Arcst thou, story: Poem and long analysis of WIP

Today, I will write like Shakespeare.
I claim the author title but have not
yet the fruits of my labor to
proclaim it so.

What, then, portends
this labor of words that shall lie
‘pon that broad thoroughfare of the
Amazon so thickly?

‘Tis the
manuscript, e’en so, that cast
in words passes thousands and more
yesterday, and thousands and more
today, and thousands and more for

Arcst thou, character;
arcst thou, story.

‘Tis three acts and
your part be done, passeth then thy
words unto “Remove from device”
and thy fame unto the stars for

I hope you may get five.

“So what gives,” you ask. “You’re not a poet. I can tell by your writing. Up there. What is that doggerel?”

Amidst a response to a commentator, I was struck by the passage from Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, which is the beautiful commendation and blessing of Bertram by the Countess. She says to him in Act 1, scene 1,

Be thou blest, Bertram, and succeed thy father
In manners, as in shape! thy blood and virtue
Contend for empire in thee, and thy goodness
Share with thy birthright! Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend
Under thy own life’s key: be cheque’d for silence,
But never tax’d for speech. What heaven more will,
That thee may furnish and my prayers pluck down,
Fall on thy head! Farewell, my lord;
‘Tis an unseason’d courtier; good my lord,
Advise him.

Those are some great words of advice: Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. And I strive for the last, and struggle with the first.

I considered the idea that I’ve laid claim to the title author. It’s a faint perception. I write. Sure, it’s not published yet. Every time I get a few hundred words ahead, I tramp back to revise, and revisions are death for finishing a work. Say what you will; I quail from the mess my writing is.  I’ll not have it so. Thus, I revise.

Claiming the title announces my intent. I have no wish to be proven a liar, so I will do whatever is necessary to publish this book. Think of it as incentive, for me. Then, Tara, I can fill your Twitter feed with a dozen requests a day to “buy my book!”

Nevertheless, I’ve penned typed 1,738 words in the last twenty-four hours, with fewer necessary revisions and more progress. The protagonist has returned to the place she grew up, and is about to have the conversation with the him I’ve been beating about the bush for the last five chapters. This is the guy she wants to shoot. And you’re all sitting there, expectantly–er.

What are you guys all doing? You’re reading your Reader feed? You’re not waiting for chapter 6? You haven’t read the first five chapters? You mean, you’ve been doing other stuff like checking your email and your twitter feed and so on?  What, you think this is a blog and you can’t be bothered?!

It’s okay, I love you guys, too.  I understand no one is going to camp overnight on a cold sidewalk waiting for the book to be published. (But you would do that for a well-priced microwave.)

As I was saying, there’s this guy she wants to shoot. I’ve danced around why she wants to shoot him. She needs good motive, and you probably guessed from the subject material that there’s some sort of sexual shenanigans in the past. After all, I’ve got the elements lined up: Attractive under-age girl, priest, New Roman Catholic Church, she’s mad about something, what could it possibly be?

It’s too easy. It’s easy to take shots at the Roman Catholics with the scandals involving priests. Interestingly, those scandals seem as if they were confined to the United States. The rest of the world blinks sleepily and says, “what seems to be the problem here? Boys will be boys.” So there’s something about Americans that gets them outraged at pedophilia but doesn’t outrage everyone else? I don’t get that.

Back to the motivation for shooting the priest. What sort of heinous act could he do that wasn’t the obvious, raping the protagonist?  Emily Russel, over at Piss, Coffee, and Vinegar writes in her post on Writing: 5 Things I Want More of In Fantasy Romance Subplots,

I understand that it’s a very tragic happening, and it’s ruined many a life, but that doesn’t mean you should resort to it every time you need to come up with something negative to happen to a female character.

She had a good point. I was driving down that road. Simple, right? Priest rapes girl. Girl is mad and wants revenge. Yawn. Boring. Not in a “rape is boring” kind of way. It’s a “rape is a trope” kind of thing. So this put me off of that, and I started trying to come up with alternate scenarios that made some sort of sense. What did this priest do that she wants to murder him and cannot face him?

The reader can see this coming, too. My subtle little hints are nothing of the kind. You read the hints and if you’re the typical intelligent reader (and most of you are; however, based on some Amazon reviews, there are some unintelligent readers who have access to the internet and a keyboard), these hints are huge lit up Las Vegas billboard signs saying that there’s some messed up Catholic stuff coming up. As I said, too easy. It’s a trope.

To write this part and understand it, I wrote an external story about the event in question. Plot points emerged. I established some characters, and then put them in motion. I don’t want to put this part in the book because it’s not germane to the plot, and I don’t want to use flashbacks. I want to stay in the timeline and push through the story.  As for the event, it’s not rape. It’s not even something that happens to *her*, it happens to someone else, but she blames herself. So, now it’s no longer victim with a gun, it’s self-blaming soldier with a gun in the middle of something where she needs to confront all the pent-up crap she’s been failing to deal with for seven years. It won’t be therapeutic; it won’t be nice. It needs to happen for the story to move forward.

I also wanted to respect the Roman Catholic Church. Writing them as villains who locked up pregnant Irish girls in asylums or slaughtered the Huguenots on St. Bartholomew’s Day isn’t treating this branch of religion with any respect. What is so compelling about it that millions of people across the globe worship in this tradition? What will it look like in the future? A thousand years hence? People who serve God, who serve Christ, what does that look like in the religionless future? Oh. You thought the future will have no religion? Take a look around you. People ALWAYS have a religion. It’s just some are considered more okay than others. So, yes, the future will not be some sort of Isaac Asimov religionless future. It’s going to have an eclectic mix of the same sort of stuff we see today. Polytheism, atheism, monotheism, and all sorts of other interesting things.

But the story also needs to stay in the genre. Space marines. Show us some combat, dude. That’s what people are buying. You put a girl in a transformer suit with a gun on the cover, it darn well better have Starship Troopers and Denise Richards in a shower scene. (I’m probably the only one who was shocked at that scene. They already had all the nerds in the world slavering over the movie: It’s STARSHIP TROOPERS, man, only the best space combat book evar, and now in a movie, and there’s .56 seconds of Denise in the nude, so now we have to see it. Or something. There was no point to showing DR’s chest, unless it was the titillation value.) Do you go with the genre (combat!) or do you have a touchy-feeling psych session to deal with past hurts?

I suppose that one way to overcome that is to blow something up every time the plot calms down. For instance, there’s a meeting in a kitchen with Sister Mary Angela.These are dull, talking heads, and there is no tension. I’ll re-write that. It’s better if the stove explodes and the orphanage catches fire. This is your fault, Alfred Hitchcock, and your dumb quote:

Drama is life with the dull parts cut out of it.


Author’s Dilemma: Revise or Publish?

A.G. Moye over at Lightning Books discussed whether to push through on the four (!) different manuscripts he has in progress, or to go back to the shiny allure of polishing already published manuscripts.

The problem with the revisions is that it does not significantly improve your bottom line of book sales. It is compelling but unnecessary. Do painters touch up old paintings constantly? Some do, I imagine, but once it’s out there, that’s it. They don’t drive to the home of the owner and ask to fix the nose of the subject in the painting.  [n.b. the number of paintings where they discover another painting beneath the first, a recycling of the painting canvas. So scrapping an old work for a new one is not unheard of. This is where our simile departs from sense.]

If you’ve got four stories burning, or even one, you’re better off finishing your works in progress and obtaining the marketing push from having multiple products selling for you, than from polishing earlier works.

Your marketing leverage comes from readers who have already read your previous works and will purchase your new works. Some readers will read your previous works and choose not to read subsequent works. You cannot improve their experience or get them back by fixing your previously published manuscripts, you can only try to attract them to newly published manuscripts.

As a reader, I forgive an author a lot of mistakes if tell a great story. However, I cannot buy books they haven’t published. It’s nice that previous books I have already purchased will now be improved, but I’m not rereading them for a few years, if that. Give me another book to buy, if I like your voice, or better yet hook me with a series.

I appreciate editions where authors fix their comma splices and run ons and passive voice and tyops, and feel free to tell me about it at the beginning of your book so I know that you did this nice thing for me to make your work better. That’s worth an extra star if your work is seamless. But save those revisions for downtime, and understand that it may affect future sales, but it will not affect past sales and what they think of your writing.

If readers do the work for you, great, utilize them.  There are people who find it compulsory to fix problems, and I’m one of them. I highlight books as I go through them on my Kindle if I see obvious errors, and I’ll send them to the author as a courtesy. It’s the author’s prerogative to act on that or say, “sodoff Baldrick” and that’s that.  If a book was published more than six months before and typos still abound, that gets a downgrade in my opinion because surely someone has read it and commented on the typos, and if so, the author doesn’t care enough to update their manuscript to make simple corrections. This is purely based on perception! It’s tough for you as a writer to fix every little thing, but fixing outright errors must be done. Ultimately, your book is your business suit. How it looks tells me volumes about you.) –                     Some guy named Charles Dickens. I’ll bet he never polished his old works. He got paid by the word. It’s a good gig if you can get it.

So, yes, polish a little to fix the glaring stuff; that’s professionalism. Reworking plot points and rewriting? It won’t gain you sales from your existing readership, but may gain you sales for future readers who tackle the book.

Writers Tip #92: How to Write Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner

I’ve oft wondered about the fact that you can take a story and the way it’s written and that’s considered literature, and then there’s chewing gum for the brain, which is the rest of us. And I have discussions with my wife about “The Pearl” and other stories we were forced to devour in high school, and whether anyone actually reads those books because they want to.

This article breaks it down and it makes sense. Sort of.

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

I have never wanted to write like Pulitzer Prize Winners Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, or William Faulkner,. The style doesn’t fit me. Not to say I wouldn’t love to win one of the world’s most prestigious writer awards–who wouldn’t?–but I don’t think I can make the compromises to my personal voice to fit into that square hole.

I didn’t understand why until I read Joe Bunting’s article on what characterizes that style of writing (see below). You may see yourself in them. That’s good. There’s room for all of us under the authorial umbrella. If…

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4 Positive Characteristics and 1 flaw: Character Creation Writing

Efficient Uninhibited Nurturing Empathetic Vengeful

You know the drill. Create a character with the above characteristics.

To help you, use the following to flesh out the character:

  • The character’s name;
  • A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline;
  • The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?);
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?);
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?);
  • The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?);
  • A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline.

This is the initial character creation summary from Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing page. Thus, you take the four positive characteristics and one character flaw and then create the rest using the guide above.  Is your character a protagonist or antagonist, or a side character? Is the flaw obvious or hidden? What about the positive characteristics?

Word Grammar checking

It looks like you're trying to write a novel. Would you like to: o Write it however you please and re-edit it a dozen times? o Write it correctly the first time? o Start and stop without finishing multiple projects?
It looks like you’re trying to write a novel. Would you like to:
o Write it however you please and re-edit it a dozen times?
o Write it correctly the first time?
o Start and stop without finishing multiple projects?

In a fit of pique, and to avoid further writing, I checked my manuscript in Word for readability statistics. To get there, you must set it up first. This is done by selecting file > options > proofing and clicking the box for “show readability statistics.” Run a spell check, and once you’re done hacking through your passive sentences, it’ll spit out result.

  • First impressions: My characters all speak in sentence fragments. I’d like to think that’s how everyone actually speaks. I may be off. Does the dialogue seem stilted or odd? Or does it sound natural and flowy?
  • Second: It hates the colloquialisms.
    Screw it, we gotta go.
    It didn’t like “gotta,” and flagged it as a non-standard word, like ain’t, irregardless, and alright. “…these words are always incorrect in written text.”Hey marines! Word says you’re a bunch of fragment using non-standard word lovers.

    “Tell Word to go shove it,” said Yuen. “It’s not as if we’re speaking English in a thousand years. Microsoft will be extinct. Or run the government. Just don’t bring back clippy or I’ll shoot the little ********.”
    Right, then, now that we have that conflict out of the way…

    Another colloquialism it caught and flagged:
    It’s not a good idea to send the most junior member of the squad out alone.
    Sure, that’s a fine sentence, except that the dialogue points out that “certain adjectives cannot be modified.”  Meaning that “perfect” is not modifiable. It cannot be made more perfect. Good point, Word. I’ll take it. Most is deleted. He’s the junior member of the squad.

    Another phrase for in the worst way?

  • Third: Contractions. It hates my contractions. However, contractions are the way people speak.
  • Fourth: Passive voice. I am slowly rooting that out. Word is very useful in finding the problems. Much of it is coming out of Yuen’s thoughts and conversation. Do I firm up her thoughts to be less passive? Or does passive voice reflect the character’s choices (unsure, unable to plan, uncertain)?I’m going to run with eliminating it altogether. Even from the thoughts. It helps readability, hey?

    It hates, “They were sacked.” I flipped it around. “We sacked them.” How active!

  • Fifth: It thinks impacted is jargon. In business it is. Here, it describes the action of the shuttle and the ground. Thus, the suggestions of “the shuttle influenced the ground” may not have the same, ahem, impact. Er, affect.
  • Sixth: It hates my cliches. In a nutshell. What’s another good phrase for that?
  • Seventh: Simplify. I have this word construction in two three places:

    She found the tool and snatched it from the compartment and retreated from the fiery shuttle.

    Word says to replace the extra ands with commas. It’s right on. The end result is:She found the tool,  snatched it from the compartment, and retreated from the fiery shuttle.
  • Eighth: It wants me to use gender neutral expressions. Crew Members instead of Crewmen. I’ll consider it… done. I’ll change it. Person instead of guy. Nope, he’s a guy. I’m not changing that one. I do have a disturbing high usage of guy, and may seek alternate expressions.
  • Ninth: Comma splice. I’ve got ’em. Three, so far.  Two of them I added conjunctions, and one I  changed to a period.
  • Tenth: Half and any word it modifies is hyphenated. So, half-day.

That was depressing. Results:
Words: 15,355.
Characters: 73,093.
Paragraphs: 543.
Sentences: 1601.

Sentences per paragraph: 3.0.
Words per sentence: 9.5.
Characters per word: 4.5.

Passive Sentences: 0% (Yay!)
Flesch Reading Ease: 74.8%
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 5.1

It says I write for a 11 year old?! Harrumph. I looked up what the reading ease and grade level scales are based upon. Wikipedia says:

In the Flesch Reading Ease test, higher scores indicate material that is easier to read; lower numbers mark passages that are more difficult to read.

That seems about right – chewing gum for the mind, but not literary high falootin’ multi-syllabic words everywhere.

And that grade level? Hmmm. Says Wikipedia:

“These readability tests are used extensively in the field of education. The “Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level Formula” instead presents a score as a U.S. grade level, making it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts. It can also mean the number of years of education generally required to understand this text, relevant when the formula results in a number greater than 10.

Do I need to ramp up my literary score by substituting fancy words in place of those simple understandable words?

25 words for other words

Bookmarking this to read later:
25 Words for other words.


CAPITONYM: A capitonym is a word whose meaning changes depending on whether it is capitalized or not, like Turkey and turkey, Polish and polish, or August and august. Most capitonyms are entirely coincidental and the two words in question are entirely unrelated, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the difference between the two is much more subtle, like moon (any natural satellite) and Moon (our natural satellite, from which all others are named), or sun (a star at the centre of a solar system) and Sun (our star).

Word Frequency and stuff you say too much, like stuff

Miss Brandy at Blood Toy brought up another wrinkle in your manuscript:

What is the frequency of words appearing in your manuscript? What are the words you use all the time? Which words are uncommonly high frequency use, other than the usual conjunctions and prepositions and pronouns?   I saw this elsewhere, and now we must examine it with laser focus. Why? Because you’re along for the ride.

I found this VBA script for Word… this one here. Copy the third one, that one, starts with “Sub WordFrequency()” and copy all the lines to “End Sub”.

Open Word and paste that thing into a macro.

View> Macros > View Macros, then Create one.

To run it, open your document and then View > Macros > View Macros, click on the name of your macro, click Run.

Here’s my top 10:

200         in
183         you
172         i
160         on
139         yuen
138         it
116         was
108         she
107         with
106         we

Oh. You see those? 116 was. 138 its. (To be fair, I don’t think my its are the unsupported variety that were beat up here in Marcus Trower’s post. However, I haven’t checked that yet. I’m still reeling from the passive voice corrections.)

Since Yuen is my protagonist, and she speaks fairly often, I’m okay with the 139 instances of her name. I wonder what my obsession with “in” is? Guess I’ll go look, now.

15 Reasons Why I Muted You On Twitter (And Other Rancor)

Apparently everyone else knew Tara. Did they tell me? Nooooooo. Wait, Chris, the Story Reading Ape gave me a steer. Thanks, Chris. The rest of you: Booo! And now on to the starchy post. If you’ve ever tweeted, “Buy my book,” you must read this post. It will help you. Really. And yes, you need help.

Tara Sparling writes

Many bloggers have written many blog posts containing many points regarding the many things authors should not be doing on Twitter if they want to sell their books (there’s a mathematical formula in there somewhere). So, why should I add to it?

Well. Because it’s quite obvious that nobody has been bloody listening; that’s why. (Another reason is that having alluded to this post a number of people asked me to publish it. So now.)

Fine. You Don’t Understand Twitter? Get Off It, Then

Before 2011, there was a window – for about 45 minutes, one Tuesday afternoon – in which people (authors especially) had an open forum on Twitter upon which to promote themselves. During this time, pretty much any old tweet could gain some traction. Some did very well out of it. But times have changed.

There are now too many folks tweeting mindlessly, and too much. And the result is the equivalent of an ad agency trying…

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Military Officer Function for Science Fiction

Tactics and strategy inform or should inform everything a soldier does.

Your soldiers in military sci-fi must have a doctrine of some kind which tells them what to do and how to do it.

In the modern US Army, the nuts and bolts of things soldiers are trained to do are called Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP for short).  The larger picture is strategy, and there are some pretty basic things that are to be accomplished with strategy.

With strategy, you must ask the question: Why are your military units doing what they’re doing?

If it does not have an applicable purpose, then your officers look incompetent, stupid, untrained, or insane. If the character is portrayed as competent, then his inability to understand strategy will be seen as a function of the author’s inability to understand strategy and the reader will stop reading the book. Do not misunderstand this to mean that officers aren’t sometimes wooden, textbook responders, or unable to remain focused on the objective. It means that if you portray a competent officer, he will respond to stimuli in a competent manner, based on the information they receive.

A competent officer has training to teach him to gain information about the objective, evaluate the enemy forces and intent, and either respond or initiate a response.

The things we will see in your novel will reflect whether your POV character is a grunt or a officer.  Sometimes there’s officers who are ground-pounders– that is, company level and lower– but the higher ups formulate strategy based on the size of the units they command.  A general may command an army (or divisions), and lower ranking officers command smaller sized units all the way down to the company commanders who are in the field supervising their platoons.

One important aspect of strategy (and indeed, tactics) is sustainability. That’s the dull world of logistics. Did I say dull? It’s not dull if you’re on the pointy end of the spear and you are getting no supplies, or worse, the wrong supplies. Horror stories abound from how landing ships were configured for the US Army landings in Morocco and Algeria. The doctrine of loading a ship with stuff wasn’t advanced at all, and I believe the stevedores were often left in charge of determining what would be loaded where.  This led to situations where the guys first on the beach need tanks, or jeeps, or ammunition, or medical supplies, and instead they’ve got bales of blankets or rations or underwear. It sounds absurd, but the military will grind to a halt if they don’t have petrol and bullets. And water. And boots. And artillery.

Therefore, if you want to invade a planet, a space station, or another ship, you will need logistics: Transport, gas, food, drink, armor, weapons, communications, shelters, clothes, ammunition, and batteries. It’s not enough to go in with just the stuff on your back. You will need resupply if you’re not living off the land.  One way to cut off an army is to interdict its supply lines, and those supply lines in space are ships dragging supplies around and factories on the ground factoring. Cut off the ships, you cut off the ability of the attacker to support an attack and you conceivably will win the engagement. We see this doctrine in seige warfare, starting over 3000 years ago (the Greeks), and continuing to the present day (Cuba).

So your logistics arm is going to acquire, store, and move stuff. It finds replacement personnel and stores them. It acquires, stores, and moves weapons systems.  It provides medical, legal, and psychiatric care for personnel. If any of these things does not happen, it will affect the effectiveness of the personnel by lowering their morale and inhibiting their ability to fight.

The mindset the US Army has is that, “(1) In combat, Infantrymen who are moving are attacking. (2) Infantrymen who are not attacking are preparing to attack.” (FM 3-21.8 The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, published by the United States Army.)

Overall, the strategies used in sci-fi are going to mirror those used in modern combat. Asymetrical warfare, using small unit and terror tactics, must be responded to by the larger force with a unified strategic doctrine that places forces in places to quickly react to provocation or to search for and prevent attacks before they happen.

What is the larger strategy? Follow the money. No matter how you posture your future, ultimately there are never enough resources for everyone, and that is the crux of most decisions made by the polity. It’s not for the good of the people, it’s for the good of commerce. Ultimately, no matter how deep a political system may lay in socialism, it will collapse without the application of capitalism. Therein lays the logistics argument: To get all this stuff, you must mine it, grow it, or manufacture it.  The strategy is to protect the stuff, or to take the stuff.

I see some authors who promote a character from a shivering private up to general grade levels. Being a grunt does not mean you are trained to think like an officer. It means you’re trained to think like a grunt. When you have Private Schlomo promoted way above his pay grade, he’s going to be way out of his comfort zone because he isn’t trained to understand the fight at company, brigade, or division level. A fireteam leader or squad leader has 3-8 people under them, and the decision tree may not be that complex. A platoon leader, which is the lowest level of officer supervision, is the point where the thought process must be done on a give-orders-to-subordinates basis.

You must use a staff, because you are not capable of getting the information necessary to do your job on your own. At company level, you have an executive officer who seconds the commanding officer’s lead. At higher levels than company, you see more staff to assist with functions such as analysis and prediction of enemy action, communications, IT, operations to assist in personnel (promotions, moving around, exiting the service, pay, awards, and so on), and training (both finding locations and creating the criteria for what is being taught, writing manuals, creating videos for training).