Pulitzer Jurors and What? Authors as Defendants?


Let me quote from LouAnn Lofton’s fine blog where she discusses three Pulitzer jurors who have read hundreds of novels and picked three candidates for the Prize…

LouAnn Lofton:  “I especially enjoyed their discussion about owning up to their own biases when it comes to how they each define “good writing.” Michael Cunningham said he’s a ‘sentence queen,’ which I thought was about the best thing ever. He said he’s a sucker for beautiful writing, lovely sentences, interesting constructions. That’s his bias, whereas Maureen Corrigan said hers was demanding a plot. She said she wished they taught ‘plot’ in current MFA programs, that there’s just not enough of it happening in books today. Susan Larson fell somewhere in between. (I confess to being something of a ‘sentence queen’ myself. I love it when writers string together words in a way that stops me and makes me re-read the sentence, marveling at the beauty of what they’ve done.)”

LouAnn Lofton’s interesting and uplifting site is here: http://alittlelifeinthebigeasy.com/

Obviously, I would side with Maureen Corrigan, the Pulitzer juror who wishes story plotting were taught in the Master of Fine Arts programs.

Nevertheless, I concede that if you want to become a defendant before this elite group of jurors and judges, you might want to follow the paradigm of university creative writing classes that pursue “beautiful writing, lovely sentences,” and “interesting constructions.”

As you may recall (ad nauseam), for me, a focus on word selection, sentence structure and clever phrase production interferes with the creative work of plotting emotions, plotting conflict rhythm, plotting character development, and maintaining the viewpoint character’s voice throughout contrasting events that naturally tend to make vp characters change their inner milieu of personality and voice.

The reason a “sentence queen” mindset interferes with my work is that it’s technical. Granted it’s a creative use of technique, but it’s still a concrete distraction from the unselfconscious right-hemispheric work of creativity, to the left-brain’s rules and tools.

Personally, having been fed a steady diet of “sentence queen” vegetables throughout my earlier years as a writer, I find this focus impossible to shake. It has become the single largest waste of my writing time, even though I fight it like the dickens, forcing myself to “just leave” dangling participles, passive verbs, inefficient phrases, hackneyed expressions, etc.

Force isn’t the way of art and creation. Leaving “wrong” things in my prose feels like leaving a fingerprint on my glasses – self-consciously avoiding self-consciousness.

“Chasing the tail of dogma” (Maynard James Keenan of Tool) comes to mind.

The result is, I’m an inefficient writer who will never become prolific unless I live to be 114 (which I plan to do, by the way) and schedule a lobotomy at my earliest convenience.

But I digress…

Keeping the viewpoint character thinking and talking like one consistent soul throughout all scenes – compassion, flirtation, fighting, tragedy, heroism, and moments of insanity or weakness – is nearly impossible for me. (But I like this sort of challenge.) It would be easier, I guess, if there were no plot extremes to stress the character, just a leisurely meandering from one calm scene to another.

So I can see the temptation to go that route.

I might have even given it a try if I thought I had a rare gift for words…

And if I thought there were millions and millions and millions of average readers interested in plotless, cleverly worded stories.

I don’t think either of these is true.

M. Talmage Moorehead

For a free copy of my new e-book, Writing Meaningful Page-Turners, opt into my email list. I won’t write to you very often, and I will never share your email with anyone, ever.  Click Here

If you’d like to read my weird in-progress novel, Hapa Girl DNA, from page 1, click here.

Is a Minor Character Taking Over Your Story?


This is a quote from a successful author, David Farland:

“[W]hen you’re writing, you very often have a bunch of characters in conflict, but as you begin to write, you find that one of them feels more fascinating to you, more genuine and real than the others.

“New writers will often complain at that point that a secondary character has ‘taken over’ the story, yet I sometimes wonder if they haven’t really just ‘found’ the true story, the one that feels deepest and most important to them. Many times I’ve found that the author in such cases is writing about a heroic character that is larger than life. The protagonist feels hokey and shallow. It’s when the writer begins exploring a minor character that the tale comes to life for them.”

Here is David Farland’s link: http://www.davidfarland.net/writing_tips/?a=218

I often speak of my protagonist, Johanna, and the magic she makes me feel. But she has a brother who has been diagnosed with the autism spectrum (- originally. Now I’ve changed it to depression). He is a teenager, high functioning within the spectrum, but tends to sound a little like a child when he speaks. His inner dialogue, his word choices and innocent reasoning patterns also sound childlike.

I remember writing several chapters from his viewpoint in the first two versions of the story, and just crying my eyes out all the time as he spoke and grappled with the cruel enigmatic world he found himself living in.

After reading David Farland’s advice, I wonder now if Johanna’s brother’s plight might not be the “true” story I need to tell.

Yeah, I cried my eyes out, whatcha gonna to do about it? My wife doesn’t even blink anymore when she sees me crying over my writing, or over some ancient animated Disney movie that makes most people smile. “If people don’t accept you for who you are, f*** ’em,” I was told by a guy who, up to that point, had never used a four-letter word when I was around.

Incidentally, this kind of emotional thing is genetic. Runs in families, but is not a dominant trait affecting all the individuals or siblings.

If you cry over things that seem transcendent or whatever, don’t fight it. Maybe it’s a gift. I think it is. You might have a lot of natural empathy. If so, you might be just the kind of individual who would find it thrillingly meaningful to perform random acts of kindness – even the type that are planned out and not entirely random.

Yesterday when I drove six hours to pick up my new doggie, Halo, I came up with the notion that the ability to choose to perform random acts of kindness, as well as the ability to enjoy them, could possibly be the one qualitative thing that separates humans from the rest of the creatures that science has uncovered. I’ll chase this down on another website when I get around to it. It could provide the basis for a non-fundamentalist type (scientific-leaning) morality.

If you’re predisposed to crying about your characters, enjoy it. Perhaps you should try not to ruminate too much over sad things, but by all means, embrace who you are and where you are in the tail of the bell-shaped curve you live in.

Maybe Farland’s insight will help you find the story your subconscious labrador retriever is dying to tell the world.

M. Talmage Moorehead

For a free copy of my new e-book, Writing Meaningful Page-Turners, opt into my email list. I won’t write to you very often, and I will never share your email with anyone, ever.  Click Here

If you’d like to read my weird in-progress novel, Hapa Girl DNA, from page 1, click here.

Why We Must Write


My son the psychologist-in-training tells me that there are five things that have been “proven” via evidence-based analysis to improve happiness.

1. Writing a daily journal.

2. Writing down three good things that happened every day.

3. Meditation.

4. Physical exercise.

5. Random acts of kindness.

I think it’s interesting that the first two have to do with writing. My son tells me that the first one, keeping a journal, applies to anything you’re creating that becomes part of the physical world. It could be writing and recording songs, writing fiction or non-fiction, even things like painting, where you put something of yourself into the physical world.

“Meditation,” according to my son, actually means practicing anything that keeps you in the moment. This might even apply to playing basketball, a thing that I wouldn’t have placed into the meditation category at all. But he says that it keeps you from ruminating about past uncomfortable conversations, embarrassments and disappointments, and keeps you from worrying about future difficulties…

For me, basketball keeps me in the moment better than traditional meditation does, at least what little I’ve experienced of sitting quietly and trying to silence my mind. And writing fiction works better than basketball.

It seems that writing can take care of several things on the short list of happiness promoters.

Writing my novel keeps me in the moment. If I’ve got big worries, I don’t want to write. I can’t. But if I can make myself start writing, most worries shrink to a manageable size for as long as I keep submerged in my characters. And when I’m done, I feel like I’ve accomplished something that sort of transcends the worries.

For me, writing fiction is also like journaling because I’m putting something of myself into ‘print’ and making it part of the physical world.  The ciberworld, maybe, but I do hold out hope of taking the world by storm with my amazing best-seller, or at least finding my way into the vanity press, which, as you know, seems to be reaching readers quite effectively of late, and deserves a less pejorative title, in my humble and yet infallible opinion.

Vanity press? Nah. How about “reality press”?

Unless writers can be kept ignorant of the nuts and bolts of true self-publishing (as opposed to the pseudo self-publishing rip-off conglomerate that masquerades as numerous small independents) – self publishing is the future.

Then there’s this blog you’re reading, in which I’m giving you the best encouragement and advice about writing that I possibly can, just for the joy of possibly helping someone. That’s sort of a random act of kindness, you might say… Assuming my views are worthwhile rather than counterproductive, a debatable issue in light of my disagreement with many of the traditional writing tips of the how-to fiction writing world.

Then there’s the writing down of three good things that happen every day. That seems to involve writing – if you take it literally, as my son insists you should.  (Rather than just thinking of three things, you know?)

Here’s just a thought on that. My strong belief in God as well as my background in Christian Fundamentalism (the “fundamentalism” part of which I’ve thrown over) has given me a long tradition of thanking God profusely for most every good little or big thing that has happened to me. This habit, for reasons that could be debated endlessly, has never seemed to affect my happiness one way or the other. I’m sure it was my fault. But writing down three good things every day without putting them into any religious context has helped. Dunno why the difference.

OK, I’m a foolish Christian. What’s new?

The bottom line is this: if you want to be happy and you’re one of the lucky few who can put two sentences together and feel great about it, you owe it to yourself to keep plugging away at your story and your blog. You’ll be happier.

Don’t let up for anything short of an asteroid. Not even a hemorrhoid.


Don’t worry whether or not you’ve got readers in copious quantities, or a boatload of native talent dripping from your fingers. Just keep putting part of yourself into the physical world of words on paper (or robo paper, whatever). There is inherent value in doing what we’re doing, regardless of ears (ear-regardless? No such word. Hello?)

Anyway, stop checking your email and surfing the net. Get back to your story, umkay?

Be happy, dammit!

“Do it now! Get to da Choppa!”

M. Talmage Moorehead

For a FREE download of my new e-book, Writing Meaningful Page-Turners, opt into my list: Click HereThe book takes a look at why we are more than storytellers, and how lucky we are to be inside the most influential group on Earth. The last chapter talks about how to meet a viewpoint character who will add a new dimension of meaning and fun to your life. Yes, I’m talking about Johanna Fujiwara! My Hapa Girl protagonist. If you haven’t met someone like her in your own writing, you have a wonderful experience coming!

Click Here for a FREE download of Writing Meaningful Page-Turners.

If you’d like to read my in-progress novel, Hapa Girl DNA from page 1, it’s here.

The Meaning of “Your” Writing Voice?

7-20-09 Capilano Suspension Bridge and Stanley Park 010

Voice – not the Einstein-Rosen Bridge but a way to find it.


The meaning of the term “voice” as it applies to writing seems to have changed over the years. At least it has for me.

In the past, everything about “voice” seemed to relate to the author, but today, with most popular fiction written strictly from the viewpoint of a character, I think the term “voice” applies more to the viewpoint character than to the writer.

It’s true that it will always be a synthesis of the author and the viewpoint character, because neither can completely shake the influence of the other, but in the stories I’ve read in recent years, it seems that the author and her “voice” are mainly a reflection of the personality of the viewpoint character and how she thinks, speaks and “writes” her own story.

My purpose in this site has always been to help people, myself included, write “meaningful page-turners.” (I’m probably helping my writing more than anyone else’s.)

I’ve always said that our job must be to first establish an interesting character with a quality about her that makes the reader personally care what happens to her. Then our job is to make her life’s plot and her fellow characters meaningful and spellbinding.

To make the main character seem alive and impossible not to care about, I’ve come to realize that one of the main ingredients is the way the writing reflects the character’s personality. As a reader, I want to feel that the viewpoint character wrote the story in her own words, or better yet, she told me the story through mental telepathy. The words I’m reading are merely a transcription of her thoughts.

So much is contained in the character’s “writing voice.”

An innocent twelve-year-old boy with high-functioning autism might say to the reader, regarding his sister,

“I know why she’s so smart. Because she remembers everything she reads.”

The fact that the little autistic boy confuses cause with effect shows him at a level that nothing else could. This is his voice. It’s not the author’s. The “narration” is his, just as the dialogue is his.

I’m beginning to think that this viewpoint character’s “writing” voice is often one of the top three ingredients that makes the reader initially care about the vp character. (The first is empathy. The second is probably danger or challenge to the VP character.)

The VP character’s “writing voice” also seems to be one of the key forces that makes the plot hold the reader to the end because it keeps the reader feeling as if all the plot twists are happening to a real person.

I’ve got a secret project going now in which I’m writing a story in first person, present tense. (Example: I stand in the room. “Shut up,” I tell him. He closes his mouth and listens.) To make things as real as possible to myself and to the “readers,” (who don’t exist) I’m writing the story on the internet and telling a potential lie (it would be a real lie if there were any readers). The lie is that I’m giving the impression that the viewpoint character is a real person (with a web site) who is telling everyone her own weird life story as it happens. She is supposedly telling it with a device on her ear that she speaks into all day long, saying whatever comes to mind, even repeating what other characters say. Other characters don’t think it’s normal, or even tolerable – the fact that she’s repeating everything they say and blabbing her every thought into a recording device.

In doing this I’m learning about the main character’s voice in a way that astounds me and opens my eyes to the subtle world of “writing voice.”

Writing in this potentially deceitful way makes it crystal clear to me when the viewpoint girl’s writing voice changes from the way she normally writes/ talks to the way I sound when I’m writing a story.

The reason it’s so clear is that I can fairly easily put myself into the mind of an anonymous reader who might happen along and start believing she is a real girl talking about her life. From that strange vantage point I’m keenly aware of when my potential lie is starting to fall apart.

Places where the writing slips into that “once upon a time” sound of my usual “writing voice.”

The only thing I don’t like about the whole thing is lying to the potential reader. It’s conceivable that a reader might come along and believe the lie, get sucked into this story and later feel hurt when it becomes obvious that it’s all a lie, the girl is made up and her life is just a novel.

Plus, I have sort of OCD-ish aversion to lying.

Yeah, I’m weirder than you. But you don’t mind, I bet.

Anyway, for now I can tolerate the lie that is my viewpoint character’s web site, simply because I have no readers there to lie to. I’m going to keep it that way by not telling my one reader, you,  (or anyone else outside of my family who think it’s weird that I write fiction in the first place) where that website is.

I recommend that you try what I’m doing, especially the potential lie. assuming you make a new blog site that has no readers. (I think real lies are destroying our culture, but that’s another post.).

You could click on the button that makes your website private (on WordPress software), but if you do, the whole thing might not work for you. Taking away the “potential lie” might take away that strange feeling that you must keep the character’s “writing voice” believable to your “potential readers.” To me, anyway, the fact that a reader could truly show up and believe the whole thing creates a subconscious, but real-time motivation to keep the character sounding real and consistently like herself.

Anyway, since I’ve got no readers on that site, I don’t think it’s a real lie. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat, simultaneously dead and alive.

M. Talmage Moorehead

Update 9/22/14: I later discontinued that version of my novel, then spent a long time writing a new version in 3rd person, past tense. Abandoned that, and now I’m starting over and posting another total re-write on this blog. Here’s a link to page 1 of that ongoing story: Hapa Girl DNA. It’s science fiction set in the present with a ton of fringe non-fiction and many links, some of which blew my mind when I discovered them.

If you’re a new writer, or curious about my take on the so-called “rules,” download my new aging e-book, Writing Meaningful Page-Turners, here. We’re lucky to be among the most influential minds on Earth. The last chapter talks about how to meet a viewpoint character who adds the dimension of joy to your fiction and to your life. For me, it was Johanna Fujiwara, my Hapa Girl protagonist. If you haven’t met someone in your fiction who means a lot to you, there’s an amazing experience waiting for you.



Manslaughter’s Gray Lesson

A main character’s motivation should not be black-and-white. In life there’s denial and inner conflict to the extent that it can be difficult to know your own motivation at times.

You think your grandmother’s doctor is an uncaring jerk, out for money. The President of the United States has backed you in a speech, saying that doctors remove legs unnecessarily for the money.

Only a criminal sociopath assaults someone, cripples them for life and steals their money, but the President says doctors do it. That makes doctors, surgeons at least, an official group of violent criminals. It’s now officially OK to dislike them as a group (another PC-passable prejudice) and sue them as often as possible. Grandma’s evil doctor deserves whatever she gets.

You’ll sue her.

Sure, Grandma liked her doc at one point. But the doc failed to notice that the oxygen tank had been turned off. Oxygen is a medication, a doctor’s responsibility.

She killed Grandma!

Of course, there’s the fact that the oxygen was physically turned off by your nephew who was visiting. That kid is totally undisciplined. His parents are too enlightened to ruin his self-esteem with the ignorant abuse we once called “raising kids.” You remember saying to your husband, “That kid’s parents killed Grandma.”

But that was before the lawyer mentioned a law suit. Big money.

Wait, this is not about money for you. It’s a matter of principle. You’d sue that quack even if you knew you’d lose and be forced to sell your home to cover lawyer’s fees.

Well, maybe not. Bankruptcy and homelessness are extreme.

Anyway, the lawyer says it’s a slam dunk, and the negligent doctor should pay for grandma’s funeral, at least. If there’s extra money, you’ll give it to charity – if your husband agrees.

But his job, selling insurance, is shaky now that the government competes with him. How can a salesman compete with a government monopoly that’s giving away his product? And Washington doesn’t have to turn a profit?

But everyone has an equal right to medical care because it’s a life-and-death issue. Like food, water and a place to sleep. Of course, if Washington is really going broke they won’t be able to keep giving things away forever. But they can’t go broke. They’re too big to go broke. But didn’t Rome go broke? Isn’t Greece going broke? No, that’s political nonsense. Greece is tiny anyway.

If there’s extra money after the lawsuit, you and your husband will talk about charity then.

A year later you win the case and wonder if you sued for the right reasons. To be honest, you’re not sure.

Motivation, like most everything in the universe, can be plotted like dots on a bell-shaped curve.

Dots on the left are less selfish decisions. Dots on the right become progressively more selfish. The vertical axis keeps track of the number of dots (decisions) with each degree of selfishness. Most fall near the middle…

Near the comet in this upside-down photograph of a night sky over mountains.


You married your spouse because she was lovable, smart, great looking and didn’t yell. This was selfish. But her good genes will be passed along to your kids. That’s unselfish. Of course, you hope to be proud of your kids, that’s selfish. But maybe that pride will be good for them, that’s unselfish.

Motivation is gray. Its color should be just as central to fiction writers as it is to the law.

You slug a guy in the face for insulting your husband in a bar. To your horror, the guy dies. The DA doesn’t go after murder, just voluntary manslaughter.

The next day, you’re driving below the speed limit, not using a cell phone, when a kid runs out in front of your car to show his friends how brave he is. You almost stop in time, but no, the poor boy dies. The charge is involuntary manslaughter, not voluntary. Certainly not murder.

The doctor who failed to keep a child away from grandma’s oxygen tank? There was a strikingly similar case (R v Adomako) in which the doctor was convicted of “criminally negligent manslaughter.”

And rightly so. Anyone so money-grubbing and evil as to become a doctor (a professional criminal by Presidential assertion, after all) should be expected to detect the absence of oxygen (not) coming from a tank that was turned off by a child. The doc must have been sleeping through her four years of college, four years of medical school, four years of residency and two years of fellowship. Obviously fourteen years of education and training never taught her the first thing about parenting… other people’s kids.

In writing fiction we take pains to make things real and emotionally true.

I go over passages of dialogue trying to hear how my protagonist would actually sound – trying to put myself in her moment. I look at the courtroom through her eyes wanting to feel what she feels. And why does her head hurt? What worries her the most this morning? But…

None of this can counteract the cardboard effect of black-and-white motivation – all good or all bad, homogeneously selfish or 100% unselfish.

When a real hero gets behind the underdog she does it for mixed reasons. Sure, she cares deeply about victims. But helping them brings a euphoric rush that makes her neglect her husband, kids and goldfish. That’s interesting, messy and real.

To help readers know the truth of her motivation, it helps to show the depth of her inner conflict:

She admits to herself (and to the reader, especially if it’s a first-person story) that the recent “heroic” behavior of hers – donating a kidney to the woman who stole her husband – is, at some level, a selfish reaction to the looming question inside, “Am I a good person?” After what she did in high school to that special-needs boy, the question haunts her. Plus, just today in court she ruined a country doctor’s life by winning a case that deep down she hoped to lose. “I mean, what did the woman do wrong?” she asks herself now that the court battle is over.

It would also help her become a genuine hero if she has a sharply contrasting but complex antagonist who admits to hating children and all fuzzy animals (cardboard stuff), but also scoffs at the rumor that he helped incite the ’47 Lymean uprising and organized the Steen’s polar invasion that saved all those Danes from the torture slabs.

M. Talmage Moorehead