Write the High Points and Forget the Rest


Starting a new story is so much easier than plowing ahead in the middle of a novel you’re already writing. The feeling is different in the middle. The sky is no longer the limit. A blank canvas is no longer telling your imagination to run anywhere it pleases at a whim.

Instead, the middle of your novel brings you limits, organizational tasks, and fears of letting down the magic you hope you’ve created.

Writer’s block lives in the middle of novels.

But what if you could start every chapter as if it were the beginning of a new story?

To some extent you can. Ask yourself to pretend there are no limits, worries or plot responsibilities weighing on the middle chapters. There’s only that burning desire to share something shocking, different, real, and maybe a little angry.

Start writing about it. Write anything you feel strongly about.

When you’ve got the feeling back, the sense that you’re creating something that fulfills you, ease up on the throttle and throw in some plot development to move things forward.

Don’t be afraid to skip unimportant things.

Because of the How-To books I’ve read and the OCD that I deny having, I feel compelled to describe the drive to the airport, the parking of the Hummer, the walk through the terminal, the quick trip to the bathroom before boarding the plane. This is counterproductive and boring.

Write only the high points of your story.

It’s not merely OK to exit from the heat-to-heart talk at Maxwell’s place and start the next chapter abruptly at 40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean with the protagonist and antagonist meeting for the first time, it’s actually necessary to write this way… from peak to peak.

One of the keys to writing a meaningful page-turner is forcing yourself to leave out the humdrum of real life.

I’m often afraid to do this because of that word, “real.” I want my story to feel real. Really real!

But if nobody ever reads it, it won’t feel real or otherwise.

The sense that a story has come alive and found reality comes from the quality of the reader’s emotions, not from the way the story details mirror linear events in a beautifully realistic way.

Reader’s emotions are dictated by the emotions of the main characters. The main character’s emotions are strongest in the high points: the deeply meaningful scenes and the action-orientated passages.

Try to move from one high point to the next, leaving the intervening steps blank, as much as possible. I know it’s hard.

But doing this lightens your work, side-steps writer’s block, and makes the reader’s time more exciting.

You’ll sound like a more confident writer with a strangely fearless voice.

M. Talmage Moorehead

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is not merely character driven, it’s written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 10,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

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.



“Tight Prose” vs Imagination and Personality

800px-Storiform_pattern_-_intermed_magCreating tight prose is something you’ll get patted on the back for. (<dangling participle!) But honesty and imagination draw fiction readers.

To write anything in tight prose, I have to edit like a madman: avoiding dangling participles, eliminating pawns, rephrasing weak passages, swapping verbs, getting out the thesaurus but not overusing it, cutting viciously and ignoring sanity.

When polished to the bone, tight prose, or I should say, my hack assaults on it, sound pretentious, stripped of personhood, snippy, and a little unimaginative. Rarely does it resemble anything you’d call a unique writing voice.

But if you’re a genius with words, and you always have something novel to say, in a few years or decades someone’s going to tell somebody that you’ve got a unique writing voice. They may say it’s strong. Oh my!

Of course if you don’t have anything new to say, all the tight prose in the world won’t draw accolades.

On the other hand, if you focus on new and interesting ideas, feelings, personalities, plots and places, readers may discover you, especially if you let your honest personality come through, cherishing your own natural speech pattern a little, and not leaning too heavily on the thesaurus.

Here’s a snippet of my “tight prose” that’s beyond dead…

The dermatofibrosarcoma protubrans (DFSP) displays a storiform pattern on routine hematoxylin and eosin stains. Most DFSP’s express CD34, however, a minority lack this typical immunohistochemical phenotype. DFSP’s may recur if incompletely excised. Five percent metastasize.

“Data to Enterprise.”

Incidentally, I spent too much fearful time on that, knowing that a non-hack could point out where I screwed the pooch. Is it “a minority lack” or “a minority lacks”? Logic says that a minority is a singular thing, despite its many components, so it “lacks.” But to me “a minority lack” sounds better. At least it did before I thought about it.

Who cares, right? It doesn’t matter to the friendly, non-judgmental person I care about – my one reader.

I try to think of my one reader as someone who’s on my side before I start, pulling for me to come up with something worthy. Ignoring typos and saying, I know this is going to be good, come on!

Critics? Professors? Callous sophisticates? No. They despise doctors.

I’m not paranoid, that’s just silly. You’re jealous because the voices only talk to me.

(Is that from MASH?) Ha! I love that line.

Here’s the exact same DFSP snippet, except with something interesting thrown down, and not much concern for tightness:

I wanted a great name for a website. Clever and maybe just tangential to the topic – which I figured would be the final word on writing fiction. Sweeeeet! For awhile though, I wanted to dive into something else, like those weird rocks in Puma Punku. You know, Peru – or is it Bolivia? – twelve thousand feet high? Giant stones that weigh, what, twenty tons? Some architecturally designed by a genius and cut from cliffs with a technology that re-writes ancient history. They’ve got these huge smooth flat granite surfaces, modular H-designs, there’s this perfectly straight, uniform groove a few millimeters across running down the side of one! You’d have to see it to believe it. But they tell us that it was all cut with soft metal and chips of stone. Something like that. And also carried for miles up steep slops by primitive people who had no wheels and no written language? I, for one, don’t buy it. I may be stupid, but… Google Puma Punku for yourself and click on the “images” thing. I guarantee you, you won’t come back to this blog any time soon because, unfortunately, I decided not to write about impossible rock-work. That’s all you’ll be thinking about for weeks now. Hey, I just found this site, check it out: http://www.world-mysteries.com/mpl_PumaPunku.htm  No, it’s not my site, don’t worry. Anyway, instead of Puma Punku, I went with fiction writing and came up with, “Storiform.com,” because it’s a pathology term (for the dermatofibrosarcoma protubrans) and it sounds like “StoryForm,” which is what I really wanted. Oh well, “Storiform” is probably better… in some vague way that hasn’t occurred to me quite yet.

See, the two paragraphs are exactly the same… except that they’re entirely different.

I focused on novelty the second time, and went overboard with the grammar, normal words, and the dim-witted “voice” that comes so naturally to me. Also I set aside caution, letting my ignorant arrogance fly in the faces of established archaeologists who, unlike me, know what they’re talking about.

So here’s your hack’s infallible opinion on tight prose: Be careful of it because it can become an end in itself and a viral preoccupation, stripping your work of personality and taking away the freedom that honesty gives the imagination.

True, a writer needs economy. My second rendition proves it. Too much flab. Tough to get to the end. Efficiency is easier for the reader, true. And an unholy excess of fluffy words causes readers to reach for something easy to strangle. True.

But you really need words that are not essential to anything but the whims of your own personality if you’re going to sound unique, if you’re going to be confidently imaginative.

M. Talmage Moorehead

Note: The picture up top is a high-power shot of a storiform pattern from a DFSP on a light microscope. Click on it and the image becomes sharper. Woohooo!