All Out of Ideas

The exciting cereal serial, Elf Blood will return in this space as soon as the antibiotic stops kicking my donkey around the block and this current book — aka Through Fire, aka the cursed book — is safe in the hands of my unflappable and much too patient publisher.

Right now in the home stretch of the climax (yeah, it was written before.  Twice.  But… trust me) I’m all out of wheat wit for a real post.  And in fact, this is no rye  lie, I’ve been dredging up things for posts.

To be blunt, the Hugo matter bores me.  I intend to vote and I’m reading the nominees, and waiting for my packet to read others, but I have no intention of devoting the rest of my life to discussing them.

In the end, what really matters is the writing.  Nothing but the writing.

So, in the tradition of the Super Fantastic Mad Genius Club Writer Formation Program I’d like to start another series on some aspect of writing (to run on Wednesdays as Elf Blood resumes Sundays.)

Send me your ideas, your thoughts, your craving for knowledge.  What do you knead need help with?  World building?  Character establishment?  Emotional connection to reader?  Action scenes (doctor heal thyself, if that’s what you want me to teach)? Color coordination for character outfits?  (I keed, I keed)? How to put sex in a book? (I don’t keed, but it’s complex.)

Shoot me your ideas, and I’ll endeavor to comply.

And now I go and kill a lot of people in a chapter or two!

That seacity is TOAST.



  1. OK, since you asked, a couple reader reviews where rather scathing on my lack of ability to put sex in my books. (Hey they’re urban fantasy procedural pieces, not everyone can be Laural K f’ing H.) so covering that would be great. On related how does one get a good author (like, oh say, you) to do a read for review of an up coming release?

    1. There’s an easy fix for that. Add a character that grows plants. Write d4 scenes per book of pollination.

    2. “Urban Fantasy without sex” is a rather under-served niche– maybe you should consider signaling it, instead of changing it?

      1. This was my immediate thought. The problem might not be a lack of sex but mistaken expectations. So the “fix” is how to telegraph “no or little sex” to those readers who might well like an urban fantasy without sex.

        Firstly, is there some other sub-genre label that would work instead of “urban fantasy?”

        1. I had the same thought, about telegraphing. In fact, in the book description when my stuff gets published on Amazon in a couple of months, I’m toying with the idea of saying something like:

          Not a cross genre Romance, nor a paranormal romance.

          But I need to make sure that won’t trigger “keywords” in those genres. I might have to settle for “no explicit sex”.

      1. I would point out that good, even great, authors do not always make even half way decent editors. Present company excepted of course. At best what you’re going to get is “here’s how I do it.” At worst you’ll get the response Spider Robinson used to give: “Thank you for the manuscript, but in future please refrain from the use of staples as they make me have to clean out the wood stove more frequently.”
        OTOH, if all you’re looking for is a quick comment for a blurb, sending an ARC with a polite note can’t hurt. Having a connection through mutual friends, interactions at cons, or participation here in MGC are all helpful. While many authors are not editors, nearly all are readers, so a new and entertaining book may just come at the right time for both parties.

        1. yes, I am indeed looking for a blurb. Editor I got (not a fast one, but an editor)

      2. OK, I’ll wait, it doesn’t look like the book is going to be past the editor in the next, oh I don’t know, EVER. Sigh

    3. I really don’t do any sex or kissy stuff in my urban fantasy either. I do allude to it, but it happens “off-stage”. Because.

      But a big part of that is what I like to read. Too much sex in a story and I fall out of the story and can’t get back in.

      On the other hand, well done scenes with swords flashing, large feline jaws crushing skulls, a sniper striking a target from 600 meters+, a large male werewolf and a smallish female wereleopard squaring off, heads being struck off, an incoming sword blade being displaced and the counter-thrust going deep, yeah, I like that stuff.

      I won’t win any prizes for sex scenes either.

    4. I think you’re confusing ‘urban fantasy’ with Paranormal Romance. Paranormal Romance has lots of sex in it (and that is what Hamilton is writing as well as UF). Now there is a lot of cross over between those two fields, but if you don’t want to put sex in, put a YA flag on the books, that would make it pretty clear that you’re not putting sex in there.

        1. I think that’s because a lot of the people reading shifter stuff came over from PNR, which is where the vast majority of shifter stuff is now, because few SF&F places will not publish it (too ‘furry’).
          So yeah, a lot of folks expect it to be full of sex, but I’ve seen quite a bit of YA shifter stuff with no sex in it that people seem to like.

          But I try not to look at reviews too much anymore, I got dinged by a person for one series being ‘XXX’ even though there is no on camera sex in any of the books. Which is why I really don’t read my reviews that much anymore, I just look at sales numbers.

  2. Character establishment and building a reader connection sound like things I am terrible with.

    If MC is in a terrible situation, feel bad for them is the easiest to write, is there a tutorial for that here? How about ‘woman in peril’, I’ve heard certain sorts complain of it as common and low brow; what is it and how do we write it? Could we get a tutorial of easiest and most complained of for frequency story types and how to make them work?

  3. I hear Larry’s gearing up to teach a creative writing class. I wonder if we could get him to do a series of guest posts on writing action. I imagine he could write those in his sleep. That way Toni wouldn’t kill us…

    I’d actually like, and this is – I think – beyond the scope of the question, resources for developing an eye for cover design, and the skills to put same together. My trouble seems to be that the ideas (fully formed covers, really) in my head don’t translate to the screen. I either can’t find the right stock pics or I can’t use Poser/Daz3D/whatever and GIMP/Photoshop well enough to get the ideas in my head onto my stories. Words? Sure, I can do words. Pictures though … well, visual art and I have a long and tendentious history of almost clicking. But not quiet.

    1. Sarah did a series about a year ago on covers. Still available over on PJ Lifestyle (

      More on composition once you have your artwork figured out (although she covered well what artwork is notwork for covers).

      Cedar Sanderson (I don’t think, I could be wrong) hasn’t done a “Covers for Dummies” series, but has some great resources on art.

      Failing all that, start writing things that can use abstract covers, then draft Wee Dave. I knew I was raising two artists for a good reason…

        1. Thanks, Sarah. Knew they were there – but yours were easier to get since I have your PJ Lifestyle articles bookmarked (everything else, I just go through the blog filing systems).

          A thought – instead of a link reference, perhaps an e-book could be indie published? Even just the members of MGC have a huge amount of material out there (I’m not sure how hard it would be to get rights to “reprint” PJ articles, but even eliminating those…).

          1. Ah, just had another thought for the idea bucket – book titling. I have a problem with that one, too. First thing to come to mind for that e-book was “Essays on Independence” – and it’s obvious that’s a non-starter…

            1. Please do – the whole series (not just the set on covers) was fantastic. Like I said, it’s permanently bookmarked on the Firefox toolbar.

              (BTW, the series was what pulled me into the orbit of the Evil But Beautiful Princess – I wonder how many others have the same?)

              1. Nothing firm yet, but there apparently if everything goes well (fingers crossed) will be much more to come at PJM including a series called Writer’s U

    2. Actually, I am taking the class from Weber State over the internet. If no one else does anything, I could try and give a class report (similar to a con report, perhaps).

      1. Yeah, please do. I would’ve taken it if it weren’t right smack dab on top of bedtime. (The Weber State people were really helpful.)

      2. Second call for class report, please. It’s scheduled perfectly for people who work 5-8’s, but not so much for those of us who work 4-11’s. (Really, almost nothing works for us. We just get to look wistful. )

  4. Maybe a series of crowd-sourcing resources?

    “Cheap or free legal picture sources.”
    “Cheap or free writing programs.”
    “Cheap or free backup programs.”

    1. Also maybe some guest posts where someone goes back through the archives and makes a list of various helpful posts.

      1. That would be nice. I keep thinking… Ooooohhhh… this is *good*… I’ll probably need this information sometime next August…

        1. Ha! I had it bookmarked. I forgot it was bookmarked though, which sort of defeats the purpose of the bookmark, but yes… like that. 🙂

          1. There’s a note-taking, source-preserving program called Zotero. It’s really for academics, but a lot of people use it for all sorts of things. It’s a browser extension, too, so if you find cool things you can save them.

            1. Also, there’s a pen that records the lecture and correlate it with the note you took. For my younger son those were life saving things, because of the sensory issues.

          2. Urk. I did too.

            Someday I will clean the bookmarks and organize them. Probably the same day I get down to less than 100 e-mails in the box…

    1. Where’s the fun in that?
      Q: How do you blow up a seacity?
      A: Violently, gloriously, with kinetic strikes from orbit.
      Pick one or all of the above.

    2. Q: How do you blow up a seacity with you in it?
      A: Carefully.

      Otherwise Uncle Lar probably has it right. 🙂

  5. A year ago I would have begged for something on how to do the opposite gender point of view. But now I’m doing a little of it.

    A year ago I would have died to see more about good character development, but I’m not the same writer I was then.

    One thing has stayed constant. I devour what established top tier writers have to say about writing. Not all of it is going to work for me, but I learn from it regardless. On the other hand, some of it will.

    In other words, anything you choose to share will be a winner as far as I’m concerned.

    Heavily in your debt

  6. Shoot me your ideas, and I’ll endeavor to comply.

    Lately stories in progress keep insisting on having strong romantic elements. This is an area in which I am utterly clueless–real life and writing both–and so feel very out of my depth in writing them. Handling “love scenes” escapes me. “Sex scenes” I can generally just elide over since the mechanics rarely matter to the plot, but that doesn’t work with the developing emotional relationship.

    So, some tips on writing the romantic element in stories would be helpful to me.

    1. Let me throw in one tip, if Sarah doesn’t. If you aren’t writing in the romance *genre*, don’t read those books for techniques on how to write romance or sex scenes. They have very genre-specific cues that romance writers use for shortcuts, but they don’t translate well outside the genre.

  7. I’d like to hear your thoughts on making characters people can relate to and empathize with. Not just the protagonists, but the antagonists.

      1. Knowing it was a grumble (and having made the same one, myself) you can’t. Fortunately, readers don’t notice. At all. Just skimmed a couple of pages of a Dresden File. Then did it again, trying not to actually read. Lots of “I,” and “me,” in there, but you just don’t notice it while you’re reading.

        1. I got dinged by a reviewer for too many personal pronouns–but I don’t think I used more than Jim Butcher.

          I think the reviewer just wasn’t into the story. Amazing as that sounds 😉

    1. You don’t.
      Don’t worry about it, it’s like ‘sayisms’ the reader ignores them as they read the story, as long as you don’t go ridiculously overboard with them.
      I like writing in 1st person, and have had my biggest success with that format, so I’m pretty comfortable with it.

    2. Thinking back to recollections of reading Heinlein’s Moon is Harsh Mistress, recall distinct lack of pronouns; also articles. Needed to have Russky accent in head while reading, but was quick adaptation.

  8. How about how to stay on topic with your blog. I just wanted to do engineering stuff, but it keeps going all OVER the place. I mean seriously. between the Hugo stuff and economics and the economy, along with looking for a job stuff the stuff I WANT to put in keeps getting delayed . I need to learn how to focus.

  9. Where does a chapter end? (Or can I just do like John Ringo and David Weber in We Few and call it all Chapter 1? No? I have to be that famous first? Well, drat.)
    How do I mix dialogue and the rest? Right now I write:
    for a block and then:
    Lots and lots of non dialogue stuff.
    I don’t think that’s quite what I want. Better than it used to be, when it was all lots and lots of non dialogue stuff with maybe three sentences of dialogue in fifty thousand words . . . I’m calling it non-dialogue stuff because it’s not necessarily just action or just description, but all the stuff that doesn’t go in quotation marks.
    And someone else asked about titles. Yeah, about that. Do I have to have a title? (This is why I always wanted to be traditionally published: I read authors complain about how editors change their titles, and I thought: Oh, I don’t have to come up with a good title. That’s someone else’s job!) So how do I figure out a decent title? Titles cue genre of book, right, like covers do? Are there rules for that? I figure any title I come up with is going to be bad, but if it can be better than disastrous that would be nice.

    1. Find a poem you like. Use bits of it for your title. I did that with one of mine (going on two, with the title of the second being from the same poem).

      1. Yep. When I’m fried, I’ll often lie in bed reading poetry with a notebook at hand. I have lists of these possible titles. when I need one I scan.
        But you can also search say “Dragon, poetry”
        Or “ship poetry”
        I just looked up Gun Expressions because there’s a haunted gun in my head and she’s not going away. So the first, probably short novel, will be Smoking Gun

        1. Other than Robert Frost, I hate poetry.

          Okay, I can tolerate some Longfellow. I’ll ask google.

          (Hating poetry is one of those things one doesn’t admit to in polite company. Fortunately, no one will mistake this crew for polite company, so I’m safe enough.)

          1. But they talk so purty! And the subject matters don’t even have to match. It’s like a metaphor or something. I’m using Housman’s Epitaph to an Army of Mercenaries, which is a celebration of the extraordinary courage of the British infantry. I took part of the bit about “their shoulders held the sky suspended.” A couple of other writers used it in books about airmen (which I was kind of bummed to learn right before I published, but I figured there’d be no confusion, and you can’t copyright a title (IAALBTNLA)).

            Epitaph starts out:
            These, in the days when heaven was falling,
            The hour when earth’s foundations fled

            So, there’s that bit that I’ll never use on a science fiction book, even though it would work really well at one point. Sigh.

          2. I have come to understand that Robert Frost is NOT the only person who can write poetry that makes some sense, but he’s definitely the most well known. Unfortunately, I have only seen others who are readable in passing, so I can’t remember their names, but I know they are out there.

  10. How do you STOP world building? Other than video game writing and tabletop RPGs (where the standards are up to my talent and the paycheck exists), I never actually get around to the writing part. But I’m not sure I want to. The world building is just too much fun. It’s all the stuff normal people enjoy: philology, biophysics, celestial mechanics, anthropology, …


    Heeeeeey Orc children! Grgnr here. I bet you’re wondering how I grew up to be such a mighty warrior! It didn’t come from eating toast for breakfast! That’s right. I was raised on elf blood. And now you can be, too! Did you know that when you pour milk into Elf Blood cereal, the milk turns into viscous, salty elf blood? And the milk helps build strong bones! For breaking those puny elf necks! Ask your mom for Elf Blood today! (Part of this complete breakfast. Contains artificial colors and flavors.)

    1. Could turn it into a virtue and just publish map books, travel advice, and anthropological snippets…

    2. Yes, one of my first attempts at a novel got derailed by endless worldbuilding. On the other hand, some of my later works were helped by me having some spare worldbuilding on hand to draw from when I wrote myself into a corner.

    3. I asked Brandon Sanderson that question, since I had a similar problem. His reply was that he has a personal rule: Half time worldbuilding, half writing.

    1. Get everything ready to write, open the document that absolutely has to be done, and don’t worry, the phone will ring and you won’t get to touch said document for a week. At least that how it works around Schloss Red.

    2. Write ten words. It makes you open the document. Anyone can write ten words, and you feel silly if you don’t. Of course, once the document is open, you write a lot more, but don’t think about that part.

      1. I suppose I’m really just afraid it won’t be as good on paper as it seems in my head. Of course if it never gets to paper, it will never be anything.

  11. Considering that whenever I read Gene Wolfe or John Wright, there’s an effect on my writing vocabulary, what is the difference between using the right word at the right time and sounding like I’ve mugged a thesaurus at gunpoint? (I write ::shudders:: fanfiction as “writing exercises” and a growing complaint is my vocabulary.)

    1. My mother gave me a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus when I was in sixth grade. I used to open it to a random page and read all the synonyms and antonyms for a word. I still sometimes define a word by listing synonyms when someone asks me what I mean.

    2. Oy. Right word should be used, but I actually have a vaguely annoying vocabulary and part of my work the last 20 some years has been toning it down.
      MAKE SURE the word expresses what you mean but it’s not difficult enough to hold your readers at bay. If reader has to put the book down and go to the dictionary, you then have to woo him back and pull him into the story again. This might not happen.

    3. If you’re copying the writer’s voice, find someone to read when you’re writing whose voice is so different from yours that you don’t pick it up. Alternatively, read in a language you are not writing in. Or embrace the tendency and read the style you want to emulate before writing.

      If you’re still using your own voice and it’s just that your vocabulary is too complex, maybe pretend you’re writing for children?

  12. Chapter breaks. How do we know when a chapter needs two scenes or more, or when one scene is a whole chapter? I’m reading the Honor Harrington books for the first time (yes, you may be jealous of me), and Weber will have two scenes separated by an asterisk in one chapter. I have done that, but now I’m wondering if I should.
    Is there a rule? I like rules.

    Every now and then my hiatus from heavy reading pays off. I have oodles and oodles of David Weber books ahead of me, and they are really, really addictive. Good times.

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