Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

This made me laugh today. A friend of mine, a former editor at a publishing house in New York, posted it on Facebook earlier. If you want to know why writers are generally nuts, it may be because we tend to view the world this way.

First thing I thought of was Bob Bausch, who sure enough, posted: “As we all know, plot is pretty much meaningless. It’s not WHAT happens but WHO it happens to.”

That was Lesson Number One in the Bausch School of Writing. Which, of course, goes against everything most writers are taught. Much like we’re all taught in high school that “good” poetry rhymes (which is total crap, of course. See Roland Flint, whose “What I Have Tried to Say to You” will shatter the heart of the staunchest dispassionate soul.), good writing isn’t necessarily a good plot. I’ve written about it here before, but Bob’s words happen to be true, in my opinion. Plots work in movies and cemeteries, but they don’t guarantee a good story. Or, more accurately, it doesn’t guarantee good characters.

What do you remember more about To Kill a Mockingbird? The plot or Boo Radley and Atticus Finch and Scout? Now, what do you remember the most about Die Hard? The lead terrorist’s name and background or the plot?

I try not to write plots anymore. Sure, I start out with an idea of where I want a story to go (usually), but then I have to let the characters tell that story. I, literally, don’t know where the story is going until the character speaks. Happened this week with a new character I’m learning about. I sat down for about an hour to write a little bit about this idea I have for this guy named Kenny Whitaker. All I knew is that he’s not that bright and seems to be living outside the law. But when I finished writing an hour later, I learned that Kenny did a year in the county jail for robbery — originally armed robbery, but his lawyer managed to whittle it down. Now, I have no idea where it goes next, and I won’t until I write again. But finding out will be fun (if only for me).

That’s one of the real joys of writing to me — discovering the new character. It’s like walking into a room full of strangers and meeting each one on his or her own terms.

Speaking of which, get to know Wade Stuart, former ATF agent and present badass of two novels, Enemy Within and A Simple Murder. Get ’em both for less than $5. Great summer reading, I swear.

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