Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Unlimited Continues

This has been a busy year for me. A lot has been going on and I didn't get nearly as much stuff done as I had hoped. And I still feel like I got a lot done! But there's one thing I hoped to have done a lot earlier that I'm still working on and that's my second novel.

I started it over a year ago and I'm still editing it. I knocked the first draft out right at the start of the year and since then it's gone through a lot of test readers and is in it's fifth draft. The book it was is no longer the book it is and the book it will be is still on the horizon.

"More than a year? Really, Carl? Come on! What's the hold up?"

Yeah, okay. It's a slow process. I feel like I'm going to slow. But let's remember that there's a lot of other stuff I've been doing this year. I've written scripts and short stories and blogs and writing guides. I've got a secret project, another novel and a novella all part written. Yeah, I've been working hard and doing a lot. Sometimes I get a little manic and have lots of ideas and end up with half-a-dozen projects in the air. And that isn't terrible - we should always be writing and we should always be spacing out our revisions. That said, you could do just as well with only two concurrent projects and not six.

But, still, more than a year? What's going on?

Well, I'll tell you. There's something else I've been doing this year. I've been learning. I feel like I've learned a shit load about writing since January 1st.

Jim Parsons, the editor of Sorceress' Blood, took what was still a rough and barely passable draft of that book and made it into something good, something people would read and enjoy and want more from. And that's exactly what has happened, people have liked it. What more could I ask for? I learned a lot from Jim's notes and it really sunk in that even though I'd learned so much and come so far since I first started writing, there was still a lot more I could learn. So I started learning it. It was an invigorating moment. It was like being in year 12 English, all over again, and my teacher was showing me the power of stories.

And it's been no simple task. You see, I'm an idiot. I need things really spelled out for me before I get it. I need to revise lessons again and again or I just forget them. My brain is like a colander.

The nature of writing is (or at least should be, in an ideal world) that every time you write something it instantly becomes old work that you could improve on. When we write, we learn and when we learn, we get better. We are better than our latest writing and can always go back and improve it.

(And lock ourselves in a cycle of striving for impossible perfectionism. But that's another post for another time.)

What I'm getting at, here, is that I want my next book to be the best book I can make it. I want it to be a great story and a great piece of writing so even more people can get something out of it - especially a few hours of enjoyment. This has meant tireless re-plotting and rewriting. Whole chapters have been scrapped and more than a few have been recreated from the ground up. It's been a massive task.

But we, as writers, writing for an audience, owe it to our readers and to ourselves to do that work. And do you know what the best part is? We get as many tries as we need. At any time this year I could have said "Good enough!" and published. But that's irresponsible. That's a waste of my time and yours. There's no excuse for not making something the best you can.

So don't call it done until it's done. Edit, revise, rework, rewrite, rethink. Do it again and again and again. Learn new tricks and new lessons and then apply them to your writing. Be better, make better. Nobody is stopping you. You can go around again as many times as you need and you should. Don't rush.

Like the man said: Make good art.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

No More Words

Let’s get rid of the idea that you’re writing words. You’re not. Words are not your concern. Here’s a list of questions you have no business asking:
How many words have I written?
How many words is this story?
How many words should be in a chapter?
How many words should I write today?
How many words make a novel?

Words is something publishers and award judges worry about. Word count is an issue for magazines and people who do page layouts. University professors give you word limits, not you. There are times word count will matter but I'm willing to bet that right now it doesn't matter for you any more than it matters for me. You’re a writer and until you’ve finished your story then you’ve got no reason to be obsessing over words. At the best, it’s a distracting and at the worst it is ego masturbation. Public ego masturbation. Public ego masturbation with a banana and oats smoothy. That’s gross. Stop it.

Here’s another idea to get rid of. The writing process goes Words > Sentences > Paragraphs > Chapters > Story. No. That’s stupid. Where did you even get that notion? Sure, it’s technically true but it doesn’t help us at all. Get rid of it.

Here’s what we want. You don’t write a story by writing words. The basic, fundamental, smallest unit of a story is a statement. “The cat is grey.”, “Ricky dances like nobody is watching.”, “The would-be author masturbates his ego, in public, with a banana and oats smoothy.”, “Everyone thinks that is gross.”, “Joey’s stomach rumbles.” These are all statements and these are the elements of a story.

You string enough of these together and you start to get a beat. A beat is a connected set of sentences that form a moment in your story focused on one thing. It is a moment in time in which things happen, blows are exhanged, decisions are made, tears are cried. “Joeys stomach rumbled.” This is a statement. “Joey’s stomach rumbled. Joey doubled over, clenching his gut. The pain reminded him how long it had been since he’d eaten. The regret hurt as much as the pain. He regretted what he’d done. He regretted wasting that banana and oats smoothy. Now all he wanted was some ice cream to dull the pains.” This is a beat. Specifically, it is an emotional beat. All those statements connect together to create a moment, a moving image in our mind, an understanding. It communicates short, connected ideas. If those ideas were less about how Joey feels and more about Joey fighting a large dog, then it would be an action beat. But it is not a story yet.

Don’t confuse a beat with a scene. A scene is a larger unit made up of several beats. A scene looks a lot more like a story. Hell, some very short stories are made up of only one scene. You’d be hard pressed to find a scene that is made up of only one beat, though. Continuing on:
“Joey walked down the street towards the ice cream parlour. He could taste the bacon and taro ice cream already. He knew, deep in his gut, that ice cream would make everything better. A large dog stepped out of the alley in front of Joey. The animal dragged a dead komodo dragon by its mutilated tail. Joey and the animal locked eyes. Joey felt his hopes for bacon and taro flavoured solace crumble. The dog dropped its komodo carcass and growled at Joey. The animal charged Joey. Joey puffed out his chest and rose up on his toes. The beat snapped and barked. Joey dropped. He curled into a ball and prayed it would be over quickly. The enormous canine leapt at Joey. Joey prepared for the end, readied himself to enter the great beyond with only his mounting regrets for company. It was all over and he would forever be known as that guy who did terrible things with banana and oat smoothies. He couldn’t bear to think what his eulogy would be. The dog over-estimated the distance. It soared right over Joey. The animal collided head first with a passing circus wagon. A bearded lady caught it in mid-air and stuffed it into her suitcase. The wagon passed on and Joey, hearing only silence, got up.”
And scene. Count the beats. How many action beats? How many emotional beats? How long is each one? How are they divided? You can work it out for yourself but I will give you a few of my 

Pro Tips.
Pro Tip 1: There’s no regular or set length for a beat or a scene. They are as long as they need to be.
Pro Tip 2: A lot of this scene is action but the action halts in the middle for an emotional beat and then the action resumes. This is normal. Beats cut into each other like that all the time.
Pro Tip 3: There’s more than action and emotion beats. That should be obvious. I’ve referred to them because it helps to see one beat in contrast to another but the practice of catagorising beats is probably a waste of time. When looking at beats, don’t get hung up on what kind of beat it is, just know that it is a beat.

What comes next, you’ll be glad to know, is story. A story is just a series of connected scenes forming a beginning, middle and end.
“Joey masturbates his ego in public with a banana and oat smoothy. Everyone leaves Joey. Joey is sad and hungry.”Two beat scene. The beginning. “Joey walks down to the ice cream parlour. A dog cuts him off. The dog attacks him. Joey throws himself on the ground. Joey prepares to die a lonely and hungry freak. Joey regrets everything. A bearded lady in a passing circus wagon grabs the dog. She puts it in her suit case. Joey gets up. Joey is alone again. He’s unsure what it all means.” Action. Action. Emotion. Action. Emotion. Five beat scene. The middle. “Joey enters the ice cream parlour. It’s cold and bright. Joey orders an ice cream cone with bacon and taro ice cream. The server hands him his ice cream and Joey pays. Joey feels better.” Four beats. Scene. The end.

Look at that, it’s a story. It’s got three scenes, eleven beats, a beginning, a middle and an end. How long is it? Who cares? Not me. It is long enough to tell the story it is. That’s the important part. Forget your words. Write statements. Make those statements into beats. Make those beats into scenes. Make those scenes into a story. Words are cool but stories are awesome.

And stop masturbating your ego in public with banana and oat smoothies. Sicko.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dreams and Winter City Issue 7

Last night I had a dream about authors John Green and Neil Gaiman hunting a pair of demons. The demons were on a shop-lifting spree through a shopping centre. Strange and kind of cool. But I can't get the picture of Neil Gaiman with a demon-hunting sub-machine gun out of my head.

In other news, have I mentioned? Winter City issue 7 is out! I've been so busy talking about writing and voicing my opinions on controversial political issues that I forgot I need to be shamelessly promoting myself from time to time. So, ta-dah! Winter City Issue 7!

We think it's pretty cool and you probably will to. If you're in Australia, go ask if your nearest comic shop is selling it. Odds are good they will be. For everyone else: has more information and an online store.

Monday, December 2, 2013

I Am A Pineapple

It's true. I bet you didn't know it, but it's true. I am a pineapple. I'm tough and I'm prickly on the outside - but it's only a thin layer. That said, on the inside I'm not much softer but I am very sweet.

Alternatively, one might also say I have the spirit of a reclusive, crotchety old man. I'm the guy who sits out on his porch in his rocking chair, listening to the grainy sound of his old wireless and enjoying the afternoon sun. But you put one foot on my lawn, you damn kids, and you'll hear about it! And turn that damn rap music off! You know back in my day... Huh? A point? Hold on.

Let me finish painting this picture. One one side of my rocking chair is a table with my old timey radio and a perspiring glass of fresh lemonade. On the floor, by my feet, is a stack of books. Yes sir, I never much cared for the television once they stopped showing the Bing Crosby programme but I sure do love books. And I've got so many books to read, old and new. Some in my pile are books by authors I love, some are old favourites I want to revisit and some are books by authors I don't know but their book sounded interesting. One thing is for sure, though, that pile of books keeps growing faster than I can read it.

And you, sir, your book is in my pile. It could be three books down, it could be the next book, it could be at the bottom for now but I guarantee you it is there and I will get to it. Feeling special? Don't. I'm a grouchy old man and I'm short on time. If you're an author I love, then I'll cut you a lot of slack. I'll forgive you a lot of mistakes and keep giving you chances. But I doubt you're Stephen King or Jim Butcher. You and me? We don't have a track record you can rely on.

No, sir, what you've got to rely on is page one. Or rather, if I'm in a good mood, you're writing a genre I like and I'm desperate then you've got page one and maybe page two. But that doesn't happen often. If I'm in a bad mood, you've got one sentence to impress me. Most of the time, you can rely on my attention for one paragraph. That right there is your free pass. You want me to read your story? You want me to throw down the cash and buy the book? Then you better hook me with that first paragraph. Shit better be happening, son, because your book might be standing between me and rereading The Mysterious Stranger for the seven hundredth time. You probably can't be better than Mark Twain but you can be engaging enough to distract me from Mark Twain.

That right there is the secret, kids. You don't have to be the best, you don't even have to be perfect, you just have to make me interested. And that shouldn't be hard! I've already picked up your book. The cover caught my eye, the blurb sounded interesting and now all you have to do is make that first page work. And it's not just me, either. Your audience is full of people like me. Or it might be an agent or an editor with a big stack of manuscripts competing for their attention.

Say it with me, now: Page one. Stuff happens, questions are asked, the story hits the ground running. A character says "This was a stupid idea" and now I want to know what was a stupid idea. The building explodes and rains glass down on the streets below and I want to know what caused it.

I can and probably will write a lot more on opening a story but this isn't the place for that. What you need to take away from this right now is simple: I have a lot of other stuff I could be doing, your book needs to make me forget about that stuff from the very first page. Chapter 1 is not a promise of things happening later, Chapter 1 is things happening with a promise of more stuff happening later.

But buck up, champ, because the good news is that I (like a lot of readers) am a pineapple. If you can crack the shell, then you'll find me a devoted reader. Grab me, hook me, suck me in and I'll stay willingly. Alright, the duct tape on these metaphors is starting to show. I'm going to scram before it gets any more confusing.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Your Writing Task For Today

I have a job for you. I want you, as a writer, to experiment. I want you to do something new. I say a lot of things on this here blog, I give lots of tips and explain a lot of ideas in the craft of writing. But something I should probably stress a little more is the need for you, Mr Write-Pants, to break free from time to time. Do something different. Leave your comfort zone. Go crazy. No, not that crazy. Put the chickens down.

Okay. So here's an exercise for you. It'll only take you five minutes. Go for longer if you like but at least go for five minutes. Alright. Now get your pen and paper or open up your word processor and start a new file. Now write. There are two rules.

Don't think, just write. Some folks call it stream of consciousness. Some folks call it free association. It doesn't matter, just start writing. Don't think about plot or character or setting. Just start hitting the keys and making words. Your five minutes begins from the last letter of the first word.

The other rule is you are not allowed to use a copula. That means no "to be" verbs. No is, was, be, will be, am and so on. You've got to make your sentences with all those verbs that create actual movement.

That's it. Those are the conditions. Have a shot. Post it on dA, or not. I'll do it to and post it in scraps or something. Remember this isn't about creating art, this is about flexing the writer muscle. This is about doing things differently. This is about broadening your horizons. The point isn't write well or write poorly, the point is to write differently.

(I did do it myself. It can be seen here. Due to strong language, only dA members can view it, however.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Soap Box: Climate Change

Alright, so you and I are in a room. A small, empty room. It's a room with only one way in and out but to get out you have to pay a toll. It's not cheap so you really have to want to get out.

So you're standing there at one corner of the room, beside the toll booth and the door and I'm over here in the opposite corner. And I have a machete. A big machete I'm going to use to hack your leg off. It's going to be painful. You're going to be crippled. There's nothing you can do to stop me or slow me down. I'm coming and your leg is mine. The only thing you can do is pay to leave the room.

But then you start to think maybe I don't have a machete after all. Sure it looks like I have one and I've told you I have one but maybe it's an illusion. Or worse, maybe it's a scam between me and the toll booth guy. Or maybe the machete is blunt. It looks a bit rusty, after all. Yeah, that must be it. It's a real machete and I am coming for you but at most it'll be a little inconvenient or leave a small bruise.

On the other hand you might be wrong. And if you are wrong, you save some money but you've lost your leg. Your leg is gone and you are never getting it back. Assuming you don't die a painful and agonising death from having your leg hacked off, you've got to drag yourself to the hospital. Bad news is, as I said, this is an empty room. There's a hospital that might be able to save you outside the room but you've got to pay to get through that toll booth.

Oh yeah, and it's not a free medical service, either. You want to live, you've got to pay. So now you're not just paying the toll to get out of the room, you're paying a whole lot more for life saving treatment because I just hacked your leg off. And there's no guarantee you live. It could well be all over for you even when you get to the hospital, no matter how much you spend.

Alright. But as we've said, it might not come to that. Maybe you feel lucky. Maybe you want to play the odds. I'm afraid I got some bad news for you. Remember how I said the room was small? Well it used to be bigger. Seventy years ago it was a pretty big room but it's been getting small. It's going to keep shrinking, too. Even if I don't actually hurt you, you are going to have to pay to get out of this room eventually because it's only a matter of time before you don't fit in here, anyway.

You're going to have to leave the room eventually. You're going to have to pay the toll. Not paying that toll isn't an option. You do it now or you do it later. So do you want to pay it now or is this room really worth wagering your money on? How about your life?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Time Is A Beast That Must Be Tamed

It's November. November means, for many people, NaNoWriMo. Not for me. I've never done NaNoWriMo. I'm not interested. I've got other stuff I'm doing, I don't need a month to tell me to write fast and write often. I don't need a month to tell me to work on a project. I'm covered. Thanks but no thanks.

Others, however, really get into it. Good for them. I can see why. But what I really like about NaNoWriMo is that they chose November specifically because it is a busy time of year for a lot of people. The closer you get to the end of the year, the more things pile up in life, at work, at school. It can be hard to find that time.

Which brings us to something I hear all year, but especially around November. "I don't have time to write." or "I just can't find the time." I sympathise, I do. I've been a bit time short this year, too. I've had all kinds of time-sucking black holes open up and stealing what used to be prime writing real estate on my clock. Damn.

But let me share a few things with you about my life. Sometimes I have to travel for my job. On any given day it's different and I might have to spend anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours on a train to get where I need to be. I love those two hour train rides. That, friends, is great time for writing. Sure I could watch some movies on my phone, listen to music or read a book but I stash my laptop in my bag and I use that time to write.

Lunch times. I get about 45 minutes for lunch on a standard day. That's writing time.

I've usually got other commitments in the evenings. Two or three nights a week I practise martial arts so that my brain does not rot. One night a week I've got a gaming group I'm a part of. Great fun. Writing is important but so are these. I set aside time for these things and I'm sure you've got hobbies and friends you do and see (respectively) regularly.

At various times in recent history I've had the opportunity to be a part of another gaming group, learn to play an instrument, pick up another language and be a part of various other activities and groups that would have been fun. But in the end I decided not to. I love playing video games but I rarely finish them and I'm usually a good six months behind in what anyone else is playing. I love movies and I love going to the cinema but I usually only see a handful of films a year. There's a lot more I'd like to see, I just don't.

 You might ask why. Why deprive myself of these things?

Because it was cutting into writing time. I made the decision what was important and what wasn't and whenever I do that, writing usually wins.

If you're struggling to find time, you're doing something wrong. But relax, because I can tell you what it is. Your problem is you're trying to find time. If you want time to write, MAKE time. You look at your schedule and you gut it of all the things that are getting in your way. Find out how important writing is to you and anything that's below it goes under the axe.

I'll say it again. You don't find time to write, you make time to write.

Or you stop complaining. If being the top Call of Duty Deathmatch player in town is more important than writing then you've got no problems. You've got all the time to write that you need.

Okay. Now before you get carried away, let me make a few things clear. You NEED time for other things, too. You need time to do some kind of exercise. Your body needs to be healthy to function so get up and do some yoga or something. You also need other people. How much time you need to be with other people so you don't go insane is up to you. I, personally, don't need much. I get more than enough between my martial arts classes and my gaming group. But you need to be around friends. Not only does it keep you sane, you learn how to write people by being around people. You also need at least one other hobby. Bonus points if it is creative. Bonus point if it puts you around other people. But something that you enjoy that isn't writing.

There's a lot of hours in the day. Don't tell me you don't have time to write every one of those days. You do have time, you're just spending it on something else. There are times when you genuinely do not have time to write. That's okay too. It will happen. "Write every day" is a bullshit rule. But write often. As often as you need (note I did not say want) to so you can reach you goals.

You don't FIND time to write. You MAKE time to write.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Carl On The Air Again

A little while ago the Winter City writing team were invited to be guests on the podcast Behind The Panels. Now you can listen to us talk about making comics.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The World According to Deviant Art: Literature Edition

Deviant Art is a website for artists. Artists of all kinds: Writers, painters, photographers, etc. I have been a member for many years now and for slightly less time, I have been an active voice in the writing community. I like Deviant Art but like any community it has evolved its own unique culture. Every now and then I like list my observations about that culture.

A few years ago, in my first entry on The World According to dA, I said that nothing interesting ever happens in the forums. This is still largely true. The differences these days is my grip on my sanity is much weaker and so I actually spend more time than any man should on dA's literature forum. And much like the rest of dA, I've noticed certain trends. There are things in the literature community which are true. This is just how it is. This is how things are done, how they have always been done and how they will always be done. I'd like to explore some of these with you now.

1. Don't write until you have permission. You might think your idea is good but you won't know how good it is or if your story will be good until you ask strangers on the Internet if they think it will be good. Whatever you do, put off starting any new project until you've got the go ahead from a handful of literature forumites.

2. On second thought, don't write stories at all. Stories don't matter. Nobody wants plot. Just write characters and settings. All anyone wants in a book is some expansive world-building and characters with long, dramatic histories. Remember those chapters in Moby Dick where Melville just writes about the history of Nantucket and he describes the officers on the Pequod? The whole book should have been that. Only more detail, like what their blood type and favourite food.

3. Stickies are for chumps.

4. Everything is personal. That's why you have to keep reminding anyone you talk to that your disagreement is not a personal attack - even when it is. Because there is no way you can have a debate, a discussion or even a small disagreement without it being a personal attack on a person. So be offensive and get defensive because the shit storm's-a brewin'.

5. Forum regulars are all arrogant trolls out to make you feel bad. This is, of course, related to above. When the experienced and worldly writers of dA try and tell you something, you must respond by calling them names. Then blocking them. Bonus points for threatening to report them or implying they suck at life and ending your sentence with a smiley face.

6. The best way to be a successful writer is to follow trends. Not current trends, mind you, dead trends. Find something that is at least six years old (Twilight, Naruto, The Walking Dead) but you are still obsessed with/just discovered and rewrite it. Bonus points if the setting is psuedo-japanese. The other trends you must be aware of are hate trends. Keep up to date with whatever ancient shit people are still bitching about (Twilight, Naruto, The Walking Dead) and make a point to complain about it whenever possible.

7. Expect feedback. Expect in-depth criticism and review. Expect to be given a "How To Not Write Crap in Ten Easy Steps" manual every time you upload something to dA. You are entitled to help from strangers on the Internet. That help should also be printed clouds, wrapped in rainbows and delivered by unicorns just so it makes you feel extra special good. But YOU don't have to give anyone feedback. You're far too busy wondering why your comments are late to read somebody else's work and comment.

And finally, the most important lesson of all that dA can teach an aspiring writer:

8. Don't write short stories. Don't even write novels. Only plan to write series - three books AT LEAST! Put them up on dA one chapter at a time and submit those chapters to every critique request thread and group you can find. This is both quick and easy because chapters only need to be about two hundred words long. And if, while writing one series, you happen to think of something new just abandon that project and start a new series. Finishing stuff never did anyone any good, anyway.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Soap Box: A Christian in Support of Gay Marriage

I'm going to do something I almost never do. I'm going to talk about Religion. More specifically, I am going to talk about my religious beliefs.

I am a Christian. I am an all believing, all praying, church going, God worshipping 100% pure Angus Beef Christian.

And I support gay marriage.

I'm doing this because I feel like I'm in something of a minority and this pro-gay marriage Christian view isn't being heard as loud as it should be.

The biggest obstacle any Christian faces is that some scripture reads a lot like it is forbidding gay marriage. Some scripture seems to come out in plane and simple English and say that homosexuality, or at the very narrowest interpretation homosexual sex between men, is a sin. That is to say it is against the law of God. But there's a problem with that. The bible wasn't written in English, it's been translated that way. And where SOME bibles have been translated to name homosexuality, others have not. Now I won't go too much into this because I am not a bible scholar by any stretch of the imagination. Still, obviously if we've got different translations then the original scripture wasn't so cut and dry and one has to start thinking. I certainly did.

And I did what all Christians should do if they're not sure what to do with the scripture in front of them. I did some research, I did some reading and I did some praying. And in all that time, nothing convinced me that an anti-homosexual interpretation of the bible is the only valid interpretation. The truth just isn't so black and white.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Because “I'm just not sure” isn't a helpful answer. There's also the possibility that I'm wrong. What I'm talking about here is two directly opposed readings of the Bible and in circumstances like this, somebody has to be wrong.

It's important things to remember here that marriage existed before the Church. Marriage exists outside the Church. Christianity in all its forms does not hold either a copyright or a monopoly on marriage. I can't imagine many homosexuals want to get married in a Church that doesn't approve of them, anyway. What they want is legal recognition of their relationship, just like all the heterosexual relationships want. They want the same rights and privileges we get.

But that's not what I want to talk about. The politics of this debate are lengthy and mostly very stupid. So I won't go into that now.

What I do want to do is talk about what I am sure about. This is what I think Christian scripture makes undeniably clear again and again and again.

It is not my place, my duty or even my right to judge. I have no business telling homosexuals that they are sinning and going to hell. I have no authority to tell them that they are in the wrong and that their way of life is damaging to the world.

If God does not want to recognise a gay marriage, He won't. Just because a gay couple have a legal marriage or even if they got married in a church God is under no obligation to accept their marriage as valid. God can do that because He's God. God is a big boy and as much as He appreciates your efforts, in the end, He'll do what He wants and He can take care of Himself.

If I am standing in the way of two people expressing their love then I am at fault. How much more obvious could Christ have made it to us that we must be loving and compassionate? How is the hatred and anger Christians have shown to the LGBT community in line with what Christ taught? How do you love someone while condemning them? How is telling them they are an abomination showing compassion? That's not even tough love. That's just being an ass hole.

Christians are called upon to make more Christians. Sometimes it seems like we forgot that we don't need to breed to make more Christians. There are plenty of people out there who are not Christians. Some of them never will be. Some of them once were and stopped. Some haven't had the chance yet. Some of them want to be but don't know how. God has told us to try and save them. Now I could write a whole extra entry on how being an obnoxious, pushy, holier-than-thou fuckwit is poor witnessing in the modern world. But I'm not going to do that. The point I want to make here is: God wants everyone to be saved and that includes the homosexual community. Do you really think any of them are going to come to God if you keep abusing them? Do you think any of them will want anything to do with God if you can't be nice to them? Or would they much rather hear about Christ if you're an open, friendly, accepting and generous person because of your faith? We must not just believe, we must practice.

I don't believe homosexuality is a sin. Nobody has convinced me that this is God's teaching. But even if I'm wrong, it doesn't matter. Because the treatment of the gay community and denying them the right to a marriage is not what Christ has taught us. I have gay friends in a relationship and I can see, just looking at them, that they understand love more than some Christians seem to. It would be tragic if it wasn't so beautiful.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have something far less controversial to write.

EDIT: I felt that this needed a conclusion. It's a tricky topic and I think it's too important to leave it without being 100% clear. A Christian's first and foremost duty is serving God. God has made it clear how we serve him and what he expects us to do. We have guides for our behaviour.

Marriage equality is not a threat to you, it is not a threat to God, it is not a threat to Christianity. Nobody is trying to change the Christian definition of marriage (we're still assuming the traditional, conservative reading is the only valid reading) and nobody is trying to force Christianity to be something it is not or do something it does not want. We are not under attack by people who want the freedom to express love for each other.

By standing in the way of marriage equality, you are hurting people. Even if hurting people achieved a righteous end, morality is not subjective. If you do wrong to achieve good, you have still done wrong and that goes on your record. But hurting people by stopping marriage equality does not serve any righteous end. Even if homosexuality is a sin, by not allowing homosexuals to have legally recognised marriages, you are not stopping them from being homosexual. By hurting them you drive them away from Christ. You are Christ's ambassadors and don't ever forget it.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What You Know

"Write what you know" is one of those things writers like to say ad infinitum and like most things writers say ad infinitum it becomes more of a pointless chant than an actual lesson. How does one write what they know? Can you only write well what you know? What does this mean for writing about fighting dragons or stabbing prostitutes? Does this mean we have to go out and do something before we can write it well? As it always is with this kind of one-line writing advice, there's truth but you need to go into detail. Delve. It's never as simple as it sounds.

Right now I'm working on a story that involves a car chase through an American city. It's set in the early 1930s. Now as a 20-something, Australian suburbanite I have not been to America, I have not been in a car chase and I did not live through the 1930s. So how can I possibly write it well if I don't know it?

Well first of all I like to think that I can rest easy knowing that the majority of my audience for this story will also not have been in a car chase or lived through the 1930s. It's also a fictional city so there's no risk of them having been there. But this doesn't mean I can make up any shit and sell it to them and they'll accept it because they don't know better.

So here's where I start to think about what I do know.

I live in a city, I've seen lots of other different kinds of cities both in my own country and around the world. So I think I know enough to write about a city. Thanks to the library and Google I can pretty easily find pictures and information about the 1930s. Populations, fashion, architecture etc are all things I can study and learn. So in fact, not having experienced this fictional 1930s city is no problem because learning what I need to know is cake. But wait, this is also an American city. How do I know what America is like? Well, let's say I set my story in the Autumn (the best season). My fictional American city occupies a similar place, geographically, to Seattle. So again I go to my various founts of wisdom and read about Seattle. Wikipedia tells me that Seattle is temperate and that in October the average temperatures are 15, high and 8, low in October and that Autumn is typically a rainy season for Seattle. Well damn, I've been in 8 - 15 degree weather heaps and I know what rain is like. So even though I've never been to my fictional city - or even Seattle - I can learn about them and find the common ground between the things I do not know and the things I do know. I need to write about a 10 degree autumn night? Bitch, I got this.

But sure, that's the easy stuff. What about the car chases? What do I know about car chases? Well I know my protagonists will be in a convertible with the top down. I know they'll be going fast. I know they'll be taking corners hard, the air will be cold, shit will be getting in their way so they'll be swerving and dodging. Now I go through the same formula. I look at what I do know and find common ground. Going fast with the top down? I've been on roller coasters. That's going fast in an open car. I've been in traffic where people drive poorly and the car I'm in has had to stop suddenly or swerve. I've been on high speed freeways where the world starts to lose clarity because I can't look at anything for long enough to make out the detail.

From my earlier years as a motorcycle and Go-Kart hobbyist I know what it's like to be in control of an engine going faster than any man sensibly should drive. I know what it's like to struggle against a steering wheel, to lose control, to weave around other drivers and take corners hard. I know what it's like to have my vehicle fish tail, spin out completely or crash side on into a wall. This is all on a small scale, full of safety equipment but hey, nothing is perfect.

Now I can reflect on all these relatively safe and domestic experiences of mine and I can mix in big spoon fulls of imagination, scale things up and BAM, there's my scene. I'm writing and I'm writing everything based on what I know.

"Write what you know" is an invitation to cheat. It rests on the idea that there is in fact a finite ways we as people can perceive, process and thus experience the world around us. We all have the same emotions, we all have the same senses. When we're told to write what we know, we're not being told to limit ourselves. We're being told to be conscious of the human condition and apply the experiences we have in life to the experiences of our characters have in the story.

And now you know.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Golden Rule

Alright, kids, put your seat-belts on. I'm about to blow you and all your preconceived notions right out of the water.

What's the number one rule of writing? Show of hands.

I'm betting a good portion of you out there in Internets land are saying "Show, don't tell."

Well I mean duh, right? That's first grade. Nobody wants to read a book and get told. Paint a picture with words. Show what's happening, let the reader see it and understand. Readers are smart people, right?


Wait, no. Readers are smart people. You're right about that.

I'm talking about the other thing you said. "Show don't tell." is NOT the golden rule. Don't get me wrong, it's important. It's vital. But this is the silver rule. Rule number 2 on the list of rules. It's the first rule you can and should break. When the revolution comes, that rule will be up against the wall.

You get it?

So what is Rule #1? I believe it was Hitchcock who put it so elegantly as: "Drama is life with the dull parts taken out." I like to take this a step further and say "Fiction is life with the boring parts taken out." Because people tend to get stuck on the word drama for all the wrong reasons and also because I like to speak broadly on the process of creating fiction. Oh and if this isn't direct enough, the other way I like to put it is: "Cut the crap."

Cut it right out. Find all those bits that are boring and you scrap them.

Sadly it's not easy. Quite often the boring bits hold the excitement together. Sometimes you just have to let the world know that your character went and took a nap. It's not interesting but sadly it is important and if you took out the part where he/she takes a nap then you end up with a broken narrative.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is when you tell. Nobody wants to be shown all the little details about how your character took a nap. Just tell us he went and took a nap. If you show us all the steps and all the details involved then we're going to get bored. I'm already getting bored just thinking about this hypothetical nap focused prose.

So tell. Tell the shit out of it. That should take you a couple of sentences and then we can get back to something interesting. You can start showing again, now. Much better. Aren't you glad that-

"But Carl, how do I know if it's interesting or not?"

Huh? Oh, okay. Sure, let's touch on that for a while. I've got some time to kill.

This is no secret but it's still nice to have things spelt out for us. The interesting part of your story is the conflict. This is more or less what Hitchcock was talking about when he mentioned drama. The essence of drama is conflict. At the heart of every interesting story is a conflict.

Here's a simple conflict: Your protagonist wants to do X. An antagonist doesn't want them to do X. Your protagonist and antagonist come into conflict. Usually the protagonist does Y to the antagonist so he can then do X.

But more importantly, the heart of most scenes should also focus on a conflict. When there is a conflict going on, there is something interesting to read about. This is when you should show. So in effect what we have is a central conflict that defines your plot. This is established in the first act of your fiction. In a very straight forward story like Indiana Jones and The Raiders of The Lost Ark the conflict that defines the plot is Indie wants to get the Ark of The Covenant and the NAZIs want to get the Ark of The Covenant. Indie and the NAZIs both can't have the Ark so they are in conflict. This is the Central Conflict. One scene requires Indie to get a jeweled talisman off an old flame: Marion. However Marion wants to keep the talisman to herself because she's still mad at Indie over past events. To make matters worse, the NAZIs send an agent to get the Talisman first. Now we have a three way conflict that must be overcome to move the plot forward and bring the characters closer to the resolution of the Central Conflict.

In very broad and easily usable terms there are two kinds of conflicts. External Conflicts and Internal Conflicts. The first involve multiple characters and include fights, arguments, races and the like. The latter involves only one character and includes struggles against addiction, making hard decisions and over coming powerful emotions or motivations. External and Internal conflicts can and often do occur together or side-by-side.

Alright, so let's take a second to recap.
- It is often important to Tell instead of Show
- The interesting scenes are the scenes you Show.
- Interesting scenes are the ones that involve Conflict.

But while you can write fiction that is just conflict after conflict this can be tiring for the writer and the audience. The majority of scenes should be conflict but between the conflict you can still have interesting scenes. These are still scenes that you show and, most importantly, there is still movement. The plot progresses, characters change, stuff is happening.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about these Rest scenes right now but I will touch on them. The scenes between conflict should primarily be used to develop characters, set-up or foreshadow later scenes and include exposition. Returning to Raiders of The Lost Ark one such rest scene involves Indie explaining to two military intelligence agents what he thinks the NAZIs are up to and what the Ark of The Covenant is. This scene and the classroom scene that precede it are conflict free but the show us a lot about the character of Indie, they give our protagonist a new goal and point him towards more conflict and they reveal much of the world our characters live in and what the story is about. All of this makes it interesting.

Okay, that's enough on that for now. I'll talk more about Rest scenes another time (Foreshadowing). This should be enough for you to chew for now. Happy writing, kids!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama

I want to take a moment to plug something very cool because you need to know about it.

WeirdWorld Stuidio's Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama is a new kind of... I guess you could call it a party game? But it's more like a Host Your Own Murder Mystery but not. It's a tool box for an evening of fun and shenanigans with friends.

Essentially what they're selling is a themed dinner party with scripts. You and your friends gather around, share a meal and act (from your chair) a part in a radio drama (without the radio). There's meal ideas and suggestions on how to get your paws on some sound effects to throw in. But the big sell is the scripts. They're awesome.

I've had the distinct pleasure to be a part of several Weird World Studio radio drama dinners, and I can say that there is almost nothing like them. As I said, the closest approximation would be a murder mystery party but the Old Time Radio Dramas stand as a really unique evening of fun. The pulp adventure scrips perfectly capture the exciting and camp feel of the stories told by the likes of Lester Dent (with a tongue firmly in cheek). But unlike other, similar homages to those works, the Old Time Radio Dramas put you right in the story and action. There's plenty of opportunity for bad accents, over-the-top acting and improvisation. Those are key. Be a goof, you won't regret it.

You really should check it out. You'd be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable evening with a group of friends.

Go check out their website:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hey look, me!

Hey look, I uploaded stuff to dA!

Hey look, I'm writing a journal entry!

I keep meaning to shout into the void that is the internet and watch my words rapidly fade into the white noise of hateful YouTube comments and My Little Pony fan fiction and then I remember that I should be doing something else.

Fact is I know not many folks are reading anyway and I have other, more important things to be doing.

But today I found some procrastina-- I mean time!

Yeah. Time.

Today I found some time to procrastinate so I thought I'd upload some stuff that I wasn't doing anything else with. One of them is so old at this point that it is quickly earning itself a spot in ancient history classes. The other is significantly more modern, though. Anyway. I hope you enjoy them. I hope you've remembered that I exist.

Now I am going to mysteriously disappear into the night like a masked stranger who just rescued you from certain doom and asks for nothing in reward.






Sunday, April 28, 2013

Go out and explore

Something I don't hear people saying often enough is "I left my desk today." It's a shame, too, because I think it would solve one of the biggest problems I see writers talking about.

I would be a wealthy, wealthy man if I got paid every time I heard somebody say something to the effect of "I can't focus on my writing." Or "What's the perfect writing environment?" Or countless variations on this question. And it's a good question, too. What is the perfect writing environment? How do you focus? How do you remove distraction? Good questions. Important questions. Hard to answer questions.

Yes, this is another problem that has no universal solution. Like most aspects of the writing process: What works for me will not necessarily work for you. Right now I'm sitting on my couch, listening to music, typing on my laptop on my couch. I'm focused. The music isn't distracting me. I'm doing some writing. This is where I spend probably half my time writing at the moment.

When I wrote 'Sorceress' Blood' I didn't have a laptop. I wrote it on a desktop and so, of course, I wrote it all sitting in an office chair at a desk.

Lately, while working on my next novel, I've been taking my laptop and going to a coffee shop down the road from where I live and writing until the battery gets low. Coffee shops are a fantastic place to write and the extra caffeine can be great for focus and productivity. Personally, I prefer a nice cup of tea but coffee shops rarely have good tea.

Those places work for me. Couch, desk, coffee shop - I can write in all these places successfully. I've also tried to write on the train or in a park and I find it much harder to focus in those places for various reasons. All writers have their preferences and they're individual - hence, no obvious or universal solution. But that doesn't mean the answer isn't easy, if you know how to start.

More writers should be saying "I left my desk today." or even "I didn't go to the coffee shop today." The best way to find your perfect writing environment is to go looking. Get out of your comfort zone. Try something new. Take a laptop or an iPad or a pad of paper and try writing in different places. Just spend an hour or two and see how it feels. It might be better, it might be worse but you'll never know unless you try.

Go out and explore.

I often talk about how important it is for writers to treat each other as friends and allies. Knowledge should be shared and what we learn from our experience is no different. But nobody can do the writing for you. Nobody can tell you how to work because it's different for everybody. I can't tell you how YOU can remove distraction or what the perfect writing environment is for YOU. I can only tell you what's best for ME. But we can always point each other in the right direction.

The next time you're struggling to put word on the page - put on some pants, pack up your writing gear and go out and explore.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Musings on The Future of Society

Allow me to think out loud at you for a second...

That we should fear a utopia as much or more than a dystopia is an interesting proposition. Though as I consider it, I become less convinced of where lays the dividing line. Through social and scientific progress it seems we are moving towards a utopia - a care-free, friendly and provided-for society. Or maybe I've phrased that poorly. I'm not sure we are actually progressing towards a utopia, but I think we are probably trying to point ourselves in that direction. I don't think the idea of a utopia has to be global, either. But I think the goal of every society on some level is to remove their stresses and debilitations. Medical research won't stop until it's cured every disease. Computer development won't stop until they can do ALL the thinking for us, automotives won't stop until it is surpassed by a quicker, cheaper, cleaner, safer means of travel - industry grows, competes and profits through innovation. People WANT to innovate and improve what we have. That's why we have dishwashers! Dishwashers are certainly a sign we have our eyes set on a relaxed utopia.

And yes, it's a very technology focussed idea but since it's much harder to get slaves, these days, it's got to be technology that starts taking over all the hassle of work for us, so we can get back to watching The Geordie Shore. There's no end to the obstacles non-technological that stand in the way of something utopian but if a problem isn't bothering us, is it still a problem? 

But back to the point: It is easy to imagine a world in which the only jobs are those that contribute to progress and those that maintain the technology that provides the essentials of our life. But even so, technology already builds technology on the production line. When all the vital industries are automated to pinnacle efficiency, we are left with only time for leisure.

But one wonders what we lose when we have removed any and all anxiety over our base needs. When Mazlow's hierarchy gets hobbled, do we also get hobbled? Hypothetically, if we are entirely devoted to our own amusements then, as a society, we begin to tune out. Actually, is that hypothetical at all? Isn't that what is already happening? I know more people - adult, fully functioning, rational, voting, human people - who know the life and times of Snooki by heart but do not understand how the voting system works in their own country.

This is a people you don't need to intimidate or brain-wash to control or oppress. This is a people who simply don't care. In a utopia in which your only concern is what makes you happy, what's fun and what feels good, as long as your Law & Order marathon isn't interrupted, it doesn't matter what goes on around you. A utopian society is a society ripe for the picking. The natural next step becomes tyranny. Utopia, perhaps, only leads to dystopia and you'd never know it happened.

But if you still get to watch Toddlers and Tiaras all day, is a handful of lost freedoms so bad? Hmmm....

Saturday, March 2, 2013

We Have A Problem

There seems to be some kind of mistake. No doubt about it, there's been a terrible mix up.

I'm looking at this manuscript for a book called Pilgrimage. I'm confused because I wrote a manuscript for a book called Pilgrimage. But this can't be MY manuscript? It has my name on it, it's telling my story scene for scene, it's on my computer. But this can't be MY manuscript because this appears to be written by somebody shit. I'm not shit, am I?


Oh wait, yes I am. That's the nature of the beast, right? First drafts are shit. They're supposed to be shit. Kill your darlings, remember?

It's funny. There's excitement to be had in the creative process. Writing a first draft is so much fun and so exciting and there's all these ideas being put down in words and taking shape. Cool, right? I know when I finished the first draft of Pilgrimage I thought to myself:
"I won't need to do much to this, I think. It's got a few big issues but once I solve them, I think editing will be pretty light."

Wow. Right? Who would be so stupid?

Fortunately, when it comes to it, I know better. The first draft is made of suck. It's hideous, deformed and bloated. IT MUST BLEED.

So we edit. And as I sit there editing I think "Oh man, this is so much better than it was before. I am fixing all the problems. Once I get to the end of this draft it will be damn near perfect!"

Hahahaha... No.

This kind of optimistic excitement is exactly why you don't get to the end of a draft, go back and start revising right away. It's too soon. There's still too much love and excitement. You're still on the honeymoon. You need to move into that stage or arguing over how to stack the dishwasher and who should stop to get bread on the way home.

Honeymoon is a weird word, by the way.

Editing is fun but it's a lot of work. There's lots to do, especially after the first and second draft. Second drafts are usually fatter than the first because you're filling in all those plot holes and gaps where logic and sense should be. You're more aware of the themes and characters so you add in more to define them.

The third draft is where you really start to cut the bullshit out of the writing and turn that fat cow into a super fine lady that the whole world just wants to stare at and write self-insertion fan erotica about. Oh yeah...

Ahem. Editing. Right.

In theory every draft should bring something new to the table. Every draft should have its own focus and improve in a special way that makes that draft a worthy effort.
1st Draft: The happy word vomit draft.
2nd Draft: The plot cement draft
3rd Draft: The Liposuction draft
4th Draft: The "I remember how to use a comma" draft

Now of course you can add and subtract and mix drafts as you need. You might fix all the grammar in the second draft. You might have a 5th draft called the "The editor just stomped all over my dreams but he's so right" draft. Or that might be all your drafts. It's different for everybody and that's how it should be. But there are definitely stages between your idea and the final production and even though some of those stages result in a lot of bad writing (especially the first draft) you should still be happy with them. It's a step forward.

Just remember you suck and so does your manuscript. Now do it again and make it BETTER! Pick your target, ready your weapons and make that manuscript BLEED!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Books as poems

I finished the first draft of my next novel. I took a week off from writing and now I'm working on some random stuff in between. While riding the train tonight I decided to start writing some poetry. Japanese style.

Car comes roaring forth
Rebecca rescues the girl
The Knights keep them safe
Flee from the Thralls to China
Confrontation in Scottland

Those of you familiar with my first novel ("Sorceress' Blood") will probably find the narrative of this poem familiar. Yes, I've summarised my novel in a five line poem called a 'tanka'. Why? Because I can!

Then I did it again with a book I read recently called "Storm Front".

Dresden needs some cash
Corpses with exploded hearts
A missing husband
Shadowman sends a demon
Chicago needs a wizard

"Storm Front" is by Jim Butcher and is the first novel in the Dresden Files series of books (Named for the main character: Harry Dresden). And while I'm sure everybody knew about these books before me, just in case, you should go read them. They're very good.

Note that these are tanka and not haiku. A haiku is a very constrictive three line poem focused on imagery, nature and the seasons. I wrote one of them too:

Cool winds bring Autumn
My ruffled notebook pages
Scattering my thoughts

If your haiku doesn't include imagery, nature and the seasons then it's not a haiku. It's something else. A senryu or a tanka missing its tail. We need a name for tanka missing their tail. Any suggestions?

I'm not usually comfortable writing poetry. I don't consider myself a poet and I acknowledge I'm not very good at poetry. But it's always good to challenge yourself and work outside your comfort zone if only for a little while.

It's also fun to reduce the plots of books down to five lines of verse. Have a go at it and see what you come up with.

Friday, February 8, 2013

What I Learned From Writing Sorceress' Blood

1. If you have passion for your story, it will be much easier to write. If you genuinely want to tell a story then you will tell that story and you'll know way ahead of time that the end is within your reach. There's no substitute for this.

2. Writing a novel is exciting, exhilarating, boring, difficult, painful, amazing, joyous, awe-inspiring and there is no feeling quite like it that I have ever known.

3. I could have kept writing, rewriting, editing, revising, updating, remaking, adding and subtracting for the rest of my life before I completed Sorceress' Blood and there are people out there who will think I should have. But there comes a time when you have to let go and see what happens.

4. On a similar note: Perfection is unattainable. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try, it just means that you need to know when you've hit your limits. With every subsequent novel and story, your limits should increase and you should come closer to perfection - I know I have. If I'd written Sorceress' Blood today, I would do it differently. But I didn't. I wrote it in 2009 and revised it and edited it between 2010 and 2012. Under those circumstances I am proud of what it is and what I did. But part of me will always wish I'd just done a little more.

5. You have to keep going. Grin and bear it, bite the bullet, roll with the punches - Nobody said it would be easy. And other cliches like that... There will be setbacks while writing - at least once my computer caused me to lose a big chunk of what I was writing. Oh that sucked. But I got back on the horse and kept on keeping on. There will be nay-sayers, critics, haters and those that just don't care. I think it's the ones that don't care that get to me the most. I know some people don't like me and some people don't and won't like Sorceress' Blood but at least I've made an impression on them. And you can't please everyone. The harsh critics make me want to try harder, the people who enjoy my writing make feel better and the ones who don't notice me make me want to shout and scream and cry. But no matter what, you just have to keep going. Keep creating, keep improving, keep selling. Your audience is there waiting for you.

6. I think a lot of the best parts of Sorceress' Blood were actually the result of working with Jim Parsons. He was worth every cent I paid him and more helpful than I ever could have imagined he would be. Sorceress' Blood is doubled in quality after he'd gone through it. The original version of Sorceress' Blood was just a little retarded in some parts and he did a great job of telling me when I was talking out of my ass. I know I caused him more than a little frustration, too, and I'm forever thankful for what he's done for me.

No matter how harsh you think you are - and trust me on this, I'm one of the harshest critics I have - you NEED professional help if you want to be professional. Find the money and get an editor.

So it's really no surprise that I should have learned less from Sorceress' Blood than I did before then. I look at Sorceress' Blood as a kind of practical application of everything I learned up that point. This isn't so much lessons in writing as it is being a writer. I didn't learn nearly as much as I should have about writing while working on Sorceress' Blood.

A lot of these lessons are about taking a chance, seeing it to the end and living with the consequences - good or bad. Whatever you do in life, come to terms with it and right or wrong, be at peace with your choices. I have no regrets about what I've done - that doesn't mean I think all my choices in life are good, only that I'm content to have made them.

I'm currently working on a book under the working title "Pilgrimage". I already know it's better than Sorceress' Blood and I have learned so much from writing this that I didn't take the time to learn from Sorceress' Blood. I look forward to the day it is done and I can look back and write all the lessons that have come to me with this project.

Until then, I've got a couple of other things in the works that I'll be talking about soon. I'll see you then.