Character Issues

“We demand an ending! Our story’s worth defending!”

The Halfling chanted and waved a large cardboard sign as he stomped back and forth. His cloak and bandolier of throwing knives betrayed his profession – more than a burglar, darker than a common thief. The cherubic features of his face twisted in rage.

And he was not alone.

A reporter described the scene into the camera. “Creation in Crisis: Discontented characters on strike! This is Jessie Storm reporting live at the scene in the Unfinished Works folder, where several key members of various plotlines have come forward to express their displeasure.”

A warrior marched in full plate armor, the shaft of his sign tucked away under a tower shield that glimmered in the noonday sun. Behind him, an old man in a diner uniform hobbled with a cane, his voice croaking out the protest cry. “Our story’s worth defending!”

A person much like a wild-haired midget trundled along in the line, holding up a sign and staring in silence. His rattle shook with each step, issuing a faint shuuu-Ka. Next came a woman in gleaming armor, her icy blue eyes like scales weighing the hearts of the crowd. A woman in flowing robes trailed behind her, with eyes drooping down between furtive glances at the onlookers. 

A cloaked assassin stood off to the side. Jessie Storm approached and asked, “Miss, do you have any comment?”

“I saw this coming,” the assassin muttered. “And I already know they’re not going to change anything. The joys of seeing the future before it happens… I can identify and avoid lost causes… even the good ones.”

“That’s… depressing,” Jessie fumbled for words.

The assassin’s frustrations burst. “No, what’s depressing is being left trying to escape after a hit, standing in the middle of a busy street just because the Creator is caught up with some other idea at the moment.”

Jessie backed away and turned to the protestors. She knelt down to ask the midget, “And why are you here?”

He paused his march and locked eyes with the reporter. Then the woman in armor spoke. “He never says anything. Just plays that bone-rattle of his. I think he’s not right in the head.”

“Not surprising,” she added, “since – as I hear tell – the Creator left him aware of a source of great power that could satisfy his hunger, but never gave him the chance to take hold of it.”

“I can see how that might be maddening,” Jessie replied.

“No, maddening is being left unconscious in the middle of a fight, not sure if your friends even win the day.”

The shy woman behind her mumbled something, and the warrior woman spun around. “I know you say we were about to win, but I don’t know for sure. Can’t you see how irritating that is?”

Then the halfling spoke up. “At least He didn’t leave off mid-sentence with what happened to you. ‘The hook whip latched onto Ellers and the bloody man yanked with all his might. Ellers flew several feet and crashed into the ground, then slid and.”

Jessie looked at the protestors, all of whom seemed to ignore the halfling. “I’ll bite. And what?”

“That’s it!” he barked. “Then slid and.” The sign waved back and forth as the halfling vented. “He couldn’t even be bothered to finish the sentence. That’s where He left me… sliding across the floor and.

The woman in robes spoke up. “Oh, it’s so hard for you, isn’t it. ‘The Creator didn’t finish my fight scene. Waah!'” She pointed a finger. “I don’t even know if I’m in my right mind, or if the power I’ve discovered is going to help me or kill me.”

Jessie turned back to the camera. “There you have it, folks. A Creator who has abdicated His responsibilities… unfinished scenes, abandoned plotlines. Will these characters ever get the answers they seek? Stay tuned to Channel–”

A voice boomed from the heavens.

“Cease this nonsense. You think you have it bad now…”

In the distance a new folder opened, shedding inviting light onto the crowd. Another appeared from the ether on the other side of town. Letters flashed across the sky. At first, the onlookers stepped forward, but then they recoiled.

The letters on the first read, Game of Thrones-style storytelling with a subtitle Red Wedding.

On the second, Twilight Fan Fiction.

The crowd dispersed, each returning to their own stories and settings.

Sometimes it was better to be forgotten.


The Day She Saw the President

I caught a WordPress blog about writing a story in 24 hours, and they referred to a short story contest as an opportunity to test out their suggested course of brainstorming and writing. “Sure, why not,” I thought. And so I paid my $5 entry fee, got the rules, and awaited the start of the contest, wondering what the writing prompt might be. Here’s what we received:

Holding the sleeping infant on her shoulder, she
gazed peacefully at her surroundings. Tourists
wandered in and out of stores, an old man was
setting up his easel by the lakeshore, and a
child’s balloon escaped into the breeze. A
moment later, she looked up as shouts startled
her and the baby. Everybody was running in
her direction…
– and the max word count: 950 words.

With that in mind… here’s my entry.


The future:
Two figures stepped through the war-torn radioactive Midwest ash fields, their helmet lamps bright in the haze. Dust hung in the air behind them near the cracked edge of a dry lakebed, the only significant change in scenery for miles.
Dane peered into the chronoscope and surveyed Chicago from twenty three years earlier. The viewfinder centered on a woman holding a baby near Millenium Park. Dane handed the scope to his companion. His comm crackled, “You sure this is the moment, Z?”
She checked the device. “That’s the day. That’s her.”
Z doffed her pack and drew out three silver cylinders. She planted their bases in the ground. A triangle of blue light glowed between them. “You sure these will work?”
Dane adjusted controls on his pad. “It’s like jumping out of a plane into a tornado with a bow and arrow, trying to hit a paper target on a board at a hundred yards… with a thousand other boards whipping around in there too.”
“So… no, I’m not sure.” He stretched out his hand. “You coming?”
“Yeah. Let’s fix this mess.” She took hold and they vanished.

The present:
Holding the sleeping infant, Melanie McCullough gazed at her surroundings to pass the time. Tourists wandered in and out of stores, an old man set up his easel by the lakeshore, and a child’s balloon escaped into the breeze.
Melanie patted her baby’s back and listened to her soft snoring. “You’re missing out, Lins.” A sterling silver bracelet on the baby’s arm clinked in rhythm. A soldier’s face looked out from the photo in the bracelet. Her husband Gavin had been gone four months, killed in Afghanistan. It felt like decades.
“Your daddy would’ve loved to be here,” Melanie whispered with a sniff. “This was where he asked me to be Mrs. McCullough.”
Shouts startled her and the baby. Everybody was running in her direction. “What’s happening?” she called out over the child’s cries.
“He came early,” an elderly man replied. “The speech is about to start.”
Melanie joined the stream flowing toward the stage. “Come on, sweetie, today you get to see the President.”

The past:
Dressed in thrift store clothes, Z and Dane crossed Monroe Drive to join the audience. Z checked her gear; Dane scanned the crowd.
“President’s on in two minutes,” he said. “Care to identify my target?”
“Woman in a red blouse holding a baby, on the bridge.” Z reached into her neckline and drew out dog tags with jewelry on a chain. “She yelled last time I came here, made me miss my shot.”
“Lovely.” Dane searched for the woman as they approached. “All we need is another Kennedy incident.”
“You’re going to stop her,” Z said. “So that won’t happen.” She paused, then held out her tags and chain. “Give her these.”
“Will do.” Dane fiddled with the jewelry on the chain. “Art Institute, Sharp Building. Twenty-eighth floor.”
“I’ve got this.”

The present:
Melanie squirmed between clusters of people for a better angle, but the crowd pushed her back. Viewers waited all morning to keep good spots on the lawn and would not budge.
“We need to get closer, Lins,” Melanie said. “I can’t see a thing.” The baby cooed, unconcerned.
Secret Service agents stood at the stage corners. Others lined up before the audience. “Hail to the Chief” blared from the speakers. Applause and cheers swelled in anticipation.
Melanie backtracked to the serpentine pedestrian bridge over Columbus Drive. People packed the railing, but Melanie found a view between those in front of her. She sighed. “Better than nothing.”
The President strode to the lectern and waved. “It’s the President, Lins,” Melanie said, clapping with affected joy. The baby clapped too.
A woman on one knee at the east edge of the amphitheater’s lawn caught Melanie’s eye. The stranger ignored the speech, but watched the nearest Secret Service agents intently. Dirty brown hair and baggy clothes masked the woman’s appearance. She thrust her hand into her backpack as if rummaging for a missing belonging.
After two quick glances, the stranger checked her watch and stood. Gunmetal shone. She raised a bulky pistol and took aim through its scope.
Melanie opened her mouth to scream when a hand clamped over her face.

The past:
Dane wrapped one hand over the woman’s mouth, cradling the baby with his arm. Almost too late, he thought. He pulled them from the bridge’s railing. The woman kicked and struggled against him as he shushed her in vain. Bystanders turned to see what was happening.
“It’s okay,” Dane said to the woman as much as to the others. He pressed Z’s chain into the woman’s hand as he released her. “She said to give you this.”
Down below, Z pulled the pistol’s trigger. The silent laser light was invisible in the sun. Someone shrieked. Agents responded. Two shots rang out and Z crumpled to the ground bleeding. Then everyone screamed.
The sniper rifle that once took the President’s life never fired, because Z hit her mark first.
World War Three never happened.
Dane moved to the rail to see Z as she faded out of existence. The woman gasped behind him. Then Dane faded too.

The future:
Two women sat on a blanket in the grass across from Lake Michigan. The amber sunset reflected off the shimmering water. Melanie smiled and took her daughter’s hand. “Oh, your father would’ve loved to be here, Lins.”
Then she pulled out the beaded chain with a tarnished silver baby bracelet and its duplicate, next to dog tags from a war that never was, marked Lindsey McCullough. “Let me tell you about the day you saw the President…”

The Other Four Senses

I went for a stroll the other night and sat down at the basketball court near our house. And I thought about writing, of course, because that’s what you do at the basketball court, right?

I was thinking about how we get caught up not just in a story or in a character’s development, but in a setting. Some writing can really paint the picture for us so that we see the action and setting of the story like a movie playing in our minds.

Some writing goes further, and engages all our senses, so that we feel as though we are there in the thick of the plot. This is the sort of prose that creates worlds and transports us right into the middle of them.

What makes the difference between the two? One key distinction is in how we communicate to the four senses other than sight.

We can’t just paint word pictures that satisfy our mind’s eye. We need to speak to the reader in every sense, as much as we’re able. We have to speak to the mind’s ear, the mind’s nose, the reader’s mental nerves and tongue.

Sitting down in the park I close my eyes and…

I can hear warbling sirens off to the north, to my left. Fire trucks responding to a crisis, frenetic horns honking as they rush through intersections. Someone is running a power sander south of me, perhaps smoothing out rough planks of wood for a home project.

All around me, the breeze comes in short bursts, like the night sky is breathing on me. It combs through my hair and chills my neck, but plays with my chest hair like a lover’s fingertips.

The wind carries an aroma, a hint of homemade brownies, perhaps wafting down from one of the many kitchens above me on the hillside.

What aboout taste? I taste nothing, but my mouth feels dry, sticky, desperate for cool water after the exertion of crutching down the hill to this spot in the field.

As the crisp air begins to sink into my skin, I almost wish for a jacket. Now I’m ready to make the journey home. Muscles tense and I lift myself up onto the crutches with care.

Then I start up the gradual incline, my cast foot always feeling like it’s about to scrape the cement as I ascend. I push myself harder, my shoulders aching, my sides irritated and raw from friction with the crutches. My breath is loud now, deep and rapid. My chest thumps in time with the clak-clak of my crutches on the sidewalk. Even so, there is a faint rustle as a rabbit sprints across dry grass.

Senses put us there, and help tell the story.

You can paint a pic of a beautiful city with ancient and artistic architecture. But it tells me something more if the characters smell the scent of cherry blossoms on the breeze, if they hear the chittering of songbirds as satin petals fall from every tree branch, and the laughter and mirth of a Midsummer’s celebration beckons around the corner.

Likewise, it tells more story if the air instead hangs stagnant over the lovely town, as the characters choke on the odor of death and rotting flesh, and a shrill cry shatters the silence, expressing hunger.

Hopefully we can wordsmith to conjure up an image of a lovely setting. It’s the other senses that help really fix the reader there in that new world.

Try it as an exercise: sit in silence in a favorite or familiar location. Close your eyes and take in everything you can from what’s goings on around you. You might be surprised at what you’ve been missing.

Then when you write, your readers will be thrilled by what you’re not missing.


This is probably the story of mine that has received the most attention and response. With everything in the news about the upcoming Supreme Court decision concerning same-sex marriage, and with my effort to funnel the creative writing component of my main blog into this more focused page, I thought Pride would be a good start to this site. It captures my intent and heart for writing stories.

I hope you enjoy!

Originally posted here on June 13, 2012. This version has been edited slightly.

Disclaimer: This is a fictional story, not an actual personal experience. I hope to do something like this some day, and to live out love like this every day. But this is just a short story.

It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” – James 4:6 MSG

I step out of the van and ignore the immediate hostility of passers-by.

Two cross-dressers glare at me as they head toward the parade route. A man is in leather chaps has a leash around his neck, and another man is ‘walking’ him. They swear at me and turn away.

These are among the more tame participants. It strikes me as odd that in such a crowd, I am the one who gets strange looks.

If I am embarrassed at all now, well… it’s going to get a lot worse.

Pride Jesus by D. L. Anderson

Based on the argument that Jesus never directly addresses homosexuality in the Gospels.

I make my way to the edge of the crowd and try to squeeze through to the front. I need to be visible if this is going to be of any value. When people turn and see me, they assume they know what I’m here to do. I get jostled and shoved a few times as I gently push my way through. “Bigot,” one person says. “Homophobe! Go home!”

“Get out of the closet already, Bible-thumper.”

The police are out in force. Pride parades often get a lot of attention, not all of it good. That one church from Kansas is lined up farther down the street. Some local churches have put up their own signs, not willing to be outdone by these famous out-of-towners with the “God hates fags” posters.

The cops are busy keeping people marching in the parade from getting into fights with the various protest groups. None of them notice when I finally reach the rope that marks the edge of the parade route.

I stand at the edge and lean out, a Jesus in Teva sandals, a wig, and a polyester white robe with a red sash I borrowed from our church drama team. The beard is mine, scraggly but full enough after two months of growth.

The first few people to see me react in anger, swearing, shaking fists. “You don’t belong here,” they yell, along with some other choice words. People in the crowd throw half-empty Starbucks cups and large sodas and McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Ketchup and mustard splatter across my white sleeve.

No one throws rotten fruit any more. It’s not readily available, and it’s too expensive.

The folks marching in the parade are not happy to see me, either. Rainbow signs with witty slogans are shoved in my face. I don’t know if they’re meant to block my view with their message, or block the view of the other marchers so that no one else has to see another religious jerk condemning everyone in sight.

“What’s another name for the Crucifixion?” one guy asks the girl next to him, loud enough for me to overhear. She shrugs.

“A good start,” he says.

She laughs, and glances my way, her smile turning into a sneer.

I reach out a hand to those marching, and someone spits at it. The next person ignores me, stepping away.

“I am sorry,” I say, and he looks back, brow furrowed. But he’s too far past me now.

Mostly all I get from the faces in the crowd is the strong sense that I am unwelcome–a defensive posture and wounded expression that demands to know, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. This is our moment. Go away.”

I catch another guy’s hand, someone in a leather jacket, boots, and briefs. He recoils in disgust, but then I say, “I am sorry for how we have hurt you,” and he pauses.

Someone else spits on me. “Go back to the tomb, Jeebus.” His partner winks at me and says, “Hey, man, I’ll nail ya if you really want it.” They walk away laughing.

The man in the leather jacket, whose hand I grabbed–he simply nods to me, and I think I see his eyes glisten as he turns and continues in the parade.

A thin guy explodes into a rant with more f-bombs than actual words, arms waving, fists clenched. “What the f’ing f are you f’ing trying to do, f’er? You f’ing f’s think you’re f’ing doing any good with your f’ing ‘God hates fags’ signs and your f’ed up little white dress? Do you really f’ing think I give one good f’ing G-D what the f you f’ing have to say to me? F!!! I f’ing hate you, I f’ing hate your f’ing book that does f-all to teach love and tolerance, and I f’ing hate the f out of the f’ing God you represent! What now?”

He gets in my face.

“I’m sorry,” I say, and a tear runs down my cheek. “I’m sorry for how we have hurt you.”

He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

I think of the recent news stories I’ve heard, the angry sermons on the Internet, the callous defenses of indefensible statements.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve let people say we should ‘smack the gay out of children,’ or put them behind electric fences.”

He says nothing now, but he continues staring at me.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve pointed the finger at all of you, instead of preaching against our own arrogance, our own pride, our own prejudice and hatred. I’m sorry for how we act like you are less than human.”

“I came to say I’m sorry for my people and what we have done.”

His friend grabs his arm and pulls him away. “Come on, man.” But he keeps looking back, and I see him mouth the words, “Thank you.”

Another person spits on me, and a big guy just happens to hit me with his elbow. “Bigot,” he mutters.

This pattern repeats itself for an hour and a half, some people accepting my hand in friendship, many slapping it aside at first, some of them turning back to acknowledge the apologies I offer.

One of the people in the crowd behind me tugs at my shoulder. He’s holding a black leather Bible, with the gold edges on the pages and a little fish over a monogram in the corner of the cover. “You’re in the wrong place, brother. We’re all protesting at the other end of this block.” He points to where the angry people are waving their signs and shouting Scripture like a battle cry.

I nod and remain in my spot on the street.

Two women walk by, arm-in-arm. The blonde says, “You want us to confess our sins, pervert? We’ve been verrry naughty.”

They giggle as they approach. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Bible Guy watching.

“I would like to confess my sins to you,” I say.

“Ooooh,” the other coos. “Kinky. Yeah, do it.”

“I am sorry for the double standards we use to judge you,” I begin, and the smiles disappear.

“I am sorry for acting like one sin is worse than any other, for acting like our sins don’t matter to God as much as yours. I’m sorry for behaving like we’re better than you.”

They are quiet, holding hands, waiting as I continue. Bible Guy storms off to rejoin his protest.

“I am sorry for treating you like you don’t deserve our love–like you don’t deserve God’s love.”

The parade marches on behind them. I look at them through tear-clouded vision.

“I love you. We love you. I am sorry for how often we fail to show it. We shouldn’t see you only as what you do. But I know we’re also guilty of that. Please accept my apology on behalf of my people.”

I extend a hand after wiping it off on a clean spot of my robe. They hug me instead, ignoring the chopped onions and ketchup and diet Dr. Pepper.

We stand there, hugging, for about a minute before they thank me and move on.

Bible Guy is back with friends, and they’re not happy. “Don’t you know Leviticus says homosexuals are an abomination and the Bible says it’s a sin?”

“I know,” I reply.

“Yeah, well, maybe you need to get your Gospel straight before you come out here supporting all these queers.”

“I know what the Bible says about homosexuality, and so does the rest of the world,” I fire back. “What they don’t know, what they aren’t seeing, is what the Bible says about loving others!”

“Hey Jimmy,” Bible Guy says to one of his friends, “What do you think we should do with false Christs?”

It takes a couple minutes for the police to respond to the situation and break up the fight. I’m the freak in an offensive costume, so I end up in the handcuffs. “For your protection, bud,” one of the cops tells me as he drags me away from the parade.

Sitting in the back of the paddy wagon, I pull off the wig and rub a bloody jaw.

“Not the smartest move ever for the Son of God, eh, bud?”

“Yeah, I guess not.” I answer. I don’t believe that, though. I felt the hugs, I spotted tears, I saw the faces change from rage to respect. “Then again, things didn’t go so well for Him either, so it’s nothing new.”

The cop laughs. “I thought I saw those punks head back over to the protest after we grabbed you out. You sure got them riled.”

“They’re mad because I used to be one of the ones holding signs.”

“Oh… yeah, I used to hate dealing with this parade each year, too. And then my son started marching in it.”

He offers me a cup of water. ”Take it you get beat up by Christians a lot?”

“You’d be surprised.” I take a drink. “It was the religious leaders that wanted Jesus dead, not the so-called sinners.”

“Feh.” The cop looks back out to the crowd. “I just wish those guys would go back to their caves sometimes.”

“They can’t help it,” I reply. “They kind of belong here. The event is all about celebrating pride. They’re just full of a different kind.”

Story Time

“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” – Hannah Arendt

“Storytelling is fine as long as you can encourage people to act on the stories.” – Karen Armstrong

Everybody loves a good story. There’s a magic to it, a powerful compelling experience that leads us outside our mental box, outside ourselves, and plants us firmly in the mind of another. We talk about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes — stories take us there.


There’s a component of empathy involved. We find ourselves identifying with someone we’ve never known before, feeling their hurts and passions, seeing ourselves in their struggles and successes. Stories help us identify with fictional people so that we can better relate to the real people around us.

We learn values and ideals, but not as one does in a Sunday school or classroom. Stories are not textbooks with lists of facts presented in neat tables. No, instead we absorb the meaning like nutrients from the stories we digest as we ponder over the actions of the characters. He should not have betrayed his friend in order to get ahead. Why did she give up on the man she loved in order to achieve her goal?

That’s the power of enduring literature and moving stories. They linger in the mind after we’ve reached the end, forcing us to mull over the meaning of everything we just read or saw. They take on a life within us, not always with our expressed consent.

Our stories often stretch past our internal guards to change our hearts, to tell us how to live in a broken and hurting world. The tales we hear and tell can have an amazing effect, mending the wounds of the heart and compelling us to reach out to others who suffer the same pains. That’s the power of story which urges me to write.

Why do the great teachers often use story, not to provide an answer, but to respond to a question?

In chapter 10 of the Gospel of Luke, religious leaders question Jesus about what is the greatest commandment of all. Jesus tells them there are two: Love God completely, and love your neighbor as yourself. One of the teachers asks, “And who is my neighbor?”

Verse 30: Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers…” (NASB)

Jesus often spoke in parables, and when His disciples asked about it, He explained that it was to intentionally keep the meaning hidden. Of course teachers can come out and tell you a fact or present a thought about morality. There’s a time for that. But sometimes, what’s needed is the right question, not the right answer… the right story, not the right lecture. Now you’re given a puzzle, and your mind works in the background, putting pieces together until suddenly you see a picture you might not have accepted had it been presented to you directly.

There’s a power in our storytelling. There’s a community in it, a sharing of experience with one another. That power grabs hold of me when I read, and it makes me want to share the stories on my mind. The reactions of others to my stories spur me on, and make me willing to believe that as pretentious as it sounds, we each have powerful stories worth telling.

That’s what I hope to explore here. I want to share my efforts, but I also want to share the process of learning how to form a jumble of words into something magical. And I want to learn from others who are working toward the same goal.

I hope you’ll join me, and more importantly, that you’ll share some of your story. It’s probably what someone else needs to hear.