Category Archives: Writing

Writer’s Log: 2166 Story Essential

Story Essential means every word counts. Every word moves your tale forward. Nothing is included just because you like the way it sounds, the way it feels—its literary bells chiming in the chapel.

But here’s another way to look at this concept. It’s math, so brace yourself.

  • The average page contains 200-250 words. We’ll settle on 240 for convenience.
  • It takes the average person one minute to read one page.
  • That means every second your reader will have read four words (240 / 60 = 4).
  • Four words per second.
  • Ten seconds go by and your reader has read forty words.

Here’s the kicker: Those forty words, WERE THEY WORTH THOSE 10 SECONDS OF READER’S TIME?

A whole minute goes by—a page—two hundred and forty words. Was every one of those words necessary? Did you waste any of the readers time with filler, do-nothing description or extraneous dialog that has nothing to do with enticing the reader to read the next page?

Story Essential means winnowing your narrative until no extraneous words burn reading time.

A starving reader craves story sustenance. A bloated one dismisses it.


For my workshop, I’ve been focusing on ground level mechanics, the tactical aspects of writing. It’s been pointed out that there’s another aspect which bears mentioning that, although not mechanics, ties in with the burgeoning writer: what to write.

I’m not talking about subject matter, any prompt of your own device or source ( or will do. Specifically, I’m referring to what you see and hear in your mind when you portray your story’s settings and characters.

I skim over this concept in the workshop’s Writer’s Wrules, but essentially, becoming scene “in tune”, early on when one is learning to write, may help avoid difficult to shake habits that expose a writer as a noob: Info dumping, excessive description, disingenuous dialog, exhaustive soliloquies, or rambling character speeches, etc.

Immersing one’s imagination in the scene and extracting the essential details, the emotive ques that personify the moment—that trick, learned early on, will enhance the quality of narrative and propel a writer’s work up the levels scale.

Writer’s Log: 2163 Workshop slides

Writers Unite!

Or, at least agree that we are never done perfecting our craft.

Here’s the PowerPoint that I’ll be using as fodder for my assault against my Writer’s Workshop class: GDoc Slides I’ll continue to tweak it in the coming two weeks, but if you read it and want to add or correct something, feel free.

Here’s the text from the slides

Writer’s Workshop
Fiction Mechanics

• Writing is a skill
• • It can be learned.
• Your own author’s voice will come
• • Copy first, then strike out and stand your ground (ignore the critics).
• Thick skin
• • False praise vs scathing critique.
• Writing ruined reading
• • Analytical reading, “editor’s hat” will haunt your reading forever.
• Rules and how to apply them
• • Muscle memory, focus on a few at a time.

• First Person
• – “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.”
• The Hunger Games
• The Handmaid’s Tale
• – Everywhere I go I end up in places like this. They cramp my style, or so Mickey tells me. But with my budget… Woodja look a that. Gottdamn smudged mirrors, filthy carpets, water stains on the ceiling like Matisse stood on a chair and slapped it with a coffee mop. Sometimes, not often, I find blood.

• Second Person
• – “You put the lime in the coconut, you mix it all up.”
• Few novels are written this way, but it’s good for recipes.
• – You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.
• -— Bright Lights, Big City
• Third Person
• – “He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place he’d never been before.”
• Singular • Limited • Omniscient
• – Johnny keys the lock and throws the plastic diamond on the scared dresser. “Everywhere I go, I end up staying in joints like this.” He checks out the filthy mirror and the ceiling, stains like a map of the world. In the bathroom he scans the floor. “I ain’t used to it. But nowadays I don’t freak out—blood in the sink, in the tub, everywhere.”
• Present or Past
• Present
• – If the wind blows any harder, I’m going to have to find better shelter. A stick flies by like an arrow as I run to the overpass.
• Past
• – The wind blew harder than I could stand. I ran to the overpass and tucked up tight into the corner. There I crouched as the tornado plowed through the town.

• The Protagonist. Who is your story about?
• • Know them intimately. What do they want vs what do they need? What drives them? What secrets do they hold? Who or what is holding them back?
• The Antagonist. Who or what is your main character fighting against?
• Think “Hero’s Journey”. What is the end-game?
• Who else is part of the story?
• • They each need their own motivation, their sub-plots.

• What are dialog tags?
• • Reduce tags – use only said, told and asked (past tense), say, tell, ask (present tense).
• Use action in place of tags
• • People act while speaking.
• Internal dialog format
• • Internal dialog, quoted, italicized or plain.
• Who’s speaking?
• • Keeping track of who said what?
• Use dialog to set the pace, instill tension vs calm
• • Rhythm, cadence, natural, varied.
Dialog example – fix this
Johnny walked through the door of Mickey’s pawnshop. “How’s biz, Mick?” he asked.
“You know how business is,” Mickey sneered.
Johnny thought, what’s up with him today? “I got them containers you asked for. Where do you want ’em?”
Mickey replied gruffly, “Just leave them under the card table in the back.”
Johnny walked into the back, placed the box of snap-lid containers under the table and returned carrying a ukulele. “I used to play one of these, back in the day,” he said brightly.
Mickey didn’t care what Johnny had done ‘back in the day.’ “Put that back,” he griped. “Can’t you see that it’s signed by Ben Harami?”
“Ben Harami?” Johnny wondered.
Mickey scoffed. “Harami and his Harem? How old are you anyway?”
“Why you always down on me, anyway?”
“Where were you last night?” Mickey drilled. “I had a thick envelope right here. This morning, I can’t find it.”

Dialog tags – do not use them
accused burst out corrected gloated maintained put in seethed teased bleated retaliated started acknowledged cackled coughed greeted marveled puzzled shot tempted blurted retorted stated added called countered grimaced mentioned quavered shouted tested boasted revealed stormed addressed cautioned cried groaned mimicked queried shrieked testified boomed roared stressed admitted challenged croaked growled moaned questioned shrilled thanked bragged sang stuttered advised chatted crowed grunted mocked quietly sighed theorized brayed sassed suggested affirmed chattered cursed grumbled motioned quipped simpered threatened breathed screamed surmised agreed cheered dared guessed mumbled quizzed slurred told broke in scoffed swear announced chided decided gulped murmured quoted smiled trilled bubbled scolded taunted
answered chimed in declared gurgled mused raged smirked urged bugged tauntingly lisped apologized chirped demanded gushed muttered ranted snapped uttered concurred exploded purred approved chittered demurred hinted nagged reasoned snarled volunteered confessed exulted argued choked denied hissed nodded reassured sneered vowed confided finished asked chortled described hollered noted recalled sneezed wailed confirmed fretted asserted chorused disagreed howled notified reckoned snickered warned congratulated gasped assured chuckled disclosed huffed objected recounted sniffed went on continued gawked avowed claimed divulged hummed observed reiterated sniffled wept contributed gently babbled clarified doubted hypothesized offered related snorted wheezed convinced gibed badgered clucked drawled imitated opined remarked spat spun whimpered cooed giggled barked coached dribbled implied ordered remembered speculated whined jeered pondered bawled coaxed echoed informed panted reminded spluttered whispered jested praised beamed commanded effused inquired perplexed repeated spoke wondered jibed prayed began commented encouraged insisted pestered replied sobbed worried joked proclaimed
begged complained ended interjected piped reported spluttered yawned lamented promised bellowed complimented exasperated interrupted pleaded requested squeaked yakked laughed proposed bet conceded exclaimed intoned pled resounded squealed yelled lectured protested bickered concluded explained instructed pointed out responded stammered yelped lied provoked

Active vs Passive
• Is, Was, and Were
• Passive
• – The ship was tossed about like a toy in a washtub.
• Active
• – The sea tossed the ship about like a toy in a washtub.
• Declarative (quasi-passive)
• – Jenny was counting the fence posts when a deer leapt over the wire and slammed into their car.
• – (better) As Jenny counted the fence posts, a deer leapt over the wire and slammed into their car.
• – It was a dark and stormy night. The trees were every color of the autumnal rainbow.

Showing vs Telling
• Explaining vs describing, and then there’s info dumps
• Telling
• – Ben stood high above everyone’s head. He wore a too-small brown jacket whose crawled halfway up his forearms. When he walked he dragged the toes of his shoes like to leave furrows in the carpet. His favorite drink was a tequila sunrise but, mixed up to look like the sun through forest-fire smoke.
• Showing
• – “There’s a lot of dust on top of your fridge,” Ben said. “Let me clean it for ya.” He stretched but his jacket bound his arms. He shrugged it off and wiped the top clean.
• – “Is that why you’re shoes are all skuffed on the front?” Sherrie said, watching him shuffle across the floor.
• – “I guess,” Ben replied, swirling his drink until the grenadine and OJ mixed to a pleasing mango color.
Showing vs Telling
• Adverbs, use sparingly
• – The porcupine walked slowly across the road.
• – Charles breathed heavily after his run up the staircase.
• – “I’ll never get a date by tomorrow night,” Mary said sadly.
• Theater of the Mind
• Don’t spoon feed your readers
• – The box, five feet by five, stenciled letters all around the outside and brown with splinters showing where the stevedores had banged it into the sides of the container, dripped a suspicious liquid from one corner.
• Invite the imagination
• – The damaged box, big enough to hold a dozen children, leaked a vile liquid.

• Internal
• Angst within a character
• Character vs character
• Character vs environment
• Expand the tension, never let up
• Allusions to a dark past and premonitions of what’s to come.
• Wants vs Needs:
• What the protagonist wants is often antithesis to what he truly needs.
• – Harry Potter wants to destroy Voldemort. What he needs is friendship.
• – Luke Skywalker wants to be a pilot. What he needs is purpose and a family.
• In medias res.
• Nested story,
• • chapter,
• • • scene,
• • • • paragraph,
• • • • • sentence
• Hooks, hangers, foreshadowing, leave a reader with a sense of ennui, apprehension, unease. Never “wrap things up.”

Story Time
• Sequential or Episodic
• Flashbacks to introduce backstory.
• Time accounting. Keep track! Nothing is more jarring that scenes and references out of place.
• Prologue & Epilogue

Your Writing Process
• Outline (planner)
• Wing-it (pantser)
• Session word counts
• Schedule
• Why novelists write fast, edit slow.

Story Essential
• If narrative does not:
• • move the story forward,
• • contribute to the plot or the character’s development,
• • enhance the setting, the sense of where
• • or ratchet up the tension…

Writer’s Wrules
• Every time you write a “was” think: how else could I say this?
• For every quote, ask yourself: How did they say it? What was their attitude, stance, facial expression, position, activity?
• For every dialog there are emotions: Who is happy, sad, angry, despondent?
• For every passage there is a setting. What does it smell like? What does it sound like? What is the weather, the climate? What time is it? What season is it? What room or terrain are they in?
• Don’t tell or report. Show the reader what’s happening.
• Create strong, dynamic characters that will thrive in my topic.
• In what location and era will I set my characters in order to best unravel my story?
• Should my story mean something? Should it push for sociological, political, familial, ideological change? Should your story try to make a difference, have influence, change things for the better, somehow, through narrative?
• Eliminate your use of flag words: very, quite, always, suddenly, quickly, and all the tiny obvious verbs (get, got, do, did, put, walked, went, gone, run, ran, see, saw, crossed, turned).
• Consider deleting words like knew/realized/saw/heard which don’t add much to our prose. “She knew Springtime meant starvation along the river…”
More Writer’s Wrules
• Grammar & spelling must be exact.
• Active vs passive, active every time.
• Controlled use of dialog tags, use only said, told, asked.
• Describe don’t explain (or show, don’t tell, for most). Adverbs tend to tell, that’s why they’re frowned upon.
• Maintain proper POV, avoid head-hopping.
• Consistency of voice, both of the story and the characters.
• Story mechanics: time accounting, flashbacks, dreams, travel, world building consistency.
• Cycles of conflict, action, resolution, reflection…
• Character arc: hidden angst, emotion, motive, doubt, conflict, result.
• Plot design and tuning: allusion, foreshadowing, subplots, intra-themes.
• If you’re writing narrative, setting, backstory, or context, can the characters take on that job instead of the author?
• Make your characters work for a living because that’s who the readers want to hear from, not you.
• The author is done when the plot and structure is complete; it’s the characters who are now delivering the story.
• Get out of the way of the story. As much as possible, let the people talk, move, behave.
• Emotion drives the characters who drive the story. Feel these emotions, try not to control them or constrain them, let them come out in the characters’ words and behavior.
Writerly Topics
• Strategic:
Narrative type (novel, novella, short story, flashfiction), Genre, Theme, Story, Plot & sub plots, Characters & supporting characters, Setting, Structure/Scenes, POV, Tense, Device – suspension of disbelief, Style, Pace, Tone, Climax, Conclusion, Denouement
• Tactical:
Active vs Passive, Dialogue, Rhythm, Mood, Description (threes), Show vs tell
• Both:
Voice, Diction (colloquialisms), Hooks, Conflict, Foreshadowing, Red Herrings, MacGuffins

Dear Mudge, Monkey Face


Monkey-faced eel – not really an eel, but tasty.

OK, Mudge, you claim ambivalence rather than kindness. But at least you’re a polite ambivalent. (And didn’t you recently claim kindness as a goal? Which you retracted, yes, but I think the label stuck.)

As to making a worthwhile point—on any topic—all opinions matter equally, which is, as we’ve determined, not at all. Yours, piled high and reeking, would at least provide philosophic nutrition to worms, weevils and woodlice.

You posted a set of nice lyrics; hard to imagine they weren’t part of some sonnet or modern Shakespearean knockoff. I would point out that simply by acknowledging your appreciation of such a touching piece, you expose a human side that, although you state such sentiment has bled away, I think not.

Our recent conclusion that intelligence correlates with misery garnered numerous counter arguments. Here’s my rebuttal: Although the tally of those miserable on either side of the IQ curve may be equal, the quality and variation of misery on the high side and, were the weight of grief totaled (intensity + complexity + recurrence), our side would tip the scale. (If that’s not a Pyrrhic victory I don’t know what is.)

On the subject of writing about the philosophy of existence, upon reflection I’d say my personal intent is therapy. Vaporous thought is one thing, but persisting one’s ruminations, for me, allows logic to overlay the mystical. I gain perspective this way. Not to mention that rereading such pontifications, later in life, often provides a chuckle or two.

Writing fiction used to be me dreaming on paper. These days, given my blooming narrative enlightenment, attempting to create something of beauty is now my goal. Although also therapeutic, writing is a challenge and when executed well, proof that my faculties are still somewhat intact. In highlight, there’s nothing like being in the *flow*, the slipstream—time fades away, I exist only in the moment, the story. That feeling comes all to rare, but when it does, it’s euphoric. You should try it sometime (grin).

I’ve convinced my “writing class” that they need to deliver 1000 narrative words by the 4th of February. One has complied and I’ve already waded into that one, red pen slashing.  As I edit, I’m reminded of my own neophyte writing those years ago.

“Boy, you sure are brutal.” My first contributor patted me on the shoulder. “But all your comments are spot on.” I’m surprised at how effortlessly I see what needs to be changed. But this is all ground-level stuff. The elevated techniques, levels two and three and beyond, that I’ve mentioned in the Writer’s Log, are much harder to communicate and learn. These core writer’s skills, when they’re missing, stick out like a blue tie at a Drumpf rally.

Time and practice. Starting out, such advice always appears short-sighted, “well, duh.” Only after actually putting in the long duration effort, and then measuring one’s progress by analyzing beginners, can one acknowledge that dogged regimen is the only way to excel—at anything. I started this writing endeavor at age 55. You, just turning a half-century, I wonder what skills you could amass were you to apply such a theory. (Is Vet-Tech still in your cards?)

Concrete ideas are always so much easier to discuss. Can you build a birdhouse from clear plexiglass? Should Lunists & Martians leverage lava tubes as habitat? Would artificial floating ocean islands, SeaSteading, be productive and useful or a waste of resources? It’s fine once in a while, but getting wrapped up in continuous existential conundrums, oy, let’s go fishing for monkey-faced eel or hunting for peyote or something, anything…


Writer’s Log: 2158 Writer’s Workshop

In my desire to learn to write well, I’ve decided that I’ve reached a point where my limited skills can be shared. So, I announced that I will be offering a Writer’s Workshop at my place of work; a couple of hours, after 5:00 pm on a weeknight within our same building (so that people can leverage their commutes). Half a dozen folks have already signed up.

I’ve reviewed my various “Writer’s Log” posts here as well as the compendium of advice I’ve received from various others (all dumped into a big-ass GDocs file) and reduced my syllabus down to the following list you see below. This list is a teaser I printed on strips of paper to hand out. The actual syllabus is a slide-deck of this content with examples and illustrations.

I’d like to solicit opinions from the writers in this group as to what you’d care to teach a set of neophytes on the task of writing well. This specific list comes directly from my own stumbling blocks upon which I skinned my shins repeatedly.


Point of View

Past & present

People act while speaking

Was & were

Bad things happening to good people

Nested story, chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence

Sequential, episodic, flashbacks

How to write: Plan, wing-it, a blend

Genre, Theme, Story, Plot, Characters, Setting, POV, Tense, Dialogue, Scenes, Conflict, Pace, Active vs Passive, Narration, Description, Show vs tell, Protagonist, Antagonist, Tone, Mood, Style, Voice, Diction, Device, Allusions, Red Herrings, MacGuffins, Hooks, Climax, Conclusion, Denouement.



Apocalyptic Scenario 1.a

I told Brian that I’d write a somber piece for him to read aloud.
And so I did.
And so he did.

Brian’s rendition:

The full post:



Curse you TomBeingTom

I despise these vapid Webby type contrivances designed to stroke the poles of bloggers and web developers since the late ’90s. My walls are lined with ribbons and placards of all the awards I’ve won. To add another is more nuisance than accolade.

(Mole dear, your wall is covered with posters of the Partridge Family, not web awards.)

Oh, right. Damn, that was the life I was GOING to have having dedicated my thirty’s to learning web languages and becoming a published web author. Alas, none of that panned out. I ended up working for failed startup after failed startup. (Geeze, maybe I’m the accursed one…)

OK, OK, here we go: Thanks TomBeingTom for, you know, calling me a female fox and obligating me to reply else I feel the heel and potentially miss the opportunity to flash my programming prowess, albeit, 20 years too late.


That, my friends, is some of the first C# I wrote back in late 2002 when .NET first came out. And what did I apply myself to building with that great new language? A blog of course, or rather: Web Log, as no one called it a blog back then.

I managed to post more than 500 entries into my custom made blog over the next 10 years until my server’s harddrive failed and I quit trying to fool myself that I would ever win any praise as a developer. A living career, yes. Awards, never. (I did make copies of everything, I’m not entirely daft.)

My first ever “blog” post in January 2003: (I used XML as a storage format — pretty prophetic, no?)


Blogging became more of a personal diary. But after things fell apart, I pishposhed about until I thought I’d better get back in and WordPress was a platform that seemed easy (free) and open (and free) and so I joined up (because it was free) in 2009; or so it says on my account page, I can’t believe it’s been that long.

Anonymole came a few years later in 2012.

The rest is all documented here in the pages of a subterranean gadriosopher (gatherer of knowledge). When it comes to life histories, brief is best. So, in short, I learned to code, made a blog, wrote some shit, the end.

But, hey, thanks AGAIN TomBeingTom for being the first to shine a bright light onto my failure as a web developer. (Kidding) [No, not kidding.] (No, seriously, I’m kidding.) [No, I’m not kidding at all, this is heavy shit. I think I may have to write another letter to Mudge begging to be consoled, placated at least, uncomfortably petted? Ya see, it’s all about bloggers getting stroked!]

Toko: Yoda’s Jedi grandkid

So, I just ran across this Baby Yoda meme, and it didn’t register until my son, up for the holidays, started talking about the Mandalorian. “Wait a minute, I wrote a cheap-ass story about a baby Yoda.” Not a baby really,  but Yoda’s grandkid: Toko. This was nearly three years ago… But here’s the tongue-in-cheek post…