Caye Caulker, a Day on the Island

Today. Here. Caye Caulker, a very small island off the coast of Belize. We wake up. The air is warm, comfortable. We walk fifty yards to a dock that pushes out through the mangroves into open water, old warped boards, greyed with age and uneven, and we lay out our yoga mats. The sun hasContinue reading “Caye Caulker, a Day on the Island”

From the Forge: Creating Complex Characters, Part II

There are two general methods of characterization—Indirect and Direct. The Indirect method consists of the author telling the reader the character’s background, feelings, values, and so forth. This is that bugaboo all writers are warned away from—“telling” instead of “showing,” the author interpreting the character for the reader. Over-using the indirect method of characterization willContinue reading “From the Forge: Creating Complex Characters, Part II”


I’ve started reading a very engaging book about emotional truth, emotional belief, and its validity. The title pretty much describes the contents–Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity can still make Surprising Emotional Sense, by the well-known British writer Francis Spufford. The book has been hailed widely by critics as a refreshing and challenging treatment of theContinue reading “Unapologetic”

From the Forge: on Joyce Carol Oates on Writing

For most of my professional career, it seemed as though Joyce Carol Oates published a new novel every year, in addition to short stories and all manner of non-fiction pieces. So when one recent list of writing advice from well-known writers included three suggestions from Oates, I was intrigued. Her first suggestion was this: “TheContinue reading “From the Forge: on Joyce Carol Oates on Writing”

Show, Don’t Tell?

If you’ve been a creative writer for very long, you have heard this directive repeatedly—Show, Don’t Tell. But what exactly does it mean? What does show mean? What does tell mean? Here’s a simple definition for each: to show means to present fictional material through immediate sense perceptions, to offer character experience. To tell meansContinue reading “Show, Don’t Tell?”

From the Forge: The Verb/Adverb Addiction in Dialogue

Recently I posted a column titled “Elmore Leonard Says.” You may recall that Leonard’s third rule for writing was “Never use a verb other than said to carry dialogue,” and his fourth rule was “Never use an adverb to modify the verb said.” About dialogue tags, Leonard says, “The line of dialogue belongs to theContinue reading “From the Forge: The Verb/Adverb Addiction in Dialogue”

From the Forge: Writing Strong Scenes

In The Scene Book: a Primer for the Fiction Writer, Sandra Scofield says, “Scene is ACTION . . . Scenes are those passages in narrative when we slow down and focus on an event in the story so that we are ‘in the moment’ with characters in action.” According to Scofield, a scene has fourContinue reading “From the Forge: Writing Strong Scenes”

From the Forge: Elmore Leonard Says

Lists of “Rules for Writing” seem to be about as common as chiggers in Arkansas these days. When I came across a collection of writing rules offered by some of the best-known writers of our time, I was immediately attracted to “Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing.” The writer Martin Amis introduced Leonard’s rules, saying,Continue reading “From the Forge: Elmore Leonard Says”

From the Forge: Writing Dialogue in Fiction

Forge:  n., A furnace where metals are heated or wrought. A workshop where pig iron is transformed into wrought iron. To form by heating in a forge and beating or hammering into shape. To give form or shape to, especially by means of careful effort. _______________________________________________ The problem that most of us have whenContinue reading “From the Forge: Writing Dialogue in Fiction”