Tag Archives: Writing

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’m an impatient reader

I’m an impatient reader and I’m sorry for it. Mostly.

Most of the books I read I blaze through, skipping ahead, scanning for important words and passages, impatient to get to the meaty actiony parts.

And most of the time this works. The actionless drivel (or even the more literary stuff) I slog through, meanders along — it’s often prose like describing breakfast for people who are about to die. So, I tend to skip these passages. (Tell me, why would you bother describing a detailed breakfast for someone whose head is about to explode? Criminy, just get to the rip-roaring sequences and leave the characterizations for those folks who are important to the story.)

And therein lies the problem. Occasionally, in some books, the author has spent the time to write a scene where important features of the story, the plot — the reason why a character might do a thing or need a thing — and I skip it. I skip it because this communique happens during some mundane (but possibly well written)… “We’re enjoying a spot of soft-boiled egg, clotted cream and muffins, won’t you join us? And, oh by-the-way, Johnny-boy has the plague…” type of scene.

Why does this matter? Well, here’s the crux of the whole post: I write such scenes. I may linger on a character, for a moment, however brief, where something important is exposed, ‘leaked’ you might say, which is critical to the entire-bloody-story. And I expect that readers will have bothered to read this exact part of the story.

And you can see where this is going — I, for one, would probably be the WRONG person to even read my own damn story! Because I’d skip that very-important-part. How sad is that?

Sad. Sad indeed.

Wax on, wax off

This is a continuation of the topic of of unlearning how to write poorly.

Mr. Miagi, I want to learn how to write narrative fiction.

Anonymole-son, you must first learn wax on, and wax off. No, no no. Not like that, like this. Ah, better. Now keep going.


How’s this Mr. Miagi?

Very nice Anonymole-son, you have mastered one of the but many techniques required to write excellent fiction. Now for your next lesson…

 ~~~ Versus ~~~

Mr. Kanloon, I want to learn how to write narrative fiction.

Here’s some paper and a pen. Go for it. A writer writes, am I right or am I write?


How’s this Mr. Kanloon?

What the fuck is this? This ain’t narrative fiction. This is some dissertation shit or something.

But you said, a writer writes.

Yeah, but this sucks. Now you’re gonna have to unlearn all those ugly bad habits you picked up learning on your own thinking that you could just keep writing and that would somehow cure you of writing like shit. Nope. Wrong-o.

(Sheesh, where’s Mr. Miagi when you need him?)


Writer’s Log: 1400 what we remember

Update: I’m back on my first manuscript, Blue Across the Sea, rewriting it for self-publishing on Draft2Digital here soon. This story portrays a designed environment, a bucolic dis-utopian future set in the Great Basin (which is now the Bonneville Inland Sea). I had a great time writing it, but my skills were pitiful — and it shows now that I’m going back through it.

Incidentally, Shadow Shoals takes place in the same future time frame – but on the East Coast of the US. These stories are 200+ years post CME.


I sat and thought last weekend about stories and what we remember from them. What makes a story memorable? I’m struggling with trying to get the parts of a story balanced: plot, setting, conflict, events, characterization, and dialog. And I wondered if the things we remember about a story might help focus my emphasis. And here is one theory I came up with: What we remember are the people, settings and events.

In M.R. Carey’s The Girl with all the Gifts I remember the classroom, the chemical scrub, the gnashing of teeth at the sergeant’s arm, the girl strapped to the table about to get her brain removed, the escape from the facility, the bouncing trip in the HumVee, the use of a tiny girl as a lure, the grey wall of fungus.

Do I remember any dialog? No. I remember what happened, the events and the reactions, the suffocating thought of spores entering my lungs. The realization that this was the best representation of zombies ever.

I don’t remember anything anybody said. I recall the girl was super bright, and the teacher naive (no doubt communicated through dialog). But nothing specific.

There’s this YouTube ad, a grizzled writer (for a Masters Class I think) sits and talks, “I’ll a piece of paper, and a pen would be nice, and I’ll sit down and write some dialog.”

I imagine two friends stepping out from the theater after they saw that paper and pen dialog movie, they meet a third friend:

“So, what’d you think?”
“It was good.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, it was two people talking.”
“And what happened?”
“Nothing really. The man smoked a pipe. The woman drank coffee. They were both in their sixties.”
“Nothing happened?”
“They talked.”
“Okay. About what then?”
“Oh, life, love, this and that, I don’t really remember.”
“But it was good.”
“Yeah, but, no, nothing happened. Oh, wait, the guy made a mess with the ashes as he cleaned his pipe.”

We remember events and setting and situations and rarely what anybody said.

Dialog seems to represent the feel and packaging of a character. Dialog is the critical glue that holds story parts together. The parts might be good and memorable on their own, but how we get from scene to scene is people talking us through it.

Yet, we remember the parts and not the glue.

I’m sure there are exceptions, but, again, I’m seeking broad spectrum heuristics here that I can remember as general application rules.