Writing Practice

Her steps lightened as she approached her apartment.  It had been a long day at work, and she was glad to finally be home.  She walked through the door, her keys clanking into the metal cup on the table.  Her eyes caught on the counter in front of her and relief fled like a nervous dog.  Stacked dishes filled nearly every surface, more peeking up above the lip of the sink.  Sighing, she dropped her bag and turned away, only to be greeted by the growing pile of junk mail and unread magazines cluttering her kitchen table.  Her heart sank, the stress that had not yet fully left her returning in a rush.  For a moment all she could do was stand and stare.

Willfully she forced the thoughts of spreadsheets and dirty plates from her mind.  She ignored the mess, opened her fridge and grabbed a can of soda.  She might not be able to silence the rattle of to-do lists or ignore the unspoken demands of clutter, but she was fairly certain that mindless television and inane web quizzes could shout it down for a while.  Work would be there tomorrow, and the dishes could wait for the weekend.  Tonight she just needed to rest.

Yelling at the Wrong Person

I have to apologize in advance.  I am really worked up over a relatively minor issue (although in my world, anything that interrupts my sleep is not minor) and now that’s about all I can think about.  Thus, that is what this blog post will be about.

My smoke detector is not working.  Again.

This summer, the stupid thing started giving false alarms.  They occur sporadically (although much more frequently at the wee hours of the morning) and don’t last very long.  The most I’ve heard at one time is three beeps in a row, but even that is enough to rush adrenaline through the veins and interrupt a good night’s sleep.  The first time I called about it, maintenance came out, changed the battery, and it was fine for a few months.

At the beginning of September, it started again.  I replaced the battery on my own, which did not resolve the issue.  I called maintenance, explained the issue, and they came out again.  And again, all they did was replace the battery.

While I was quite irked at this point – they threw away a perfectly good battery! – I decided to keep the note and wait it out.  Sure enough, ten days later, it false alarmed again.

Tomorrow I am planning to call the maintenance hotline for a third time.  The person who answers is not the person responsible for the repairs, but she will probably get the brunt of my frustration.  Keeping in mind that she just answers the phone, I will be as polite as possible while still getting my point across.  But here’s what I really want to say:

I have an ongoing problem with my primary smoke detector, and this is my third time to call about this issue.  When I called two weeks ago, I was very clear that the problem was not the battery.  Not only had I already changed the battery, which did not resolve the issue, the sound that it was making was not the beep that indicates a low battery.  The sound is instead the “wake up, you’re about to die” alarm – not something you want to hear randomly at 2am – and I am insulted that you think I’m too stupid to know the difference.  The only step that your staff took to resolve the problem was to change the battery (and dispose of a brand new battery that I had purchased, by the way) and ten days later, the smoke detector is once again alarming randomly.  Clearly the detector itself is faulty, and needs to be repaired or replaced.  If I come home to another note that says the battery was changed, I will take down the detector and it will not be going back up on my wall. 

Actually, that sounds frustrated but not too angry.  I think I will use that after all, if I can keep it in a calm tone of voice, and maybe I’ll finally get my point across!

Getting Rid of a Character

I’ve spent most of today watching episodes of Burn Notice.  (It’s been a nice little Season 6 marathon, thanks to Netflix.)  The last couple of episodes have seen the departure of some of the people we’ve come to know, if not love, and it got me thinking about how we as authors rid ourselves of characters in novels.

What?  You never need to get rid of a character in your story?  Pish.  Peripheral characters wear out their welcome, henchmen have to be disposed of, redshirts need to be sacrificed.  Even beloved secondary characters must be let go if they are preventing our protagonist from reaching a goal or developing independence.  (Dumbledore, anyone?)  These folks don’t always have to die, but they do need to leave the stage.

Here are a few ways that you can help someone to their exit.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add your own in the comments!

Ah, death.  This is a classic way of getting rid of a character, especially if you want them to be permanently gone.  (Of course, depending on your method of killing someone off, you could explain it away and bring them back.  Gandalf, anyone?)  This leaves a lot of room for creativity as well as plot advancement.  Shot by a sniper?  Sure.  Poison in their wine?  Why not?  Nasty lab accident?  If you’ve got a lab handy and don’t mind collateral damage, might as well.  Passed away quietly in their sleep?  Aren’t you a sweetheart.  Besides getting rid of someone for good, it also shows your readers that you’re not afraid of bringing in a little death when you need it.

Otherwise Indisposed
If you’re not interested in killing someone (maybe you need her later, or he just isn’t worth making a scene) there are always methods for making a character unavailable.  She could be injured or ill, and confined to a hospital.  He could get arrested, or be ordered to stay home by a spouse.  I recommend caution if you are contemplating kidnapping; depending on your protagonist, you might become obliged to rescue the hostage.  Overall, though, this method of eliminating someone gives you a lot of latitude.  You can write a scene describing what happened, or just have another character mention it in passing.

Called Away
This one works particularly well for tertiary or peripheral characters.  They have lives outside of that of your main character, and sometimes those lives become more important.  Military personnel can be deployed elsewhere and law enforcement can be reassigned.  People can get new jobs, or their families can move away.  Keep in mind that you can either let them depart gracefully when they are no longer needed, or you can take advantage of this to leave your protagonist in the lurch at a critical time.

Dismissal/Parting Ways
This is the “Later, dude, thanks for your help” or “It was so nice to meet you” option.  Sometimes characters just go their separate ways; lives change, people graduate and go to different colleges, the airplane lands and the friendly chit-chat is over.  If one character works for another, or is subordinate in some way, the boss can let the unnecessary person go from the project (and the story).  Both of these methods can be done either in a friendly way or a hostile one, and it’s up to you as an author to shape the impact on any characters left in the tale.

Honestly, most of the time there is a natural way for you to get your unnecessary characters out of the picture, and you won’t have to analyze the how and why.  You may be asked by a reader to explain the choice, but by then you should be able to consider what you did and discover why (if you don’t know already).  It is fun to think about, though!

The Last Two (and an extra!)

Tonight I sent the last two queries for this year’s query goal of 10.  While I was perusing agency websites, I found three that I liked, so I figured I’d send an extra.

When you are sending queries, it’s recommended to direct your submission to a specific agent, if possible.  Some agencies are just one agent; if that’s the case, things are easy.  Many multiple-agent literary agencies have bios of their agents on their websites, usually including what each one is specifically looking for.  As I looked back over my 2013 queries, I realized that a majority of them went to female agents.  Since Dragon is about a strong female main character, it makes sense.

I can’t officially claim that I’ve reached my goal for the year, since sending queries is different from getting rejections and my goal was 10 rejections.  (Of course, if I end up with an agent, that would be good, too!)  I have, however, taken all the steps I can to reach the goal.  Now it’s just a matter of patience, and as usual, I’ll let you know!.

I also realized that I haven’t updated you since my last submission, so I should also tell you that I got two more rejections in the last month.

Here’s the count to date:

Query Count 2013: Rejections: 8, Pending: 3, Still to Send: 0.

Sighing at a Blank Page

Maybe if I leave my laptop on the floor while I shower, Eli will blog for me.

(Insert shower break here.)


Yeah, that didn’t work.

Of course, I didn’t expect my dog to write for me!  Honestly, who am I kidding.  The bird is more likely to help out than the dog. 🙂

Tonight I’m having one of those moments that writers dread: a blank page in front of my eyes, a blank mind behind them.  Not entirely blank, really, but none of my ideas are worth much.  I thought about posting an existential not-a-post post, but I’ve done that already.  I considered playing another game, but that seems somewhat ridiculous two nights in a row.  (Thanks to those who played along, by the way!)

My usual default options when I can’t think of a good post idea are writing practice and query letters.  Neither of these things are bad; not only are they reasonable posts for this blog, they are also good for me as a writer.  Tonight, however, maybe not so much.  Writing practice probably wouldn’t have turned out well, given the current state of my creativity – I would have been sitting here for some time, staring, while I tried to gather scattered thoughts.  As far as queries go, well, the posts themselves are little and easy, but they require actually putting together the query packet, and it’s already late and I want to go to bed.  🙂

It’s harder to write a blog about writing when I’m not doing a lot of actual writing, the latter of which is an issue I desperately need to address.  I’ve drilled down to what I think is the problem, and it’s really two problems.  I’ve continued to be very busy at work, and here lately a lot of the work is somewhat creative in nature, causing me to spend my energies there.  That wouldn’t be too much of an issue – I’ve written a lot more while busier – if it weren’t for the fact that I seem to have a dearth of motivation.

Thankfully, November is approaching (next week is October?!) which means two things to help.  First, work should be a bit slower, giving me more time to write.  And second is, well, NaNo!  I always seem to use NaNoWriMo to kick-start my creative process.  Unlike some writers, I don’t fall down in mental exhaustion after a month of intense writing.  Instead, my brain jumps into gear and keeps me going.

So I guess I just need to make it through October!

Let’s play a game

Tonight we’re going to play a game!  (I’m tired; it’s the best I’ve got.)

Without looking at a dictionary, let’s come up with as many words as we can that start with F with at least 3 syllables.  I’ll get us started.


Okay, I did fifteen.  Now it’s your turn!  Add some more in the comments, and remember, it’s a vocabulary challenge.  No dictionaries!


Tonight I made ratatouille.  It didn’t turn out that fabulous, but it did get me thinking about words from other languages.

Every language has words that come directly (or nearly so) from other languages.  My high school language teacher (who was also something of a linguist) referred to them as “borrowed words” which I think is pretty apt.  I’m not talking about the gradual offspring words that grow naturally from a language’s ancestor, words in English that bear a similarity to those of other French or Italian because they evolved from the same original Latin root.  I’m talking about words that we got directly from another language, because we didn’t have a word for that and we needed one.  It’s the “Hey, they already have a name for this, let’s just use it” mentality, and you find it in every language.

The immediate examples I can think of are food and technology.  We’ll get to technology in a minute; let’s start with food!  Food is very regional (has anybody outside of South Dakota ever heard of chislic?) and when it gets moved to different areas, it often keeps its original name.  You can order paella or ratatouille, cook some farfalle to eat with your chardonnay, and none of these words will ping your spellcheck even though they are Spanish, French, Italian, and French again, respectively.  This doesn’t just happen in English.  You can go to Japan and order a hanbaagaa and biiru if you’re craving some American food.  (Say the a “ah” and the ii “eee” and you should get it.)  I especially like the example of hanbaagaa, because it’s a Japanese version of an English word borrowed from a German place!  (It’s a double borrow!)

Now let’s talk technology.  This is an area where things go global quickly, so the name sometimes just gets moved around the world with the item itself.  For example, in Japanese, Korean, and Polish, the word for computer sounds remarkably like the English word “computer.”  Of course, the nicknames that develop are different regionally – think “mobile” (British) versus “cell” (American) to reference the same kind of phone.  There are also places (like France) where the people in charge of the language will actually make sure to find a suitable word within the language, even for new technology.  (According to my best friend, there are not a lot of borrowed words in French.  They are very protective of their language.)

At this point I need to step up on my mini-soapbox for a brief minute.  As a former student of Japanese, it makes me crazy when borrowed words end up mispronounced.  Karaoke becomes “carry-oh-key” and I make ugly faces.  I mean, really, in what other English word is the letter A pronounced “ee”?  Kah-rah-oh-kay, people.  And sake ends in “ay,” not “ee”!

Let’s get back on track and look at what this means for writing.  Fantasy authors make up words (and sometimes whole languages) all the time, for fictional races and species.  Given how the real world works, with different cultures using the same word for something, wouldn’t it make sense that two races (humans and elves, perhaps) would experience a similar effect?  This would especially be the case if they were connected very suddenly, with sharing of food and technology and many other things all at once.  (That’s why Japanese has so many borrowed words – when they rejoined the world from years of isolation, they got a sudden influx of lots of foreign stuff.)

Just something to think about the next time you order sushi and work on your novel!

Why do they all look like Ben Stiller?

Today I had my first adventure with a tabletop role-playing game.  A friend of mine used to play these games a lot as a kid, and even developed his own version.  (Honestly, is anyone surprised that a nerd like me has nerd friends?)  When I mentioned I had never played, he set up a game with a couple of us so I could give it a try.

Developing my character was a lot of fun.  I had to roll some unusual dice (a d4 and a couple of d10s) many times to discover my basic characteristics, from which I came up with the details.  It also allowed for some very fun contemplation of back story and goals.  Since I enjoy creating characters for my stories, this just became an extension of that.

From there, my friend took over, combining my story and the other player’s story into something that allowed us both to work towards our goals, made some sense, and – at least in this case – had a reasonably quick ending.  Since neither of us were sure that I would want to continue this after today’s foray, he created a story that could be finished in one gaming effort.

Of course, since I didn’t know anything more than my own story – the other guy playing had his own story as well, although he knew more of mine than I did of his – there were a few times that I got a bit confused.  The weirdest part was when nearly every male in the story looked like Ben Stiller.  One of my old coworkers looked like Mr. Stiller, the other player’s character looked like Ben (albeit significantly shorter), and then we got to a farmhouse where two other characters stepped out wearing Ben Stiller’s face!

It turned out that all of the Ben Stillers were aliens in disguise, but it took a bit for me to figure that out.

Needless to say, it was quite fun, and there is a good chance that we will play again.  (Maybe next time we won’t fight aliens!)

Might as well run with it…

There is a good possibility that I’ll be speaking soon to a group I’m part of here in town.  The subject of the talk is something that I know quite a bit about, but it will be a new presentation for me.  (It’s not something I’ve pulled into a structured talk before.)  Since I haven’t officially been put on the schedule, I wasn’t planning to work on the presentation yet.

Today my brain got caught on the concept.  I’d made some basic notes before, but now my mind was adding details.  I decided not to fight it; there’s nothing else that is especially pressing (unless you count finishing a library book with a looming due date), so I ran with it.

I ended up working on it, alternating between the PowerPoint and the outline, for about two hours.  (!)  I’ve got the basic outline done, and added details to the first third of the presentation.

Sometimes it’s worth it to just go with the flow!

Why I Blog

A friend asked me the other day about the purpose of my blog.  “What does an introvert get out of a daily blog?”

My first answer addressed the introvert question.  Introverts are fairly common on the internet.  We’re not hermits, after all.  We want social interaction, just in a careful way, and using a keyboard and screen as a buffer allows those of us who are introverts time to compose our thoughts and feel in control of the situation.

That response didn’t fully answer the question, however, so I started thinking further.  What do I get out of this blog?  What is the purpose?

It turns out the reason is two-fold.  In part, the blog serves as my writing journal.  Even if what I’m writing isn’t often practice for my novels, it is continuing the habit of writing and honing my ability to turn thoughts into words and sentences.

The other reason the blog is helpful for this is accountability.  Now, obviously I don’t know many of my readers personally, and it’s not likely you’re going to come after me with pitchforks if I miss a day or two (or more).  It isn’t really true accountability, not in the same was as reporting to a superior or collecting a paycheck.  In my head, however, it works just as well.  If I don’t want to disappoint my readers, I need to post something, and that’s a good enough reason for me.

Unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who needs the accountability part to keep the beneficial “good for me” part going.   Fortunately, a blog provides both!

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