creative writing

Heroes Need Friends

Recently I listened to a podcast* where the guest speaker talked about characters. One thing the guest speaker said was that a hero** should not be a hero alone. Every hero needs others to help them do heroic stuff.

I’ve read stories or watched shows where the hero took on the villain alone with maybe a few bystanders thrown in for atmosphere. To me the story or show had action, but no character and certainly no dialogue except for the occasional one-liners or grunt. The hero had no personality.

I didn’t realize until the podcast about the importance of the hero to have others around to help. These people give the hero personality and depth of character. They make the hero stronger when he/she must rely on others to achieve their goal. The hero is even stronger when they ask for help.

The same can be true for the villain. The hero has more of a challenge when the villain has help.

These helpers are not subservient to the hero or villain (well, maybe the villain). Instead, they fill in for the flaws the hero or villain may have, giving the writer opportunities for a more developed hero or villain through added conflict.

A team who supports the hero in achieving the goal provides the writer with lots of material to make the story more meaningful. The team is what makes a “hero’s journey” type of story a better story. Aren’t we all better as a team?


* Sorry, I listen to several podcasts almost each day on my walk and I could not find which one this played on or who was the speaker. I should take better notes.

** I use “hero” in the generic sense that includes hero (male) and heroine (female) and herowhere (extraterrestrial).

Making Changes

I worked on a novel for several years until putting it away to work on other writing projects and grants. When I put it away, I had in my mind that it was a great novel. Over time, it became even greater.

Two weeks ago, I decided to work on it for publication later this year. I thought the writing was good, but the plot was not good. After two weeks, I had hacked away at my great novel, taking out large sections. I eliminated characters and added to what plot was left.

These were major changes to a novel I thought did not need any changes to. This is one of the most important things I learned over the years about my writing: never be devoted to what was written.

Most people dislike changes, including writers. I think writers get better by how they overcome this dislike. It was not an easy decision redoing my great novel, but I thought readers would not like it (I didn’t really like it). My novel will be better (I hope) with my changes.

Every writer will produce something they think is great, whether it’s a story or a grant proposal (or even a blog post). I am suspicious whenever I think that what I wrote is great. The more I think this, the less likely it is. The only problem is accepting that the work needs changes.

This is where editing is important. I meandered from the central plot with unneeded side stories and undeveloped characters. Soon I will need to know when to stop editing. Too much is like the writer is trying for greatness.

I’m not looking for greatness. I’m looking to write the best story I can that I hope is at least pretty good.

Do Readers Read Table of Contents?

A table of contents (ToC) is a tool for a reader to use as navigation within a book. They can read the story the writer wants to tell. It is also an organizational tool for the writer to help them categorize their material and keep it all straight.

A ToC is best used in nonfiction books where it allows the reader to understand, at a glance, the structure of the book and the topics available in each chapter. A ToC can improve the reading experience by acting as a preview of the book.

Every poem has a title (even a missing title is a title). In a poetry book, listing these titles in the ToC can help the poet portray their poems in a way that is the best appealing and attractive to the reader. It creates a theme which can become a poem.

ToCs in fiction can go one of two ways. In a collection of short stories, they are like a poetry book. The listed titles create a theme that joins the stories into a cohesive whole. By looking at the ToC, the reader can understand how the stories relate to each other. If there is no relation, there should be.

For all other fiction, a ToC is usually not needed. In the past, novels had titles and brief summaries of each chapter that are no longer used. In many ways, this style took away from the story and interrupted the pacing.

The exception to this is in some genres where chapter titles, listed in the ToC, add mystery, suspense, and help with pacing. However, this is a technique that can be difficult to pull off.

In my book, I had chapter titles I deleted in the final version. I realized they were more of a distraction and I left only chapter numbers that could be easily ignored. I couldn’t pull off the technique.

How do you feel about Tables of Content?

To Tell a Story or To Learn

Some people think the purpose of creative writing is to tell a story, while a grant writer is to explain what the project is about. One is to entertain while the other is to teach. This is true, but the opposite is also important.

I think creative writing and writing grants are linked by the need of a writer to entertain and to educate a reader. When the two are done together, the reader better understands the message the writer is telling. The writer and reader become connected by the same thoughts and ideas.

This does not mean the reader agrees with what the writer wrote. That’s a different subject. Many writers use words to express themselves, wanting acceptance by a reader. But the writer should be content with the reader understanding what was written, whether or not the reader agrees.

When I write a story or a grant proposal, I want the reader to enjoy what they are reading. I also want them to come away with learning something, whether in a story or a grant request. I’d like for the reader to end the reading with a connection to what I wrote. Even if they do not agree.

I think that the best way to write is through entertainment and teaching at the same time, whether as a story or a grant request. Success comes from how a writer combines a story and learning as a pair.

It is not easy to create a story and teach a subject at the same time. In the world of publications, most writing caters to one or the other and ignores the combination of both. Yet, the classics of writing and approved grants are accomplished when story and education unite.