Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Red Ax: Who Are Your Characters?

Sep 11 2012 Published by under Red Ax,Writing

This is part of an article series I’m writing about my upcoming comic book, Red Ax.

Writing has always been an act of discovery for me. I devise a scenario, populate it with characters, and add layers of plot and complication.

The characters begin as cocktail party acquaintances. I can slot them into big buckets: the strong and silent type, the quiet and broken type, the brash and greedy type. As I write, they become friends. I learn why they’re silent, broken, or greedy.

Red Ax, page 1 detail, by H. Davidson

Red Ax, page 1 detail, by H. Davidson

A great example of this is the character of Ax. He’s the hero of the story: a muscled blade-for-hire in a cutthroat world. His chosen weapon is his eponymous ax: a large, curved blade on a six-foot pole. A strange weapon for a strange man.

He’s the strong, silent type in more ways than one: he’s mute.

I don’t (yet) know why he’s mute. When the story came to me, my daemon whispered in my ear and told me that Ax had to be mute. So, he is.

That’s a significant obstacle to story clarity, but not a huge one. Because Red Ax is a comic, the reader gets to hear Ax’s thoughts. Plus, Ax carries a slate and chalk with him.

However, those conveniences create other story issues. A character with a lot of inner dialogue tends to sound like a noir detective. My mind immediately leaps to Sam Spade’s sarcasm. Which is not true to Ax.

Which brings us back to the discovery of character. I’m defining Ax partly by what he isn’t. That’s part of my journey. Ax is taking shape: serious, honorable, and straightforward, adhering firmly to a strong ethical code.

As with most ethical people, this gets him into a lot of trouble. But it’s worth the trouble.

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Launching a Comic: Red Ax

Aug 29 2012 Published by under Red Ax,Writing

Many years ago, I had an idea for a comic book, and the idea stuck. It grabbed onto a corner of my mind, whispering ideas, until finally I wrote it down. Within a few days, I’d written a comic book script good for 13double-sidedpages.

It’s weird. It whispered a story about anthromorphic cats in a quasi-medieval, quasi-Arabian, quasi-Asianworld, focusing on a mutesword-for-hireand a slave.

It needed an artist. I didn’t have the skills.

Now what?

Fortune favored me. Through another project, I found H. Davidson.

Red Ax stack

H draws professional-qualityanthro art. She studies anatomy. Her figures have grace and depth. She was exactly what I needed.

So, for the past year, she’s been drawing issue 1 of Red Ax. A month ago, she finished.

Now what?

I need to write the rest of the story. And while in the past I would have posted written jumped right in and just written whatever came to mind, this time I want to get inspired first.

So, what you see to the upper-rightis the stack of books I plan to re-read(or at least skim) as I prepare. As I read, I’ll plan and write and take notes. I hope to finish writing issue 2 by the end of September, at which point I should be able to release issue 1 and talk more firmly about Red Ax‘s future. Meanwhile, I’ll post images from issue 1 throughout September.

Here’s a teaser:

Page 4 detail

Isn’t that awesome?

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I have Walked the Deserts with Aurens

Jun 13 2012 Published by under Writing

One advantage of a client with stringent child care requirements: she leaves at 4:30pm, so we’re done, thank you.

I drove from the client site back to my hotel along highways that have become familiar over the past few days. I wonder how comfortable I’ll be driving around foreign cities a few months from now when I’ll be doing this alone.

The weather certainly won’t be this fine: 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a sky almost cloud-free, with an occasional sighing breeze. I found a local restaurant that had 1) good food, 2) reasonable prices, and 3) outdoor seating. I planted myself in a chair, ordered a chicken sandwich, and pulled out my Kindle, breathing a little fast in anticipation. I was near the end of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Lawrence and a camelThis is part of the Classic Literature Project I mentioned early this morning. And by “near the end” I mean “within 50 pages,” as the paperback edition has over 500 pages. The size is due to its history: this is the first version of the memoir Lawrence assembled from his journals and notes. After reviewing it and thinking further, he pared and re-wrote it into The Revolt in the Desert, which has greater punch and less subtlety. Revolt feels like an action movie; Seven Pillars feels like a war, with all its triumphs, frustrations, squabbling, self-doubts, tragedies, ironies, and fortune.

Lawrence’s sharp, beautiful prose lifts his account from recollection into true literature. I found myself re-reading passages not from confusion, but to appreciate the beauty and economy of his composition. A representative sample follows:

We started on one of those clean dawns which woke up the senses with the sun, while the intellect, tired after the thinking of the night, was yet abed. For an hour or two on such a morning the sounds, scents and colours of the world struck man individually and directly, not filtered through or made typical by thought; they seemed to exist sufficiently by themselves, and the lack of design and of carefulness in creation no longer irritated.

Here are the final words of the book, other than his summarized epilogue:

I made to Allenby the last (and also I think the first) request I ever made him for myself–leave to go away. For a while he would not have it; but I reasoned, reminding him of his year-old promise, and pointing out how much easier the New Law would be if my spur were absent from the people. In the end he agreed; and then at once I knew how much I was sorry.

May I someday write like that.

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What publishers will look like in 20 years

Jan 26 2012 Published by under Technology,Writing

'Kindle3 Kindle Fire "on" button' by kodomut on Flickr

'Kindle3 Kindle Fire "on" button' by kodomut on Flickr

It’s hardest to see the future when the present is shifting so much. However, we can see clearly if we look at fundamentals and clearly understand the nature of change.

There are 3 major individuals or groups involved in book publishing:

  • Authors (usually one person, the creator)
  • Publishers (which include a long chain of people, which all process the author’s work)
  • Distributors (who get processed books to readers)

Electronic publishing is changing that. People assume that it’s killing publishers. That’s wrong. It’s killing distributors.

It’s obvious when you unpack the publication process. What do publishers do?

  1. Copyediting — Fixing typos and grammar mistakes, and re-arranging sentences so they flow better.
  2. Editing — Suggesting changes to the flow of information in the text, to improve the story’s speed, comprehension, etc.
  3. Layout — Choosing typefaces, deciding on the layout of chapter headings, etc.
  4. Cover art — Still important; books need an encapsulating image to catch a reader’s eye.
  5. Printing — Physically producing the finished books.
  6. Advertising — Buying ads in magazines and newspapers, sending review copies to reviewers, pushing on social media, etc.
  7. Broader marketing — Very different depending on the author and book, but can include arranging book tours, producing online videos, etc.

Electronic publishing affects one of those seven activities (with minor effects on some others).

Electronic publishing on Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!, and others allow an author to bypass the publisher’s process. This does not make those steps worthless; it makes them optional.

So: publishers will not be primary gatekeepers. They will still have a place.

To see the future of electronic publishing, think about The New Yorker. Even in a world of free publishing, it would still mean something to be published in The New Yorker.

So a publisher’s value will lie in its exclusivity and taste. People today will follow a blogger for recommendations; so will people 20 years from now follow publishers for their catalog.

Let’s imagine the website for an electronic publisher named Clio, 20 years in the future. Their main page lists the titles that they have available. The first thing of note is the relatively slow publication schedule. Clio intentionally releases only a few books a month, all of very high quality.

But now let’s click on their “Why Publish With Clio?” tab. We see a page explaining that Clio offers a full range of copyediting, editing, layout, artistic, and marketing services.

If you submit your manuscript to Clio (right from their website, of course) you’re sent to a web page that shows your manuscript’s exact place in the review queue, and estimates the number of days until your manuscript is reviewed. If your manuscript makes it through the review process, editors and marketers will polish it (with your input and acceptance, of course). All these services will be paid back by a small commission from sales of your book; once they’re paid back, you only pay a trivial amount for ongoing hosting fees.

You also select a marketing plan. You can do all the marketing yourself and pocket all the rest of your books’ profit, or you can have the publisher market for another small, ongoing commission. You can even change the marketing agreement later.

It’s all do-able, and it provides all the advantages of a traditional publisher with few of the drawbacks. It not only gives publishers a place in the market, it gives them a clear place.

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Giant Armors, Ikimasu!

Oct 13 2009 Published by under Writing

About six months ago, I stepped away from my novel series, Giant Armors. I couldn’t see a way forwards, and worried that I was pushing forward on a stale idea. These things can die.

I spent the past six months concentrating on other things. I knew that I needed time for my brain to breathe, to work on different problems, so it could approach Giant Armors again with a fresh perspective.

I looked back at the series a week ago, and discovered—to my considerable surprise and relief—that I still have the same passion for it that I had while writing Book 0 years ago. I love it, and I want to continue it.

Problem: I’ve half-published book 0 online, and am stuck on book 1. What to do?

Thanks to a video by Chris Brogan, of all things, I figured out what I need to do:

  1. Finish publishing book 0 online.
  2. Create a contest, viral if possible, that will get folks to read book 0.
  3. Re-read book 1, re-writing it from scratch if it needs that.

So I’m back to publishing chapters of book 0 on every week. I’ve been re-reading book 1, and discovering that while it needs major surgery, it can be fixed.

So, the six month Sabbatical was worth it. I have a path forward.

Now to follow it and see where it leads.

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Bird By Bird

Sep 17 2009 Published by under Writing


The toughest part of writing is to keep writing.

It’s easy to type merrily away when inspiration strikes. Ideas flow! Characters pop out of one’s forehead, full-formed!

The question is, will you write the next bit tomorrow? And more the day after? And again next week?

An 80,000-word novel is a Frankenstein’s monster of tiny parts added every day. Another five hundred words one day, maybe two thousand words the next. But this is accompanied by horrific surgery, as large sections are gutted and replaced with another few hundred words pulled from this bin over here, then carefully massaged and sewn into place.

So, a real writer writes. Every day.

I’ve heard of some writers who only write, say, once a week. I don’t quite believe it. There’s too great a chance you’ll miss a day. Besides, this is like saying that, instead of running for an hour a day, you’ll just run for seven hours every Saturday. The muscles atrophy, whether they’re physical or mental.

How to find time to write? You make time. I set aside 9:00pm every day to write. If I’m laying in bed at eleven o’clock or midnight and realize that I forgot about it, I get up, go into my studio, and write.

I wish there were shortcuts. I wish it was easier.

But every day, I write. And I’m now several thousand words into this novel, and I have a grip on it. I can move forward.

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The New Thing

Sep 08 2009 Published by under Writing


The idea leapt into my brain and grew rapidly.

I’ve no idea, even now, where it came from. I do remember tweeting about it on 27 August.

As is usual with ideas, it was a synthesis of several things I’d seen recently and several things I like. I imagined a character like Max in The Road Warrior–serious, driven, quiet, living in a harsh world. I crossed that with Vampire Hunter D, which I’d read the first few issues of a couple months ago—a serious, incredibly skilled man thrown together with a fiery girl.

Which gave me the idea for a story.

I did what I’ve learned to do as soon as I have an idea: I write it down. In this case, in a text file on my laptop. I have probably two dozen ideas in there now, collected over the course of the past two years (a small number, really, by most writers’ standards…but then, I’ve written little new in the past two years).

As I wrote down the idea, I fleshed out a few of the ideas that begged for detail. The man is a vampire, living in a post-apocalyptic world. The girl is a vampire hunter, initially, though she quickly passes the limits of her abilities, and the vampire protects her.

In other words, it’s a manga. But written. It’s a cross between Mad Max, Vampire Hunter D, and Twilight.

That makes me gag a bit, even just writing it out.

But it’s the best idea I’ve got at the moment, and it’s tugging at me to be written. So I’m writing it.

More to follow, God willing.

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614 Words of a Rough Draft of the First Giant Armors Novel

Aug 01 2008 Published by under Writing

“We’ve had a stroke of luck,” Toreas said. “Someone reported some suspicious activity near Roc Sarat, a ruined fortress not that far from here. Turns out, a lot of carts have been going in and out, some containing weapons. We think this is a major storehouse for the rebels. You all will attack it today.

“So,” Michael said, his voice neutral but clear, “how do we smash them?”

Toreas’s eyebrows shot up. “We will not smash them. We cannot.”

“You want this over, right? So why shouldn’t we?”

Toreas sighed. “Because you’ll be fighting our own people. Smash them and they’ll hate Duke Suranta forever.”

“They won’t fight back ever again, though.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Toreas said. “Can you predict the future?” Michael frowned, sensing an insult. “Even if they never rebel, they’ll talk about Duke Suranta’s handling of this rebellion until the day they die. Break a man’s hand, and he’ll hate you. Block his fist, and he respects you.”

“I get it,” Sam said, a quick grin on his face. He began to hop in place, as though his energy had nowhere else to go. “So we do just enough to keep them from hurting anyone. Should be fun to try in a big robot.” Michael looked forward to seeing Sam in his Armor, working out some of that energy.

“Impossible,” announced Dirk. Everyone looked with surprise at the dark-haired boy, who was scowling at the map. It was his first word all day. “Those Armors are siege weapons. They’re meant for large-scale annihilation, tearing down walls and throwing boulders at armies. All we have to do is take one wrong step and one of these rebels becomes a red puddle.”

“I can handle it,” Sam said, meaning every word. “Didn’t you feel how well we can control those things? Inch by inch. We’ll be fine.”

“Maybe you,” Michael said. He was more firm than he intended, so he softened his tone so he wouldn’t offend Sam. “Look, you can control your Armor really well. What about the rest of us?”

Dirk waved a hand over the map. “This whole thing will be even worse a year from now if we go out in those Armors,” he said. “No matter what we do, it’ll just get worse.” Henrietta’s big eyes got bigger.

Michael gave Dirk a hard look and said, “What, can you predict the future?” Dirk gave him a poisonous glare, but he shut up. Michael didn’t want to tick him off, but he had to shut him up before everyone got too discouraged.

Sam looked back at Toreas. “I’m not afraid. So what do we do first?”

Toreas paused to collect his thoughts. Michael and Dirk stewed. Toreas opened his mouth, and Kayla interrupted, “Wait a minute.” All eyes turned to her. “If we can’t just do anything to the rebels, what can we do? How much is too much?”

Toreas nodded, acknowledging the wisdom of her question. “Destroy their resources. Prevent them from hurting others. Herd them like frightened sheep. They may not move easily, but they will move.” He paused. “The Armors will frighten them. Take advantage of that, but don’t provoke them. A cornered animal will fight to the death.”

Michael’s frown deepened. Sam was listening with half an ear, waiting for the cue to leap into action. Dirk didn’t seem to be listening at all, just brooding over the map. Kayla and Henrietta were paying attention, but how much of this would they truly understand, out on the battlefield? When they look down at a crowd of angry, frightened peasants, would these girls really “herd” them?

There was only one way to find out.

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How to Critique Fiction

Jun 17 2008 Published by under Writing

I’m just back from writer’s group, in which I received critiques on a fantasy short story of mine.

Scott, the critiquer, always gives great critiques. Here’s why:

  • He’s detailed. As he writes, if anything strikes him as strange, out-of-place, or awkward, he immediately notes it in the margins. This is incredibly valuable, as I try to figure out what a reader understands as he or she reads.
  • He doesn’t rant or punish. He describes his reactions and problems, and suggests remedies, in the spirit of improving the story. His entire critique is focused on improving the story and the author.
  • He’s unfiltered. While always polite, he writes down every opinion and judgment as he makes them, even if they’re personal or may not apply to every reader. As he says, the author is always free to ignore every critique made, but it’s better to have more suggestions to think about than less.
  • He marks everything with an easy-to-read red pen, in print (not cursive).
  • He writes overall impressions on the last page, so I can compare his reactions as he read the story to his final impression. This is invaluable.

If you ever have to critique someone else’s writing, please emulate Scott. I look forward to critiques partly because of him.

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May 27 2008 Published by under Writing

Let me tell you about Ratliff.

Stephen Ratliff wrote fanfic (fan-written stories) about Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have nothing against fanfic. Most of it is bad, but most of anything is bad (Sturgeon’s Law). Fanfic’s a good training ground for writers.

Ratliff’s stuff, in comparison, was cheesy in a way that rivalled the worst movies used in Mystery Science Theater 3000. His stuff had poor spelling and grammar, simple characters, and some of the most unrealistic situations imaginable.

For example: His recurring characters comprised the “Kid’s Crew,” a set of nine-year-olds who pilot and crew a starship. Yes. Nine-year-olds. And they do very well; they quickly rise up the ranks of the Federation and resolve major political standoffs.

I mentioned MST3K. Online MST3K fans learned of Ratliff and pounced. His works were perfect fodder for riffing.

Then Ratliff got wind of this. His reaction should be a model for anyone who finds this happening to their work: He sent them his work. He notified MST3K fandom every time he released a new story. He even read the riffs.

And he paid attention.

As he produced stories and the kids grew into their teen years, they started acting up. They got weirded out. They became troubled, even depressed. And one character reflected that this was because they rose too far, too fast; that all this adventure and pressure was too much for children to handle.

Ratliff’s spelling improved, his characters deepened, and his stories became progressively less ridiculous. By the time I stopped reading his stories, he was producing solid fanfic. Nothing professional-quality yet, I’d judge, but he’d improved greatly.

How? By listening. By being a pro. He read a lot of stinging criticism, and he didn’t take offense at it. He extracted the important meaning from it and applied it to his work. And he kept writing.

I have tremendous respect for the man.

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