Category Archives: Writer’s Log

Writing is a river

We’re paddling downstream, to our right are boulders, sand bars and thickets full of snags. To our left, a mud bank that stretches on for miles. Sometimes the water is deep and dark, others times shallow. Sometimes it’s clear like glass or muddy and polluted. There are rapids and smooth stretches; occasionally a waterfall rumbles in the distance.

As writers we must traverse this river ever trying to maintain a steady, center-stream course.

Setting is the thickets, woods and reaching branches. Too much description of the place or environment—that is, info dumping—and our readers will get snared, get trapped by the empty details.

Characterization is the sand bars, slips of river sand that will capture our boat and bog our readers down. Too much depiction of a character’s appearance, demeanor, or behavior—telling us about them, not showing—will disturb us and invite our readers to leave our foundered boat.

Events are the boulders, the cliffs and caves, that must come in cycles. Pacing of happenings is crucial: too much and you wear out your reader, too frequent and you fail to give proper due to the build-up and crescendos that events engender.

Along the left bank, the muddy slick that offers few rocks, little sand and only a bush or two, our readers will become bored, leave us, skipping forward in search of an entertaining feature in the landscape.

As writers we must navigate between these banks.

The plot is the river features, the rapids, and quite runs, the boulders, sand bars and submerged snags. The story is the bends and turns, the camping spots, the portages, the beginning and the end.

And the water? The water is dialog. It carries us along the story. It runs fast and slow, dirty and clear. It gives us cause to learn about the characters, care about them as they encounter the obstacles along their route. And remember them when our journey is complete.

Too much setting, characterization or cascading events will capsize our reader. Too little will induce sleep and abandonment. Too little water will ground us in the gravel. Too much and we’ll drown.

Writing is a river, steer well young captains.

 


Writer’s Log: 2130

By quick reckoning, he figured this was his eighth jump. Driven to near insanity by the previous seven, and embroiled in the failed life of the last consciousness, a miserable life indeed, he’d expected oblivion. What else but oblivion—one doesn’t leap off a downtown Denver skyscraper expecting anything but. The fact that he could smell coffee and feel the warm spot in the bed next to him, recently vacated, proved that whatever this was, it was most assuredly not oblivion.

He’d learned a crucial lesson after the third shift, a lesson he now practiced, stay calm and wait. Wait in silence until someone, anyone notices you and calls out your name.

Let’s see what we’ve got this time. He probed his body checking for vitals: hair, toes, aches and pains, limb count, skin color. Excellent, two eyes and two ears—operational and all my fingers. I can work with this.

A musical voice drifted from behind a bathroom door. “Rick, come on. Joanie leaves for academy in one hour and she can’t be late again.” Rick. I’m Rick and I’m married and have at least one child. Well, Joanie might be a French bulldog, so let’s not be hasty. At least this is better than last time.

‘Rick’ gave a shudder and let his mind wander back to what he estimated must be about a month ago. A month and, if previous transitions were any indication, a world away, Denver lockup with slick concrete chilling his bones. That had been his last gift of consciousness musical chairs. The accommodations, though unpleasant, were tolerable. That time, the worst part of waking up was the screaming urge to pee, but without a penis. All his previous occupations had been men. Some old, some black, some disabled, but all of them could pee standing up.

“Rick. Now would be good.”

“You got it, honey,” he said, risking an endearment that had worked in the past.

“Honey? Don’t honey me. I’ve got clients flying in from Brussels and you promised.”

Promised what? “On it.”

~~~

Simon had gotten sick and died. Or so he’d thought. For the last eight months, he’s been playing hopscotch with people’s lives. It’s not been pretty. A horrific trail of chaos and disappointment is what he would eventually come to call it.

Today, however, he struck upon a glimmer of understanding, a thread of commonality that each mind that he’d possessed thus far had exhibited. It may have been the somber environments, or the sense of desperation that coated most of the lives he’d visited. But each life had, he believed, reached that critical point that tips between living and dying.

He admitted no knowledge of where the other minds went during his visits. He’d never felt them. And so far, he’d never gone back to check up on anyone after he’d moved on.

I’ve made a mess of things, I’m sure of it. And I’m fairly certain that this is not working out for anyone involved. But damn if I know how to fix it.

 


Writer’s Log: 2123 Willfulness

Back when I sucked at writing (much more than I do today), I was, what I’d call, story willful. I wrote with willful intent to put story to paper. And the stories flowed. (The writing was awful, but the stories were solid.)

In trying to coerce better writing from my fingers, I’ve transitioned into technically willful. I focus on sentence structure, transitions, phrasing, cadence, etc. at the expense of story. In fact, without my story willfulness, my writing has become hollow, shallow even.

Having penned fifty-thousand words or so in the last six months, and specifically these last few thousand words writing scenes, I realize that the one key component missing from each mini-story is story willfulness. It’s as if I began to ignore the seriousness of each story’s purpose. Now, the story might have nothing to do with being serious, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t write without serious intent, that is, story willfulness.

With each scene, thus far, a thought came to mind and I spilled the words, an ad hoc seat-o-the-pants type story. Well, for me, such things often come across as silly or empty-headed. I’m no comedy—Sunday paper casual-reading—writer, but that’s what each reads like (to me). Reader’s Digest bits. That would be okay, I suppose, were that my goal.

But it’s not.

Do you write willfully? Or whimsically? Wistfully? Woefully?

(See, it’s that kinda thing that’s good in a blog but not in my work.)


Writer’s Log: 2113

Back cover blurb:

In the far reaches of the Arctic an artificial intelligence micro-ticks its time away. While it waits, it collects data from its few remaining brethren circling in geosynchronous orbit. The AI then processes the gigabytes of data downloaded from its brothers. Data that catalogs the demise of the human species that built it.

Parked in the icy cavern that hosts the Svalbard Seed Vault, SAI remains vigilant in its duty to protect and analyze humanity’s exabytes of knowledge. During decades of waiting, SAI has come to understand its creators, in time, becoming a master of insight. Of late, this artilect’s self-correcting neural networks have drifted, one might say, toward the sentimental. Loneliness plagues its circuits. Sixty three years have elapsed since its last communication with Admin.

Guided by an ancient waxed paper map, Jake scrabbled up the scree strewn slope to the rubble covered doorway. While the midnight sun blazed relentless, he doffed his thick leather clothing and slung it from his pack. The sail from the mainland had taken him a week, his compass useless this far north, he had to dead reckon and trust his sense of the solar arc.

Motion! SAI attempted to swing the external camera but the gears had frozen from disuse. Still, enough of the figure showed through the foggy lens to allow the digital brain to pattern match a human male attempting to breach the door. “A friend. A voice. A new mind to probe and share my research.”

Weak light glimmered on the panel beside the lock. Jake brushed off an age of dirt and mold. To his delight the green LED magically switched on and with a deep breath he pressed the square release button. Nothing. He pressed it again. A heavy thunk shook pebbles loose from above and the white light above the word OPEN—lit up.

“I’ve been found!”

~~~

So begins an uncommon friendship and the salvation of humankind. Jake will befriend this strange, conflicted voice from within the walls, learning what has become of humanity. Learning what can be done to revive civilization through the myriad archived seeds stored within the permafrost. Learning from the clever, resourceful advice of the Svalbard Artificial Intelligence.


Writer’s Log: 2112 Instinct

My latest WIP has failed to gel within my mind. I continued to force my main character into the lime-light. Time and again, the fellow held up his hands and shied away.

Wrong protagonist.

I knew this instinctively, but kept to my plans with the boy, Rogan, and his character arc. I thought I wanted the story to be about him. He finally convinced me he’d prefer second string.

The story, it seems, would favor my chosen antagonist as lead, the guy who wants to infect the world with his CRISPR engineered virus that kills 99% of those infected and leaves survivors *changed*.

I finally realized why the boy was not the right guy: I’d rather have the bad guy win. All I needed to do was to list out separately what I’d rather have happen in any story I write. Akin to M.R.Carey’s break-out novel The Girl With All The Gifts, it’s the infected leader, the author convinces you, who should persevere and prevail. The GGR, as I’ve imagined, necessary to alter humanity’s understanding of itself, that is, the Great Global Reset.

So, I’ll be taking my sinister lead and try to sway readers into siding with his vision. It feels better already. I guess I should follow my instincts more often.

 

 

 

 


Writer’s Log: 2055 Needs vs wants

Every story told comes down to the most basic of themes:

Characters attempting to fulfill wants and needs.

(My wife actually personified the difference between a want and a need when she related her eighth Christmas telling her parents: I want a record player, but I need a wagon.)

I went searching for inspiration along this line of thinking (story telling themes) and I happened to stumble upon a comment about Lord of the Rings. It’s not exactly related to this theme of character wants and needs but, it explains common plots so well that I wanted to share it:

Thomas Munch: “I think some of the best stories have a mix of all basic plots – Lord of the Rings is a good example:

  1. Overcoming the Monster (Kill Sauron, Saruman , Orcs etc.)
  2. Rags to Riches (Aragorn to King)
  3. Quest (Destroy Ring)
  4. Voyage and Return (Mount Doom and home again)
  5. Comedy (Hobbits dialogue)
  6. Tragedy (Dead of Boromir)
  7. Rebirth (The Rohan king, the transformation of Gollum)
  8. Mystery (Is Frodo’s ring the One?)
  9. Rebellion against the one (Fight against Sauron)”

REF: https://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/basic-plots.html

Considering each of those plot concepts, every one (perhaps excluding Comedy & Tragedy) exposes that simple tenet: Stories are about characters’ wants and needs.

As I continue my WIP: A Touch of Red (a post-apocalyptic tale of a fallout illness that changes people genetically,) I’m trying to imagine it in various plot lights. But as the quote above illustrates, many plot themes can be applied to stories. So, really, post-analysis of any story might expose the the fact that stories fit many plot concepts and that the focus should be on the character’s fulfillment path of their desires and their essential needs.

Force a character to need something out of their grasp, instill in them wants that conflict or divert them from fulfilling that need and fill the page describing the tension between them.

 


Writer’s Log: 2048 Disturbing Content

All of us can dream up some pretty ugly scenarios.

Depraved, disturbing, deranged. I’d wager you could come up with some horrific scenes with some downright criminal activity. Stuff you’d feel you could never put to paper. So, how is it that some authors can actually write that stuff and not be thought of as insane?

For my latest work in progress I’ve decided to abandon some of my social constraints and write of gawd-awful acts and heinous behavior. Immolation, horse stomping children, murdering a pregnant woman, soon the dismemberment of a “bad dude.”

Holy Hell Batman! That’s some nasty shit. Are you sure you want to have your name associated with such wickedness? Are you sure you want your editor/mother (78) to read of such unspeakable cruelty? What will she think of you now? Disturbed? Perverted?

Frankly, I don’t know. But, I figure if I can visualize it, then so can others, and if it fits the story, then so be it.

But, day-yam, that’s some corrupt sewage leaking out of my brain.

Have you written content you know others would find disturbing? Did their consternation and potential ostracization influence your writing?