The story element What is a critical part of a story. Who is important, but without What, there really isn’t any story. The What generally amounts to an event, a romance, an accident, a speech, an election, or an apocalypse.

what-arrowNormally, What is your plot in the novel or short story and is what your character will focus on. You tie your  protagonist to the What, the plot, and the story proceeds through to a resolution.

If you read book blurbs, those paragraphs on the back of paperbacks or the inside flap of a dust jacket, you get a feel for the What. Well-written blurbs usually provide a clue to the main character and the What they will face. Since I mention “well-written,” that indicates there are poorly written … but, I digress.

A lot goes into What. An event, say a wedding, takes a lot of planning and coordination (think Father of the Bride). The event beginning brings in the planner, they select the venue, they redecorate the venue, they select colors, they select flowers, the bride chooses the gown, and all the other details. And, it takes up to a year to carry out.

How you structure that and how your character(s) behave and interact in it can make the story a classic comedy, a bloody thriller, a murder mystery, or an intense drama. Just for a mental exercise, take the movie mentioned above and envision it as a murder mystery. The What doesn’t actually change much, but the characters involved and how they behave do. Significantly.

In my own mental reboot of Father of the Bride, the wedding planner ends as a gruesome murder victim. Of course, the father is the prime suspect, but several of the characters have motive. I even have the groom as a witness to the murder, but he dies horribly just before the ceremony where he planned to name the murderer.

So, you see, the What is a mundane thing. How you, as the writer, treat it is what makes the story.

In my post a couple of weeks ago, we talked about the lead. Who and What are two elements almost always included in the lead. As readers, we care most about who did what, or what happened to whom. As authors, we take the What and break it down to its parts and have the character(s) work in it.

Keep writing.




One of the most important story elements in any writing is: Who.

owlgifsAs mentioned in the previous post, The Lead, the first paragraph of a news story should at minimum describe who, what, where, and when. Unless, of course, there is a reason to add why and how in the lead.

Who is always a critical element. We all want to know who did what to whom. That is what we connect with, what we find important, what drives our curiosity.

Of course, the who of any story is the character or characters. The main character, secondary characters, and the antagonist are all included in the who. These are who the reader wants to know about, read about, get involved with.

So we make the character is as real as we can. Use of a character sketch (see an earlier post on just that topic) or character interview helps to fully flesh out details to make a character as real as possible. A character with depth is easy for the reader to settle in with for the duration of the story. To care about. To love. Or to dislike in the case of an antagonist.

The character sketch contains a lot of detail that may never make it directly into the story. However, you use it to add nuance and flavor to the words you choose when describing what the character does, says, and feels.

Keep writing.


Character Sketches

Character Sketches

Character sketches are outlines that offer huge insight into a fictional personality used in a story. In my case, my sketches grow and refine as I go along. When a character first comes along, I set up a sketch that provides some background and back story that helps round out who that person is and what might be expected of him or her.

Character Sketches | Guy L. PaceThe more I use a character, the more detailed the sketch becomes. Of course, he or she needs to stay true to that sketch. Motivations, actions, and relationships  remain consistent for the fictional personality to stay true and believable. Sometimes, I go back to the sketch and flesh out some details that help refine the personality and bring actions and motivations in line.

The reader, though, doesn’t see all that. The sketch is the well on which I draw as the character moves through a story. What he or she says or does, how he or she responds to people and events, and why is there in the sketch. When the reader sees some action, dialog, or event, it should seem logical and right for that individual. That’s because the character is behaving consistently with the background information in the sketch.

The reader gets some information each time the character speaks or acts in the story. While there is no “info dump” on the reader based on the sketch, there are sneak peaks into the character. These provide insight and allow the reader to grow in understanding of the character as the story progresses and the fictional personality advances through his or her story arc.

But, the reader doesn’t see all the nitty, gritty details of the character sketch because they don’t need to. They see the characters as they develop and form by the story. Readers encounter the character much as they would in life, learning about someone as they go.

Keep writing.


Just the Messenger

I’m just the messenger

In my novel, Sudden Mission, I have the angel Gabriel show up to bring a message to the main character, Paul. His job is to get Paul to listen to the message and do what is asked. He doesn’t tell Paul how to do his task, what tools to use, or even make suggestions.

Sudden Mission Cover“I’m just the messenger,” he tells Paul. Gabriel’s task is to deliver the message. His statement almost seems like a cop out, but it isn’t and it is an important point to consider. This story is not about Gabriel. Gabriel’s role, as an angel, is to glorify God. In this case he is doing an assigned task, God’s bidding.

In some ways, the story isn’t even about Paul. The story is about faith. It’s about trust in and obedience to God. Gabriel does his part, delivering the message. Paul does his part by being the protagonist and living through the things that happen on his quest. But the story is also about God’s love and redemption.

So, where does that leave me, the author? I’m the one who hammered out the pages, word after word. Then I rewrote, edited, corrected. Editors worked on it and I again rewrote, corrected and edited. Our proofreader went over it. Again I corrected and fixed. The story is polished and powerful. I should be proud. My story, right?


As the writer, author, I need to remember that the story isn’t about me, either. I have to put my ego aside and listen to God. He is the one telling the story. God gifted me with the skills and talents, the imagination and the words, and He’s using that in me to tell the story. He gifted my publishing team, my editor and proofreader, too. It is through these gifts that this story came to be.

As Jesus said, “… apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NIV)

His story.

I stand in the wings now, seeing the fruit of God’s story.

I’m just the messenger.



Note: A slightly different version of this first appeared on the Vox Dei Publishing blog on August 18, 2015: http://www.voxdeipublishing.com/blog/messenger


Character Motivation

I use Twitter as a resource. If you follow me or check my Twitter profile, you’ll see I follow less than 200 people, and followed by just a bit over 200 folks. The folks I follow are one of three types: old friends, information security folks, writing folks. I say folks, because Twitter profiles are not always people, but include companies or organizations.

Anyway, the way I use Twitter is to focus on specific information. This garners real gems sometimes. Here’s one I’ll share. One Paul Fenwick posted a blog entry discussing how to undermine learning in children.

Paul Fenwick

While the focus of the article is on how we encourage or discourage learning and the studies done in 1998 and 1999, we as writers can take this information further.

How we speak (authors) to our characters in our fiction, and how our characters speak to each other, can affect their progress and motivation. The language we use can move the character forward, or have the character ring hollow. How do you describe a character who faces tough challenges, and fails. If the character values effort and learning (among other things), the character comes back and tries again and again until successful. The character who values “looking good” and fails, usually will give up after one or two failures. Any attempt to portray the character differently will seem wrong.

You may apply this concept to both the protagonist and antagonist characters. I’m thinking that young adult fiction should show these distinctions clearly in characters. Not just for character honesty, but to demonstrate the difference between valuing effort and learning over just looking good.

I could be wrong, of course. You are welcome to correct me.

Keep Writing.