The Engine of a Story

14 Jul

More naps these days

If a child cries in a loveless home, does he or she make a sound?

Can love be given if never experienced?

Does evil exist, or do people simply do evil acts?

Can violence ever be justified?

And what is justice in a “civilized” world?

Can love conquer all?


That’s how my short stories and novels begin – with a question – and from there I build a story surrounding the question.  Truthfully, the whole creative process still baffles me some, but I’ve learned not to fight it. I just let it flow and trust my muse to take me where she wants me to go.


Have you ever watched the television show “Blacklist?”  The main character in that show, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader, is one of the most unique characters I have ever seen.  He is a complex man, good and evil, with a quirky personality.  He’s one of those guys you want to hate, but he’s so entertaining you can’t bring yourself to reject him.

It’s that type of character I love to create.  It was with that in mind that I created Eli Baker and Striker in my Shadow novels.  These are stone-cold killers, but likeable killers with a code of justice.  Baker spouts philosophy and is, at times, tortured by life and his character flaws.  Striker is not a man you want to meet in a dark alley, but there is a loyalty about him which makes him compelling.

Or so I hope!


So what propels a novel, the storyline/plot or the characters?  In my mind it is a combination of the two.  A good story needs fascinating characters, but the characters need a blueprint to follow.

Matt Scudder, created by Lawrence Block . . . Dave Robicheaux by James Lee Burke . . . these are greatly-flawed characters who give us an insight into the frailties of mankind, and I love that kind of creativity.  The characters are so dominating that they can carry even an average plot.  And yet you take some fairly normal characters, like the ones found in “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and you put them in a brilliant plot, and that works as well.

Great stuff!

Anyway, I’m rambling. I have a front porch to put back together now that I’ve taken it apart, so I’ll stop here and let you all get back to your creativity.  Have a brilliantly happy day, unless you’ve made other plans.


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

23 Responses to “The Engine of a Story”

  1. M Edvalson July 14, 2020 at 1:52 pm #

    Sometimes I see characters like customers. Without them, a business would not exist, and neither would a story. I must service my characters like customers and provide a supply of inextricable chaos because that is what a story demands. Ha!

    • Billybuc July 14, 2020 at 4:17 pm #

      Great analogy, my friend. I’ve never heard it said like that. Thank you!

  2. Janine Huldie July 14, 2020 at 2:56 pm #

    Bill, I definitely think it is a combination of both, because the characters and story have to mesh for me to be invested. That said, great observations, as always and now wishing you a wonderful Tuesday ahead 🙂

    • Billybuc July 14, 2020 at 4:14 pm #

      Thanks for your insight, Janine. I hope this finds your family healthy and functioning well during these tough times. Have a safe and happy Tuesday.

  3. Manatita Hutchinson July 14, 2020 at 3:53 pm #

    Another beautiful piece of writing! So many questions, eh? Life, Bro. Life.

    • Billybuc July 14, 2020 at 4:15 pm #

      Endless, Manatita! Where do we begin to answer them all? lol

  4. Sue Dreamwalker July 14, 2020 at 5:46 pm #

    Love listening to your grey matter tick over Bill, and all useful tips when thinking of a plot to write… I had not heard of that series Blacklist, and I used to enjoy a British series of detectives I used to Enjoy ‘Inspector Morse’, and ‘Bergerac’.. But that is going back a few years now… 🙂
    Hope that Front porch fits back together nicely 🙂
    Huge Hugs dear Bill… and enjoy your week 🙂

    • Billybuc July 15, 2020 at 1:51 pm #

      Thank you Sue! This winter, stream Blacklist. I know you will love it. And yes, the porch fit together nicely, thank you! It turned out quite nice.

      Hugs heading your way, dear friend.

      • Sue Dreamwalker July 16, 2020 at 4:58 pm #

        Brilliant.. Hope you have some relaxing time over the weekend Bill.. 🙂

  5. explorereikiworld July 14, 2020 at 8:05 pm #

    Starting your story with a question can always intrigue the readers, Bill. I think whatever works for a writer he/she should stick to it. Creativity has no boundaries, so let’s not try to capture it with rules 😉

    Good luck with your front porch.

    • Billybuc July 15, 2020 at 1:49 pm #

      Thank you Ruchira, and the front porch is done and looks pretty darned good.

  6. nightlake July 15, 2020 at 2:28 am #

    Your questions are intriguing. Though the plot is important, I think the unique traits of the main characters can make your novel stand out. The writer’s ‘voice’ and style of storytelling are important too, as it can make an old plot interesting.

    • Billybuc July 15, 2020 at 1:44 pm #

      I completely agree, Nightlake. The books I like most are those with truly unique characters.

  7. phoenix2327 July 15, 2020 at 8:59 am #

    Hi, Bill.

    Building from a question. I think that’s brilliant. So do you create your characters around that concept? Do you make them oppose each other to create conflict as you attempt to find answers to the question? Do you use the question as a blueprint to help you stay on track? I am fascinated and await your answers.

    I find the importance of character creation true not just for novels but for video games too. I play a game where the story is…okay. But the characters are so engaging and complex that I can ignore the flaws in the story and enjoy the ride.

    Enjoy your day, Bill and have fun with that porch. Wait…is that a case of one or the other but not both? lol

    • Billybuc July 15, 2020 at 1:40 pm #

      Zulma, characters always drive my stories and yes, I create them, almost always, with good vs evil in my mind, even if the evil is within us all. I did spend some time thinking about Eli and Striker. As for Resurrecting Tobias, the evil lurked within, and always will do battle with my better angels. 🙂

  8. Lori Colbo July 15, 2020 at 9:38 am #

    If people do evil things then evil exists. We are all born with the propensity for evil. Somethings are more evil than others but still evil. If you abuse your wife that’s evil. A rioter who loots and kills commits evil. When you do something unkind it’s sin or evil. I think every human being commits evil in their heart and behavior. We may not be an Axe Murderer or a wife beater but we do wrong . Most people base “goodness” by comparing themselves to other people. Like “I’m not as bad as that person.” The problem with that is that it’s a relative idea. There is pride that clouds our evaluation of ourselves. Who decides what is evil? Who makes the rules to what’s right and what’s wrong? The world today says there are no absolutes when it comes to Good and Evil. The only true way to measure what’s Good and Evil it’s to see it from God’s perspective. Of course not everyone believes in God, or creates God in their own image which gets them off the hook. But I have no doubt and there’s no way of denying that there is a holy and righteous God who is the one who holds the standard. He makes the rules. We can’t live up to his standard of course. But he makes a way for us through his son because he loves mankind so much. Absolute’s are not politically correct. Evil is relative in many people’s View. Although I can say I live a generally good life I know there have been things that I’ve done and things that I thought that were wrong. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think or do something wrong. What I must do is recognize it turn away from it and ask for forgiveness and work daily to grow and mature and become who God wants me to be. I will never fully arrived but progress not Perfection right? I love your post very thought-provoking.

    On Tue, Jul 14, 2020, 6:38 AM Artistry With Words wrote:

    > Billybuc posted: ” If a child cries in a loveless home, does he or she > make a sound? Can love be given if never experienced? Does evil exist, or > do people simply do evil acts? Can violence ever be justified? And what is > justice in a “civilized” world? Can” >

    • Billybuc July 15, 2020 at 1:37 pm #

      See, Lori, every one of those lines is a potential book. You just proved my point, and I thank you for it.

  9. My Very Own Writing Coach July 15, 2020 at 11:27 am #

    Thanks for the tips, Bill. I need to put them into practice. and I tend to agree. We need both characters and a plot.

    • Billybuc July 15, 2020 at 1:33 pm #

      My pleasure, William! I think you are doing quite well, my friend. Your writing is spot-on.

  10. Sarah Potter Writes July 15, 2020 at 3:12 pm #

    So far, I’ve always thought up a main character or two or three, and let them them tell the story. Some might say that is living dangerously and can lead the writer up a blind alley. I would love to be a plotter rather than a pantser. I’ve just finished watching, and been totally hooked on, the first four series of Money Heist on Netflix. Wow, what a drama! Fantastic in-depth characterisation and a mega fast-moving plot. You’d love the flawed characters, Bill, so if you haven’t watched this drama, I’d highly recommend it. That is how I’d like to write, if only I was a less ponderous person. I like your idea of starting with a question. Perhaps I’ll try it with a short story and see where it takes me.

    I hope you find all the bits of your porch to put it back 😉 Wishing you a wonderful Wednesday from across the Pond 🙂

    • Billybuc July 15, 2020 at 3:43 pm #

      Thanks for the recommendation, Sarah. I will watch that series as soon as I finish up with Blacklist. I love stained, imperfect characters.

      As for the porch, it all came back together nicely, thank you. Now on to painting.

      Thanks for the friendship across The Pond. It’s always good to have quality people in the wings.

  11. Andrea Stephenson July 19, 2020 at 7:55 pm #

    For me it often starts with an image of a character in a setting, and the story flows from there. Your characters are definitely different, interesting and very likeable despite the acts they perform.

    • Billybuc July 20, 2020 at 1:37 pm #

      Thank you Andrea! I appreciate you sharing your process and, of course, I appreciate your kind words. Eli and Striker thank you as well.

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