Two new characters showed up and said they decided to be in my short story

Yogi Berra once said, (and I’m paraphrasing rather than looking it up) If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.

I’ve inserted this clip art to make the post look easier to read.

This is the case when I write. I just read in the latest issue of Poets & Writers Magazine that author Richard Powers creates what amounts to a huge outline and treatise before he begins writing a novel. Far be it from me to criticize his approach because whatever he’s doing is resulting in great work.

Yet it gives me the willies. It reminds me of the research papers we did in high school where we had to turn in our note cards and outlines along with the papers. I always prepared that crap after I was done with the paper because none of it helped me write the paper. It doesn’t help me write stories now.

I think that I would miss a lot of opportunities if I created a synopsis and outline before I wrote anything. Just yesterday, I was writing with no roadmap and two new characters showed up. With my usual tact, I said, “who the hell are you?”

The ghost, whose name is Slappy, said who he is is none of my business and that I’ll discover whatever I need to know as the story unfolds. Shauna was more politically correct. Referring to my muse, she said, “Siobhan sent me. I’m supposed to play the role of a graduate student on an internship at the haunted theatre in your story.” I guessed that Slappy was there to help out with the haunting.

So far, they’ve worked out well. But, if I’d had an outline, my receptionist Gypsy Rose Lee would have turned them away at the front door. The story wouldn’t have been as much fun to write, and none of my adoring readers would have said, “How do you think up characters like this?” I would lie–because that’s what writers are expected to do–and say “my imagination.” In reality, I don’t think them up. They show up.

If you’re a planner, my approach will drive you insane. It might have already driven me insane though, typically, I’ll be the last to know. Meanwhile, I like surprises. They make writing a story as much fun as reading a story because I never know what’s going to happen next.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Florida Folk Magic Stories,” a collection of my three magical realism novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena.”

Excellent Source for Self-Publishing Help

“I was recently tasked with putting together a publishing workshop for my local library. As I researched and gathered information, I realized everything they needed to know was available right here, on”

via Everything You Need to Self-Publish – Indies Unlimited

As author Melinda Clayton says, there’s a wealth of information stashed under the Knowledge Base and Resource Pages menu selections on the Indies Unlimited main screen. Sometimes I think we become so accustomed to the menu selections on blog-oriented sites, we forget they’re there and miss out on the links and other information they lead to. We read the posts of the day and move on.

Self-publishing can seem like a daunting process when an aspiring writer first decides to take the plunge. In addition to Indies Unlimited, you can find helpful resources on sites such as Poets & Writers, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Jane Friedman, and Writers Digest.

The information is “out there.” Half the battle is knowing where to look.


Monday Musing: Beautiful Landscapes

“Think of a memory in a beautiful landscape—maybe from a family vacation, or your favorite childhood destination. Now think of a scene from a story, novel, or movie that describes a landscape, and that has stuck with you. What makes these moments special? So many of the memories and stories we share are connected to place—to the landscapes of the Earth and the landscapes of our own imaginations.” – “Carving Stories from Trees” in Poets & Writers

Key West when postcards could be mailed for a penny.

Poets & Writers Magazine has a daily online writing prompt or “Craft Capsule.” I enjoy reading these even if I don’t follow up and write something based on the prompt.

For those who grew up in a wonderful place and enjoyed day trips, or went on yearly summer vacations, or traveled after graduating from high school or college, the landscapes we saw in the past are a gold mine of writing prompts and potential short story or novel location settings.

Our family traveled every summer. This meant many long days in a car, most before air conditioning. We saw sites from Fort Ticonderoga and Niagara Falls to Key West, Mammoth Cave and the Smoky Mountains. Even though I didn’t keep a diary, my memories–incomplete as they may be–make a wonderful starting point when I’m thinking up a new story.

Since I’ve been to these places, it’s less difficult to find a book, magazine or a website to help me fill in the details. I came away from those vacations with a strong sense of each place. And, that’s almost more valuable than a guidebook.

Perhaps you have memories of long-ago trips that might serve as writing prompts and short story locales.


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Writing Grants: Better than that cabin in the woods

cabinretreatWriters often dream about mountain and seaside cabins as places to escape daily life and concentrate on on their writing. Some lease vacation rentals while others create their own hide-ways on their own property. Others take advantage of writing retreats and writers-in residence programs.  For examples of retreats, check here: 25 Incredible Writing Retreats to Attend in 2016.

All of these are ways to get away from it all and concentrate on the writing and research needed to complete, say, a novel or a collection of short stories. In some cases, wishing for that cabin in the woods might simply be an excuse; for others the time away is desperately needed.

In the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, “Arts Organizations Offering Prizes More Valuable than Cash'” suggests that grants–for which there will be more competition–offer strong support than a hide-way and and a suitcase full of money.

“As mainstream publishing becomes more fixated on finding the next best-seller and arts funders begin to understand that for many talented poets and literary authors success requires more than simply finding time to write,” says Michael Bourne. “A small number of arts organizations are taking a more hand-on approach–including, in some cases, arranging meetings between their winning writers and publishers who might be interested inn taking on their books.”

Many widely known authors have followed versions of the grant approach, including Karen Russell and Aracelis Girmay. If you can find a copy of the magazine, read the full article for details. Otherwise, here are three grant-awarding organizations you may wish to explore: