Been working on the novel. Resetting to match Larry Brook’s outlining

I’m at 33 k, and I went back and fixed it to remove 5 additional characters who were clogging up the works. That took some time, but there was no reason to haul around two entire fireteams of marines, so I killed off a fireteam and offed two of the shuttle crew while I was doing that. Overall, I changed a few hundred words.

I also wrote 1500 words yesterday. I will need to rewrite the scene for conflict.

Today I’ve broken down all the scenes I have so far. I have 32 scenes (so far). They average 1047 words each. In an 80,000 word novel, I’m 40% of the way through. A review of the scenes shows that some are information only, no conflict, and will need a rewrite to introduce goal/conflict in each scene.

So I’ll take what exists and rewrite the scenes for conflict. Extend them to create more uniform length. Shortest scene: 47 words. Longest scene: 3800 words. The rewrites will fix the pacing and structure. I can see that my structure, in order to sit correctly in the Larry Brooks sense of things, needs to have that first plot point somewhere between words 16000-20000.  That is not correctly set right now, which will be fixed by controlling the scenes and length.

I’ll also plot out the rest of the scenes, so that each scene has conflict/goal, each scene accomplishes what it’s supposed to accomplish for that part of the book, and it all comes together with precision.

I see the only problem with having the structure be so defined is that someone who knows structure will be noting the important points while reading their kindle, since it tells you percentage-wise where you are in the book if you choose that information (or tells you location, or how many minutes are left in the book).  That’s thrown off if there’s a hook chapter at the end of the book so you get sucked in to the sequel – your 25% plot point might be more at 23%, so it looks like it’s early when it’s not. But… if people want to see the underlying structure, fine, so be it. I want it to be obvious that we’re hitting the plot points when we should and that all is right in the universe, writing-wise.  Those who hate structure and don’t care, that’s fine, they can ignore it and just enjoy the book, which will seem awesome for some strange reason they don’t understand, like the fact the plot is structured perfectly. 😀




Story Engineering, Day 2. Characterization and a summary of what I’ve learned

Today, I’ve chopped through 43% of Larry Brooks book Story Engineering, and I finished characterization.  That was an interesting way to consider how that works. In a nutshell, he says there’s the surface dimension (1st level), which is the façade (oooh, a Basque letter) you present to everyone, i.e. charming ex-CEO who smokes cigars and loves the ladies. The second level is the back story on why you are how you are: upbringing, experiences, abusive uncles, car accident where you were struck by 57 Chevy on the corner near school and it changed your life at 17 so that you were permanently broken and now you’re an addict at 63 and trying to change and you’ve always wanted to own a copy of the car that almost killed you, etc. So yeah, it’s the psychology behind the character, and that backstory needs to come out in the first act so we get a clue to the character’s deeper ideals and why they tick. Then you have the third dimension, which is the times when their true character appears, not the first level facade. We see behind the curtain to the real person.  And the third dimension moments define the character, whether they choose right or wrong, and why they choose that. (He doesn’t say this, but third dimension moments are also not usually on display, they seem to be triggered by some sort of conflict or event. Or maybe he said that in different words. I’d have to go back and reread it. That’s where the kindle isn’t nearly as fast as a dead-tree book.)

There’s a great deal more. He talks about character as structure (how the character develops throughout the story, which is, I think, the character arc). Essentially, certain things have to happen at certain times in the story, or it’ll be all fouled up. Your character needs to struggle all the way into the end of act 2, and if she overcomes that struggle before the climax, it messes up the pacing of the story because that becomes the new climax, and everything else after is anti-climactic.

I was considering this when I was reading Kate Colby‘s The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2), which, incidentally, was a great read. In it, her protagonist Dellwyn Rutt, a courtesan, has some serious flaws. And her backstory informs these flaws and the bad decisions she keeps making. She makes terrible decisions, but they make sense from the point where Dellwyn feels real and has very good reasons to make her flawed decisions. I kept yelling at the book, “Arc! Arc already!”  Of course, if she’d arced, it’d stop being interesting because then nothing would happen.  Nevertheless, it made for a good read and the character (and supporting cast) are well-characterized. They all have flaws, and this gets in the way of meaningful discourse, just like real life.

Today, I will read and attempt to embrace what Mr. Brooks has to say about Theme. I have a feeling that while I may see the words, I’ve never been one to grasp the underlying meaning very well. That’d be my character flaw. “Huh? There was a theme?” It might be my undoing as an author. Plus, there’s the aspect where I say, “why don’t we just have some nice shoot-em-up scenes.” Well-written, lovely, boring, non-thematic scenes that come out dry and meaningless, when instead I could be writing a thinly veiled polemic about the dangers of senior citizens running for president. As if that’s what the world needs, right now.

You may enrich the content of this blog with your treasured comments below. Especially if you understand theme.

Nice people write lousy fiction

I suppose that better fiction comes from people who are messier, who don’t mind wading into a scene where there’s conflict.

Because that’s what messes up my plotting. There I’ll be, setting up the battle to end all battles, and I’ve got my people primed and ready to go. There’s going to be Donnybrook!

But wait. Not really a plot twist, more like a balloon full of molten lead. The antagonist has flown the coop. There is no battle. No bodies. No blood. No bullets flying.

That’s awfully boring, isn’t it? No one wants to read that. Give us the figurative blood and gore. We want it. We need it. It’s necessary for fiction to have that.

That’s the point of the title. The nice people out there, they shy away from dragging everyone else through their messes. Fiction comes from the depiction of people in different bad situations. Maybe people who’ve been damaged by conflict in their childhoods might write weak fiction because they shy away from the nasty stuff. I don’t blame ’em.  Maybe you are the eternal optimist and think there’s enough conflict in the world. Maybe you’re just nice and want people to have a yellow happy face have a nice day sort of  blather. Either way, that is the insipid path to dullness.

Stories do not work without conflict.

So brace yourselves and make everyone argue. Peace is a nice thing to talk about in blog posts where you have no intention of doing anything to back it up, but it’s dullsville in fiction.  If you manuscript says, “The elves and dwarves had been at peace as long as anyone could remember,” I’ll fix that for you. Say, instead, “The elves and dwarves had been in a bitter war as along as anyone could remember.”  Everytime we get and elf and dwarf together, there’s a fight!

Plus, each scene needs that conflict goal thing. You know, the character has a goal. There’s a conflict. They can’t have their goal. Then you do the whole mourning thing, they come up with a new goal, and go to carry that out. Scene and sequel. Repeat this over and over. Apply structure, apply arc, add plot twists, you have a book.

I will now go make my characters fight some more. There’s way too much agreement.

Gravities: Just how much acceleration and deceleration can you take? Math pros, need your help on this one

I was reading another tidbit from Leo, and in it he describes a train that travels 2000 k/hr. It uses the “inertial dampeners” to solve the human body turning into puddles problem of acceleration, but I thought, what if you didn’t have IDs to make the ride all cushy and stuff?

Right. The typical human body doesn’t take sustained gravity loads over 1 very well. We know this from research, not the nazis throwing prisoners in a cold pool kind, but US Air Force volunteer kind. And no, not the volunteer to stand next an atomic blast and charge into it after it happens kind of volunteering. (Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe. That cancer you got is from smoking, not running into a recent nuclear explosion.) Right. There were some messed up things happening in the 40s and 50s, just sayin’.

Take a look here to see a nice article about gravities and your body. Okay, back?

Let’s do some math, then. If you have a train that travels at a maximum of 2000 km/hr, and it travels 6000 km, it should take 3 hours. However, there is acceleration and deceleration, so how long does it take to accelerate to 2000 km if you stay within a 1 gravity limit?

I’ll probably get this wrong, and you can correct me and say, “I see that you never made it past college algebra.”

Okay, so if the gravitational constant of 1 g = 35 km/h^2, then you can safely accelerate at 35 km per hour per second, right? That means it would take one minute of acceleration to reach 2000 km/hr, and there’s probably a nice excel formula that would figure out the distance traveled with a for next statement that run the formula 57 times, adding 35 km/hr to the count each time and the overall distance traveled. Thus, at one second, you are going 35 kph, and in that one second you travel 9.72222 meters. In second 2, you’re going 70 kph, and you travel an additional 19.444 meters. At the end of it, you hit 2000 km/h at second 58 and you’ve traveled 16.68 km.  Let’s pretend deceleration is the same, so you will need those two minutes which will cover only 33.36 km. The rest of the time, you’re doing 2000 km/hr or 555 m/s.  This translates to a travel time of 181 minutes, more or less. Are the inertial compensators necessary?  I must have done something wrong with the rate of acceleration, because this doesn’t look quite right. Is increasing by 35 kph per second = gravitation acceleration?

I think I’m out of my pay grade on this one.

Uncomfortable Scenes: White Bones by Graham Masterson

I’ve been reading White Bones by Graham Masterson.

It’s splendidly written, in that there’s conflict going on in each scene, and the stakes keep getting higher.  I’m not finished with it yet, but I had to note that I was uncomfortable with one of the scenes. (Well, more than just that one, but it’s horrifying, nevertheless.)  See, I’m okay with being with the main character (woman police detective trying to solve multiple murders of women) and her problems. She’s sympathetic and there’s some arcing going on, so that part is copacetic. But then Masterson pops us into the world of one of the victims, and I didn’t really like going there.  Not one bit.

I admired the writing that was horrifying me, but then, did I really need to be in the room as the victim was tortured and killed? That’s not for the feint of heart, and I guess I’m feint of heart. I don’t shy away from blood, or even exposed bones. That didn’t bother me when I was doing ski patrol. Deep cuts to the bone, no big deal, let’s get a butterfly on that and ship ’em off to the hospital.  No, I’m not grossed out by blood or guts. I’d be a lousy medic if I were.

I think it was the horror of knowing the victim was going to die and the detachment with which the murderer went about his actions of dismembering her while she was alive and conscious.  It was knowing that there was no hope, that this was going to be a throw-away character and why did you put me in her head, then? Thanks a lot, author.

If you have any doubt as to the existence of evil, scenes like this will change your mind.

Reader’s Opinion: Yes, we are judging your book based on form, not function

First off, the following reviews I selected at from books picked at random. I did not read the books. I do not know if they have the errors or problems indicated. My purpose here isn’t to shame those authors or attack their work, it’s to point out what the fickle public is going to do to your book when you release it into the wild. They will savage it if they detect weakness. Read on:

Amazon review from Brian Harmon’s Rushed (Rushed Book 1):

FlashKnickers says:

Totally agreed. OVERLY LONG descriptions of everything, endless chase scenes (also overdetailed and dragged out). Too many typos, non-existent editing–how can you use the word “ghastly” in two consecutive sentences?–and honestly, would someone who died in the 1970s be using “LOL” and saying things are awesome, super-this and super-that? I found myself skipping ahead just to get through scenes that took 10 pages to explain five seconds’ worth of action that really didn’t require so much detail and description.

Amazon review from Jarvis Gatlin’s The Books:

Teresa Rambo
Besides the poor punctuation and senseless conversations, there was no plot development nor did I get a feel for the characters. It jumps around from setting to setting without explanation of how or why. I gave it a try but can’t give it over one star.

Amazon review from Cristin Cooper’s Until Now:

Teresa Rank
Very poorly edited — author doesn’t know the difference between there, their & they’re or your & you’re. I find this very distracting….and NO, I am not a grammar Nazi!!!

No, Teresa, you’re no grammar Nazi. And I like that you capitalized Nazi. We know you’re no grammar Nazi because your ellipsis had four periods, not the requisite three, and I’m wary of the em-dash you put in there. But why would desiring an author to have their homophones straight make you a monster concerned with a strict interpretation of grammar and punctuation and extinguishing entire races of people while conquering all of Europe?

Anthony Vicino at One Lazy Robot discussed why he believes that ratings and reviews don’t matter anymore (sort of!). His post brings up the fact that a well-edited author with a strong following of readers will gain skewed review statistics which makes the review system ineffective.

That may be true, but for the non-edited author, the readers aren’t your friend, yet, and they’re (There? Their?) out for blood. They won’t be leaving you a 5 star, or a 4 star. They’re going to 3 or lower star you.

The above reviews aren’t given to bash those particular authors; I went through the list of kindle books and culled the ones with only a few ratings, as I believe that books fall in to three categories: Well-written with underutilized marketing, poorly written with angry readers, and well-written with a lot of marketing/readers. There’s some other categories, but for today’s experiment, I looked for books with ten or fewer reviews. My assumption is that a sprinkling of poor reviews will cause others to shy away from the book and effectively kill it. If you read a review that describes a book with obvious editing errors, are you going to bother to read it? No.

The main takeaway here is that the book you sweated your way through and wrote in snow, rain, mud, and pestilence, that book you finally capped and told the story with 120,000 words, if you didn’t use editing, it’s going to fail.

For that reason, you need to engage proofreaders. Proofreaders are warm bodies who look for homophones, run-ons, awkward constructions, and tyops and flag them for you. They look at sentences and flag the awkward or wrong ones. They’ll do what Word 2013 does if you turn on the grammar. That’s the bare minimum.

Then we have the other people who will hone your text. Developmental editor? Yeah, you want one. See the complaint up there about Harmon’s book? What flashknickers is pointing out is the lack of a developmental editor, or possibly any editor. The problems that are obvious to a reader were not obvious to the author and you can’t erase 2 star “you didn’t edit” reviews.

Then there’s the story editors who will address your constant waffling on tense. They’ll insert commas where you desperately, desperately, for the love of all things holy, please please please NEED ONE. They’ll rip out your semi-colons and put periods on the comma splices.

Editing Removes Barriers to Story Immersion

Speaking only on my behalf, when I read a book I desire to immerse myself in the world. Immersion means to go under water or to be completely in something. Anyway, I want immersion. I don’t want story sprinkling. I want to be there with your character. I want to see what they see, experience what they experience. I want it to be vivid and interesting and there are setbacks and intense conflict and we are arcing and overcoming and trying and failing and doing all the fantastic stuff that a book is supposed to do. It is a complex endeavor to string 120 k words together in a cohesive fashion and tell a story and make the reader live there.

I heard this quote in church yesterday, from George Bernard Shaw. I think it applies to your writing as much as to anything else you do.

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw

You want to be a candle or a torch? You’ve done this hard, hard work and then you just throw it out there on the web. $.99, buy my book. Why don’t you finish it before publishing? Spend the money and take your book from the “meh” level to the “ahhhh” level.

Mistakes Eject Your Reader From the Story

As a reader, when I see a mistake such as a missing comma or misused comma, it irritates me for a moment. Normally, my irritation is not your concern. If I’m reading your book, it should be. I’ll grant a few a mistakes and let it go. If you have an awesome story to tell and you’re a great storyteller, I may grant you leniency, but in my head your book still has a “deducted one star for no editing” sort of label.

Not just that I’m irritated, I’m also ejected from the story by your error. I am thinking, at that moment, about “why didn’t the writer put in a comma” rather than “what’s next? What happens next?” You NEVER want me to think about your craft. The underlying structure of words and sentences, spelling and punctuation, those things the reader should never think about. When they do, your text has failed and you have ejected the reader from the story.

Don’t Ask Me to Proofread the Book I Bought

When you get a homophone error (they’re their there), that’s a sure sign you did not engage a proofreader. Books that aren’t proofread and contain exhortations from the author to “drop me a line with any mistakes,” is a two-fold message. 1st message: “I want to fix my errors and I know they’re in there.” Yep. You won’t see Real Published Brick and Mortar Authors saying such things in their prefaces or afterwords. Why? That sucker is edited, that’s why. There ARE no errors in there.* 2nd: “I want you to pay for my book and then do the work I’d pay a proofreader to do by sending me the errors.” So, Tom Sawyer, you want me to paint your fence for you and pay you for the privilege?

*Yes, I know that errors do creep in to paper books. A majority of them do not have more than one or two nits. Big publishing houses tend to police the stuff they churn out pretty well. At least when I read some work from Penguin, I won’t be critiquing the author’s use of punctuation.

Where is your professionalism? It doesn’t matter that you’re a strong, independent author with a strong independent voice. Your voice has errors. Get a strong, independent editor to help you speak better.

If Someone Sends You a Note Telling You About Errors, Act on it

If you do ask readers to send you mistake reports, then in my opinion you have a short grace period between publishing the book and publishing your revisions. My assumption is that someone will have read it and sent you a list of mistakes. This is a lot nicer than leaving you a nasty review and shooting the book. If they’re right about the mistakes, GO FIX YOUR TEXT. Do it right away. Do not save up the errors for a really big edit. Fix it before anyone else sees that stuff. And by errors, I’m not talking about the endless revisions to your text that you might do to make the story better. I’m talking about grammar and punctuation errors. By the time a few months have passed, your eBook should be free of errors.

In fact, I wonder why Amazon authors who do get bad reviews about homophones or emails with lists of their mistakes don’t fix them, and address their detractors with a rebuttal: “Thanks for pointing out these problems with the text, I did a rewrite and revision and am grateful you contributed to the work in this manner.” It’s that whole idea that complaints allow you to see where your book is not doing the best and fixing it.

Your Text, and Only Your Text, is the Thing We Will Judge You On

I can only judge an author by their work. I don’t know most of the people whose work I read; I have their books and that art has to stand on its own. Errors and mistakes indicate to the reader that this author didn’t think it was necessary to dress up for the wedding, that they could come in ratty short, flip flops, a torn t-shirt, and without bathing for week. “Ignore the stench,” they say, “this is just the real me and you just need to get used to it.” I get that you have a unique voice and that the rules are there to be broken, but what I see a lot are rules that are not broken to create a stronger story, they’re broken because you didn’t have the bucks to hire another person to fix them and maybe you just don’t know that your semicolon habit is aggravating us to death.

Perhaps this is the only book you’re going to publish. If so, you don’t need to worry about gaining future readers to future works, and don’t care if the customer isn’t satisfied and puts your name on a list of “authors I will never read again.” But they’re going to give you poor reviews, and you won’t be read by the legions of readers out there.

“But Pontius, I’m awesome at editing,” you say. Maybe you are. Would you bet a two star review on it? Maybe getting one bad “you didn’t edit” review won’t submarine your book, but two or more of them are like the kiss of death. You cannot fool the reader.

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?

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.

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).

5 Common Mistakes Authors Make that Cause Readers and Pesky Editors to Barf Out Loud

We have been discussing use of passive voice and one of the indicators of passive voice, the verb was, and I thought the topic warranted an expansive discussion. (As a side note: I initially wanted to write that sentence as “I thought an expansive discussion was warranted.” Do as I say, not as I do! I struggle daily with passive voice.)  You see, a few decades passed since I last attended a grammar class, and what you see here is the result of reading for forty-two years rather than careful correction by a small horde of English teachers. You’d think I’d be better at it. Reading and writing, that is.

English classes are dull.  The discussion of parts of grammar is dull. This kills it for me, right up to the point where I’m violating that grammar rule and need an answer. For that, we have the internets.

Here’s my list of mistakes authors make that cause readers to barf out loud:

1. Passive Voice.  Sure, it’s evil, all the time, and should be killed wherever it appears.

Or… not.  “By heavens, what, Pontius, are you saying?” you exclaim. I’ll elaborate.

Over here at Now Novel, there’s a post about passive voice. They say:

  • Passive voice error I – Many people make common grammar mistakes by assuming that a passive sentence is any sentence that uses a form of the verb “to be.” In fact, passive voice is simply a sentence in which the object appears as the subject of the sentence. The house was built in 1825.
  • Passive voice error II – Many people believe passive voice is always bad. In fact, passive voice can be used effectively to convey a certain rhythm or mood. It is also unavoidable when the person or thing that performed an action is unknown as in the previous example with the house.

There you go. Permission to use the passive. When your editor screams, tell her that Now Novel said it was okay to “be used effectively to convey a certain rhythm or mood.” And my mood is that I like writing in the passive.

The object appears as the subject of the sentence. That’s simple enough to eliminate, right? When they put it that way, it’s dead simple. I spend much of my time reversing these.

2. As If, so as to, in order to. No, Cher, not your retort in Clueless. Explaining too much. “What’s too much?” asks the head shrinker. “One person’s too much could be your just enough.” Fah, therapy! The Editor’s Blog explains.

Explaining too much or too often. Unless readers can’t possibly catch on without help, writers shouldn’t be explaining dialogue or actions. Tip-offs for explanations are phrases such as “so as to” and “in order to” and “as if.” If you find yourself writing sentences such as He peeked through the blinds to see who was inside the room or He said it with a little-boy voice so she wouldn’t take it too hard, you’ll want to make changes. Readers are smart—let them read intent and meaning into actions and dialogue.

Fix: Don’t explain. Make the action and dialogue convey the message. Search for words that introduce explanation and then rewrite.

This isn’t one I do.  Maybe. I think I need to go check it, now.

3. Commas make us barf. If you forget to put one in, it bugs us so much we’re sick. Really.

Sometimes you do a sentence, you do another.

That,  right there, is an evil comma splice! Kill it! Shoot it! You can either put a period in there, or stick in a connective conjunction. Connective conjunctions are for, as, by, or, and, nor, yet, and but. Go ahead, put one after the comma, and eliminate your lousy run-on sentence. Feel better now?

4. Adverbs. If it ends in ly, as Mark Twain says, just burn it with fire. I’m not sure where this hatred of adverbs stems from, but it’s real and you’d better be prepared to defend every one to the death. Your editor has a steak knife named “deathly.” And another named “Hallows.” Your editor likes Harry Potter a little too much.

5. Commas. Again. Use commas to separate more than two subjects, but don’t use them to keep the two subjects apart. It’s not

The author, and his editor were intensely sick.

Instead, it’s

The author and his editor were intensely sick.

If you want to use commas, add someone to the scene.

The author, his editor, and his wife’s therapist were intensely sick.

Don’t separate two actions of a subject with a comma.

No comma between the subject and its predicate. You’ll make it sad.

The world of commas needs a lot more than two lousy points, but I get fired up on this. I’m passionate about comma usage. I want to see you all employ those suckers with love, control, and joy.

What are the words and phrases you can’t wipe out of your own writing? What are the rules behind them?

Clint Agrees.
Clint Agrees.