A thing of many weak parts united into an object of strength… No, actually, I’m not talking about a novel. I’m talking about a light steel construction shed. A kit which the engineers say is cyclonic rated. Of course, it could have something in common with a novel, but generally most novels have at least one strong component. Based on what I’ve spent the last four weeks doing, that’s only necessary because most authors are not engineers.

This may (or may not) be a good thing. It is, however, in the same sense that Mount Everest is, and Alma Cogan isn’t (this for those of you deficient in Python is called ‘logic’. It is quite rare.).

Look, the point I’m trying to make is that in ‘light steel construction’ the entire structure does not fall like a house made of frozen Kleenex hitting its first warm breeze, because some smart bloke has calculated that folds, bends and the inter-relation of the other pieces (also folded, spindled, bent out of stuff closer to tissue-paper than steel) actually is quite strong – but only because it has been treated in specific way, and connected to other bits.

I have been reliably informed (well, my mate told me. That’s better than CNN) that it is not just inertia and the sheer weight of hex head cut screws that keeps it upright (and square!) but that in a house of cards sort of fashion the 2000+ and bolts and roofing screws just make sure the pieces act on one another. That’s why we spent so much time putting them in and taking them out – because there was yet another piece to get involved, or those screws needed to be pan headed not to interfere with the cladding aka folded Aluminum foil (yes, I wasn’t very impressed with the quality of the materials.).

But I will grant that once up it looked remarkably sturdy and did not rattle in the slightest in 50 mile an hour gust. Now part of that may owe itself to the brilliance of the engineers. Or to meticulous precision of the guy putting it together (I was just his off-sider, most of the time. I’m not that precise.) But the end result was a very good 775 square foot shed –with a perfectly flat concrete floor, which cheerfully shrugged off the issues of a gale force wind.

Believe me – especially after seeing the flimsy crap we started with, that’s enough for me to take a few valuable life and writing lessons from. A structure, be it a book, or a light steel shed… is not as strong as its weakest part. That’s only true if that weak part is unsupported. If the other elements don’t mesh with it. It needs Lots of elements all working in concert (or at least screwed together). It’s also true that the craftsmanship (and willingness to take it all apart and do it again, to change, to alter, to get RIGHT) is going to make a lot of difference.

It’s also been an interesting experience for me, as I haven’t actually taken time off writing – more than a day or two, which I try to accumulate word-count ahead for) for… about 20 years. Social media was also majorly curtailed because we started at around 7.30 AM and didn’t usually knock off for more than 10 minutes to eat, and worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, for four weeks – from raw bush to completed building. Now maybe it could be done faster (but not as precisely) if we’d either had proper plans (the shed plans were written by a moron) or known how to do it.  But it amounted to long hot hard work, and – other than one short and the Monday MGC posts, and some proofs… no writing work. I honestly don’t know if this will have a good or bad effect.

I know I was exhausted with writing.

Now I am just exhausted.

In trying to catch up on the writing world doings and mishaps I see Chuck Wendig lost his writing job, apparently for foul-mouthed abusive twitter rants against half (or more) the audience that don’t share his left-wing politics. Hmm. As that’s been sure route to promotion and being one of the Dahlings for the last couple of decades no matter how tepid your skill, he must be a little puzzled. He reckons winter is coming. That’s odd, as it feels like spring to me, here. I wonder if it is the tide that is finally turning – something I have predicted for years.

We’ll see if it spreads.


  1. He’s like some of the barns around here. The roof sheeting flaps in the wind, bang bang bang, and the day after a storm you see it all peeled back like the lid of a can of beans.

  2. Thing is, engineers can trim down the shed materials so thin because engineers have a pretty good idea of their properties, and of the loading that the shed might see.

    As a design, stories have a lot more uncertainty, which seems to be driven by variation in the audience. Strength of a story element seems to match to audience size in some nonlinear way. Sacrificing audience size to save on a story element is not a good design choice. Why? a) Unless you have developed your skill to have a very cheap storytelling process, the cost of a working story is very high, and incremental costs of design variations within that are low relatively. b) If an engineer is competent enough in design, most creative writing is not going to be cost effective compared to engineering. You would have to be very bad at getting and engineering job for creative writing to be the best form of income, and until very recently being that bad would also mean that your creative writing income would be nil.

  3. Also, cyclonic rated made me immediately think of a tornado where I heard tell of a survival story involving hiding in a bank vault. So I measured the shed against that, knew it would blow away, and assumed you were talking about flimsy construction. So it took me a bit of careful reading to know that you weren’t talking about that, or design trade offs, but about matching the story elements to each other. In structures, an element with a lot of strength and stiffness compared to the other elements can tear the structure apart under loading.

    It took me a bit to get that cyclonic rated involved some standard calibrated to a mild intensity of tornado.

  4. Hmm, getting all those scenes screwed together correctly, and not leaving any major plot threads flapping in the wind.

    I like this engineering approach to writing. Of course, I don’t have much in the way of plans or instructions . . . Let me check box, might have overlooked something . . .

    Dave–it’s not a vacation from writing, it’s research! You know that somewhere down the line your Explorer Scout is going to be setting up his base camp on a hostile world . . .

    1. … and the instructions for the new safety/all-weather shelter will be less than complete or helpful… (or they sent the instructions for the wrong model.)

      1. Wrong model is too easy. There are how-to-write books I’ve dismissed entirely. It’s the ones that are just a little bit off for how you write.

    2. “Alright, it’s done. Finally!” Scout Harris pointed proudly, if with a bit of lingering frustration, at the newly-assembled shelter.

      “Then what’s with those pieces here?” his colleague asked, gesturing to the rods holding the instruction booklet down and pen.

      1. *snicker*
        My daughter and I just finished putting together a filing cabinet … and there were extra screws and dowels left over.
        No really important pieces, though.

        1. I purchased some kitset shelving last year, fairly easy to put together even if I didn’t have instructions, but the instructions they came with were *good* (they only left out one thing IMO, specifically “when trying to tap these bits into place if they don’t just slide in, use a tool, as the metal may cut bare hands).

          Specifically, rather than being written by idiots, they were written *for* idiots (including “if you plan to have a shelf at a different height from that proposed in these instructions, make sure all relevant studs are in the equivalent slots”).

          “Instructions for idiots” may be insulting to the intelligence of those who consider ourselves smarter than that, but they may also help us catch things we’d overlooked (though I wouldn’t mind if instructions came with more of “and this is why you use this piece or put it here” information.

          1. Doing something new is a little stressful or confusing, which can mean fatiguing or taking far longer than it really should. Which can easily result in idiocy, even in people who are intelligent in normal circumstances.

        2. Some kits come with extra bits, so you won’t have to stop it you lose a screw or two.

          It is better to figure this out ahead of time, and possibly to put the extra parts in a safe place.

          1. No! Not a safe place. Nothing put in a safe place is ever found again! Put it in a KNOWN place. Safe places are worse than the vortex that eats dryer socks.

  5. Always be aware and take special care in the construction because building members can be incredibly vulnerable to damage until fully attached. Goes for story elements as well.
    As for Wendig, it’s sort of reassuring to see that one thing we can always count on is that eventually the left eats its own.

  6. An interesting metaphor. I’ve definitely run into books where one element was extremely weak, but I kept reading because of the strength of the others. Arguably the early Song of Ice and Fire books were that way: they’re almost all horrible people who should be nuked from orbit, but the plot was so interesting I enjoyed them anyway. Several of the Heyer books I’ve read have been the opposite: her characters have buoyed extremely week plots. I want so much to continue hanging out with the Carylon brothers that I’m willing to pretend that the heroine’s marriage to a guy she had never met or even heard of before at midnight in a random room at the inn would of course have been legal.

    Any thoughts on how to screw your weaker elements to your strong ones to make them work? If some writer, say like Zsusza, knew she wasn’t great at description and setting a scene but thought she had pretty good characters, how would this hypothetical writer make use of that?

    1. The hypothetical writer’s instructions would say something like,

      (Step 1) Check every scene to make sure the location is mentioned fairly early in the scene.
      (Step 2) Think of sensory inputs–colors, tastes, smells, feels, sounds, etc–and see if you can put one or two into every page.
      (Step 3) Check your dialog tags, and see if you can instead use “stage directions,” and move the characters around the area.

      Example: “I don’t like winter,” she said. Or: She paced across the drawing room to stare out the window at the bleak gray trees. “I don’t like winter.”

  7. I know that the plan is to keep MGC relatively neutral and professionally focused so I’ll try…

    It’s new and different in this internet age, that the unwashed rabble are exposed to the actual persons of the “creators” in our midst. Part of me wants to insist very strongly that it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter in any sense if one of those “creators” is a personally unlovely human being. And I believe that for everyone. I’d go as far as to say that outright criminals ought to be able to both create and sell. (I gave up the notion of “cooties” sometime before 5th grade.) Certainly the outright criminals ought to be in jail while they do it, but in jail or having served their time, what benefit is it to me or society to make a show of how I won’t read a book written by a felon? I’d eat a melon grown by a felon. Why wouldn’t I?

    Or why would I rather that a person with prejudices not be allowed to research and cure cancer? I think I’d rather be cured and put up with someone who’s a dick than NOT be cured by people who are Very Nice. Why take someone who is otherwise not a contributor to the betterment of mankind and insist that they not contribute at all?

    And also, it’s one thing to say that someone who’s got a Very Bad Attitude and is generally a hateful jerk might not be very good at creating but… objectively do we have any actual reason to think so? Okay, all arguments about wobbling spaceships aside, clearly some people like the style. Just a tiny bit of historical knowledge ought to bring up multiple examples of artists who were known for being assh*les and yet produced incredible work that is considered the best over hundreds and hundreds of years afterward. Not that being a personally objectionable or obsessed person will make anyone brilliant who isn’t, but it clearly doesn’t stop brilliance either. And in the end quality of work (or more properly *merit*) ought to win out.

    So why have we rushed headlong into this era of extreme social paranoia and thought policing in the arts? Oh, sure, being professional rather than the opposite is always a good choice, but combining the personal so profoundly with every tiny (or not tiny) aspect of people’s public lives is a very stupid standard to insist upon.

    In short. It’s wrong.

    (Though I won’t feel personally sorry for Chuck until someone shows me evidence that he opposed retribution and consequences for unwelcome “free speech”, because I’m relatively certain that he was part of the mob with pitchforks and torches just yesterday.)

    1. Counterargument, I can be a rather vicious sort, that sometimes seems likely to spill over into my creative projects, and I have no information about how they might be received in cases where I was being particularly ugly. I think it may be possible to be so eaten up by wickedness that it poisons the art.

      1. Yes. But it’s not a surety such that a person could say, look at Bob, he’s nasty, we can know that what he creates is nasty. It’s entirely reasonable to judge your work, to say that it’s just bad or whatnot, or if it’s good and your perspective is revealing something true even if horrible.

        Very nice people create really awful art often enough. Judge the art.

      2. “I think it may be possible to be so eaten up by wickedness that it poisons the art.”

        Any. Hollywood. Movie.

        The exceptions lately are -all- Marvel comic book movies.

    2. “So why have we rushed headlong into this era of extreme social paranoia and thought policing in the arts?”

      Censorship is very convenient for the faction that controls the censors. For every Chuck Wendig that gets fired for being a gigantic dick on social media, how many writers quietly never see the light of day for being Conservative? I would guess a lot, given how Lefty things tilt these days.

      Its the New Rules. They insisted that people would be cast under the bus for expressing incorrect opinions and ideas, so Chucky gets to be under the bus. Personally I find the whole thing utterly retarded, but I am not the one out there screaming that people must be removed from public life and die poor.

      I much prefer to let the market decide these things. If a man makes an ass of himself in public long enough and loud enough, the Invisible Hand will smack him. No need for me to bother.

      1. I think that’s one of the things I get most frustrated over. There’s “consequences” and the “Invisible Hand”… you know, market forces. And then there’s this… thing… that is excused because “private company – not censorship” or “no one is protected from the consequences of their free speech so we should hound them and get them fired.” Mobs and pitchforks and harassment of employers… nothing “invisible” about that.

        But what is a good way to articulate the difference?

        (Always understanding that Rules are Rules and if we’re going to have them then they darned well ARE going to be applied to EVERYONE.)

        1. Julie said: “And then there’s this… thing… that is excused because “private company – not censorship” or “no one is protected from the consequences of their free speech so we should hound them and get them fired.””

          Witch hunt. The whole SJW belief system can be balled up as magical thinking, so having witch hunts is right on-point for them.

          But since even SJWs don’t really believe the crap that they say, it is all down to factionalism and naked hatred.

          They’ve decided anyone not in their club is fair game for destruction, and they’ve decided that any and all tactics are justified. False accusations of sexual assault, beating old ladies on street corners, lying, cheating, stealing, intimidation, threats of rape and murder, SWATing, actual murder, all these things are now acceptable for Good Lefties to do to Nazis. Meaning us. We’re the bad guys here.

          In that environment, companies like Disney which are full of SJWs have to be careful. They mostly get by on intimidating employees into shutting the hell up, with some carefully orchestrated Two Minute Hate action internally, to give the snowflakes someplace to vent their overpressure. Mr. Wendig lost his job for making Disney/Marvel look bad, in a way that they can’t afford. They privately applaud Chucky for his zeal, and I’m sure he’ll end up with a new sinecure somewhere because he’s Of The Clan, y’know.

          Bottom line, there’s no separation between the social media companies, the Old Media, Hollywood and the US DemocRat party. They’re all connected together in one big ball of self-interest. That self-interest is currently threatened by the American public.

          People like to blame Trump, but he’s a surfer. He’s not the wave, he’s just riding it. The wave is the whole population.

      1. Right? ~:D I’ve been using it since 2.1 or something. I still have it running my jukebox in the barn.

        Because that’s where Canadians put the good stereo system. The barn.

          1. Acoustics, no. ~:D

            Steel building, concrete floor, machines all over the place. Its the perfect echo chamber with nodes and loud spots, booming bass that reflects off the concrete. About as bad as one expects to find in a warehouse dance club.

            The good stereo is in the barn because that’s where I am all day.

            If it was a -wooden- barn with animals, then it would probably sound amazing. But no, its a steel barn filled with half-finished projects. I’m great at starting, less good at finishing.

  8. I just put together a fireplace. All of it – except the firebox – came packed in a flat box. It was brilliantly engineered to get a large number of fireplace styles to come apart flat and use the same instructions – which were only diagrams, no words at all. Sturdy as all get out when put together. A few scary moments of weakness in the middle.

    All the peg holes and screw mounts probably made it more expensive to manufacture, but I assume they make it up on shipping costs.

    Downside: Fireplace ads are following me around the intertubes.

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