Surrendering to the Wind (pantsing verses outlining).

The word Pantsing in the writing world comes from the term ‘to fly by the seat of your pants,’ meaning to write the “stuff” that spontaneously pops up in your head and arranging the story as you go, without first planning out the details. This method differs from Outlining, in which the writer establishes sense and order before beginning the first draft in which she pre-determines every nook and cranny into which her characters will go in their story journey. 

For some writers outlining is the preferred method because it prevents the writer from getting lost or backed into a corner with no way out.  If that is what works for you stick with what works, especially if you have that “plan- everything- out” mentality. However, for other writers, diving headfirst into the first sentence of the first page and writing non-stop as the story unfolds, without a detailed map for guidance, frees the flow of imagination to fill the page.  By allowing herself to trust her muse and to truly believe in herself, the writer unshackles her buried inherent impulse, simultaneously lending magic to her narrative.  In contrast to relying on a rigid pre-constructed outline, the pantsing path- to tether the story together later when the time feels right, liberates the writer’s creative yearning from its dormancy.

To this point, Toni Morrison said in Song of Solomon: If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.  In giving yourself over to spontaneity in addition to believing in yourself and your ability, you can accomplish things (or create things) you never believed you could. Joanna Penn, award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author says it this way:  There’s a moment where the story clicks, it all suddenly makes sense, and things that I invented cross over into the real world in unexpected ways. That feeling makes the creative potential of the discovery process almost addictive. You need to have a certain amount of trust in your innate story sense, but that is also part of the enjoyment. We have all read so many books and watched so many movies and TV shows that we have a deep understanding of story as human beings. There’s a sense of ‘knowing’ how a story works, and in discovery writing, it’s about leaning into this feeling. Trust that your subconscious story brain will give you what you need along the way.

Just as individuals differ in lifestyle preferences, whether to live “off the cuff” or plan every detail out every day, authors differ in their writing styles.  Where some writers advocate strongly for outlines, such as Ernest Hemmingway who said: Prose is architecture, not interior design, and J. K Rowling who graciously shares copies of her outline notes created on napkins, joined by super successful author of more than 200 books James Patterson, who writes out detailed and plotted outlines before beginning his first drafts, others feel stifled by outlining or detailed planning. In writing exploratorily, Pantsers discover their story along the way.

Preferring to pants, Science Fiction, Mystery and Fantasy Author, Dean Wesley says in: Writing into The DarkGetting stuck is part of “writing into the dark”. It is… a natural part of the process of a creative voice building a story. Embrace the uncertainty of being stuck, trust your creative voice, give it a few moments’ rest, and then come back and write the next sentence.

As we all know, fear often becomes the wall that immobilizes us when facing uncertainty. Rather than build a staircase to climb over that wall, writers and individuals in general, might freeze in place or turn back in perceived failure.  But when we write into the dark we build that staircase as we begin to trust ourselves to get over the wall. Joanna Penn reflected on this idea in The Creative Penn:  To reframe the blank page as the promise of unlimited possibility, rather than the fear of the unknown.

Also lending his theories to this pantsing process, to play with the exploratory thought process further, Will Storr, in The Science of Storytelling puts it this way: Story emerges from human minds as naturally as breath emerges from between human lips. You don’t have to be a genius to master it. You’re already doing it.

Write a sentence.

Then another one.

Then another one.

Repeat until done for the writing session.

Whether in writing or in living, once we land on our feet on the other side of the wall, we discover the talent or ability we’ve had all along and we recognize how far we can take it. Pantsers write as ideas surface. They do not let fear intimidate them. Although they may have an idea about the general direction in which they want the story to go, with a vague concept of the beginning, middle and end, they do not yet know precisely where the protagonist will take them, or with whom the character will meet along the way through the chapters, or even the obstacles and antagonists the hero will come up against.  Pantsers start with the seed, plant it, and then let their natural instinct take over.

Along these lines, Wall Street Journal Best-Selling Author Scott H. Young said: To live spontaneously is to be in the present, beyond the past, and free of the future. It is to respond to what arises now, without hesitation, without self-doubt, without conflict.

Instead of writing in a linear manner, with each scene in order, Pantsing allows the writer to respond to what arises now, to jump around and write what her muse suggests as new ideas present themselves, piecing everything together later like connecting the dots -when the time feels right. In Pantsing, the writer learns to trust herself that the story will emerge organically despite the daunting blank face of the wordless page glaring back at her.  This does not mean the writer should not learn the craft of writing altogether. Just as individuals learn the alphabet, vocabulary, and principles of grammar to write effectively, and musicians learn the basics of song structure with its beats, melody, harmony, and bass lines before composing, writers should study the craft of writing, whether a Pantser or Outliner. The key is to have faith in your muse, then to fuse that with instinct and knowledge. In other words, learn the basics, be true to yourself and your story, and then let your imagination go wild!

The poet Ben Okri said: We are magnificent and mysterious beings capable of creating civilizations out of the wild lands of the earth and the dark places in our consciousness. In the same vein, Walt Whitman quoted: I am large, I contain multitudes. Humans, whether artists or individuals, are comprised of an endless mass of unique thoughts, ideas, memories, and dreams.  We are infinite beings over-filled with an abundance of potential if we open our minds to that knowledge.  If we believe in ourselves enough, we can do anything.

As a self- proclaimed Pantser, Stephen King creates stories with a variety of characters, multiple points of view, and often with complicated plot lines. In On Writing, Mr. King talks about starting with a character in a situation (the seed) and writing from that point (planting it and letting instinct take over):  Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, which will be uncovered through the writing process. He writes multiple drafts and revisions to deepen and enrich the story, but his first draft is pure discovery (and likely a pure inky mess!). He says, “I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible”.  He likes to experiment and explore, playing with ideas until they take the shape he sees fit, or that his characters see fit.

By the same token, TD Storm in the Storm Writing School says in:  The case for Pantsing; Plotters advocate outlining and preparing before beginning the story, claiming that doing so will save a lot of time in the long run. Pantsers—so named because they write “by the seat of their pants,” advocate discovering the story as they write. E.L. Doctorow famously articulated what is more or less the attitude of Pantsing: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Another similar viewpoint -to grow trust in ourselves comes from Author Steven James: It’s a matter of constantly asking questions of the story as you move forward into the narrative and then letting the answers inform the direction you take as you write it. Interestingly, James further advocates to follow rabbit trails, a course from which an Outliner or Planner would run in the opposite direction: Forget all that rubbish you’ve heard about staying on track and not following rabbit trails. Yes, of course you should follow them. It’s inherent to the creative process. What you at first thought was just a rabbit trail leading nowhere in particular might take you to a breathtaking overlook that far eclipses everything you previously had in mind for your story. You’ll always brainstorm more scenes and write more words than you can use. This isn’t wasted effort; it’s part of the process. Every idea is a doorway to the next.

Any fiction writer knows that it only takes a very small thing within a scene to radically change the direction of a character’s arc and action. And this brings us to one of the more interesting concepts having to do with discovery writing: when you pants your way through a story, you have to live in uncertainty. And as David Bayles and Ted Orland point out in Art and Fear, “Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable, and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.

Having attempted to employ each method in my own writing projects I often flounder regardless of the extreme process I follow.  Consequently, after many episodes of trial and error I learned to compromise, to marry both methods together into a hybrid combination writing style that works for me. Ironically, while I agree with the magical components of Pantsing, in real life I was always a full-fledged type A individual who writes a “to do” list every morning. But, when it comes to writing, as opposed to living, I find that detailed outlining is far too restrictive.  Like a bad knee or a wide spread puddle blocking the path ahead of me- threatening to derail my daily run, outlining prevents me from freely moving between ideas, scenes, and chapters. But when the hybrid writer within emerges to encourage me, she can propel me to get to the other side of the wall.  Although my muse does not act alone, she is my guide.  And when the outliner joins forces with the pantser, they create a super power kind of partnership to build the staircase together.

This works in real life also.  Learning to loosen control over my “to do” agendas without sacrificing them completely, I can achieve greater peace, sense of empowerment and story, and then when I do confront the wall, I can surrender to the wind and ride with it high above it and even the staircase to land safely on the other side.

And so, when it comes to the debate between whether to Pants (or to discovery write) verses to Outline (or to plan) we look to our own real-life choices.  Do you plan your life away and feel anxious when something unexpected throws you off course (which will inevitably happen at times), or do you live on the edge, making quick decisions that have the potential to negatively alter your plan?  Or are you somewhere in the middle and meld the two together into a modified pantsing process in which you are open to unexpected surprises while remaining steadfast on course.  Neither choice is wrong. The correct answer lies in the one that works for you as the writer or as an individual in real life.

To outline is to check the weather several times before stepping outside, to turn the headlights up high regardless of the time of day and to clear the path of obstacles before daring to carry on, but to pants is to surrender to the wind to ride with it, to write into the dark to embrace uncertainty, and to feel comfortable going down rabbit holes with only a bare bones blue print as a guide. .But, in forging both methods into a combined hybrid super version in which you feel no or less fear, you will breathe fresh life into your story, both on paper and in life.

Red Herrings

To create a RED HERRING, the writer plants details that purposefully mislead readers, to lead them down a phony trail which prevents the audience from predicting the sought-out conclusion. Red herrings are techniques the writer employs to steer her readers astray and thereby surprise them when the truth is finally revealed.  As a plausible misconception in which unrelated material is presented alongside relevant information, the red herring shifts attention from the predictable outcome the writer strives to hide from her readers.

To illustrate this idea further, Savannah Gilbo, a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories, instructs writers to “use a mixture of “true clues” (to play fair) and “false clues” (to send readers down the wrong path). She explains how these “false clues” called Red Herrings might include any of the following:

  • A character who seems evil or suspicious.
  • An object that seems relevant or important.
  • An event that seems to be significant to the story or protagonist.
  • A clue placed by the antagonist or a secondary character that sends investigators down the wrong path.

She further elaborates that Red Herrings are a type of foreshadowing (all the different ways that an author can give readers hints or clues about what’s coming):

            Readers pick up on these hints and clues to try and figure out what’s going to happen next (or at the end of the story). But not all these clues will lead to the truth. Some will be used to deceive the reader about what’s coming—and in these cases, the “false clues” aka red herrings, do their job.

            Red herrings aren’t easy to craft–they must tread a fine line between visible and invisible. They have to be obvious enough that most readers will pick up on them, but   subtle enough that the reader believes it and follows the false trail.

So, how do you write effective Red Herrings in your story? Here are Savannah Gilbo’s top five tips:

  1. Incorporate the Red Herring into the fabric of the story.

           Red herrings aren’t something to be pulled out of your hat when the plot lacks tension, excitement, or conflict. Like most storytelling techniques, Red Herrings have to serve a purpose and feel like they’re an organic part of the story. Not only that, but they need to be logical and have some kind of impact on the story.

2. Give your innocent characters motivation, means, and opportunity.

            If you’re planning to use a character as a Red Herring, you’ll need to convince readers that this person could legitimately be guilty. To do this, you could create an innocent character that either:

  • Benefits from the crime
  • Had the means or opportunity to commit the crime
  • Has a strong motive
  • Or all of the above.

  • 3 Give the reader no (obvious) reason to suspect your guilty character.

            In contrast to an innocent character having the motive, means, and opportunity to   commit a crime, you’ll want to do the opposite with the real culprit. In other words, give the real culprit no (obvious) motive, means, or opportunity to be involved in the crime. To do this, you could have a guilty character who is acting strange but the protagonist can’t put his or her finger on why (at least not yet).

You could also discredit the guilty character by giving them a personality or skill set that doesn’t feel typical of someone “bad”.

  • 4. Focus the reader’s attention elsewhere when you plant clues.

            Misdirection is not about withholding information. It’s about giving the reader extra information and focusing their attention on that instead of the truth.

  • 5. Always play fair with the reader.

            When someone reads your story, they give you their trust. They expect that what you tell them is the truth. They build on each bit of information, trying to understand the big picture and figure out what’s going to happen next.

   Tricking the reader by misleading them is fun (both for them and for you). But if you fool them by leaving out information they would legitimately have expected to be given, then you are just messing with them.

 Like so many writing techniques I suggest, based on my unending desire to learn, the idea of creating Red Herrings in our fictional narratives are often relevant to our own daily life stories as individuals.  In fiction, a Red Herring is a good thing, a helpful tool created for the reader who does not expect it, or ask for it- or is aware of how much she needs it, but it is always in her best interest.

On the contrary, in real life a Red Herring might be compared to an outright lie, a manipulation, or some kind of deceit to satisfy its creator’s selfish need or intention. A Red Herring in our fictional narrative is a good thing that allows our readers to get what they came for.  But, in our real lives, not so much!  And this, in the end, is what makes the Red Herring sparkle. It is the prickly thorn on the stem of the rose that enables the velvet petals above to shine. We know the rose is beautiful, but we sometimes forget that the thorns on the way up there often cut.  

Use red herrings skillfully as authors and beware of them in life.

Creating Happily Ever After Endings

“…And they all lived happily ever after.

Each of us has a dream, a hearts desire. It calls to us. And when were brave enough to listen, and bold enough to pursue, that dream will lead us on a journey to discover who were meant to be.

All we have to do is look inside our hearts and unlock the magic within…”

This Walt Disney World Fireworks display opening which lasted from 2017 to 2021 provided its audience with a few magical moments of believing that dreams can come true if only we embrace the power of courage and hope and the belief in ourselves to get us there.

Breaking down the story behind Happily Ever After, Jennifer Heymont writes in her Tour blog from 9-11-22 titled: 5 Reasons Id be Thrilled for the Return of Happily Ever After, about the six distinct sections (or chapters) of the happily ever after story leading up to the finale.  She explains that the first section speaks of longing and dreaming, followed by empowerment and change in the second section, before the third section of exploration and friendship, leading into the fourth section in which the audience learns that some people are worth “melting for”, followed by the fifth section in which she says: “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”, playing tribute to struggle. Finally, she ties the end up with the sixth section in which the castle is rebuilt better than ever after having been destroyed in section 5, as the story heroes are projected on the castle in their moments of triumph. 

This is a typical story structure in which a protagonist/ hero (or heroes) embarks on a quest to overcome adversity and not only resolves her or his problem by the end, but comes out better because of it.  And that is indeed a happily ever after ending, right? Doesn’t it make sense then, that our story endings should end this way in fiction since we want those happy endings in our real-life stories?

Or not?  Perhaps this perfect ending is an ambition toward which we should look more closely.

Rob Blair Young questions this idea when he writes in his 2013 Literary column, with regard to endings: Unless you define it (the end) by “the last printed page,” it can be hard to put exact definitions on what makes an ending an ending. “Happily ever after” does a favor for audiences: It affirms that the story has reached its conclusion. There was a major conflict, it’s been resolved, and these characters never had a major conflict again.

But he does not end his thought there.  He further questions whether this Happily Ever After conclusion is the best option for our fiction.  Is it about creating endings to tie everything up in a neatly placed bow, or is it about creating an ending to mirror reality, to guide readers toward real-life expectations instead of away from them?

Is this Happily Ever After the ending our readers truly want or expect or need or deserve?

Most readers expect to escape into an undiscovered pretend world when they begin a new story, away from the real world in which they struggle to remain healthy, find love, make a living, pay bills, raise a family, find purpose and feel joy. In between the day to day chapters of their real lives they seek to find a temporary respite within the chapters of someone else’s dreams, hopes and life, where they spend time with a character to whom they connect or relate. Therefore, naturally they would seek and expect a happy ending in the grand finale.

 But would they really? And if so, is this the best ending for them?

Further dissecting  this debate, H.E Edgmon attempts to answer this question in his November/December 2022 Writer’s Digest article; Sometimes Happily Ever After is a Lie. He writes the following:  “Rose colored glasses don’t exist in my work, but I don’t think of my stories as dark, either. They fall in the middle- they’re hopeful.”  His point is that while he understands writers who want to protect “jaded” children (or anyone really) from their own realities by writing happily ever after stories, it could sometimes “erase” them entirely.  He says the writers’ hearts are in the right places, as they don’t want to imagine the nightmare world to which these children are waking and living every day, therefore; in creating a world in which individuals can live free of pain for a few hundred pages, so be it.

But, on the other hand, in a way it might invalidate their pain at the same time. While Edgmon questions these writers for the idealistic happy endings they provide, he also does not want to write stories of darkness and pain to persuade children (and people) to give up hope entirely.  Consequently, he wants to blend the two extremes into a practical middle ground, to provide realistic hope.  He says the following: I believe that hope is  necessary. The knowledge that things can get better is the only reason some people keep waking up every day.  And I write for them.  I don’t promise happy endings, because sometimes, happily ever after IS a lie.  I don’t promise that my books will be tied up with a neat bow, that all of the problems will be solved by the last page, that my characters will conquer bigotry once and for all. But I promise there will be air in their lungs and people who love them exactly as they are and hope for what comes after the last chapter.

In creating a story that mirrors the real life struggles with which the individual battles, ending in credible hopeful ever afters, Edgmon believes he touches on both the need for the reader to feel she is not alone, and the hope that she does not struggle in vain.  While the perfect fairy tale happy ending is meant to provide a view of and hope for a better world, and a path beyond one’s limiting circumstances, with possibility for success or happiness, Edgmon warns to avoid blurring the lines between fantasy and reality so much that only feelings of disappointment, rejection and victimizing might generate as the reader’s consequential lingering emotional response once the story is over.

Likewise, Author Jane K, Cleland says in her October 2018 Writer Digest article “Grand Finale” , Just as there are countless inspiring and effective ways to tell a story, there are countless inspiring and effective ways to end it.  She believes the best endings are those that allow the story’s themes and characters’ revelations to linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page. Likewise, it is our goal as writers to make sure first that there will be feelings that linger, and next to make sure those feelings are of inspiration, open-mindedness , deeper positive thinking, of connection and the desire to  take the risk to start over in a new story.

As Rob Blair Young summed up in his column article:  “This is the 21st century”: We may be hungry for joy, but we are starving for that morsel of authentic human connection.  Along our journey toward the ending we work to create, the connections we make, whether in a chapter way back in the beginning of our story or in the chapter we are writing now, shape us into who we are and build the message we wish to share.

Yes, we as individuals seek the happily ever after in our own real life stories, as we write our life chapters of youth, chapters of mid-life, chapters of end of life, and the chapters in between- of the legacies we hope to leave our loved ones and even society, but in our fiction it is our job to provide grand finales that provide that magical illuminating balance between dreams, hope and reality, and the power of human determination and the capacity to first discover, then create, and finally to blend all of this into the happily and hopefully ever after narrative meant for us and the readers and individuals  who connect with us.  Although our story may not be the fairy tale we envisioned when we first set out on our journey, it can be the right story with the right ending for each of us.  Like the North Star the three kings followed, our happily ever after is out there waiting to be written as long as we believe in ourselves to find and create it.

And so, dear readers, here we are together at the end of another year filled with our past struggles and accomplishments, our pains and our joys, our losses and our gains, as we stand on the edge of the brand new sparkling year ahead.  We remember the adversities and losses we faced while recognizing the value they brought to our lives and the lessons they taught us.  We remember the people and moments we had hoped would remain a forever part of our story only to end up as a turned chapter or two.  We can accept this because we know those chapters and people and moments can NEVER be deleted from our manuscript draft of life on which we continue to work.  They created the bridges toward new connections and moments and chapters ahead, and the dashes that link the chapters between the beginnings and endings, while magically propelling us forward to the present moment in which we will always land.

 And so, we say farewell to 2022 with a pat on our backs to thank ourselves for  “a job well done”, and we welcome in the tomorrow facing us from the immediate and distant horizons of our future that promises to bring more challenges and battles to overcome. But, with that promise comes new wonderful connections and moments that will come and go, and the abundant life lessons, experiences and memories they will create, and the feelings of accomplishment and peace we will derive, that will lead us through the chapters and years to come, toward our own better than happily ever after ending down the road- for the new year ahead and the forever in the distance that will follow.


Ready to begin?

Let the wonder take hold.

Feel it draw you in.

Watch the moment unfold.

Spark a dream that we’re meant to follow,

Setting out for a new tomorrow.

Every step we take

Brings a new hope, a new day.

Every choice we make

Helps us find our own way.

Every wish finally put into motion,

Diving in with our hearts wide open.

The story comes alive

When we look inside

A new adventure there in your eyes.

There in your eyes

It’s just beginning.

Feel your heart beat faster.

Reach out and find your

Happily ever after!

Find your happily ever after

Wishing all my readers a Very Merry CHRISTmas, Happy holidays and the Happiest, Healthiest and most Hopeful Happily Ever After EVER!  Thank you for accompanying me so far on my writing journey these past 10 years in January 2023! God Bless Us, Everyone! (In the words of Tiny Tim, who always believed, and remained positive and hopeful through adversity!)  XO

Writing from the Villain’s Perspective

The separation between the story’s hero and the villain is wide, and yet at the same time it can be narrow.  Each character has a goal to achieve, a journey to take, and a stake in the game. The protagonist, or hero of the story moves outside his comfort zone to pursue his goal while the antagonist or villain does everything he can to oppose him.

Normally, the reader expects to place himself inside the mind of the hero, to accompany the story’s hero on his journey, to route for him to win – but what would it be like for the reader if he were to place himself in the perspective of the villain- instead? Would it make the story more interesting?  Or, conversely, would it cause too much anguish to step inside the villain’s inner world, to join him on the same wavelength, as someone who wants to do harm, destruction or evil to someone else? 

Upon reading this month’s book club book, I did not miss the author’s curious choice to have the writer within the writer’s story use a villain’s point of view to tell her story.  To write a non-horror/thriller from the perspective of someone our readers are normally persuaded to fear adds a compelling twist to the narrative.  And beyond that, it allows the reader to question the things that would create a villain, or to cause an individual to turn bad to begin with.

Isn’t this something many of us attempt to do in our real lives, to understand why another individual would do harm to someone else? When we hear about someone in the news who subjects another or others to pain, or we observe someone we know behave out of character, don’t we wonder what happened to cause that person to become so troubled to the point that his behavior turns negative, bully-like, malevolent, or downright evil?  Don’t we want to press ourselves up against his story like a scientist studying a foreign specimen, to understand his thought process and behavior?  We become addicted to the stories unfolding before us and we can’t stop ourselves from watching safely from the sidelines.  Afterall, there is something compelling about someone who turns bad.  But, perhaps – getting inside with him instead might be the only real way to figure out how  to protect ourselves and our loved ones, not only from becoming a victim, but from leaning into that “bad” side laying dormant in each of us.

In Verity, by Colleen Hoover, one of the main characters in the story is a writer who writes her life story behind the scenes. (Warning: this paragraph contains a major spoiler if you have not read it yet.)  She writes her autobiography from the point of view of a villain, supposedly the opposite of her true “normal and good “ self. The autobiography is to be a writing exercise suggested by her editor, referred to as “antagonistic journaling” to help the writer cope with her grief. Her editor suggests it to help Verity get inside the mind of a villainous character, by writing “phony” journal entries. However, the catch is to write the inner dialogue contrary from her actual experience, to essentially lie to the reader. “It was never meant for anyone to read and believe. It was an exercise … A way to tap into the dark grief that was eating at me,” she writes.

Hoover creatively places the reader uncomfortably in Verity’s head when she writes:

No one is likable from the inside out. One should only walk away from an autobiography with, at best, an uncomfortable distaste for its author. I will deliver. What you read will taste so bad at times, you’ll want to spit it out, but you’ll swallow these words and they will become part of you, part of your gut, and you will hurt because of them.

From this excerpt, the reader anticipates that what is coming will be something bad, making the assumption that Verity suffers from a troubled mind. The point is to get the reader to be told the story from the other side, to fully feel the evil, to become so embedded in it that she becomes a part of it, -a creative and smart way to gain a perspective of someone’s objective without dancing around it to second guess what is going on. 

Or at least it is an interesting idea to ponder.

In the May 16, 2022 blog post written by Stina Leicht; “Empathy for the Devil; Villains, Antiheroes and Origin Stories, Leicht says about writing horror in general, but it also explains the relevance of writing and reading from the villain’s point of view;

It forces us to gaze into the darkness and learn advanced lessons about being human. Because concentrating on only the Good means ignoring the shadow, and as every religious fanatic has demonstrated since the beginning of time, we ignore our shadows at our peril.

In life, as in writing, we have our heroes and our villains.  Every day we encounter individuals with good intentions and sometimes those with not so good intentions, although I truly believe there are substantially fewer of the latter, than of the first type.  The idea to probe around in someone’s head to examine the thoughts that drive him, allows us to gain an awareness, to discover the reasons why someone does what he does.  It’s like the surgeon who opens up his patient to locate and remove the tumor that is destroying her.  The writer does the same thing, only she explores the insides of the mind from the outside instead.  The goal is the same, to locate the root of the sickness, or malevolent thoughts and behaviors, to discover both how to handle it, and how to prevent it from growing inside our own selves or in others.

Sometimes, the individual is not necessarily evil.  It could be a slip up, a one-time temporary moment of weakness or extreme vulnerability, a moment in which any one of us could find ourselves.

Stephen King explained this notion in Scott Meyers’; November 7, 2021, Sunday’s with Stephen King’s “On Writing”:

Not only that, by immersing ourselves in the lives of our characters, we set out on a path in which we discover their complex nature. Villains who have self-doubt. Villains who feel pity. Good guys whose desire is to turn away from their responsibilities.

Through the journey into the antagonist’s inner world we hope to uncover the reasons behind his thoughts and behaviors to understand and potentially (and hopefully), treat, cure or save him, while saving the rest of us in the process.

It might, in some cases, also help us identify who the villain really is, to distinguish between the alleged heroes and supposed villains in each story we encounter.

In Jason Sechrest’s “Who is the true Villain in Carrie?” from May 25, 2018, we gain another interesting perspective; In Carrie we learn that behind the fire in every angry woman’s eyes, there exists a lifetime of sorrow, and that behind that sorrow lies great pain. This is most notably evident in one of the book’s most quoted lines:

 Sorry is the Kool-Aid of human emotions. It’s what you say when you spill a cup of coffee, or throw a gutter ball when you’re bowling with the girls in the league. True sorrow is as rare as true love.

What this says, Sechrest claims, is sometimes there is the need to pay attention to the sorrow within someone before labeling that individual as a villain. Perhaps, the individual is only a broken hero in her own story, with the basic need of repair.  And that repair does not have to cost much.

While people may associate Stephen King with horror, it’s rarely the pervasive feeling one gets as a reader. Sometimes it’s nostalgia. Sometimes it’s desperation. With Carrie, it is heartbreak. For we all knew (or perhaps, were) a Carrie White in school. We may feel shame for how we treated that individual when we were “just kids,” or perhaps we stood idly by, and allowed bullying to occur. But to read Carrie is to be enlightened as to what it’s like to be in such well-worn and tattered shoes; to know the madness that ensues behind closed doors by night, which makes one so awkward by the light of day.

It is interesting that Carrie would become one of King’s most infamous villains over the years when in many ways she is in fact a victim. The question remains a common discussion point among readers over 40 years later: Is Carrie White the villain of Carrie, and if not, then who is?

Stephen King took the black-and-white out of Carrie and began painting its characters in beautiful shades of gray. They were not good. They were not bad. They were just… human. Much less like characters in a book, and more like the flesh and bone people who would be reading it. It made Carrie White instantly likeable, but more than that it made the book itself instantly relatable.

I love how Sechrest describes the reader, as the flesh and bone people who would be reading it.  This is to whom I write, both to the writer who creates the story, the reader who reads it, and to the individual just trying to live her life. So, when we ask ourselves who the villain really was in Carrie, we might learn that the true villain in Carrie is- us.  The villain is the possibility inside us to judge, to condemn, to ostracize, to exclude, to label, to treat badly, to misunderstand,…  lurking around in each one of us.  And if making a short trip to the insides of someone’s inner world could possibly make us more sensitive and empathetic to another- who might feel troubled or is going through a “down period”, to which we have the opportunity to step in to help, perhaps it might prevent any other Carrie’s from being created, if we visit that place just for a bit.

And so, if the villains of Stephen King’s stories, and in other stories, both fiction and non-fiction, or in real life, could help us learn how not to become a villain, or a victim, then the idea to see the world from inside that point of view, if only for a brief period, could help us become more caring individuals, then writing in the antagonist’s perspective is a trip worth taking.

Stephen King’s characters are painted so perfectly human—so flawed and so fallible—they show us there is light and darkness in everyone. Carrie holds up a mirror to expose the potential villain that exists in each of us. The bully we can become. The judge. The zealot, or control freak. The man or woman scorned, hellbent on revenge.

So, the next time we contemplate whether to step inside the villain’s point of view for a few uncomfortable moments, to take a shot at understanding his or her story, to write from the his or her point of view, I say go for it. Like the cross and holy water that keep the vampires away, if understanding what makes a villain a villain, or a seemingly normal person think and act out of the ordinary, could keep evil away or from developing, then the temporary discomfort of glimpsing a different perspective- to write from the villain’s viewpoint, should be worth the temporary uneasiness that might work toward saving each of us at the end of the day, or in this case, at the end of the story.

Creating White Space

In writing, we structure our narrative to provide a smooth story flow, clarity, and a combination of riveting suspense with reflection, and thematic threads, among other important components.  One way to do this effectively, is to create white space at various intervals.  Mozart once said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” 

Likewise, this idea of white space as breathing room, is stretched further in Thomas Merton’s quote, “Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm”.

 It is the alternation between words and white space that helps to make the story work. Without a place to break, the reader will grow weary from reading, not unlike the way physical overtraining without rest between work- outs places stress on the muscles, joints and bones, resulting in fatigue and soreness, ultimately negatively affecting physical performance.  This works the same way for the reader.  Too many words without white space nestled between- to reflect, absorb or simply to rest one’s eyes, might encourage the reader to give up, to move on to something else.

Supporting this idea, Caitlin Berve summarizes this concept in her February 2019 Blog; How to Format Transitions: Scenes, Point of View, and Time; “The extra white space also gives readers a chance to pause, finish taking in what they just read, and prepare for the change.”

Similarly, according to Darren Matthews in his Why White Space Matters in Writing and How to Use it, published in The Startup/Medium; “White space adds drama to a great article by enabling the reader to focus on the words, giving space for the reader to pause, contemplate the story, and return to the action.” 

Using the void keeps readers hooked, writes Gwenna Laithland in her July 2019 piece, How to Appreciate the White Space in Writing, published in The Writing Cooperative. Elaborating on this concept, she recounts a lesson she learned in writing, during her brief tenure as interim gallery director, in which she explains how she was directed by the exhibition artist to rehang pieces of his art which she had already hung, because he felt they were too close together with insufficient space between. The artist explained this would allow the white space to frame the work.  At that time, she thought he was a “pretentious old sod with awfully esoteric views on the importance of his artwork”, however; she later admitted, after re-hanging the pieces to allow for white space between, each piece suddenly stood out, highlighted by the blank wall around them.

Hence, in addition to supporting Laithland’s rationale to establish a void that will keep readers hooked, that gallery experience produced a new understanding of how creating white space enhances the story, allowing each narrative to stand out as something special, highlighted by the blank walls around it.

Laithland continues, “When you read a story, you want to be pulled into those worlds. Readers want a new reality crafted for them, the borders of their regular world, blurred out of existence.  Writers can fulfill this demand by creating white space, a void of context or details.”  

Referring to more than simply meaningless blank space on the page, she was suggesting how important it is for readers to have questions, therefore; by creating white space, or a void with no information, it allows for the reader to pause, to evaluate and identify with the author’s purpose, to use her own imagination to fill in the gap, or to conjecture solutions or desirable endings, which moves the reader to continue reading, to remain interested and engaged.

Like most aspects of writing, this is true in real-life as well, or in our ‘regular world’ as Laithland astutely labeled it. I know for me, spending too many days in a row remaining productive; whether working, studying, socializing, exercising, cleaning, organizing, or writing, without space in between for down-time, causes me to feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, or mentally and physically drained. On the other hand, if I make room for intermittent periods of white space in between, for a quiet jaunt with my inner self for a time out to unwind, I become one with her sense of peace, grounded by her calm that washes over me like a white-tipped ocean wave rolling over me, cooling my sunbaked skin.

To further illustrate the importance of white space in our real-life, Bhante Sumano, a Jamaican American Theravada Buddhist monk, writes in his June 2022 piece, The Power of Silence, published in the Buddhist Lions Roar,” The use of silence has purpose. It’s to create the right conditions to be with ourselves and examine our internal world. We take some time just to observe this body, this mind, this heart….. Silence helps cultivate this awareness, whether it’s the collective silence of a Buddhist retreat or the solitary silence of our daily meditation practice…. you retreat from sights, sounds, scents, flavors, sensations and even thoughts of the world. “  

Along those lines, Sumano’s notion is marvelously summarized by the famous poet, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, when he said, “Listen to silence. It has so much to say.”

Resonating both in life, as well as in writing, the white spaces we create between the chapters of our stories provide time outs where we catch our breath, where we decide if it is time to edit or revise, time to adjust our course, regroup or start from a new spot, or on the contrary, to reaffirm we are in the correct place, on the right path and to keep going.

Further, the white spaces we create between the real-life pages we author, allows us to ponder, accept and appreciate the road behind us- both the failures and successes, and to envision the road up ahead, to look forward to our future, to our goals, our hopes and our dreams, yet it is also where we embrace the present, the place where we go inside to align with our inner self, to thank her for  remaining steady even when the outside world is spinning out of control, and to encourage her to stay the course.  It is where we become one with her, united by our mutual objective to attain peace, stability, and contentment, tethered together by strong, solid ropes of gratitude and hope. 

White space is the place where we stand apart from the many tangled first drafts of our story, where we come to understand that the mistakes we made are not us, just pages turned- to transition us to the next chapter.

Creating white space in our written fiction allows the separation between reading, and rest or refection for our audience, and in our real-life stories, it creates separation between the busy monkey- mind trying to bully us, frighten us and discourage us, from the inner self trying to ground us. In other words, in writing, white space frames the story, and in life, white space restores us. 

Creating white space is like decluttering a house, weeding the garden, skimming the pool, or taking sips of water between glasses of wine.  It removes the bad stuff, filtering out the negative, to encourage the good parts to rise to the top.  Like the thick white line bordering the shoulders of a highway, the white space separates the fast-paced traffic from the empty space along the outer lanes, meant for rest stops and emergency break downs.  We pause there, we regroup, and we get back on the road to continue our journey. 

 Albert Einstein said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind” and similarly, Mark Twain had it right when he said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

To this point, “White space”, says Ellen Buikema in her White Space in Writing article in “Writers in the Storm” Blog, “helps keep sensory overload at bay.  Being bombarded with too much sound can cause some to become irritated, so can too many visuals.  Adding white space provides breathing space. Calm.  Like a pause in song, white space can help create drama, emotion, a bit of quiet before a storm of words. White space is the canvas where we paint our words”. She further says, “a blank side gives the reader emotional space to regroup for the next tale.”

God, when creating the world, took a day off to rest, so why can’t you (Exodus 20:11).  If God says we need rest, then we do.  By creating white space in our fictional stories- as writers, and in our real-life stories- as people, we build, manifest, and make use of God- instructed rest stops all along the routes of our journey.

And so, as writers, it is as important to create white space as it is to place the right words on the page, to create the story that will work.  Similarly, as individuals, it is as important to create white space for pause, to take note of who we are, of who we want to be, and where we should go from here, and who we will help along the way, as it is to create the scenes in, or moments of, our story.   It is the place where we spend time to figure out what ending we ultimately want for our story, both in fiction and in real-life, and the path we should pursue- word by word, step by step, white space by white space- to arrive there.

Why the Writer Writes.

The reader needs writers, to read, but does the writer need the reader, to write.  And for whom does the writer write?  Does the writer have her audience in mind as she places words on the page, or does she write only for herself? 

Why does the writer write?

A few weeks ago, one of my sons asked me why I bird-watch (or engage in birding, as it is currently called).  I was going to answer; “because the birds entertain me”.  But there is so much more to it than that.  Watching the birds gather at our yellow cylinder feeder hanging three feet from my back porch distracts me from my own messy world of checking off completed items from my daily to do lists.  

But, it goes even further.  

Not only do my backyard birds provide me with a temporary escape from real life, but they also provide a feeling of peaceful enchantment- a syncing with nature, with God, and with my inner self.  Their birdsongs are magical, musical masterpieces -a symphony with no maestro to complicate what they are born to do, only their natural heartfelt desire to celebrate life, and yes, perhaps also to entertain us in the process. While I provide them with nourishment and a place to gather, as they share meals or snacks, they provide me with their propensity to Iive their lives to the fullest.  We have a sort of relationship- the birds and I, a give and take, a mutual respect, like any other relationship should have.

In Amy Jones’s November/December 2019 interview with Amor Towles, author of A Gentleman in Moscow, Towles discusses the old mindset that “true artists” never take into consideration their audience and how he feels that is a crazy notion.  After all, he says, Dickens was thinking about his audience, Tolstoy was thinking about his audience, Dostoyevsky was thinking about his audience, as was Mozart, Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci. And then, on the other hand, Towles says there is some truth to it.  When Towles writes his first draft he doesn’t think of whether he can sell it, whether it will be popular, what the rules of writing are, what his peers are doing or what the great history of writers have done. He does believe it is his duty to create a work of fiction which meets the standards of what a reader deserves (not merely what will sell). He calls it a covenant between the writer and the reader, to which he feels obligated.

Alluding to this idea of the relationship between the reader and the writer, Connie Schultz writes in her September/ October 2020 Writers Digest article; A different kind of story; “If we want to matter but don’t know where to start, we can begin there in the daily mess of life.  There are the seeds of everyone’s story, no matter how differently they grow.  Every time we write about life in meaningful ways, we close the distance between us and the readers we want to reach.”  In other words, the writer will unravel the tight, tangled ball of life’s everyday disappointments, fears, dysfunction and pain, all of which touches each of us at some point, to create something brand new that provides purpose, resolution or sense for our readers, and for ourselves. 

As in all relationships, the partnership between the writer and the reader is forged together by a common interest, a shared idea or feeling that resonates with both parties.  The boys abandoned by the neglectful father, the girl who didn’t feel she belonged anywhere, the brother addicted to pain killers, the alcoholic mother who died before her children got to know her or understand her pain, the refugee who left the only home he ever knew to risk everything for his family’s safety, the soldier who couldn’t get past his memories, the family torn apart by anger and misunderstanding.  The list goes on and on.  The writer identifies and defines the pain in each of these stories and the reader feels less isolated knowing she is not alone.

In Tim Denning’s May 2019 Writing Cooperative article, he says; the reason I write is because people can feel so very alone and creative endeavors such as writing can help people feel less isolated.  Pursuits in life that are born from our creativity help humanity feel connected and that is the best cure to the human condition known as isolation.

Through the pages of story, poetry and other literary prose, the reader and the writer become one.  They come together in a partnership, a relationship built upon mutual hope, trust, and gratitude. And this, in the end, is where we all should be- connected as one. Giving back each time we take. Forging relationships, friendships, and acceptance wherever we go. Turning the perception of differences into the reality of oneness. 

And so, the relationship between the reader and the writer is more important than it appears on the surface. Like the birds singing from the branches of the trees outside my window,  doing what comes naturally, while simultaneously sharing this self discovery with their audience, the writer writes for herself because it is what she was born to do. She writes to find her own song, to make sense of something that interests, bothers or gratifies her, while the reader reaps the benefit of her creativity and passion- ultimately providing the writer with more inspiration to keep writing. And so, it goes back and forth, the give and take of the relationship..

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing down the bones, said in her 2016 thirtieth anniversary edition preface; “ Many people who want to write are unconsciously seeking peace, a coming together, an acknowledgement of our happiness or an examination of what is broken, hoping to embrace, and bring our suffering to wholeness.”  Moreover, in her 2004 second copy edition preface she talks about Zen and loving life; “Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.”

This answers to the audience for whom the writer writes, but it also speaks to the reader on the other side of the relationship seesaw, balancing the scale because she too longs to meet herself and become intimate, which is why she reads – to become one with the writer’s thoughts and ideas. “Once you connect with your mind,” Goldberg said, “ you are who you are and you’re free.”

Like the bird and her song, who delves inside herself to do what feels right and good, and natural, while inadvertently drawing her spectator in, the writer too will do what feels right and good, and natural. 

Further adding to this idea of dual inner submission and unity, Goldberg refers to four of Jack Kerouac’s essentials for prose, at the end of her second edition preface; 

     “Accept loss forever,

      Be submissive to everything, open, listening,

      No fear of shame in the dignity of your experience, language and knowledge, and

     Be in love with your life.

And so, my answer to why the writer writes and for whom she writes, is that she writes for herself, and for her reader.  She writes for all of us.  She writes to build bridges between each of us, to close the gaps between our differences and to help clean up our self -made, complicated and unnecessary messes of life.  Like the connection between my birds and their natural, joyful appreciation of life, and those of us stirred by their songs, the relationship between the writer-creator and the reader- beholder and the forging of two minds and hearts into one, is the very thing that will guide us toward complete oneness and unity,  as it strengthens each of our own partnerships with ourselves, with others, with God, and ultimately- with life.

And that is why writers write.

Knowing when to call it quits; making way for new growth.

How do you know when it’s time to call it quits, when remaining on the same page, in the same situation,  turns into staying too long?  When your current project has run its course and overstayed its welcome?  You’ve been re-writing the same lines over and over, you’ve invested oodles of precious time and sunk heavy costs into your present draft,  and suddenly you hit a wall.  You wonder if you wasted your time spinning wheels to go nowhere, except perhaps, to get stuck in a rut?  You’ve been running in place for so long that you forgot where you were headed, or that you were even heading anywhere at all.  Yet, you don’t want your hard work, precious time,  sunken costs, or your investment to have been in vain, so you allow yourself to remain stuck in that dead end place- where you no longer belong. 

As writers, we go through this type of thinking every time we arrive at an impasse.  Suddenly, there are no alternate routes, no roads forward, no way out, only a solid barrier blocking the path ahead, and the choice between staying put in a deadlock, or giving up altogether. This is the message Andromeda Romano-Lax shares in her January/February Writers Digest article; Dig in or Cut yourself free.  Referring to this dilemma as “Fruit or Failure”, she suggests asking yourself how you know when to redraft or when to give up on the current story altogether, or if the work still gives you joy.   Are you learning (or growing) from this process or are you watering something that is undeniably dead?

Sometimes, changing the time period, the point of view, or voice is all you need to breathe life back into your story, while other times there is nothing you could do to save your work from its inevitable demise.  Yet, taking away the pieces that did work ; the lessons learned, the good parts- that could fit in a brand new narrative- makes the time, investment, and effort work toward your next project.   As John Green said in Paper Towns; It is so hard to leave- until you leave. And then it is the easiest …thing in the world.

Similarly, in Eddie Pinero’s ; Your World Within , he points to this idea in life with his story of a lunch date with a friend, in which he mentions feeling full, while continuing to eat.  His lunch date asks him “Why, then would you continue to eat if you are no longer hungry?”  To which he explains that he wants to get his money’s worth- since he already paid for it.  In response, his lunch date reminds him; “Sometimes we must accept the sunken costs for what they are.  We don’t need to keep paying, just because we already paid.”  

After all, we do not enjoy the meal any less just because we did not finish everything on our plates!

 His story’s message is that often we, as individuals, continue to consume that which does not help us, long after we should have stopped.  The wake behind the boat we drive, (the past that WAS), does not determine where we go next; the driver behind the wheel does.  If we take control of our story, unshackle ourselves from the current draft that is no longer working, or cut ties from what no longer serves us, accepting that something which took our time doesn’t mean it should continue to steal our time, we might discover the right time to call it quits -and move on.  Eli Landed notes in one of his Writing blogs:   never cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.  Similarly, this is pointed to in the Best Selling Author, Keynote Speaker, Thought Leader and Entrepreneur, Bryant McGill’s message; Life moves forward. The old leaves wither, die and fall away, and the new growth extends forward into the light.

In life, sometimes individuals remain in jobs they do not like, that provide little or no joy or reward, because it pays the bills, or its the skill they know.   Likewise, people remain in situations, or relationships that should have ended long ago, because they’re familiar, predictable, and secure, and better than being alone.  But, as Mr. Pinero points out, a jail cell is also secure, and becomes familiar and predictable after a while.

So, what will it take to file that overwritten, going- nowhere manuscript into a drawer, to allow yourself to begin a new story, to start over? Just because the current narrative isn’t working, should not mean there won’t be a better story waiting on the horizon, or within you, to create.  No effort or time you put in is ever wasted.  These things are what makes our next project better, and makes us who we are, who we can become.  The time we spend working on our current narrative allows us to learn what did not work, what won’t work in our next story, as we learn what will.  As the Irish writer known as The Maestro of Failure, Samuel Beckett, said; Ever tried?  Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again.  Fail better.

Instead of viewing the disappointment of a story that isn’t working, as a brick wall, or stalemate,  see it instead as the staircase that could lead you upward,  toward the right story, the right job you will love and feel rewarded doing, the right relationship that will give you joy, the one in which you are meant to be, and the right life you are meant to live. And of course, the right story you were intended to create.

One of my all time favorite quotes was written by Dr.Seus; Don’t cry when it’s over, smile that it happened.  Of course, while this applies to other important lessons in life, it also reminds us that whatever stage we are at in our writing, or in our lives, the effort and time we’ve invested, the piece of ourselves we gave, and the mistakes we made, are never lost to us, or wasted. They become a part of a better story, whether it is the novel we write as writers, or the life narrative we build as individuals, everything we go through or that happens to us is a crucial piece of our life puzzle, an important paragraph of our chapter, a part of who we are and who we become, never wasted or in vain.

Another way to recognize when it may be time to cut your losses to move on, comes from the author  K.M. Weiland, when she suggests three signs to look for;  1. When you are losing focus 2. You lack passion for the project  3. Your gut tells you to stop.   She says ;  Sometimes we need to force ourselves to do hard things- like edit that stupid draft for the zillionth time.  But sometimes we just have to stop.  Sometimes chasing our tails is the worst thing we can do.  There will always be more stories to write. Sometimes we need to just go write them—and let our old ideas die gracefully. It takes courage to admit, even to ourselves, that a story just isn’t working.

If you feel you’re writing a dead-end story, take a moment to evaluate your future with it. More likely than not, you’re going to keep on writing, edit your way to a fabulous book, and end your relationship with this story on a victorious note. But if it doesn’t quite work out that way—if you realize you need to move on—don’t count it as a failure. Close the file on your computer, take stock of what you’ve learned, and move on to write your next masterpiece.

This is further elaborated by Maggie Doonan, author of fiction, non -fiction and Writers Edit blog,; 

As a writer, you need excitement and enthusiasm. You need a relentless curiosity about the characters you’re creating – an unquenchable desire to spend hours at a laptop in isolation just to see where this story is going to take you.

However, if you’re sitting at your laptop for hours on end, each word as painful as a broken finger playing piano, then you might have a problem. You’re either approaching the narrative from the wrong direction or you shouldn’t be approaching it at all.

Besides, your next project could be the big one. A doozy. A real literary gem. But you won’t know until you let go of the project that’s holding you back.

And so, to further answer how to know when its time to call it quits, when staying on the same page, or in the same situation, becomes too long, when you’ve overstayed your welcome, and need to let go, I say recognize the value of the current narrative you’ve been writing, then let it go the way the winter trees let go when its the right time.  Only then, will the path forward become clearer, the climb upward will feel less painful, and the new growth taking root inside you will extend forward into the light. 

Creating a new story outside the box

Once upon a time there was a little girl who dreamed of becoming a writer and a teacher.  All she ever wanted to do was write and teach, to intertwine her love of both into messages of hope and faith, that would resonate with readers seeking resolution, inspiration, guidance or answers. She would create stories born in her imagination, borrowed from real life experiences, shaped by what if’s and stolen from broken hearts.  She would teach lessons through her stories that would nurture, heal, and transform lives. 

To create a new story, the writer begins with a character who wants something. The story will describe the character’s internal and external journey toward getting what he or she wants (or doesn’t get, as stories don’t always have happy endings, only ones that make sense, or satisfy). The author keeps her character’s struggle to get something she desperately wants in mind, as she builds her story’s framework by answering the following questions:

Who is the main character (protagonist)? What is her everyday life like?

What does she want? Is there an extenuating event that calls her to step outside the safety of her self-made box?

What is she willing to do to get what she wants? What won’t she do?

How does her weaknesses (fears, doubts, erroneous zones, and such)  prevent her from achieving her goal?

What obstacles, internal or external, obstruct her?

Does she finally overcome the obstacles or is she unable to get past them?

How is the character changed as a result of her struggle?

The character will follow a path called the story arc, beginning with the extenuating event that sets the story in motion. This is followed by the rising action, with every scene in the story’s progression raising the stakes a little at a time, while increasing the conflict and tension. Subsequently, the story reaches a climactic turning point at which time, from there on forward, the character will be transformed in some way (positively or negatively) as a result of her internal and external journey told through the story’s events. Consequently, the final act is in the end, or denouement, wrapping the story up, and threading together both the story’s outcome and its theme.   

In life, we create a new story when we want to start over, move on, improve our life or trash our old story.  We begin by deciding what type of story we want to create: a victim’s story or a story of empowerment. As Randy Gage, American author and motivational speaker says;  it is the choice we make that makes the difference for us.  Like the fictional stories we write as authors, we can make our own autobiography about a victim who can’t escape himself, or a story of empowerment and success. 

We know stories are not just about a sequence of events; they must go somewhere. Similarly, our own lives are not just about a sequence of events, they go somewhere and it is up to us to decide toward which direction they move. The external events of our lives do not dictate which direction we take, they merely act as triggers.  It is the stuff inside us that carves out our roadmap.

Dawn Romeo, a bestselling author, wellness and life coach, psychotherapist, and personal development trainer makes the following point;  The external circumstances of your life right now are less relevant than your internal subjective view of yourself. The way we feel and the images we hold in the forefront of our mind manifests in the life we live. Referring to something Henry Ford said to further illustrate this point , she says;  Whether you think you can or think you can’t– you’re right.

That same little girl who dreamed of becoming a writer continues to dream of writing and teaching, but unlike in her old story in which she doubted herself, fearing change and Robert Frost’s road less traveled by, never daring to step outside her safe little box, she is now creating a brand new story that holds hope for the many changes she learned will always come, and faith that she will confront those changes as a victor, leaving the victim behind, back inside the box all alone. Through her ongoing journey, she learned, and teaches her readers ,that the new story we write is no longer centered around the apprehension to step outside the box, because in the new story we create there should be no box at all.

Coming Full Circle

The Closing moments are necessarily quieter than the climactic scene, but they should be no less emotionally resonant; in fact, the denouement (the final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work) is a moment that looks back to and reminds the reader of the beginning of your novel and what questions were raised there, particularly in terms of the protagonist’s internal motivation. What your character wants personally has been driving the narrative since the first page, even before the external motivation and conflict came along to parallel the personal struggle.  With the external question resolved in the climax, what remains is answering the inthrall question and addressing the effect the story has had on the character as a person, thus bringing the character arc, and the book, full circle.  

(Joseph Bates, Writing Your Novel from Start to Finish, 2015, page 194.)

In this passage, Mr. Bates points out, in essence, that what a character wants (internally) at the start of her journey, even if she does not realize it, she will strive to achieve throughout her story, through the external events she faces, until the closing moments, at which time she comes full circle, back to the place at which she started, but this time- recognizing, if not yet resolving, her internal desires or struggles.

Similarly, in life, what brings us, as individuals, full circle at the end of a chapter, a season, a year, or a lifetime, is understanding what we want and how important that is, and achieving it, or at least working toward it.  How have we changed? How much have we learned? How much have we grown, or on the other hand, remained stagnant? Have the events in our own lives over the past year had a clear, discernible effect on our lives, the same way the events in the fictional stories we write and read impact our protagonists.   Are we the same person now, in this year’s  closing moments, we were at the beginning of our journey, in the opening moments?

Bates continues ;  The way to gauge the significance ( of the effect that changes the protagonist) is by looking at the protagonist at both the beginning and end, and seeing a difference.   Be forewarned, however; the change in our fictional protagonists is not always a positive transformation; the characters may also undergo negative change. In Charles Dickens’ Scrooge, Ebenezer Scrooge evolves from a miserable, money-pinching, greedy old man to a kind-hearted and generous person, recognizing who he was, identifying who he wants to be, and choosing to redeem himself.  In contrast, in Wuthering Heights, we see Heathcliff change the other way, as he becomes  a villain in response to his unrequited love for Catherine and the misguided manner in which he decides to think and behave. He changes, but he never evolves.

Our own change does not necessarily mean we need to achieve perfection.  Rather, it means in some way, to some degree, we grew. We evolved. Somewhere along the pages of our life story, we came to identify what we value, and we recognize how important it is to believe in that value, and in ourself, and how to nurture our passion, find our purpose and do everything possible to follow it. We learn that we are the authors of our own life stories. We are the editors, the agents, the publishers, and advocates for our own narrative.  Further, we are the protagonist with internal desires and struggles, with our own character arc to process.  We are the main character of our life story, and we are the only one in control. Do we follow the direction Ebenezer took, or take the path created by Healthcliff? It is our decision to make.

Even when we are struck by adversity, we are the author in control. As we drive our lives forward, toward achieving happiness and success, it is the failures that take us there.  Sometimes, when we get lost,  taking occasional detours allows us to get back on track. To find our way.  Again, it is within only our own control to decide between giving up, allowing fear to immobilize us, or recognizing failures as stepping stones, rather than see them as heavy weights that can drown us.

Bates says; … failures- particularly our own personal failings- often change our lives with more ferocity than our successes.  And then there is the famous quote by Albert Einstein, who said; Adversity introduces a man to himself.  We don’t change through adversity itself; we merely learn who we were to begin with, who we are now, and who we can be.  It magnifies our own character arc,  taking what was always within us,  to the forefront.  

In Wayne Dyer’s Your Erroneous Zones, he threads the ideas of choice and present-moment living throughout his book. While he discusses various “erroneous zones” or areas in which we are self-destructive, he writes; 

           Looking at yourself, in depth with an eye toward changing might be something that you 

           say you are interested in accomplishing, but your behavior speaks otherwise.  

           Change is tough.

Moreover, to further illustrate this point, Dieter F. Uchdorf said;  It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop. In other words, it is up to us alone to decide which path we follow, or even to forge a brand new path- leaving a trail for others to follow.  No one else determines this for us.  Robert Frost brilliantly illustrated this in The Road Not Taken;  

                     Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- 

                     I took the one less traveled by, 

                     And that has made all the difference.

In fiction, our protagonist faces her own setbacks and hardships, through which she loses herself, but ultimately finds herself- we hope.  Through out her story, she faces external challenges that inspire internal confrontation, reflection, and eventual resolution, as each external obstacle brings her closer to discovering her true internal values, purpose and character.  Therefore, bringing her full circle.

Isn’t this true for the rest of us in our real lives?  Aren’t we always on a quest to find our own true purpose in life, to find the true meaning of life, the path that will allow us to become better daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, spouses, parents, friends, neighbors, employees, coworkers, bosses, teachers, citizens, writers, and human beings in general? To just -be better and to make the world in which we live a better place. 

This past year is behind us.  We are in the closing moments of 2021, and although these moments, for some, may be quieter than the climactic scenes experienced throughout this past year, they are no less emotionally resonant.  What path will we take, or forge next year and in the years to come, that will make a difference?  So… what effect has our choices had on us as individuals in our own life stories, and for others, and have we brought our own character arc, in our narrative, full circle?

Many thanks to the readers and followers who have read my blogs over the years so far, and supported me in achieving my life- long dream to write and teach. Regardless of, or because of, the adversities each of you might have faced this past year, this past season,  this past decade, this past lifetime, or this past whatever, look inside yourselves and you will find your own purpose, strength, love, happiness and peace. I promise you, it is there.  It has been there all along.  You only need to set out on your own quest to reveal it, and you will come full circle, back home to the place you always belonged. 

You grow through what you go through.

In writing fiction, our characters transform in some way, as they struggle through conflict until they reach resolution, or they fail miserably, and they learn a lesson.

In Joseph Bates’ Writing Your Novel From Start to Finish- A Guidebook for the Journey, he explains that what makes a story “remarkable, even unforgettable”, is the way the “external motivation and conflict parallel, complicate, and deepen our understanding of the characters’ internal motivation and conflicts.”

He further says the events in the story, through which the characters persevere, “must come into direct conflict with whatever it is they want or value”.  Bates asks; “ What would the outcome be if the character achieved his goal, or if he failed to achieve it?”

We, as individuals in real life, transform through our adversities and struggles.  As Steve Harvey says in his video with Joel Olsteen; Let Them Go, July 1, 2021 ; “Every pain leaves a gift”.

“You grow through what you go through”.  We struggle through the loss of loved ones, the end of romantic relationships or friendships we thought would last our lifetime, the closure of our career- or a job we loved,  or through any decision which might alter our path.  This is a part of life.

Real life. 

Rather than allow conflict or struggles to break us, or weaken us; just as the writer orchestrates the transformation of her characters in her story, the individuals in life, as Harvey and Olsteen note in their video,  should recognize and embrace adversity as a blessing and a lesson. 

In Bates’ novel, he likens the author to a sort of “God”; 

An author is in a precarious position as a kind of “naughty God”We ought to feel connection to our own characters, and hope on some level they will succeed, even as we’re the very ones making their lives difficult.”

This is not to imply God makes our lives difficult; he merely lays the ground work and allows us to find our own path, and if that journey is obstructed by challenges along the way, we should keep faith that in the end, wherever we land, it will be the destination God intended for us.

The fictional story we create, as writers, mirrors the non-fiction lives we live as human beings.  The writer creates the conflicts through which our characters journey, as the characters grow stronger with each success, or failure.  They embrace their successes, and they learn from their failures, which allows them to grow.

According to Dr. Wayne Dyer, internationally renowned author and motivational speaker, individuals who recognize the difference between living life according to the demands of their egos (looking at adversity as a negative), compared to the no-limit individuals who value the “divine I am-ness inside us”,  recognize adversity as opportunities for growth and happiness, rather than as set-backs or dead ends.  

He said the following, with regard to adversity and failures; The no-limit person uses his rejections and failures to reframe his thinking, or to go on to try other things. In other words, the individual who understands that the challenges he faces are meant to strengthen him,  recognizes the blessing he receives from facing that difficulty.  He feels blessed to get through it, and to come out on the other side as an improved, learned or better person because of it.

Our characters will possess some degree of clear wants, goals, ambitions or a quest, in order to grow.  We, as individuals, experience adversity when we desire a relationship with our families , our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors or a romantic partner. We experience adversity when we have a professional, educational, or personal goal and something gets in our way. 

Bates says “ A character with no clear want can’t ever be in a state of conflict (because there’s nothing to be in a conflict against), and a character who’s not in a state of conflict has no opportunity to change, as there is no conflict to resolve.”

As I have stated in the past, as so many writers teach, writers write to question, to explore, to discover, to share and to reflect.  We write to connect with our readers, to mirror the complexities in our lives, and to help our readers recognize the blessings and lessons we all gain from those struggles. 

Just as our fictional characters grow through their conflicts and struggles in our made up stories, individuals in real life have the power to grow emotionally, mentally, spiritually, intellectually, and even physically, as we face adversity, and come to understand and appreciate just how much, and how blessed we are to be able to,  grow through what we go through.