A-Z Writer's Toolbox: X-Ray Vision

A to Z Disclaimer:
Like all craftspeople, writers need to keep a bag of tricks handy. A set of tools for the job (writing), if you will. Some of these traits or tools are obvious--like the need to have a hide as thick as a brick, for instance. Some are not. This month, I've been challenged to do a post every day of the week (excluding Sunday) that begins with a letter of the alphabet. I'm going to use this challenge to examine some of those necessary writing tools, both conventional and not. Hold on to your #2 pencil, here we go!

NOTE: I've added a page dedicated to my A to Z Writer's Toolbox posts. I figured I'd soon have a bunch of these things and it'll make it easier for you to browse any of the letters you might have missed. You can find a link to the page under the, "MORE STUFF" heading at the top of the right-hand column of this page.

X is for x-ray vision

Creative writing isn't about re-telling life as it happens on the surface.  That's the stuff that anyone can see.  Creative writing is about digging deeper, and examining the internal conflicts and circumstances that truly define humanity.

We don't tell the reader 'this is the bad guy', but rather show them why that's the bad guy.  We let their intent speak through their actions.  To do that we have to understand what is going on beneath the surface.  What life circumstances drove the person to the brink of destroying the world?  What's his biggest fear?  His grandest hope?  We have to know all of those things in order to write convincing and compelling stories, and we have to know them for every character.

The best way to learn to convey those layers of complexity in writing is to learn to see them in the everyday life around you.  We need to develop an acute form of x-ray vision that allows us to see the story within a story, so to speak.

For example: You overhear a couple arguing at the store.  From their words, it appears to be a simple argument over the husband picking out the wrong kind of cheese.  Now put on your writerly x-ray glasses.  Maybe the wife views this as yet another sign of the husband's disinterest in the day-to-day life of the family, or perhaps the husband purposefully defied her because he found out she has been cheating and doesn't have the courage to confront her with words yet.  Either way, there's clearly much more going on than a debate over cheese.

That's the kind of examination we need to use in our writing.  The ability to see beyond the surface will take an ordinary story and change it into something compelling.



  1. Nicely done. You make a lot of sense.


  2. EJ, you teach me something new every day.

    (I'm guessing that I've just stated the obvious, but hey!)

    Thank you!

    A x

  3. Another fabulous post on writing skills.

  4. Where do you buy x-ray vision aids so you can show your characters' motives rather than tell them?

  5. Wonderfully put!!!
    And I love the picture.

  6. Sounds good, I'll try thinking of this....
    Nice picture too E.J.

  7. Is that a naked penguin? You dirty bird you.

  8. You are exactly right. I've really enjoyed the toolbox posts you've done for A-Z. Always found them to be useful!

  9. Another helpful post, I love your insights into writing. Also love the penguin picture! :)

  10. If only there were an easy machine! I need that! I also wish I had x-ray vision into my own mind so I could find out what's keeping me from writing diligently!

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  12. It kind of makes me think about the X-Ray machines in airports. What do they really see? It's true though; an argument is more than just the cheese. The cheese just happens to be the icing on the cake.

  13. I have a little something for you on my blog! :o) http://www.lormandela.blogspot.com

  14. Great learning experience reading your post. Thanks for sharing.


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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