Discussions of the Writer's Craft by a vastly experienced yet unsuccessful author
Presented here are my thoughts, dreams, and ramblings on the Craft, my direction, philosophies, and things that make me go hmmmmm. On the port at large you'll find the simple, swashbuckling tales of El Cajon's oldest teenager that will hopefully interest the fans of steampunk or horror in all their entertaining forms. And if you find that my sometimes winking eye coincides with your own views, make it a part of your rounds. There's no telling what we might get up to! And by all means, bring your friends, especially those who enjoy the delicate bouquet of coal smoke and embalming fluid. Until we meet again, then, read well, and write better.|
And thanks to Schnujo Won NaNo! for the awesome AwardIcon gracing the page. Nothing I do is done for personal recognition, but when it comes, it is both humbling and gratifying, in this case being one of WdC's top awards and by far the most prestigious I have ever received. My only goal with this blog and my reviews is to be helpful, and it's wonderful to hear that it's working!
Semper audax esse,
| Good California morning, friends and followers! I was asked another question today by one of our fellow members, and as so often happens, it turned into a blog post. The question was How do you work one sided phone conversations? It is flattering to have people think I'm an authority on these kinds of subjects even though I'm not, but I'll take my best shot.
The one-sided phone conversation is defined as a conversation that the viewpoint character, and thus the reader, only hears one side of. The purpose, when it's used wisely, is to deepen a mystery in the reader's mind. You want to either give him some information without revealing its source, or tell him who's calling without revealing what exactly was said. Note that if you're writing in the modern era, you have to account for the existence of the cell phone. It makes no sense to have a character drive across town to tell her partner about the evidence she's uncovered when all she has to do is pull out her phone. The new Hawaii Five-0 probably addresses this more thoroughly than any other show, as they take pictures of fingerprints, shell casings, and anything else that might look useful and shoot them off to each other for evaluation and discussion. It's also interesting to note how often they have some inconvenient cell phone problems; no service, cloned phones, signal jammers, and so on. They maybe deal with it a little excessively, but it does make for gripping drama.
But we're here to look at the telephone's use in creating mystery for the reader, specifically as one side of an overheard conversation. This eliminates the call the hero answers only to hear a voice saying, "Help me! Help me!" then going silent as he helplessly shouts, "Where are you? Talk to me!" with the sounds of murder going on in the background. That's a method of creating tension, and you very much want the reader to "hear" both sides of that conversation, so not the subject of this post. What is, then?
In both cases, one side of the conversation is being overheard, surreptitiously or not, by the scene's narrator. In the first instance, we know who's calling, but we don't know what's being said. For example, "Yeah, Dave, what did you find out? ... Really? ... I had no idea ... Well, obviously, this changes everything. I'll get back to you." The character hangs up. If the overhearing character is in the scene and known to the recipient, he may ask what that was about, but he isn't going to get an answer. Either the recipient will be evasive, or he'll claim it's about some personal matter that has nothing to do with the matter at hand. But we know different, don't we, dear reader? And that call will be at the back of our minds for a dozen chapters until it's finally made clear what it was.
The second case is its direct opposite in terms of the mechanics. In this instance, no one knows who the caller is, but he throws a monkey wrench into the story flow that will take chapters to unravel if it ever does. Here's the example: "Hello ... What about Sydney? ... We already looked at her, her alibi checks out ... How do you know this? ... Who the hell is this, anyway? ... Some friend! Okay, we'll look again, but you're wasting your time and ours." Here we have a call that sends our heroes down an unexpected path that may lead to truth, or may be a huge distraction. They'll know the caller's gender, and maybe he or she has an accent, but that's about all, or it should be. To get maximum mileage out of this, don't make it too easy to identify the caller. Better yet, make it impossible. This can be your best friend when things are going too smoothly and you want to throw the reader out of all his carefully constructed preconceptions. Like all stellar techniques, though, it's easy to overuse. I'd say once per book, and if you get a book published, don't use it in the next one... and maybe the next. That's how powerful this is. Use it wisely.
I thought about this for a while before solidifying it as a blog post, and these are the two uses I can think of. Of course, I've long-been a period writer, working in times and places where there generally are no telephones, so maybe I'm overlooking some. If you know of any others that you'd like to share, leave them for posterity in the comments below. We're here to help each other, so here's your big chance! In any case, add this to your writing notes, and see if you can stand your genre on its head with it. I'll be back within the week with another pulse-pounding expose on how to build a fabulous story. Until then, read well, and write better!
Semper audax esse,
PS: Is horror dead here on WdC? I joined what I believe to be the largest horror group on the site, "The Dark Society" , only to learn that it had been inactive for a year, and remains so to this day. So I created a horror forum for discussion of the genre, "Voices of Darkness" , but after a short flurry of activity, nothing has been posted for two months. Is there truly any interest in horror here, or should I maybe seek another venue? Let me hasten to add that I don't mean leave WdC, but maybe I need to move my horror interest to another site. Opinions, anyone?
| "A small press is an attitude, a kind of anti-commerciality. The dollars come second, the talent and the quality of writing come first. If the presses wanted to make money, they'd be out there selling cookbooks."
~ BILL HENDERSON
For those of you who find the calendar a challenge, it is November 30th, and this is a date I've been simultaneously dreading and anticipating since mid-summer. Let me tell you a story (said the storyteller to half a million other storytellers).
Back last spring before the heat became oppressive, before the outdoor plants began their annual summer die-off, before the first arctic storm dusted the local mountains with snow, I was taking my first tentative steps into what I saw as Urban Horror with my Possession of Blood story. New to the genre, I joined a Facebook horror group, stipulating that I was there more to learn than to claim any extensive experience. During the course of chatting with experts on the forum, I rubbed up against one Mr. B.K. Bass, who presented himself as being both knowledgeable about the genre, and genuinely eager to help. During our discussions, he offered to take a look at my story, and I was eager to share, so I sent it along. Turns out that he is the managing editor of Kyanite Publishing (and more on them shortly), and he suggested that if I could bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, it might find a home in his homage-to-the-pulps of the Golden Age, Kyanite Press.
Try to imagine the thrill that went through me at that possibility! Go on, I dare you. I'll wait... But as Possession of Blood was envisioned as the first of a series with the overarching title of The Nexus Chronicles, I told him that very thing, that I saw it as a series. His response? He prefers to publish works in a series. Oh my God, somebody pinch me! So I brought Possession of Blood to its conclusion and submitted it, and began work on the second story, Creeper. Kyanite normally has specific submission windows, but when I told him I had the second story completed, he said not to worry about waiting for a window, just send it along.
I should clarify: I've been writing for 61 years. I obviously wasn't trying to get published while I was in grade school, or as a teenager, or even a young adult, but I would say that probably for the last half of that time, I've been submitting manuscripts to every publisher and agent whose address I could find, and got back nothing to show for it but a dazzling array of rejection slips. The fonts, styles, and tones run the gamut, but that's a story for another post. Here I was, having given up any thought of publication, only to have a publisher ask unbidden to look at my work, then ask for a second sample outside normal channels. I was stunned by this development, and remain so to some extent.
And that brings us up to today, November 30th, 2019. Having received the first two offerings in The Nexus Chronicles, Mr. Bass told me that he liked them in general terms, but that he couldn't make a commitment until he had seen all of the submissions, a perfectly reasonable stipulation, one must admit. But here's the point. He told me I should have an answer around the end of November. This here would be said end of November, and I'm now haunting my e-mail box with bated breath. Obviously, there's been no news yet, and I reasonably expect that it could be another week or more. That doesn't make the waiting any easier, though.
So, while I wait for my literary fate to be decided by an internet acquaintance, let me give you the lowdown on Kyanite Publishing. They announce submission windows for certain genres, and accept nothing outside of those windows. Right now they are seeking dystopian and post-apocalyptic science fiction for the May 2020 issue, and the window is open until January 30th. The specific information can be found at https://kyanitepublishing.com/kyanitepress/kpress-submissions/, and don't forget to check out the blog, homepage, shop, etc. while you're there. B.K. is kind and approachable, and his associates are pleasant folks as well. If you feel yourself ready for the show, submit something from your portfolio, or create a new piece for the occasion. Then you can join me here on the pin cushion.
I generally close my posts with the admonition, semper audax esse, Latin (according to Google) for "Be Always Bold." I have never meant it more than I do right now. Most of us are here because we have a dream of publication. Here is a doorway to that dream. Don't let it close without you!
Semper audax esse,
| Good morning, friends, and I hope it finds you well. Today I'm going to talk about the Confidant. I call the confidant "Character Three" because in my writing formula, the confidant is the third character introduced after the hero and the villain. The Confidant is a uniquely subtle character, and very difficult to get right. The hero, or Protagonist, is easy. He or she must be virtuous, courageous, competent, and likeable. The Antagonist, who may or may not be an actual villain, can make or break your story, and was discussed here a week ago at https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/969971-Antagonists-and-Villains-what... You have to be careful with your Antagonist, but every story needs one, and if you have the basic skill set to be telling a story, you'll probably figure out what's required. Ah, but the Confidant... That's an entirely different story.
To begin this study, let's look at what a Confidant actually is. As defined in my personal writers' bible, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, "The Confidant is a person close to the lead who is privy to that character's thoughts, secrets, and fears." This is most often a friend, often one with years of history, but it can be a teacher, co-worker, partner in the sense of a police or military partner, and anyone else with a reason to interface with the Protagonist's life. Not every story has to have a Confidant, but the character can be of immense use in certain genres. If there is no Confidant, then all those retrospective interludes in which your Protagonist studies the clues he's gathered and decides on a course of action must, of necessity, be solitary, and this can lead to long, lifeless passages of internal dialogue and introspection. Discussions, decision-making, and even arguments are much more interesting and dynamic. So, whistle up a friend that your 35-year old Protagonist met in college, and be on your way, right? Well, not so fast.
I mentioned that the Confidant is a difficult character to bring off, so let's get into that. Two common pitfalls lie in making the Confidant a co-Protagonist, or in making him a cheerleader. First, the Confidant is less capable than the Protagonist. The subtlety here lies in making him capable enough, but not too much. Hawaii Five-0 fans have a good example in the relationship between Danny Williams and Steve McGarrett. Danny is a capable, competent police officer. Steve is a Big Damn Hero who occasionally needs the voice of reason to come from outside himself. It's a good partnership. What you must guard against is the situation in which every time the Protagonist gets stuck on a plot point, the Confidant comes skipping down the garden path with a perfect solution ready to hand over. He contributes to the solution; he doesn't solve. Also, the Confidant can save the hero once (physically, mentally, or emotionally) somewhere around the middle of the book, as this will demonstrate his competence in his own right. Obviously, he must never save the day in the climactic scene. If he's constantly bailing the hero out of problems that said hero can't handle, readers are going to wonder why this guy isn't the hero.
Like all characters, the Confidant needs a motivation. The central fixture of the Confidant's Goal (which is different from Motivation) is that he wants the Protagonist to win. The reason for this is generally simple. It may be profound: If the Protagonist loses, life as we know it will come to an end. It may be personal: The Confidant is a loyal friend based on shared experience. The great pitfall to avoid is portraying the Confidant as Cheerleader. In a gripping drama, the Protagonist is going to have his moment of self-doubt, maybe several. That's tense, compelling literature. What isn't tense, compelling literature is to have the Confidant show up out of nowhere at each instance of uncertainty with a big cup of "You can do it!" Not good writing. Show up with a lead on a subplot, distracting the hero with a lesser quest. Fine, once. Better yet, don't show up at all. The hero is the hero for a reason. Let him carry his own freight.
The final point to make is that a Confidant is not a Sidekick. I don't have a lot of experience with Sidekicks because I don't write that kind of story, but I can offer two words: Batman and Robin. Want two more? The Lone Ranger and Tonto. The Confidant is a rich, compelling character, motivated by his own needs and goals to assist the Protagonist in a serious quest, be it for love, truth, or the fate of the world. The Sidekick is a caricature, an often humorous character to the point of being the butt of jokes, whose only purpose is to show off how great the Protagonist is. Know the difference, and don't go there unless you're deliberately striving for that effect.
Okay, so I realize that I haven't explained this character in any great depth, but I have pointed out the problems and issues that can arise both in writing one, and in the story ramifications if you don't. Hopefully, if I've piqued your interest in this archetypal character, it is at least a starting point for further research. Feel free to begin by asking me to clarify any point I failed to cover thoroughly enough, then read books, watch YouTube videos, search Google. There is so much information available these days that it's hardly possible to stay lost if you want to become knowledgeable. The best form of research is the advice I often close my e-mails with: Read well, and write better. Seek out stories with great Confidants that you can admire, and study the authors' techniques. Done right, the Confidant can bring layers of depth and richness to your story; he or she is a character well-worth mastering.
Read well, and write better!
| Today on my off-site blog I'm offering shameless plugs for some of the writers and other professionals I have met along the way, including a professional editor who is constantly offering timely advice to her readers. Drop by and meet some new folks, and maybe some new friends into the bargain!
Semper audax esse,
| Good afternoon. I didn't have anything planned to blog about today, but this just showed up in my newsfeed, and I present it for your perusal. I neither endorse nor denigrate it. Take a look if you find the title interesting, and draw your own conclusions. Most of us here have hopes of being published at some point, and knowing this, and how to use it (or not), could prove worthwhile to some of our members. Best of luck to everyone on that path!
Semper audax esse,
| Hello again, fellow scribblers, and I hope life is treating you well! Today, as the title suggests, I'm going to address a more subtle aspect of the writing Craft that many authors new to the dance tend to confuse or overlook entirely. Antagonists and villains are very similar creatures who are often painted with the same brush, and that doesn't appear unreasonable at first glance. In fact, every villain is by definition an antagonist, but not every antagonist has to be a villain.
"What'd he say?"
Bear with me. Antagonists "antagonize" the protagonist. They work constantly to thwart the plans of the hero. It doesn't mean they're bad. It could be the hot girl who's the rival for the affections of the guy your plainer heroine has her heart set on. She isn't trying to kill anybody, or enslave the population, she just wants the same relationship, a desire that if realized will exclude our heroine from achieving her goal.
The villain is very much evil, but he isn't evil just for evil's sake; remember, everyone is the hero of his own story. He does want to enslave the world, he does want to remake society in his own image, he does want to amass great wealth, and while he may not actively want to kill people, he'll do it without a qualm if they interfere with his greater plan. This makes the villain a very difficult character to pull off. The antagonist might be a rival for a big promotion. If he doesn't sabotage the hero's work, try to injure him, or engage in character assasination, he doesn't slide into true villainy. But a villain will do all those things, and more.
And this is where we separate the Authors from the Writers. It's no longer enough to have a mustache-twirling villain who raises a cape in front of his face as he intones, "Moohaha!" A modern villain must have an understandable purpose for acting as he does. A book I have frequently maligned in these pages is Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. But let's give the devil his due. In the book, billionaire philanthropist John Brightling has internalized the notion that overpopulation is on the brink of destroying the planet's ability to sustain life, and to save the world for future generations, he has hatched a scheme to reduce the population to about 10,000 people, essentially hitting the reset button on humanity. A bit far-fetched, yes, but it's a motivating purpose you can understand. Brightling has the wealth and infrastructure to carry it out, and when he sets about doing it, the reader follows the trail of breadcrumbs with bated breath.
And that brings us to the other absolute requirement for a villain: He must represent a credible threat to the hero. If he doesn't, he's just a straw man to be knocked down in a demonstration of the hero's superiority, and that makes for a very disappointing read. Rainbow Six's Brightling is a good match for the Rainbow anti-terrorist team, not because he's a physical threat, but because he has the wealth and connections to thwart them at every turn. Lex Luthor is a good match for Superman, not because of any threat he poses to the Man of Steel, but because his incredibly acrobatic mind keeps him a step ahead throughout most of the story. Or it could just be that your villain is a 400-pound thug who can pick your hero up and throw him into the next zip code. The point is that if you want your readers to hang on your every word, write your book in such a way that they can't see a way your hero can possibly overcome his villain, and when he finally does, they'll slump back in their chairs and breathe a "wow!" of amazement.
You will note that I'm not offering any specifics on how to accomplish this. There are several reasons. First, I don't know what story you're writing, plus the key words there are you're writing; if I write the end for you, who does that help? Second, I don't have a magic formula. I struggle to get this right myself, and too often don't. My suggestion is that you pull out some books you have read, the ones that have left you gasping in amazement, and reread the last chapters. Study how your favorite big-name authors did it, and try to assimilate something of their skill. It's just another form of research, the writer's best friend. In fact, this might be a good time to make one thing perfectly clear: Writing is hard work. If it wasn't, we'd all be on the best-seller lists. If you expect to reap the rewards, you'll have to do the work, and nailing the villain is one of the most important skills you'll ever learn. It's also one of the most enjoyable. Your hero has to fit into a box whose four sides are courage, virtue, competence, and likability. Your villain is where you can go hog-wild, assembling a combination of physical skills and character traits the likes of which have never been seen by human eyes before. This is why writers nearly always say they have the most fun creating the villain, and actors will always say they love playing them. So, dig in and enjoy it. Your story will be immeasurably better for the fun you have with it!
Semper audax esse,
| I should lead with a couple of disclaimers. First, these are the Four Cornerstones according to no one in particular but me. Second, these have been up on my whiteboard since a time I don't remember. I don't recall whether I articulated these (probably not), or read them somewhere in the distant past. In any case, they have served me well for at least a couple of decades. There are a lot of accomplished writers here, and if you recognize your own words, drop me a link and I'll put your credit up in large red letters. Finally, I post these out of no desire for glory or admiration. Like everything I know, I learned them somewhere else, and have distilled them down to a writing style guaranteed to keep readers curious and turning pages. I share them here so that anyone who wishes to try them can incorporate them into their own writing. And you should. Trust me, they have the Blimprider Seal of Approval.
1. Don't pick up story threads too quickly. This goes hand-in-hand with "Show, don't tell." How many times have you read a story in which something out of the everyday happens, and before you have a chance to work on the puzzle, the author just tells you what it was? This will happen in fantasy and scifi especially, where someone gets teleported or something disappears as a character is about to reach for it, and the writer will say, "...but Luax had used his pocket frannistanner to render it incorporeal." I'm guessing you haven't seen many professional books with that problem for the simple reason that editors tend to reject them. Don't add yours to that list.
2. Let uncertainty fester in the reader. Not only is "Show, don't tell" a worthy axiom, but don't show too early. When I write a novel, which doesn't happen too often anymore, but even with a novella, you're running a marathon (or maybe a 10K if it's a novella). You don't need to expend all your energy leaving the pack behind in the first 100 yards. If you're wise, you already know everything that's going to happen. That doesn't mean you have to tell your readers. We shouldn't have any more information than the protagonist, and we should be working with him to affect a solution.
3. Stretch out rescues and solutions. Your reader wants to sweat bullets, and won't forgive an author who is overprotective of his characters. Tom Clancy was famous for never putting his characters in too much jeopardy, and that trait caused me to abandon him after a couple of books. Rake your readers over the coals. Even if it's a series, and it's understood that your protagonist must survive, make it difficult. Make your traps diabolical. Make him or her responsible for someone who doesn't have to survive. Make your readers cry, sweat, and bleed. They'll love you for it!
4. Offer less than satisfactory alternatives to dilemmas and problems. This gets right back to not hand-holding your readers. I think back to a Hawaii Five-O episode, the old Jack Lord series. There's an ongoing crime in progress, and they don't have a clue what it might be. During the course of the investigation the guys had taken probably forty surveillance photos, and tacked them up on a board at headquarters. At one point, McGarrett points at one of them and says, "I know the answer's in that picture." And what do you know, it was. Talk about letting the air out! Offer your readers the clues, but if you're going to have your protagonist guess, have him guess wrong, or if you're going to include the real solution, then have him and his sidekick, team, whatever, guess several solutions, most of them wrong but with serious merit, and deliberately misleading.
Suspense isn't simply a genre. It is a quality that can used to good effect in any genre, from romance to children's books. It's the basis of conflict, whether it's man against man, man against time, or man against nature, and conflict is the basis of fiction. These are the rules I've found that keep the pages turning. Maybe you do most of this instinctively. But maybe you've never seen them written down like this. Sometimes seeing a concept written out in so many words can gel it in your mind. That's what I hope to give you here, a powerful set of tools for upping the ante. Think about them, imagine how you can include them in your writing, and what they might do to raise your game. I'll be looking forward to seeing the results!
Read well, and write better,
| Good morning, WdC, and a very good morning it is! I have been the recipient of an incredible delivery of inspiration, and I'm here to share with anyone who might need some of the same.
Regular readers will be well aware of my recent crescendo of doom, brought about, I believe, and fed by my wife's recent health issues. But a couple of things have happened in the last week or so. First, she has taken a marked turn for the better, and second, I've been reading C.W. Hawes' blog. I have praised the work and work ethic of C.W. many times in the past, and with good reason. He is a skilled writer over many genres, and his blog has a way of cutting to the heart of things. Take yesterday's for example. In a lengthy dissertation covering his last five years as an independent author, he included these two paragraphs:
"Marcus Aurelius wrote 'Life is opinion.' Life is what you think it is. It’s all in your ‘tude. Don’t sweat the small stuff — because it’s all small stuff.
"For many, many years I was not a happy camper. Then I took old Marc’s advice to heart. I swept out the crap, and got down to enjoying what I have. And being thankful for what I have."
It's time for me to do the same. What I have is a God-given ability to write, and a platform that embraces quality writing of every sort. It's time for me to stop grousing about things that I can't change, and embrace what I have. Thankfully. So I'm going to open up "The Witches of Fear" , and get back to work on it. I'm going to get back to work on this blog, and reviewing, and my off-site author site, https://jackshideout.blogspot.com. Oh, and if you'd care to read C.W.'s inspirational post, or become a regular reader of his fabulous blog, it can be found at https://www.cwhawes.com/
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get busy!
Read well, and write better,
| Good morning, and I hope you all have a great weekend lined up. No one has asked me any deep, pressing questions this week, so to maintain my regular presence here, I'm going to post an essay that I have published a couple of times on other sites, so some of you may have seen it already. No harm done; this really belongs on a writing site, and this being the best of them, I can think of no better place, so here we go.
I left the navy in the fall of 1969, full of life experience and immaturity, and thinking that now I would have time and space to devote to that novel that had so eluded me. My neighbor gave me an antique typewriter in lieu of payment for some yard work, and convinced that that was the last piece of the puzzle, I tore into it with a vengeance. Space operas, spies, and special agents came and went, none finding completion, nor even any particular direction as I thrashed about seeking divine inspiration for my efforts. Then one day I picked up a copy of a fan magazine, Starlog or one of its clones, and there in the back was what I was certain was the answer to all my problems.
"The Star Trek Writers' Guide," the tiny ad trumpeted. "Own the guideline given to every writer for the hit TV show Star Trek! Learn the secrets that made this show great, and apply them to your own screenplays and novels!" Well, how could anyone go wrong with that? So I dutifully sent my buck-and-a-half or whatever (it wasn't much) to the post office box in Pasadena, and two weeks later there arrived a pamphlet of twenty-odd pages, poorly mimeographed on one side and clipped together with brads, purporting to contain the Secrets of Star Trek between its hand-lettered covers.
What a bunch of crap! I would be hard-pressed to describe how angry I was. The idea that any professional production would hand any professional writer this piece of garbage was unthinkable! It was so badly centered that I had to take out the brads and separate it into individual pages to read some of it. But then I thought, I paid for this, I'm not going to get a refund, so I may as well read it on the off chance there's something useful there.
And what a wonderful decision that was! Despite the appearance, there was much useful information therein, and in fairness, I did discover later that this was indeed the exact guide handed to such authors as Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, and Robert Bloch. Much of it was aimed specifically at screenwriters, but there were three tenets that I took to heart and that have guided me since the dawn of my adult writing career. Am I going to share them? What else would I be doing here?
1. DON'T EXPLAIN STUFF. The cops on Law & Order and Blue Bloods don't draw their weapons and turn to explain their workings to the nearest bystander before they follow a fleeing suspect into an abandoned building, and your characters shouldn't either. Guns are part of our modern world, and we all know how they work. If you're writing about a different world, be it wizards or space pirates, they know their own equipment, and rarely discuss its workings. Star Trek presented transporters, tricorders, phasers, medical equipment, warp drive, and a host of other things they never talked about. They simply used them. The audience saw them work, had their aha! moment, and understood from then on what they did and what they couldn't do. The same applies to a wizard's wand or a steampunk gadget. Show it in use, and move on.
2. KEEP IT SIMPLE. The guide chronicled an example of a writer who had written a five-minute scene of orders being given, procedures implemented, camera changes and so on for the purpose of turning the Enterprise around to retreat by the same route they had arrived on. All that was replaced by Kirk saying, "Reverse course." All that procedural jargon is uninteresting clutter to your reader. He'll tend to skim through it to get to the place where the action resumes and if you've buried something important in there, he'll miss it completely, and likely regard it as a plot hole.
3. KEEP IT REAL. It's the day after tomorrow on the bridge of an American destroyer in the Persian Gulf, and they've spent the morning playing cat-and-mouse with a flotilla of Iranian patrol boats. Suddenly three of them peel out of formation and head for the ship at top speed, and the captain suddenly remembers that briefing from last week, the one mentioning the rumor that the Imperial Guard had acquired a small nuclear weapon, and was looking for a way to make a statement with it. Does the captain then turn to comfort a junior female sailor on her first cruise, or launch into a speech on the nobility of doing one's duty? No? Then maybe yours shouldn't either. Whether he commands a pirate ship, a star ship, or a rickety dirigible cruising over Kenya, your reader expects him to leap into action, giving the orders that will maximize their chances of survival and victory. If you ever find yourself in doubt, place your action on the bridge of that destroyer and ask what that captain would do. Chances are it's what yours should do, too.
So that was my Starfleet education in producing exciting literature. Feel free to take and use any part that seems reasonable to you. I have followed this advice for my whole writing career, and if my reviews are any indication, readers love it! Okay, I'm going to head out in search of the next thing to bring you come next Saturday. Until we meet again, read well, and write better!
Semper audax esse,
| Okay, the apocalypse is behind me. Time to begin the post-apocalyptic journey. And speaking of journeys, member Octavius approached me with a simple question: Can you tell me about your writing journey? A simple question to ask, at least. I shall now attempt to answer it...
My great-grandmother, a Victorian lady of aristocratic background, had me reading and writing in at least a rudimentary fashion by the age of three. She used to sit and read the comics page to me as I followed along beside her. I was way too young to get the jokes, and to this day I don't laugh when I read comedy. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy it, but I digress. I was skipped past kindergarten based on the fact that I could read, and entered school as a first-grader. The teachers immediately started making us write the most mind-numbingly boring things: Spelling lists, adding suffixes and prefixes, handwriting practice and so forth. It didn't take long before I hated writing like most of you hate cobras. And then I reached fifth grade. That was in 1958, school starting a month before I turned 10.
I landed in the class of Mrs. Warner at Sunset View Elementary School on the ocean side of Point Loma in San Diego, and it was kismet. She had a couple of writing exercises designed to instill a love of the Craft, and the one that hooked me was this. A couple of times a month she would tell us all to write a story. She had some square foot-size pictures she would line along the trough in front of the blackboard to help with inspiration, and after we had all written for an hour, she would send us out for recess. While we were out playing Red Rover, Dodge Ball, and a half-dozen other games that have since been banned because kids were having too much fun, she would stay in class and read our stories. When we came back in, she would read a few that she considered the best without saying who wrote them. Mine were almost always picked, and the kids always voted them among the best of the selection, despite that fact that I was far from popular. But again, I digress.
What I was writing at the age of ten was no different than any other ten-year old. In those lurid tales, my neighborhood friends and I would shoulder our military-grade weapons and trudge off to the brush-covered canyon at the end of the street to take on anything from Japanese invaders (WWII had just ended, and most of the men in our families were veterans) to movie monsters or live dinosaurs. The total crap that comes from the mind of a ten-year old. But the listeners were ten-year olds as well. They ate it up, and I never looked back.
I experimented with various forms including plays and poetry throughout school, then joined the navy after eleventh grade. One of the perks enjoyed by sailors was a new movie every night, and when something caught my eye, I'd try to write a story about it. Again, my shipmates enjoyed them, and nothing came along to discourage me. Circumstances, primarily my great-grandmother's failing health, forced me to return home after I got out, and I'd do yard work, walk dogs, and the like for my neighbors for pocket money, and one day a neighbor offered me an antique typewriter in lieu of cash for a job. I jumped on it like a Rottweiler on a pork chop.
Star Trek was going into syndication — I had been deployed through all of its first run, and it was new to me — and it caught my imagination in a big way. My epic Sci-Fi adventure was called Tribes of the Southern Sky, and chronicled the adventures of the crew of the Chippewa, one of scores of frigates named for American Indian tribes, hence the name, trying to maintain order in the Southern Drift, an imaginary swirl of stars thrust below the galactic plane. My main character was Brian Lee Corby, a Combat Technician, which was sort of a Professional redshirt whose job was keeping the landing parties safe. Unlike Star Trek's redshirts, this guy was a living weapon honed to a razor's edge who could clean out a SEAL bar or a den of pirates with equal aplomb. He joined the ranks of dozens of projects that never went anywhere.
You must realize that all this time, I was writing with no idea that there was a Craft. I would just sit down and start writing. Not surprisingly, most all of my stories went nowhere, as I didn't know what I was doing, and on top of that, I had no idea that I could work on more than one project at a time, so when a new one came along, the old one went on the scrap heap, and I was back to square one. I finally finished Temple of Exile, a modern-day fantasy story that was a rambling monster of 140,000 words that might have been good at half that size. I submitted it to an agent who, in a watershed moment, offered me some pointers rather than a simple rejection slip. One of those pointers was to learn what I was doing, and so I began the second phase of my journey through a series of how-to-write-books books, culminating in my discovery of The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.
Evan Marshall is a New York agent and author of some repute, and he lays out a disciplined, by-the-numbers formula for turning one's rambling, disorganized ideas into a tightly scripted novel that holds a reader in the grip of a well-woven yarn, be it suspense, sci-fi, or romance... or any other genre you care to name. A lot of people feel constrained by it, but it was exactly what I needed, and under its guidance came The Stone Seekers, "Broken English" , "Beyond the Rails" , and a number of other stories that aren't available publicly right now. It was a life-changing discovery of the first order.
Which brings us to the now. Two days ago I said I was through writing, and I may be. I certainly don't feel the prod of compulsion like I used to, and I fully intend to take at least November off. But the thing is that now, should it tickle at my creative centers again, I can do it or not, with no expectations from friends and followers, nor even my handful of fans. Should something materialize, it will be a nice surprise, like an unexpected present. Meanwhile, I can sit here pontificating like some kind of cosmic guru whenever the mood strikes me, and I can play on my X-box or anything else free of guilt, because there are no expectations or deadlines hanging over my head. This is the perfect life for a retiree. Of course, there's the matter of Kyanite Publishing, and their decision on whether they want my work, but I'll burn that bridge when I come to it, which is expected to be around the end of this month. I'd like to be a traditionally published author; that would check all the boxes on what I wanted from my writing journey, but if they select someone else to join their stable, that's all right, too. And isn't that a wonderful position to find one's self in?
So, that's my writing journey, short-form. If there's anything else anyone would like to know, my personal experiences, how I approached different aspects of the Craft, what I think about characters or settings, just anything at all, drop me a line, and I'll get to it. Meanwhile, read well, and write better!
Semper audax esse,