Daily Writing Tip 15 of 100, Write A Values Listing

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Write A Values Listing

Source – The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly

I prefer listing one”s values to listing just words because values are by definition emotional: they are how we feel about the given subject. It helps our always-mangy memory, in any case to list the qualities of people or of life which we hold dear or which we deplore. A values listing keeps us conscious of large virtues when we can so easily get lost in small virtues.

Values Listing: Examples

1. Two goals or values which make life good or bearable or would if they were in operation.
2. Two goals or values which cause injustice and suffering or lessening of joy.
3. Two missing goals or behaviors.
4. Two injustices which you see about you and should keep on eye on, even on your wedding day.

I was introduced to Carol Bly and her book, The Passionate, Accurate Story years ago in a fiction writing class taught by David Haynes. He introduced the idea of making a values listing – and I’ll have to admit, at first I didn’t understand how important it was. It took a while and some practice to get it to sink in. You can get so wound around the spindle of plot, character, setting and the other mechanical elements of telling a story it is easy to forget why you are going to all this work.

We all have read wonderfully written literature that feels hollow. They are all skill and no heart.

A value listing is a start at regaining the memory of why you wanted to do this in the first place. Fiction is a big lie that is the only way to tell a bigger truth.

I consider Carol Bly’s book to be an irreplaceable guidebook to finding that bigger truth.

Dallas Noir


About a year and a half ago, I read a book called New Orleans Noir – which I enjoyed a lot. It was a collection of DARK short stories all set in a city I love very much… and a city, despite all its frivolity and fun, that has plenty of opportunities for that side of the human spirit.

The book was part of a series of noir short stories tied to individual cities. After reading it, I had a thought, “I wish they would do one of these on Dallas – but they never will.” I was wrong.

I missed it when the book was published or I would have gone to some of the events. I didn’t find out about the book until it made the rounds on social media. When the publication of Dallas Noir popped up in my facebook feed I was really excited. And in this day of ebooks and instant gratification, fifteen seconds later I was looking at the table of contents.

What was even cooler is that I have personally met two of the authors – I read their stories first.

David Haynes is an Associate Professor and Director of Creative Writing at SMU. About a decade ago I took a couple of classes in fiction writing from him through the Writer’s Garrett. I’ve always been amazed at how much more I learned from these than from my college writing classes (which set my writing back over a quarter-century – it’s my college writing classes that are responsible for me being a chemist).

His story, “Big Things Happening Here,” Oak Lawn, was more than excellent. Unique, subtle, very “literary” – it tells the story of two men that witness someone being abducted in a tony suburb and are drawn into a vast conspiracy… or maybe not. A thought provoking tale of the possibility of a secret undercurrent of modern life – an illustration of the adage, “Simply because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.”

Next I read a story by Catherine Cuellar, “Dog Sitter,” Love Field. I have met her a number of times at events in the Arts District and bike rides. Her contribution was on the more civilized edge of the noir genre – a story of a domestic worker that kills a passerby by accident. It’s a finely characterized tale which captures the delicate and difficult life led by those right under our noses, yet right outside of the mainstream of society.

After those two I cranked through the collection in order. I was familiar with many of the writers – I’ve been reading Ben Fountain and Harry Hunsiker for a while. There was a wide variety in all the stories – which made it as enjoyable as a box of chocolates – but the locations were all familiar. They did a good enough job of inserting locations and people that any Dallasite will recognize to give me the creeps as I ride/drive/move around town and see things that remind me of the stories.

The last story was by Jonathan Woods, “Swingers Anonymous,” M Streets. I enjoyed his collection, Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem – driving down to the Pearl Cup on Henderson to hear him read one night. I’ve always admired his writing – because he doesn’t fuck around. He writes like a truck wreck… the story comes at you two hundred proof and on fire. True to form, his story in Dallas Noir has a classic “grab your attention” opening line:

We all went over to Pauline’s to admire her breasts.

How can you not finish a story that starts like that?

Dallas Jail complex with the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge in the background. (click to enlarge)

Dallas Jail complex with the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge in the background.
(click to enlarge)