Writing Lessons

Sorry to have left you in the lurch for over a week. I promised you three posts a week. I feel a bit guilty for not posting when I should. I need more discipline.

I am learning that good writing is good rewriting. I’ve read that somewhere, but don’t know where. I have gone over A Bastard’s Choice dozens of times since I wrote it, and shown three versions to a writing group of mine. Just after I posted the third version, though, I realized one glaring omission. I did not have any descriptions of what the characters looked like, or the scenery, or the setting! Its all conversation and a little action.

Objectively speaking, it is good, even close to publishable. My group has helped me to see things in a different way, and shown me the flaws in my work. I tend to tell what happens instead of showing. I put in too much unnecessary detail, but do not give enough detail to set the scenery. I need to work on word pictures.

I need to keep working on other story lines. The advice I’ve gotten is to work in two or three unrelated worlds to prevent burnout. So I am resurrecting The Undying, set in a world where the royal family has bodyguards who cannot be killed, and do not age, so long as the person they are linked to is alive. The second is called Charlotte and Caldor, about a young couple who must take charge suddenly as their nation is under attack from the forces of evil. I am also thinking of working in a science fiction setting, set on a world that humans with faster than light drives colonized. Then interstellar civilization collapses. A thousand years later, the cold sleep ship sent a hundred years before the planet is colonized arrives.

And the troubling thing is, as I am researching, I keep getting more ideas. A dhampir and a zhudac team up to solve supernatural riddles. Someone goes back in time to prevent the Russian Revolution. A story based loosely on the life of WW1 Canadian general Sir Arthur Currie. I just need the discipline to sit at my computer for a couple of hours a day and write.


Details, Details

Its a Monday, and I’m actually putting up a post when I said I would! Yay me! One in a row.

I’ve finished my summer classes and got a C and an A. I’m a little upset about the C, as I was less than a point from a B, and the professor had lessons that were due on Sundays and the Fourth of July. I missed the first Sunday due date, because no reasonable person gives Sunday due dates, or due dates on Federal holidays. My fault that I missed the fine print, and assumed a Monday due date. But I got a 0 on the one test, and that was the difference.

This is a valuable life lesson. Pay attention to the details. Its the small stuff that will come back to bite you. The big picture is valuable, to be sure. But make sure the ground beneath your feet is solid before admiring the view.

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

The Silence Broken / Lessons on the Short Story

Oh, boy. What a week I’ve had. On Monday, my wife, my in-laws and I drove down to Mexico. We came down to help out an orphanage my church runs and to help build houses for the needy. Well, my father-in-law was part of a lecture series for the workers, and I had the homework. My wife helped build, though Internet has been spotty, and I’ve used most of it for working on my homework. Montezuma’s Revenge made it difficult for me to do a lot of things as well. That’s my excuse for not posting for a week, and I’m sticking to it.

Right now, one of the biggest influences is Sara Hoyt, who blogs at http://www.accordingtohoyt.com and http://www.madgeniusclub.com (the last with several other authors). If you are interested in reading some good human wave fiction, please check her out. She has been holding an online workshop on how to write a short story which I’ve been participating in. She has her stuff on Amazon, and usually has at least one free story there so you can sample her work.

Even in just a few lessons, I have learned a lot. I submitted a short story I had started, and the feedback I’ve gotten from the others helped me to improve it greatly. I need to learn to show, and not explain things, and to keep out extra information that isn’t necessary for the story at hand. This last is a balancing act if you are planing a series, however, and want to foreshadow future events.

It is important to do a little plotting, even if you don’t normally plot. For the first ‘Bastard Prince’ story (It’s a working title.) I had written it, and deleted it, and rewritten it about four times before I wrote the final first draft that I submitted. I finally made myself a detailed outline like the ones we did in high school:

1. The First Story
1. TBP’s older brother, the new king, is not trusting TBP.
1. Ambitious advisers have convinced him that TBP is plotting a coup.
2. This is not true
2. Enemies are circling the kingdom, intent on using the discord to gain an advantage, possibly overrun the kingdom.
1. TBP cannot allow this to happen
1. The lack of trust and the emergencies are forcing his hand
2. He must act, for the good of the kingdom.

Then I read about the W plot. It starts by introducing the character at a high point, giving him an obvious problem, and a less obvious one to drag him down, (try/fail one) raising him up (but not as high as at the start) and then back down (try/fail two, facing the problem), and finally reaching a triumphant conclusion. The plot would look like a capitol W. So, here is the W plot for my second story. There are obvious variations but for a short story, this format works 90% of the time.

Character: The Bastard Prince, Rowan Barnard Suroni MhacEdric.

The obvious problem: An imperial duke has arrived to arrange a treaty to marry one of the emperor’s nieces to the king, Edmund. Parties in the empire, as well as Ilkadumia (the name of the kingdom), oppose the proposed marriage.

The hidden problem: Someone murders the duke! Not only is the treaty in jeopardy, but if the murder is not solved, the Empire will likely declare war against Ilkadumia, which will probably loose.

Try/fail one: negotiations are going well, until the duke is murdered. His second in command, his son, refuses to negotiate further until the murder is solved. He gives a one week ultimatum.

Try/fail two: Jal and Rowan believe they know who the murderer is: the duke’s son. He has motive and opportunity, and his opposition to his father’s plans are well known. The two have displayed hostility before the murder. But he proves his innocence when confronted.

Facing the problem: After reexamining the evidence, Rowan nearly gives up hope.

Try three/Triumph: A new discovery shows who the real killer is. Rowan tricks him into confessing. He attacks Rowan, hoping to escape his just punishment. At Rowan’s urging, the murderer is given to the duke’s son to be taken to the Emperor for justice. The son concludes a treaty with Ilkadumia.

I’m not sure if I prefer to do the outline method, or the W method. I may well end up using the W to inform the outline, and write from both. I’m currently writing the second story, and continuing to edit the first. I have a new goal of having at least 10 Bastard Prince stories by the end of the year. Wish me luck!

Scraping By

Coming up with enough money to live is a never ending struggle, it seems. I know where I want to go in life, and I know that this will only continue for another year or two. But still, the constant strain on finding enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table is wearing. My wife, Maria, and I both work three jobs in addition to going to school. We clean our church, work part time at a restaurant, and work at an elementary school during the school year. Other money comes our way, from house sitting or baby sitting. All our parents help out where they can.


Those jobs, plus grants, scholarships, and student loans almost bring in enough to live for the year, if we are careful. We are trying to get into low-income housing, but perversely, we don’t make enough to qualify for most of them. After a seven month wait, our medicaid application was granted. This is a very good thing, as I have medical issues and my prescriptions can cost one or two hundred dollars a month. Still waiting on food stamps.


You may ask, why am I using medicaid and applying for food stamps, let alone government grants and loans for school, if I am an advocate of smaller, limited government. First, my situation is temporary. In five years, I will be making a boatload of money, and will most likely pay into the system far more than I will ever take out. I do not plan to live my life on handouts. In my case I see it more like a hand up. Second, I have a duty to do what is best for my family, even if that means doing things that I don’t like to do. The programs are there, and I would be doing Maria a disservice by not trying to take advantage of them. But remember, what is good for the individual is not necessarily good for the group.


For me, as an individual, while I am working to my goal of becoming an accountant, these government programs are what is best for my family. Long term, for the United States as a whole, they are a drain on our resources. If too many people get on them, they can pull the entire nation into debt and poverty. We have already seen this in places like Greece and Cyprus.


In May of 2015, Maria will graduate and I will get my transfer degree and move to whichever four-year university accepts me. Maria will be able to get a good paying job, and depending on my school schedule, I may be able to find some work interning at a financial institution, or even do some freelance accounting. We will get off the dole, and be productive members of society. In many respects, we already are.  

Reflections on Independence Day

Last Friday was the Fourth of July. America is now 238 years old, and looks to be on shaky ground. Look at how intrusive out government has become.


  • NSA is probably reading this right now, likely tracks your cell phone movement and collects scads of metadata about all of us, whether we are Americans or foreigners, pose a threat to the US government or not.
  • The IRS has used its powers to harass and intimidate conservative groups who oppose the expansion of government. They depend on having a reputation of neutrality to get their job done, and are in serious danger of loosing that. And for those who say they also targeted liberal groups? That has been bunked.
  • Obama rules (not governs) by fiat and executive order. He flouts our laws. Just a partial list includes Fast and Furious, Benghazi, delays in Obamacare. The list goes on.


However, I believe that we are nowhere near the tension of the 1850s or the 1770s. In the 1850s, we already had Bleeding Kansas. Where is the state today that has an undeclared civil war going on? In 1773, we had the original Tea Party. There has been no Boston Massacre, no Raid on Harper’s Ferry, no widespread violent civil unrest, unless you count the Occupy Movement. For all the gridlock and inaction in Washington, DC, we still have a functioning society. It is breaking down, but is not broken yet. As a people, we are horribly divided, and cannot seem to talk to each other. We can still turn the tide.


And it starts with you and me. It starts with all of us. Become informed about the events around us. Do not depend on just CNN, or Fox. Look at the other site. For me, that means I check out Mother Jones, MSNBC, New York Times and so on. If you are a liberal, go check out Instapundit, Drudge, or Breitbart. Just knowing what the other side thinks is important goes a long way.


Second, don’t resort to name calling. If you disagree with someone, don’t shout ‘racist’ ‘Nazi’ or ‘Communist’ at them. Look at their arguments and argue with their points. Name calling is the last resort of people with out an argument. It is important to remember that for most of us, we are sincere in our beliefs. People can disagree without being disagreeable.


Third, become civically active. Don’t just sit and complain. Go and vote. Volunteer where you see a need. Make a habit of talking to your neighbors. Don’t be a hermit. There is a saying, familiarity breeds contempt. I do not find this to be true, in fact, the opposite is more true. Ignorance breeds contempt and fear. Fear leads to hate, and hate leads to the Dark Side.


The Founders were ordinary men who lived in extraordinary times, and accomplished extraordinary things because they stepped up to the challenge. We do not need to risk our ‘lives, fortunes, and our sacred honor’ to keep our country free. It is enough to be civil and active.


Happy birthday, America, and may God grant you many more.


Sheesh. The first post after I said it would be M/W/F is late. Go figure. At least I have a good excuse. I’m a councilor at my church’s annual youth camp, and my internet access is limited. And because I am taking online summer courses, they take priority. So, If I don’t get here for the rest of the week, I’m just to darn busy, not hospitalized.


Other than that, I really don’t have too much to say. Have a great day, and I will TRY to post something real tomorrow.


I’m going to try to do three posts a week — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This should work well with my schedule for nets semester, where almost all my classes are on Tuesday and Thursday.


Today I want to talk about book ideas. I have had several, ranging from alternate history, to science fiction and fantasy. They come to me all the time. For instance, the other night, I ran across the name Aurther Currie. He was a Canadian general during World War One, and led a fascinating life. Naturally, now I want to learn more about him and have a series based on him and his life. I wote it down, and if I get inspired to do so, I will pursue it.


Only one ever got written from start to finish, and it was horrible. Fortunately the computer I wrote it on crashed, and it is no longer in existence. The only thing I can say for it is that I proved to myself that I can finish a story. But that was years ago. Since then, I have started and abandoned the World Wide War (Civil War alternate history), Caldor and Charlotte (sword and sorcery), Last Colony (Science Fiction), and Basil II (Alternate Byzantine Empire history).


But they are still in the back of my mind, and sometimes, when the mood strikes me, I will still fiddle with them. Right now, the storyline I’m working on is called The Bastard Prince. It is in a fantasy world without much magic among humans, but fantastical creatures do exist. Surprisingly enough, it follows the exploits of the bastard son of the late king, and his service to the king his half-brother, and the country. He is brilliant, loyal, hard working, and despite accusations, does not want to be the king. I see him as a cross between George Washington and Sherlock Holmes.


I’m planning this to be a series of related short stories, where the plot is different in each one, but most of the characters are the same, and the land is the same. Will this lead to being able to write a complete novel? I hope so.