Category Archives: Creative strategies

Advice for a Writer? SHUT UP!

You got it: Shut TF Up when you’re networking and cocktail-partying and otherwise socializing with strangers.

Here’s why: Your job is to learn about human beings and translate their behavior and thinking and wackiness and wonderfulness and joys and sorrows and boredom and humor and pain and ecstasy and fear and anger and all that into the written word.

Your job is not to tell everyone you meet all about yourself.

The problem is, if you really are a writer or if you’re trying really hard to be a writer, you’re spending uncountable hours in your garret, laboring over a keyboard or a notebook. You are, in a word, lonely.

Lonely people get hungry for other people’s company. They get hungry for conversation. They long to tell someone else, anyone else, all the things they haven’t spoken in the past week, the past month, maybe even the past year. When you’re lonely, one of the symptoms is a deep craving to tell all.

Every tiny detail of all.

I’ve been there myself, yakking away til all of a sudden I realize my mouth has been going nonstop and no one around me has had a chance to say a word.

Right now two of my friends are in that mode: yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity oh please stop yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity excuse me… yakity yakity yakity really I… yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity I’m sorry but I… yakity yakity yakity yakity it’s been wonderful talking with yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity but I’ve got to get home and yakity yakity yakity yakity let the dogs yakity yakity yakity yakity out before they yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity shit all over the freaking floor!

It’s not just that this trait is boring and tendentious and maybe even rude. It’s that when you’re in the I’m so lonely I can’t stop talking mode you’re abdicating your job.

Your job is to listen to people, not to talk at them.

The trick is to come loaded with questions: the kind of questions that elicit stories from the people you meet:

That must have been an exciting time for you.
That must have been a difficult time for you.
What was the most rewarding experience you had as a rock climber?
What was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you as a police SWAT team member?
What was the funniest thing that happened while you were a grade-school camp counselor?

When did you realize your calling in life was to become a pole dancer?

The answers are the stuff of novels. It’s the stuff of writing. And when you ask people to tell you about themselves — instead of you telling them all about yourself — they love you. Suddenly, you’re popular!

Don’t talk at people: listen to them.
Don’t show off for people: watch them.

Pay attention. These folks are your bread and butter.

If you’re feeling lonely, go someplace where the whole point is to help people get over being lonely, or at least to let them yak. Join a focus group. Join a church. Better yet, join a church choir. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Join a book discussion club. Take up with a hiking or bicycling group. Become a Democrat. Whatever it is, make yourself UN-lonely for a few hours a week.

You need that time away from your garret, to be a better human being and to learn more about other human beings. But whatever you decide to do…

Shut up.

13 Kinds of Article Leads

Writers Plain & Simple has largely addressed fiction writing so far, mostly because one of my liveliest clients is engaged in a vast novel, and because on the side I’ve been scribbling my own little future history. So of course I haven’t carried on about details like journalistic leads. Yet.

But not all of us write fiction. Come to think of it, I happen to be primarily a nonfiction writer myself — all my published books are nonfiction, and I spent 15 years writing for and editing national and regional magazines.

So let’s take a look at a genre that can (in some circumstances) represent real, paying work: the magazine feature.

When writing a magazine article or blog post, you've got to connect with the reader quickly. Here are 13 ways to start a non-fiction article.Without going into a lot of detail about what a feature is, let’s allow that to engage a reader in taking on the task of reading an 800- to 3,000-word magazine article, you as the writer must connect with the person very fast — within the first few words you present. You do that in the story’s lead: one to maybe half-a-dozen paragraphs designed to draw the reader into the story and situate her or him in your subject.

Typically a nonfiction article has either a lead followed by body copy or, more often, a lead, a “nut paragraph” summarizing the theme or point of the article, and the body copy.

Let’s consider types of leads. Here’s a baker’s dozen for you:

1. Focus on a Person

Showing a person whose experience underscores what the story is about can humanize an otherwise dry topic or show the reader how the story’s information might effect her or him. Here’s a lead for a Wall Street Journal article that, despite being full of soporific figures such as market shares held by AT&T, MCI, Sprint, GTE, and United Telecommunications, manages to keep the reader’s interest by translating the numbers into human terms:

 When Paul C. Seitz was asked to pick a long-distance phone company last year, the 36-year-old accountant from Wilmington, Del., spent “all of about a minute” pondering his options. Then he chose American Telephone and Telegraph Co., the carrier he had always used. With AT&T, he explains, “I knew what I had. The other companies were question marks.”

 2. Start with an anecdote.

An anecdote is a mini-story with its own beginning, middle, and end. When it appears as an article’s lead, it should lead into the larger story by making a transition into the capsule statement (nut paragraph) or body of the story. To do this, it should make a strong point that underscores the article’s subject, or it should serve as a capsule statement in itself.

Marcia Stamell opened a service piece for Savvy about negotiating a severance package with this tale:

Late one Friday afternoon in 1982, Ellen G., an advertising account manager with seven years’ experience at a New York agency, was told by her boss that her services would no longer be needed. He gave her a check for two weeks’ severance and asked her to clean out her office. Ellen spent Friday evening commiserating with friends. She spent the weekend planning. On Monday morning, she returned to the company to present to the personnel office, in writing, a request for office space and six months’ pay. “My rationale was that two weeks was nowhere near the time I needed to find a new job,” she says. “I also wrote that after seven years, I deserved a better break.

She got the office space, but it took some negotiation with the personnel officer before arriving at a financial settlement of one week’s pay for each year of service, accrued vacation pay, and a specialized payment schedule of half-time salary over 14 weeks. the package was less than Ellen had hoped for, but it prolonged the steady flow of income and gave her a tax advantage. And it was as good deal more generous than two weeks’ pay.

 This anecdote leads into the nut paragraph, which explains that a growing number of nonunion workers are asking for and receiving sweetened severance packages when they are discharged from their jobs. Then the story explains how to get one for yourself.

3. Give an example or a series of briefly stated examples.

Often a short case history can illustrate a problem the story will address. This kind of lead is very popular with women’s magazines and health-care publications. Daniel Holzman, writing for Insight, opened a report on long-term health care costs with this:

“Pop had to be put in a nursing home at a cost to my mother of about $2,400 per month,” a man from Cicero, Ill., wrote to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, “and neither Medicare nor Medicaid could help because my parents had a nest egg. The law is without pity. Had my father lived for just two more years in a nursing home, my mother would have had to spend the rest of her life in poverty, but God called Pop to his eternal rest in one year, instead of two. My mother and I can never forget the terrible feeling of relief we had when Pop died. We can only live with it in shame. We loved him.

4. Lead with a quote.

Note that the lead above opens with a quotation. Many editors, particularly those with newspaper training, dislike a lead that opens with dialogue. However, they sometimes will go with it if the lead works exceptionally well.

5. Open with a rhetorical question.

This tactic is also problematic; many editors strongly dislike rhetorical questions, mostly because they can appear patronizing or may lead the reader to talk back with an answer the writer did not intend to elicit. A rhetorical question is one posed so that the writer can provide the answer.

When handled with skill, though, the rhetorical question can work as a lead, as it does in Homer Circle’s “Skamania: Indiana’s Super Steelhead,” which appeared in Sports Afield:

Which freshwater fish weighs an average of between 12 and 20 pounds, slams your lure with a hair-raising jolt, screams line off your reel with alarming speed, splits the air with slashing, leaping runs, and shucks free about three out of five times to leave you with nothing but a memory of it?

 The answer is Skamania, a very special steelhead found almost exclusively in Indiana.

6. Launch into a narrative.

The narrative lead (first this happened, then this, then this. . .) opens the story with a chain of events unfolded in chronological order, which carry the reader into the story’s substance. This sort of thing often appears in Reader’s Digest, as in Emily and Per Ola d’Aulaire’s story, “Falling from Mt. Garfield.”

It was 3 a.m. when Florian Ioan Wells arrived at the Parsley house in Seattle, Wash. The 33-year-old aerospace engineer had driven from across town, where his wife and daughter still slept peacefully. Craig Parsley, a 25-year-old environmental technician, had been careful not to disturb his wife when he blinked himself awake.

 Over breakfast the two men discussed their plan for that day, May 14, 1983. They were going to climb one of Mt. Garfield’s western peaks, a minor if perilous crag in the Cascade Range east of Seattle. For them it was a routine climb, and neither had bothered to pinpoint for his wife where he would be.

 As they headed in Craig’s truck toward the mountains, the two men talked about the importance of physical and mental conditioning. Both had years of climbing experience. Before fleeing to the United States with his family in 1979 to escape the confines of a Communist regime, Florian had been a member of Romania’s Mountain Rescue Team. Craig, a native Californian, had taken up the sport in the ninth grade.

 When they reached the mountain, the sky was cloudy and the temperature was 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Conditions weren’t ideal, but the men decided to continue on, hoping the weather would hold. Scrambling over rocks and through gullies, they hiked two miles to the climbing area. it was 8 a.m. when they roped up and started climbing the half-mile-high granite face that led to the 4,896-foot-high summit.

7. Set the scene.

In this approach, the writer establishes the story’s locale or circumstances and then puts the players in place. New York Times Magazine writer Stephen G. Michaud takes us into the office of forensic experts dedicated to recovering the remains of Argentine terrorism victims (“Identifying Argentina’s ‘Disappeared’”).

 On a warm November afternoon, four friends gather to talk in a windowless upper room of an old office complex in downtown Buenos Aires. One is a medical student; two have undergraduate degrees in anthropology and another is working toward one. Although they speak with measured dispassion, their subject is death, violent death—the kind only state terrorism can produce.

 “Generally, we find the victims’ skulls exploded and the bullets still inside them,” says Mercedes Doretti. As she sips her coffee, Alejandro Inchaurregui elaborates: “They used cheap coffins which quickly rot away. Also, sometimes we find their hands have been chopped of and mixed up with others.”

 “At first we were very scared, and this has been a very emotional experience for us all,” Patricia Bernardi says. “We knew as soon as we started, we would be marked. The police are always there, and I remember a day when one of them turned to a police doctor at one grave site and said, ‘If we had done it right 10 years ago, these people wouldn’t be here now.’”

 “They asked us all the time, ‘Why are you doing this? What kind of ideology do you have?’” adds Luis Fondebrider.

 Note the length of this lead and of the one that precedes it: four paragraphs each. Magazine leads may run longer than the one- or two-paragraph lead you see in newspaper features.

8. Lead with some striking, well written description.

 Before me is what looks like a small, serene idol. It is in fact a beautiful child, eyes outlined in black ointments, dark hair gleaming with mustard oil, relieving herself in the street. I try to move left but bump into a businessman’s briefcase. Nudging right, I’m nudged back by a bull wearing a necklace of marigolds. Pressed from behind by a piping flute seller, I step over the child as a bus blares up the narrow brick canyon, missing us all by inches. Within its coils of exhaust a man painted orange, carrying a snake-headed staff, takes form, nods at me, then vanishes behind a jostle of teenagers with stereo headphones working out their rock ’n’ roll moves. Pagodas that writhe with erotic carvings trust roof upon roof above the trees, where big bats hang like fruit. And above the rooftops pure white snow peaks reach upward toward the stratosphere. At the moment all I’m looking for is the local computer club—somewhere in the magic confusion of modern Kathmandu.

 With this tapestry-like imagery, National Geographic writer Douglas H. Chadwick introduces us to the sights, sounds, smells, and people of an almost unimaginably exotic locale in “New Forces Challenge the Gods at the Crossroads of Kathmandu.”

9. Flash an odd, unusual, or outrageous statement.

 HENDRICKS COUNTY, Ind.—Detective Michael Nelson is walking a beat with one foot in the Twilight Zone.

 So Wall Street Journal reporter Alex Kotlowitz launched a story about a cop who covers the witchcraft beat.

10. Or pose a surprising contrast.

Often you can point out that although things may look one way, they’re actually something else. Donna Fenn set an old chestnut against reality to open a story for Inc. on mousetraps through the ages:

 “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the woods the world will make a beaten path to his door.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Emerson had it all wrong. If you make a better mousetrap, chances are you will be completely ignored by the public at large and destined to labor in obscurity. Such, at least, was the fate of many a hopeful inventor how took the philosopher’s advice literally.

11. Address the reader as “you” in the first few sentences.

This device is common and easy. Diane Hales uses it to open a McCall’s story on “How to Say You’re Sorry.”

You snapped at your husband, kept a friend waiting for an hour, forgot your sister’s birthday, wounded a co-worker’s feelings. Now you’re sorry, but you don’t know how to express your regrets. And you’re wondering why making up is so hard to do.

12. Skip the frou-frou and open with the capsule statement.

Gary Graf’s story in Air & Space., “Putting Mars on the Map,” opens with the nut paragraph: the statement of what the story will be about.

 Through the 1960s and ’70s, a series of space probes took off from Cape Canaveral on picture-taking expeditions to Mars. Today the pictures are yielding information that will end up on maps of the planet’s surface. In the 21st century, Earthlings landing on Mars won’t worry about getting lost; they’ll arrive with maps of the sort familiar to legions of Earthbound back-packers, maps with “U.S. Geological Survey” printed at the bottom.

13. State your opinion.

Journalists are rarely asked for their opinions, except when they write a review or op-ed piece. Even in those cases, unless one is a recognized authority on a subject, one should avoid trumpeting one’s bias up front. But in an instance that works, two publishing industry consultants, DeWitt Baker and Jim Hileman, excerpt their report on “College Publishers and Used Books” for Publishers Weekly.

 The world of college text publishing is populated by many highly dedicated and talented people. The difficulty is that in important respects the whole does not seem to equal the sum of the parts.

Making Time to Write

Writing tips - How to make time to writeLast week New York Times editorialist David Brooks held forth on the daily habits of famous writers, the implication being that if you want to be a famous writer (or even an infamous writer), you would be well advised to establish a regular schedule that devotes a set period to the work. Or, if you prefer, to The Work.

Plumbing the depths of Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Brooks reports that Maya Angelou arose each morning at 5:30, had coffee at 6:00, and then would set off at 6:30 to a hotel room she rented as a kind of office. There she would write from 7:00 a.m. to 12:30 or 2:00 p.m.

Anthony Trollope, on the other hand, would set a goal of 2,500 words a day, to be accomplished at the rate of 250 words every 15 minutes.

The examples are a little extreme. But the fact is, if you want to become a Writer with a Capital W, the number-one thing you have to do is apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. And you can’t do that when you’re trying to accommodate other people’s schedules or working around all the “I’d better get this done first” demands you set for yourself.

Some years ago, my department at Arizona State University, at the time called American Studies, brought a speaker to harangue us — sorry, make that “advise” — about strategies to help crank out the articles and books required to achieve tenure and, once tenured, to manage promotion to full professor.

He urged us to carve out a small window of time three times a week in which all we would do is work on the writing project. We did not have to write. We could research. We could plan. We could outline. We could think. But whatever it was, it had to be related to the project at hand.

The time didn’t have to be long: even fifteen or twenty minutes. A half an hour would be good. An hour at most. Over time, you might extend it to a couple of hours. But don’t overdo it, he said. In any event, limit the time to a specific period, scheduled for a limited number of days per week.

This strategy has several advantages:

1. It allows you to keep the spouse and the kids at bay. If they know that at a certain time you’ll be at their beck and call (again!), they’re more likely to leave you alone for the time you’ve set aside.

2. Three hours a week, while not much, is three hours more than you would work on your project otherwise.

3. You can work up from a half-hour or an hour to an hour or two, giving yourself six or more hours a week — again, time you wouldn’t otherwise spend on writing.

4. Working regularly on creative work primes the creative pump. Weirdly, when you work a short time on a creative project, set it aside, and come back to it, you find yourself coming up with all sorts of new ideas. As Brooks puts it, “order and discipline are the prerequisites for creativity and daring.”

All of it is easier said than done, especially if you’re self-employed.

Obviously, if you have a regular job, you can find regular times in which to work: 5:30 to 6:30 a.m., before you have to get the kids out of the sack and yourself ready to go; or 10:30 to 11:30 p.m., after the kiddies are put to bed and the dishes are washed.

By contrast, when you’re self-employed work comes in irregularly and deadlines can be erratic. Sometimes you need to put in 14+ hours a day to get the job done. New tasks come in, clients get squirrely, new business must be hustled, meetings must be met. When on earth do you find time to do your own thing?

Well, you don’t find it. You have to make it. Got a 14-hour day? Either add another hour or two for your writing schemes, or make Tuesday a 16-hour day so as to break free an hour or two on Wednesday.

Personally, I tend to prioritize my creative work over my clients’ work. At some point, I decided I get to have some time of my own to do what I want to do. Selfish, yes. But creativity demands a certain degree of ego.

Up at 5:30: answer the e-mail.

6:00 to 6:30 or 7:30: write. Or at least think through the project.

6:30 or 7:30: Walk one to two miles, with dogs if weather permits.

7:30 to 8:30: Breakfast, coffee, read paper.

8:30 to around 2:00 p.m.: work.

2:00 to 3:00 p.m.: Prepare and enjoy full dinner-type meal.

3:00 to 4:00 p.m.: Siesta time! Rest and regroup. Take time to think about creative work, characterization, action, or organization and approach to nonfiction or editing projects in hand.

4:00 p.m. to 6:00 or 7:00 p.m.: Work. Answer e-mail.

7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.: Work as necessary, but spend part of this time blogging (Funny about Money, Writers Plain & Simple, while ogling Netflix.

10:00 or 11:00 p.m.: Walk dogs, if it was too hot to take them out in the morning.

What it boils down to? If you wanna be a Writer, you’ve gotta work. If you’re gonna work, you need to make time to work.

(And, once you’re ready, we’d love to talk to you about editing your work. Just contact us.)

The Plot Outline: Do You Write a Formal One?

Plot is the background of a piece of fiction. When you write nonfiction, you’re building something similar to the fiction story’s plot: an organized narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end, whose fact-based rising action leads to a high point and falls off in a resolution. It is, in a word, your work’s organization. A fictional work has — or should have — much the same kind of structure.Notecards5

So here’s a question: do you write down a plot outline and dutifully follow it, or do you juggle your story’s direction in your head?

And, as long as we’re posing questions, if you have a written outline, what format does it take?

When I was a working journalist, I usually would crank a brief story out of my head. Of course, I knew where it was going and what it would cover, but, often working on short deadlines or for low pay, I wouldn’t or couldn’t take the time to map out a formal outline and put it in writing.

But sometimes I would. It depended on one (or both) of two things:

  • How important I felt the publication or the story was; and
  • How much I was being paid.

notecards6If it was a fairly complex story, an important subject, a high-quality publication, or an unusually well-paid assignment, then I would go to some lengths to refine and polish the organization — the story’s “plot” — in writing. This might take the form of a rough topic outline or a tree structure (a type of outline that sometimes works well for so-called “visual” learners).

But if it was a very long and very complicated story, with a lot of interviews, a lot of observed facts, and a large amount of research in primary and secondary sources, then I would follow the example of My Hero, John McPhee. As he is reported to do, I would use notecards coded with keywords, which I then could lay out in the order I thought I might use the facts, quotes, or whatever, but which easily could be reordered as needed.

For the fiction enterprise, I got in the habit of sketching out ideas for coming action in notes at the end of a chapter in progress or in a separate Word document. It helps for remembering little insights and bright ideas.

But it’s not very efficient.

Recently it struck me that one of those Word docs full of ideas and notes was beginning to resemble a plot outline. I’m about ten chapters in to what probably will be a 25- to 30-chapter novel. The ten chapters in hand aren’t in order — there are gaps, and they represent several subplots.

Those gaps and uncertainties, I realized, could be wrangled by transferring the material to notecards. This makes it possible to shuffle chapters around, to move them from one section of the line of action to another, and to add or delete items easily.

So I ended up with something I called a “timeline.” It’s not exactly a plot outline, at least not yet: at this point it’s just a rough chronological arrangement of imagined events. The events in the timeline are narrated in the chapters.

Each event in the timeline has a notecard, numbered and color-coded in blue-green ink.

Notecard1Each chapter also has a notecard. These are color-coded in magenta ink — easy to distinguish at a glance) and also coded for their specific place in the timeline, shown on the chapter’s timeline card.

Notecard3Each chapter card also bears, in brown ink, a note of which subplot the chapter contributes to. Chapter 2 is a series of vignettes, and so it contributes to several of the novel’s subplots. Whether this last flourish will ever be useful, I don’t know…but it can’t hurt. Could come in handy someday.

The segment of the action shown on Timeline Card 1 comprises four chapters showing the homeward journey of a group of war bands. Longer, more elaborate notes reside in a Word document — these notecards with their coded notes (such as TL 1) point straight to the relevant section of that .docx file containing the details.

Notecards4,jpgSo this stack of about 40 cards (so far: it will grow much larger) amounts to a kind of movable feast. It simplifies keeping track of the action, and it also makes adjusting or even hugely reorganizing the plot fairly easy. And it’s tactile: something you can handle and shuffle around.

I’ve never tried to use something like this for fiction. Should be interesting to see how it works.

Processing Words…Writing Words

Does WHAT you use to write with fundamentally change the creative process?Friend of mine urges me to try a word processing/layout program called Scrivener. A former teacher and now an IT dude by profession, he’s reinvented himself as an e-book formatter, and his serendipitous combination of humanities and tech makes him pretty darned good at the job. Though he’s writing a book on e-book marketing, he’s not, first and foremost, a writer.

Personally, I’m not nuts about learning a new word processing program. I already know Word, thank you — or Wyrd, as we’re wont to call it here at The Copyeditor’s Desk, applying the Old English cognate for the modern “weird.” Nor do I feel a craving to learn a new layout program. Some years ago I did take courses in InDesign, but must say that all those layers and processcolors and liquid layouts and the like made my head spin.

Years ago, when desktop PCs first arrived in retail stores, I started with WordPerfect. Loved it. Then went to XyWrite: really loved that, because one had to learn DOS commands to run a PC in those days, and XyWrite was a pure DOS program. It was easy, fast, and powerful. Then when it became evident that MS Word was becoming the industry standard, I migrated over to that.

The word processor brought radiant light into my scrivening life. I just flat out hated the typewriter. I’m enough of a perfectionist that every error — there were lots of them — would break my train of thought. Even after I became a journalist, I simply could not compose on a typewriter, because I never could get through a paragraph without interruption. So I would write everything out longhand and then type it and then, of course, have to retype it…usually thanks to the accursed Smith Corona, which had a habit of scootching your sheet of paper crooked while you were typing the last line at the bottom of the page.

As cumbersome as this process was, it had a peculiar benefit: it forced me to write at least two and often three drafts. By the time the copy went to the editor, it was as good as it could get.

Then, mirabilis, along came the word processor. Lordie, what a revolution! Suddenly, all those typos that blight my typewriting skills no longer mattered. They weren’t wasting paper. They weren’t wasting my time. The characters and the words and the sentences were just little glowing lights on the screen! You could fix them with a keystroke: good-bye to erasers that carved a hole in your page, to waxy erasable paper that smeared if you touched it, to goopy Wite-Out.

I now type very fast, indeed, with relatively few errors (none of which matter because they’re so easy to fix). And I compose almost everything I write on the computer.

But… Here’s a question for you: Does word processing fundamentally change your creative process? Are you doing something different, intellectually and creatively, when you compose on a computer than you do when you’re writing out words with a pen on paper?

For example, one effect of the word processor is that it allows you to edit your work on the fly, so effortlessly that you hardly notice what you’re doing. I change words and phrases and entire sentences as I go, and because the deletions and insertions become the text, they’re invisible when I go back over the copy for another rewrite.

Some time ago, I got the hot idea that I must draft part of a work I was writing in longhand. Oh, how I missed the tactile feel of the paper under my hand, the barely audible sound of the pen scribing its way across the page! So I imagined.

So, out came a yellow pad and a pen.

Wrote about three pages, then got up to fix lunch or some such. It seemed to me that it took forever to get through those three pages. But it was a creative work, not a journalistic or scholarly piece, and so…OK. Dreaming stuff up out of whole cloth takes time, eh?

After a time, I returned to my desk and took up the yellow pad again.

What I saw, going back over my work, was a MASS of strike-outs, scribbled insertions, struck-out insertions replaced by worse scribbles, whole lines struck out with new insertions in the margins, arrows dragging in paragraphs from another page…it was damn near illegible!

This, thought I, will never do.

So I schlepped it into the office and typed it up in Word.

To my surprise, the copy was pretty good, once I’d transcribed it. But transcribing it presented a challenge: I had a heckuva time just reading my own writing!

So. Discovery the first: writing creative copy longhand creates…a mess. But the mess may be just as good and possibly better than what comes out of a word processor.

Parked at the computer, I continued writing. And interestingly, now the passage that had me stuck came along smoothly and productively. It felt as though I’d jump-started the stalled creative engine by changing the medium in which I was writing.

Discovery the second: Switching from word processing to handwriting — or vice versa — may prime the creative pump. If you’re feeling a little writer’s block, try shifting to a different writing medium.

I do think a slightly different creative process is going on. With handwriting, you’re physically forming the characters and the words and the sentences in your distinctive style, unlike anyone else’s. It feels more like “art” and less like industrial production. With word processing, you’re seeing a uniform product pop up on the screen — characters in a professional-looking font, arranged in tidy units of sentences and paragraphs. The blots and blotches no longer besmirch your page: error disappears without a trace.

Though in either medium you still have to think through the facts, the ideas, the rhetoric, the presentation, you’re engaging a different set of ancillary skills to get them down on paper (or “paper,” in the case of what you see onscreen). I think that actually changes what you do, inside your head, when you write.

Maybe I’m wrong. Your viewpoint?

Models: Where Do Your Characters Come From?

Writing fiction - Where do your characters come from?Where do the people in your fiction come from? Do you even know where they came from?

I have to admit that sometimes I have no idea. Fire-Rider, the first of several soon-to-be-published stories of an invented world in the far, far future, teems with characters who bear no resemblance to anyone I’ve ever met or even read about. Homicidal warlords and foot soldiers, powerful ruling women and their sister wives, a boy prostitute and a prosperous madam, a tribe of young refugees unhomed by ceaseless wars, a woman hunter and trapper, the foreman of a vast ranch-like estate, a healer who’s also a warlord, a wandering teacher and bard…whence did these people arise?

Athena springs from head of zeus

Athena springs from the head of Zeus

Well, out of the writer’s mind, obviously. Often I think that each character is a fragment of the writer’s consciousness, some part of her or his own personality in some way hidden until it pops out, full blown from the head of Zeus, and materializes in the form of a new (albeit imagined) human being.

Other times I think, “That is just not possible!” These people do things I have no experience with; they know things and say things that I could never know or say. I have to do hours of research to envision some kind of understanding of their world, their lives, and their loves.

Is there ever a real-life model for such characters?

Hapa Cottrite

Hapa Cottrite

Occasionally. Just now I’m writing a chapter in the first-person voice of a character who’s a kind of public intellectual, to the extent possible in a time when almost no one can read or write — that would be the wandering teacher and bard. After Hapa Cottrite coalesced in my imagination, I realized that he resembles one of my editorial clients, an international banking CEO and long-time ex-pat with a sharp mind, broad curiosity, and zest for living among foreign peoples. Once that dawned on me, I began to model Cottrite explicitly after this man, to the extent that their moods, outlook, and even physical appearance are similar.

But most times, there’s no visible connection between a character in one of my tales and a real-world human being. They don’t resemble anyone I know, because no one I know lives in a reimagined analog of the European Middle Ages amalgamated with life in medieval Mongolia.

Probably they’re modeled on what I know about life in the medieval period and about the world-view of people who inhabited that world. That’s considerable: before I finished the doctorate in late Elizabethan and early Jacobean English literature and history, I wanted to specialize in the medieval period. So, I took quite a few upper-division and graduate courses in medieval literature (this stuff comprised both British and continental works, because my undergraduate major was in French). And I still edit scholarly works of medieval history.

Some pretty heady stuff went on during those times. And it was weird. If you or I could magically step through a time warp and come out in 1250, we would feel like we’d landed on another planet. That’s how different those people were from us.

William the Conqueror and his two half-brothers

William the Conqueror and his two half-brothers

So I suppose you could say the Fire-Rider characters are sort of “modeled” on what I happen to know of a typical medieval warlord, informed to some extent by what I’ve learned about Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan’s time. That’s pretty broad. And since no two of these characters are the same, it’s hard to say where their individual personalities came from.

The women’s roles, however, are completely re-imagined and warped. Never in human history have women, aristocratic or otherwise, done what Fire-Rider‘s women do. In their cases, I’ve had to invent, invent, and re-invent. Even to imagine what they look like, to say nothing of what they get up to, requires a great deal of focused, concentrated work.

Maybe we could say, then, that our characters come out of our experience, learned and observed, and out of our invention, purely imagined.

Or maybe they spring from the head of Zeus?

When you’re ready for an editor or publisher, contact us.

What to Do about Writer’s Block? Part 4

Another idea on how to get over writer's block!This is the fourth and last — and maybe the strangest — suggestion in a series of suggestions for dealing with writer’s block.

Have a conversation with one of your characters. Imagine that he or she can see you and is persuaded to speak with you, and ask for an explanation of some aspect of the person’s experience, thinking, or belief that you don’t understand.

[The time-traveling writer:] So. Would you tell me what’s bothering you?

[The protagonist:] I’d have to sit down and have a drink and think it over. [he  looks at her reflectively. he’s considering the possibility.]

Have some of this. [she offers him her boda]

[he takes a swig] That’s very nice. Smooth. What is it?

Just red wine. It’s from…the south.

Ah. They do make some good liquor down there.

Well, take a seat and have some more.

[he thinks for another second, then decides to accept. he sits on a rock next to her and sips at the wine. then he passes the boda back to her.]

Care for some imp? [he pulls a pipe out of his vest pocket and begins to pack it with herb.]

Is it very strong?

No, this is mild stuff. Daytime smoke, hm? [he picks up a twig, lights it in the campfire, and puts it to his pipe.]

[she watches as he lights the pipe and inhales deeply. he smiles, holding his breath, and passes it to her. she takes a toke and hands it back to him.]

So. What’s eating me? I don’t know. Everything and nothing.

Does it have to do with the fight?

Of course. I don’t like to lose my men. And — well, Robin, that was pretty…pretty bad. Little Guelito, too — just a boy. What a… Well, it all seems so wasted.

There’s more to it than that?

Yeah, I suppose.

Like what?

I don’t know, woman. It’s hard for me to put my mind to it. I can’t really…it’s like I don’t have the words to explain it.

Well, would you try?

I don’t know. Nothing seems quite right to me any more. At the base. It’s as though everything that we…all the reasons that we do things? They’re wrong. Or they really aren’t reasons. Or there really aren’t any reasons at all. Do you understand?

Sort of. Like what reasons? What reasons that you do things, and why are they wrong?

Why are they wrong? For the same reason that there aren’t any ghosts. They’re just not true. I don’t think. . .I don’t think that a god who wants us to kill everyone around us, who wants to take our Brez — his son, hm? — to kill him at the end of a few years of leading us, I don’t think that’s much of a god. I mean, what kind of a god would do that? And what kind of a god would let people — no, make people — suffer the way they do? Why would a god give us sickness and pain before we die? Make us die in terrible agony? It just doesn’t…you know, I don’t think I can believe in a thing like that.


Does that frighten you?

No. I just thought… Well, I thought that was just the way your people explained things. It’s a pretty harsh world, after all — so there must be a harsh god behind it.

Well, it’s not a very good explanation, is it.

I don’t think so. But I’m not one of your people.

No. I can see that.

So. You can’t buy the Hengliss version of god. Can you buy that there’s a god at all?

I don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be much logic behind things, when you look at the world…that way.

No. It’s chaos. They say there’s order in chaos, though.

Who says that?

Some people who… Well, they died a long time ago. And whatever they said, it’s been forgotten. What about the Espanyo idea of god? Does that make any more sense to you?

Nope. Less. You know what they think.

Not really.

It’s superstition. All the silliest blather. Ghosts and saints and three-headed deities in singing chariots and angels and devils — my god!

But maybe what the Hengliss think is superstition, too.

That’s right.

Hm. What about the Udanites? Do you know anything about their belief?

Yeah. It’s…different. But different doesn’t make it right. In fact, maybe the fact that they’re all different makes them all wrong.

I see. Is that the main thing that’s bothering you? A crisis of faith, as it were?

What does that mean?

That none of your religious beliefs — the things you were brought up to believe — seem to fit any more.

Ah. Yes. That’s part of it.

But is it the main thing?

I don’t know.

Nary a word of this fantasy exchange ever made it into the novel’s narrative. But it informed my understanding of the character, and that understanding drove the narrative in ways that showed the character acting on or questioning his beliefs. Taking time to write something that wasn’t part of the novel but let the character speak for himself, off the record, made it a lot easier to move forward with the narrative.

This and the ideas suggested in my last three posts are only a few of the many strategies a writer may use to deflect writer’s block, revive the creative energy, and get on with the story.

What’s your weirdest or silliest strategy to deal with writer’s block?

Writer’s Block, Part 1
Writer’s Block, Part 2
Writer’s Block, Part 3

What to Do about Writer’s Block? Part 3

Interesting way to get help with writer's block.Here’s a third suggestion for coping for writer’s block — part of a four-part discussion.

Describe the setting or action from the point of view of one of the characters, not necessarily the one whose point of view is represented in the scene under construction. Example:

Ottavio Ombertín had never seen so many tents as filled the glen where the raiding bands were based. Shoved along by the Hengliss man, he passed several tunnel-like affairs covered in hide and canvas. Here and there stood smaller dome-shaped shelters, six or eight feet across. Horses grazed complacently, hobbled or penned inside a circle of parked wagons. A few men lounged or puttered near smoldering campfires. Some greeted the Hengliss with calls that sounded like musta qué or ku’na. Pine needles sighed. A pair of jays commented on their passage. Somewhere far off young voices shouted and bantered as a group of friends threw a ball around a makeshift ha-lo court.

Tavio scarcely noticed these things. It didn’t occur to him to remark on the gathering of tents. He no longer registered much, except for the screaming.

They stopped before one of the domes. The Englo said it was his lodge and sat Tavio down on a flat rock near the fire ring, which flanked a second lodge nearby.

Then the man turned away, picked up a pot, filled it from a bucket, and hung it off an iron hook staked over the fire. From a canvas sack, he pulled a couple fistfuls of grain, which he sifted through his fingers into the heating water.

None of this, either, was observed very closely by Tavio. He huddled on the stone, his eyes cast down. He saw that his right foot was bleeding, but oddly, he felt no pain. He put his hands over his ears to block out the sound of the screams. Yet when he did, he could still hear them, Tisha especially, her voice shrilling a note he had never heard before and then shrieking for her mama. A shadow fell across the ground. The Hengliss was standing over him.

You may never use this material. Or you may use some of it, either whole cloth or much massaged. But it will give you some insight into or purchase on what’s going on, and that may be all you need to put your Jeep back in gear.

Have you written passages that you never used in your fiction, for the sole purpose of clarifying characterization, setting, backstory, or the like? How did it work for you?

Writer’s Block, Part 1
Writer’s Block, Part 2

What to Do about Writer’s Block? Part 2

Tips on getting over writer's blockThis is the second installment of a four-part discussion of ways to handle writer’s block. The first post appeared yesterday.

Remember that gold is a soft metal. Your golden words are malleable — NOT graven in granite!

Regard what you’ve written as draft at all times. Never stop revising. And be aware that it’s a lot easier to revise and rework than it is to choke out brand-new creative content. Just get it down on paper. Or on disk. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Not the first time around, not the second time around, not the third time around.

Knowing that you can always jimmy the copy, add to the copy, cut the copy, totally change the copy makes it a lot easier to get something out.

Just write it, and don’t worry if it isn’t perfect.

Chapter 1, Take 1 (or Take 2 something like that):

It should feel good, Kay thought. Watching this happen should feel good. He ought to feel back-slapping, hollering, falling-down-drunk happy, or at least for God’s sake like raising a swig of whiskey to the moment.

He and his cousin, Mitch―Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos―stood atop a promontory, just a low butte, actually, about a hundred feet tall, and surveyed the battle’s aftermath. Fallon, still clad in his leather chest armor, saw them climbing up here. He followed and joined them a few minutes after they stopped at the bluff’s edge. When he reached the two, he shook Kay’s hand, punched Mitch on the shoulder, congratulated them on a fine day’s work.

And the men had done a day’s work. Together the three looked out over the scene. Hengliss allies―Okan and A’oan marching under the Okan brez, Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel―had taken the town in three weeks flat. It was an incredible feat. Roksan, the principal city of their principal enemy, should have been impregnable. But they had shown it was not. Now the men, scruffy irregulars, most of them, pressed into duty by the obligations of their betters and not because they knew much about soldiering, spread over the plain before the burning town’s gate. No one down there seemed to suffer any qualms. Their noise reached the hilltop as unruly hubbub like a huge outdoor party gone too far in drink. Men laughed and shouted, a few surviving women squealed as the boys had their fun with them, horses and wagons rattled around. Guys compared plunder, traded booty―some had set up open-air markets to trade or sell the loot they’d carried from the city before the heat pushed them out.

A brown and gray pillar twisted upward toward white clouds that galloped before a chasing wind, and Kay knew the smart breeze would keep those fires going until they had done their job. The place would burn to the ground before they smoldered out. The flames would leave a pile of ashes, maybe a few blackened rafters, charred bricks. And scorched bones.

Fal, wiry and saturnine, his dark beard and mustache trimmed as if to cut down wind resistance, offered his boda to the two older men. They accepted the liquor cheerfully. The drink passed between them while they gazed at the scene below.

“Beautiful sight, isn’t it?” Mitchel remarked.

“Oh, yeah,” Kay said. “That it is.”

“Must do your heart good.”

“You bet.”

“How long has it been for you?” Fal asked.

“Twenty-eight years,” Kay replied.

Chapter 1, Take 5 or 10:

Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells rarely gave himself over to speculation. If on this good day you had asked him how the Hengliss tribes came to see themselves as one being, a living organism whose limbs and body and soul formed a single piece—or even if they did—he would have laughed. He would direct your attention to the pillar of smoke twisting skyward where Roksan burned, and he would turn your question obliquely around. He would ask you, then, had they not, the bands of Okan and A’o fighting as one under the Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel, had they not done a fine thing?

He passed the lambskin flask that was making the rounds among several companions to Jag Bova Mayr of Rozebek. Bova, a chunky flaxen-bearded northerner whose heft made Fal’s long, wiry frame look slight by comparison, lifted the boda in a friendly salute, swigged its unrefined contents as though he were taking a deep drink of water, and passed it to Kristof Mayr of Oshin.

“That was one hot maneuver you two pulled inside them gates,” Robin Mayr of O’a remarked to Fal. A slender, muscular young man with a smooth chestnut-colored beard, he accepted the boda from Kristof and lifted it vaguely in Fal’s direction.

“Mostly Kay’s idea,” Fal said. He shrugged as though he’d had little to do with the swath they’d ripped through the defenders in the long chaos after the Hengliss had breached the enemy city’s entrance.

“Bull!” said Jag Bova. “He couldn’t have done it by himself. And I’ll tell you—when he takes them kind of ideas into his head, I’m sure as hell glad I’m not the one who has to fight on his flank.”

Fallon laughed with the others. But he was glad, too, that it wasn’t Bova. He wouldn’t have traded his place at Kay’s side for any honor the brez could dream up.

“He had his reasons for going after the bastards like that,” Kristof remarked.

“Must have felt damned good,” Robin added. “If it’d been me, I’d have tried to squash every cockroach I could catch.”

“Yeah. Well, we just about did that,” Fal said. “Not too many of ’em left in there.”

Even where they were standing, a mile away, heat from the fires burning the sacked Espanyo city reached them. It took the chill off the cool air that drifted down the distant snow-covered Achpie and Serra peaks flanking the wide bottomland along the Wakeen Ribba.

“Ain’t none of ’em gonna crawl out of that place no more, no how,” Robin agreed. He passed the drink back to Rozebek.

Bova raised the flask to that, and they all murmured their appreciation of Robin’s whiskey-laced profundity.

“There goes your kubna with his cousin now,” said Bova. “Looks like they want to get a view of the doings.”

By “your kubna” he meant Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek, the man to whom Fal, Robin, and Kristof owed their first loyalty. The cowndee of Rozebek belonged to the house of Puns, and Jag Bova served its kubna, Rikad of Puns.

They watched Kaybrel and Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos stride through the festive troops gathered on the plain before the burning city. Kay was carrying his leather helmet in one hand, his silver-streaked hair flowing loose around his shoulders. To Fal’s eye, he looked tired, but the others didn’t see that. The two kubnas cleared the mob and headed toward a low butte that rose above what had a few hours earlier been a battlefield. They disappeared around the side of the promontory, seeking the gentle rise up the hill’s backside.

“How long has it been for him?” Robin asked.

“What? Since Moor Lek fell?” Fallon read meaning into Robin’s question. “I think he said…no, it was the kubnath who said that. Maire said it was twenty-eight years ago this spring.”

“Twenty-eight years! She wasn’t even born then, eh?”

“Neither were the rest of us,” Fal replied, and what he said applied to everyone there but Jag Bova, the only man among them to have reached his early thirties.

Lordie! I must’ve been listening to Willie and Toby singin’ Whiskey for My Men when I scribbled that version.

Sometimes if you can’t move forward with the new writing, going back and revising material you already have will help. Notice how radically different Take 2 is from the first effort: a different character’s point of view, an entirely different set of characters with the protagonist taken off center stage, facts presented in a slightly different context through the mouths of different characters, and a different kind of characterization of a central figure.

I’ve found that every time you rewrite a scene from beginning to end, it improves. Often, even very small changes — a turn of phrase here, a gesture there, a detail or a word choice — have a large effect.

Have you had that experience?

Writer’s Block? What to Do?? Part I

Writer's block -- what to do?Students and scribbling friends have occasionally asked, over the years, for ideas on how to handle writer’s block. It’s not something I had much problem with, at least not as a working journalist, and so I have to confess to emanating a few glib answers:

Visualize your byline on the “Pay to the Order of” line on the paycheck.
Imagine your editor’s response when you call to say you’ll be late on deadline: “Bye!” Once and for all.
Write a letter to your mom describing all the things you learned on assignment. The story will write itself after that.
Go play with the cat.
Pour yourself a (glass of wine, cup of coffee, can of soda).
Go for a walk.
Quit with the drama already and get down to work!

Those of us who write on deadline for pay rarely suffer from “writer’s block” — there’s no time for it — and so for years I doubted it was for real. But once I began to write novels, I realized that fiction is one heckuva lot harder to write than nonfiction. So much so, in fact, that you really do reach impasses where you know what you want to say (you think) and you think you know what your characters are gonna do and you can envision the time and the place and the action but it just won’t come out in words!

Disturbing. What to do when this happens?

It’s occurred a number of times during the writing of the Fire-Rider novels, and especially in Book II, which is in progress and which carries the characters and the action home from the battlefield and into new, more sophisticated psychological and moral territory than they traversed during the swashbuckling Book I. I’ve actually been reduced to having to think, of all the despair-inducing shockers.

Several chapters are written in the first person, from the point of view of a character named Hapa Cottrite, whose journals, in the series’ larger conceit, are the source of all we know about the people of the dark ages from which he writes. Cottrite: he flummoxes me. He’s smarter than me. His insights are sharp and closely observed. But he’s an outsider, and I’m not sure how much he understands, how much he intuits, and how much he could be expected to misinterpret or even to know nothing about. Meanwhile, because he’s an outsider, the other characters’ responses to him are multifarious and sometimes unpredictable. I’m almost scared of Cottrite.

None of this is conducive to fluent writing.

Nothing makes it easy, but a few strategies have come to hand. Let’s start with one today, and move on to others in the coming posts.

Enter notes, no matter how fragmentary, at the bottom of a chapter or scene. Use these as cues to help jump-start the narrative and keep it rolling around.

The current problematic scene has Lhored, the local boss of bosses (he’s the equivalent of a medieval king), visiting the widow and two sister wives of one of his followers (Mitchel), who was murdered while catting around a town they visited after a disastrous battle with the enemy. She is a potentate in her own right; her young adult son is a chip off his father’s block, not an altogether flattering comparison.

Lhored of Grisham Lekvel and two of Mitch’s followers arrive at Mitch’s castle; word of Mitch’s death has preceded them. Braced to answer her questions and to make some difficult explanations, they offer their sympathies. But…but…THEN what? And where is Mitch’s son?

She nodded patiently. “Let’s sit down.” She waved us all toward the fine leather and wool chairs and benches that populated the hall. Lhored was directed into a comfortable armchair and I was seated nearby. The three women pulled up smaller chairs to make a conversation circle around Lhored, the two mayrs, and me. Food and drink appeared, borne by two [women who look working class] and a young boy, and we were all served, solid stoneware dishes a luxury after our weeks of eating off tin plates.

“You’ve heard the news we bring,” Lhored began.

“Yes. We heard before Mak’s men reached Rittamun. One of the outlying herdsmen brought word a couple of days ago.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

She let this rest briefly. “They say he didn’t die in battle. Can you…will you tell us how this happened?”

Lhored looked pained. This, he had said more than once, was the conversation he dreaded, and here it was upon him. “Bett,” he said, “we don’t really know.”

Zzzzzz…. Okay, you can’t be exciting every moment. Move on, move on!

Notes at the end of the file:

[what is going on here? What is Hapa observing? Move forward into some other part of this chapter and then come back here. This piece is going nowhere!]

What’s going on here? Darned if I know. Start writing some other part of the chapter? That’s a possibility. Then this comes to mind:

[Lhored is about to speak when Lenn shows up. Lenn is surly, aggressive, and obnoxious. He demands to know what happened to Mitch. What was he doing out there alone. Then he demands to know why they let him go out alone and D says he tried to go along and was rejected & the others say that’s so. They work their way around to saying HC was sent as a gift from the seeyo; they’d probly better tell them about the elaborate funeral and the loot first.]

 All right. Let’s try that. It’s better than working, anyway. I guess. {sigh}

The front door opened, letting in a beam of light, and someone was heard passing through the vestibule. A tall, slender young man, about seventeen and still beardless, entered the hall. Dressed in work clothes and boots, he pulled off a pair of riding gloves and offered a hand to Lhored, who, with Mak and Jode, stood to greet him.

 “Grisham Lekvel,” he said, accepting a firm squeeze on the shoulder from the brez. “And gentlemen: thank you for coming. Mother,” he addressed the kubnath, who remained seated, “sorry I’m late. We were working the stallion up on the other side of Nole’s Butte. I came as soon as Wood let us know you were on the way up the road.”

 “It’s good to see you, Lenn,” Lhored replied. “And it’s good you were able to be here.”

 He gestured as though he was about to introduce me to the young new kubna, obviously Mitchel of Cham Fos’s son, but Lenn interrupted.

 “Lhored,” he said, “let’s get down to business. What the hell happened to my father?”

Meji gasped softly. The other two widows glanced at Lhored expectantly. Jode and Mak looked on, stolid as ever.

 If Lhored was annoyed or otherwise perturbed, he didn’t let it show. “He was murdered,” he said.

 “Yeah, so we’re told. How did that happen? And who did it?”

 “He died on a street in Lek Doe. Apparently the killer was a thief that jumped him.”

 “That doesn’t make any sense. My father would take out anyone who tried to bring him down.”

 “He probably didn’t see the guy come up on him. It was stone dark that night.”


 “Mm hm. We think it was pretty late. He’d been out on the town. And he was in a lane where all the shops were closed.”

 “Come on, man! What the hell was he doing out in the middle of the night, on some godforsaken back street in Lek Doe where nothing was going on?” Behind him, Bett sent Lhored a narrow-eyed [CAUTIONARY? GIMLET? PIERCING? SHARP???] look and shook her head, almost imperceptibly, no.

 “We don’t know, Lenn. He must have gotten turned around and lost his way.”

 “How the devil could something like that happen? Who was with him?”

 “No one.”

 “No one? What was he doing out there?”

Lhored regarded Lenn while he let this set for a second or two. “He was celebrating, lad. Far as we can tell, he’d just come from a saloon.”

Salon was more like it, I thought. Liana’s place did let the liquor flow, so one could call it a bar. Sort of.

“Celebrating? If he was partying, why wasn’t anybody with him?”

Progress made. Very, very slow progress. This took all afternoon to gag out. At least we’ve got some conflict going on, between the “king” (as it were) and the surly young son of the deceased potentate, heir to his father’s rank.

We haven’t gotten around to the delicate matter of why Mitchel refused to take anyone with him when he went out for a night on the town — he was haunting his favorite houses of ill repute — nor have we explained the potentially explosive matter of why Hapa Cottrite is present: he was sent by the town’s governing councilors as a kind of “gift” to express their regret at the loss of a powerful and dangerous warlord. But at least we have something in glowing little computer characters.

Do plot outlines, scene outlines, or just random notes ever help you to get past a low spot in your writing?

The passage above is draft material for a yet-to-be published sequel. But the story of what happened to Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos appears in the third Fire-Rider volume. Order a print copy here, or download the Kindle version from Amazon.

3 Homeward Bound

Blank book image: Shutterstock, © 2016 Evgeny Atamanenko