Difficult Choices #1

This post is approximately 550 words. It had been longer, but…difficult choices were made.

Phew. It’s been more than four months since I posted Tighten Up Your Writing #6. The final draft editing continues apace, which is the primary reason I haven’t been blogging.

Well, that and the Gears 5 Tech Test over two weekends in July.

Anyway, today’s update is about a choice I’d been debating a few months. Jack, aka Trusted Reader 16 and one of my most enthusiastic contributors, had given me the same feedback each time I provided new chapters: Some were too long.

He was right every time and I followed his suggestions.

After his latest round of feedback, I literally tallied up the word counts of every chapter and put them in a spreadsheet (hey, I’m a data guy).  A few hit 6,000 and two were on their way to 8,000. In most cases, every scene within a chapter was connected and followed a theme. I did my job well enough that the chapter titles fit all the pieces within.

And yet, those were some long chapters. I’d recently set a target of 3,000 to 4,000 words to keep the reading effort light, while also making it feel like the story kept moving. I was missing the mark. It reminded me of reading when I just want to get to the end of a chapter so I can take a break. Fortunately, I’ve yet to receive that criticism from my Trusted Readers.

I had a difficult choice to make. Do I break up the big chapters?

Murder your darlings

Continue reading

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Celtic Christmas Poem

When I read ancient tales like Beowulf or the Odyssey, I like to consider the challenges faced by translators. It’s not simply replacing one word for another; in some cases, it’s also preserving the rhythm, often at the expense of what we’d consider ‘standard grammar’. Rhythm is a critical component of memorization, which was essential for stories that passed from mouth to ear, rather than by written page.

I kept that in mind when I wrote this poem in 2005. I put myself in the mindset of a translator struggling to capture the flow of some ancient chant. To me, it’s a combination of science and art, with the latter given preference. You’ll hear similar things in modern music, when the lyricist chooses rhythm over the rules taught in high school English.

Without further preface, my Celtic Christmas poem:


Come, my dear friends and do hearken
And sit by my fire for awhile.
For I am about to regale you
Of the Scourge of the Emerald Isle. Continue reading

Writing Update: December 4, 2016

This post is about 350 words. 

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It’s been about three weeks since my last writing update, where I mentioned that I’d uploaded the first two chapters to this website. Since then, I’ve finished up* the next three, though I’m not sharing them yet.

*As always, when I say, “finished up”, there’s a big disclaimer about reserving the right to go back and tweak them as needed. Or to change things based on revisions to later chapters. Or to fix things that have woken me in the middle of the night. Or when I realize I’m having the same delusion as Ralphie in A Christmas Story.

OK, so rambling aside, I’m satisfied that FIVE chapters are ready for reading. They have cohesion and flow, and each considers the length of the ones before (i.e. I don’t have a 3,000-word chapter followed by one that’s 10,000 words). They have transition and connection to each other, so they are no longer five separate pieces. They feel like the first act of a three-act story. And that’s about 20% of the book completed, which feels pretty good. But….

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Writing Update: November 13, 2016

This post is about 250 words. 

It’s been a few months since I published an update like this, but with back-to-school, Boy Scouts, the election, and the release of Gears of War 4, it’s been a busy Autumn.

Oh yeah, and I’ve been doing  massive amounts of editing.

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I haven’t been idle, even if this blog has been a bit quiet. To remedy that, I’ve uploaded excerpts to the site.

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Writing Exercise #3: Halloween Rhymes

This post is approximately 500 words. 

The following verse represents about an hour’s worth of work, which means it’s not highly polished, yet I still managed to work in rhyme and rhythm with minimal effort.

However, if you’ve ever written a verse in rhyme, you know that sometimes it requires a ridiculous commitment to the style. For me, I usually get about three-fourths done before I start to question my decision. It comes around the time I think, “I need a rhyme for itch: ditch, Fitch, hitch, kitsch, liche, Mitch, niche…” Then comes the expectation that the audience will find the verse absurd because stylistic compromises were made just to get a rhyming word in.

Well yeah….sometimes.

But that’s fine. In a writing exercise, you’re not seeking art or permanence. You’re chasing the muse, curious about where she leads. It’s almost disposable writing, which is not to say it’s worthless. To the contrary, it very well could end up in a finished work. But again, that’s not the point. The goal, the real objective, is to keep your writing tools honed. This makes your daily manuscript work easier because you’ve kept your mind sharp.

In the spirit of the Halloween season, I hope you can enjoy this little cautionary tale, written in the style of old nursery rhymes. Continue reading

Too Many Villains

This post is approximately 600 words.

In this post, you get to travel far down the rabbit hole. But instead of landing in Wonderland, you’ll land in the writer’s brain, a place as equally crazy and confusing.

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As the title implies, I’ve got too many villains in my first book. At least, that’s the perception readers will have. If I’m careful enough – write well enough – I can prevent them from thinking that, but it’s complicated because I don’t want a simple black-and-white story.

In the mix, some win, lose, die, or are redeemed. Some characters might even be more than one of the following:

  • the antagonist of the entire series
  • the lieutenant – the character that does the bidding
  • the manipulator – the deceiver
  • the baron – the non-supernatural foil
  • the monster – in a traditional story, the dragon to be slayed
  • the foot soldiers – cannon fodder

For characters that come and go, interwoven amongst each other’s storylines within a twisty, turny story, it will be easy to lose my readers. In working through the second draft, I find I’m already there. Continue reading

Flash Fiction: An exercise in editing

This post is approximately 750 words, about as long as a typical flash fiction piece.

I discovered flash fiction a few summers ago. Seemed like the perfect way to churn out quick little stories that I didn’t want to flesh out further. I’m fan of O. Henry and fairy tales, both of which are often very short. For me, sometimes there wasn’t much story to tell, and that was fine. And with a word count of 500 to 1,000 words, it should be no problem cranking something out in less than an hour, especially for someone who’s been typing for more than half his life and finds himself bursting with ideas.

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So, oh yes, it was very easy to type quick stories: 1,200 words, 2,500 words, 5,000 words! How in the hashtag was I going to edit down stories of those lengths? Well, for the longer ones, I couldn’t. They would sit, untouched, until I had the time to flesh them out into longer short stories (the 5,000-word one has since doubled in length).

But the 1,200-worder posed a delightful challenge. I just needed to trim my story by 17% (yes, I’m an English major who likes math). That’s probably about what I should be looking to do with my writing anyways. In a story of this length, that was about two paragraphs. I reread the story, looking for a section to cut. And read it again. And again.

I was stuck.

Every paragraph seemed to drive the narrative forward. Every detail seemed critical. After all, why would I put in anything that wasn’t essential, especially when word count was a key consideration? I felt like I had laid a path with paving stones and was now trying to determine which ones to remove. At first glance, it seemed my smooth story would soon be filled with potholes.

All right. I’ll nickel and dime the heck out of it and see what that gets me. Continue reading