I Hate Blogging

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People Watching in the ER

I rolled into the emergency room of Mission Hospital in Asheville NC some time after sunset. Literally, I rolled because my legs wouldn’t work. Well, my wife rolled me in a chair we stole from labor and delivery. It had stirrups.

I couldn’t see the lady behind the computer from my lower vantage point but I heard her fingernails on the keyboard. “Name and date of birth.”

I gave her my name and date of birth.
“Reason for visit?”
“My legs don’t work.”

She stepped out from the counter holding a stack of papers. Curly hair dangled over her glasses like a blonde and much more uptight Mrs. Frizzle, for those of you who remember The Magic School Bus. She wore nursing scrubs but she would have fit in better as an angry librarian.

“Have they ever worked?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “I just now found out, after twenty eight years, that most people can walk.”

She looked at me past the glasses on her nose. A chain dangled from the earpieces and around her pencil neck. Her lips pressed together until they were whiter than the skin around them.

“Normally, they work fine,” my wife said.

I rolled, or my wife rolled me, to the triage area. A nurse who looked like Ed Sheeran and Arya Stark’s love child and went by the name Aaron put a pressure cuff on my arm. I had to hold a thermometer under my tongue and a pulse checker thing on my finger while the cuff tried to sever my bicep.

“One thirty over eighty, that seems high to me,” I said.
“It stopped, I don’t know why it keeps doing this.” Aaron pressed a few beeping buttons and the torture device activated again.

“Where the hell am I?” a man who looked like the first Dumbledore posing as Charles Manson in a biker jacket shouted. I thought for a moment that he would get out of his chair and rampage the triage. He didn’t.

A toe headed baby boy with blue eyes stared at me. Maybe it was the shopping cart of a wheelchair or my green skeleton pajamas but something about me fascinated this kid. I waved at him. He climbed his dad, who looked like Skinny Pete from Breaking Bad and Eminem swapped faces.

Slim Skinny blew a raspberry on baby Steve Rogers and the kid laughed a more earnest laugh than I had heard since before we dropped my daughter off at my in laws. He reminded me of her and I wished I was home snuggling her instead of looking at these people.

“Alright,” Aaron said, “head to the blue waiting room.”

Yes, this trauma center stayed busy enough for separate waiting rooms. The green one was where Dumblemanson and Slim Skinny sat, it was for people awaiting triage. The purple and orange waiting rooms were under construction. Everyone there had to wait in the blue one.

We stopped at the security center for my wife to get a visitor’s badge. A big and bald security guard took her picture and printed it out. A nurse approached the station.

“We’ve got to get him to a room.” She she ran her hand over her face.
“Oooooooohhhhhh, can I get a drink?” A ghostly wail emanated from the waiting room.

“Where are we going to sit?” my wife asked.
“Um…” I said.
“I don’t want to sit near that.” She pointed to the man calling out life the ghost of Jacob Marley.

She wheeled me over to a snack machine and got herself a coke. I sat in the canteen area and made jokes about my situation on Facebook.

“Would we hear if they called me in here?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.

A guy who looked like Mateo from Superstore sat next to a Dom Deluise look alike. The big and hairy one spoke softly enough for me not too hear him. The other one, though, had a voice like Vizzini from The Princess Bride traveling through an amplifier.

“How did you get there if you didn’t take I-80?”
“But I-40 doesn’t go that far.”
“So, you just get straight on 74, or do you take another road to get there?”

The sound of someone attacking Starship Enterprise interrupted the human mapquest. I looked up to see the stereotypical North Carolina resident with a five year old girl sleeping on her chest. She checked her notification and went back to whatever time wasting Facebook game she was playing.

I thought a nurse would come to get me after two hours of listening to human mapquest give directions, the ghostly moans of Jacob fucking Marley, and a goddamn space battle. Instead, a guy doing his best to emulate Dolph Lungren walked by.

“You don’t work here, you’re just a visitor,” I said under my breath, or so I thought.

He looked back at me like he dropped something and suspected that I stole it. After a while, he came back and silently faded me to say anything. I didn’t, I sat there staring at one particular tile on the floor.

I came out of the ER six hours later with no answers but a valuable lesson on writing.

Never waste an opportunity to watch people interacting in public.

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An Excerpt from my First Draft

I couldn’t think of a blog post this week. So, here’s what would have been the beginning of my novel, The Western Sunrise, if I hadn’t cut it. This scene won’t be in it but the characters and world will be the same. 

Soran gazed at the western sunrise. A strong wind ruffled the feathers of his robe and blew ripples in the violet waves of grain. Black hair, braided and matted like tentacles, danced in the breeze. He spat out whatever strands drifted into the creases in his lips and the holes in his nose.
Sharp angles the same shade as his hair contoured his vermilion cheeks which matched his feather coat. Bony pieces of various animals, too small to be useful, rattled on a string around his neck. Dirt sifted between his toes and the morning dew was cool under his feet.
Red eyelids closed over rings of gold with illuminated specks of sunshine sprinkled across their diameters. He filled his lungs with air. Black lips rested on one another in a straight line. Somewhere deep within him, vibrations permeated through his nerves.
Once, he was a prodigy. He might not have been the youngest of his tribe to call himself shaman but no one alive could remember one younger. A few years ago, he would have been able to feel the rotation of his planet and its orbit around its star and point out with the accuracy of a spear flinger his exact location in his galaxy.
Now, he could only detect the residual vibrations of the closest matter to him. He may as well have been a novice all over again. He knew in his heart that he had no business joining a hunt but he couldn’t bring himself to admit that to the rest of the hunting party.
“Do you sense anything?” Tren, one of the hunters accompanying the shaman, asked.
“I just need a moment,” Soran answered.
Tren, like his fellows, wore a knee length garment of woven red linen with no sleeves. Streaks of red and black once covered his arms like rusted iron deposits in the onyx mountains to the east but now the red had faded to the color of the soft wood beneath a tree’s bark. He carried a spear three quarters of his height and its flinger dangled from the rope he wore as a belt.
Five men, not counting Soran, stood around Tren. The red and black of youth still covered every inch of their exposed skin in twisting streams. Sap from the weaver trees held their hair out of their faces and up in spikes like the ends of a ball barb plant.
“We don’t want to be out here all day,” a man who looked much like Tren said.
“It’s going to take as long as it takes,” Soran told him.
Soran’s physical form and the world it clung to faded like mist away from his conscious mind. He no longer felt the breeze through his matted locks or the moist ground under his feet. Tren’s next comment fell on his ears but his mind only heard the buzzing of ambient energy.
He fell. Or rather, when his conscious mind left his body, the sensation of falling overcame him. Gravity lost its hold on him, he had no form for it to grasp. His stream of consciousness flowed through the hidden dimensions of what sentient beings called reality.
Waves washed over him in every color of the rainbow and a few his physical eye couldn’t detect. The grass that had been the color of amethyst but now it radiated the spectrum. The waves of the sun beat down the hardest and its energy sizzled through the air.
The hunting party ceased to be solid creatures and became patterns of thought clinging to the probability of being alive. Thoughts of hunger and boredom and anticipation cycled through to start again. They rippled out and converged, bouncing off one another back to the source.
Vibrating strands of the energy that made up reality wove together. Soran pushed his consciousness out from the strands that made up the prison of his physical body. His stream of thoughts ran into the crossing strands.
His mind tried to bludgeon through the waves of reality with his own energy, it just bounced off the hidden strands. He pushed harder. The energy seared through his mind like lightning.
The immediate strands gave him nothing, the purple grass, the breathing of his hunting mates, the air around him, but nothing he could use. His face was stone, he didn’t betray anything to the hunters. But, behind the curtain of reality, he bashed his ethereal head on the wall of energy.
His vision, if it could truly be called vision, blurred. He could no longer tell what frequencies the strands occupied. He pushed the vibrations. Though he was but a cloud of thought, he felt his own energy heating like the morning sun.
“Soran.” A stream of thoughts collided with his own. It didn’t say the word, but Soran’s mind understood the meaning of the vibration.
“Who’s here?” Soran’s consciousness called out.
“Soran,” the presence insisted.
“Whoever you are, this tribe is under my protection,” Soran pushed.
“Soran!” The force of the voice pushed Soran’s mind back to his body.
Soran’s body jerked, a shock traveled into his brain and out through all of his extremities. His eyes blinked open. His whole body still felt warm from the energy of the higher dimensions. No, not from his journey, this felt physical rather than spiritual.
Tren stood in a haze of black smoke. His hands pressed into Soran’s shoulders. He sent waves of energy into Soran’s motionless body. Soran’s head shook back and forth. Acrid smoke scratched at his eyes and tears formed in their edges.
“The field is on fire,” Tren said.
Soran stood up and pushed Tren’s arms away. His golden eyes widened and his nostrils flared. His body forced air into and out of his lungs without his mind’s consent. His muscles tightened and tried to stabilize him as the world spiraled around him.
“Are you back with us?” Tren asked.
“The field is on fire,” Soran said.
“I just told you that,” Tren said.
Soran looked around. He couldn’t see the sky so he didn’t know how long he had been attuned to the higher dimensions. He couldn’t see the other hunters. He couldn’t even see the violet waves of grain that always grounded him. But, he could smell the smoke and the heat of the flames.

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Writing With a Busy Schedule

Setting time aside for writing is all well and good. But, what do you do when that isn’t an option? Do you just stop writing? Do you just give up what you love because life doesn’t want to let you? No. You take whatever time you can and work with it.

Write whatever you can, whenever you can.

I have a wife and a toddler and more family than I know what to do with, and a debilitating medical condition. Some people would say that I’m blessed, I don’t like to use the b word. Some would say I’m fortunate. I’m not complaining about them, I love my wife and daughter and I tolerate my family, but they throw a huge bag of hammers into my writing time.

I don’t have enough hours in a day to write, read, spend time with my wife and daughter, blog, get in a bit of Xbox(which, it turns out, is important for keeping myself creative), go to the doctor as much as I have to, and let my family see all they want of the only grandchild and I know I’m not the only one.

Lots of writers have families and jobs. Plenty of writers have medical conditions. I’m sure plenty have spouses and children and other commitments that I’m not even considering. So, what is a busy writer to do?

Conventional wisdom says to set time aside for writing, J. K. Rowling has said this is the most important part. That sounds good. It makes a lot of sense. But, it doesn’t always work in the real world.

You have to write whenever you can.

It’s important to read in order to write effectively. But, that’s just one more thing to add to your to do list. Steven King has been said to always have a book with him. The same concept can be applied to writing.

I write on a used Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro and I always have it with me, just ask my wife. Granted, I get on Facebook more often than I should but that’s how I keep in contact with my fellow writers of my Fiction Writing crew. Whenever I get a thought, I write it down to develop later.

On long car rides, when my daughter is asleep and my wife isn’t saying much, I try to draft or outline. It’s quiet and there’s really nothing else to do.

My daughter loves Disney. A good bit of my day involves sitting on the couch with Frozen or Inside Out playing in the background. She is pretty self sufficient, so I can make an attempt to draft while she runs around the living room. Though, the writing can be interrupted by sudden bouts of toddler rage.

Waiting at the doctor’s office is the worst and I spend more time there than the average senior citizen (I’m only twenty eight, by the way). I’m not a very social person so it’s not surprising for me to bury my face in my tablet. Sometimes I read ebooks but, more often, I also try to write or outline while I sitting there waiting for some lab coat to tell me he has no idea what’s wrong with me. Sorry, got off on a tangent there.

Of course, I try to get up early while my wife and daughter are asleep. I’m talking about three in the morning kind of early. On those days, I can get over a thousand words before either of them wake up and have time to play Xbox.

But, sometimes, you have to learn to keep up you’re focus with frequent and unavoidable distractions. It takes a Zen like attitude and unwavering dedication to your craft. It’s hard to keep up but, when you’re as busy as I am, is the only way.

My disability does make it more difficult to focus, so I’ve got to work around that. On a good day, I can get a thousand words. My record is two thousand. But, I see all my writer friends getting five and ten thousand words a day and it can be disheartening.

But, the key is, just write as much as you can whenever you can.

There’s always going to be someone better than you and someone worse than you. You can’t get bogged down comparing yourself to other people. If you have a busy schedule and can’t get any free time to just write, that’s ok. Write what you can when you can. If you stop judging and just let it happen, it’ll pass by before you know it and you’ll have a fully developed novel on your hands.

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Blogging to Combat Writer’s Block

Thinking through topics, saying your thoughts out loud, and writing them down are all different ways of expression. And, each one should be approached differently.

Just the act of writing something can mold your mind. Some writers free write, some write short stories, and some blog.

If you’re like me, free writing feels pointless. I’ve got a wife and a toddler and family always wants us to do something. If it’s not family, it’s doctors. My health is far from the best and between family, doctor’s appointments, and just feeling like crap, any writing time I can sneak in has to work toward something.

So, that leaves short stories and blogging.

I write short stories. They help learn the craft and the technical aspects of writing. Ray Bradbury suggests writing a short story every week for beginners because, “It’s impossible to write fifty two bad short stories.” That’s good advice and I wish I had the free time to apply it.

But, I struggle through the same roadblocks in my mind with short stories as I have my many failed novel attempts. Here’s where blogging can come in.

It’s easier to write something honest than to make something up.

At its core, fiction is lying. They are entertaining lies and honest lies, the reader knows it’s not true. But, writers face the same psychological problems from writing fiction as we do from lying to people’s face.

When you write down an honest opinion, you don’t have to think. It’s like walking or chewing or breathing. Instead of thinking about what to say, you just say what you think. That’s what is so helpful about free writing. You get to just express what you’re feeling and not worry about turning it into a narrative.

So, why not just free write? Well, that’s a valid choice. You could spend an hour every day just writing the first thing that comes to mind. But, here’s what happens when I do that.

Just trying to wake up my brain. I have a lot of problems with that early in the morning. If I had woken up hours ago, I’d be plenty awake by now. I’d have had time to wake up then I would have gotten coffee and pushed myself even further awake and I’d be ready to write some on my story. But, that didn’t happen. The heavy metal isn’t working. Though they are playing far too much AC/DC this morning. I need a healthy supply of Ronnie James Dio to get creative. This isn’t even worthy of being a blog post. I don’t seem to have a point. I’m just rambling. I don’t think it’s even working. I don’t think today is going to be a good day. I’m so stupid. Shit shit shit. I have absolutely nothing to say. Everything is meaningless. I have nothing to offer. Fuck to you fucking hack.

Stupid. Rambling. Bullshit.

Then, I get negative and start telling myself how shitty I am at everything. That’s not helpful. That’s the opposite of helpful. And, I spend an hour doing this while my daughter is asleep just to have her wake up when I hit stride feeling sorry for myself and my wife thing’s I’m angry at her for the rest of the day because I’m in a bad mood.

So, instead, I do this. I’m writing a blog post right now. Well, not right now add you read this but now while I’m writing this post. It’s waking my brain up and putting something productive out there.

Yea, you heard me.

Promotions are another area that I’m not skilled in. I can’t figure out how to use Twitter or, Odin have mercy, instagram. Even my author page on Facebook isn’t as well defined add I’d like.

The simplest way to promote yourself as an author is to blog. I started reading K. M. Weiland’s blog, here’s the link helping writers become authors and it made me want to read her novel, Dreamlander. Lots of authors post links to their latest release on their page. And, It’s easier to tweet and instagram a link to your page than something thoughtful and witty everyday. Most days, I don’t feel very thoughtful or witty.

I have a busy schedule. Well, but so much of a schedule as just a constant barrage of chaos. I never know when I’ll have time to write so, if I find time, I try to work on a story. But, sometimes it just doesn’t come. So, I blog and hope promoting myself a bit will open up the floodgates of creativity.

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How to Fight Worldbuilder’s Disease with Short Stories

I have tried to write many times. From my first picture book about dinosaurs when I was five years old to something awful in sixth grade to the most bland fantasy series imaginable in high school, and beyond off and on through my adult life. One step has always stopped me, worldbuilding.

It’s not that I don’t like worldbuilding. In fact, it’s the opposite. I would get so involved with building a world, I would know the full recorded history of every race and the tectonic structure and all the legends and myths. And, I’d stop.

I would just get so burnt out on building a world that I’d give up before I ever started writing. Then, I’d throw everything out, partially because I wanted all my space on my computer to be coherent but mostly for embarrassment. Looking at it just reminded me of my latest failed attempt at writing.

This time, I’m building my world through short stories.

There are some basic things that all fantasy/sci-fi worlds require.

1. Culture(s)
2. History
3. Magic/technology.
4. A map

Culture

Culture could have its own entry altogether. It’s the most important aspect of creating a world but most writers just give it a passing mention. Cultures will define your characters and their backstories and you don’t have a story without characters.

A story is not a string of events, it’s one or more characters making decisions. And, culture will affect how your characters make decisions.

Races have their own cultures but races are not cultures, themselves. They should have subcultures and factions. Every member should deviate slightly and in a unique way from the norm.

History

Second to maps, this is where most of my time with worldbuilder’s disease was spent. It’s more productive than map making in that it can help you develop cultures. Culture and history go hand in hand. History shapes culture and cultures that struggle against one another make history.

But, spend too much time here and you’ll outline the entire history of your world without ever starting on the story you want to tell. I fell into this trap. If I ever finished with my maps and borders, I started on the history. Then, came the vicious cycle of adjusting my map’s borders to fit the new history.

Magic/technology

If there’s no magic or advanced technology, then why build a whole new world to begin with? No magic and no future tech and you’ve just got a contemporary drama with nothing speculative about it. You don’t need to build a world for that, just maybe one small town.

Too much magic or tech and you’ve got a whole new problem. No limits means weak storytelling. You need a rational magic system or drawbacks to tech. Here’s a couple of good articles from mythcreants that better explains this point.

Four Ways to Limit Magic and Technology

How to Create a Rational Magic System

Maps

This is the one most new writers spend the most time on, I know I did when I first started. It’s fun and can help you to envision your world, some might say necessary for envisioning your world. But, it’s the least important part of the overall process.

You may or may not end up including a map in your actual book. Well, let’s be honest, you probably will. And your readers will give it a passing glance before forgetting all of it when they start reading.

So, how can short stories help you through this process and keep you writing?

All of the things above have logical reasons for being in your world and there’s probably a story behind them. How did people discover magic? Who discovered it first? What battles were important and why? Where did people come from?

History is just a series of stories told from the winner’s point of view. Writing short stories can help you find the important moments in your fictional history and discover why they’re important to your cultures. You can discover magic or technology’s strengths and weaknesses through stories. Here are some examples.

You might have a magic system that involves magic beings granting favors to humans. Why do they do this? Writing a story can explain their motives.

A machine is going to destroy the world? Why was it built in the first place?

A race of people who live in the trees and are at war with ground dwellers? What started the conflict?

Your king is a war hero? Tell the story of his greatest battle and how it affected him.

But, the most important way short stories can help you beat worldbuilder’s disease is through the act of writing them down. You can discover loads about your world but writing it out through stories well keep you writing. You can brainstorm and work on your craft at the same time.

You don’t have to publish them. In fact, it might be best not to. That’s not saying you can’t but don’t expect people to get invested in your world through one single story. If you’re the pragmatic type, you can release them as a collection to go along with your series if it does as well as you hope. But, keep in mind that a short story should be able to stand on its own and not be tied to a series.

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Simplifying Character Archetypes

I read a blog from one of my favorite authors a while back about character archetypes. Here is the link.  There are a lot of methods for characterization out there, probably as many as there are authors, this one simplified most of them into a coherent model. But, I simplified it even further.

First, I would like to break down the one from the talented K. M. Weiland’s blog. She puts eight main characters in opposing pairs. These are: protagonist and antagonist, sidekick and skeptic, guardian and contagonist, and reason and emotion. She goes further into detail, but it breaks down like this:

1.   Protagonist – the main character
2. Antagonist – the one directly opposed to the main character
3. Sidekick – agrees with the main character
4. Skeptic – on the same side but is doubtful of the main character
5. Guardian – teaches the important things necessary for the main character to fulfill his or her goal
6. Contagonist – pushes the main character away from his or her goal
7. Reason – makes decisions based on reason
8. Emotion – makes decisions based on emotion

The protagonist is the main character, the one that is most affected by the events of your plot. If they aren’t the one making all of the changes, all of the changes better make things worse for them. You know what, no. Eventually the protagonist has to do something our they’re not the protagonist, you’d have to change the whole viewpoint of the story and that’s a whole other entry. Some examples are: Snake Plisken I escape from New York, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and anyone who has the story named after them.

The antagonist stands directly opposed to the protagonist. If the protagonist starts out not making any bog changes, the antagonist will change rings for the worse until the main character has to act to stop him. Other names for him are: the villain, the bad guy, the final boss, etc. You know this one, they’re characters like Darth Vader, Voldemort, or Sauron.

The sidekick is typically the main character’s best friend. But, they don’t have to be. They can be the protagonist’s biggest fan or just a supporter. Think the adoring fan from The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion or one of The Doctor’s companions from Doctor Who.

The skeptic isn’t against the main character but they’re not for them either. The skeptic is against the antagonist but doesn’t think that the main character is right in his or her actions. They are a good source of tension outside of the main conflict. A good example would be Morigan from Dragon Age.

Most of the time, the guardian guardian is an old guy with a beard but they don’t have to be. Gandalf, Obi Wan (original trilogy), Dumbledore, these are all old guys with beards. But, the guardian is anyone who teaches the main character what he or she needs to complete his plot goal.

The contagonist, this one is not as commonly understood. Short answer, they oppose the work of the guardian. They push the main character’s development backwards, that isn’t an excuse not to have a fully developed protagonist. Unlike the antagonist, they may or may not oppose the main character on purpose. But they do have to oppose them. A good example would be Borimir from The Lord of the Rings. Here’s a more in depth article on the contagonist.

The reasonable character makes their decisions through logic and reason. They will offer advice based on evidence. Think, C-3P0 or Sam Winchester.

The emotional one is the opposite of the reasonable one. They make decisions based on feelings, like Han Solo when he said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Both the emotion and the reason are advisors to the main character.

Miss Weiland then goes on to add the love interest as another one that can be combined with one of those mentioned above, that’s where the “and a half” part comes in. I tried using this and it worked really well. It gave me some structure and direction where I needed it and a way for me to understand how my characters interact with one another.

Combining the love interest with one of the other slots keeps them a fully developed character and not just an object that keeps the main character on track. It’s a great way to see where they fit in your plot. So I took it two steps further.

When I used this method, I had two characters just hanging out with no place in the story. These two were reason and emotion. So, I took these two characters and did what miss Weiland did with the love interest.

1. Protagonist
2. Antagonist
3. Sidekick
4. Skeptic
5. Guardian
6. Contagonist

The reason and emotion characters can occupy one of the other slots or be left out entirely. I still keep them, but they fit better as sidekick and skeptic or guardian and contagonist. They could even occupy unrelated slots like sidekick and guardian.
Each of these are based on their direct relationship with the main character. If you have multiple pov’s, I would recommend doing a chart of these with each pov in the protagonist slot. Any comments or suggestions are welcome, tell me what you think.

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