michael Stackpole which helped me plan for and successfully win my first NaNoWriMo thereby solidly guaranteeing that it will be a guide post for my writing.  Tip of the hat to Mr. Stackpole I think he gets it right on a number of levels.  My first encounter was in a seminar where his opening premise was the importance of character vs. setting driven stories – his recommendations was character driven all the way.

Another rationale I have heard for Character vs Setting is based on the adage: “show don’t tell.”  I apologize that I cannot credit the source for this because I haven’t the foggiest where it came from!  Basically, it goes like this:

Focusing on characters is engaging the heart, whereas setting and plot being central is engaging the brain.  Similar to show vs. tell.  Telling requires the brain to be engaged where Showing lets you engage the emotion.  Connecting emotionally engages and connects better with the readers than intellectually.

Applying to my own writing preferences – the deeper, more intense the emotion, the greater the engagement (by logical extension) (at least that is my theory!)

Ok – so many more established writers are thinking of course that this is all obvious, but for me, I am seeing it play out as I struggle to write my own stories!

My publisher is planning a Kickstarter for the end of July to publish my short stories.  For more information, and to sign up to be notified when it goes live, head over to:

New Writers Resources

Finally, a topic about which I am almost qualified to dispense advice. Being still a new writer and all.

Slight detour…

I just returned with my family from Great Lakes Games, a four day annual invitational event for about 100 friends and family to get together and play boardgames. Boardgames and board game design is another of my frequently exercised hobbies (see “Other Publishing Credits”). This was the ninth year and we have attended all but the first. The timing is such that several of the folks in attendance have just returned from the Spiel in Essen… meaning lots of shiny new games unavailable yet here in the US. It also means getting together a number of game designer friends who are regulars. Exciting and notable this year was the placement of Hawaii by Greg Daigle on the FairPlay Essen scouting report – one of the more reliable predictors for commercial success of a game and pretty remarkable for an American designer. I am extremely happy for Greg – he has worked very hard at his craft and deserves the success and recognition for his work.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well not a whole lot really, but over the weekend I had a number of folks asking whether I had any games in the works. I always have games in the works, like stacks of half finished designs, however this time around they have all taken a back seat to this new writing thing. Several folks were surprised, several others shared their interests or desire to also write. The next question was how did I get myself up and going…

1) Preparation – I attended Michael Stackpole’s “21 Days to a Novel” seminar at Gen Con 2010. In an hour, he was able to explain in simple terms a number of writing exercises that would help prepare and construct a novel. Subsequently I found “The Secrets” podcast available at Stackpole’s site and iTunes. I listened to and enjoyed these podcasts. A portion of this podcast covers the 21 days process with examples. There is also an eBook available at his site and on Amazon.

2) Technique – Hands down the best source of information is the Writing Excuses podcast. Short, fun, and very educational. This should be recommended listening for anyone learning to write! Start at the beginning because they are that good.

3) Technology – I spent a great deal of time trying different writing applications. YWriter was the best application I found for the Windows platform. But hands down the program I prefer is Scrivener. I suffered through the Beta version of the application on Windows long enough to discover its true potential. Finally broke down and bought a Mac, the native platform for Scrivener. Haven’t looked back.

4) Encouragement – Wherever you get it, however you get it, it comes in handy. Give NaNoWriMo a try (adequate preparation is necessary to succeed), take a couple of Continuing Education classes at nearby community college, find a writer’s group, enlist your friends and family.

Enjoy! And best of luck.


No NaNoWriMo for me this year.  I enjoyed it last year and found it a challenging and rewarding experience.  Rewarding in the sense of personal accomplishment but also the first 50,000 words of the West Wind.  Considering it took me 6 more months to write another 50,000, it truly was a great experience.

Instead, I am going to buckle down and tackle the rewrite of the West Wind. NaNo would just turn into another month long excuse not to get cracking.  I have been doing well enough distracting myself with short stories (I have convinced myself it is good for honing my editing skills).  I think I need a month of NaNoEditMo!

So for the folks that are going to take take up the challenge, whether for the first time or more, I wish you best of luck.  Enjoy and I will see you next year…

Revision & Editing – My Approach

After noodling it around a bit I think I at least have a plan of attack, an approach, a Strategy if you will, for going about this whole revision and editing thing.  I fell into a process for writing that seemed to work quite well.  That was pre-blog so you will just have to trust me on it.  Hopefully, the same will happen for the revision and editing.  I am putting it out there for comment, criticism, and for fear that if I don’t write it down, I will not remember it the next time.

The problems I need to address, or that I am hoping this approach will solve, are from the first draft taking over almost a full year to complete.  And from not entirely knowing what I was doing.  The things that could have been avoided by being a *little* more diligent in keeping a “bible” we not avoided… character descriptions morphing, locations being renamed, multiple feints at backstory, etc.  FWIW: I blame NaNoWriMo for that!  The plot also went off in its own direction as well, the whole second half was quite a ways away from what I originally envisioned.  I blame my writing instructor for that – she suggested I write the ending before writing the last half of the book.  It was an excellent suggestion that I *strongly* recommend to others!  Had I not done that, I would probably still be writing the first draft.  There were also things that happened out of order so that they would fit into the self imposed chapter and scene structure.  There is also way too much backstory at the beginning that I would like to move to flashbacks.  All-in-all mostly content issues.   Add to that three POV characters with intertwined storylines and over 120k words which I have no one to else to blame but myself.

Here’s what I am doing:

1. Do nothing.  Yeah, I have heard this quite a bit.  Don’t start editing until you are done writing (check) (though it escapes me why this is not self evident).  More importantly, lock the first draft away for a month or two to distance yourself from it.  Considering it took me a year to write, there are some parts that are more distant than others!  For someone who barely remembers what he had for lunch yesterday I think two months might have been a bit excessive.  My plan of getting caught up on reading during this time fizzled and I found myself writing and editing a short story.

2. Keywords (aka Tagging).  I am using Scrivener that as a really nice tagging capability.  Essentially you can create any keyword (or keyword hierarchy for the overly detail oriented types) and assign those keywords to scenes.  Clicking on the keyword in the “keyword browser” brings up all of the scenes that have been tagged with the keyword.  Really cool.  I created keywords for all of the locations, POV characters, minor characters, extras, means of transportation, etc.  A few more I might add would include character description, character backstory, gadget, etc.  The idea being that I can update a particular detail and have the tool to keep it consistent across all of the occurrences.  So the next time you find your character’s appearance changing and it is not related to the plot – try out the keywords.

… and because I can never say anything in a few words where many will suffice… more to come…

I can’t believe I am doing this…

As I said in my opening of the blog, writing a book was something I had always wanted to do.  And I am doing it.  I have been printing chapters as I complete them, a tip I had picked up early on from Micheal Stackpole’s podcast, to help ensure you have a backup and to prevent co-mingling writing and editing.   Holding the fat binder also has the benefit of making you feel like you are accomplishing something.  Hard to deny when you see the stack of paper growing.

I took Stackpole’s seminar at Gen Con Indy last year.  I had decided to finally take my writing seriously.  Since then I have taken two writing classes, won NaNoWriMo and have over 106k words on the West Wind complete.  My hope is to wrap it up and head down to Gen Con this year with a sense of accomplishment.   No great expectations of course other than doing some networking.  But it does have a sense of bringing things full circle.

Just finished an Eli chapter, two more of his POV to go and only one more Rachel chapter until I am done.  Can I do it this long weekend?

Back in the Saddle Again!

I had nearly a 5,000 word weekend.  Which, since NaNoWriMo last November has been the only significant contribution of new content to The West Wind.

I know this will probably only fuel the fires of debate around the hazards of binge writing, but too bad.  I don’t think I would have even made it this far without the binge.  And at the very least I have the pressure of a half-finished draft of a novel to compel me to move forward.  Well sort of.

I have heard of writers who love to write but find every excuse to avoid actually doing it.  I think it was on one of the writing podcasts…  I most certainly believe that I am one of those types of writers.  The latest most well exploited excuse was my complete inability to get anywhere near one of the computers on which I typically write.  Solved that with a new ASUS netbook.  Which, I must say, is quite handy.  Perhaps it was just an excuse to rationalize a new toy.  Hmmmm.

NaNoWriMo Afterglow…

I did it.  I survived NaNoWriMo and won!

Life starting to get back to normal as I figure out where my story goes next.  Being through this once now I definitely appreciated all of the preparation time I put in prior to the event.  I also found myself falling into a writing process of working from an overall set of diagrammed plotlines as the source for outlining several scenes at at time – usually in groups of three: a setup scene, and action scene, and a resolution scene.  My mental model being these three scenes represent a short story structure that is integrated and moves the overall story arc forward.  This may be a completely bogus and wrong way to write, but so far it is working for me.

The bottom line – I have a half of a first draft completed and too much time invested to give up now!

NaNoWriMo Update – “The West Wind”

Being the first time through NaNoWriMo I am learning several things.

First: 1667 words a day is a lot.

Second: I am glad I did as much pre-writing as I did – it is helping me out tremendously.  I just don’t feel like I am staring at a page wondering what to do next.  I take a look at my story lines and I know roughly what I need to accomplish in the next several scenes.

Third: I am finding that outlining a bunch of scenes at a broader level makes the writing go a lot faster.  I lose a little ground as I replace my outline with real text, but it has been a super help.

Finally, Did I mention 1667 words is a lot!  I got behind early due to some other obligations and just haven’t seemed to get caught back up.  I am finding it easier to write and write regularly.  I look forward to it and so far have not gotten discouraged.

19,505.  About 3,800 off where I should be at this point.


Prepping for NaNoWriMo

In the depths of pre-writing in preparation for NaNoWriMo.  This is my first go at this so I have been paying a lot more attention to what the other participants are saying about their process.  Watching the forums I am seeing two distinct camps developing: the “heavy outliners” and the “wing-it” discovery writers.  I suspect that this is nothing more than a reflection of their normal writing process – November is just the time to talk about it in the forums.

For my part, I am doing my best to outline and structure the character arcs.  Focusing on each individual character and how they are going to develop through the story.  Meshing these together and integrating with the world building is something I am leaving for the last week of October.  The outcome, I hope, will be a useful outline that I can then spend the month of November more or less filling in the detailed blanks.  Of course: “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”  (Moltke)


Starting to get geared up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  To “win,” a participant merely need complete a 50,000 word novel during the calendar month of November.

Doing the math…

50,000 words in 30 days is 1,667 words per day.  Assuming about 300 words per double spaced, 1 inch margin, 12pt Times New Roman – that’s about 5 and a half pages a day.  More, of course, if you like lots of dialogue.

Every day.

Every day for the month of November.

I can’t wait.