paul neuhaus dot com

It Takes Two (Part Deux)

Posted by in craft, writing

I don’t know George R. R. Martin, and I would not presume to speak for him. I am, however, willing to speculate about his motives and processes. It seems to me — and I could be wrong — that Martin is a fan of the father of the High Fantasy genre, J.R.R. Tolkien. That shared double-R notwithstanding, it’s hard to imagine Martin not feeling some affection for the acknowledged inventor of his chosen discipline. Not only did Tolkien create the HF subcategory, he also pointed the way to both its…read more

It Takes Two

Posted by in craft, writing

One idea isn’t enough. If you’re writing fiction, you need two or more concepts in order to have a viable premise. But they can’t be just any old concepts. Preferably, they should be ideas in opposition to one another or which interact in such a way to generate plot in an automatic fashion. Many’s the time I’ve thought I was ready to go on a project, and then I ran out of steam. This is because I didn’t have two or more ideas interacting with one another to create literary…read more

For Want of A Want

Posted by in craft, writing

Too much is made in writing “how -to” literature of the main character’s Want, the motivator which propels him through his story. In describing this force in terms of a desire, would-be writing gurus are doing their readers a disservice. Most heroes, I would argue, are not driven by anything as grand as Longing. Take, for example, Chief Brody from Jaws, whom I cited in an earlier post. Does he have a desire which forces him out to sea to take on a three ton Great White shark? I don’t…read more


Posted by in random, society

I can point to at least four times in my life when my boss, the person steering the ship, was the one least qualified for the task. You’ve had this experience too. Fate placed you beneath someone who was, in a word, a clown. Not only were they incompetent, they were loud-mouthed and mean-spirited. These are people who succeed not because they are skilled, but because they’ve mastered the fine art of bullying. When craftsmanship and the ability to govern reasonably failed them, bluster entered to fill the gap. I’ve…read more


Posted by in craft, writing

I have a tendency to write lean — as in close-to-the-bone lean. In my college days, I was compared to Hemingway from time time, not because I was as good as him, but because I was similarly stingy with detail. I haven’t dissected why it is I’m so terse, but I have three off-the-top notions: 1) In my own reading, I prefer leaner prose. Florid writing makes me tired. 2) I am by nature an introvert. If you speak to me in conversation, you will be doing most of the…read more

A Brave New World of Bad Writing

Posted by in craft, writing

Writing now, in the Internet Age, is at an all-time low quality-wise. Never has there been more to consume, yet never has there been such a low bar for excellence. Like most of you, I consume a lot of words via the World Wide Web. Some outlets produce universally excellent content, while others…not so much. Much of this mediocre fare is attributable to low skill level. No doubt about it. I see words misused every day as well as jumbled thought processes and blinkered, tail-chasing prose. That’s not where the real problem…read more

May 21, 1980

Posted by in fiction, writing

Bryan Schmidt ruined it for all of them. His mother bought him The Empire Strikes Back novelization by Donald F. Glut, and Bryan — home in bed with a chronic ailment — read the book in less than a day. By dinnertime, his entire circle of friends knew that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. Oddly, the blame for releasing the secret into the wild was heaped upon Mr. Glut, and Schmidt’s part in the matter was dismissed. Barry Squint, another member of their clique, concluded that Glut must be some sort of godless cock-eater, and…read more

Premise Keeper

Posted by in craft, writing

I’ve written two essays on both of which can be found on this website. In the first installment, I gave my definition of the term “premise”, and it goes a little something like this: “…it is the springboard or gist upon which a plot can be built. It’s the true nub of story. Here’s a premise most of you will probably recognize: A killer shark stakes a claim to the waters off a New England town, and the local sheriff is forced to deal with the problem.” In installment number…read more

Itty Bitty Tittie Committee

Posted by in fiction, random

Transcript of a meeting, Oct. 3, 2009. Present were: Patty Hightower, West Coast Division Senior Vice President; Debra Milikan, Secretary; Cat Dworkin, San Diego Chapter Treasurer; and Bobbie “B-B Boobs” Bland, Founder and Chief Evangelist. Hightower: This emergency meeting of the Itty Bitty Tittie Committee is called to order. We will — for today only — bypass the minutes and outstanding business and get on with more pressing concerns. We’re here to formulate a response to a piece in the latest Us Weekly entitled “Gazongas Are Back and Guess Who’s Got ‘Em?”. Debra, will you read…read more

Plot: Conflict

Posted by in craft, writing

There’s an old axiom: “drama is conflict”. Without conflict, you have two guys in an empty room with nothing interesting to say or do. If you want a story, you’ll need to get the two guys mad at one another. Allow me to clarify with a charmingly folksy definition of conflict: One guy (let’s call him “The Protagonist”) wants something. Another guy (let’s call him “The Antagonist”) doesn’t want him to have it. The Protagonist takes action to achieve his goal. The Antagonist will have none of this, and does…read more