Storytelling sustains

[T]he very act of writing assumes, to begin with, that someone cares to hear what you have to say. It assumes that people share, that people can be reached, that people can be touched and even in some cases changed. . . . So many of the things in our world tend to lead us to despair. It seems to me that the final symptom of despair is silence, and that storytelling is one of the sustaining arts; it’s one of the affirming arts. . . . A writer may have a certain pessimism in his outlook, but the very act of being a writer seems to me to be an optimistic act.

–Tobias Wolff

Asking why

Remember that a story is always trying to get at the business of human nature, to tell us that this is what it’s like to be a human being and this is how it feels. To do that we have to get below the surface. Below the action and down to the values and motivation. The important question that the story must ask is: Why? Not: What? Why does N. do what she does? One thing she does is fall in love with X. Why? How did that happen?

–John Dufresne

Planning characters

One way to characterize is for your character to make a plan. The kind of plan the character makes, the level of formality with which it is made, how the character responds when things go according to their plan, how they respond when things do not, what they do when their plan is criticized, who they share their plan with, how their setting influences their plan, how they think about and enact it, and how they revise it, all these things characterize. They also provide a plot.

The plan does not have to be to destroy or save the world. It could be to cross a room for a drink of water, but it ought to be important to your character for reasons your reader can understand.

Try drafting one.

Reading craft online

Poets & Writers has a series of online craft essays. They take just moments to read and are usually useful. Here is a representative example.

Brain Pickings has collected the advice on writing that they’ve shared over the years. This advice always has excellent authors as its sources.

Finally, Literary Hub lists short excerpts from 25 books on writing by famous authors. If nothing else, the list acts as a possible shopping list for books on the craft of writing. The excerpts can help in deciding from among all the books.

Both at once?

Students are expected to write a novella in one of the classes I teach. I’ve wanted to complete the assignments of planning, drafting, and revising along with them and thought this semester would be a good time for that. One of my own projects was being edited, so it seemed I could take a break from it for a semester. However, I’ve actually been torn the past few weeks between wanting to revise the work I’ve just had edited and starting a new novella with the class. This is, I realize, a wonderful problem to have.

I don’t usually do more than take notes on one project while working on another, but in this case I may try both at once.

Characters and information

I read Cryptonomicon probably ten years ago. An excellent novel. One I obviously still think about. It ends with a system for encoding information. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, if I remember correctly, includes in its narrative instructions for creating spy networks. What information might one of your characters teach another (and perhaps incidentally the reader)? How might that “teaching moment” characterize the teacher and the student? How informally could it happen?