Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


January 2016

Knowing when to end the story.

I said recently, “I just found out how the story of Trevor Larson ends.”

I was referring to the novel I’ve been working on for the past year.  Faithful reader Lee Anne asked, “Do you not begin with an ending in mind? I thought writers had a whole outline of the story complete before starting the words. How do you know when you’re finished?”

Many of you won’t be interested in this discussion, but some of my internet friends are writers or are contemplating writing a novel, so I offer this as a case study.

I’ve heard it said that novel writers are either “pansters” or “plotters”.  The panster being one who writes by the seat of the pants with little or no thought to plot or where the story is going.  The plotter, of course, plots out the story from beginning to end.  I have a hard time understanding how you could be a panster and create a coherent novel that meets the expectations of the mainstream reader.  Many writers succesfuly take this approach, but it would be hard for me to do without wandering down every side street available.  So I guess I’m a plotter.

In fact, here’s what I did with the Trevor Larson story.  I had an idea.  A “what if” scenario.  That’s the seed.  So I think about the scenario and and whether or not there’s enough meat in the concept around which to build a novel.

If the answer is yes, then I think about character arc.  In the case of Trevor, he encounters challenges early in the story.  And the challenges keep coming. The arc is completed when he learns how to handle the challenges. When the novel ends, he has to be a changed person, for better or worse. Again, this is early in the concept stage.

Then I think in terms of three acts and the arc becomes more defined. My target word count is 80,000 words and for me, I average around 4,000 words a chapter.  That would be 20 chapters, more or less. But if I’m thinking three acts, that would be roughly 7 chapters per act. Then I think in even more detail about the story and and will try to write a few sentences about what will happen in each chapter.

For me, that’s pretty serious plotting.


Things happen along the way. Characters that I thought would be minor rise up into a major role. Dani, for example. Characters that I thought would be significant fall away or even die. In Trevor’s story, it’s Jackson Little. And the characters go off and do something that wasn’t foreseen.  I didn’t know Trevor was going to be such a gifted songwriter when the story began, but that ends up being a key plot device.

That’s the fun mess of writing. The characters come alive and tell me what’s going on.

Yes, Lee Anne, I had an idea of how the story was going to end, but the last couple of chapters were agonizing. My novels are low-key so there’s no final heoric scene or anything like that.  I have to see how relationships develop and how and where to stop the story that gives the reader a sense of satisfaction. It’s pretty much where I thought it would be, just not exactly. But all along, it was entirely possible that Trevor could have gone off script. He has a habit of doing that. That’s what makes him interesting.



My Back Pages

“but I was so much older then, 
I’m younger than that now.”

Bob Dylan, from My Back Pages

Larry Ellis just sent me this link earlier today.  See if you can name all the folk icons.  Cool stuff.



I just found out how the story of Trevor Larson ends.

It took 91,000 words and 12 months.

Some of the things Trevor told me, though, are inconsistent.  I’ll have to talk to him more and sort those things out.

For now, it’s satisfying to close the loop.

Winter Wonderland

Ok, so this has nothing to do with the arts directly, though one could argue the photographs are quite nice and therefore this link has earned its place here.  And if you’re looking for photo-ops, Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia is a beautiful place any time of year.  I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in many projects at the Park and the folks at Cheat Mountain Adventures have captured the latest beautifully.  Check it out.

Blackwater Falls Sled Park


They sat quietly and thought about the words that had been said, thought about their pasts, their families, themselves. In the stillness of the room, their thoughts touched and their feelings mingled as the shadows of the blinds moved slowly across the table and the warm sunlight crept across their skin. He felt it. She felt it. There was something, they both knew.

Uber Cool

Warning:  Watching these videos may indirectly cause broken ankles.  From my friend Donna over at MyOBT.

Berry Picking



A Prayer for Rain

He didn’t know her name.  They never exchanged words, though they sat side by side on a three-hour flight.  He would never see her again.

He saw her pain.  The source of her pain?  No, he didn’t know.  But he felt it in his own heart.

Trevor Larson wrote this for her.

Hear me, Lord.

Give me gentle rain.

Heal me, Lord.

Take away the pain.

Love me, Lord,

I just need a friend.

Hear me, Lord,

and be there till the end.

Love and Hate


That feeling that draws you home.

Wherever home is.

This is what it is. Expressed by Sharon Lyn Stackpole.

Pass it on.

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