Writer Questions

Writing QuestionsAbout a week ago, a young writer and I began a very interesting conversation, which with her permission, became this post.

How many short stories have you written?

Between Uncle Obadiah and the Alien, stories that I’ve published in magazines such as The Caribbean Writer , and a new collection I’m working on, Sister Faye and the Dreadlocked Vampire, I’ve written about thirty stories.

Do you ever write stories with a certain length in mind? Or do you just write and worry about editing it down to a certain size afterwards?

I write the story first and then I worry about editing.

How do you tell so much information in such a short amount of time without it becoming didactic? Like, he did this, she did this, and then there was an explosion! And then we did this.

One trick is to let the characters give the information and to begin in the middle of the action (in medias res). For example, instead of beginning the story about a man and his cheating lover the day before, begin the story the moment after he has found out and ask the character, "So, what are you going to do now?"

How do you keep the action going in your stories? And do you listen to music while writing? What's your perfect writing environment?

Before I write, I do a brief character inventory. It's the method that I used to write my latest multi-character hypertext novel, Virtual Yardies.

Answer the following questions as the character:

Who are you?

Where am I?

To whom am I speaking?

What's my relationship with him/her?

Why must I speak with this person?

What do I want?


What are my obstacles?

What is my plan to overcome these obstacles?

What do I hope to attain from getting what I want?


My name is Marta. I am a filmmaker. I am at home speaking to my parents. Both, my father and mother are my mentors. They are very driven, responsible, and dedicated people and they have worked hard all their lives to get to where they are in their careers- they are both in the medical field. I have to speak to them because I need their help. I want to move back home with them because I have accrued debt when I moved away to California. The problem is that they have been planning to retire for sometime, and if I move in with them, they will have to continue work to support me. Also, they do not of my career choice- they do not believe that filmmaking in a real career. So, if they let me move back in with them, it might be on the condition that I get, what they call, a real job. So I am going to try to appeal on their sense of hope, and inspire them as best I can. If I can get them to agree that filmmaking is an important and honorable way of to earn a living, I might just be able to continue with my work, and move on with my life as a young filmmaker.

And do you listen to music while writing? What's your perfect writing environment?

Doris Lessing gives a better answer than I could:

"Writers are often asked: "How do you write? With a word processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand?" But the essential question is: "Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas - inspiration." If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn. When writers talk to each other, what they discuss is always to do with this imaginative space, this other time. "Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?"


Let me know if the questions begin to sound like a FAQ-- speaking of which, do you have one?)

Yes. Here it is: http://geoffreyphilp.com/faq.html

Thanks for your help.

You’re welcome!


Next week Friday (2/8/08), “In My Own Words: Ricardo Pau-Llosa.” Ricardo will also be reading from his latest collection of poems, Parable Hunter, at Books and Books on February 10, 2008. The program begins at 6:00 p.m.



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