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Making Your Gut Into A New Heart


Okay, it’s not New Years, yet, but I won’t see you till after New Years.

It’s been a very tough year.  Very tough.  It started with relatives dying, took some turns into odd personal health stuff.  I ended up on Prednisone… 4? times for massive auto-immune attacks mostly brought on by stress.  There were other things (including relatives health) adding to the stress, to the point sometimes I felt I was going to pop. Read more

Spaceship Chimneys

Merry Christmas, one and all! I hope you all got as much wonderful coal in your Christmas stocking as I did!

Yesterday I had a Christmas call from my son and daughter-in-law –from the UK where they live in the future (and you all thought that was Australia). I know it was the future, because they’d just finished their brandy butter with a little Christmas pudding on the side (My son’s theory is Christmas pudding is a penance to make up for the joy of brandy butter, sometimes called ‘hard sauce’ – maybe because it is made with hard liquor? Couldn’t be because it is hard…)

Actually, my daughter in law is on duty at her hospital on Christmas day, so they were having Christmas dinner together, early. When you sit down at yours – spare a thought and raise a glass for those who will be working this Christmas, away from home and celebrations. Doctors, nurses, soldiers, fireys, the guy-wot-fixes-electrical-outages, even volunteer ambulance officers (yes, I am on call for it.) Without them… celebration would be a much more risky time, quite possibly, nothing to celebrate.

Anyway, among other things, to much laughter from the kids, I was describing my adventures in solo construction. I explained how I had to lift the shed with a crowbar to put in the floor-joists, and trifling inconvenience of having a small shed on edge balanced on your crowbar – and trying to have extra limbs to move the floor-joist framework… It’s amazing what you can do with your feet, and how long your arms can be… And just how inclined to slither just out of reach things can also be.

My son said: “Dad, have you ever tried NOT building something roof first?”

I said: “Son. I’m a writer. I wouldn’t know how to do that.”

Which has a bonus point of being a true statement throughout.

I mean, it is perfectly normal for writers to construct a great, big, heavy, overarching thing, which has to hang in the air exactly the way bricks don’t. Then they scramble about with crowbars, inappropriate bits of lying around timber and pieces of firewood, to try and stop it descending with a sickening crunch, probably on top of them.

The problem being –as a writer—that if you can’t build that roof, then the floor, walls, bearers and struts, wiring and plumbing are pretty useless. You don’t if the roof can be built until you build it complete. Pantsers – those who write by the seat of their pants, are possibly inclined to build at least one wall. Well. Sometimes. Maybe. Plotters definitely get the whole framework hanging in the air, before indulging in walls. I would say plumbing was ALWAYS an optional extra, which probably accounts for the constipated look common to most award winning authors.

Still – your stories will stay up better if you add walls and trusses and bearers and the like. Computers and word processing make it possible to do later. And a chimney is almost essential! Even on your space-ship.

Why you ask?

Duh. Trust me on this. I’ve been a stand-in for Santa a few times, and squeezing down air-conditioning pipes plays havoc with a beard. Chimneys are much better.

Ok, gotta dash. A friend’s asked me to fill in on a few little delivery jobs, bringing good cheer and all that. Remember to put out a coconut macaroon and a glass of rum… uh a mince-pie and a glass of sherry. Ho ho ho…

And remember, Christmas Spirit is not JUST what you drink.

Peace and goodwill to all.

So: Merry Christmas again, and good writing to you!

Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Emotional Matters

December and January tend to be rather… fraught where I work, and this year is proving no exception. So far we’ve had a server crash, a critical bug that only surfaced with a very specific set of unusual data, and – inevitably – someone screwing up in the kind of way that causes everybody else (aka me) a ton of problems. And we’ve got a month or so of peak time to go.

Yeah, I’m just a tad on the distracted side, although to be fair, when am I not?

In any case, today’s thrilling installment of the Extreme Pantser’s Guide is covering writing emotion and some suggestions for doing a better job of it. As always, this was written several years ago and has not been edited. I’m just reposting the thing.

The Pantser Body of Knowledge: Emotion and how to make it happen

Oddly enough, emotion is something a lot of pantsers have trouble writing, and I’m no exception. I think it’s because many of us feel the emotions of our characters as we write them, with the result that we see more on the page than is actually there.

It’s rather an odd thing: first we have to feel the emotion ourselves. Then we’ve got to depict it well in print. After that, if we did it right, someone we’ve never met reads our book, and feels the same emotion we started with.

The key to the transition is words, and powerful words. For instance, if you use the word ‘yawn’ a few times in a scene, you can guarantee that a high proportion of your readers will start yawning. That’s one of the best known trigger words. ‘Itch’ is another one. Describe the crawling skin and maddening, prickling itch of an allergy rash, and your readers will be trying not to scratch – and often they’ll be feeling itchy in the same body part where your character is itchy.

This, fellow pantsers, is applied, even forced, empathy. Our goal is to make other people feel the way we do, using only words.

So how?

People-watching is good for this, as is taking note of how people you know respond to emotions. There’s always going to be a layer of social conditioning on top of the human-universals: if it’s not done for men to cry in public – or at all – then your male character suffering terrible grief is going to try to divert it into a socially acceptable channel. If women are expected to make with the waterworks at any moment, then your female character probably will. And so forth.

There are a whole lot of physical cues you can use to depict emotion. Someone shuffling along with slumped shoulders and head bowed is certainly tired – maybe even weary. Add quick gestures to wipe their eyes, and you have someone who is utterly miserable and wants to be anywhere else.

Nervousness and fear will show in things like more sweat (which smells different than normal exertion-sweat – it’s stronger and sharper), dry mouth, agitation as adrenaline starts flooding their system. They might wipe their hands on their clothes, because their palms are sweaty, and they could press their hands flat on something so they don’t clench into or onto the nearest object. It’s an instinct thing: scared people grab something to hang onto and hold so tight their knuckles show under the skin. Often they’ll go pale: that’s the fight/flight reaction redirecting blood flow towards the muscular system to better enable explosive action.

Happiness shows in walking straighter, with a bit of a bounce to the step, shoulders back a bit, and open and relaxed kind of posture. You don’t even need smiles – those are usually to signal to someone else that you’re happy.

These are all external cues, things someone else will notice. There are plenty of internal cues as well, things you can use without stating the emotion involved.

Your character’s chest aches, his stomach clenches, and his heartbeat increases: he’s probably scared. His eyes burn and his throat closes on him: grief. His muscles are tight, his heartbeat increases, his teeth clench and he wants to clench his fists: anger. Everything feels light, heartbeat is slow: happiness. His face gets hot, he wants to dig a hole and pull it in after him: embarrassment.

I’ve personally found that emotion cues best when I don’t actually mention the emotion in question, just describe its effects on the character who’s feeling it, and in many cases their attempts to deny that this is what they’re feeling (usually because in the spirit of ‘things get worse’ they’re in a situation where giving the emotion in question free rein would get them killed).

Here’s an exercise for those who have difficulty getting emotion across: write a short scene (no more than a page) from the point of view of someone feeling an intense emotion they can’t allow anyone else to see. Now give that scene to a friend to read. Afterwards, ask them what they thought your character was feeling. If you’ve done it right, your reader will have the right answer. If not, ask what your reader would have expected someone feeling that to do or feel – and try the piece on a few other people because there’s always the chance you’ve been getting feedback from someone weirder than I am who totally mis-cues emotion. (If you have the misfortune to totally mis-cue emotion, find people who will tell you what the emotional cues should be for the emotion you want readers to feel, and build up a reference list of them. Aside from anything else, it will let you pretend to be like everyone else and possibly save you a lot of trouble).

As always, read books where it’s done well and take mental or actual notes on how the author does it. Sarah is excellent with this, as is Terry Pratchett particularly in his later books (Snuff has several magnificent examples). If you’re looking for strong emotions that are kept beneath a socially acceptable façade, you can’t do much better than Georgette Heyer (A Civil Contract has possibly the best example of a woman desperately in love with someone – and never once lets him see this because she knows it would repel him).

I don’t necessarily recommend pumping your friends for information about how it feels when their spouse dies or some other tragedy occurs – although if they know you’re a writer, they might well know to expect this – but do observe how they react. We’re writers: we’re going to observe and take mental notes anyway. The whole time I was driving (1500 miles, two and a half days) with a broken ankle, I was mentally taking note of the way the way my foot swelled up, the nature of the pain – the burning under my skin that made me whimper, the flashes of white and the nausea if I didn’t have the foot absolutely straight when I was hobbling around, how it never ever stopped hurting, just fluctuated between bearable and uncontrollable whimpering… all of that – and how I responded to the whole ordeal.

The more emotion you can show through character action and physical cues, the more chance your readers will feel it too. And that should always be the goal.

Give Yourself License to Fail

notes-514998If you’re like me, you were raised thinking that everything you did had to be perfect.  In my case, it had to do with upholding the family reputation and position.  Our family was an old one, and “we always did well in school.” and “We were always the best.”

The stupid thing is that I believed it.  Perhaps all children believe that type of thing.  My oldest cousin in the family didn’t do well at all in school and in fact barely graduated high school.  And my beloved cousin, who was raised as my sister, though she eventually got a degree in chemical engineering, struggled with her studies and compensated for what I’m now convinced was mild ADHD with a never end of work.  I knew this, because I could hear her, (her room was right above mine, with only Victorian ceiling and wood floors between us) study her lessons aloud late into the night.  In fact, she repeated them so much that I memorized the out-of-context information.  Her studying of the fly for biology sparked in me a life-long love of reading about weird creatures.  (The strange part is that I don’t write aliens.  Ah!)

And yet I believed I’d be the best — no, that I SHOULD be the best — without study, without effort.  And I was deeply mortified when I failed at this.

In a way it kept me from taking a more challenging academic course until I was already committed to language and literature.

Of course, it also kept me studying like crazy after that — finally remembering my cousin’s example — when I realized if I wanted to enter college, let alone finish a degree it was going to be difficult.  Despite my facility with English and my ease with French (Partly because I started French at 11, I think, but also because as soon as I could I had French authors I enjoyed reading in their native language) I did NOT have a native talent for language.  In fact, like my cousin learning her science courses, it took a lot of insane work, and was probably harder than if I had gone into STEM which came much more easily to me.

If you’re following the drift above: we are not all of us born perfect, or with the ability to do everything better than anyone else.  What a funny world it would be. Forget about all children being better than average.  All adults would be the best at something, and devote their life to it.  I imagine some poor sap would be the best at folding socks and all the socks in the world would be sent to him.

One of the hardest things I have to do when mentoring is dispelling the myth of talent, the myth that as a raw beginner, you’ll be perfect right off the bat.  Or that you should be.

In years of mentoring (in this field it often starts before you’re even published) I’ve found only two people who were “naturals” and wrote at a perfect level off the bat: one never finished his novel, the other gave up after her first published work failed to become the next Harry Potter.

I’m not saying that talent doesn’t exist.  It does, and it comes in varied amounts.  But out of hundreds of people, I’ve found two who could write publishable, professional novels right off the bat.

Because writing isn’t one talent, or one skill.  Writing is everything together.  It’s not akin to learning to play an instrument.  It’s akin to conducting an orchestra.

There are other talents, smaller, not mentioned here because though they can be a delight, they rarely carry a novel-length work.  But the talents I’ve identified that can carry a novel even if the rest of the work is crap are the following: Language, plotting, characters, setting.

I grant you that a talent for setting has trouble carrying a novel, but if you make it appealing enough it will draw people in to live in it, and only after finishing the novel will they realize it has neither plot nor characters.

I was given two gifts: the first is the most useless of all, not because it doesn’t impress people — it does — but because it’s both the most common and the one that can actively trick you into making your novel well-nigh unreadable.  Yep, language.  I can use beautiful language, revel in it.  I love historical forms of English, and it took me years to figure out that even my lawyer friend struggled to read the Shakespeare trilogy.  Count that under “let it trick me into making it less readable.”  If I’m tired and let go, and particularly if what I’m writing is a short story (like, An Answer From The North, say) what emerges is an elaborate prose poem.  This is acceptable as a short story.  Some people can do it as novels.  But you’re going to lose some portion of your audience.

The second is characters.  I don’t base them on anyone, and I take no credit for them.  They walk onto my page living, breathing and sometimes shouting orders or warnings.  They are what they are.  I don’t have to worry about developing them.  They do that themselves.

The problem with that is that I was so fooled by their realness and humanity it took me years to understand I had no plot in which they could display themselves.  Talking heads and deep thoughts, no matter how much it’s some of our lives, is not a novel.

Plot took me very long to learn, and I am still learning to do action.  It took me years to figure out I should even work at it.

I would just write, then be embarrassed and upset that I couldn’t make a functional novel, and forget it.

No one is born knowing everything and also get over it.

If instead of storing away my first personal rejection (to the first story I ever sent out) which came accompanied with a copy of the magazine and told me it was for me to see why it didn’t fit and send them something more fitting, I’d taken their hint, studied the magazine and written the type of story they took, it might have shaved 13 years of fruitless work off my slate.

Years later, when I understood I’d have to work to be publishable, I cursed my younger self.

But I’d been trained to think I’d be the best right off the bat.  Since I wasn’t, the humiliation was deep and crippling, and if I hadn’t had a… thirst for writing, I’d probably have walked away then, like my friend who walked away because her first novel wasn’t a best seller.

Thank heavens writing is a true-vocation to me, and I can’t stay away too long.  (No, seriously, I once gave it up for two weeks, and cleaned EVERYTHING.  I was in the bathroom, scrubbing the floor tile group with a tooth brush when the three guys (husband and two sons, the older being then six) came to the door and begged me to go back to writing, because I wasn’t well when I didn’t.)  It forced me past my stupidity, past my ingrained pride, past my embarrassment at failure and into actually learning to write.

The learning is not done.  At different times, and at different books, I will find something I can’t do at once, no matter how much I want to.  Sometimes, if the book is on deadline, I’ll deliver the best patch job I can, and then dive deep in search of books that do it right, so I can analyze, take them apart, and absorb it organically, too.

The latest area of study is writing action.  It started with a friend who alas I only got to keep for a month.  While he was dying of liver cancer, he critiqued my stories, and told me all the scenes of action I wasn’t even seeing much less leaving out.

After his death, I started a back to back read of Correia and Wilson, and as some of you noted, and told me, my action in Darkship Revenge is much better.

And then I worked with Larry on Guardian, and once more realized I have a lot to learn when it comes to writing action.  It will come, but it’s going to be a lot of work.

And sometimes, I still need to remember I have permission to fail.  My standards are high, and even though I have more than thirty books out, sometimes I’ll fall short of them.

I know you’ll say “well duh” but believe it or not I can still become deeply embarrassed, afraid I don’t have what it takes, and start thinking of punishing myself by walking away.

I can’t, as I’m actually making a living from this now, and the family can use it, since we’re supporting two sons in protracted degrees.  BUT I still feel “unworthy” of being a writer, and think I should run off in pursuit of something — anything — else.

Of course, nothing else could come perfect right away, but the back brain doesn’t know that.

Give yourself permission to fail.

I once read that artists practice every day even if what they’re drawing is awful.  They understand it’s a craft, and that as much as art is there, you need to learn your metier.  This is not necessarily true.  As I’ve found, because I tend to be as stupid about art as about writing, only the ONES WHO SUCCEED take that approach.  The others get embarrassed their first product isn’t perfect and run off.

Now you choose what you want to do and what you want to be.  In this life, sticktoitness is way more valuable than talent or even intelligence.

If you decide to stick to it and you’re a raw beginner (or a mid-beginner or a late-beginner like me) you could do worse than read or re-read Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer.  And if characters are a problem for you, you could do worse than Dwight Swain’s Building Story People.

Those two, if you apply yourself and practice should get you to publishable.  After that you’re on your own, as each person’s path is different.

But you can’t run away when everything isn’t perfect.  And you can’t be embarrassed when you fail one time or ten or seven times time seven times.

The race is not always to the swift nor the victory to the strong, but sheer bulldogedness, work, and refusing to be bogged down in how short you fall of your ideal?  That will see you through wherever it is you want to go.

You might be bruised and battered, but you’ll get there.

Never give up! Never Surrender!  And don’t sweep your failures under the rug.  Hold them up proudly.  They’re what you did on the way to success.

Now go write.

Oops, it’s Tuesday

That means I’m supposed to blog. Oops. Tell you guys what. I’m going to have another cup — or three of coffee — and get my brain functioning again and then I’ll be back. Well, maybe I’ll be back after I have breakfast with our own Kilted Dave and family. In the meantime, I’m open for suggestions about what to blog on. I have a question for you as well. If the blog design wizards were to swoop down on MGC and redesign the site, are there any special functions or attributes to the site you’d like included?

Until later!

Go peel a banana with your feet

I is so woke. I admit I have monkey-privilege. That’s the inborn advantage in brachiating that my fellow simians are just so unaware of. Even those who can’t climb a ladder, or were kept in a cage without a climbing frame. Because PRIVILEGE. And I can hang upside down and peel a banana with my feet. Other advantages being born a monkey is that to be smarter than your average monkey (a situation most humans deceive themselves into believing they are) is relatively easy. You just have to learn not to throw poo at the audience, and get them to throw peanuts at you instead – or at the very least to tell the difference between the kind of audience who will throw peanuts, and the kind who won’t. This ain’t bad advice for writers, entertainers, musicians. I was going to say politicians but we’re really not sure if they’re life as we know it, even if they’re often invertebrate.

Next time you see a celeb or actor flinging insults at a set of people they don’t like… but from whom they derive income – you know where they fit on that scale…

I had one of those ‘am I going to live through this?’ experiences on the weekend, which tends to make me more profound… ok, profoundly boring…. (sigh) ok, more ridiculous than usual. Blame it on anoxia (which makes the biologically unlikely assumption that I have a brain, so I’ll take that, as the flattery that it is.)

I was down at 30 feet, next to my dive-buddy, who was roughly waist deep in a narrow crack between the rocks, wrestling a roughly 10 pound spiny lobster. We try to watch each other in these situations because they are potentially dangerous. He’d just handed me his torch, and the catch-bag tumbled down onto him. We had a current running – strong on top, still there at the bottom. So I put down my spear (A hand-spear I carry in case of a good fish coming along) grabbed the bag with my other hand and pulled it up the slope – and had my air STOP.

As Zelazny said in LORD OF LIGHT – ‘none sing hymns to breath,’ said Yama, ‘but oh to be without it.’ Not one of anyone’s happy moments. It’s not one of those times when you have a philosophical muse on the meaning of life, or deep session of angst – no matter how often these are inserted into prose in these scenes by authors. I suppose – having dealt with a couple of drowning people whose panic would have killed them if I hadn’t been there – some people would panic. And die, unless exceptionally lucky.

This particular time I didn’t panic (not making any guarantees about future times, but as I’m still alive and as I keep getting into fairly dangerous situations I can say I haven’t been that quick to panic in the past. Too dumb, I suppose.) I sucked at the reg again, and looked at my dive buddy – a stream of happy bubbles coming from the hole he was down. Now, I’ve been exactly where he was – both hands on big bug – and I know from prior experience that it’s like when the hero is matched with is deadly foe in that fantasy duel – and his side-kick yells at him. Well, in the duel, if he hears it at all, it’ll probably get him killed. Most likely, he won’t hear. Likewise in this situation… I still grabbed his fins and yanked, because the bug might put holes in him, but only getting stuck and losing his air will kill him. Still, I knew that his response was going to be slow, and the best thing I could do was start taking appropriate emergency ascent action. He could follow and let me buddy breathe if he got there fast enough.

All of this took less time than it took to read it. I wear two weight-belts for just this reason (rather than one) I dropped one fingers finding the quick release. This means instead of shooting upward (especially fast at the end) you have time to do the right things. This also means the fear lasts longer, you just don’t rupture your lungs as easily. You just have a better chance of drowning – filling your lungs with water.

You have to do the right things… in spite of knowing you can’t breathe, that you’re in dire shite, and you don’t have a lot of time (MUCH more time than you’d like – if you get the distinction) You have to make decisions. You can’t agonize about those, you can’t think twice. If you get them wrong, you have to try and deal with that.

So: I’m diving on hookah (air pumped via an oil-filtered special compressor – do not try this with a garage compressor) on a 150 foot hose with a second-stage regulator. The hose is secured by passing it under the weight-belt or belts (remember this it is important. If I was writing this as a piece of fiction I’d have slipped 3 mentions of it in – in a casual not-making-a-point-of-it fashion. In my case typically making a joke about how awkward it was. The reader notices and remembers because it was amusing, without realizing they’re being primed. It supplies you with air, and attaches you to the boat.) If you’re putting this in a book, it doesn’t come into the action scene. If you have to explain it, do it well before the action scene. Occasionally hoses kink (they aren’t supposed to but it happens). Now usually that means air flow is severely restricted, but still there. Some air, even if you have to suck like hell for it on the way up, is better than none. If you swim upwards and towards the compressor, it can ease the kink, and upwards reduces pressure… I’ve had this happen before (we bought thicker hoses after that) and that worked then, so I did the same now, swimming hard up and towards, exhaling, sucking – not getting air.

Notice the sequence there. Exhale, suck. Remember when the air cut out… I would only know AFTER exhaling. What I am exhaling is the residual air in my lungs – air that is expanding as I go up.

Air that will rupture my lungs if I don’t.

Trust me on this: this is one of the hardest, longest lasting (or it seems that way) pieces of self-discipline possible. Every instinct says hold your breath. Every instinct is dead 100% wrong, but you try controlling the bastard. If you hold your breath, you will rupture you lungs and die. Standard training often goes drop your weight-belt and scream all the way up. That’s fine, but it is a very rapid ascent (particularly the last bit) and not very well controlled.  Rapid is needed sometimes but it is… fraught. This is controlled – just not easy. Frightening as hell.

IF you could control those base instincts well enough not send neurotransmitters sizzling around to push your heart rate up, thrash glycogen into glucose, chew oxygen, It’d be less hard. Some people may be that cool. I am not one of them. Exhaling on the way up was hard enough.

Now from 30 feet down you can’t actually see the surface (at least not here at this time of year). From about 18 feet you start seeing the silver dapple of air on the other side of water. It is an amazing beautiful sight when you have no air. More beautiful than the Taj Mahal or the Angel Falls. And, while below there seemed a real possibility that you might not reach the surface, now that you can see air… it’s different.

You’re still scared. But it’s a different scared now. You’re burning Oxygen at a frantic rate (because swimming without taking a breath is still hard, and you’re rising with the buoyancy of your suit – but it would take you at least 2-3 minutes to break the surface. Second weight belt would ‘pop’ you up fast – and you know this, but you also know it is far less risky to control it. You can cope with that. You can cope with exhaling. You just can’t cope with not swimming as hard as you can. Suppressing fear only goes just so far – or at least for me. Maybe gung-ho Joe is different. Maybe the fictional fantasy hero is different too. I have to say, I doubt it.

I spat the mouthpiece as I broke the surface, breathed. Breathed again. And waved and yelled at the boat – and they saw me.

Now – It was pretty choppy up there. Even a single weight-belt made me lower in the water.  And here is where I did what many a better man than me has done – made a stupid decision out of sheer relief. A stupid decision that could have killed me – more slowly than a lack of air, but just as dead, over a much longer time.

I dropped the second weight-belt. I had spat the mouthpiece.

I was no longer attached to the hose. Or the boat.

Now they still had a diver down, and an anchor down.

Given that current my landfall could have been South America. And if you have tried spotting a person in the water in strong chop… it’s not easy. Not thinking to grab the hose was incredibly stupid.

Another interesting thing for the writer, I had just been through all of this, being relatively rational for a monkey-in-distress. Noticing my mate’s air, trying to get his attention, remembering to exhale and to swim up and towards the boat, signaling I was in distress first off on the surface.

And somehow managing not to realize I still had the catch-bag and my mate’s torch in my hands?

Yes. Really. Remember this. In extremis your character may remember the important, and forget he’s carrying the vorpal sword. Dropping it would have been sensible – but could be useful later. But you need to explain this, because people expect because some of your actions are rational, all of them are.

So: I didn’t die (or this is a damn fine Ouija keyboard). The deckie and skipper did exactly the right things. The deckie pulled the anchor (so they would drift the same way as me) and skipper hauled my partner’s dive line – both of them watching me. He was already on his way up – with the bug – having come out and seen my reg floating down as he looked around for me and the catch bag. He left my spear there.

I did as much that was sensible as I could – because I knew I possibly in dire shit. I breathed as steadily and calmly as I could, and swam not towards the boat (which would be directly into the current) but towards the shore – maybe half a mile off. I was losing ground – but slowly. That slowly made it easier to keep me in sight, and pick me up. I still had the catch bag. The entire drama actually took maybe at the outside 7-10 minutes. It felt like a lot longer.

Now, in fiction of course the adventure stops there. Or rushes into the next adventure.

Of course the problem with a lot of fiction is the one that the increasing tiny subgroups of offended snowflakes whine, scream, perform and tantrum while kicking their heels on the floor about. They squall that you can’t have a book without every minority in it, and then you can’t write about it, because you aren’t a necrophilia-obsessed Asian transgendered woman, and how can you possibly understand how they think and feel and act. Now I’m not as puerile, even if I am a dumb monkey. Action, be it including disaster, life-and-death or war, is a lot more important than a Plascon color chart of skin tones and a whole alphabet soup of LGBYQWERTY varieties to fiction. And, let’s be real, very few of us have actually experienced all that we put our characters through. Even if we have we do write about what we have experienced – the memories of actual fight (or swim) tends to be blurred to the essentials. I had no idea, swimming up, that I still had the catch bag or my mate’s torch.

The thing is most our audience don’t have that experience either. Now, if we follow Snowflake logic (if you can call it that) we shouldn’t write the books, then anyone who has experienced real warfare should be demanding Snowflakes never write another book which has characters who zer cannot possibly understand how think and feel and act, because zer’s not one. We have as much right to demand Snowflake exclusion (and possibly more) than they have to demand yours: which is to say, none at all. In practice, you don’t have to read their book, and they don’t have to read yours. How many Snowflakes and hangers on are there, and- as I said at the beginning – were they ever going to throw peanuts anyway?

There’s a lot to be said for trying to do your research well, trying to get out of your headspace and into someone else’s character. There’s a lot to be said for running your book past people with the relevant experience and checking you’ve got it mostly right. But that’s about it.

For the books you may use this in, recovery time is not instantaneous. I’m older than most fantasy heroes, but your body will still be a bit stuffed for some time – once the adrenalin wears off and the inevitable dehydration (you might know it is going to happen – I do – but your stomach just can’t do large amounts of anything) sets in. And seriously, beer (the inevitable hero celebration) will make it worse. It’s a diuretic – and you don’t need that. You’ll pee. Often… and very little, as your kidneys (and liver) try and get your bloodstream back to normal. Even if you’re not injured or damaged nor have ruptured lungs, about 5-6 hours later your dehydration and low blood sugar are going to make you feel fairly faint and generally rotten. And you’ll discover injuries and aches you no recollection of acquiring.

And these details may add veracity, but if your audience don’t care, you don’t have to.



We write our books in certain settings, worlds, cultures. They all impose restraints on our characters, which they have to live within, or break, and deal with the consequences.

Last winter, in a moment of frustrated “I don’t have any ideas!” I set out to write something, anything—something I could throw away later without caring.

I wrote a “Mirror Image” story, where my usual Good Guys were bad, and the Bad Guys were good. Yeah, I went Full On “Spock with a goatee.”

It was _really_ fun. My Hero, totally unrestrained. No brakes.

Mind you, being me, I wound up with explanations, and redefined “Bad Guy” in this context.

But I also learned—via my long suffering Beta Readers—that it was a great story.

At eight months remove, I can see that the reason they liked it was that my character threw off all restraints and went full bore to get what he wanted. What _he_ thought was right. _No_ Cultural restraints. To &^%$ with the law. _No_ diplomacy. Totally over the top, full on blood bath, and torture when nothing else worked.

Unpleasant in real life.

Essential in fiction.

Don’t let your characters be hemmed in by convention. Remove their shackles. Let ‘er rip and deal with the consequences later. Take it over the top. Just make sure that what your Character wants, most readers will agree with. And your readers should be positive that the “Other Guys” deserve what they’re about to receive.

And then show the absolute best/worst/bloodiest your Character can be. Throw his heart, his soul, and his body into it. Go to the max . . . then find even more, and get him over the top!

That’s what your readers want.


What character went full Evil Twin? Ra’d, of course! Let’s face it, he’s got the potential. Here’s how it happened in _one_ universe . . .