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The Four Main Story Foundations For Writing

Updated on June 3, 2014

The Reality of All Stories

Just as all homes have wiring, plumbing, a frame and a roof, all creative stories and books have a milieu, an idea, characters and events. Without these four ingredients a story is just a collection of nouns and verbs.

One of these, however, usually has more emphasis than the others, and that becomes the foundation of the story. Which one depends solely on which is more important to the writer.

When I was writing my novel “The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday To Today,” it started out as a character-based novel, but by the time I had finished two chapters I realized that really what I wanted was to drive home a major theme, namely hope in the future. From that point on the actual writing of the novel became easy. I needed focus.

As it turned out, there are several related sub-themes to the book, but the driving force….the engine if you will, for the entire book was the theme of hope.

Let’s take an in-depth look at all four main foudations so we can have a bit more clarification about this topic.

The milieu is Oz in this classic
The milieu is Oz in this classic | Source

MILIEU

The milieu of a story is the location it takes place in, and that location can be the central theme of the book. Examples can be found throughout literature, from James Michener’s “Hawaii” to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

As the story proceeds, it becomes readily apparent that the world, the town, the society or the family unit within a home is the most important aspect. The reader is transported into that milieu and explores it through the eyes and words of the author. The story begins when the main character arrives on location, and the story ends when he/she leaves that location. What wonders are seen during this time, and what experiences are lived, are of importance because of the milieu.

The most common genre for milieu stories is science fiction and fantasy. In most stories within that genre, a main character arrives at a strange new world, and their observations of that world are what engage the readers.

The idea of racial prejudice
The idea of racial prejudice | Source

IDEA

Idea stories are about seeking and discovering new information through the eyes of the characters. Most mysteries are idea stories. The story begins with the discovery of a mystery and it ends when the mystery is solved.

It could be successfully argued that “To Kill A Mockingbird” was an idea story, the idea being the existence of racial prejudice. Through the eyes of Atticus, Scout and Jem, we see this theme unfold and then come to a conclusion, leaving us, the readers, to come to peace with our own thoughts about the issue.

There is a specific genre called “speculative fiction” in which the story begins with a question: Why did this place change in some way? A book of speculative fiction will unfold with the question and then continue until that question is answered.

CHARACTERS

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things."
T. S. Eliot

Character stories are primarily about the change in a character during the story. Of course most stories have main characters, but only character stories deal with the growth of the main character.

One might think it would be obvious that the Indiana Jones stories are character stories, but we never really know much about Indiana. We follow along as he risks this health, but there is very little depth to the man and he undergoes very little change.

Conversely, a tale like “The Runaway Bride” begins when we are aware of a character defect in the main character, and the story ends when that defect is dealt with in a positive manner.

Remember that a character-based story must be about the main character undergoing change and growth, whether it be positive growth or negative growth.

Lord of the Rings Trailers

EVENTS

In an event story, there is something wrong with the natural order of things. Some event has been introduced and that event must be dealt with before conclusion can be had.

In “Beowulf” it was the appearance of a monster. In “Hamlet” it was the unnatural death of a king. These stories are told by a main character whose job it is to restore things to their natural order, or fail trying. The story really begins when the main character becomes involved in the event and attempts to change matters, and the story ends when there is a resolution.

A classic example of an event story is J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy “The Lord of the Rings.” The reappearance of a powerful ancient evil who was thought to be dead is the engine that propels the story, and the story is told through Frodo and Bilbo, two characters that are so endearing that the reader cannot help but be spellbound.

Do you consciously employ one of these four platforms when you write?

See results

Is a Combination Possible?

There are those rare books that combine two or more of these elements, but they are rare. The reason why they are rare is because of focus. In order for an article or book to be successful, it must focus on one major theme. To do otherwise would be to water down the main goal, and that is a recipe for disaster for a writer.

Again, in the writing of my first novel, it was a difficult process to water down the main characters and make sure that the story was not about them but rather about the main them. If I had leaned too heavily on character development I would have done the readers a disservice and confused them in the process.

Let's stop and do a little exercise. Have you written a novel or a short story? If so, go to it now and ask what the engine of that novel or story is? In other words, what central theme drives the story? If you can answer that question then well done! If not, you have some work to do, because if it is not clear to you then how can you expect it to be clear to your readers?

Focus Your Story on One of the Four and Soar

You may already be doing this without even knowing it, but it never hurts to understand the process when writing a short story, article or book. Giving that process a name sometimes helps to clarify matters as you go about your trade.

For the sake of focus and by extension clarity, it is always best before starting out to decide what you are trying to say and how you want to say it. Do you want the character to be the main focus, or is there some main theme that you consider most important? Do you want the place to be the main focus or do you want an event to be it? Answer that question and you will have a solid foundation upon which you can build a successful piece of writing.

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Wow, this was really good. Now I can see that superb teacher in this writing! A+ ^

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 3 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Bill,

      There is wonderful theory in this piece, helping put things together for me.

      I find when I am teaching Holistic Nursing, most nurses realize they have been doing it all along without putting a title on it. It gives them a feeling of credibility and incentive to keep going with it.

      This is what I feel you do to us as writers. A million thanks for the guidance and inspiration. Voted UP and UABI.

      Love, Maria

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I'll have to pay more attention to this procedure. When I write I rarely know where I want my piece to go; it kinda takes on its own direction once I get started. Thanx for the tip, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, thanks Jackie! Sometimes you just can't shut the teacher up. LOL Just throw an eraser at me and I'll settle down.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, that was a great example of this. Yes, most writers do this, but having a name for it does give it credibility....it would take a fellow teacher to realize that point.

      Blessings and love to you sweet lady

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, that's what it is here for...to provide focus. I hope you are well my friend. Sending a hug and love your way.

      bill

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Thanx, Bill. Honestly, I'm in a bit of a slump. Having my desktop in the shop isn't helping. I don't have access to my files and pix. :-(

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, that would definitely cause a slump....good luck, hon.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Bill, you really should think about teaching a course about writing. Seriously, the teacher in you really shines through on this topic and you can tell also how passionate you are, too bout this. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge on this topic and have, of course, voted up and shared all over, as always!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      bil....From your opening...using the analogy of how a home is built to how a story is built......genius! and the entire body of this helpful, educational hub......Brilliant. YOU, are a TEACHER, Sir, at your very core!..UP+++

    • profile image

      mjkearn 3 years ago

      Hi Sir Bill

      I think I'm starting to relate to this teaching writing thingy or perhaps you are getting better at it.

      Who knows, in time, if you stick with it you may become a professional, LOL.

      I just read I'mKar'n's latest blog post so I'm in a funnier mood than normal.

      I know, so why do I visit that on you. Well you are so good at putting up with me and the daily mail that Sir Bill had published just popped in between other things so I thought I'd come say "hello".

      Foundations you know I know about and I would say thanks for getting to my level but we both know that the "Gutter" is higher than the foundation.

      You show a pic of a courtroom another thing that you know I can relate too, thanks.

      As to Lord of the Rings well you know my engines are 2nd to none.

      I'll leave you in peace now and go off and annoy someone else but before I do I'm going to share this fabulous piece of teaching.

      No, no, it's my pleasure, honest. Would I lie to you??

      Now I've got a song in my head I'll be happy for the rest of the day.

      BTW: You're fast becoming the best teacher I never listened to, LOL.

      Have a great day and take a break. Take your lovely Bev out for lunch.

      MJ.

    • 4wardthinker profile image

      4wardthinker 3 years ago from Sierra Nevada CA

      This has been very helpful. No wonder I have writer's block. I lack focus. Thanks for putting another writing tool in my bag. Bookmarked and voted up.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Another wonderful article on writing and a great 'how to.' Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      thanks much teach!

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Bill,

      How much sense you always seem to make (unfortunately!!not much I can slate/joke or slag YOU about!!), definitely the teacher in you coming out.

      Love these 4 areas and I suppose I do not write with these in mind for my work but the logic is there and loved your choices of examples which made sense to me. Thanks again my friend for more magic from the maestro, have a great day my friend!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, I can't shut the teacher off...he just keeps popping his head up and annoying the heck out of all of us. LOL Seriously, thank you so much, and if this stuff helps you then I am happy.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Paula, there you go making me blush again. Thank you, sincerely, for your loyalty and following.....I feel better about myself already. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      MJ, if you just finished ImKarn's blog then why aren't you taking a cold shower right about now? Her writing usually leaves me hot and bothered. :)

      I'm always happy to have you here my friend. You make me laugh and give me a great break from the mundane SEO writing for customers.

      Now that I have had my laugh I will return to the humdrum life of a writer.

      By the way, what makes you think Bev wants to have lunch with me? LOL

      Thanks buddy!

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      4wardthinker, it is my pleasure. May you find your focus and carry on with ease. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Suzette, you are everywhere today. Thank you my loyal, supportive follower. I really do appreciate you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Eric, and thank you so much.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      No, Suzie, these do not apply to the type of writing you do, and that's okay. You are focused on your niche and doing exactly what I have suggested for month. Keep pounding your nice and establishing yourself as an expert....now we need a tag line for your articles that tells the world you are the go to source for all things beauty related.

      Thank you dear friend. Good luck keeping the MIckster in line today.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Hey teach, I brought you a nice juicy apple this day for doing such a wonderful job teaching us these things here.

      Hugs, Faith Reaper

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL..I love juicy apples, Faith...thank you!

      blessings always

      bill

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 3 years ago from Arizona

      Simplifying writing is so helpful as sometimes it does feel overwhelming. Enjoyed reading this a lot.. Going to pin in your special section of course.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Carol! I always appreciate hearing from you. Have a great afternoon my friend.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

      Ah sensei, another hub from the heart of the master. Seriously you do us such a favor and in your writings give us ideas and a map to follow. What could be better? You are providing us with a course in writing, hub by hub.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      You are showing yourself to be quite an expert, Bill. Great overview here. Voted up and interesting and sharing, of course.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Bill, of all your hubs I've read, I believe this is your best one. You are a prolific writer, and I am a busy editor, so I haven't had time to read them all. You have taken a whole course and condensed it into one session. It is going to be a big help to me because I am struggling to go from a nonfiction writer and a legal editor to some fiction and fun. This will help me to categorize my piece and focus on the category, and I'm sure it will help others to do the same. It is obvious that you have been in the classroom, my friend. Keep up the good work. Voted up ++

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, if I do those things, then I am happy. Thank you my friend. You always leave me feeling better about my writing ability, and that is a gift I am very appreciative of.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Crystal, I have picked up a few things during my lifetime. Now it is time to share them with others. Thank you for the kind words and the visit.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      High praise Miz B and I thank you! It is hard to switch genres as you are trying to do, and I wish you the best during the transition. If I can ever be of any help feel free to contact me.

    • WalterPoon profile image

      Poon Poi Ming 3 years ago from Malaysia

      Billybuc, another very useful hub... I won't torture you with my praise, my friend. I know how painful it is for you to receive. What I'll do is to compile all your hubs into a book and sell it in Malaysia under the title "The Definitive Guide to Writing: A Moment With WA(L)TER Reflection". And reflection, it is because all the articles are a mirror reflection of all your hubs, word for word, LOL.

      By the way, the devil-may-care style of writing of "Writer's Block: The Case of the Missing Nut" was actually triggered by your advice to me a day or two ago about finding my natural voice. It was meant as a joke, LOL.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Walter, it may have been meant as a joke, but it was refreshing and well done. You have a natural writer's voice that shows itself in your comments. I think you have the ability to make it in this writing gig if you allow that natural ability to shine through more often. Then again, what the hell do I know? LOL

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 3 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Bill. Interesting take on the way a novel unfolds. This blends well with Stephen King's idea that a story idea is like a fossil int the ground waiting to be discovered. Your formulation of the different types of stories is most helpful.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for this very important lesson. It is enlightening and makes so much sense. It had to be taught for it to be learned. Thanks, Teacher.

    • WalterPoon profile image

      Poon Poi Ming 3 years ago from Malaysia

      "Milieu" is one word I find hard to remember. I was wondering how to remember the 4 Foundations and I end up with LICE:

      Location

      Idea

      Characters

      Events.

      For those who like the word "milieu", MICE is easy to remember too.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Russ! You did it perfectly in your novel.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dora, thank you so much. The label of "teacher" is one I take pride in. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Walter, I like the MICE acronym....I can always count on you for a different slant. :)

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I like this. Thank you again for great ideas on how to become a better writer...

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Awesome. No long winded comment tonite...you said this so well... only had one really awesome writing teacher. He was my high school advanced journalism teacher. He taught with the same clarity that you have used here. I find your 'classes' on HP very helpful & effective. Voted up up & away. Angels are on the way. PS

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image

      Lurana Brown 3 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Wow, this is enlightening. I have not seen stories explained like this before...really interesting!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It's always a pleasure, Ruby, and thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      PS, no long-winded comment necessary. :) I loved this short, concise one.

      Blessings and a hug zipping across America.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Lurana! Sometimes a different slant helps to gain perspective.

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      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Great explanations in this hub. I like the example of Runaway Bride. Although I still have to finish watching that movie, I've seen the first hour and by then, her character was fully developed. The viewer knows the type of person she is.

      Funny, as I read many hubs from the great writers here, it appears we all agree on one thing. Focus. From photography, to storytelling to artists, the focal point is one of the most important things!

      Thanks for writing yet another helpful and interesting hub! Voted up, my friend!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Liz, I can't imagine anyone doing well in the Arts without focus.

      Thanks a lot for being here again. You are appreciated.

      Have a great weekend.

      bill

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 3 years ago from south Florida

      Hi, Bill. Those who comment on your worth as a teacher are on the right track but they get off too soon. You, m'dear, are a gifted professor. Trust me!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, drbj, thank you! I'll gladly accept that word of praise.

      Have a wonderful weekend my loyal friend.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      You're write in the foundations of writing. Great advice!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      :) Thanks vkwok!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting and informative stuff here, Bill. It is interesting to note which things need to be focussed upon when writing a novel and which will become the foundation upon which the story will be built.

      Thanks for this useful lesson in novel writing and have a great weekend, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rajan, without focus we are doomed as writers. You, my friend, practice this in each of your articles.

      Thank you and enjoy your weekend.

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Interesting and informative. I liked how you gave examples of the styles.

      One for remembering.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Anna! It's all about maintaining focus.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 3 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Bill, I learned something new today, and that's always a cause for celebration. : ) Milieu is a great word, one Ryan may have encountered during his spelling bee preparation. Now that I know a little bit more about what that word entails, I do believe I have employed, at least individually or in small combinations, all four of these foundations. One of these days, I'll consciously make an effort to utilize all four at once...that's probably easier to do with a longer piece, I'm surmising. In any event, it's good to read about and learn these writing concepts. Thanks for sharing, my friend! Rita and I shared a maple bar we bought from Amber at the bakery she works at, and I thought of you. LOL! Aloha, and have a great and fun weekend! Will you be seeing Man of Steel at some point?

      Joe

    • WalterPoon profile image

      Poon Poi Ming 3 years ago from Malaysia

      "Milieu" sounds like something to do with the military. That day, I saw a cricket bat at a sports shop and I thought of you, Billybuc!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Joe my friend, I hope you are enjoying the evening in the milieu of Walla Walla. LOL Man of Steel I believe is on our agenda for next weekend. Too many chores to take care of this weekend, and the weather is very promising.

      You'll be interested to know that I have started jogging again to awaken the old body. Starting out at a 1/4 of a mile and sprinting the last twenty yards. Of course, sprinting is a relative term. :)

      I wish you a wonderful weekend buddy, and I look forward to your next hub as the challenge continues.

      Aloha,

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Walter, now there is a sport that confuses the heck out of me. How they keep score in that game is beyond my comprehension. :) Have a wonderful weekend my friend.

    • jenslibra profile image

      jenslibra 3 years ago

      Being an aspiring writer, I found your article really informative. I have many ideas for stories, but the overwhelming task for me is focusing on that one element. Your suggestions have provided me with a different way to tackle my writing. Thanks!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      jenslibra, I'm glad this has helped you, and I'm always happy to converse with another Libra. :) Thank you!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      You're not alone in your confusion, my friend. I've lived in the UK for 24 years and I still don't get the scoring or the terminology. And if that weren't bad enough, there are different types of cricket with their own little nuances.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 3 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Billy, your tagline is spot on! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the 4 foundations. I write, it seems, by the 'seat of the pants', as I had never heard of this aspect before. Thank you for clarifying and helping me to focus on this part of the writing process. Excellent stuff, my friend ;) Pearl

      Voted Up+++

    • WalterPoon profile image

      Poon Poi Ming 3 years ago from Malaysia

      Grandma, Billybuc is allergic to praise. Don't forget to click UABI and the thumb-up button, when you voted up+++.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank heaven, Phoenix. I thought I was the only one who did not understand that game. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Pearl! Your hub is coming on Monday and I hope it helps you. Have a wonderful weekend my friend.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Walter, good evening my friend. Thanks for running interference for me. :)

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      livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for another useful hub Bill. Hope you are well. Have a great weekend! Voted up and Sharing this!

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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Had I just been allowed to continue to write my material with any of the rules in place, I would be lacking a great deal. Thanks for your suggestions and your teaching to allow someone to be a successful writer.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dahlia, I am well, thank you, and I hope you are the same. Enjoy your weekend my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb it truly is my pleasure. Thank you for the visit and for your friendship.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Very interesting hub about the elements of writing. I agree with Janine; you not only shine as a teacher, you are a very skilled writer. I have always disliked the saying, “Those that can, do; those that can’t, teach.” Hooey. For starters, they never met Bill Holland.

      Thank you for sharing this with us, Bill. I always learn something new when I read your hubs.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Genna, thank you so much. That means a lot to me my friend. I hope you have a wonderful Sunday; you have given me a smile this morning and that is a lovely gift.

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      Mr Archer 3 years ago from Missouri

      Loved this hub, Bill. I have never thought about such but in retrospect it is obvious. Guess that's why you're the Master and I am but a humble apprentice.

      Been absent for a bit here on Hubages with work and life and such. Noticed I have lost my Level VII commenter status. Oh woe is me! I am lost, and now must re-attain the lofty status of almost good enough!

      Ah well; what the hell. Have a great day Bill. Enjoy life and your family for those are the most important things in our existence. Blessings to you and Bev.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mike, good morning! I heard recently from someone else who lost their level whatever status...I didn't even know that could happen. Well, it will be happening to me in about a month and I'm pretty sure my life will continue.

      Thanks buddy and I hope all is well in your world.

      Blessings to you and yours

      bill

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