Writing Techniques with Examples

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Peter and Michael, thanks for informative feedback!

Peter, FWIW, I would describe the novel that incorporates my prose(Existence) as philosophical science fiction, though I list it under post-apocalyptic and technothriller for marketing purposes. Though I’m somewhat aware of the definitions of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ scifi, I’d have to refresh my memory on specifics. If I had to guess, more experienced scifi readers would probably call Existence soft, because I don’t drill down to the finer/finest particulars of any technologies involved. I strive more for (what I believe to be)a plausible middle ground(between hard and soft). For example, I’ll have a character comment that a certain technology achieves some sort of dramatic/story effect by explaining/commenting that it’s messing with someone’s neurotransmitters and hormones, though not specifically which ones and precisely how.

I’m also guessing that ‘philosophical’ science fiction, for many/most readers, will come across as overly abstract and ‘literary’. I believe this isn’t the case for Existence, where one of my foremost goals is fast-paced and readable fiction, but I understand how casual stakeholders would find that difficult to believe. This is one of the reasons I wrote a hella-long blurb for Existence: attempting to convince passersby that yes, there is actually an engaging story here, not just ‘intellectual’ posturing.


Michael, if you’re happy with the way my posts and threads are now, so am I.


Let’s clarify a few things about me:

  1. Length of posts: believe it or not, I’m trying to keep these as short as reasonably possible, so as not to take up too much of reader’s time, or mine, as I try to incorporate OL into my day-to-day for the next little while. I’ve been resisting what feels like monologues(until now?).
    This is possibly leading to me not supplying enough information/context.

  2. Criticism; of any type, whether of my writing technique and in general: I welcome any and all criticism in my quest to become better. Yes, everyone says stuff like this. I’m sure at least some of us have discovered that in practice, not everyone is so welcoming and/or reacts poorly to criticism. Not I.
    New poster, yes. New writer, no. Been writing for years, been criticised and ignored for years. I invite any attempts to pierce my thick skin. ‘Come at me bro/sis’, ‘tear me a new one’, etc.
    Having said that, I prefer description(eg, X confused me because Y) rather than prescription(eg, you should employ X technique more, or write more like writer Y).

  3. Outliner versus ‘pantsing’/discovery: I consciously make use of both mindsets. Before and during the first draft(of a novel), I’ll create and rely upon an outline, then make more use of discovery as I’m plowing through to the finish and content editing later. Outlining provides a valuable foundation/framework that I refer to less and less as I progress through the various stages of the novel, because I increasingly automatise/memorise most ideas and details. Discovery writing allows me the freedom to add more drama and intrigue that may occur to me in the heat of the moment, at the added expense of having to revise similar character moments/scenes later for continuity.

  4. I use both, in part because I’ve had philosophical thoughts on the concepts of outlining and discovery writing. I considered starting a thread on this, because I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere else(haven’t searched here yet), except I can’t find my (old)notes in this subject, and so am unwilling to officially broach the subject.
    Very basically, I’ve often wondered whether the concepts of outlining(or top-down thinking) and discovery(or bottom-up thinking) are inconclusive, spurious or overly broad. Do these concepts correspond or allude to Rand’s epistemological discovery of concept chains, and specifically the traversal of them? If so, then outlining and discovery are equally epistemologically valid, because they represent either the downward or upward travel of conceptual chain(s)…?
    Hopefully I’ve outlined(bad-dum
    ting) these thoughts of mine coherently. Surely Rand(or anyone else) had thoughts along these lines, but I can’t remember, or haven’t read any.


Now, let’s clarify a few things about my submission to this thread:


  1. Context: I deliberately omitted certain details/contexts from my submission to gauge reactions to my material on it’s own, as it were. Friendly Forum Reader, if you’ve had prior thoughts as Michael and Peter have(lacking the context I’m about to provide), I’d love to hear them. Having said that, here’s some additional context.

  2. My basic ‘building blocks’ of a novel are what I refer to as scenes. These are generally(though not always) about 500-1500 words each. Existence has roughly 170 scenes.
    The scene I provided occurs after about twenty-five scenes of the main character(named
    Zhéxué; often Zhé for short) struggling to survive in post-apocalyptic Rome(ie, here on Earth). After some strenuous experiences, Zhé basically falls asleep in a car being driven by someone else. Immediately after that, the partial scene I provided occurs, where Zhé/Reader abruptly finds her(self) in a completely different context. The implication is that she’s dreaming…

  3. My non-prose text, markings and punctuation: for me, absolutely any bracket is an editing marker. One of my final proofreading/copyediting checks is to search for any and all brackets, thereby to change or delete whatever they’re referring to. Note the lack of brackets in the revised scene. [If prose is square-bracketed, I’m not a hundred percent sure about it, and may change or delete it later](I may briefly leave a reason in curly brackets: eg, ‘syn’onym; ‘phr’ase; use a more ‘prec’ise or ‘dram’atic word; is that word or phrase really ‘nec’essary; etc).


Whew! We’re not done yet, though. Tune in tomorrow for a deep dive into my drafted and revised prose, and differences thereof.

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Before we get started, some formatting of my posts may be whacky, until I get used to the finer aspects of copy-pasting rich text from Libreoffice(an open-source MS office clone that I use) to here. Also, you might want to get comfortable. This could take a while.

As Michael suggested, let’s dig down further. Remember, this is a scene that occurs about twenty-five scenes in to my novel Existence. One purpose of this scene is to break up a sequence of scenes based in a post-apocalyptic reality; an intermission of a sort.

I’m also trying to avoid big spoilers for the novel while explaining myself.




Where was she?(1A)

She(1A) sat up abruptly, which started her head pounding. Too fast. She’d risen too fast. She held herself still, waiting for the dizziness to pass. Her dry throat made swallowing difficult. When she breathed in the dessicated, hot air, it dried her mouth as well(1B). The relentless sun [beat down] from high in the cloudless sky, though shade from a nearby tree sheltered her from the worst of it(1C).



Where was she?

She sat up abruptly, which started her head pounding. Too fast. She’d risen too fast. She held still, waiting for the dizziness to pass. Hot air dried her throat and mouth(1B). The relentless sun loomed high in the cloudless sky, glaring down at the desiccated land. The canopy of the tree’s branches and leaves draped over her like a friend’s arm, reassuring her with soothing shade that extended a stride beyond her outstretched feet(1C), which were encased in worn, yet sturdy sandals.

1A==to add a little mystery, I deliberately refrain from immediately naming this possibly new POV character, referring to her as only ‘she’, for now. Is this a new character, especially given the abrupt change of context(previously falling asleep in a car, now this)?

Reminder: it’s always the same character, Zhé(xué).

An element of my style is to nudge questions at Reader, either implicitly(eg, by suddenly changing scenery and action) or explicitly(eg, by a character questioning something) wherever reasonably possible, without intending to beat Reader over the head. Readers more inclined to read first and (hopefully)query later should be able to stroll around past these ‘questions’ I pose, assuming my prose is decent enough. Readers more inclined to stop and think at every turn are thereby given opportunities to do so.

1B==improved and changed to active voice.

1C==though neither Reader nor character(Zhé) know it yet, the ‘leader’ of this ‘realm’ will be hostile. I allude to and foreshadow this by describing the vista in concordantly hostile terms. This ‘hostility’ doesn’t extend to Zhé’s corner of the realm, where the tree, pond and her pet is. All of this I begin in the first draft, then expand upon by the final edit.





Sitting high upon a hill with gentle slopes afforded(syn) a view of the surrounding area(2A). A rocky and barren landscape wavered, partially opaque(2B) due to heat waves. She blinked her eyes, trying to perceive more. That revealed a rough/paved/gravel road in the distance, snaking(2C) through the dirt and rocks. A weatherbeaten wooden sign, too distant to read, stood(2C) beside the road.

Conditions were more pleasant where she sat, beneath a sprawling tree. A pond lay close by, [maybe large enough to swim in]. The tree’s shade effected a boundary, the edge of which extended [a little] beyond her feet, [encased in sandals(ancient?)]. In a few hours, the shade would disappear](phr&fore for time acceleration event later on).

Not wanting to test her equilibrium by rising to her feet, [she crawled](nec?/implies?) the short distance to the pond. It’s clear, placid waters reflected her visage.



Her tree stood high upon a hill. Gentle downward slopes gave way to wide views of the expanse beyond(2A): a rocky, barren landscape, it’s details subtly obscured by undulating heat(2B). She blinked her eyes, trying to focus. In the distance, some distance from the foot of the hill, a worn, unpaved road wriggled(2C) through the dirt and rocks. A weather-beaten wooden sign, too distant to read, stood sentry(2C) beside the road.

Perceived from the cool shade underneath the tree, the hot, barren landscape seemed unreal, out of place, like a vista-sized painting draped between her eyes and reality(2D). As no other person could be seen, so too could no other tree like hers, with it’s vibrant leaves, sturdy branches and strong bark. She and it were out of place within this dreary brown landscape, populated with little except stunted, withered plants and dead weeds.

Beside her and the tree lay a calm, clear pond, only a few strides in diameter. Crouching by the pond’s edge was… an animal? A rather strange animal? What was it?

She shook her head. Actually, she knew this animal. He was Polplev, her mineown. Polplev rested on all fours by the edge of the pond, the hooves of his forelegs touching it’s muddy edge. His pink tongue lapped at the water. His long, floppy ears dangled. After drinking his fill, he waded step-by-step further in to dip his furry head and mane beneath the surface, then raised it up to shake with vigour, flinging droplets of water at her. He didn’t bother dunking the rest of his long, equine body nor his yellow-and-black striped sting-less backside, neither being covered with fur, thus not overheating in the hot sun to the same extent as his head(2E).

She gently pressed her hands to her temples, trying to soothe the throbbing. Still feeling light-headed, she didn’t want to test her equilibrium by rising to her feet, so she shuffled on her hands and knees across the short distance to the pond. When she was beside him, he greeted her by licking her cheek. The pond’s clear, placid waters reflected their visage.

2A==changing from passive to active voice.

2B==IIRC(can’t remember this one; it’s been at least a few months) I wanted to replace the word ‘opaque’. Writers apparently fall back on or overuse certain words and phrases(I know I do). For first drafts, this is fine – just keep going!

2C==small improvements.

2D==a double-entendre I added in later, to hint at or allude to something ‘meta’ or ‘behind the curtain’ about this scene. Wherever possible, I try to construct prose that can do double duty: it can be comprehended at surface-level, during Reader’s first visit through. The prose can also mean something else which may not be comprehended until a second readthrough. I enjoy the idea of providing Reader additional value this way. Something as tricky as this doesn’t come automatically for me, and thus didn’t happen in the first draft. This is an excellent reason and motivation to revise – who knows when extra cherry-on-top opportunities like these will present themselves?

2E==describing this thing was a challenge, something I dodged during my first draft – putting it off, in other words, which isn’t necessarily a good idea. Anyway, at this point, I’d wanted to present a fantastic/mythical animal to clue Reader that this scene wasn’t necessarily based in reality(like a dream, maybe). After wondering whether to make this animal a dragon, a chimera, etc, I decided to have a little fun and make one up – to create a mythical animal of ‘mine own’, as it were. After a possibly absurd amount of thought, I settled upon a combination of a dog, horse and bee. In case Reader is yet wondering what on Earth this abomination is supposed to be, I deliberately have the other character referring to it later as a ‘dog-horse-bee thingto clarify. As this is a tell, I moved Pol’s description(the ‘show’) further up, closer to the tell.




Her [creamy brown] skin contrasted(?) against her white(colour?) toga/robe, which accentuated/accommodated(syn) her slender body. Her gentle, green-gray eyes were [wide and curious]. Her straight(syn?) black(syn) hair flowed down over her shoulders, [reflecting the light](syn?/phr?-vitality), [not short as a man’s, yet not as stately or unmanageable as a noble’s]. Her face [possessed mature(more so than reality) youth](show).(3A)

[Hey there, uh, chinese woman].(3B)

She gasped and twisted her body, searching for the [man who spoke]. A fat(syn?) man with [dull, black] skin, wearing a toga/robe similar to hers. The bandage/cloth(/syn) wrapped around his eyes snagged her attention. How could he see?(3C)



Her pale brown skin contrasted against the white of her tunic, which accentuated her slender body. Her jade eyes were sincere and curious. Straight black hair flowed down to rest upon her shoulders, reflecting—(3A)

Hey there, uh, you.(3B)

Pol started growling at the first word. Startled, she half-turned, half-scuttled away from the pond, toward the tree. A rotund man had appeared out of thin air. His black skin and curly hair seemed soft and new, contrasting against most of the harsh background. His round belly stretched out an elaborate toga. Was he a public official? An official, outside, amongst the hills in the middle of nowhere on such a hot day? Instead of standing straight, he leaned back on one leg. Her eyes were drawn to a cloth wrapped around his head, covering his eyes. How could he see?(3C)

Me?” she asked.

No,” he said wryly, “the other Chinese woman next to—wait, what is that?” His head recoiled when he saw Pol. “Is that a horse? A miniature horse with a bee’s butt? And a dog’s head?”

3A==I’ve read opinions that describing characters in detail is discouraged, especially in commercial fiction. I disagree. A person’s appearance IRL may show certain aspects of their personality and character. Ditto for fiction. I will admit, too much up-front description(of anything, including characters) will probably come across as too ‘info-dump’ey, so maybe try to mix in non-description-based sentences or paragraphs to keep things lively.

Here, I reduced the amount of prose describing her appearance, because unbeknownst to you, Friendly Forum Reader, this isn’t the first time I describe Zhé in the novel. I did so here as a ‘show’ that the so-far-unidentified POV character is Zhé, just before I ‘tell’ Reader by having her and the other character mention her name and race shortly.

3B==this sentence felt clunky upon revision, so I changed it to him saying it differently later. Calling Zhé Chinese, while correct, is more tell than show, but I let this slide because her race is incidental(at this point). I also struggle to describe characters sometimes, especially with respect to race.

3C==giving this character a bit more description, because these two will meet again later, in a different context.




His shoulders rolled in a self-conscious shrug. “[Another day, another woman freaking out].”

Another…what? Do we know each other?

His flat mouth twisted into a wry grin.You told me your name, earlier. Zee, or [something like that](Teifsis?).”


That’s the one. We should get going.

How presumptuous. With you? Where?” she asked. “Who are you? Why are you here?” Thinking of the bandage/cloth over his eyes, she asked, “How are you here?”

Can I speak? [You know](Teifsis?), to answer one of the questions you keep piling on? [The man who should be here got(syn-prec/dram) summoned away] and I [lost the bet/coin toss/drew the short straw].”

I don’t under–”(4B)

Getting back to our predicament,” he interrupted, “we saw this…oasis?…in the distance and decided to rest a mo/sec/bit.”

We…did?” Why couldn’t she remember that? What had possessed(syn?) them to travel so far up this hill in this heat?

Yes, we did.” [Impatient show?] “Trust me,” he added in a sarcastic tone, “[I would never lie about being with a woman].”


Did you find [animal name]? That’s why we left town, after all. To search for it.” To her blank expression, he prompted, “Your [fantastic animal].”

[animal name],” she said, vexed. “[S/he [chewed off it’s rope] and wandered outside of town]. S/he will be helpless, out here.

[animal name] will show up.” His words were casual, his gaze focused.

The pain in her head spiked, causing her breath to catch(syn?).

[Feeling alright]?” he asked.

She started to shake her head, then wished she hadn’t. “A headache, that’s all.” She rubbed at her temples(ch/plural?). “I should resume searching.”

[her animal makes a noise].(4C)

[animal name] has found us instead.”

Incredibly, it had. Rather, it had found the pond. After lapping at it’s surface, it lifted it’s head and [made a noise] again.

He chuckled. “S/he’s asking where youve been.”(4D)



His uninvited presence, plus acting as though her pet and trusted companion was a freak, bordered on offensive. “Do we know each other?

He faced her again. You told me your name, earlier. Jer-shue, right?

Zhéxué.” His attempt was flat, mispronouncing elements and lacking tonal variation(4A). She found it difficult to look away from the bandage wrapped around his eyes.

That’s what I said.” His shoulders rolled in a self-conscious shrug. “Another day, another woman freaking out.”

Did he mean her reaction to the bandage covering his eyes? How could he know that?

Ready to go?” he asked.

How presumptuous. With you? Where?” she asked. “Why? Who are you? Why are you here?” Thinking of the bandage over his eyes, she asked, “How are you here?”

Can I talk, now? You know, to answer one of your seventeen questions? My situation is mega complicated. TLDR: the man who should be here got summoned elsewhere, and I lost the bet.”

I don’t under—”(4B)

Surely,” he interrupted, “you remember us discovering this, uh, oasis? Yes, oasis. Probably. We decided to stop here.”

We?She couldn’t imagine wanting this man’s company. “We stopped here?” Why couldn’t she remember that? What had possessed them to travel so far up this hill? Perhaps the heat had gotten to them. The tree and pond would have looked inviting from a distance, assuming they could be seen from further down.

Yes, we did.” The man crossed his arms. “Trust me,” he added sarcastically, “I wouldn’t lie about being with a woman.”

If so, where were you just now?”

Picking berries,” he said quickly.

She eyed the barren expanse. “Around here?”

Yup.” His hands were empty.

The thought of berries made her feel peckish. “Have any spare?”

I ate them all.”

She frowned at his large stomach, emphasised by sunlight and shade, demarcated across his abdomen. “You didn’t think to share?” Should she be so audacious as to ask an official to give her berries?(4E)

No.” He switched over to his other foot. “So, you found your dog-horse-bee thing. Great. That’s why we left town, after all. To search for it.”

What was he talking about? “We did? Oh, yes, we did,” she said, the details coming back to her. He must have chewed at his rope leash. “I found him up here.

4A==expanded upon after first draft. His unwillingness to pronounce Zhé’s name properly covers two things: (a) these characters aren’t meant to like each other much, in part because he(named Teifsis) is immature and brash; (b) a nod to Reader, who is also likely wondering/struggling with how to pronounce her name.

I admit, I struggle to pronounce it. At this point in time, I don’t have to pronounce it, only type it. 99% of the time,’ I mentally enunciate her name as ‘Zee’, or ‘Zer-shue’.

For those of you wondering, according to this website, the enunciation of her name is something like…

Zh – like ‘j’ in ‘juice’;

e – like ‘uh’ in ‘duh’;

x – like a soft ‘sh’ in ‘sheet’;

u – like ‘oo’ in ‘spoon’;

e – like ‘uh’ in ‘duh’;

I think. Note also that her name is based on a word in ‘Chinese’ that was apparently given/created by a Japanese scholar during the nineteen hundreds.

It wouldn’t surprise me if I were wrong on any or all of this. If I’m ever a commercial success, I expect to be 'enjoying' lively discussions about all of this!

4B==deliberately having other character using language and terms that don’t match setting.

4C==deleted. This was meant to hint/foreshadow at a major plot point(that I therefore won’t elaborate upon, because spoilers). During revision, I basically decided that none of this was necessary.

4D==deleted. Characters shouldn’t be acting friendly.

4E==added this berry-related prose for the same reason: an occurrence of contention between the two characters. This leads to mentioning his stomach, which leads to mentioning the line of shade, which is necessary to foreshadow a plot element(not shown anywhere here) coming up soon; ie, similar to the prose below (2C), above.


That's it!  I hope this was interesting. In any case, thanks for allowing me a chance to pontificate.

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  • 1 month later...

This is from another thread:

On 11/15/2023 at 12:55 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

... in developing a compelling conflict style, there is a book called Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell. I don't like James's nonfiction writing style since it is too full of lists, but he gives some great ideas for devising exercises. And this gets right to the heart of what to do with so many ideas.

To start with, James says conflict happens as a clash between at least two parties and one of them has to have conscious volition. And he says the best stakes always involve death (literal death, professional death, or psychological death). I have found a few more deaths that works well, the death of a relationship, the death of energy to win during a competition, the death of enthusiasm to finish a productive project, and so on. All these make great stakes for conflict to flourish.

So here is the exercise. It has two stages:

a. Find an idea that causes a strong emotion in you.
b. Nudge it into conflict with something else.

Strong emotion in me, the author, for an idea is key. Otherwise, the conflict I add to it ends up flat.

I am doing this exercise and fiddling around with it and loving the results.

For example, I am using a list system where I take one idea that causes a strong emotion in me. Then I come up  with 10 different conflicts to add to it, some normal and others waaaaaaay out there. I also try to identify the kind of "death" involved in the stakes of each potential conflict situation just to keep things centered. Some of the ideas I come up with are crap, but some are great. By doing 10 each time, there is no way some of it will not be crap. So, in this way, I automatically give myself permission to write crap and get it out of my brain so I can discard it. (Believe it or not, for me, this decluttering of my subconscious works and gives me greater focus energy for the good stuff.)

That result, to find a great conflict idea, that product, I suppose, is a reason to do this. But for me, I want to develop the skill to think in this way. I want to develop this style of writing. I want this as an automatic process and skill I can call on whenever I wish.


I first did this exercise in my Journal the other day. I think those who would like to try it out might get some value from seeing me do it for the first time.

Here is what I did. I mined a strong emotion from my past as a small child and from a dream I had a few days ago. The following excerpt is in my "Writing Idea" notebook where I collect fragments, thoughts and so on, including dreams when I can remember them. Gary is my brother. We were about 7 or so when this happened.


... [The] image in my mind was the pure joy with which Gary and I laughed as young kids when dad would visit us in our bedroom right before we had to go to sleep. He would tell us about his triumphs from his football days. (This was when we lived in a trailer.) He would tell of breaking free with the ball in a game, running toward the goal line, and the crowd yelling, “Go Kelly!” We would laugh and laugh. We were part of that and it felt good.

But the image that haunted me from the dream is like a film representation of a fleeting moment in a dream. It’s like the memory of someone who lived through all of this and is going through other issues in life. And a huge change happened as is common in dreams. 

The kids are no longer male, one is a young girl and the other is faded in the background. She and the focus character (a person like Dad or me) are lying on the grass upside down to each other. Only their heads are near each other as their bodies go in different directions. They are looking into each other’s eyes, but upside down. 

He is smiling at her, and she is smiling at him with that same joy that Gary and I felt. As he—in the image—looks into her upside down eyes, another he is looking at the image from above and zooms out like a camera. As this happens, he realizes he was good looking and she was precious. He asked her, “Aren’t we beautiful?” He asked her this question then and now at the same time.

I feel him going about his affairs as he remembers this image from time to time. He has a tinge of shame for the choices he made to get to where his life is at, but he holds onto this image as an anchor to deal with the new troubles and new stage he has to live.

It is a beautiful image and always comes unbidden…


Here is the list of conflicts I added to that as an exercise. This part is from my daily Writing Journal. btw - I loved this exercise and I am going to be doing it a lot more. The trick is to find a highly emotional moment, then work it. The conflicts come easy to me in this form, although before I discovered this exercise, I was having a hell of a time with situations of conflict that sounded right. (sigh... so many hours...)


I wrote a beautiful image from a dream I had a few hours earlier. After I depicted it, I made it a memory of a person facing a harsh reality and feeling a twinge of shame for choices he made in life.

That is one kind of conflict.

The image is the father and daughter looking into each other’s eyes (upside down and laying sideways on the grass, facing each other), and him saying, “Aren’t we beautiful?” Let me see how I can add other conflicts to that. 

I want to do 20, but in order to develop this list-making muscle, I think 10 is enough. I almost did 5, but I felt I would never go to 10 if I did that. Ten gives me the right to make a crappy thought or other since I can discard it with no hassle, no feeling of loss.

So I will count the conflict I made as one. Also, I want to use the “death” standard James uses for stakes in a conflict, literal, professional, psychological. And I will add relationship and some other kinds of death if I think of them.

1. For the first nudge to conflict I already did, as this image is a courage giver, it keeps him (the father) from giving up. (Death of his will to win, will to triumph.)

2. When remembering the image, the father has to face his inner hypocrisy at ignoring the other child. This causes him to feel such guilt, he almost shuts down. (Psychological death).

3. When remembering the image, the father looks at the steps that led to his estrangement from her and wondering if he can find a way back. (Relationship death.)

4. When remembering the image, the father also remembers that she died soon after and he became a bum and lost everything. Yet he feels a calling to get back up, even if only to feel worthy of her. (Psychological death).

5. When remembering the image, the father remembers the earthquake that happened soon after and how hard it was for them to escape. (Physical death.)

6. When remembering the image, the father felt indifference and apathy. This led him to realize his life had no meaning anymore and that realization felt awful. (Spiritual death.)

7. When remembering the image, the father shut it out of his mind, like a door slamming shut, since he had sexually abused her later and he never forgave himself. (Psychological death).

8. When remembering the image, the father also remembered the deal he lost when he was with her. This made him freeze her out as he became a workaholic. (Professional death.)

9. When remembering the image, the girl wondered what had happened to him since he disappeared soon after. Was she the cause? (Relationship death.)

10. When remembering the image, the girl looked at her father on his sick bed and knew she had to do everything she could to save him. (Physical death.)


Man, did I want to keep going. :) 

I got 10 different story premises (or pre-premises) out of that one image. Some much better than others, but I was on a roll and felt I could have kept going for a full 20.

Since the emotion I resonated with was real and based on lived experience, albeit transposed to a different situation, I am sure if I ever write a story that uses this image and one of these conflicts, I will have no problem with set-ups and pay-offs. No problem at all. Nor with characterization. Not even with theme. :) 



I have other several exercises I do on a constant basis in my Journal, and I sometimes talk to myself about different aspects of writing stories. For now I have only done this particular exercise once (I'm still reading the book by James Scott Bell), but I know this one is with me for the rest of my life. I will be doing it often, even when I am in the middle of a work. It's a great way to dredge up options from that deep well we all have hidden within us...


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  • 1 month later...

It's been a while since I have contributed to this thread.

I am sharing part of today's Entry from my Writing Journal. It involves the six brainstorming questions from Glenn Gers.

I am not sharing this because it is super-special. I am sharing it because it took me about 10 minutes to come up with the story. Maybe 12 minutes.

I write in my Journal every day. And, lo and behold, speed is one of the results.

For orientation, I had a blank mind when I started. Then I got the idea to write about something from current events that bothers me. Here is what I came up with.



I ended the Entry yesterday wanting to do a Gers six question thing once again, but ran out of time and space. So let’s rock and roll tonight.

And, for special sauce, let me include something from current events that is bothering me.

Who? I am going to chose a female journalist. She is lefty, independent, but cautious knowing that she is just going into the profession. Her name is Sally.

What does she want? She wants to receive a Pulitzer and become famous for exposing rot and corruption as she speaks truth to power.

Why can’t she have it? For as much and as hard as she looks, the only things she sees is the entire press corps toadying up to power, lying their asses off, and whoring out their profession. This can make a nice arc going from Sally not wanting to see what she sees to full awareness.

What does she do about it? She seeks allies from the press for specific projects that will set things right. Each project increases the stakes, going from a simple exposé, to someone she is interested in romantically, to outright threats, torture and attempts against her life.

Why doesn’t that work? Her allies all cower when they get the riot act from their inside contacts. She has a painful breakup and a moral parting of ways with her boyfriend. She is tortured and does not believe the strength she faces it with, but is scared to death and pissed. She is not killed because she started becoming paranoid and was on the lookout when the bad guys came. She ran and hid.

How does it end? In hiding, Sally discovers an alt media person who helps her set up a podcast. We leave this story as she is starting to get famous and starting to question her political leanings.

Woah there. I just did that in a few short minutes. I do not have a plot twist or deeper theme or unusual wisdom or any of those things, but I do have a timely story that can run on its own as a kind of pulp fiction plot.



Practice, people.

I am getting stronger and better with each practice session.

You can, too.

Just find your own exercises and get going with focused repetition.


Do I sound preachy right now?

Of course I do. :) 

I am in sudden awe of me. :) 



EDIT: Just so you know, I doubt I will ever write this story. This is just practice I do in outlining, brainstorming and things like that. However, it is a solid foundation to build a story on.

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Even though I said I would not likely write the Sally story, it's nagging at me. So I am going to do some more brainstorming on it.

I think it would be useful for you, if you are a writer or aspiring writer, to see how I brainstorm. It might give you ideas of your own.

I am using a brainstorming template by a lady named Jessica Brody just to get some ideas down for a popular story. She calls this "High Concept." But as with other things Jessica does, her meaning is not what others refer to by High Concept. In Jessica's meaning, she looked a popular movies and novels and tried to distill the most comment elements from them she could detect.

Incidentally, Jessica is one of the people active in the Save The Cat world. Her focus is on novels, not screenplays. And she is wicked smart. From what I have been able to detect, she is just as creative and talented as Blake Snyder was.

So here we go. I worked out the following in my Journal.



I want to try and add to last my Gers 6-question outline with Brody’s 4 elements of High Concept: Fish Out of Water, Main Conflict, Hook and Theme.

Before I do that, I need to brush up on Jessica’s idea of hook. I just saw it: aspirational, fear-driven and escapist.

So let’s do this with Sally.

Fish Out of Water. In order to make Sally a good Fish Out of Water, she needs to have a dilemma-like conflict with the journalism profession as it is. Granted, her morality and integrity are traits of a fish that cannot walk on that path (fish swim, they don’t walk). But there needs to be something else. I could add dyslexia or something like that, but I’m thinking it has to be able to tie into something deeper. After all, this is not a story about dyslexia. It is a story about realization, about busting through an idealized view of a situation to see its reality, then work from that new vision. 

I got it. Let’s make Sally a person who is frank to a fault. She has no notion of how offensive her comments are when she gives her honest view of others to them. And she has a deep need to be a team player on a mission to tell truth to power. And she doesn’t understand why people do not want to be a team with her. Also, there’s this. Since the press is a toady for power, that makes a pretty good fish fry. I am going to add more traits like this to Sally.

Main Conflict. This has to be a journalism story about corruption or something like that. It’s a story Sally is working on and can’t let go. And the people she works with cannot let her do it, but they cannot fire her, either—I have to come up with a reason for that last. Maybe Sally is part of an important family, or maybe she won a journalism contest and had gobs of publicity. Or maybe she has a secret, but powerful, protector. 

But despite the bad guys not being able to fire her, they cannot allow her to pursue the story she is working on to the point of uncovering the truth and presenting it. I need specifics here, but the gist is already causing my noggin to go into overdrive…

Hook. This is where Jessica Brody is different than other writing people. For her, a hook is an attraction or a reason other than the story itself for people to read it. And she says there are three kinds of hooks, aspirational, fear-driven and escapist. So let’s do all three for Sally.

Aspirational. This one is easy. How to keep your integrity when everyone around you is crooked. The tension will be that Sally does not perceive the extent of the sellout at first. 

Fear-driven. The bad guys are not going to be able to fire Sally, but that does not mean Sally is immune to having accidents. So they set up killers to go after her and she does not realize what danger she is in at first. Later she does realize it, but cannot rely on her protectors since she begins to suspect them, too. 

Escapist. Here, rather than do something technical or fantasy-driven, it might be cool to have Sally construct a dream in her mind about how life looks like to her. And this life can be beautiful—possible, but a stretch for the current world. The following might be a cliché situation, but Sally can imagine scenes with people before she lives them. And, of course, the scenes will be nothing like she imagines. If I make her daydreams vivid enough, they can be escapist for the audience, too.

Theme. Jessica also uses theme to mean the lesson the protagonist has to learn. And the lesson Sally has to learn is that her dream is for the future, not the present. That when she attributes virtue to evil people and sellouts, not only do bad things happen, her dream gets further from her reach.

There we go… Not bad just for first-level brainstorming…

Now I want to do a Gers 6 question routine for Sally’s main adversary.



Once again, I have not imagined any plot twists, reveals, or anything like that. What you are reading is nothing but crumbs from my brain as it chews over Sally and her situation through the lens of brainstorming templates I have found and liked.

I hope this is useful for you.


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I am going to continue the story of Sally just to see where this goes. It's growing despite my lack of gumption to do it.

Granted, it is not any great shakes so far, but that is how brainstorming from the bottom up works.

The following quote is from my Writing Journal today.



This time, I want to do the Gers 6 questions with the antagonist. Let’s call him Mortimer. I’ll work on second names later.

Who: Mortimer is in his 30’s and has just bought the news company Sally works at. Mortimer won a lot of money playing big tech stocks and was bored. In his liberal parties with other rich people, he has fashioned himself to be a Very Important Person for the future of the human race.

What does he want? Mortimer wants to be taken seriously as a wise and society-changing journalist, as a savior of mankind. Mortimer also wants to seduce Sally.

Why can’t he have it? On the professional side, he has little talent, and he’s pretentious and condescending. He does not have a clue about what audiences want, not even woke-like audiences. As to Sally, Mortimer pretends to be a feminist in order to get her into bed, but she sees through his game and keeps putting him off.

What does he do about it? In the professional sense, he moves the publication in the direction of every woke fad that arises in other media vehicles. That makes him feel he is current. He also plays every dirty trick in the book to get his publication exposure and added to important aggregators. 

As to Sally, he detects she leans more and more populist as they go along. So he pretends to, also. He tries to put her in prestigious situations where she is not ready or she is not comfortable due to her values. As he does this, he keeps hitting on her and rubbing his money in her face.

Why doesn’t this work? For the professional sense, I need a standard to start with. The audience works as a standard at this stage. Mortimer cannot get a large audience no matter what he does. In fact, he is losing the audience that came with the company. His own articles are awful and the people who suck up to him can’t write well, but he does not have the intelligence to see it. He manages to get exposure for his company, but not any audience to speak of. This frustrates him. When he starts getting criticized by the woke press for lack of quality, he loses it. 

As to Sally, she is repelled by him as a man, but cannot say so due to him holding her job over her head. His flaunting of his money to her makes him repellent in double. She also becomes more and more aware of his phoniness and difference from her way of seeing things. And she starts detecting his dirty tricks, both when he aims them at others and when he aims them at her. Once these dirty tricks get out of hand, that is when she runs for it.

How does it end. We already know that Sally will do a successful podcast from a hidden location. For Mortimer, since this story is a training story for me, I want to give the reader his or her full plate with a heaping helping of comeuppance for the villain. So Mortimer goes bankrupt, gets exposed for the dirty tricks he has played, and gets set up for a nasty fall by the very people he has been championing. He loses the media company he owns and any other unpleasant outcome I can dream up that does not go crazy (like getting eaten by a school of piranhas—gotta keep it relevant :) ).



You know, I kinda like where this is going. I might continue layering in other things like central theme (not the Brody type), plot twists, emotional situations, anticipation, a puzzle or riddle of some sort, and so on.

Or maybe I won't.


We shall see at we shall see...


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I thought of making the following quote from my Journal a separate thread. (It's today's Journal Entry, in fact, but not the entire Entry.) After mulling it over, I decided I want it here.

This thread is devoted to people in O-Land who are, or intend to become, creative writers. I don't want to bicker with people about the Rand part in this context. Writers will know what I am talking about. People who seek other things from Rand often do not understand something like this and will go into bicker mode. And, when discussing writing techniques, I need that like a bird needs an anchor and suntan lotion. :) 

My quote below is one of the ways I do Journal writing--when I am not practicing actual fiction writing like with outlines or passages. As this quote deals with some strong struggles I had to deal with when coming from a Randian influence, maybe this will be useful for other writers in similar situations.

As you can see, this passage goes longer than my self-imposed 500 word minimum and it is not even my full Entry. This often happens with my Journal writing. And, just to reiterate, I write an Entry every day. I have done that since May 2022. When I count that up and estimate it at a lowball average of 650-700 words per Entry, I have written well over a half a million words in my Journal. Not bad for less than two years. :) 



I took advantage of serendipity, a random mention of Faye Dunaway on social media, to read up on her and go on an artistic review of myself.

The most important thing I got was her constant striving for greatness through excellence. For presenting the truth as she could best discern it at the time, and presenting it whole. 

I admire this and strive for it myself, even though I have to admit that my forum writing is not up to this standard. However, without my forum writing, I would have never broken free of the broken part inside myself that I did not see before. 

That broken part kept me down in the excellence department while it did not extinguish my thirst for excellence. So by sheer volume, writing on the forum allowed me to make writing a familiar environment, as familiar as breathing, one where I could experiment and grow. 


My large volume of forum writing changed a fundamental belief and attitude in me. Writing was no longer a dream of greatness where I was afraid to take the first step because I did not want to get it wrong. I blame myself for this belief and attitude, of course, because I had to blame myself in order to change it. My agency was mine.

At first, I did not choose to write or blurt on forums a lot as a major activity. That just sort of happened as I was floundering around on the Internet. But I remember at one point becoming aware of the choice to keep doing it or go off into something else. (Forum writing is not lucrative. :) ) So I made a choice in full awareness. A writing choice--not a choice to save the world or spread Ayn Rand's work, although I did discuss those things. I knew this was just the beginning of my journey, not the result of one. I did not know where the journey led or how to proceed, but I wanted to be a writer and trusted myself to figure it out. At least I was writing often.

The temptation might be great, is great, but I do not blame Ayn Rand for getting stuck. But I do acknowledge that her rigid denunciations and constant use of words like “ruthless” when a fictional character talked about dealing with his or her own weaknesses, influenced me to such an extent, I became paralyzed. 

At least I found a way where I could pour out writing on forums. But when it came to writing polished great works, I didn’t even know how to start.

I tried to be ruthless with myself when I was at a stage where I had not yet acquired the professional standards and skills to understand what being ruthless meant. And that led to one main place above all the unsavory places this kind of mistake leads to. It led to guilt for not being good enough. Over time, that kind of guilt saps your energy and your soul begins to die.

So, at one point, I took the reins of my own life, threw off everything I had learned, including Rand, and started using my own choices and evaluations as my sole foundational standard. I did not get rid of what I learned from Rand, or others. It just became secondary to my decision to do all the hard lifting on my own.

The culmination and most effective process I found to acquire the inner growth I needed was my Writing Journal, where I focus on nothing but developing great writing skills. I practice what I know works. I do a lot of trial and error about new ideas that catch my interest no matter how great or silly they appear to be. And I discuss this or that with myself on aspects of writing I want to understand or polish.

Now I have a growth mindset, not a rigid fixed mindset. Now I look on in wonder: the thing I was afraid of losing, the thing I discovered that helped me out of my pain when trying to understand an ugly contradictory society that punished me for questioning and striving, the answers that I found in the works and vision of Ayn Rand, were not diminished by snapping out of a rigid mindset. They were enhanced. I can say without any misgiving that I appreciate Rand’s work and striving far more now than I did when I followed her as a true believer.

How about the other things I learned from reading about Faye Dunaway? There are two main ones.

The first is the steadfast character. This is a character who has no arc. There is no fundamental change in his or her inner life during the story. James Bond is the standard example, but so is John Galt. And most cardboard villains. 

Faye not only presented a stellar steadfast character, she won an Oscar for it. This was for her role in Network, Diana Christensen, a soulless scheming network executive. I read that both Sidney Lumet (the director) and Paddy Chayefsky (the screenwriter, one who Rand admired and, I believe, knew) told Faye that she was not allowed to have any vulnerability in her character. And if she did sneak in something like self-doubt or tears, they would take it out during the film’s editing.

This landed on me with the force of a eureka moment. Diana Christensen was no Snidely Whiplash. She was just as complex as she was ambitious in an integrity-sacrificing way. 

The “a-ha” moment is that a steadfast character can be complex. Vulnerability is one form of presenting a complex character with inner conflicts, but not the sole way. The steadfast character also has to make hard choices where there are two inner drives colliding with each other. This kind of character does not grow, though. This kind of character lops off one of the drives as best he or she can and lives with the consequences.

The second thing I got from my Faye Dunaway journey is the term used to describe a lot of her roles: “… caught between…” 

For example, (I am making this example up, but there are many similar), a woman caught between her love of one man and her outrage at the corruption of the system where they work. (I changed a cliché, which is is “caught between love and ambition.” :) ) Faye’s characters have this characteristic. She is caught between powerful inner drives that clash.

I have not used this “caught between” category in my character notes, but I am now adding it as one of the foundations.

Stepping outside of my focus on Faye, there is another element I have included in my character notes. I got this from James Scott Bell’s Conflict and Suspense. He talked about a practice Phyllis Whitney, a suspense writer, uses. She makes sure her characters have secrets before she starts writing. Keeping secrets, revealing them and dealing with the results lead to all kinds of great dramatic situations with a high level of conflict. And suspense for that matter.




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  • 3 months later...

I just had a dead day.

I spent 3 hours on a long post to go here, but a computer glitch ate it right as I was posting it.

Shit and damn it.


No problem.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

Be there when it happens...


There you have it, a story template if you can see it.


What I said happened in reality just now, and it was no fun. But it's still a template.

At least I will get this template out of that sucker.


(I smile to keep from torturing small animals and breaking shit right now...)


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