Tag Archives: goblin project

Walking into Fear with Donald Miller

Last night I attended a fundraising event for an anti-trafficking group, Women at Risk International. NYT Bestselling author, Donald Miller, was the keynote speaker.

Blue Like JazzAt the beginning of his presentation he introduced himself as a storyteller. Throughout the rest of his address he spoke in story and writing terms. He talked about “protagonists,” “good turns,” “bad turns,” and used other storytelling phrases. Something he said in passing got the cogs in my head turning. I was not taking notes, so this is not a direct quote. But he said something along the lines of:

Happiness isn’t a very good story. When you’re writing a story you need to make sure your protagonist is walking into fear. Then, once they’ve faced the fear, you’ll have joy, which is a much better way to end a story than just happiness. 

That phrase, “walking into fear,” really popped out at me. I immediately thought of Luke Skywalker walking into the cave on Dagobah. Then I started thinking about the goblin project and the short stories I’ve been working on lately. Are my protagonists walking into fear? If they’re not, should they be?

I’m just starting to write a new scene for the goblin project that takes my protagonist and his companions on a life-threatening mini-adventure right in the middle of their quest. I was planning to use it as a time to not only grow the characters, but also to reveal some new information about the mysterious place they are headed. Now I’m thinking it might also be a good time to put a little fear into their hearts.

I don’t think I’ve made the quest scary enough. My protagonist is dogged about where he’s going and what he’s doing. He’s on a mission to save the other goblins that live on the mountain. Period. I’ve written him to be a brave, relentless hero. I’ve inserted a little bit of self-doubt, and I’ve had one of his companions question the legitimacy of the quest, but I don’t think I’ve actually made my protagonist fearful of where they’re going.

My thanks goes out to Donald Miller for getting me to think this way. A comment he made in passing during an address that wasn’t specifically about writing will (hopefully) help me to craft much stronger stories.


Writing Update

I’ve been productive in the last week and a half. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back too much but I feel good about what I’ve accomplished. Here it is:

The goblin project – I made some headway on the beginning. I cut almost three pages of back story that opened the first draft and replaced it with a scene of action and dialogue with my main character. Right away readers will meet my protagonist, and through an altercation with an unfriendly ogre, learn of the plight of the goblins in my story. I’ve shown it to my spouse and a good writer friend so far, and they agree, its a more gripping beginning than the back story.

The Write Michigan Short Story contest – I mentioned this contest in Monday’s post. I’ve finished a draft of my entry and have given it to a friend who is a published poet and editor. He’s looking over it now. After he’s combed through it I’ll likely tweak it some more and then send it in. The deadline is November 30, so for now, I’m ahead of schedule.

Other writing – I dabble with poetry and have shared some of my poems this week with Bob from my writers group. I’m not much of a poet and tend too look at good poets the way I watch ballet or the Olympics: I have a deep appreciation for what they do, but I could never hope to replicate it, or even understand it, myself. That said, I was particularly proud of one of my poems and submitted it to Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine this week. (It’s in the fantasy genre.) We’ll see if they bite.

HeyPublisher.com – Have any of you joined this site? I joined it this week. I wanted to submit a creative non-fiction article to the The Burnside Writers Collective and discovered that they only take submissions from Hey Publisher, so I joined. I’ve not explored it much yet, but it looks promising. It’s a site that promises to connect writers with publishers and make the submission process faster and easier. Let me know if you have any experience with it. I’ll be interested to see if it’s a useful tool or not.

That’s it for this week. I’ll post another update next week. Thanks all, for your encouragement. May your week be just as productive if not more so.

Write strong!


Telling Details

L.L. SamsonLast week I stumbled upon the idea of crafting and inserting “telling details” into your work. I was reading a young readers’ book called Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame which is part of “The Enchanted Attic” series by L.L. Samson. The narrator of the story is a literary-minded janitor. At one point in one the chapters he broke the story to dive into a brief parenthetical about what “telling details are.” (Which, by the way, is a feature of the series. Throughout the story the narrator breaks in to teach the readers about literature and storytelling. My friend is on the marketing team for this book and gave me a copy to check out. Kudos to the author and the team for producing a book like this. Obviously, not only young readers will benefit from the series.)

For some writers I’m sure telling details are common sense and old news. I hadn’t heard much of telling details before last week, so for me, it’s a new idea that (I’m sure) is going to shape my writing for the better. I’d heard the old writer adage “show don’t tell” plenty of times before, but not much beyond that.

Here are a couple of blog posts I read in my brief Google investigation of this concept:

Gotham Writer’s Workshop “Ask the Writer: What is Telling Detail?” – “[A telling detail is] a fundamental unit of fiction that captures the individuality and uniqueness—the very essence—of what is being described. It doesn’t simply inspire an image in the imagination, it also suggest an abstraction, such as meaning or emotion. And it does all of this with brevity.”

The Literary Lab Blog: Telling Detail versus Meaningless Trivia

Earlier today I was working on a new opening scene for the goblin project and wrote this sentence. Keep in mind it’s dialogue from a goblin who is down in a diamond mine:

“I’ll just shoot a diamond in his eye. That would teach him.” Bart smiled wickedly as he spoke. 

When I re-read the scene I really didn’t like these sentences. First of all I used an adverb which I know is always risky business. Secondly (he typed adverbally), I don’t like the idea that Bart’s smile was wicked. Bart is (in essence) a punk kid goblin who thinks he can tackle anything even though he’s still a teenager. I didn’t really capture that part of his character in this first draft.

Enter the telling detail:

“I’ll just shoot a diamond in his eye,” Bart said and puffed up his chest. “That would teach him.” 

So there you have it. A new concept is already improving my writing. (Thank you, L.L. Samson.)

Have you ever thought much about telling details? How has it changed your work?

Little by little, I will get this novel finished.


Why I Love the 3-Day Novel Contest (and Why I’ll do it again next year)

I love the 3-Day Novel contest.

In case you’ve not heard of it before, I’ll give you a brief history:

A few decades ago a group of Canadian writers dared each other to write an original novel over Labor Day weekend. Each writer had to start completely fresh on Saturday at 12am – no previous writing was allowed and be completely finished by midnight on Monday. That’s just three 24 hour periods to get the novel done. This initial competition among a few friends grew year after year until it eventually became an international contest that takes place annually over Labor Day weekend. The winner of the contest gets published by a Canadian publisher. There are other prizes for second, third, etc., but the real prize is that everyone who competes ends up with a finished draft of their new novel. You can read the official history and details at their website, www.3daynovel.com 

Josh Mosey, Bob Evenhouse, Matt Landrum

Josh, Bob, and Matt during the 2008 3-Day Novel contest.

Why I love the 3-Day Novel

The absolute #1 reason why I love this contest is simple: At the end of 3 days you have a full draft of a new story. BOOM. Just like that. The three days are gruelling, don’t get me wrong, but they are so worth it. The average 3-Day Novel entry is around 30,000 words (which is closer to a novella than a novel, but hey, who’s counting…). How long does it take you to write 30,000 words on a new project right now? It takes me months. I’ve got a job, I’m married, I’m a parent, I’m active in my church, I have family and friends nearby, etc. etc. etc. It’s very hard to get that much work done in a short amount of time. This contest however provides a format in which you are forced to race the clock and finish your work. It’s awesome. It’s tiring, exhausting really, but at the end of one 3-Day Novel weekend I typically have accomplished as much in 3 days as I would have in a full year of writing.

It’s the event that glued my writers group together. Okay, this might sound sappy, but I love my writers group. (Group hug.) There are four of us at our core with a few other friends that have drifted in and out over the years. We call ourselves The Weaklings and we love to write together. You can read my friend Josh’s post, “I am a Weakling,” for more details on the group. Bob and Matt make up the rest of the core group. Josh also recorded his 3-Day Novel memories here.

It was Matt’s idea five years ago to get us involved in this contest. We decided to not just join, however, but to write it together in one house. Think about that. A group of guys writing at a frantic pace for 3 days in 1 house. It was chaotic, it was smelly, it was camaraderie at it’s best. Our local newspaper actually wrote up a story about us. You can read that story here. (At that point our group had one extra member.) This contest weekend back into 2008, I think, is the event that really made our group stick together. Before the contest we met, almost weekly, to discuss our outlines, compare notes, create characters, plan for the food, and brainstorm ideas. The preparation alone forced us to think creatively about each other’s stories. By the time the contest started I knew every other story almost as well as I knew my own. Had we never participated in a 3-Day Novel contest  in 2008 I’m not sure we would’ve stuck it out this long together.

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50 Word Challenge – Samuel Rayn

My friend Josh Mosey posted a 50 Word Challenge contest on his blog yesterday. I decided to give it try. Here’s my entry. It’s about one of the main characters in my novel.


Samuel flew alone. Their betrayal galled him. Though his skin matched a setting sun, all he saw was darkness.

After abandoning the ambush they’d never take him back. He should have acted faster.

Spell-casting, he conjured a hideout in the woods. Anger and blame were his only companions.


I encourage you to give this a try too. Can you compellingly, accurately, and succinctly describe a character in 50 words or less? It’s much harder than it sounds! (At least it was for me.) But it’s a lot of fun!

Brain Bomb: Goblins part 2!

Since my last writing update on the goblin project I’ve worked quite a bit on the manuscript. I think I’ve added nearly 3,000 words (I don’t know for sure as I’ve been writing on notebook paper). These 3,000 words make up the beginnings of three different scenes in the story and will grow more developed in the next week.

But something’s been nagging at me about the story. I haven’t been able to figure out how to wrap up the story line for one of the main characters. I’ve been trying to imagine how to do it, but each scenario I dreamed up just didn’t seem feasible.

Until Tuesday night. That’s when the brain bomb exploded!

I was laying in bed thinking through the story… (am I the only one that does this with their stories? I hope not. Please tell me I’m not insane…) Any way, all of the sudden an idea grenade went off – a second book! The wrap up for this character would be the perfect subject for a second book!


I was so excited I rolled over and tapped the shoulder of my sleeping wife.

“Honey! Are you awake?”

“Huh?” She had probably just fallen asleep when I asked her this.

“I figured out how to end the story! A second book! I don’t have to try and wrap it all up in this book. It’s perfect!” I was smiling like an idiot in the dark.

“That’s great, babe.” She promptly fell back asleep.


I won’t go into more detail about it than that right now. I’m still thinking it all through. All I have right now is the shell of an idea. Also, I’m still trying to finish the second draft of book one. However, before Tuesday night I wasn’t even sure I’d even have an idea for a second book. (It wasn’t even a concern of mine, actually. I’ve just been trying to finish book one.) Now, however, I know there will be a book two.

More goblins to come!


Writing update: the goblin project

I just finished a full read through of the goblin project. I’ve not read the entire  story since the first draft was produced last September. Since that time I’ve picked it up now and again in short spurts but have not put any focused work into improving it. Lately, however, I’ve been reminded that the only thing preventing this book from being published is me.

So why not put a little effort into it?

Anyway, when I first drafted the story it was about 30,600+ words long. It contained only ten chapters. That’s not a full novel by any stretch, but it’s not a bad start. (At least I don’t think it is.)

As I read through the story this week I fixed numerous errors and filled in a few glaring holes in the story. I also took notes on various scenes and ideas I wanted to add later. I have not thought of my recent work on the story as a “second draft,” but rather a time of preparing to write a second draft.

That said, my novel is now a little bit longer: It is 32,800+ words long and still contains only ten chapters. Here’s how the chapters break down by word count:

  • Chap. 1 = 3,500+
  • Chap. 2 = 937
  • Chap. 3 = 2,700+
  • Chap. 4 = 6,700+
  • Chap. 5 = 2,000+
  • Chap. 6 = 4,300+
  • Chap. 7 = 1,200+
  • Chap. 8 = 3,300+
  • Chap. 9 = 6,900+
  • Chap. 10 = 664

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