About Me

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I've had two short stories and one essay published. I'm currently working on a "coming of age" novel set in the 1960's. I started this blog with the hope that I could share what I've learned/am learning about writing with other people and would get some of the same in return. If you know of anyone who might be interested in such a blog, please let that person or persons know about "The Writing Process." 7-8-12 I haven't worked on the novel for quite some time and doubt that I will take it up again. I'm currently working on a short story that I have high hopes for--or, if you prefer, for which I have high hopes. There is the possibility that I'll try another novel with some of the characters in this short story. Current and probable title: Not a Blind Date

Monday, August 17, 2009



Each semester in his novel-writing class Jim Sallis mentions a fellow writer who has a note above her computer that says: Every character wants something every page. A good thing to keep in mind when we write fiction.

From M. Scott Peck’s book Denial of the Soul: “The human condition is that we are conscious beings with a will of our own living in a world that often doesn’t behave the way we would like it to.” He’s talking about real people, but since we want our story people to seem real, they need to be fully immersed in the human condition too.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Photo by Charles


We search in many different places for ways to improve our writing of fiction: In “how to” books, classes, workshops, and writer's groups. But ideas that can spark improvement sometimes hide in curious places.

In M. Scott Peck's In Search of Stones, the late psychiatrist and author wrote “It is a great principle in psychiatry that 'all symptoms are overdetermined.'” They have more than one cause. He adds that “For any single thing of importance there are multiple causes.” He gives as examples, why he and his wife Lily traveled to Great Britian to search for ancient megalithic stones such as Stonehenge and why his and Lily's marriage works.* In our own lives, at least on the big issues, our motives are often mixed.

What does this have to do with writing fiction?
We know that our characters should have complex personalities. Does this mean only that they should have numerous and diverse traits? That is a beginning, but another way to create well-rounded characters is to give them multiple motives for each major thing they do, think, or feel.

In my novel, Boyd, the 14 year-old protagonist, becomes friends with Mr. Henry, an elderly man. Mr. Henry tells Boyd that “People rarely do anything for only one reason.” I didn't realize then that I'd stumbled on a truth about fictional characters. That didn’t happen until months later when I read Dr. Peck's book. I guess Mr. Henry was smarter than his creator.

Suppose you have a character you call Frank Burr who wants to get revenge on Ralph Stern. Stern murdered Burr's daughter and got away with it. A pretty good motive for Burr. But you give the character and the story greater depth by giving him multiple motives. Perhaps they went to high school together and Stern stole Burr's girlfriend. Or they'd been childhood friends and Burr always suspected his father liked doing things with Stern better than with Burr. Maybe Burr's dog was recently run over by a car and now Burr is just pissed off enough at the world to actually go after Stern. Dig deeply, find those motives.

In Peck's, A World Waiting to be Born, Civility Rediscovered, he writes “All blessings are potential curses.” By blessings, he means positive personality traits. He opines that “...a strong will is the greatest blessing...” because “...a weak will guarantees failure.” Still, a strong-willed person will be quick to anger. Peck says “It is strong-willed people who wrap golf clubs around trees because that damn little ball won't go where they want it to.”

Peck was writing about real people, but the same is true about fictional characters. We can add to the seeming reality of our characters by showing how a character's strong personality traits can be both positive and negative.

The thrust of my novel is Boyd's search for identity. Is he going to be like his parents, not such good people or like his grandparents who have given him a strong moral center? He’s driven to try to understand other people, a strong and usually good trait. But taken to an extreme, it could cause him to act recklessly, maybe hang out with people who use illegal drugs. The reader would be surprised if he did that, but it would also be believable because of Boyd’s personality. Boyd using drugs wouldn’t be believable however. Ideas for improving your fiction are everywhere. Stay alert and you will find that they hide where you least expect them.

* M. Scott Peck and his wife were divorced in 2003

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chase Field, Phoenix, Az. Photo by Charles


Extraneous words slow down the reader. That's obvious; all writers know it. But for years I assumed it meant that needless words kill the reader's interest. Because we all hold attitudes and preconceived notions that interfere with our perceptions it's not surprising that my take on this axiom was not the literal meaning.

But in September of 2008 I finally realized that the reader is literally slowed down because eyes must roam across those black, wiggly shapes called letters. If each letter is a unit of distance, then the reader's eyes must journey farther to cover and interpret a thirty-word sentence than a five word sentence. I jotted the idea into my journal shortly after it entered my mind, searching in vain to find any other lucid ideas to pal around with.

Fewer words allow the reader’s eyes to arrive sooner at the next compelling moment. If the words in between compelling moments are excessive, then it does follow that the reader can lose interest.

For several semesters I’ve been taking a novel class taught by Jim Sallis, a successful writer for over forty years. In his first class of the 2009 spring semester, he and my fellow students critiqued “Casa Grande 2, a chapter from my novel. They exposed pockets of fat in what I'd thought was prose so lean as to be nearly anorexic.

When revising a rough draft, my goal is to always weigh each paragraph, phrase, or word against the “do I really need this?” standard. But if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I've laid truck loads of bricks over the years. I generally read my “final” draft several times, each time stumbling over extraneous words that hide like bugs in the woodwork. Without a word-by-word check, like those bugs, they remain hidden, only to pop out at the worst possible time.

So I vow to conduct a word-by-word search-and-destroy mission to eradicate them. But can I muster the discipline to do such tedious work?

To add to the problem, it's not always clear what's extraneous and what isn't. In a previous semester, I revised a paragraph in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and submitted it to Jim and the class for discussion. This unsolicited chutzpah was entirely my own idea. I'd cut extra words with glee, wielding my pen with, I thought, surgical precision. Jim asked the class what, if anything had been lost. The consensus: no information lost, vital tone lost. Alas writing is more an art than a science.

If you've cut your draft down to 1% body fat you speed your readers to the next compelling part. Now the real challenge comes. You have to create even more of those moments. You have to pull the good stuff out of your subconscious, to tap what Stephen King called “ the boys in the basement.”

SEE "LINKS" ABOVE for Jim Sallis' website and The Three Legged Dog website, a band Jim is a member of. Okay, for you purists, ...a band of which he is a member.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


In the fall of 2008, a friend started a blog that focuses on spiritual issues. She urged me to start my own and suggested I make it a "writing blog."

I've kept a writing journal(s) for a number of years and have occasionally thought of keeping a separate one for writing concepts and techniques that I deem really important, that I don't want to forget. So, if nothing else, this blog may fill that role.

But my hope is that at least a few people read my blog and get some ideas that help them as they learn--you never stop learning even if you've published a ton of work--and that I'll get some comments that help me. I've always been facinated by the writing process, mine and other people's.