Writing with Craft versus Chaos

One of the often repeated prescriptive pieces of writing advice is to not think as you write. Simply churn out words and worry about the results later. After all, the first draft is supposed to be messy. The rewrite is for fixing it.

I can’t work that way. It’s too chaotic.

It’s not that I don’t do what the advice is actually promoting: Let your imagination run free without limits placed on it by rational thoughts. (That idea is based on the outdated concept that the right-brain is creative and inventive, which you use to write your draft, and the left-brain is critical and logical, which you use when editing. In reality, a person’s abilities are strongest when both halves of the brain work together.)

In my writing process, I do the creative activities before I begin writing. I brainstorm and from that I create mind maps and outlines that guide me through the story. When I begin writing, I know the story and apply writing craft skills the moment I begin putting the story into words. This greatly reduces rework caused by having to rewrite because the first draft was such a mess.

That’s not to say I don’t apply creativity as I use craft skills to write. Knowing the overall story does not mean knowing the details. Discovering the details as I write is one of the addictive aspects of writing — every new discovery causes a rush — but I always know where I’m going with the story.

An example is my current project. When I began, all I knew was that at the midpoint, the human paladin and dragon paladin have a great battle, a battle that leads to the Paladins’ Peace at the end of the story. Beyond that, I had no story ideas. With the don’t think approach, I would simply have started writing and hoped that something would materialize, something probably incoherent that would have require a lot of rework to fix. Instead, I invested time in brainstorming, mind mapping, and outlining based on sound story structure principles. Once I had the story designed, I began writing.

Marvelous things have materialized as I’ve created the details, but the story’s structure has not changed. I’m pleased with the orderly progress I’m making. I would not have been pleased if what I created was a mess.

We each must find our own method that creates the results we seek. It works for some people to write as if they had just walked out the front door and will discover what the day brings. For me, forethought works best. I make plans before I walk out the front door.

Interviewing Characters

I always know an assortment of details about my characters, but I have not in the habit of actually interviewing them. As I worked through my current project, I discovered when I answered K.M. Weiland’s Question of the Day on Twitter I learned facts about my characters I had not considered. Those facts helped me improve my presentation of those characters. That has prompted me to enhance my writing process by doing more character interviews.

Following are examples of questions that improved my story.

What are some of your protagonist’s idiosyncrasies?

Patrick’s friend had given him a chess piece, a knight, on his ninth birthday because all he ever talked about was becoming a dragon-slayer knight. Carved from fine marble, the piece had always been shiny and silky, but it was even more so now after years of him fidgeting with it, spinning it in his fingers, and rubbing his thumb on it when he sank into deep thought as he strategized.

What makes your protagonist laugh?

Patrick tends to be impassive, stoic, disciplined, and affects an austere manner. However, he’s not above enjoying satire, parody, hyperbole, and irony even at inappropriate moments. When his friend says she has nightmares, he tells her his warhorse’s name is Knight-Mare. He has to apologize because she thought he was mocking her.

What is the worst thing your protagonist has ever done?

In all the years Patrick had been a dragon-slayer knight, he had fought many dragons, wounded several, and drove them away from the human lands, but he had never killed a dragon. But when he fights his most recent dragon, and severely wounds her, almost mortally, he realizes what he does is wrong. The worst thing he had ever done was become who he is.

My Favorite 2020 Reads

Among my favorite reads during 2020 (not necessarily published in 2020) are the following books.

  • Dragonslayer (Wings of Fire: Legends #2) by Tui T. Sutherland
  • Spark by Sarah Beth Durst (this was a re-read after having read it in 2019 because I really liked the book)
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Cities: The First 6,000 Years by Monica L. Smith
  • Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA by Neil Shubin
  • Don’t Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth About Language by David Shariatmadari
Book covers for Dragonslayer, Spark, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Three-Body Problem, Cities, Some Assembly Required, and Don't Believe a Word.
Book covers for Dragonslayer, Spark, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Three-Body Problem, Cities, Some Assembly Required, and Don’t Believe a Word.

Dragon Ornaments

Dragon Ornaments
by Lester D. Crawford


I love my Christmas gift: dragon ornaments that can be brought to life by speaking a spell. I selected the most fearsome looking ornament to try.

The instructions said a perfect accent must speak the spell or the spell will fade. I gave it my best.

The ornament came to life as a huge, fire breathing dragon that roared, opened its jaws, and lunged for me. As its jaws closed, the spell faded returning the dragon to being an ornament.

I’ll practice my accent while changing my pants and then try again, this time selecting the most benign looking ornament.

This is my 100-word Christmas story for 2020.

Stories submitted by other writers are here: Advent Ghosts 2020: The Stories.

Years ago, I was inspired to attempt writing a 100-word Christmas story by Loren Eaton of the I Saw Lightning Fall blog. I tend toward long stories, so a 100-word story seemed like something I might not be able to do. I began typing, finished the story, and had exactly 100-words. I was surprised I did it first try. (Read it here. Click 100-word Christmas Stories to see all of them. Some are better than others, but they were all fun to write.) Now, every year, I write a 100-word Christmas story. It’s always fun.

Next Story Includes Chiastic Story Structure

I’m progressing on my writing craft skill building. My Alpha Readers are reviewing my most recent story and I’m beginning another story.

The theme, story structure, character change arc, DREAM Tool (which stands for Denial, Resistance, Exploration, Acceptance, and Manifestation and is involved in relationship building between characters), MICE Quotient (which means Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event and has to do with nesting the various story types), and the chiastic structure are designed, and the starting outline has been generated.

I’m currently reading Writing Your Story’s Theme: The Writer’s Guide to Plotting Stories That Matter (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 9) by K.M. Weiland. Weiland’s discussion on theme has helped me focus my story, which will make the story better.

On her web site , Weiland posted a series of articles about Chiastic Story Structure, which is something I had not heard of. When I looked at my outline I discovered it had Chiastic Story Structure. Now that I’m aware of it, I made a few tweaks to tighten the structure, which will make the story better.

Now, it’s time to write.

Image of three page outline of the new story that is not large enough to read because it contains spoilers.
Outline (not intended to be large enough to read)

Writing and Editing are Different

Writing is hard. Editing is a challenge, but not as hard. Different neural networks are involved. Creating something new out of nothing is like following the shadow of a thought through a marsh. Editing something already created is more like chiseling a granite mountain to perfect its shape. Each step in the creative process has its joys, and its pains.

In editing, I use various tools to help me. One set of tools are Word macros I wrote to highlight items I should pay attention to. I finished that process and now move to another tool someone else wrote to look for more items to review.

Soon I will declare this phase finished and ask my Alpha Readers to provide me their feedback, which will lead to more editing.

All 238 pages of document in a single image making pages to small to read but showing the color highlighting of items to review.
All 238 pages of document in a single image making pages to small to read but showing the color highlighting of items to review.
Manuscript marked by Word macros highlighting items to review.

Finished First Draft Now Time to Revise

I finished the first draft of my current project. Now it’s time to revise. Often, when I learn new things about my story, I go back to previous scenes to make changes, but sometimes the needed changes are too extensive. I make notes about those for use in my first revision pass.

Here are seven of the items I will review to see if I should work them into the story. Some of them probably aren’t needed and won’t be used.

1) The dragon economy uses delayed reciprocity and social ties as the means of exchange. Obligations to Kedekitley exceed Kedekitley’s obligations to others. Therefore, Kedekitley is affluent and prosperous.

2) Kedekitley is good at math and designing structures. Other dragons say he is a genius, although he disputes that. Early in his career, though, he made a math mistake that resulted in a structure collapse. Now everyone keeps reminding him of it, but in an admiring way because they say having only made one mistake is proof he is a genius.

3) Early in the story, Kedekitley mentions Xenkerdecley had spoken to him. Late in the story, he visits with him. In that scene, I realized Xenkerdecley is Kedekitley’s mentor and the dragon Kedekitley most admires. The magic and thrill I felt at that moment is what keeps me writing. I definitely want Xenkerdecley’s importance to Kedekitley to be shown in the story.

4) Kedekitley has no enemies except the Dragon Council (who prohibit interacting with humans), Cultists (humans who want to murder Naia because they claim she is a beast), Travis (who wants to restart the Dragon War), and Viren (who leads the kidnapping of Kedekitley’s human friend).

5) Dragons use aromatic (camphor-like) plants to keep insects out of their nests.

6) Kedekitley picks up Sten’s habit of saying “Oh, bother,” when things go wrong.

7) Dragons have more technology than I originally envisioned. After all, they are descended from spacefaring dragons who came to this world to have a more agrarian life, but they didn’t abandon everything technological.

So much work yet to do. So much fun yet to experience.

Learning Character Details

When I envision and design a story, sometimes I already have a character in mind. Sometimes I create the character specifically for the story. In either case, I typically only have enough of the character designed for what the story needs to propel the plot. The character grows in depth as I discover the character’s details. This is one of the fun aspects of writing.

In my current story, the dragon Kedekitley is an example. At the story’s midpoint, Kedekitley points out to the human Sten that Sten has a mathematical calculation error in his bridge design. This is a turning point in the story as Sten learns the dragon is more than simply a beast of burden. The dragon is smart.

Later, in a scene with his life-mate Arizesyley, Kedekitley mentions finding the mathematical calculation error and blames it on Sten’s overconfidence. Arizesyley teases him saying Kedekitley knows about how being overconfident can cause one to make a mathematical calculation error. In his defense, Kedekitley says he only made a mathematical calculation error one time.

That exchange added facets to Kedekitley’s personality I had not known, and brought about scenes where other dragons mention he had once made a mathematical calculation error. Kedekitley is admired and considered a genius by the other dragons, but no one lets him forget he once made a mathematical calculation error.

I’m having so much fun.

2020 Clarion West Write-a-thon

I’m participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon again this year.

The Write-a-thon is a fundraiser for the Clarion West Writers Workshop. If you wish to donate to Clarion West, I invite you to go to my Clarion West Write-a-thon writer’s page and click on the Sponsor Lester D. Crawford button.

This year I’m working toward the completion of Fear Fallacy Friend, a story of a human and a dragon overcoming their differences to create a partnership that changes their world.

Clarion West Write-a-thon Badge
Clarion West Write-a-thon