Advice for Writers–Follow the Fingers Where They Go

Gordon Lightfoot has a old song that I don’t care too much for. It’s “The Minstrel of the Dawn” where he goes on about being a minstrel. I think he doesn’t need to sing about it since he is obviously a singer and writer of mainly good songs (“Knotty Pine” is another song I don’t like. Sample lyric: “She’s my  knotty pine; she bleeds turpentine…” My reaction is, dude, get your gf to the ER pronto!). But anyhow, one of the lyrics to “Minstrel of the Dawn” is “Listen to the pictures flow and follow the fingers where they go.”

I was thinking of these words as I was working on my novel this week. I understood the lyrics because my fingers are just following what the characters do. I have heard writers say that the characters take on a life of their own and that the world of the novel becomes as real as this world. And they do.

Stephen King relates that he receives requests from people on death row and people with terminal illnesses that he tell them what is in the Dark Tower of that series. He says he does not know what is in the Tower and will not until the story gets to that point.

That makes sense to me.


The protagonist of my novel, Otto Kerchner, sometimes does not do what I expect him to. In one chapter, he is bullied at lunch by a big guy. I thought Otto was going to sit there and take it. Unexpectedly, he goads the other boy into taking a swing at him (by insulting his momma) and when he does, Otto pops him in  the nose. That earns him a trip to the principal’s office, but I think it was worth it. I had students like Otto who finally stood up to bullies and the school and world are better for their courage.


So, fellow writers, “follow the fingers where they go.” You may be surprised where you end up.

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