An assortment of open books laid out in a geometric pattern
An assortment of open books laid out in a geometric pattern
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Charlie looked around the empty room — his room, or at least it had been until today. His posters were rolled up in cardboard tubes and his toys packed away. He had a few things in a backpack to keep him busy on the long plane ride east. His mother kept talking about how exciting it would be on the plane. Charlie was scared. Planes crashed. But whenever he said he was scared, his mother said, “Nonsense. It will be fun. You’ll get to look out of the window.” Charlie didn’t want to look out of the window. …

An assortment of wood block letters
An assortment of wood block letters
Photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

I decided that I wanted to be a novelist in 1980. I had been a voracious reader, but I had little impulse to create stories of my own. I wish I remember the title of the novel that set me on this path. All I remember is that I hated the ending. I felt cheated. I was furious. I decided that I was going to write my own story with an ending that made sense. And I was going to show Mr. Big Name Author that he wasn’t all that.

Almost four decades later, I have yet to publish a novel. I have started more novels that I’ve finished, and I’ve abandoned most of them. …

Letter tiles spelling out “Fiction” on a wooden desktop
Letter tiles spelling out “Fiction” on a wooden desktop

“When I call your name,” the teacher said, “If you use your middle name or a nickname, now’s the time to tell me.”

Lester Grubb sat up. A nickname?

Mama called him Les. He hated it, but it beat what the kids called him. Some of the boys could say “Grubb” like it was a cuss word. In junior high, they’d called him “Less is more” on account of his weight. A cool nickname would fix that. He thought of one quick. He hoped no one else said it first. Most of the guys used their first names. One little Oriental kid said, “I go by Hank,” which was even dumber than what the teacher said. Lester was bouncing in his seat when the teacher started to call his name. …

Letter tiles spelling “Writing Lab” on a wooden desktop
Letter tiles spelling “Writing Lab” on a wooden desktop

How do I figure out what my character will do next? I start each new story with a character and a conflict, and then let the plot emerge. Because I don’t outline a plot in advance, I sometimes struggle to figure out what the character will do next? A technique I’ve been experimenting with is the OODA loop: “Observe-Orient-Decide-Act.”

Observe: Brainstorm what the character knows or believes about his challenge.

Orient: What motivates my character? What is her primary goal? These might not sync. What is her immediate goal? That might not synchronize with her primary goal. This topic is also about emotion. What does the character feel? …

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Nehemiah stared into the diner from the safety of the unlit sidewalk, watching Margo wrap napkins around silverware. No customers so late on a Monday. That’s why he’d chosen this night. But even without an audience, his stomach gnawed on itself like an animal chewing its way out of a trap.

You need a drink, friend. Steady your nerves.

He recognized the whisper in his mind for what it was. He squeezed his eyes tight.

“Go to hell, Whiskey,” he said.

He ignored the throaty chuckle of his eternal enemy and pushed the door open. The clank of cowbells announced his entrance. …

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Rafael lingered beneath a burned-out street lamp across the street from the party. His feet had brought him this far, but would neither allow him to move on, nor carry him back to a lonely apartment.

Partygoers spilled out of the bungalow. They overflowed the porch onto the front yard, corralled by an unpainted picket fence. They drank from plastic cups, and shouted over the pulse of music no one listened to.

It was the same house, the same birthday bash, where he’d met Leila last year.

Sable hair and a tight, sunny dress captured his attention. …

With Hurricane Irma on the way, I needed to board up my windows. I had made shutters for about two thirds of my windows in preparation for a previous season’s storm that turned away early. I had enough sheets of plywood to make shutters for the rest. I’ve done enough woodworking to know how fast I can measure and cut plywood, but I’d never hung shutters before. I had no idea how much effort it would take, or how much time.

With no basis to start from, I decided to use story points. Here’s the breakdown:

· Six windows facing onto porches. Easy access, no need to use a ladder. One point each. …

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Last year, I decided to become an optimist.

My pessimistic disposition wasn’t doing me any favors. I was tired and cranky all the time. I got sick frequently. I dreaded each day from the moment I awoke.

It sucked.

I’d seen plenty of research about the benefits of an optimistic outlook:

  • Better health
  • Improved sense of well-being
  • Greater happiness at work
  • More resilience in the face of adversity
  • Longer life

Who wouldn’t want all that?

But adopting an optimistic outlook isn’t as easy as declaring, “I’m going to be an optimist now.” …


Sam Falco

Professional Scrum Trainer and fiction writer. Connect with me on Twitter @stfalco or visit

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