Monthly Archives: January 2010

A Perspective on Why We Write… or Should Write: a Guest Post by The World’s Strongest Librarian

Josh pic

I’m happy to host Josh Hanagarne here on Storyfix, and not just because he posted a guest article from me earlier this week.  Frankly, mine was a fluff piece offered in good fun, while his is a gift of perspective we would all be wise to absorb.  This guy has it figured out — combine an expertise that he gives away freely, delivered with wit and personality, all the while extending those ridiculously long arms to the world for a big hug in the process.

Read and learn.

For me, By Me: The Secret To A Writing Success That Still Baffles Me Every Day And May Eventually Blow Up In My Face

By Josh Hanagarne, World’s Strongest Librarian

“Josh, I read every book review you write, even though I don’t like to read.  And I read all of your strength and fitness stuff too, although I hate to exercise and don’t have any plans on starting.  Keep it coming.”

This was an email I received, a comment on my blog when the little tyke was two months old.  I was pretty freaking flabbergasted, but intrigued enough to ask this person what they meant by that.

“Oh, I don’t read your stuff because of what it says, I read it because you write it.” 

Just so you know, this person was not my mother or wife, and I didn’t pay them to say it.  I’m decidedly unattractive and nobody had any reason to say this to gain my favor. But who cares? If you’re a writer, you probably enjoy compliments.  I certainly do. I pretend I don’t love it, but nobody knows the power of a little encouragement going a long way better than a writer or a wannabe writer. 

But I did want to investigate what was behind this person’s praise and not just let it carry me away to La La Land.  I can’t spend all of my time there.  

So here’s what I know.


I love to write. 

I love to write even when I hate it.  Even when it hurts.  Sometimes especially when it hurts.  Even when it feels like pulling teeth.  And if that’s too cliché for you, how about even when it hurts like pulling teeth out of my eyeballs? I sit here and I stare at this stupid blinking cursor and I start pounding away, just so it will disappear for a few seconds.  And then, once I get going, I love it again.


I love to read.  And there is nothing I love to read more than a book where I can tell the author had a blast writing it.  Read one paragraph of any Tom Robbins book.  Love it or hate it, I defy you to tell me that Tom did not enjoy writing that paragraph.  I can feel it in every page, sentence, word, and punctuation mark 

When I ask myself why someone would enjoy my writing, regardless of the content—and please, I am not comparing myself to Tom Robbins—that’s what I come up with: I love to write and I suspect that it shows.

Born to write?

Nope, not me. I always loved telling stories, but writing them down had very little appeal for me. That is, until I had to give up my voice for three years. As an experimental treatment for what was becoming an unholy, unmanageable case of Tourette’s Syndrome.  Long story short, I got botox injections in my vocal cords.  I could no longer scream, so I could be out in public again, but I couldn’t really talk either. I could whisper a bit, but not even loudly enough to talk on the phone.

Every five weeks for three years, I got those stupid injections. And it didn’t take long before my inability to tell stories began to eat at me. It was eroding something very fundamental to this big goofy person.

So I started to keep journals. I found that writing was not only a welcome distraction from my symptoms, but a medicine that no joyless doctor was ever going to scratch out onto a prescription pad. 

Once the tics were more manageable and I was able to quit getting the injections, I needed the writing for different reasons. It was a healthy process that could not be separated from the person that I had become.

And at the time, I didn’t care that nobody ever read a word I wrote.

Enter The Blog

I started writing World’s Strongest Librarian for fun in April of 2009.  For me, by me. Every day I just tried to write something that would make me smile.  Not make me money, but just make me smile. I figured nobody would ever find me. The web had other plans.  Traffic rolled in and never rolled back out. This has resulted in lots of attention, some money, lots of friends and business opportunities, and the most wonderful literary agent in the world. 

In short, for better or worse, I feel like everything good that is happening is happening because I am being myself. I also get a lot of hate mail, which also convinced me that I’m being myself. But most of the feedback is positive. This confuses, bemuses, and amuses me all at once. I do what I like and that won’t change. That other people enjoy it is a wonderful bi-product that is deliriously fun. But it’s never the focus.

For me, by me. I know myself well enough to know that if I didn’t keep my writing for, I wouldn’t keep it.

Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy it. It’s too much work not to.

Get Stronger, Get Smarter, Live Better…Every Day

About the Author: Josh Hanagarne is the twitchy giant behind World’s Strongest Librarian, a blog about living with Tourette’s Syndrome, kettlebells, book recommendations, buying pants when you’re 6’8”, old-time strongman training, and much more. Please subscribe to Josh’s RSS Updates to stay in touch.


Filed under Guest Bloggers

The Three Dimensions of Character Development

Somewhere along the writing road you’ve surely read – and if you haven’t you will – a critic describe a protagonist in a story as one dimensional.  Or worse, an agent to whom you’ve submitted your work.

The implication here is that there are other dimensions to explore as we develop our characters.

But what are they? 

Why don’t we ever hear characters described as two-dimensional?  What’s that extra dimension about, anyhow?  What does it even mean?

And why are the only obvious three dimensional characters out there lately in a James Cameron blockbuster, or marching in a Disneyland parade? 

At least we know what that means.

The Deeper Dimensions of Character

Given the implication that we should strive to write multi-dimensional characters, especially heroes and villains, it behooves us to understand what those other dimensions are all about.

As with story structure, you could indeed just set out to intuitively slap together a little character depth – in effect, the pantsing approach to character development. 

Maybe you get it right, maybe you don’t.  Maybe that’s a coincidence, or maybe your intuition is keenly developed.

Such is the risk of pantsing in any area of story development.  If you don’t know what you’re shooting for, just making stuff up as you go, it probably won’t work.  At least until you write another draft.

Or you could, by design, imbue your characters with three very separate and compelling layers –dimensions, in this context – that are carefully crafted to bring your story alive with resonant depth.

Real life unfolds in 3-D.  So should our characters.

These three realms stand alone as unique, yet they always overlap. 

Human beings are the sum of all three dimensions.  What the world sees, even if it’s all a smoke screen for dark and deeply hidden secrets, is an amalgamation of their best and worst essences.

Sometimes it’s those dark and deeply hidden secrets that make your characters especially compelling.  And the reasons for the need to hide them become part of the puzzle your story must unravel.

The first dimension of character – surface traits, quirks and habits.

Think of this as the exterior landscape of your character.  Their personality.  What the world sees and assigns meaning to.  Or not.

It may be the real, it may be a mask, but without another dimension to go along with all those quirks the reader will never know.

Peripheral characters in our stories are usually one-dimensional, as they should be.  In fact, it’s a mistake to delve too deeply into peripheral characters merely for the sake of adding depth.

Not good.  Focus on developing your hero and villain and any major players.   We really don’t need to know what it was about the pizza delivery guy’s childhood that made him take up food service as a career.

That said, even your peripheral characters, if given stereotypical quirks and tics, come off as cliché. 

Quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness is a fool’s game in the storytelling trade.

The grouchy lieutenant in the local police precinct who never smiles and is always spilling coffee on his cheap shirt?  That’s a one-dimensional character.

The slimy politician preaching values on the evening news before stopping by a brothel on his way home?  That’s a one dimensional character.

Why?  Because we don’t know what, if anything, is behind those behaviors, or those quirks.  If the character is a hero or a villain, we need to know.

This is often a great trap of newer writers, who infuse their characters with all manner of quirks and kinks and little tics designed to make them either cool, weird or supposedly – best intentions — compelling.   But if those quirks and kinks are all you offer the reader, in the hope that the reader will fill in all the blanks, then you’ve created a one-dimensional character.

If the quirks are just too quirky, it’s actually worse than cliché.

Because when quirks are obvious attempts to imbue the character with greater depth, but that depth is otherwise lacking… this is the quintessential one- dimensional character that agent will use as rationale for rejecting your story.

The second dimension of character – backstory and inner demons.

In this realm we see the inner landscape of the character.  Regardless of how you’ve dressed them up with personality on the exterior.

Where they came from, the scars and memories and dashed dreams that have left them with resentments, their fears, habits, weaknesses and inclinations that connect to why they are as they appear to be.  

Even when the quirks are a smokescreen.

Glimpsing an inner landscape allows the reader to understand, which is the key to eliciting empathy.  Empathy is the great empowerer of stories – the more of it the reader feels, the more they’ll invest themselves in the reading experience.

Translation: a publishable story.  Maybe even a bestseller.

Think about the books you love and the characters that star in them.  The reason you love that story has as much or more to do with the character than the plot, and the reason that’s true is because you feel for the character, you get her or him, you empathize, you invest yourself emotionally in the reading experience.

You rooted.  You cried.  You chewed your nails.  You loved.  You felt loss and you shared joy. 

You cared.  Because you related to, and empathized with, the character.

The most fertile ground for the cultivation of this reader response is the inner landscape of your primary characters.

Quirks or no quirks, this is the real stuff of storytelling.

But you’re not done yet.  There’s a third dimension you must add to bring it home. 

Because even the best and most understood of intentions do not a hero or a villian make. 

The third dimension of character – action, behavior and world view.

A hero takes a stand, takes risks, makes decisions, dives in and executes.

A villain rationalizes behavior and is insensitive to, or refuses to accept responsibility for, the associated costs and violations of accepted social standards.

Character – in this sense defined as moral substance, or lack thereof – is defined not by backstory or inner demons, but by decisions and behaviors.

You may have been angry enough to kill someone, or at least punch someone’s lights out, at some point in your life.  But you didn’t.  Why?  Because of your character.  That decision defines you.

Now imagine that you had yielded to that impulse.  Same backstory, same inner turmoil and agenda, same inciting series of events, same emotions… different decision. 

And because of that decision – you cold-cocked the bastard – a completely different dimension of character manifests.

The Art of Integrating the Three Dimensions of Character

Using this example, it is clear that the first two dimensions may or may not dictate the third.  These are your tools as an author, layer by layer, to create the most compelling, complex, frightening, endearing and empathetic character that you can.

Too many writers settle for the first dimension only. 

Even more writers focus on the second dimension to the exclusion of the third.

Even more fail to integrate these realms convincingly and compellingly.

That’s the art of storytelling.  And there’s no manual for it beyond a grasp of these fundamental principles. 

But be clear: your work as a storyteller is not done until your hero and your villain are fully fleshed out in all three realms.  

Do that, and do it well – which means, the relationship between the three dimensions make perfect and compelling sense – and you’ll never hear that one-dimensional or shallow criticism leveled at your characters again.

COMING SOON — “The Three Dimensions of Character — Going Deep and Wide to Create Compelling Heroes and Villains“… a new ebook from

Also, check out my guest blog on The World’s Strongest Librarian, a  very cool website by Josh Hanagarne, who is the strongest – and tallest – librarian you’ve ever seen.



Filed under Characterization Series