Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A truly great man has passed...

Hi folks,

The world has lost a great entertainer and a wholly original genius. Robin Williams was without peer.

I never had the good fortune to meet him personally, but I felt I almost knew him because of the dozens of stories my friend Lisa Lieberman Doctor told me about him. Lisa was the person he chose to head up his production company, Blue Wolf Productions, and she acquired dozens of scripts for him, including MRS. DOUBTFIRE. In fact, one of the first stories she told me about him was how they acquired that product.

Lisa Lieberman Doctor

Lisa said that she turned down the script. It just wasn’t that well-written, in her opinion. However, Robin chose to override her rejection of it—which he could because he was… well, the boss… It wasn’t the script he liked, Lisa said, but the concept. She told me that scarcely any of the original script made it to the screen. She said Robin improvised virtually all of it.

She told me a funny story that happened on the first day of principle photography on the set of MRS. DOUBTFIRE. When the cameras begin rolling, large sums of money are being expended, and it’s extremely important nothing slow up the shooting.

Well, Lisa said, everyone on the set was worried when Robin didn’t appear immediately. True, it took several hours to get him into costume and one of the main problems was that Robin was an extremely hirsute man. She said he had hair everywhere and for the scenes he appeared as Mrs. Doubtfire, it took several hours to remove the hair from his shoulders, back, arms, legs… everywhere. His beard was particularly tough and extremely difficult to render smooth.

Anyway, the tension was rising as he failed to appear on the set, everyone getting more and more nervous, and then, all of a sudden, he was in Lisa’s office, in full costume, and with a stricken look on his face. “Lisa,” he said, “I’m supposed to go on camera right now but I’ve got a big problem.” “What?” she said, imagining all kinds of horrible scenarios. “Well,” Robin said. “I don’t know what to do. I’ve got to go on… and I’ve got a woody.”

Now, Lisa is a tiny Jewish woman and I could just imagine her looking up at this large man, dressed in a dress, and lifting her hands helplessly, and saying, “Uh…what exactly do you want me to do, Robin?” And then he laughed and all the tension went out of the room, and the first day of principle photography went well.

Over the years of our friendship, Lisa has told me literally dozens and dozens of stories about Robin. Nearly every one of them made me laugh. Some made me sad. All were stories that couldn’t be told about any other person. Robin Williams was truly a genius, truly a Renaissance man. A true original and a national treasure.

He’ll be sorely missed.

Blue skies,

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Late update: I just received an email from Joseph D'Agnese where he said:

Mr Edgerton:

I tried to leave a comment on your recent post on outlining but the system devoured it whole.

The outlining method you describe was first described by journalist Jon Franklin in his book Writing for Story. Great book, but it is mostly focused on writing in-depth journalism pieces. My wife and I love that book and refer to it often. But I have always struggled with how to apply his method to longer works of fiction. I think my hangup has always been about to describe an entire book in only five sentences. But I think you have nailed it. Thank you!


I thanked him for not only letting me know who to give credit for the outlining method, but for going the extra mile in reaching me--much appreciated! So now you know where I got it--from the legendary Jon Franklin!

Also, Joe isn't the first person who's contacted me and told me he couldn't post a comment here. I don't know what to do about that--does anyone have any solutions or suggestions? Keep in mind I barely know what a keyboard is and very little about how the Intergnat works--especially blogs! I hate it that people try to comment and are unable to--my apologies!

Hi folks,
Today, fellow writer Ransom Noble posted an article on outlining in her blog and she graciously mentioned my method. Since I last posted it in 2010, I thought perhaps it might be time for a rerun. Also, I have some exciting news--I have a cover for my newest novel, THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING coming out in October from Down&Out Books. You'll see it at the end of this article. Hope you like it and hope you'll buy the book when it comes out! 


Anyone on this blog whom I’ve taught will recognize the following. It’s always the first lesson I give in both online and “on-ground” creative writing classes. I decided to post this because recently, on another forum, I’ve been seeing a lot of conversations based on outlining. What I’ve observed from their remarks is that the great majority have only experienced one kind of outline—that old composition thing with the Roman numerals that go on for pages… What I’m going to show here is a very different kind of outline. One that makes sense. Is infinitely simpler and actually works.

Let’s cover some history first…

Like a lot of writers, I wasted a lot of time in my writing career simply because I ignored what is probably the biggest "secret" in creating short stories and novels. I didn't outline.

Outlines were a particular type of hell English teachers visited upon you - those horrid things with Roman numerals and topics and subtopics and all that junk. Yuch! Outlining took all the fun out of reading a book.

I also read interviews with writers who said they never outlined. It would destroy their "creativity" many claimed. The way to write a story was to create a character, start them out in trouble and kind of follow them around as they had neat adventures. What it took years to realize was that my characters had great adventures and it was kind of fun following them around...until somewhere between pages eight and twenty when they would peter out. I had a drawerful of some of the best starts of stories you ever saw. Problem was, they never went anywhere. And most of them never came close to an ending. Oh, a few did, the really short ones. There were even one or two that came to a respectable length...after rewriting them twenty times.

What I didn't realize for the longest time was that writing involves the processing and integration of large blocks of trivial bits of information. As the length of my stories grew, so did the complexity. All of a sudden, I was on page thirteen and I suddenly remembered I couldn't have my character chase the bad guy...because on page two I'd given him bronchial asthma. I had to go back and "cure" him. What I didn't realize was something pretty obvious. A story, like the life it represents, is basically complex. Stories aren't built like a line of dominoes, it more resembles a web, and when you tug a bit harder on one of its many strands, the whole business vibrates. And changes shape. Not only did I have to remember the many details and their connections, I had to keep them in a logical order. Virtually impossible.

I even managed to write several books in this manner. Looking back on those days I cringe. What an awful lot of energy I needlessly wasted!

Here was my typical process. I bet at least some of you have gone through the same procedure. I'd get a great idea, so great that I'd have to drop the baby if I was holding him, and fly to my typewriter. (Remember - this was in the days of yore when they had those ancient artifacts...) As fast as my fingers could fly, I'd write. A hundred words would accumulate. Then, two hundred. Then...well, then I began to run into problems.

Something I did in the first hundred words didn't quite fit with the three hundredth, but I wasn't quite sure what it was. Something was just "off". It would bother and confuse me, but I didn't want to deal with it. So, I'd push on, fix it later, whatever it was. Just get the stuff out, in the white heat of creativity. That's what rewriting was for, right? To fix stuff that didn't fit.

Only now the writing really slowed. The next fifty words were the hardest. I was running out of steam. The idea I'd begun with seemed stale, trite. If I could even remember the original idea. Crap! I'd say, finally, slamming shut the typewriter case. Maybe tomorrow the Muse would redescend...

Hardly ever happened. On the morrow, a new idea would strike, with the same kind of heat as the first one and I'd be off and running with that one.

With the same results.

In no time at all, I had boxes of unfinished stories. Sound familiar?

Well, I learned a trick. I won't go through the whole sorry history of how I wasted time and learned, little by little, to work smarter. What happened, after many centuries (well, it seems like that now) was that I began kind of jotting down a half page of notes. I even began figuring out my endings before I began.

Now I began to finish stories. Not a lot, but a lot more than I had previously. After a couple of years of this, I began to expand my notes. Never once did I think of what I was doing as "outlining." There weren't any Roman numeral. How could that be an outline?

And then...one day I got one of those Joycean epiphanies. What I was doing was an outline! But, these weren't outlines like Missus Grundy had us doing back in P.S. 121. These were just notes. Notes kind of organized. And I discovered something else. Those old writers were liars. Hemingway, Steinbeck and Shakespeare - they all claimed they didn't outline, but they had to. Their stuff all held the kind of integrity that only comes in thinking through a project first before you pick up the saw. They just said they didn't outline. All of a sudden, I knew better. Those guys probably didn't think they outlined either. I doubt if any of them had Roman numerals on their notes either. I'd bet money they had notes, though, and copious notes...and copious notes organized into some kind of system. Before they ever picked up the ol' writing quill and wrote "Chapter One". Probably what a lot of them did was write a first draft...and then used that for their "outline". Without calling it that, of course, or even thinking of it in that way. Hemingway didn’t outline—he had 80,000 word outlines (also called a “first draft). Same thing, just a bit cumbersome and time-consuming to create. I bet that's what they did though. They weren't any different than I was. Or you. If any writer begins their story without knowing precisely where they're going, any mistakes they make at first, any tiny omissions, take on added significance as he or she proceeds. As length grows linearly, complexity expands exponentially. Fact of life. The writing life anyway.

If one is muleheaded enough, a story can be bulled through without outlining. Even fairly long stories. It's kind of a masochistic exercise though. It may take twenty, even thirty rewrites to get a decent story that way.

Don't ask me how I know this. I'll begin crying. I'll have to. My wife knows I recall experiences like this and keeps all the sharp instruments locked up.

Novels are the worst experience in the world without an outline. After you spend several years learning to juggle thousands of details in your head - you can get pretty good at it - you can write longer and longer material. Except, that no matter how good you get at retaining all this stuff in your head, you'll probably end up stuck on about page ninety. That seems to be the magic length for novels. Not quite long enough by about three hundred pages. Short stories seem to peter out around between pages six to eight.

If you've got an outline you just don't have these problems. Stuck? Glance up at your outline and instantly you'll be reminded where you are in the story and your perspective will return. The dizzy feeling will recede.

Okay. Sales pitch for outlines over. I learned my technique from taking screenplay writing classes. Those guys always outline. That's how they can write scripts so quickly. I took a class in this program with Martin Goldstein and I wrote a 108-page script in two days. And Mr. Goldstein says it's a great script - has attached himself to it as the producer and not only that - this "two-day" script was just named a semifinalist in the Academy Foundation's Nicholl’s Fellowships in Screenwriting awards. Not bad for two days work! I wrote the first 64 pages in about eight hours and the remaining 44 pages in about ten hours. Piece of cake. Of course, I spent about a week and a half on the outline. I do write quickly, so don't use my times as a model. Without an outline, I'd still be writing...

Let's get to these puppies. Here's how you create an outline for your story. Ready?

1. You make notes to yourself as you imagine the story played out.
2. You arrange those notes.
3. As the writing proceeds, you refer to them.
That's it. Or so I thought at the time. It was a lot easier than what I used to do, but there was still something I was to learn.

I got lucky. I happened on a book that really opened my eyes as far as outlines. I honestly can’t remember the book—I’ve got thousands and thousands and thousands of books, literally—and I wish I could so I could give the author his proper credit (I do remember it was a man), but he gave me the best outlining tool I’ve ever come across. It’s nothing at all like those ten-pound puppies with the Roman numerals as you’ll see.

The outline I propose you try that I took from this guy’s book on writing consists of five simple statements that describe the major actions through which the story will be told. One statement for each major focus. And each statement will be short, consisting only of two to three words. A human noun, a strong, concrete action verb, and (most of the time) a direct object. (We won't count articles such as "a", "an", and "the" as words.) The simpler an outline is the more it focuses on the important relationships in your story. Words actually count for more in an outline than in the story. An outline like I'm proposing should have no more than fifteen to twenty words in it. Twenty words max for a 400-page novel. In a story, the almost-right word can sometimes suffice, but in an outline, it has to be the perfect word. Another difference between this version of an outline and the ones Missus Grundy had you do is that the statements in her outlines represented topic sentences and as such specify what comes at the beginning of the section they represent. That's because in logical writing, the writer states her premise first and then develops it.

In dramatic stories, however, the dramatic action that makes your point comes at the end of each section - where climaxes belong. What this means is that your outline statements represent endings, not beginnings. This is an important point to keep in mind. This is ultra-important to grasp. I’ll say it again: Your outline statements represent endings, not beginnings. I think this is why we hate those old Comp I kinds of outlines. It doesn’t allow any room for creativity at all. This does.

In almost all novels, there are three major movements involved as the protagonist struggles to resolve his or her problem. There are dozens—maybe even hundreds—of smaller movements, but by and large, there are almost always three major movements or crucial points. That’s what this kind of outline will show. First, the inciting incident that kicks off the story. Then, the result of each of the three major movements. Finally, the resolution. Five statements. That’s it. The whole of your novel is contained therein. With enormous freedom within it for those who are afraid their creativity will be stifled…

This is so important to grasping this that I’m going to belabor it a bit. Each statement represents the result of the major action taken to resolve the problem. Not the  beginning and development of the action. Major difference and for those that don’t get this, it’s always because they haven’t shifted their thinking and definition of outlines from those old comp definitions and models. Again, it represents the outcome of the major action. How you as the author get to that outcome is totally up to you. It gives you complete creative freedom. Look at it as the same thing as driving from New York to Los Angeles. You know that’s your goal. Get to L.A. There are a thousand ways to do that. You might drive down and go through Arizona. You might go north and go through part of Canada. You might zig-zag northwest and southwest the whole way. You might go directly west in a straight line. What’s important is that you end up in L.A., right? That’s what this kind of outline does. It gives you your outcome (arriving in L.A.), but it allows you complete freedom in how you get there. I know I keep repeating this, but I also know from experience how ingrained those godawful comp I outlines are in our brains, that it’s important that you grasp the difference.

I'm going to use my own story I Shoulda Seen a Credit Arranger in my collection titled "Monday's Meal" to illustrate a typical outline. The first statement will be:

Complication or inciting incident:
Debt endangers Pete (This is the complication that provides the occasion for the story. Every story must have an inciting incident to kick-start it. Something must happen that changes the protagonist's world and by doing so, creates a problem/goal. This is where stories must begin - not with setting or backstory. Act I, as it were.)

Development: (This is the second part of the outline. The development steps that lead to the resolution. Act II, as it were, following Aristotle's Poetics)
1.Tommy cons Pete into a kidnapping
2. Pete and Tommy botch kidnapping
3. Pete escapes

Resolution: (This is the third and final step. Act III.)
Pete pays for mistake

Here’s the outline without the extraneous material:

Debt endangers Pete.
Tommy cons Pete into a kidnapping
Pete and Tommy botch the kidnapping
Pete pays for mistake.

I used this for the 18-page  short story that appeared first in The South Carolina Review and then I wrote a 92,000 word novel… using the same exact outline. Worked perfectly for both of them. Oh, yeah. I also wrote a screenplay for this that was a finalist in both the Writer’s Guild and Best of Austin screenplay competitons… and guess what? You guessed it. I used the same exact outline and it worked perfectly. There are major differences in all three versions, but the central story remained the same and was a practical instrument in all three forms. It works!

This came to seventeen words, two over the optimim. If you're under twenty, you're fine. Once I have this outline, the rest is just filling in the blanks. But, everything in the story must contribute to the outline. I can't, for instance, start talking about Pete's childhood in New Orleans, for example. Not unless it contributes to the situation he's in.

Now. Look at the elements. There's each of the three things I said should be in the outline. A human noun, a strong, concrete action verb, and a direct object. I didn't, for instance, say "Pete is in debt" for my complication. Why? Because is is a static verb. Always think in straightforward active terms.

You might also notice I didn't have a happy-sappy "Hollywood" ending. Those don't work in literature. They work (I guess) in direct-to-video movies (and more than a few that we see at the theater) and in supermarket novels, but not in quality fiction, and that's what we're interested in here, I assume.

Doesn't look much like Missus Grundy's Roman numeral outline, does it? But, if you read the story and then compare it to the outline, you'll see it's all there. And it allows for you to roam and be creative within the story. You just have to remain within the strictures of the outline. But, there's a heck of a lot of freedom there!

Let’s look at just one of those statements, the first one. Tommy cons Pete into a kidnapping. In the short story, titled I Shoulda Seen a Credit Arranger, this action took about four pages. Tommy comes into a bar where Pete’s hustling pool, draws him away from the huckleberry he’s hustling to another bar, where he lays out the scam, to kidnap the head of the Cajun Mafia and amputate his hand and hold that for ransom. That was how I got to the outcome of the outlined point.

Then, in the novel, it took about 80 pages to get to the same point. I had more room with the novel. In the novel, Pete still has the same problem—in heavy debt to the Mafia for gambling—and Tommy cons him into the same kidnapping as before. But, this time, to get to that place, there’s some other developments. First, Tommy talks Pete into kidnapping a supermarket manager and holding his wife in their home with Pete guarding her while Tommy and the manager go to his store and clean out his safe. But, before that, the pair realize they don’t have suits and part of the supermarket caper is that they have to go into their nice neighborhood and without suits they’ll stick out. So, because they’re tapped out and neither have a suit, they decide to pick up operating capital (to buy suits with) by robbing a streetcar. Which goes horribly wrong. Now, because of a surveillance camera on the streetcar, their pictures are everywhere on TV and the stakes are really ratcheted up. Besides escaping the Mob, they now have to worry about the law. Finally, they do kidnap the head of the Cajun Mafia and remove his hand. See what I mean about the freedom this kind of outline allows? Enormous freedom. They still get to the kidnapping, but this time, instead of driving straight through, they go way down south to Arizona before they wend back up northwest to L.A. Same outline, same outcome, different way to get there.

In the screenplay, they don’t get to the kidnapping until about page 45. And, some other things happen there that didn’t in the short story or novel. But… they still end up in L.A. Can you see how this kind of outline gives you a roadmap as well as complete freedom? It really, really does. It’s why when I see as I did in the recent postings of another forum about people spouting off about how they hate outlines, I know they’ve never been exposed to this kind. They’re always thinking about 10-page (or longer!) monstrosities with all those Roman numerals, describing the beginnings and travel route to their scene or plot point goals. I agree. Those are horrible, horrible, mind-numbing and creativity-stifling monsters. This isn’t at all.

What this kind of outline does is force you to think through the story before you write it. You spot problems before you waste two hundred or two thousand (or more) words on them. Suddenly, writing becomes a breeze. It really does.

In the story above, the definition of a story is adhered to. A story consists of a character in trouble - has a need, wants something, etc. A story always begins with the inciting incident - whatever happens to drastically change the protagonist's world and create a problem for him or her (it has to be the biggest problem in his/her life at that point and one the reader will deem worthy enough to follow him in solving it, reaching his/her goal). Pete's in trouble - he owes a lot of money to a nasty bookie. He has to do something about it. He does get tricked by Tommy into an ill-fated kidnapping, but once he's in it, he begins to take his own action. You can have coincidence in a story, but it should never be a coincidence that helps the main character. It can appear at first to do so, but it never really can. It must always hinder the character. And stories are drama, which means you must create scenes, not wander around inside the head of the character, and scenes are by definition, action. There must be dramatic action. Also, a protagonist may be reactive at first, but very quickly he or she must become proactive, acting on his or her own behalf to solve the problem, gain the goal, etc. Reactive characters (characters to whom things "happen" in which they spend their time on stage reacting to those things) are boring and don't belong in good fiction. And lastly, because of an action the protagonist takes, there must come a reversal and a change in the character. What Joyce called an "epiphany". Characters in fiction, must, as a result of the actions of the story, become profoundly changed from the person they were at the beginning of the story. Also, the character can't just think through the problem, although obviously, that can be a part of his epiphany, but it has to be occasioned by an action that he can then process internally. The epiphany also cannot be attained through a conversation with another character. There has to be an actual action which changes him and turns the story. Once that happens, the story is over. Get out. Start a new story. But first create an outline for it. You'll thank yourself.

A logical question is: What if I see a “better” story or way for the character to get from Point A to Point B? Maybe even an entirely different story? No problem. Just change your outline and you still have a roadmap that’s easy to follow and one that give you complete freedom.

The nice thing about this kind of outline is that you save paper. You can write the whole thing on a napkin or even a matchbook cover…

Once you've created an outline of this sort, it's almost impossible to stray in the wrong direction. If you find yourself doing that, just glance at the outline and get back on the right road.

Blue skies,

And now--here's my new cover!

 Ain't it cool?!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Just Add Champagne : BOOK REVIEW: The Bitch by Les Edgerton

Just Add Champagne : BOOK REVIEW: The Bitch by Les Edgerton: Ex-con Jake Bishop is several years past his second stint in prison and has completely reformed. He’s married, expecting a child, and pr...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Guest Post on Addiction by Mark Matthews

Hi folks,

A writer pal of mine, Mark Matthews, has recently written a post on his blog about addiction and how writers can write about characters who are jonsing realistically, and since there are at least a couple of writers who use such characters in their fiction who gather here (as well as a few people who've been addicted themselves...), I thought it might be beneficial to look at what he has to say.

Here's Mark:


Around 9:37 am today I am  22 years clean and sober. Yep. 22 years. What the hell is that? Crazy huh. (I’ve blogged on this subject a lot over the years, such as here and here.)  I like to think the hell I put myself through helped me gain the perseverance to run marathons and write books, despite all the forces in the universe trying to stop me.

Substance abuse and addiction play a major role in many of my books. On the Lips of Children features a crystal meth addict living in a drug-smuggling tunnel who snorts bath salts. STRAY is loosely based on my experience working as a therapist in a treatment center.

And my latest release, MILK-BLOOD, features heroin addiction in a way I am pretty confident you have never seen before.

None of my books preach or try to deny anyone the choice of their drug or drink. Hell, if I could get away with it, I’d be drinking right now. But I can’t. One shot of vodka and I’m drinking for days and then using any substance I can get my hands on. My insides bleed out of my ass (literally). Strange days indeed, and the glory is, writers can make their characters bleed out just the same.

So, for my 22 year sobriety anniversary, I’m putting out a post called:

“Getting Your Character High: Writing About Addiction”
Here we go…

Torture your protagonist. Toss them into a pot of boiling water, and make the best parts come bubbling up to the top. There are lots of ways to do this, but one of the greatest and oft-used ways for authors is to write some drugs or drink into their system. Wether they have a longstanding addiction, are in recovery from addiction and relapse, or take their first hit of that strange looking pill, a character under the influence is a pivotal point in many stories. Substances turn a character inside out.  The filters are gone, the emotions are exaggerated, impulse control is low, libido may be ablaze. Memories and demons and actions they will later regret come rushing in.  

Getting your character high is similar to dropping them into that pot of boiling water. Here’s some things to consider:

What You Drop In Matters
All Substances are not equal.  A tiny dot of crystal meth holds much more power than a drop of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and the variances are tremendous. I’ve been around drinking in my sobriety without a problem, but I never want to be in the same room as meth again, for if I do not leave, there will be blood. Social marijuana use, social alcohol use, and social crack use: One of these things is not like the other. 

Amounts and Terms
Get it right. To make it feel truthful, characters should use the right amount, the right away, with the right terms. “Weed” is the common vernacular for marijuana, right? And Dope doesn’t mean “Weed” in my parts, maybe nowhere. Dope is particular to just heroin.  Of course, if you are writing fantasy or science fiction, this all changes. Spoiled milk got the aliens high in “Alien Nation”, NZT-48 was an intellectual buzz in “Limitless” and Hobbits love their pipe-weed. Oh, the places you will go, just have inner-world consistency, and have some fun.

If your character is getting high, or trying not to get high, then go to an open AA/NA meeting.  Find some YouTube videos of people using.  Listen to songs that capture the tone of the specific substance. (RIP Lou Reed).  I’m not saying to go snort some coke, but, go snort some coke. No, don’t’ snort coke. Ask someone who snorted coke to edit your work.  Or of course you could just snort some coke. (No, don’t!)

Addicts love rituals. Your character can be on the outside looking in, and intimidated and beguiled by the strange world, or it can be part of their lexicon. Alcoholics love the ding of the bell as they enter the party store, the smell of old mop soap, seeing all those little stogies at the counter. Heroin addicts come to welcome the prick of the needle into their flesh, and the comfort of patting their front pocket and knowing there’s a pack of dope inside. Get this right, and the passages will read true to the reader. 

The scariest moment is always just before you start
When recovering heroin addict Jane Margolis met Pinkman in Breaking Bad, you knew something had to give. Laying out the temptation and creating the set-up is a great plot builder.  If you can get readers screaming at your characters in their head, "don't do it, don't do it, no! don't!" you've won them over. A character we care about acting against their best interest is reason to read on.

One generic scene I personally hate is the character trying to stay sober, sitting at a bar stool pondering over unresolvable troubles, and in front of them is the drink they just ordered. They twirl the shot of whiskey and stare, deciding if they should drink it. I can believe a lot of things, but not this. Once you are at that point, you are already drunk. Cravings are intense, and if you’ve gone that far, you’re not going to turn anything down, and certainly not pause. It’s like taking a laxative, and trying not take a shit. You may hold on for a while, but eventually you will give in, and then it will get messy.

But that moment before decisions are made can make the reader's heart stop and their interest zoom in. 

All You Have to do is read the labels
Substances work with much better consistency than most things in our life.  In fact, the reason drugs are so enticing is that they work. Want to feel a certain way, there’s something out there for you.  Anything your character wants can be found in a drug. Confidence, creativity, strength, expansion of consciousness.  Eventually  the drugs will do the opposite that you hoped for, but while the character is falling into the pits of hell, it can feel like flying.

      "Most people don't know how they're gonna feel from one moment to the next. But a dope fiend has a pretty good idea. All you gotta do is look at the labels on the little bottles”

Perceptions and Prose
When characters uses substances, perceptions are altered, and this is where your prose should change. First person point of view will certainly change the most, followed by third person limited. The deeper you are in the POV the more affected the prose will be. 

Make the sentences reflect the substance: Drunkards will have big, bold dreams, or violent impulses. Any good drunk is always telling you how much they love you or how much they hate you.  Heroin will make you feel soft and warm, like a return to the womb where everything is beautiful and has its place; the ants in the grass are just doing their thing. Cocaine will have your brain and tongue electric with tangential philosophies. 

Of course, the pain of craving for and detoxing from these substances will have a visceral effect unique to the substances. Making your characters detox and crave is twice as much fun as getting them high. The possibilities are endless, and characters going through the cycle of addiction transform as much as any werewolf.

Thought patterns and Narrator Reliability.
Characters getting high will rationalize insanity until their choices seem perfectly reasonable and actually preferable. Their internal dialogue will be filled with lies. What's more fun writing than that?

Similar to this, there’s tons of options to hide an addicts true intent with behavior that may seem contrary to expectations.  Addicts lie, they deny, then they die. 

There’s a great passage in Michele Miller's upcoming novel (and ABNA semi-finalist), Lower Power, where a craving crack cocaine addict can’t find a way to afford any drugs so instead he goes to visit his son. As we travel alongside him, we think this could be a redeeming quality, until he steals the very  necklace he gave his son from around his neck to pawn for crack money. That’s verity. Parents get high everyday by selling back their kids Xbox games to Gamestop so they can get a 5 dollar crack rock.
Unlike the pits of hell for murderers and rapists, there are no fences in the pits of hell  for addicts, for if an addict tries to climb out of their pit of hell, another addict grabs them by the ankle and pulls them back down.  Want to put your character around some nastiness and see how they respond, send them to a crack house or a dive bar. It’s a pot of bubbling madness in there, and your character's madness is sure to boil right out of them just the same.

So there’s some thoughts. Not sure if anyone is listening as I look around the table, but that’s okay, this sharing is important for me and I'm grateful for the chance.  I’d love to write a post on how to write someone newly sober since sobriety to me has been stranger than any fiction or any addiction. It took a lot more courage to live stone cold sober 24 hours a day than to clutch onto that 40 ouncer like it’s my baby bottle. 

For a great read on a newly sober person navigating reality filled with some wonderful humor, try “Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Scoblic.

For a great story on addiction that I think will blow your mind to pieces, check out

$2.99 for kindle 
$6.65 paperback

Thanks, Mark. Keep collecting those white chips!

Blue skies,