Category Archives: Writing

Writer’s Log: 1562 Golf

Learning to write fiction is like learning a difficult technical and physical game. Take golf for instance.

A few decades ago I decided to learn to play golf. It looks easy, right? The game itself is simple (except for all the USGA rules), the equipment obvious — used clubs can be had for a song, and is ubiquitous. Ha! Little did I know. My naivete provided no little amount of amusement to others and frustration to me personally (just like writing).

What I found was that there are dozens and dozens of very specific physical setups and movements that must be followed to even come close to a consistent game. Learning these techniques became the goal. But, with so many intricacies, learning them all at once would be impossible. So, I found, one must learn them one or two at a time, master those, and move on. Just like writing.

Even the game play is similar. You start swift with a resounding smack of action and whirling motion. Crack! There goes the ball off the tee, your driver swinging like the executioner’s blade. And the game is on.

At each hole, you approach, with various clubs over various terrain, to get closer and closer, building the tension and accruing your overall score. Plop. Into the cup, and then the next chapter begins.

Drivers are different from field-woods are different from irons are different from sand and pitching wedges and are all different from putters. Each requires a certain stance, a specific motion and follow-through. Each requires nuances that must be learned, slowly, a lesson at a time.

This learning process, this incremental addition of skills is mandatory; concise, self-contained lessons, drilled into your mind and body:
• Learn to keep your head still, shoulders level — for the entire swing.
• Learn to write in active (not passive) voice, with varying sentence length and cadence.

Master that pair of skills until your body and mind no longer need reminding. Muscle memory, as writer’s mind, is the goal here. Teach your body and mind to perform naturally, without thought. Once you have attained a proficient (enough) level in these selected skills, then you move on to add the next pair of abilities.

You must train your body and mind, rework them in such a way that you natively move and think in a certain way. The way of the golfer. The way of the writer.

The first page tells all

I’ve got a new novel acquisition rule: I must be able to read the first few pages.

Think about it. Where will an author put their best effort, their greatest focus, their highest level of refinement?

Page One.

For all books I consider reading, I expect to be able to read the first 500-1000 words (2-4 pages). If I can’t read the first few words — off my list it drops. Plop, ‘the shuffling murmur of book covers sliding together as they cascade down the head-high pile fills my tiny cell.’

For unknown authors, most of them these days, I’ll skip any attempt of a prologue — straight to “Chapter One” I go. For known authors I may give their prologue a glance. Ten seconds, maybe.

If the first few pages of a story, which should be the author’s best effort, suck. What chance does the rest of the writing have of getting better, maturing or teasing at my sensibilities? None. None at all.

When it comes to novels, first impressions are EVERYTHING.

Writer’s Log: 1523 To all new authors

To all new authors out there, (here’s a shaker of salt, spread that around first won’t you…)

Now, to all authors who are starting out on their first novel. STOP! I mean, don’t like, STOP completely. Only stop and listen to this short public service announcement:


That will be all. Goodnight and good luck.

What? You want more than that? Explanation maybe? Well, alright. Here you go.

  • Write your first 5000 words and then get those beat to a bloody pulp.
    Don’t write another word until those first words are crushed and shredded and torn asunder. You need to know that your so called ‘style’, your knowledge of prose construction, may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Mine wasn’t. Mine was abysmal. Anyway, stop, do not proceed until you have gotten your writing, the actual mechanics of writing compelling fiction, down much better than you think you do.
  • Now, write your next 5000 words, and yes, STOP there too.
    So, now that you think you’ve gotten the shop-floor process under your belt, that you think you can start rearranging the work flow. Nuh-ah. No way. Your next task is to take your 10,000 words and, hey, look at that, you’ve got 1/8th of a novel completed. Does it have the plot firmly established? Does your MC, your main character have a dark unknown past? Have you established the stakes? Do you have an antagonist? Do you have an ending in sight? Have you figured out the big ‘change’ your MC will undergo? Yes? Well alright then.
  • Write your next 10,000 words and then STOP. (Getting tired of stopping yet?)
    Here you need to step back, way back, and consider your theme, your story’s arc. Does it warrant finishing? Have you created a sub-par plot, a cliche’ meme? Are you nosing along the same worn path as tropes of your genre have blazed a thousand times before? Are you writing something unique and compelling — so much so that you, YOU, will feel compelled to finish it? Yes? Well, moving on then.
  • Finish the damn story.
  • Did you have a climax? Did you build up the tension and character development the whole time? Did you leave a trail of inference, crumbs your readers can follow and extrapolate on their own? Did you fulfill your MC’s goal? Did she/he change? Did you leave some questions in the end so that your reader doesn’t feel all wrapped up like a burrito? Yes? Good.
  • Now put it away for at least TWO MONTHS.
  • Write something else.
  • Now, with your original story, is the story, as you remember it, still compelling? Still worthy? Have you learned additional skills, more stylistic treatment of dialog, of tension, of character development that you can now apply to this story? Good.
  • Now rewrite it, line by line, word by word, as if you’ve never read it before.
  • Put it away for another TWO MONTHS.
  • Write something else.
  • Reread it as if you’re completely unaware of the story. Does it ring true? Does it speak to you? Your soul, your heart of hearts? Do you find yourself just reading it — not judging it, as if you’ve fallen into the story and can’t help but continue?
  • OK, here you go. Now you can start to consider querying it or self-publishing it. You have of course already submitted parts of it during your learning process to friends and literary types for evaluation — right? RIGHT? Good.
  • OK, publish this bad-boy.
  • Begin editing your next story.
  • Repeat.

[Postscript: Why would you write this way? Well, If you think you can sit down and bang out a novel, without any mind to the writing — you’re dead wrong. What you’ll have in the end is this thing. This godforsaken, putrid thing that will take so much work — fixing the actual writing — that you’ll feel defeated, right out of the gate.

So don’t. Don’t think you can just write a novel without first getting at least WAY better at the CRAFT of WRITING. Work the craft as if you were Wax On and Wax Off — right? OK, carry on then.]

Writer’s Log: 1522 Staying on the Clock

One of the more difficult aspects of writing, I find, is remaining cognizant of clock and calendar time within the story.

Imagine if your story’s internal time frame spanned only a single day. But, it took you a number of months to write it. Here you are on chapter 7, maybe 30,000 words in and yet it’s only noon on your tale’s wall clock. Keeping a consistent understanding of the passage of time is hard.

My stories tend to take 2-3 months to unfold, internally. By the time I’ve reached 3/4’s of the way through, I get a bit lost as to how much time as elapsed; has it been a week since the rock slide destroyed the cabin? Or was that two weeks ago? Did the main character break that window only yesterday? Whoa, three thousand words later it feels like last month (and it may have been, physical writing time-wise).

Stretching out the calendar writing process, over months (if not years), disconnects my head with how fast things have happened in my stories. Time and time again, I’m stunned, as I start a new scene, to realize that the story, within itself, is only a few days old. Hell, I’ve been writing for two weeks, and my characters have only gotten to the end of the second day?

Clock time is easier than calendar time. And I’ve found that year-spans are easier than calendar too. She was twelve. Now she’s fifteen. But days, weeks and months? If you’ve read the Harry Potter series then you’ll notice Rowling uses holidays to mark calendar time. Seasons can help too. But if your story takes place over, say, summer, then you have to find another, event oriented, time division mechanism. First came the flood, then the crickets, then the tornado, then a fall down the cliff, then the forest fire, and now the harvest.

And here’s the rub: Calendar time often represents the duration in which you want to mold and change your characters. He starts out shy, but by the end of the summer winds up confident. She begins distant but  learns, over the weeks, and months, to be caring and involved.

Calendar time will divide the development of your characters into segments so that you can show their progress (for better or for worse). And that is the challenge, to manage your character’s evolution — in time.

The Pulse and Glow 1.1

I’ve had this story in my head for a long time. I decided to give it a start and see how it felt.

The Pulse and Glow

The world balances at the tip of peak energy. More, ever more, beg the people of the planet. And who are the First World nations to hold back those of the third? But their plead for more rings hollow. And every engineer, every climate scientist, every physicist, geologist, economist, and, lately, politician realizes that more is no longer a possibility.

In a tiny village in Iraq, a dreamer, an engineer of mysterious skills, discovers a possible answer to the energy crisis. The battle to release this invention into the world becomes his and the world’s only salvation. But Abani is only a simple engineer. And the Russians, and Saudis and Norwegians would rather not see their hegemony of the world’s oil reserves jeopardized. The illuminati, long acknowledge to command the world’s economy are about to lose control — all because of a tiny device that delivers ‘free energy’.

Chapter 1…


Writer’s Log: 1488 Nuances of clause placement

‘Milly paused, wiped her lace handkerchief across her brow, and looked up, startled, to find Antonio sitting upon the impatient stallion, staring intently at her, later that afternoon.’

I’ve been editing Blue Across the Sea, my first, anxiously anticipated novel and, as I do so, I find numerous occasions where I flip, mix, or bludgeon a sentence with improper clause placement.

The above sentence is contrived, but serves to represent various issues, or what might be issues regarding the placement of clauses. Primarily among them is the concept of time.

My case in point: “later that afternoon.” Notice how I stuck that at the end. Now, why would I do that? Inexperience is usually the culprit. But, as I start to rearrange BATS, I find that I must reconsider these strange compilations of sentence structure. Do I want to leave the concept of time for the end? Or would moving it to the middle or the beginning be more appropriate?

‘Later that afternoon, Milly paused, wiped her lace handkerchief across her brow, and looked up, startled, to find Antonio sitting upon the impatient stallion, staring at her intently.’

Here we move time to the front of the sentence. That feels more comfortable — setting the context of the final intense interaction of Antonio and Milly to occur at the end — the punch.

But maybe I want to emphasize the time-of-day as more important than Milly and her beau.

‘Milly paused, wiped her lace handkerchief across her brow, and looked up, startled, to find Antonio sitting upon the impatient stallion, staring intently at her, later that afternoon. The storm had built in the heat of the day and the winds now competed for the young woman’s attention.’

Or maybe, as one might hope, with the modified emphasis, we follow through with Antonio’s intentions and take the reader into the lurid and steamy…

‘Later that afternoon, Milly paused, wiped her lace handkerchief across her brow, and looked up, startled, to find Antonio sitting upon the impatient stallion, staring at her intently. He slid from the saddle, strode forward and snatched her kerchief lifting it to his nose in a deep, fulfilling breath.’

It all depends on what comes AFTER the clause. This is the lesson I’m having to teach myself. (A ruler smacks swiftly down upon Anonymole’s knuckles, bad Anonymole, bad!).




I live with my ideas turned off

I am surely cursed.

I can look at a blade of grass, a cloud, a mote in the sunlight, or nothing at all — the emptiness of a tipped bucket or unfinished barrel and see a story, see the makings of the work-a-day effort, the striving, the agony of completion as the task is done and the next as it is planned. These and more as an entire life is envisioned, run through its trials and finally extinguished.

I can’t turn this off. Or rather, I can turn this off, but if I looked, I would see this constantly.

But, yes, I do turn this off. I have to. If I don’t, it would be like living in a fast forward cascade of fictional events, spilling from a dreamed reality, dragons, and alien planets, and financial equations, and tiny thumb-handed beings trying to build a city from packing peanuts. It just never stops.

No. It does stop. I stop it. The fact is, I know I can’t deal with it, so I kill it. Intentionally.

I kill it, often with alcohol. Mostly, with alcohol. But that only inflames the sprites within my mind. Oh, to they enjoy a spin on the spirits, a dance on the drink. Fortunately at these times, my fingers can no longer follow my thoughts and it’s there where the fancy leaves the page. You may never know what happens after. Which is sad. But, rest assured, know that what transpires is a true whimsy of enormous wonder and possibility…