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Writing Fiction: Jim Butcher

I just spent about five hours watching Jim Butcher of Dresden Files fame talking about how to write novels. I’m going to collect here what I’ve taken as notes from his videos, and I’ll post the videos below.

On the Protagonist:

  • Traits” – pieces of a character that are inherent to that character only – primary characteristics.
  • Tags” – words (or props) that get associated with that character only.
  • They should have exaggerated “traits” (like Harry’s height, or his smart-ass attitude)
  • They should be absolutely set on achieving their goal, are motivated and will not be stopped by anything!
  • Characteristic Entry Action” – Show them being who they are

On the Antagonist:

  • The villain doesn’t think he’s the villain, he thinks he’s the hero of his own story.


  • Stick to 5 words or less.  That’s how people really speak.

There are two parts to a story:

  • Stimulus
  • Response

Scenes get across to the reader what is actually happening.

Put together a worksheet with four sections:

  1. POV – Point of View – This is whoever has the most to lose.
  2. Goal – What is being actively pursued in that scene (survive, etc.), and the whys are apparent.
  3. Conflict – Someone is getting in the way of the goal.  This is not adversity – this is personal.
  4. Setback/Disaster – Scene question – will the antagonist succeed?
    YES.  (BORING!)
    YES, BUT….  (Consequences)
    NO.  (Completely shut down)
    NO, AND FURTHERMORE…!!! (Shut down and adds more plot complicatoins – deeper and deeper trouble!)

Make sure that your villain doesn’t understand that he’s the villain – he gets more “YES’s” and “YES, BUT…’s”.

Start your story in the first meaningful action of the protagonist.

Red Herring – used when you’ve written something, then discovered a “cooler” way to do things.

On Manipulating People’s Emotions:

  1. First reaction to an event: Emotional (Emotion)
  2. Second reaction to an event: The brain kicks in (Logic)
  3. Third reaction to an event: Reason and Review (Reason)
  4. Fourth reaction to an event: What’s going to happen next/Looking towards the future (Anticipation)
  5. Final phase: Choice – the most important part!
  6. This all leads to a new goal.

Story Questions:  A two sentence breakdown of your story – this is your story summary.

  1. WHEN (*something happens to disrupt the status quo*) THEN (*your proganonist*) SETS OUT TO (accomplish the goal).

EVERYTHING in your story needs to be driving towards your story question – that ONE question/answer.  Careful not to go off track!

The Question is at the beginning of your story.

The Answer is at the end.

You cannot have a protagonist who wallows in self-pity.


That’s it!  Those are all my notes from the videos, they’re kind of long, but I’ll post them below.  Enjoy, and happy writing!




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