Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Shakespearean Villains

The play is the thing. In his plays Shakespeare had his villains and heroes give long soliloquies about their motivations and feelings. I've always loved how those speeches brought the characters to life. I loved how Star Trek TOS was greatly influenced by the Bard and TNG took it up a level. My writing is definitely influenced by Shakespeare. Unfortunately I'm not writing plays, I'm writing novels.

A critiquer told me, “You know that spot where your villain goes on an eight paragraph diatribe for over an entire page? You might want to trim that a bit.”

Looking it over I can see how it just might task the reader a bit.

This is one of those problems where reading it outloud makes the problem worse. When I read it aloud I summon my best Malcolm McDowell voice, add all the dramatic tones I would if I were on stage. It sounds great.

Of course not every reader can cast Malcolm McDowell to do the reading. Some are stuck with Hayden Christensen delivering the lines with all the drama he put into, “What about the other Jedi.”

So I summoned my best Hayden Christensen voice and tried it again. I fell asleep in the second paragraph.

I compromised and had my Mac read it to me. Obviously my Mac doesn't have the dramatic flair that McDowell has, but does deliver lines with more emotion than Hayden Christensen did in Star Wars.

I can see where it could be trimmed a little, like at least half.

So now I have a problem, I have a larger than life villain, with an ego to match. Such a man would naturally be fairly verbose when he outlines his goals to his latest victim. But when his speech is written out it is a bit much for the reader.

I'm wondering what are some of the great villains in literature that managed to strike the balance between being verbose without making the reader feel like they are listening to a John Kerry speech?


Disclaimer: Hayden Christensen actually can act, he just didn't in the Star Wars movies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Specificity

In writing one decision that the writer has to make is how specific to be on something. There are people who hate specificity with the heat of a mainstream star of O9 classification. (The heat of a million suns.)

This topic came up when someone looked over my book where a plot point had the Nazis trying to crack the human genome with the latest Hollerith Tabulating machines. I took the speed of the machine and the number of calculations it would have to do and came up with the time, 3 trillion years. Instead of saying 3 trillion years it was suggested that I just mention it would take longer than my character wanted.

Naturally after doing the calculations to find out how long it would take I wanted to leave the result in there. But I also looked at it from the reader's side. Anything over 50 years was too long, so the exact number didn't matter to the plot. However, when I read science fiction I like it when there is a grounding in real math.

I ended up compromising and having the Nazi tell my character that it would take a long time, and my character responded, “According to my people longer than the life of the sun.” Most people can't really grasp the difference between 5 billion years and 3 trillion years. It is still an awful long time.

I'm wondering how do you feel about specificity in fiction?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The dreaded Sixth book

I've heard a few writers talking about “problem” books. The big problem book is the second one. Most writers never finish their second novel. I didn't. Mine was about a half-vampire who didn't know his wife was a werewolf. I took everything I learned from writing my first novel and made a horrible mess of 15,000 words (the entire first and second act).

The next problem book is the sixth. After writing five novels the sixth one should be easy, right? Nope. It's just as hard as the others. Harder in fact, as now you should know what you are doing and there should be a higher good to crap ratio. But there isn't.

You also think about all problems in your other books. One of the problems with my books is depth. In all my books a change in one chapter means going back and changing five other chapters. It's a pain when it comes to editing. It's a style I like and want to keep, but I run the risk of each novel becoming more and more complex.

Even AN EXTRA TOPPING OF HORROR which is a light comedy had this problem.

So for my sixth novel I turned back to my martial arts training.

A big problem in martial arts is as you learn more and more complex sets of skills that build on each other, you hit a wall and try as you might you just can't learn the next set. The problem isn't that the next set of skills is any harder to learn, but any flaws in your basic skills are amplified so much that they drag you down.

The solution is to go back to the basics and hone the skills you thought you had down pat, then try again. It is totally amazing how easy the advanced stuff becomes after doing that.

So for the novel I've been working on for the last 10 days, I've gone back to the basics. It has a very simple 3 part plot. The characters have very simple clear motivations. Everything moves forward naturally in a linear order. As simple a book as I can write.

It's strangely liberating writing this way. Knowing that if a reviewer says, “The book is simple and unoriginal...” I can say, “Thank you, that was what I was going for.”

The only thing I want this new novel to be is enjoyable and entertaining. I'll use the conversation from MIND THIEF when Howie and Vivian go on their first date to sum it up:

“Shall we.” Howie held out his arm.

“This just might be enjoyable.”

“Nice vote of confidence,” Howie said.

“Would you rather I had impossible to reach expectations?”

“No, I’ll shoot for enjoyable.” He laughed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Presumed Innocent

A great thriller/mystery is “Presumed Innocent”.

Harrison Ford's character is set-up to take the fall for the rape and murder of his former mistress. (Minor Spoiler Alert) The real murderer is in most of the scenes. The motive, opportunity, and ability is shown, but it is a shock at the end as the murderer is “Presumed Innocent” by the cops and audience. If you watch it twice you can see how they set it up so the murderer is obvious if you don't presume they're innocent.

With “Mind Thief” I wrote myself a bit of a problem. It is told in first person limited point of view from Howie the victim. Doing it in that point of view gave me what I feel is a great ending. However it left me in a bind as Howie can't figure out what is happening to him too soon, but the reader needs to figure it out in order to see the peril he is in.

I had thought the title and the tagline, “Howie has a problem, someone is stealing his mind and the only one who can save him is a girl who has already lost hers”, would give the reader a clue that Howie didn't have as to who the people in the book are.

Howie is obvious, there is only one Howie.

The girl who already lost her mind is pretty obvious by the second time she shows up. A little obvious the first time as well.

That means the other character that is showing up in Howie's dreams must be the title character, the “Mind Thief”.

Sigh, None of my beta readers have caught that.

On the one hand it shows that having beta readers is a good thing. Going 20,000 words without catching the main theme of the book would turn most readers off.

On the other hand I have to go back through and point out everything the bad guy is doing to steal Howie's mind and have Howie rationalize a reason not to be concerned. It's not like when something strange happens your first thought is “Gee, someone must be stealing my mind.”

While I'm plugging away at that I've got a new challenge for myself.

So far all my novels had tightly woven, interlinked plots. A small thing in Chapter 3 might effect Chapters 7, 10, 15 … I've decided I've been relying to heavily on that and I'll try writing a very straight forward novel. A leads to B leads to C.

I've banged out a chapter each morning, for the last 5 days, of between 800 to 1,500 words. Each one with a slight puzzle to solve in the next chapter. So the chapters build on each other but not necessarily the chapter after that one. It is more like the old serials in the pulp magazines that were turned into novels.

It is actually a pretty fun way to write.

Back to the novel I'm editing. I was wondering, when you read a novel how much attention do you pay to the title and the tagline?

Do you figure it is just there to make you pick up, or click on the purchase button, or do you treat it as part of the novel?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Corvette Scene Part II

Last year I talked about a problem that I have. It's a problem I've noticed in novels. I named that problem the Corvette Scene, after the scene in the Star Trek 2009 where young Kirk steals a Corvette and runs it off the famous canyons of Iowa. Corvette Scene I

The problem with that scene, and a lot of scenes in my writing and other novels, isn't that taken alone they are bad. The Corvette Scenes tend to be really fun, well done, and if taken out of the novel (or movie) they stand up nicely on their own. The problem is they take the reader out of the novel and only the author can see how it is related to the rest of the story.

In Mind Thief I found my Corvette Scene, and I had to cut it out completely. (Sniff) Through flashbacks I was showing the life of my bad guy. As I did the body count in each flashback grew higher. I didn't want my bad guy to be just a mustache twirling stereotype, so I threw in a scene where he accomplished something on his own. The idea was to show that he was a competent professional as well as an evil bastard. The problem was even though I felt the individual scene was good, it came at a time of rising tension and took the reader out of that.

Maybe I'll find a way to recycle it in to some other book.

The set-up is when Howie falls asleep he dreams of being the bad guy Harriman:

Harriman checked his compass readings of his Aeromarine 39B biplane to see he was on course, beneath him was just open ocean. He knew he was coming up on his target soon and scanned the horizon for the dot he was looking for.

He glanced down at his fuel gauge and realized he had better have been right about his bearings or he was going to be awfully wet for quite a while. He said out loud, “Your bearings are correct, the target must be just over the horizon.” Before any more doubts could creep into his mind he saw a small dot appear in the distance.

He eased back on the throttle as the dot grew bigger and he confidently approached his target. He could see it grow bigger and bigger, first a dot then a small box and finally into a ship.

He turned on his radio and announced, “USS Langley, this is Bravo One, I have you in visual. Over.”

“Bravo One.” The tinny speaker crackled, “You are cleared for landing. Paddle on deck ready to bring you in. Over.”

Harriman flew his plane closer, easing back on the throttle the whole time. Finally he saw the bright orange spot on the deck of the USS Langley, “Paddle spotted, tell them I’m coming in. Over.”

Trust Murphy, he won’t let you down. Harriman thought as he concentrated on the orange dot on the deck of the carrier. The orange dot grew and soon he could see it split into the two large orange flags that Landing Signal Officer Murphy was waving.

Murphy waved to the right of the carrier.

Block everything out but Murphy. Harriman thought. He relaxed and let Murphy guide him away from the ship.

When he was far enough to the right of the ship and much lower Murphy started waving him back left and Harriman could see what he was doing. His original approach was slightly off the small target at the back of the carrier, on land he could compensate for it in the last few feet of the landing. On the carrier that little mistake would send him into the drink.

At first the approach Murphy had him on looked good and he followed it as the edge of the carrier grew. Then he could see the carrier bobbing up and down on the waves and nagging doubts started to come back.

The Curtis OXX engine that powered the plane began to sputter, if he slowed down any more it would stall. Murphy signaled him to slow down more as the rear of the carrier lifted up and Harriman could only see the gray rear hull of the ship.

Harriman panicked, hit the throttle and pulled up on the stick. He shot up in the air as the rear of the carrier dropped down. He flew over the heads of the flight deck crew.

“Bravo One, that’s not in your flight plan. Over.” His radio squawked.

“Just doing a dry run,” Harriman radioed back. “Coming around for a second attempt. Over.”

“Roger, Paddle is waiting on deck. Over.”

Harriman maneuvered around and tried his landing again, but had the same result. He trusted Murphy right up to the last second then panicked.

“Harriman, you’re pissing me off down here.” Commander Benson growled. Harriman could practically see the cigar bitten in half. “You do what Murphy tells you damn it. I don’t care if you run out of fuel and drown in the crash, but replacing that bird will be damn near impossible. So get on deck now.”

“Roger,” Harriman told him. “Coming around for a third and final attempt. Over.”

This time when Harriman faced the rear hull of the ship he cut his engine completely composing Benson's letter to Daphene in his head: “Dear Mrs. Harriman, We regret to inform you that your complete idiot of a husband, being the most incompetent pilot I've ever had the opportunity to command, pranged his kite into the America's only Aircraft Carrier causing more damage to our Navy than the Kaiser could ever dream of.”

As Harriman glided towards the big gray wall of steel, it dropped as the carrier hit another wave in front and the deck came down. The wheels of Harriman's plane kissed the flight deck in a perfect landing. The plane traveled several feet before the tailhook grabbed the arrestor wire on the deck and forced Harriman forward into his safety harness.

The force threw Howie forward in his bed and he woke up in a sitting position. Totally disorientated, he knew he was Howie, a freshman Astrophysics major, but for a minute after waking up he knew he was also Lt. Harriman one of the Navy’s first pilots.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writing Smut

A friend of mine, Stephanie Barr, mentioned me in a recent blog post, Diving into the uncomfortable. In that post she talked about learning about characters in “Smut”. More specifically, homosexual romance stories.

It turns out this is a great time for me to write about that as well. I'm struggling in a novel that revolves around the chemical changes in the brain that are released during sex.

I've read a few homosexual romances and what I really like about them is the characters stay the same in bedroom as well as outside the bedroom. In a lot of hetro sex scenes when the characters enter the bedroom you wouldn't know they are the same people you've been reading about for the rest of the book.

No one does a worse job at this than Ewe Boll. If you want to see how not to insert a sex scene watch Alone in the Dark. Practically mid-sentence, with no lead up, Tara Reid and Christian Slater hop in bed and next scene its as if nothing happened.

While every writer I've read handles a sex scene better than that, very few use the opportunity for the reader to learn more about the characters.

When I wrote “Mind Thief” I purposely made the two main characters very sexual. Being a main part of their characters their reactions to each other in the bedroom showed a lot about their characters.

The interesting part, for me anyway, was putting conflict into the sex scene without making it rape. Howie is an 18 year old male with hyper-testosterone and Vivian is a bipolar with aspergers syndrome. As a male Howie is very visually stimulated. Having aspergers Vivian never cared about other people before and to her sex isn't intimate, but kissing and getting naked are. It leads to an interesting dynamic as they both have to compromise to have sex without either one being submissive. It set the tone for the rest of their relationship as Howie has huge abandonment issues and doesn't trust anyone, and Vivian has never let anyone get close to her. Then they find they can't stand to be apart.

Writing the sex scenes wasn't hard, the hard part of sex scenes is in the editing. It took awhile to edit the hardcore XXX scenes into a more R rated version and keep the character's motivations clear. But that is part of writing.

The really hard part was getting feedback. Getting characters interactions and relationships outside the bedroom it's easy to find sources to draw from, watching how friends interact. Reading about others and so on. For sex (outside the actual act) it's not so easy.

People in real life know I'm a writer and are cool with the fact that something they say or do might make it into one of my books. But sneaking into their bedrooms and observing them during sex leads to them screaming things like, “Cops” and “Restraining Orders”. Pornos don't really capture the real people as it's more about the posing than the feeling.

So I drew from my own experiences. It's strange having people give you feedback on your sex performance.

The biggest negative I got was the set-ups and dialog weren't realistic. Really strange since I know if the girls the scenes are based on read them they'll be a little embarrassed. The scenes are close enough to real life that they'll recognize themselves. (I tried to make sure no one else will.)

The other odd comments were about the after effects of sex.

In my experience, before and a few years into marriage, the morning after good sex is like the morning after running a marathon and having a hangover at the same time. It's tough to stand, muscles you've forgotten about are complaining, and it's hard to concentrate. The girls I've been with complained/complimented that they couldn't sit down.

I had people say that taking sex that far wasn't realistic and unless there is an “oops” girls don't have a problem with sitting the next day. (No “oops” was intended in the scene.)

It's also strange being called sadistic for me, I mean my character, to be proud of putting a girl in that condition. I always thought of it more like a sport where the aching muscles and friction burns you feel the next morning are trophies that remind you of the fun you had. And talking about them with your partner was a way of complimenting them.

Besides finding out a little more about myself than I wanted to know, I've also found out why sex scenes that give insight into the characters are hard. In erotica you expect the sex scenes to be unrealistic. When you start putting in realism and exposing your characters as real people during sex you are showing an aspect of being human that isn't seen in everyday life.

In all other aspects of life we can enjoy exploring the thoughts of people who think differently than ourselves. But during sex we look at it through our own experiences and if the character has a different view of sex than ourselves we tend to think the worst of that character.

That could be why homosexual romance writers can keep their characters being the same characters that entered the bedroom, while hetro writers have trouble. When it comes to sex, homosexuals are used to some people thinking their normal activities are “Perverted”. With hetro writers it is strange that even if the characters do nothing the reader hasn't done, how they look at sex can be considered “Perverted”.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Pacing is one thing I have trouble with in writing, one solution would be to get a bigger office so I could take more than two steps when I pace. The other would be to look at it in my writing, and other peoples fiction.

Like always I like to look at the very worst (but successful) examples first. The absolute worst examples of pacing are the Matrix movies.

The Matrix:

10 minute Action scene, 40 minutes of dialog, 30 minute Action scene.

The Matrix Reloaded:

5 minute Action scene, One hour of dialog/really, really bad sex scene, 40 minute Action scene.

The Matrix Revolution,

I think there was some dialog in there somewhere. But oddly not a single, “Whoa.”

Pacing should be easy, whenever you start to drift out, throw in a moment that puts the characters life in danger, then get back to the story. However it is easy to make that transparently forced. Next somewhat successful bad example:

Lost: You could tell by the commercials for Lost how good or bad their ratings were. Good ratings, mysterious commercials that were intentional vague. Bad Rating, “We're all gonna die,” and “This Rock changes everything.”

By third season it was painful to watch as they were forcing so many gimmicks to hold on to their ratings that the plotline was gone.

I'm going through the editing process right now on “Mind Thief” and 20,000 words in, I'm at the Matrix stage. I've carefully built the foundation for the big 30,000 word action finale, but I have a lot of ground that has the tension building, but there is no immediate threat to Howie's life.

Some of this would be easier if I could do “normal”, But I can't. I had to give my heroine Asperger's, a disorder that is characterized by difficultly in social interaction. So she reacts and behaves much differently than most, but she is sweet in her own way. That means extra work making the reader like my character who has no social skills.

My villain could easily be a twirling mustache stereotype, but I want the reader to understand why he thought killing millions of people was a good thing.

All these things add to the word count and give the reader extra work to get to the plot points. So I have to do the thing that is the very worst part about writing. I've got to go through and cut a hell of a lot of it and kill my Corvette scene. Making it worse, this time my beta readers liked my Corvette scene but it takes up valuable reading time. What a pity.

On a happier note, according to a completely arbitrary benchmark I saw on an agent's blog, I am now a real author. I KILLED THE MAN THAT WASN'T THERE broke the 500 downloads mark.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gay Characters

Yesterday, Don't ask, Don't tell was finally repealed. So I thought today would be a good time to write about how to write gay characters. It is really simple, don't.

I don't mean don't have characters that are gay, just don't introduce them as a gay character.

Chances are you have real life friends that are either gay, straight, or bi-sexual. If not get out of the monastery more often. When you introduce them to other people that's not the first thing you say about them. If your introducing your straight friend to another friend you will be more likely to say, “This is Bob, he works as a programmer” or “he is a huge stamp collector”. You don't introduce him by saying, “This is Bob, he loves the boobies”. So why would you introduce a character that is gay that way.

In ALIEN THOUGHTS, Yar's male boss had had an affair with the male Senator who recommended him for the position. By the time the reader found that out they already knew that he didn't swear, liked mint, ran really long meetings and thought all problems could be solved over lunch. So by the time the character was shown as being gay, he was already a full character.

Sexual identity does play a huge part in how someone looks at the world and how they are judged, but so does height, weight and what they do for a living. Even if the plot revolves around the fact that the character is gay, there is a lot more to the character than that. If there isn't the character really needs to be fleshed out more.

In the character bible for STAR TREK (TOS) Gene Roddenberry wrote, “The T in James T Kirk does not stand for Tom Cat.” The character of Kirk was very hetro despite what fan fiction might say, but that wasn't the main part of his character. If you are writing about a Space Adventurer that has a group of guys waiting for him at every port, that's a side part of his character. It's the Space Adventures that get the reader hooked.

So if you are writing a character that is gay, think about if you would introduce the fact that a character is hetro the same way. The reactions from other characters can be different but the reader is going to like or dislike the character based on other parts of their character.

Outside of porn, nobody wants to read about a gay character, but a character who is gay can be interesting. Just like nobody watched STAR TREK because Kirk was hetro, but his hitting on every green or blue chick that walked by added to his character.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

George Lucas - Finish Already.

“A novel is never finished, merely abandoned.”

George Lucas has released the Six Star Wars movies on Blue-ray. That would be great if he would stop fiddling with them.

The films weren't perfect and the first time he went through and added things it was a mixed bag.

I generally liked the changes to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, he did for the DVD release.

Turning Mos Eisley into a city with people instead of the budget limited three huts and a bar. You could understand why Luke was disappointed when he couldn't go buy power converters. It was a big trip to the city. Not just stopping downtown.

It also explained why he was out of place in the bar. In the original it was the only bar for 100's of miles, farmers would be sure to stop there from time to time. In a huge city they would have their own bar.

In Empire, removing the boxes, or matte lines, around everything in the space scenes made it look more professional.

Then he hit Return of the Jedi.

Jedi was slightly flawed in the original version. Jabba's crew hung around with little to do. But that made Jabba more of a gangster. He liked them going out of their way to worship him. A paid as little as possible for that worship. They were there out of fear, no money.

Bringing the band in took away from Jabba's character, plus it kind of sucked.

The addition of hundreds of Storm Troopers to stand at attention for Darth Vader to say he was there to improve efficiency on the construction made him less threatening and more of a bureaucrat. “You have several hundred men standing around doing nothing. I have been sent here to find ways to speed up construction. Where should I start?”

I don't even want to get into the Falcon flying through hundreds of Tie Fighters and nothing getting hit.

The flawed original was much better than the “Remastered” version.

The same is true with novels. I just reread Asimov's “Foundation Trilogy” after not reading it for 20 years. His “voice” is silly. Douglas Addams ripped it off for the Hitchhikers Guide series. He bounces around from one person's head to another, the characters are one dimensional. But I loved reading it this time as much as I did in high school and college.

It's the clarity and vision I love. In his last two of the series, written years later, he had a better technical skill and better characters making them good, if different, books. But the original ones were fun.

They would be ruined if he went back and “fixed” them.

So I have to learn if my books aren't technically perfect that there needs to come a time to abandon them. Sometimes “fixing” a work of art makes it worse, not better.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Moving right along

The trickiest place in writing a novel is the middle of the first act. There is a lot to do. One of the hardest critiques to try and fix is a chapter in the first act where you've dropped a huge clue and the critiquer says, “Well, that was fun and showed something about the characters, but how did it move the story along?”

It makes me feel like a stripper who is preforming in a low class club. I'm trying to do flashes and teases while the audience wants immediate gratification.

There is a fine line between putting in the plot point so subtly that the reader says, “I didn't need to know that little detail so I'll skip it” and writing “PLOT POINT:” just before a paragraph.

Another problem with leaving subtle clues is trying to fool your main character without fooling the reader. In one novel I have a character who breaks character often. In the first draft I just had her do that so once the reader found out why she was doing it they would go, “So that explains that.”

In my first read through I could see that a reader would think one of two things. I was a horrible writer who couldn't keep my character in character. Or, my main character was really dumb. I wasn't going for either one of those so I had to rewrite those parts so my main character notices the changes but has a reason to ignore them.

One tool I use to help me with my plot points is a spreadsheet.

I started this just to keep track of my progress. I'd put the Chapter Number, Chapter Name and word count in a spreadsheet and have it add up my word count so I could see where I was in the book.

I changed that later to help in editing by adding a description of the chapter. This not only helped in editing as I could quickly find a chapter but I could also see how the novel progressed. So I put another column in labeled “PLOT POINT”. Every chapter in my books have at least one.

When I go back through, I see if the plot point is obvious or buried. Then I can work on it. It works pretty well for most of the plot points and points out the problems, fixing them is a little harder.

My worst one so far is it is important that for the reader to see that Howie, a college freshman, knows what a bandelore is. He has to think it is natural for him to know about bandelores, Packard twin-sixes, and other things from the turn of the century, but so far my beta readers are missing that plot point and laughing at my dialog. So even being able to pinpoint where the problem is doesn't always lead to a solution.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Three Elements a good story needs

Of all the absolute “rules” for writing, one rule is never mentioned but I have never seen a good story that violates this one. I have seen too many bad books and movies that violate this rule.

There are three things a good story needs, A beginning, a middle, and an end. Every single book or movie I have liked had these things.

What got me thinking about this was I watched Spiderman II the other day. I had seen it before but for the life of me could not remember what happened. After watching it again I still don't. But I did notice the profound lack of a beginning or an end.

I have liked books that switched things up a bit, started at the end and had the beginning in the middle and that sort of thing. But they still had a beginning and an end. When a story doesn't have all three elements it is not a story. It is just looking at a characters daily life, even the most interesting of characters can't stand up to that sort of peeping.

The beginning:

I've talked about this before, this is the event that changes the character's life and gets the ball rolling. Fred going to work at an accounting job is not a beginning unless he finds something strange that changes his life that day.

It is the same with Superheroes or Monsters. Batman patrolling the streets of Gotham City, isn't a story it's part of the neighborhood watch. His running into a new supervillian that makes him have to change tactics is the beginning of a story.

The middle:

Stuff happens to move the main character towards the end. Without an end there is no middle.

The end:

Not every single plot thread needs to closed, and evil doesn't have to be punished but there needs to be an end. Even in the middle of a trilogy there is an end to the storyline started that second chapter. EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a great example:

Beginning: Our heroes are going their separate ways.

Middle: They learn they need each other. It's a handy lesson for Luke.

End: They vow to reunite.

No matter what genre you write in, except free form poetry, make sure your writing has a beginning, a middle, and an End.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Society Building


I live in a house that was built in 1920. One of the first things I had to do was build closets, because in 1920 they didn't have closets. Being curious I wondered why.

Before the 20th century people kept their few clothes in armoires, these had shelves and drawers to store the clothes. The clothes were laid flat, so it would be tough to organize more than a few clothes. Then in 1903 the world changed.

Albert J. Parkhouse arrived as usual at his workplace, the Timberlake Wire and Novelty Company in Jackson, Michigan, which specialized in making lampshade frames and other wire items. When he went to hang his hat and coat on the hooks provided for the workers, Parkhouse found all were in use.

Annoyed-and inspired-Parkhouse picked up a piece of wire, bent it into two large oblong hoops opposite each other, and twisted both ends at the center into a hook. Then he hung up his coat and went to work.

That simple invention increased the amount clothes that could be stored. Armoires gave way to Wardrobes that had both drawers and hooks for clothes hangers. Someone took the idea of a clothesline and put it into the wardrobe and shirts and coats could be easily sorted.

With the ability to store more than a few clothes people stopped the practice of wearing the same clothes for a month before washing them. With so much more clothes hand washing became a chore so in 1908 the washing machine was made.

Wardrobes became bigger and more elaborate after WWII architects started building them in to home plans.

This simple act of annoyance changed the world we live in forever.

How does all this effect writing?

In SFF it a very important part. As you build your physical world you have to think about how it will effect the people living in that world.

One of the least thought out society reacting to technology is the STAR TREK next generation universe. Two pieces of technology would make that society unrecognizable to us. The Replicator and the Holodeck.

The Replicator would completely transform society. If you had everything you wanted at your fingertips how would the economy work. There are only two ways it could go:

One way would be a slave economy, where all money flowed to the owners of the energy sources that powered the replicators. The masses would have to provide services to these masters of the world to get a little energy to power their replicators. A very small middle class would make some money by selling designs for products to be replicated, but piracy would create a police state where every time you designed something of your own it would have to be checked against existing designs.

Judges would spend all their time checking how close a knockoff is to the original. For instance what if you took one of Gordon Ramsey's meals and used three quarters of a tablespoon of salt instead of a full tablespoon of salt? Would that be an original creation that you could sell for a tenth of the price?

Trying to use a capitalist model on a world with replicators would be a disaster.

So Gene Roddenberry pictured a world without money. Some have called this Socialism, and it is very close to Marxist Socialism taken one step farther. The consumers literally control the means of production.

With no incentive to work, many simply wouldn't. However, working is something that people do enjoy. Some of the nicest neighborhoods are the ones with a lot of retired people. You see flowerbeds that took a lot of work, carefully crafted landscaping, unique fences. These things don't give the owners much material gain, but they get the satisfaction of a job well done.

So the elite would go into Starfleet and the next tier would go into the Civil Corp of Engineers. There would be a huge art movement. But there would also be the dregs of society, a large percentage of the people would simply give up. People who want to do meaningful work but everything is provided for them and they aren't creative enough to be in the engineering sector of the art sector. Star Trek never shows this class of citizens.

Needless to say I absolutely hated the episodes that took place on Earth, as this problem was never directly addressed.

The societal problems of replicators could be addressed and you could build a nice society taking all that into consideration. The Star Trek technology that the writers thought would be a good idea but never (well, barely) addressed was the Holodeck.


You have the ability to create a world distinguishable from the real world. Sounds great, but what happens when the real world sucks.

You tried like crazy to get into Starfleet, and failed out. You wonder what would happen if you didn't. Jump in the Holodeck and you're no longer a failure. Time to come out and study, why you don't need the real world.

The object of your affection dumps you, hop in the Holodeck where they love you.

A family member dies, no problem they will live forever in the Holodeck.

The Holodeck does address the problem of what to do with the people who give up on wanting to do meaningful work but it would hit all parts of society.

I haven't met anyone whose life was so wonderful that there was never a time that they wanted to give up. It's the biggest part of being human that during life there will be many times that you're knocked down, it is the struggle to recover that makes you who you are. With the Holodeck it would be too easy just to stop struggling and give up. Soon all of society would retreat into Holodecks and never come out again. It would be the last invention humans ever made.


So while you are building your world, try to imagine what anything you add to your world would do to your society. A small thing like the coat hanger can change the world profoundly. A huge fictional invention like the Holodeck might seem like a cool idea, but when you look at how it would impact society it soon becomes a disaster.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writing Wednesday: World Building

Welcome to my favorite part of writing, World Building.

In Science Fiction and Fantasy the world building is huge part of the novel. In Science Fiction the master of world building, using what we know about the universe, is Arthur C. Clarke. In his book 2010 he took the data from the Voyager mission that showed how Jupiter's moons weren't just lumps of dead rocks but vibrant worlds in their own right to create a fascinating, and possible, place where life exists on Europa and Jupiter's core is a diamond the size of Earth.

In Fantasy world building the master has to be George Lucas. In making STAR WARS he blended the pure Fantasy elements of many species living side by side and the space opera elements of droids and faster than light warships to make a fantastic fantasy place.

There is a lot of talk about how world-building is out in literature. I have four things to say about that:

2010 by Arthur C. Clarke, first novel to receive a million dollar advance.

STAR WARS by George Lucas grossed three quarters of a billion dollars.

The STAR TREK franchise turned Paramount, later Viacom into a media empire.

Lord of the Ring trilogy made over $2.5 billion.

I picked these examples because the world building in these stories overwhelms the other elements and they are hugely popular.

So how do you make a fantastic world to put your story in? Think about the elements of your world and what that does to the bigger picture.

In THE SETTING EARTH I placed the story on Ceres, the dwarf planet in the asteroid belt. I looked up a few facts about the place.

It's gravity is 1/38th that of Earth, so a normal person would weigh between 4 and 5 pounds.

It is roughly 100 degrees warmer than the space around it, where does that heat come from? Very likely as it interacts with other asteroids in the belt its core is twisted and turned making it volcanically active. What does that mean for my settlers on the Dwarf Planet? It means there could be an underground ocean and speculating further that ocean could contain native life.

Once I had that concept I could imagine all the fun that my settlers could do to transform this dwarf world into paradise.

A fun sport on the surface of Ceres would be golf. Under the low gravity even an amateur could hit a 3 to 4 mile line drive.

With the underground ocean they could build giant tubes 60 to 90 kilometers across and they could build a habitat larger than the horizon so you wouldn't be able to tell you weren't in a park on Earth except for the gravity. That difference is where they can have fun.

Weighing only 5 pounds and being in a full atmosphere of pressure, they could strap on a pair of wings and fly where ever they felt like going.

Other fun things about the world I created on Ceres. The day is 8 hours long, so besides a work day being a full day, its spin is faster than Earth. I had my characters rest by a waterfall and the combination of the faster spin and the lower gravity made the coriolis effect noticeable so the waterfall curved 40 feet instead of falling straight down.

Unfortunately I had to ignore a known unknown. It is very likely that Ceres has a few moons. I had my main character star gaze a bit. He didn't notice the moons because I have no way of knowing their size and orbit. The odds of my guessing right are slim to nonexistent so in 2015 when the Dawn spacecraft visits Ceres anything I wrote about Ceres moons would be proven so wrong that it would be a distraction.

What I loved about my building a world out of the little data we have about Ceres is I could let my imagination run free but it was bounded by a few guidelines to make it consistent.

In fantasy the same rules apply but you have to make your own starting points.

In non SFF world building is still important. Even if you base your story on a real place you need to decide what elements of reality you are going to use and what elements need to be replaced with fiction.

One author that is considered great at weaving fictional characters and events into real places and events is James A. Michener. Reading a Michener novel is an undertaking so pick carefully. His novels are finely crafted to have the story weave in and out of the real world. While reading his novels you do get immersed in the worlds he is creating, unfortunately they tend to run over 1,000 pages so even a quick reader like myself needs to be immersed in that world for at least a week. Unlike books from some more superficial writers that run that long, you can't read a few hundred pages put it aside for a week and start reading again.

If you like torturing yourself for your art, reading Michener is good for seeing the technique of combining the real world with a world he created. But I beg of you, if you do study his technique, make your novels shorter.

The final word of advice I have on world building is do the exact opposite of what is being said. In building your world be as imaginative as possible, as long as it stays within the guidelines you first set down. Clarke took everything we knew about Jupiter's system of moons and let his imagination run wild in creating the details.

Lucas took whatever elements he liked from any genre and mashed them together and forever changed SFF. People can argue if this is good or bad but it can't be denied that he changed the genres.

STAR TREK has become a genre of its own.

The problem of world building in novels isn't that people aren't interested in it. The problem is that writers have gotten timid and don't take the world building far enough.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Evolution vs. Creationism

When it comes to making characters writers have two ends of a spectrum, and most fall somewhere in the middle. They can either create their characters first before even starting the novel or they can let the characters evolve as the plot plays out.


When making a character you have to have at least a vague idea about them, but some writers go all out on making their characters before they even start writing the first page. I read about one writer who draws a sketch of each character, knows what hospital they were born in, who their friends in kindergarten were, their first job, ect. That is a lot of work that will never make it into the book.

Like most things there are Pros and Cons to knowing that much detail about your character, the good thing is you don't have to break your flow when your writing and research some little detail about your character because you've done that before hand.

The little details about a character come up at the most unusual times, in MIND THIEF I wrote this sentence:

He leaned in close and inhaled the sweet scent of her light perfume.

Then had to hit the brakes, what did her light perfume smell like?

I then had to stop and research perfumes and find out what scents my character would pick out. This is the type of thing that if I had fully researched my character before hand I would know.

The bad side of knowing your character that well is you have even less objectivity when it comes to writing your scenes.

In REPOSSESSING SANITY where I did do a lot work on the main character before hand I had this little scene:

As the rest of the catering staff toiled away in the main kitchen, I made my special meal in the smaller family kitchen.

I had to sneak into the main kitchen to get a box of arugula lettuce, the largest covered serving platter in the mansion and a serving cart. No one paid any attention to me. While the meal cooked I made a lovely Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette, even though the guests probably wouldn't even taste it.

As the guests ate their entrées my heart was nearly bursting through my chest, I couldn't wait to see Gloria's face when I presented my dish to her.

They finally finished and I wheeled my cart in and stopped it right in front of Gloria's seat at the head of the table. I pulled off the cover and kept all emotion off my face as the conversation stopped.

All eyes in the room were glued to Gloria's baby on the silver platter. Lightly roasted on a bed of lettuce with an excellent Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette coating. The baby was Mr. Beals payment for Gloria's position and I'm sure the shock on her face had as much to do with knowing that Mr. Beals would be paying her a visit, as having her six month old baby boy presented to her in this manner.

I'll inform the chef of your displeasure,” I said in my stuffiest tone and exited the dinning room. By the time the guests had gotten over their shock I was out the side door and in a new Porsche whose keys I had taken from the valet stand earlier.

I knew that my main character, Doug, had worked his way through college as a dishwasher in a four star restaurant and from that experience would know what sauce to coat an infant in. However the reader didn't know that. When one of my beta readers asked, “How come Doug knows so much about cooking?” I thought it was so obvious it was because of his former job. But I hadn't mentioned his job in the story. So something that was natural to me because I knew my character so well wasn't put in the story which could take the reader out of the action.


This is how I tend to work with my characters. I approach it like a Human Resources Manager and put out a job opening add:

Now hiring Psychopaths

Must be hard working and have an irresistible desire to kill and mutilate. Heavy manual labor involved.

Once I start writing I can fill in the little quirks of their behavior. Within the first page I hammer out their basic tone on life, that gives me their name. When they need a skill I think up a way that they acquired that. As they react with their environment I pick up little details on what they look like. As the story evolves so do my characters.

The upside to doing that is I don't leave the reader out of any thing that influenced their character as I am finding out about it at the same time.

The downside is I have to go back and rewrite things to match the information. The character I had that changed the most during a novel was Amanda my time traveling babe from AN EXTRA TOPPING OF HORROR.

She started out as Samantha and at some point changed her name. I wasn't aware of that until my 10th of so rewrite when she called herself that in the last chapter. Oops.

At first she was 5'2” and roughly 90 lbs. As the story progressed she had to do a lot of physical activity and she slowly grew taller until she was just a few inches shorter than Brian the main character.

Her age changed several times, she started out 35, then got younger and younger until at one point she was the youngest person ever nominated for a Noble Prize. She then grew older and older until she was roughly 30 years old.

She even acquired a hook shaped nose.

Another downside of letting your characters evolve through the book is I have never had a first chapter stay the first chapter.


If you spend a lot time before writing your book working on your characters you won't hit as many speed bumps in writing your first draft, however you are very locked into their reactions. If you do go into huge detail with them just remember you may have to change them as your book progresses.

If you let your characters evolve, be prepared for a lot of rewriting throughout the novel to have them reflect the changes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What a Character.

Major disclaimer here, I am primarily a plot driven writer and I had thought characters were my weak spot. Although in the beta readings of my latest book MIND THIEF people are loving the characters and dialog and missing the plot because of it. So take these words with a grain of salt.

You've figured out what POV you should use and where to start now you've got to have the who, your main character. In the pulp sci-fi novels of the 50s I grew up on that wasn't a problem. Characters were one dimensional. They had to be because of the way they were written. The writer banged them out on typewriters and often didn't do rewrites as rewriting anything back then meant if you wanted to change a word or two you would have to retype the entire chapter.

So if a writer described his main character as having shoulders like a linebacker in the first chapter and then the hero had to roll under a closing blast door that was a foot from the ground, the writer would have to go back and retype the entire first chapter.

The same is true for the main character's motivations. The main characters had to be heroic and pure of heart as the more subtle motivations could trigger a rewrite. The best example I can think of bypassing more subtle motivations is MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. The five men lived on an island for years and only thought of making it a better place to live. A writer today could never get away with that as critics would ask, why aren't they breaking down and having prison sex on the beach?

So today a writer needs to give their characters more motivations than just being Dudley Doowright. Unless you've made your character have a reason, like OCD, to have a laser like focus on the final goal, their motivations need to be more than just doing the right thing.

One thing that gives your characters life is the initial decision, the choice they make that sets everything off. The second thing that makes readers identify with a character is giving them a motivation that the reader can relate to. It doesn't have to be something they experienced but that they can empathize with.

My main character, Howie, in MIND THEIF was adopted and his adopted dad disappeared when Howie was 15. As a result he doesn't trust people so he tries to do everything by himself, including having to get a 3.8 GPA to maintain his scholarships and enrolling in a psych study to pay for the rest of the bill.

Now that is something I've never experienced as my tuition, rooms and meals cost $1,600 per semester and my Pell Grants were $2,100. Back then you only paid for college if you had a specialized major, or were from a wealthy family.

But I can empathize with Howie and see why he would choose to enroll in a psych study.

Howie not wanting to rely on anyone isn't an uncommon motivation. People can see why all his decisions can stem from that motivation.

Naturally this applies to all the major characters in your book. With the secondary characters you can have more fun as you don't have to show their motivations up front. When you finally do show their motivations the reader can look back and say, that's why they acted like that.

When thinking about what motivates your characters keep it simple and something people can relate to. That can lead to the reader cheering for them in the final conflict.

A classic example of using a simple motivation to make the viewer cheer for the heroine is ALIENS. Ripley lost her daughter and she runs into Newt who needs protection from the aliens. Ripley's motivation is clear she isn't going to lose another child. It brought the movie up from just a Humans Vs Aliens movie to two mother's battling to save their children from each other.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My entry in a contest

The public slushpile was having a contest to write a flash fiction story entitled "Why does Jimmy hate pizza?" This goes along with the theme of "An Extra Topping of Horror" so I wrote one within the setting of that book.
I thought it was pretty good for having spent about 30 minutes on it.
What do you think?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Oh, where to start!

Two weeks ago I talked about figuring out what POV you should start writing a book in. BTW I forgot one really good example of 1st person POV and that is the “Stainless Steel Rat” series by Harry Harrison.

After figuring out what POV to write your book in, you have to figure out where the story starts. This is one of the hardest decisions in writing and also the most important one if you want to capture the readers attention. Luckily there is only one place to start a story, with several variations.


People at rest tend to stay at rest until acted on by an outside force. When your main character hits something that changes his life that starts the story. The beginning of the story needs to take place somewhere near this incident. How close depends on the type of story you are telling.


If you want people to relate to your main character the story has to begin shortly before triggering incident and at the decision that main character made that brought him to the incident. In THE PIZZA DIARIES retitled AN EXTRA TOPPING OF HORROR I originally started at the triggering incident where my main character saves the damsel in distress. It seemed logical, but he really didn't have any choices to make unless he was a true bastard. There was a naked woman dazed in the road. Unless he was a total psychopath he had no choice but to help her. As a result for the entire first chapter he was pushed along by the events that happened. That shaped the readers impression of him as someone who just got pushed along through life. So I had to start earlier.

I had to start at the decision that brought him out there in the first place. An order came in from a man that he had a bad history with. He was given the choice of passing it to his co-worker, Kyle, who had plans that would be ruined by taking the order, or taking the delivery. So he had make a decision that showed he was a half way decent person. Not terribly noble, but considerate of his co-workers. It was the type of choice that people are faced with all the time so the reader can relate.

By starting with an ordinary decision the reader can then see how the same decision making process plays out when he is faced with really extraordinary circumstances.


If your book is focused on the action then the story starts right after the triggering incident in the middle of the action it caused. Then it backs up to the incident, preferably through dialog. This lets the reader know to focus on the action.


The main motivator in porn and romance, someone has a desire for something they may not even know what it is. The trigger is when they see a chance of having that desire satisfied. If your story is about someone's quest to achieve something then you should show the longing that was inside them before the triggering event.

This example will seem strange but bear with me (or if you are naked, bare with me):

2001: A Space Odyssey. The story starts with the caveman “Moon Watcher”, um, watching the Moon. He longs for humans to be able to great things like find a tree high enough to touch the Moon. He also dreams of a time when humans will be safe from predators and well fed. The triggering incident comes when the Monolith lands and transforms them into a species that has the tool, a brain, to satisfy that longing. 10,000 years later his dream comes true.


If you are really good or lucky all those events happen at the same time. The incident forces the main character to make a decision and leap into action that satisfies a longing. Chances are that won't happen. Rather than try and force the incident to fill all these things in the first page (something that is really obvious and usually awful) it is best to find the part about the incident that will shape the impression you want the reader to have.


While writing this I have an awful nagging in the back of my mind that I am missing a key part of the triggering incident, but I can't think of what. Somebody enlighten me in the comments so I can do a face palm as soon as I read it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Major Announcement

For the month of July Smashwords is holding a huge sale, every ebook must go.

I am doing my part help in this sale by offering all three of my ebooks for free. Just click on the links below:


What would you do if you held in your hands the power to wipe out all forms of human poverty, but doing so would place the fate of the human race in the hands of your enemies?

All his life Sam has been told the people of Ganymede were an enemy bent on destroying all the values he holds dear. Getting to know them he starts sympathizing with their idealistic goals, but he isn’t sure if he can trust them. When an interplanetary war between Earth and Ganymede breaks out, Sam finds his actions will determine the fate of humanity, however he is unsure which side to believe.

“The Setting Earth” is a tale of romance that shows that even after humanity has the technology to transform the Solar System; the most powerful force in the universe is the power of friendship.


Simon Yar has been always ashamed of his extreme Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and has gone to extreme measures to hide it, including losing the only woman he had ever loved rather than reveal his secret. When he discovers that an extra-terrestrial virus is turning the people into slaves, he must come to terms with his inner demons or lose everyone he has ever loved.


Four Short Stories that blend science fiction and horror.

A man decides to to keep his friends close and his enemies closer until he can remove them from space-time.

A childish prank dooms mankind to slavery.

An astronaut believes that his crewmates have had their minds taken over by an alien microbe.

The Commander of a Moon shuttle doesn't believe in curses, until his career is ruined by one.

Or click on the any of the book covers in the sidebar of this site.

Hopefully by having this sale in July it will give everyone a good chance to read some of my works before my big announcement that I hope to make in August.

Please download my books and enjoy reading them.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writing Wednesday: A Novel Idea

I thought I'd go back to basics and talk about how to start a novel. Remember I've never been anywhere near the top of any best sellers list so this is like taking dieting advice from the skinniest kid in fat camp.

On his Monday former super-agent Nathan Bransford talked about first person vs third person in novels. It is definitely worth a read.

Most people who start their first novel do it in first person (I'm not most people and haven't yet attempted a first person novel). Most first time novelists take this approach because first person seems easier, you've got more freedom in your expression, grammar rules are looser, and you don't have worry about losing the reader when shifting the POV.

Now I've read that agents shy away from first person POV in novels because it is so hard to do correctly.

So, what determines if you should start your novel in first or third person POV? It depends on how strong a voice your main character has.

I ran across this little piece I wrote for Ficly a few years ago in a contest to place one famous literary figure in a different story:


So there I was, your humble narrator, with his smashed up house lying on some old bag with some real nice ruby slippers. I figured I could cop them and have a nice evening at the milk bar.

But no, all these little people have to run over and ask me, “Am I a good witch or a bad witch?” Not that I wouldn’t mind giving a few of the midget madams some of the old in and out, but I was needing to get with me dreugs for some mad capers later.

I was just about to unleash some of the old Ultra-Violence when some floating femme told me to “follow the yellow brick road.”

That was all fine and well but then the little people start singing and all, it wasn’t bad but I really could have used some of the old Ludwig Van.

So now your humble narrator is off to see the Wizard so I’ll either be sent home or he’ll be in for a little of the old Ultra-Violence, that will give him a horse of a different color.

That was pretty easy as Alex, the humble narrator, from Anthony Burgess's CLOCKWORK ORANGE has a very strong distinct voice.

If the main character is paranoid of his “Dark Passenger” you would know immediately that it is either Jeff Linsey's DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER or someone ripping him off.

To really have an effective first person novel you need to have a voice that anyone who has read your book will immediately recognize if they see it in a different setting.

So, as you ponder if you should start your novel in the first person or the third, think about how the character's voice effects the novel. If the voice is strong enough and the character's view on life is different enough to change how reader sees the novel then first person is the way to go.

If your character's view is a “normal” reaction to the things that are happening around them third person is the way to go.

Naturally the first rule in writing is that there are exceptions to every rule (including this one?). If the entire world is hiding something from your main character then first person might be the way to go. If the world you've created is so out there that the reader needs a point of reference to hang on to, first person gives the reader that anchor.

That's the one of the first things to thing about before starting a novel.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rules or Conventions?

Here's a little fact that my younger readers might find interesting; In the before time, pre-1984, there wasn't a standard way of spelling.

Before (and for a few years after) the Mac brought real word processing to the masses different Professors had different ways of spelling words and if your version didn't match theirs, tough you got marked off on it. One of the most useful cheat sheets that the English Majors would passed around was a list of how the different Professors spelled words so you could check to see if you spelled it the way they wanted.

If your paper needed the word “Trying” you would check the sheet to see if your professor spelled it, Trying, Triing, Trieing, or Trieng. Sounds chaotic but those of us who went to school in the before time learned to live with it.

In '86 one of my Professors didn't allow papers that were done on the Word Processor because he felt the spell check misspelled words. So with my poor spelling abilities I would type my papers up on the Mac, run the spell check (They weren't powerful enough back then to have check as you go) print it out, check it against my list, then retype it on my Remington Standard 16 (I had a new Smith-Corona as well but the 1920 Remington worked better) and then handed it in.

Once the word processor killed the typewriter people accepted the word processor's spell check as god. Although the spell check on Open Office is a little sexist and can't deal with the few words in English that have gender. It keeps wanting to give my females blond hair instead of blonde (the feminine spelling).

Besides showing my age, this story does have a point.

If you look at the reviews on Amazon there are trolls who complain about the grammar in almost every book. These people have me in awe, traditional books get proof read by a team of copy writers that pass tests that 98% of the people fail. Good copy editing is very profitable so these people who take their valuable skills and freely use them on books proofed by others are incredibly generous souls. Either that or they don't know what the hell they are talking about and are using their high school level grammar to judge people who have studied English as a language.

English is unique as a language as all others were created by humans and evolved with society, English was handed down by God in 1762. Bishop Robert Lowth wrote A SHORT INTRODUCTION TO ENGLISH GRAMMAR in 1762 as he had studied Latin extensively so he felt English would benefit by having a set of grammar principles laid out just like the Vatican had for Latin.

There were two slight problems with this. First, English is a Germanic language and Latin is a Roman language. Second, English is a living language and Latin is a dead language.

If anyone else had written it they would be laughed at, but at the time the church could chop off peoples heads for laughing at them so it was treated as if god himself had written it. Bishop Lowth's book is the basis for most grammar books used today.

Because English grammar rules were enforced so heavily by both the church and British Government, English speakers have a larger percentage of Prescriptive Grammarians than any other language.

In linguistic terms people treat their language as either Prescriptive or Descriptive. Prescriptive grammarians feel that there is a strict set of rules for their language. Descriptive grammarians feel the speakers and writers of a language determine how the language is used.

All the commenters on Amazon feel that the Prescriptive Grammar is how English should be written. They feel that they will win the war of grammar. Except that war has been fought and the Prescriptive Grammarians lost. Which brings me back to the story at the beginning of this post.

A Prescriptive Grammar checker isn't that much harder to program than a spell checker. The early Mac's came with a much more aggressive grammar checker than modern word processors. Early users went through the same steps, turned it on to 5 its highest setting. Hit Ignore 15 times per page. Next paper, back it down to 4, hit Ignore 10 times per page. Next paper, turned grammar check off. Re-read the paper and noticed a bunch of grammar mistakes. Next paper turned grammar check to the lowest setting, let it catch the biggest grammar mistakes, re-read the paper and caught a few more and were happy with that.

In a 75,000 to 140,000 word novel there will be mistakes, in the pulp science fiction novels from the 50s that I grew up on their were 4 to 6 per page. In modern novels a couple per chapter. In the last book I reviewed I got more distracted by the lack of mistakes when I hit my first one after 100 pages than if I encountered 4 to 6 per page. The whole point of spelling and grammar in a language is to make the writer or speaker be understood. If a reader can see what the writer is trying to say without having to re-read the sentence the writer has done their job.

Corrections and Retractions:

A book critic said that those who can write, those who can't write reviews. I hope that means that I can write because I can't write a review. In my review of NEW WORLD ORDERS Monday I forgot the most important thing that any review needs to have: Where to buy the damn book.

NEW WORLD ORDERS is available at Smashwords for $0.99

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: New World Orders

New World Orders
by Edward G. Talbot

Shadow Government is such an overused term. But the guys in the tinfoil hats aren't all wrong. In the nineteen-sixties, a group of wealthy men knows it's already too late to stop global warming. And they have a plan to save themselves. Editor Jack Crowley chases their story and winds up running for his life. Because one thing is more important than money and power. Survival.

My Take:

I love a good conspiracy theory, I've written a few myself Moon Landing Hoax and The Scariest Conspiracy Ever . So naturally I had to check this book out.

I knew I'd like the conspiracies in the book, but what surprised me was how much I liked the triller itself. It really grabbed me from the beginning and I was hooked. I loved all the twists and turns that they had Jack Crowley navigating through to find the men behind the conspiracy. It was a great read that I highly recommend.

Formating and Typos:

Holy Professionalism, Batman.

I'm not a proscriptive grammarian, so I tend not to care about a few typos here and there. I grew up on pulp paperbacks from the 50s that had 4 or 5 typos per page. Even with traditionally published books I do notice 1 or 2 typos per chapter. With this book I had read over 100 pages and I noticed a typo/formating problem, that's when it hit me that I hadn't seen one earlier. I don't believe there are more 5 or 6 problems in the entire book. That is better than almost all traditionally published books. Well Done.

NEW WORLD ORDERS is available at Smashwords for $0.99

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Two Sides to a Conversation

In my last book MIND THEIF I struggled with one character, Debbie. She was an interesting character with a very clear motivation that wasn't shown until her final confrontation, with a lot of reworking her I had her I had her stay true to character except when she slipped up. But the scenes with her were painful.

Naturally I blamed her for the horrible scenes until I put the manuscript aside for a month and looked at those scenes again. Once I had a small degree of objectivity I could see she wasn't the one ruining the scenes it was my main character, Howie.

He had a clear, if selfish, reason for hanging out with her. But not strong enough to excuse her little slip ups, so she either made him look unbelievably naïve or that she was an unbelievable character. The problem was I was showing their interaction but not telling what my main character was inferring from their conversations. Oddly enough I had the problem of showing not telling.

When someone says something to a person two things happen, they hear the words and they infer the meaning. It's what the person infers that is the most important. I had my Debbie slipping out of character on purpose and my main character was barely reacting to that. That's normal, if you questioned every slip of the tongue that someone has in a conversation you wouldn't have many friends. But you would think about those odd slips of the tongue.

In making a character come to life, it's not enough just to have them act realistically but the other characters have to react them. Even if it's only internally they will think about what is being said to them and what they think about what is being said is at least as important as the actual words.

By showing what Howie is thinking about Debbie's little slip ups it brings both their characters to life. As he is now reacting to her even if only in his head.

It turned out my problem wasn't with the actions I was describing, it was the reactions that I knew my character had but I wasn't describing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Writing What You Know (And why you shouldn't)

In my sophomore year of college I received a token of wisdom that raised my grades on research papers from 3.0s to 4.0s, “Write about what you don't know.”

This went against everything that I had learned up until then, which was, “Write what you know.”

The problem with writing on a subject you know about, is that you are really, really familiar with the basics. When you write about the basics you either skip important concepts because you've heard them over and over again. Or you just paraphrase the most concise expression for that concept that you've heard and your work becomes dull. If you write on a subject that you don't know about, or only know a little bit about, as you research it you find out exciting stuff that experts have learned so long ago it's boring to them. When you write about it that sense of wonder shows through the on page and you've got an exciting research paper. Even research papers need have some excitement, that's why if I put a formula in I wouldn't give the answer until the next chapter. Lol.

In creative writing there is a similar problem with writing a novel that is like what you read a lot of. You either skip some of the concepts that your favorite authors based their books on so that the unstated theme goes more unstated than it is supposed to. Or, in weaving that concept into your book it becomes a dry carbon copy of the original author taking away from your unique writing style and ideas.

I've personally read most of the works of Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ben Bova. Writing something similar would have the problem that between them they've written around a thousand books, adding another would be pointless.

The short stories that I have had published took a completely different route, they blended elements of horror and science fiction. I was never a big horror fan but I had fun writing horror stories but putting a scientific explanation behind them, or at least some of them.

One of the reasons that I didn't get into horror was because I started reading Stephen King. I read Carrie, Cujo, Dead Zone (I liked that one the best), The Shining, and Firestarter. Then he came out with IT. When I read IT I felt betrayed. In the book at around the 1,000 page mark two teenage boys fool around with sex. Okay, little strange but they were the older teenagers in the book. Then at the 2,000 or 3,000 page mark (I can't remember it was a long damn book) the younger kids have a gangbang on a girl that just had her first period. I don't fault King for putting it in but he could have given the reader some kind of warning.

That just hit me wrong and that was the last King book I read. So I tried a few other horror writers, but the ones I looked at (this was early 80s) were trying to be like King and because King hit my hot buttons the others suffered.

I really didn't read anymore horror until I found myself writing it and people started paying me for my science fiction horror. I've since found out about splatterpunk where I might run into something that might hit my hot buttons, but the idea behind splatterpunk is you don't surprise the reader with the gruesome parts you put it all up front and just build on it.

By writing in a genre that I avoided for 30 years, I don't have to worry about my writing reminding someone of a different author of that genre. If some of the voice of my favorite science fictions authors slips in there, that's fine too.

It all goes back to writing about what you don't know, by being a science fiction fan who adds horror elements to my writing the horror parts are shiny and new to me and it forces me to be completely unique.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Rules

Because grade school teachers often see it being used improperly, they tell students that you can't start a sentence with the word because.

This sentence sums up most rules about writing. A lot of the “rules” of writing come from examining the work of writers who do something wrong. The big trend these days is to say that a story needs a glass wall between the writer and the reader. In one of the stories I'm proudest of is A HOME TO DIE FOR. not only wasn't there a glass wall, the reader was the main character.

Some of my favorite short stories are told as if the main character has stopped by the readers house to tell them about the incident that made either them famous or notorious. This is now considered bad form, not because it isn't clear and and effective, but because editors see it being done so bad that they cringe when they see it.

Another “Rule” is single consistent Point of View. Some of the greatest novels I've read have been told from omnipotent point of view that changed who the main focus was often. The funniest thing about the consistent single point of view “rule” is a lot of people refer to one of my favorite authors, Ben Bova, as an example of how to do this.

I became a fan of Ben Bova because he didn't use a single point of view. A lot of his books that I read started out with a omnipotent voice that set up the stage, moved to the main character and showed the rising conflict through things happening around the world. Once he became a famous editor and had to read tons of confusing POV shifts he started preaching the single consistent POV.

I must note that Ben Bova himself doesn't say not to switch POV, he says, “In a novel it is possible to shift from one viewpoint character to another, but you must take great care to make certain that the reader understands these shifts in P.O.V. and is not confused by them.”

The key point in reading about “rules” for writers is not to memorize and follow them, but to learn why people think something should be a rule so when you break that rule you break it properly and don't confuse the reader.

If a writer memorizes the “rules” without looking at the why behind them they risk having the craftsmanship of writing kill heart of the story. Rachelle Gardner talks about that here: Story vs. Craft.

Just like in the beginning sentence of this post, if you know that “because” is a conjunction to link unequal parts of a sentence, you can start a sentence with it. If you make the mistake that my classmates in 3rd grade made of using it to link to the teachers question, that is improper.

BTW: Being the smart ass that I was in school when a teacher told the class we couldn't start our answers with the word “because” I always would do something like this:

“Why was the main character feeling sad?”

“Because his bike was stolen, the main character felt sad.”

Teachers loved having me in their classes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Sympathy for the Devil

One of the major criticisms I get about my writing is that I need to make sympathetic characters. The hero that everyone admires from the beginning, the shining knight on the white horse so to speak. So I looked at some writers known for their strong characters.

Brett Ellis:

Most famous novels: LESS THAN ZERO and AMERICAN PSYCHO

Who can't help but admire a rich self absorbed drug addict on the path to self-destruction, or a yuppie stock broker who thinks he is a serial killer.

Early in his career Brett Ellis was told the same thing that no one would read novels where the main character isn't sympathetic from the start. Simon & Schuster refused to publish AMERICAN PSYCHO because of protests. Something I'm sure must bring a tear to his eye every time he cashes the checks he is still receiving from the novel and screenplay.

Chuck Palahniuk:

Most famous novel: FIGHT CLUB

It's hard to imagine some one more sympathetic than an anarchist terrorist who takes out his frustrations with the modern word by spreading mayhem. I'm sure he also feels the sting of all the agents that rejected him and wouldn't take him on until after FIGHT CLUB was published and turned into an Oscar Nominated Film.

Anthony Burgess:

Most famous novel: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

A truly sympathetic character; Alex, our humble narrator merely wants to engage in a little of the old in and out, and some ultra-violence while listening to a little Ludwig Van. The complaints about Alex not being sympathetic must have hurt Burgess when the TIMES ranked him #17 on their list of greatest British authors since 1945.

I'm not saying that my writing is as good as those three, but the critics who say that people won't read a story that doesn't have a sympathetic main character are clearly wrong.

To all the writers out there that are having your work criticized because editors don't believe the public will read it based on some aspect other than the writing I'd like to give you this little word of wisdom: Find authors that successfully use that aspect and write something that goes all out with that. It will help define it for you.

As John Jakes says about writing, ““Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Great Day for Writing Tips

I opened up Google Reader this morning and was hit by a lot of great articles on writing. I guess yesterday was the day everyone needed to share good tips.

It happens to be Writing Wednesday so I will comment on some of the better ones I ran across:


Over at DON'T PET ME I'M WRITING Tawna talks about the benefits of critiquing other peoples work. This is something I'm a firm believer in.

I agree with her on all her points and would like to add one:

Sometimes it is fun to watch.

The best cure for the writing bug, and the most expensive, is to become an English Major. I'm not making that up, by the time your Junior Year rolls around and you've been studying all the great literature that has been produced over the last 2000 years you're convinced that your writing is horrible. To make it worse you try to put everything you've learned in the last 3 years into a 1,000 word story. During Jr. Year most of the people I went to school with did what I did and searched their rooms both at college and at home and destroyed every scrap of writing they had ever written because they were ashamed to let anyone see it.

When you critique someone's rough draft you get to see another diamond (hopefully) in the rough. You can see all the awkward phrases, the telling when they should be showing, Weird POV shifts and everything else. After you help them with that, you get to see the story with a little polish and watch someone else make their story into something you would pay for.

Seeing that happen to someone else gives you the confidence to rework your own story.


Over at QUERY TRACKER Jane Lebak offers a very simple piece of advice, name your protagonist.

I have to admit to doing a facepalm after reading this. I've made this mistake a few times, one time it added to the story, I'M THAT GUY, but that's the exception that proves the rule. Looking back the other times I did a first person POV story, having an unnamed protagonist really took away from the story.


Elspeth Antonelli at BLOOD-RED PENCIL gives her 10 signs of a typical writing day. I hate to say it but #5 really hit home for me.

5.You love your plot. You love your characters. It's your actual writing of which you're not so enamoured.

You would think by now I would know that my rough drafts are rough, but a lot of times I look at what I'm writing and think it is unfixable.


Roni Loren at FICTION GROUPIE talks about her writing method. Something I'll write about sometime.


It's nice to know that someone else builds worlds in a similar way that I do. SM “Frankie” Blooding talks about building worlds in the same geeky style I do. My favorite worlds to build are the one that already exist.

In THE SETTING EARTH I looked at the Dwarf Planet “Ceres” and how it is warmer than its surroundings and has traces of water vapor. From that I imagined what might make that happen and imagined a giant underground ocean and how with materials that are common in the asteroid belt giant undersea domes could be built. In the domes under Earth's atmosphere and Ceres 1/32 gravity a person could strap on a pair of wings and fly.

At other times I've used the Multiverse hypothesis to make towns where literally anything could happen, I've used Relativity to get revenge, I've made planets around red dwarfs habitable and all sorts of other things.

The world building using real physics, or at least hypothetical physics, is my very favorite part of writing.

That's a round up of the great tips that I stumbled across this morning.