Writing Wednesday

In rereading my urban fantasy fairy tale, I came across a scene that I had pulled from the trunk novel I was using for donor parts.

The scene features the MC and another character, the MC’s friend who is also the Homicide Police Captain.

My MC is called in to look at what turns out to be a magic circle, used to summon demons, because he’s an expert on the esoteric. He is often called in by the Police to identify occultish symbols or objects. Not because anyone believes in the occult, but in the hopes that by giving the item a historical context they will have a better chance of assigning motives and tracking down suspects.

Now as I said, this is an old scene, one of the original scenes from my trunk novel that I had started 15 years ago.

In the scene, my MC meets the Police Captain in a corn field and together they head toward the murder scene.

On the way, they pass the Medical Examiner, who is leaving the scene, heading back to his car. He quips a few morbid jokes and is gone. Never to appear in the story again.

At the time, I thought nothing of that meeting with the ME, nor did any of my beta readers mention it. I knew nothing about writing crime scene fiction nor had I read many police procedurals.

But this week, I started thinking about it. Something nagged at me that the scene was inadequate. But what?

It occurred to me that the ME just leaving the scene, the bodies, without so much as a “How do you do?” was a little odd.

If you’ve ever watched the television show NCIS (or any of the hyper-graphic crime shows), you know that Ducky never just leaves the scene. He and his assistant are there investigating and providing Gibbs with a running inventory of findings. Then, after they’ve done all they can at the scene, Ducky tags and bags the bodies and ensures they get to his lab for the autopsy.

My ME, on the other hand, tells a few jokes and is gone.

Because I now have a better understanding of how (fictional) MEs work, I’m going to revise the scene.

The ME will still leave, still make some jokes, but now I’ll add some more dialog. The Captain will ask a few questions, including something like “Leaving already?” And the ME can respond, “I know how to deligate.”

At the crime scene I’ll add a few ME assistants and forensic techs, even giving some pertinent dialog about the bodies to one of them.

Why did I start thinking about this scene this week? My oldest son just started interning with the local Medical Examiner’s office and I guess that made me more conscious of what was going on in this story.

A writer’s job is never done. That’s because writers are always expanding their knowledge and always applying that knowledge to improve their writing.

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Writing Wednesday with Chekhov’s gun

“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” — Anton Chekhov, from an 1889 letter to playwright Aleksandr Semenovich

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” — from Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on a wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” — Anton Chekhov, quoted by S. Shchukin, Memoirs

Anton Chekhov’s oft-quoted piece of writing advice, often referred to simply as “Chekhov’s gun,” is a literary concept that means every element introduced in a story must be necessary to the plot or it is superfluous and should be removed.

In other words, you should remove all false guns from your writing. This applies not just to physical objects and characters, but irrelevant scenes that don’t advance the story, as well.

gw077-chekhovs_gun

I bring up Chekhov’s gun because as I was reading through my own manuscript, I found one. I missed it my first read-through, however, it must have made an impression upon my subconscious because while I was sitting enjoying a cup of coffee (Sumatra from CoffeeIcon. Yum!)j Saturday morning while watching an episode of Star Trek on BBC America, it popped into my head.

“The knife!”

I immediately wrote knife on a notepad and placed it on my computer to remind me.

“Well? What about the knife?” I hear you ask.

I’m getting to that. Patience, young grasshopper.

I have a scene in my manuscript where my MC, an expert in things occult, and his friend, who happens to be a captain with homicide of the local police department, are together investigating a recent gruesome murder scene when one of the investigating officers discovers an ancient obsidian knife.

The knife turns out to be evidence from an earlier murder that the MC believes was a human sacrifice in a ritual to summon a demon.

The MC takes a picture of the knife and sends it to an expert in early Mesoamerican civilizations, who is aiding the MC in the hunt for the demon, in the hopes that he can identify the artifact.

When I had introduced the knife, I had fully intended to have it serve as a significant clue and later my MC and his Mesoamerican expert would get together to discuss where the knife had originally come from.

One thought I had was the knife was an actual museum piece stolen from an Aztec museum somewhere Central or South America and it would help the police to finally identify the killer.

The thing is I never mentioned the knife again!

That’s right. I placed the knife there for the reader to see and then I completely forgot about it.

Now, however, all sorts of new scenarios are presenting themselves on how to make use of the knife, including, but not limited to, adding needed information to not only identify where the killer came from, but also to help develop the relationship between the MC and his police captain friend.

I did a quick Google search just now and found a cool Aztec ceremonial knife that would work, but unfortunately, that knife is held in the British Museum nor is it ancient enough, which means it won’t work in my story. Shame.

aztec ceremonial knife

I’ve got more research to do. Down the rabbit hole I go!

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Writing Wednesday

I finished the first draft go-through of my urban fantasy fairy tale I’ve been writing since February.

I must say, I still don’t hate it. (Although I do need to work on a great punch line ending.)

I still find it a very fun story. The characters all click for me. The love story, although it happens quickly over a period of only three or four days, doesn’t seem too rushed to me. But, what do I know? I have trouble with time relationships as part of my ADHD.

Sometimes I’ll think something happened a long, long time ago and someone will say, “That was just last week,” while other times I’ll run into someone and think I just saw them recently, but they’ll let me know its been months (often rather angrily if I had said I’d get back to them about something and I never did). “You sure it was 6 months ago?”

Sorry, went off on another tangent.

This first go-around I just read it for content to see if anything glaring jumped out at me. First thing I found was an entire section that said, “[fill in with more detail].” (I often use brackets to highlight things i need to go back and do.) So I did. One character’s eye color changed. I also found in the beginning I used the word faerie for both the creatures and as a term for a clan of faeries. And sometimes Faerie the clan was capitalized and other times not. Then, in the last quarter of the book, I started using the word fae, capitalized and uncapitalized, as the word for a faerie clan. I also spell the word faerie when characters who know about the supernatural refer to them and fairy when regular people talk about them. I wonder if that will confuse the reader?

Other than that, there weren’t any glaring continuity errors that I saw.

Now comes the fun edits. OK, I lied. These are the boring edits. Where I search for, then try to replace a series of words that need to be removed or rewritten.

For example, I’ve always had a big but problem. It seems to be part of my writing style, to write sentences in such a way that I have a but conjunction in far too many of them.

To me, but appears excessively, like at least once every paragraph. Maybe they don’t really, but it sure seems that way.

(Ok, I did a search. I have 465 buts in a 99,000 word novel contained within 3,649 paragraphs. Is that a but to paragraph ratio of 12%? How would I know? I’m a writer, not a mathemetician.)

Another thing I’ll search for are words ending in ly. Not that I am anti-adverb, like a lot of writing advice seems to be, mind you, after all, an adverb is just another spice in the writer’s spice rack. You can use it sparingly for effect or use it too often and it becomes overpowering. For myself, in some cases, a sentence can be rewritten better without the adverb. In other instances however, an adverb can work perfectly.

Next, I’ll look for observation or sense words (not sure what the actual writing term is, intransitive verbs?) like think, feel, see, seems, appears, and so on. These words point out an activity, instead of describing the sensation itself. The story is in first person and it isn’t necessary to say, “I feel …” something. I do need to describe what the MC is feeling. In other words, I need to show, and not tell.

In a related search, I’ll look for all the to be verbs. Was, have, can, could, would, etc. do have their place, but often these sentences can be rewritten to give the meaning more punch or immediacy. Many times these words indicate a sentence that is in passive voice instead of active voice.

And finally, I’ll search for crutch gestures, such as, “He shrugged,” “She raised an eyebrow,” “They laughed,” or “He smiled.” Filler phrases that are cliched cues about a character’s behavior and can become tedious with repetition if everyone’s heads are nodding and their eyes are winking. This is more show, don’t tell.

Here is a short tally of excessive words appearing in my novel:

  • But appears 465 times
  • Ly words appear 1,025 times
  • Was appears 1,708 times
  • See appears 347 times of which 47 are Seen
  • Look appears 297x
  • Have appears 452x
  • Can 314x, Could 352x, Tries 48x, Think 222x, Would 259x.

Do you think I’m obsessing over nothing?

After I’ve gone through my lists of Find and Replace words, then I’ll give it a very thorough read-through again.

Now I’ll take a few questions from the audience.

“When do you run the grammar checker?” I don’t. I will probably run the spell check when I’m nearly done to see if I introduced any errors during my edits, but I simply don’t trust most grammar checkers.

“What grammar books do you refer to most?” Usually Strunk and White’s Elements of Style before they added a third name to the title. Also English 2600: A Programmed Course in Grammar and Usage (I also have English 3200). I’ll reread S&W and English 2600 as a refresher before I do my final read-through.

The programmed course is interesting, starting off with a simple sentence like, “Birds fly” (What is the subject? Birds. What is the predicate? Fly.) and progressively getting more and more informative and difficult. I’ve relied on those books for almost 50 years.

“Do you read your writing out loud?” I do not. I understand why some authors do, because hearing the sentences helps them catch rhythm issues, like too many short sentences, or clunky sounding phrases that a writer may miss reading silently. But I have two reasons for not reading out loud. 1) I can’t stand the sound of my own voice. It’s also one reason I have never used a tape recorder to write with when pen and paper aren’t available. 2) I’m a horrible out loud reader. I think, for one thing, my tongue might be too big for my mouth, but beyond that, there’s a disconnect between my eyes and my mouth when I read. My eyes will be wandering a few words ahead while my mouth is still trying to comprehend the words previous, this making it sound like Yoda is reading it. I will also admit, I had to go to remedial reading classes when my elementary teachers discovered I had been faking my ability to read. I wasn’t reading phonetically, which was the thing then, I simply had a monstrous vocabulary and had all the most common words memorized.

Whatever the reason, I stumble and stammer when reading out loud, just as I always have, so there is no benefit to my reading out loud — everything sounds clunky, and in Yoda’s voice.

Somewhere around here is a blogpost of me reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” one Halloween several years back. It took me innumeral takes before I got it to where I thought it wasn’t too embarrassing to post. If it hadn’t been part of a challenge by fellow blogsters at the time, it never would have been posted, ir even recorded. My reading of it is atrocious. Find it and have a good laugh.

“Would you consider paying for a real editor?” No.

“When will you send it to beta readers?” I don’t know. The reason I packed away my trunk novel is despite several positive critiques, I received one particularly scathing critique that absolutely deflated me and I gave up writing for several years. Pretty sure I don’t want to go through that again.

“When will you start to write the synopsis and query letter?” Shut up. Never say those words to a writer unless you’re prepared for violence.

“When do you anticipate sending it to agents?” I don’t know. Looking at the calendar, I doubt I’ll make it before NaNoWriMo and I’d hate to start subbing it after, since that’s when all those NaNo-novels start filling up slush piles everywhere. So, most likely early 2018.

“Are you thinking of self-publishing?” Only as a last resort, after I’ve been rejected by every literary agent there is

And it looks like we’ve run out of time for further questions. Thank you all for your time.

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Slow and steady writes the book

Slowly but surely, my novel is coming along. I’m in the final lap of the first draft. 

I began it on January 17, and I’ve worked on it a little bit each day. Some days I wrote a lot, maybe a few thousand words, other days I only wrote a few hundred, or I reread and edited what was already written. 

I don’t have exact word counts because I hand write everything with a fountain pen before I transcribe it to computer and incorporate it into the story.
It’s April, almost May, and as I said, the end is nigh, or the climax and denouement are nigh, yay verily.

Sorry.

I’m currently at about 71000 words and will probably be around 80000 when all is said and done. Not bad. I tend to write short and then have to go back and add more detail whereas some authors write long and then have to trim and cut.

This is an accomplishment for me. Usually it takes me many, many months to complete a novel. Years, in fact, and here I might have this WIP done in less than five months. Or is January to May only four months? See? This is why I’m a writer and not a mathematician. 

I think this version of my MC is better fleshed out than his predecessor from my trunk novel. That other one, I tried to give him a few human weaknesses so he seemed more real, vut i moght have gone overboard. I gave him a ton of flaws: he was shy, out of shape, ate poorly, seemed somewhat unaware of the feelings of those around him,  was a drinker and got drunk at least once, smoked cigars, was a wisecracker and never took things seriously, yet he was full of anger and had rage issues against his father, and so on.

The new version simply has ADHD. Period. Although that can cover a range of faults, I have tried not to be excessive about it and when he’s on his meds, he’s fine.
It’s when he’s off his meds that the trouble and fun happens. Imagine being a sorcerer who can’t focus long enough to create a spell, for instance. I hope it makes for some interesting situations. 

I also think the romantic angle where he runs (literally) into a faerie and they have a growing relationship has more depth and emotion than the previous story where that MC fell for a werewolf.

I’ve also eliminated werewolves and vampires from this story, since they’re overdone at the moment. Although I won’t rule them out in a future sequel.

Instead I have kraken and a troll, and of course, the antagonist, which is an ages old dragon. He was red before but I made him orange this time, because aren’t all tyrants who want to enslave mankind orange?

Have a good writing Wednesday.

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Unpacking my trunk novel

I set aside a novel several years ago. Not because it was a bad story, on the contrary, I really liked it, specifically the Main Character (MC) and a few other secondary characters. Plus, the main plot, I thought, was interesting.

I still do. But I became disillusioned after receiving some 60+ rejections from literary agents.

During the revision process,  which happened after each rejection — “Maybe they didn’t like this.” or “I bet they wanted a different beginning.” despite not receiving any feedback indicating any of those changes were needed — I had the novel Beta-read by several writers and editors. 

They all liked it, except the last one who said it was a good story but it was so poorly constructed only a complete rewrite from scratch could possibly help it. Yes, instead of listening to the majority, I keyed in on that last critique. At the time, I couldn’t see how I could rewrite it without rewriting it exactly as it was already written.

So I trunked it. I gave up.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This was a novel, in the urban fantasy genre, that had started germinating in my mind back in 1993 or so, before I even knew there was an urban fantasy genre. It was the 90th anniversary of Harley-Davidson and Milwaukee was filled with the sound of rolling thunder. The excitement influenced my creation of a character, a sheriff, who rode a white pearlescent Harley. He became involved in a situation where demons were released into our dimension. I also created a secondary character, based heavily upon an old time radio character Chandu the Magician as well as the Marvel comicbook character Doctor Strange, a sorcerer who becomes involved and together the two characters join forces to battle the demons. The problem was, I couldn’t think of enough personal story to flesh out the sheriff to make him a three-dimensional MC and I had yet to create any backstory for the sorcerer to make him one. So I set it aside.

Years later, the story idea morphed into something closer to the novel I ended up subbing. Now the MC was the magician, both stage and real, who is called in by his friend on the Police force (no Harley) simply to identify occult symbols at a crime scene and everything took off from that point. 

It took me two years to write the novel and a couple more to edit and polish it to where I thought it was submission-worthy. 

I liked the MC and other cast of characters so much, I even wrote a complete sequel to the first novel, and started writing a third.

Over the next five or so years, I subbed the novel to agents, rewriting and editing after each rejection whether I got feedback or not, until that fateful critique when I trunked it for several more years out of frustration.

Recently, I started writing a new idea completely unrelated to the trunk novel about an ordinary guy who runs into (literally) a fairy, injuring her, and takes her home to nurse her back to health. It is a romance, of sorts, and the story has slowly taken shape in my head and on paper. Then one day, I had an epiphany. 

I could combine the two stories using the main plot from the trunk novel and this fairy story as a subplot. I could resurrect the MC from the trunk, making a few changes in his backstory, keep him a widower with a daughter, keep his Police friend, and get rid of the rest. The demon plot would provide the action and suspense while the fairy story would provide character development. 

So I’m writing that story. I’m writing most of it from scratch, too, except on occasion, I’m snatching snippets of dialog or scenes from the trunk novel and with minor edits fitting them seamlessly into my new work-in-progress.

And I’m excited again. Even more excited than I was when I first wrote the trunk novel, because the subplot is providing the missing piece of the puzzle that I think the trunk novel was lacking — the human interest part.

I am writing and I’m actually enjoying it.

Write, Ferret, Write!

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Teaser Tuesday

The following is an excerpt from my urban fantasy novel, Road to Rune. (I borrowed this idea from Karen Duval, another urban fantasy author.) I’ll try to post a random excerpt every Tuesday.

We reached an area cordoned off by police tape. Police photographers snapped away while other investigators made extensive notes and measurements. Still others made casts of things on the ground. Footprints maybe.

The ME passed us and shook his head. “You’ll be sorry,” he said.

Bill stopped him and asked, “How long?”

“Best guess is 24 hours.” He looked at me. “You’ll swear off meat after this. Maybe even eating altogether.” The ME chuckled to himself as he walked back to his car.

Cops have a rather morbid sense of humor. Having seen some of the things I’ve seen, I can somewhat relate. It’s a way to release the tension or horror of the moment.

As we crossed the line of tape my scalp began to itch. There was something supernatural about this area; I couldn’t tell what it was, but it was strong, palpable, and cloying. It felt like I waded through something thicker than air. I had to stop a moment to acclimate to the residual magic.

Bill misinterpreted my hesitation as apprehension. “You OK?” he asked.

I nodded even though I wasn’t. Something made the hair on my arms tickle as though ants crawled on my flesh.

He led me to an area that looked as though someone had dropped a weather balloon filled with red liquid on the spot.

It was blood. The whole area was covered in it, smelled of it. It hung in the air like an effluvial mist, so overpowering that when I swallowed I choked against the thick bitter coppery taste that filled my mouth. That struck me as unusual since the ME had said the deaths had occurred nearly 24 hours ago.

In the center of the splash was a small flatbed trailer, the type I imagine old man Koepsell hooked up to his tractor to haul bails of hay.

Only there wasn’t any hay on this trailer, instead there was a body, a human body. Or at least what was left of one. I squished as I walked through the ring of blood and gore. I didn’t have to look down, didn’t want to look down, to know that without the footies my shoes would have been ruined.

The body, naked and tied spread-eagle to the trailer, was that of a girl, maybe 15 or 16 years old. I moved closer and looked at her face. It was frozen in an expression of horror; I’d seen that expression before on other teens that had messed with forces beyond their control or comprehension. I found this somewhat disconcerting, after twenty-four hours her facial muscles should have relaxed, yet her eyes were open and pleading, her lips still contorted in a silent scream of fear.

Was it her psychic scream I’d heard yesterday?

Despite the fear-distorted features, I could tell she had been pretty. Most likely a virgin, I guessed, because the scene had the look of a sacrifice and really, what else are virgins good for? There was a gaping knife wound in her chest, just below her left breast.

I glanced further down at the rest of her, or what was left of the rest of her. I swallowed again and this time the copper taste made me gag. Her chest cavity looked as though something had scooped out all of her internal organs and broke several ribs in the process. All that was left below her ribcage was her spine. It looked like an obscene tail.

It reminded me of the carcass of the roast pig my family had at my Uncle Mickey’s birthday picnic one year after most of the flesh had been stripped off of it and all that remained on the bones was some hanging strips of flesh and skin. I immediately regretted that thought. The bile rushed up and I put my arm to my mouth as I struggled to keep it down.

Bill had the common decency to not say anything as he waited for me to recover. I cleared my mind of all unrelated thoughts and once I had myself under control, I continued with my observations as dispassionately as I was able.

Her hips and legs were further down on the trailer torn from her body and twisted in natural ways. White bone pierced the torn flesh of one of her thighs. I didn’t bother to look around for her guts; I knew I wouldn’t find them. They were most likely a snack.

“That’s not the only one,” Bill said. That surprised me because generally you only need one virgin per ritual. Bill held a handkerchief against his nose and indicated something on the other side of the trailer with a tilt of his head.

We squished through the blood as we moved around the trailer until we came upon another body. This one was a man and if I had to guess his age I’d say in his thirties. His face didn’t have a look of horror on it like the girl’s; instead it had one that was a mixture of fear and surprise, as if what had happened to him had been unexpected. It probably was. Demons often don’t follow the scripts we lay out for them, especially the powerful ones. And if my suspicions were correct, this one was powerful and I’d met it yesterday several times.

Like the girl, he too had his torso ripped open and the internal organs scooped, or maybe sucked, out. His legs were askew as though he had died in mid-step and collapsed like a meaty marionette whose strings had been cut.

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What Sort of Writer Are You?

I found this over at Papercuts and stole it.

Ahem. Borrowed it.

It’s one of those on-line polls everyone gives that incorrectly guesses your emotion, psychological makeup, or tells you what kind of tree you are. In this case, it’s what kind of writer are you.

In Nichola’s case, it gave her a completely bogus answer, which just goes to show, you shouldn’t use these for analytical purposes, only for entertainment.

In my case, it was right on. In other words, as my Economics professor always said, “You pays your money and you takes your chances.”

It pegged me as a writer of Sci-Fi. I’m not, strictly, but I do write fantasy, urban fantasy specifically, and I have dabbled in Sci-Fi, primarily in the Space Opera category.

Although, many years ago, I was into reading hard core sci-fi, I’ve never had enough of a scientific mind to make my sci-fi respectable enough to the real techno geeks out there. I tend to play fast and loose with verifiable facts and simply write an action/adventure story placed in the future with spaceships and rayguns and in the case of one, these vehicles I call flyvers that fly via magnetic propulsion.

That’s it. That’s as hard core as I get. In my current urban fantasy, I have time travel, but it’s magic based, not quantum mechanics based, so again, play fast and loose with the facts.

But it’s all good, clean fun and with luck, very entertaining. And as a writer, isn’t that should be expected of me and my work. Satisfying entertainment? I think someone termed it Bolognium. And that’s precisely what I write when I attempt sci-fi — boloney facts. After all, if you want real facts, pick up the latest issue of Scientific American or Mechanics Illustrated.

So anyway, here’s the poll, have fun.


You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer


Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you’re from.

And while you may have some problems being “normal,” you’ll have no problems writing sci-fi.

Whether it’s epic films, important novels, or vivid comics…

Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!

One interesting thing about that is the photo. It looks like me from high school. No. Really. I’ll post it as soon as it’s scanned.

Huh? Huh? Whaddaya think?

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