New Milestone: 500 Follows!

fireworks1The good people that run WordPress have just informed me that this humble blog o’ mine has reached an important milestone. As of 3:00 AM this morning (Pacific Daylight Time) I received my 500th follow! Combined with followers from Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter, that brings the grand total to 2,091!

I’m especially happy about this because for some time now, I’ve had trouble breaking the 2050 mark. It seemed that with every new follower, I would lose one, and that’s never nice. Sounds greedy, I know. But it seems that the more people you have willing to listen to you, the more concerned you are about keeping that following.

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Naturally, I want to thank all those people who have signed on to follow Storiesbywilliams. This past March marked its third anniversary, and for those who have chosen to stick with me over the past few years, I am especially thankful. The support and encouragement I have received since deciding to go public with my writing have made quite the difference.

Not only has it helped me to bring my written work to publication by giving it the feedback and constructive criticism it needed, it has been the difference between toiling in anonymity and making meaningful connections with people. This is why I began writing in the first place, and knowing that there is a receptive public makes all the difference.

Here’s to three years more and (fingers crossed) another 500 followers! And to those I’ve been following myself, I hope I have managed to make a similar contribution to your work. None of us is alone on this journey and we all need to know that we are doing matters to others. May it lead us all to somewhere joyous, fruitful and (God willing) profitable as well!

Writing About Trauma

depression1-650x487Delving back into the world of Whiskey Delta, I’ve found myself coming back to a familiar theme for me that informs much of my writing. It’s the theme of trauma, how one experiences the feelings of being overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, and at a loss for control in their life. For those who follow the Whiskey Delta series, all of these are things that keep coming up for one main character – Sergeant Aaron Dezba.

In the story, Dezba is haunted by the loss of his wife and daughter – two people who became infected by the zombie virus and turned into living horrors. Unable to deal with it at first, he locked them in his basement and kept them alive, hoping that some kind of cure might be found someday. But upon learning that such a thing would never be possible, he killed them both and fell into a deep depression.

zombie-girlAs the story continued, he found a measure of redemption by confessing his crimes and rededicating himself to completing a mission that could possibly result in the creation of a vaccine. Though the virus could not be cured, the researchers in the story were able to fashion something that would immunize the uninfected against it. However, Dezba never forgot the loss of his wife and daughter, and remains haunted by this and similar traumas throughout the story.

In attempting to write about this, I actually drew a lot on my own experiences. Mercifully, I have not lost my wife or a child, but trauma is something I’ve experienced in my own life. It’s something I’ve never talked about in this forum, but thought that I might share it at this time. You see, a few years back, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and it was pretty obvious to the people I sought help from that it was caused by an extended period of high stress that I found myself in just previous to that.

https://i0.wp.com/blogs.psychcentral.com/nlp/files/2013/11/naturalremediesfordepression.jpgI’ve always been an OCD-type person; but apparently, enduring extreme stress can make the symptoms ten times worse, which pretty much describes my reality ever since! The short version is that during the fall/winter of 2007, I was working for three months in an isolated community, teaching grade 5/6 to a bunch of kids who hated my guts because I replaced their previous teacher.

He, I say at the risk of editorializing, was a selfish prick who ran out on them because he was pissed about trivial disciplinary matters. And he took all the resources with him, leaving me with nothing. The first week, I got virtually no sleep and felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I tried to quit, but couldn’t stomach the long-term consequences it would cause to my teaching career. No one else on the island was hiring, which meant I would have to find another career.

https://i0.wp.com/www.smarttop10.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Top-10-Home-Remedies-for-Depression.jpgWhat’s more, my father was absolutely livid when he found out I was hoping to quit, and I didn’t like the idea of being estranged from him. But mostly, I didn’t think I could live with the consequences of such a failure. And so, for the next three months, I stuck it out, committing to stay until someone permanent was found. And finally, at Christmas, they found my replacement, plus several more (more than a few people quit by this point in the year).

I then returned home happy and relieved as all hell, but found that I still couldn’t sleep right and was feeling quite anxious all the time. Eventually, my mother suggested I might be depressed and recommended I go talk to someone. I did, and they diagnosed me with acute depression and anxiety. Things got better, without the need for drugs, but I found over the course of the next year that I could not return to what I considered to be normal.

https://i0.wp.com/www.findingoptimism.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/depressed_7_w.jpgIt was quite hard for me to hold down a regular job, and I absolutely needed regular sleep or I was just not the same. Eventually, I began to take meds and sought counseling until I thought I had a handle on things. Still, I was not too comfortable around my parents, my father and I had several strained conversations over how I felt he had made things worse, and when my wife and I moved in together, I was quite happy.

That too improved, but as soon as we left Comox to move to Victoria, I felt myself having problems again. I had stopped taking meds around this time, and being outside of my comfort zone made a big difference, I found. I once again sought out counseling, took a new kind of medication, and once again came through. I’ve been through many changes these past few years and things have gotten better, but the problem remains.

When serious stressors strike or something comes along that sets off my OCD, I suffer from acute anxiety, panic attacks and depression, and it usually takes a few days before it all finally goes away. I’ve come to learn so much from these episodes, like how one’s own mind can become their greatest enemy, just how much a person can endure, and how wonderful it feels coming out the other side.

https://i0.wp.com/www.personal.psu.edu/afr3/blogs/siowfa12/vetptsd.jpgEvery time, I manage to come through okay. But I always wonder, is this the way it’s going to be for the rest of my life? Will I be subject to severe bouts of OCD forever, or can I expect to be normal again? Well, normal for me, at any rate. These are the kinds of feelings and questions that I tap into whenever I need to write a character who has endured trauma and feels like he or she will never be the same again.

I explore these questions because it is something I now know. It is my private shame, and something I only share if I need to, or I choose to get really up close and personal. But writing is perhaps the most personal thing of all. And when I write, I choose to express my own experience with trauma as accurately and vividly as I can. It’s like a form of therapy, and I do believe it has made me a better writer.

As for the rest… Well, as the sayings go, life goes on. That which does not kill us, makes us stronger. And when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And if you’re a writer, keep hammering those keys and turning your personal pain into art. Otherwise, what the hell good is it?

Papa Zulu: First Round of Edits Done!

editing1At long last, and months after I was hoping to have it done, I’ve finally managed to give Papa Zulu a full first-round edit. Now, I just need to make all the corrections, maybe get an edited proof, and let my beta readers look over it for additional mistakes. Alas, after all that reading and correcting, this is only the first of many read-throughs.

See, this is why I hate editing! It’s slow, tedious, repetitive, and I hate having to read my own writing because it’s like listening to your own voice droning on and on and on. But lucky for me, I’ve got people lined up to handle things from here. Good thing I decided not to do NaNoWriMo and instead dedicate myself to this. Otherwise it would be 2014 before anyone saw this sequel! Not to toot my own horn, but those who liked Whiskey Delta did ask for a sequel. People don’t like to be kept waiting…

Pappa_Zulu1Oh, and when it is finished, this is what the cover will look like. I chose to split the difference and incorporate the best of both covers, which gave me this. Look for it on Amazon and Kindle in the coming weeks. Onto round two!

 

NaNoWriMo 2013!

https://i0.wp.com/susandennard.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/NaNoWriMo.pngWell, NaNoWriMo is once again upon us. And after two years of taking part, I am contemplating a third. The only problem is, I kind of got nothing to go with right now. Sure, I got some ideas, some possible suggestions. But I don’t feel I have the inspiration. So I thought maybe making a list might help shake the rust loose and provide me with a needed push. Maybe a few suggestions could help there too.

Basically, I have it narrowed down to four possibilities. First, I have a repitched old idea that I’ve been looking to rework for some time, followed by a short story idea that I think has potential and would like to see written in full, a third installment in my zombie series that needs to be written at some point, and the option of ditching all that in favor of finishing up with my edits and reading.

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Here’s a basic rundown on each:

  1. Apocrypha: This is a story I began writing back in 2008, but stopped when it started to go nowhere. Since that time, I threw out the original draft, began rewriting it, and then threw that one out too. It’s a story that seems to stick with me and has potential. It just needs a good rewrite. It takes place in the coming decades, in a world approaching the technological singularity and also reeling from the effects of overpopulation, displacement and climate change.
  2. Pavitratā: This story was originally called Purity, and it involves a battalion of Marines who are being sent to a distant solar system to stabilize the situation on a colony world that has descended into civil war. Plenty of action, adventure, and maybe even a little social commentary. Hard to say, lets see where it goes!
  3. Oscar Mike: The third installment in my Whiskey Delta series, this book picks up directly after events in Papa Zulu. It takes place roughly six weeks after the battle that characterized most of that book, and introduces another major twist to the story which threatens to alter the entire course of the zombie war.
  4. Shag NaNoWriMo! I got work to do: As I am still not finished editing Papa Zulu, reading some stories for review, or catching up with a whole lot of relevant stories that have taken place in the last few weeks, I could just forego the whole damn thing and stick with the work I’ve got.

Those are my options. And just to make it fun, I thought I might put in a poll card and get people to vote. What do you think I should do for the month of November?

1000th Post! Yaaaaaay!

fireworks1Gee, I don’t know what to say here… Aside from the fact that this post coincides quite nicely with the 2nd anniversary of this blog, which just came and went, and comes what I can only assume will be a week before the site reaches the milestone of 250,000 hits. So I guess there are a few reasons to celebrate. And at times like this, when we take the time to look back, I also like to look ahead and see about what goals need to be set.

Well, in the last year I wrote two zombie stories which still need to be edited and released. And on top of that, I’ve already begun plotting the third and final one in the trilogy. When they are complete, I hope to release them individually and as a box set, so zombie fans can decide for themselves just how much reading they want to do! Trust me, I’m not sparing with my use of words, but I do like to think I keep them interesting.

Whiskey_DeltaThen there’s Yuva, which is coming along nicely, but needs a big push to get to the finish line. And who better than yours truly, el editore-en-hefe (that’s editor-in-chief for those who don’t speak mangled Spanish)? Of the sixteen stories in the anthology (we started with twelve), fourteen are spoken for. Not bad, but as the editor, I need to whoop some butts to make sure we make our summer deadline!

Ah, which is itself a bit of news. After talking it over with my co-editor and inspirational muse, Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali, we decided that a hard deadline was needed. Some people specifically asked for one when initially signing on, but I’ve left that somewhat open, as I’m kind of loosely-goosey when it comes to timetables. I’m more of a flex-hours kind of guy, task-oriented rather than time-oriented. But as it stands, summer of 2012 is when I hope everyone will have their homework in!

gliese-581.jpgAnd of course, Data Miners had just come out, and it’s proposed sequel, Data Pirates, has been sitting on the shelf for some time. DM took me three years to write, so naturally I’m hoping for a speedier turnover on this one! And whereas the first one focused on the subject of “white-hat” hackers, people who believe in freedom and information, Pirates will focus on the darker aspects of hacker culture, on the so-called “black-hats”.

DatapiratesAssuming I can get all that done in a timely manner, there’s the matter or revisiting a very long-term project, one which I’ve been working on since late in 2009. As some may know, I released a novel called Source some time ago. Almost immediately after I finished writing it, before it was even published, I began work on the sequel, entitled Fortress.

As part of the dystopian, distant-future collection, it’s a old-school sci-fi romp that is dark, gritty, and has lots of war, struggle, and mysanthropic impulses. However, I decided to commit to some sequels to it in order to ensure some measure of a happy ending. No dystopian story, unless its purpose is to issue a stern warning (see 1984 or Brave New World), should offer its readers some slim ray of hope (see Catch 22).

FortressYeah, I design covers before the work is even complete. What can I say, I like to see how a book will look, long before it’s even finished! Hopefully, these covers will pack a good 40,000 plus words in between their two folds. Oh, and if anyone knows a good editor who works for cheap, I could sure use their help! I like to write, I do multiple projects, but when it comes to my own work, I suck horribly!

And of course, there’s the editing that needs to be done for Rami and other friends, still yet to be completed. And always, the research into the future and what course it will take must continue. Always, always continue. The world is not slowing down and neither is the future, despite what some weirdos might say! 🙂

Happy 2nd Anniversary, Stories by Williams!

happy-anniversaryI got a friendly little notification this morning. As it turns out, it was two years, twenty four months, and one-hundred and four weeks ago that I started this blog and began sharing my writing and inane thoughts to the general public. My apologies public, but we’ll get to your grievances later. Right now, I want to put those two years into a perspective using a few numbers I gathered.

As the song from Rent says “Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes… how do you measure, measure a year?” Well, up that to two years and you’ve got one-million, fifty-one thousand, two-hundred minutes, and the following numbers, according to my latest stats check. In the past two years I’ve managed to gather:

  • 238,972 hits
  • 8,778 likes
  • 4,461 comments
  • 977 posts
  • And most importantly of all, 1,945 followers!

I have to say, those are some nice numbers and they make me smile! And so does the prospect of doing this for the foreseeable future. There’s still a moment that I feel I’m building towards, some kind of climax this site and what I want to accomplish with it hasn’t quite met yet. Don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, I’m pretty happy with how this site has worked out for me. People always start writing with a purpose, and they take all that public once they’ve decided they want to share it. As for me, I guess I just wanted to say something relevant that mattered to people, and to know that the message was received. Thanks for being on the receiving end folks!  And please feel free to keep tuning in! The show’s just getting started…

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Sickness, Weariness, and more Rejection

Weariness_by_Eireen

Wow, that title line sounds depressing. But that’s kind of my state right now, dealing with a worsening cold, some serious commitments that leave me strung out, and another form letter telling me my work is “not a good fit”. Yes, it seems that this past week has been the week from hell, or at least my own limited version of it. I have heard some people describe a week which could set your teeth on edge, so mine is really just a whiner’s approximation. Still, I think it’s been pretty sucky and I intend to complain. So consider yourself warned!

Oh, and my apologies to all those who read my site and have been taking part in the superhero challenge, or who are waiting on edits from me and have noticed delays. The events of the past week have been preventing me from being my usual verbose self, not that I’m making excuses. I’ve written and edited sick before, but things have been different lately. That should change soon, but until such time, let me tell what’s been occupying the past few days..

It all started around Wednesday, when I felt the onset of sickness that was characterized by bad headaches, general congestion and stuffiness, and a lack of energy. I figured twenty-four hours would be all I needed to kick it, so when I got a call asking me to fill in for an EA at the school where I work, I accepted it.

There’s a reason they call it “dog tired”

That night, I slept about five hours, worrying I wouldn’t be any better. Somehow, knowing you have to sleep to make the following day work always gives me parasomnia. By morning, I felt like crap and figured there was no way I was making it in. However, the lady who called me and asked me to fill in had already left town – her daughter was having a baby! So instead, I went into school, grabbed the sub list, and began calling everyone on it to see if anyone could take my place. No one was available, except one lady who was also sick but willing to soldier on. That clinched it for me! People were having babies and willing to work sick, so why was I trying to duck out? I decided at that point to officially to suck it up, slug some coffee, and do my damn job!

Well, that didn’t go so well. For starters, I was in the Kindergarten room with the woman I like to call the “micromanager”. She’s nice, but the tendency to explain simple tasks in minute detail, which annoys me! However, silver lining, she was impressed with the way I knew how to use the fancy functions on the printer and gave me a ton of administrative work to do. I like this stuff, so I spent much of the afternoon getting her lessons prepared for the coming weeks.

But of course, there were downsides. For one, it took me three cups of coffee just to keep from passing out. Two, the main child I was responsible for needed to be changed at the end of the day. This was the first time I changed a dirty diaper in my life, and it was one of the most icky experiences I’ve ever had! You don’t put a grown man and a child in a closed room together, as a rule, especially when it involves changing their clothes and cleaning them up. But I got through it and was kind of honored they trusted me enough to do something so sensitive.  Ah, and then came downside number three, which was me being given bus supervision at the end of the day. And clearly, the children picked this day to be extra hyper and constantly be out of their seats and making messes with food and drink (which they are not supposed to have on the damn bus)!

But alas, it all ended and I went home to pass out. My wife was a real sweetheart and took the bus home too, and made dinner so I could rest. I made the mistake of sucking down some beer so I could feel better, which didn’t do me any favors since the next day, the cold was back with a vengeance. And I knew that we had to get up early and go help her brother move the next day, so I tried to get some rest and recoup. Needless to say, Saturday was a real trial! All day we spent cleaning out his cottage, vacuuming up cobwebs, dealing with black mold, and trying to erase ten years of continuous habitation. My feet got soaked from the muddy grounds outside, and once again my head was throbbing and my body aching and sore.

Oh, and when I opened my email to see what I’d missed, I found a letter from the latest magazine I submitted my work to, telling me that Domicile 4.5 was not a “good fit” with their work. They didn’t even mention the numerous articles I sent them, but I assumed their opinions on those were the same. It didn’t help that the message was clearly a form email letter with the field for the title of the submission being left open. That made what was already a hard day even harder! But at least we had some hot pizza and some sack time to compensate.

Today, we go back to help out some more. The moving is largely done, but there’s still some odds and ends to pack up. Then, silver lining again, we will get to see my wife’s family and see the new puppy her mother got! She looks so cute and furry from the photos, so I imagine the day will improve. Ah, but then the weekend is over, and I’m committed to go up north to house sit my parent’s house this Wednesday, their eight cats and my grandmother during mid-week. Sounds like a mini-vacation, but we already did that this past summer; and believe me, it was not a vacation!

As I griped to my wife about last night, when am I supposed to get better here? Unless I don’t get worse today (again), and Monday and Tuesday prove to be restful and incident-free, I’ll be going north a veritable corpse, in danger of infected my grandma. Dammit body, get better! However, I anticipate a third silver lining, as the days up in Comox with little to do but housesit, catsit, and make sure my Grandma is attended to will give me plenty of time to recoup and catch up on all my writing and editing duties. I’m hoping I will be better come Wednesday, and the trip north won’t be like this weekend, feeling half-dead in the midst of highway driving!

Like I said, full of complaints and whininess. In the grand scheme, I got nothing to complain about. I just really need this week to be over, know what I’m saying?

What Else Is On…

Well, that was helpful. And by that, I mean making an extensive reading list. However, my lists don’t end there. Neither does my affliction, known as literary ADD. In addition to the books I need to finish, there’s also quite the list of stories I need to finish writing. It seemed only fitting and appropriate that I make a separate list pertaining to them.

You see, when it comes to writing projects for myself, there are two categories. First, there are the short-term projects, the stuff that needs to be generated right now and finished in the not-too-distant future. Then there are the long-term projects, the things that have been ongoing. These projects can take years to reach completion, assuming they don’t lose my interest and fall into the inbox dustbin. Of the former category, I can think of four things that need to get done:

  1. Winston Agonistes: My submission for the Yuva anthology novel. This story is told from the point of view of a synthetic human (i.e. an AI) who is responsible for assisting with the day to day functions of the Yuva planetary council. His gift is a social science known as Ethical Calculus, a means of calculating the values of decisions based on their practical and ethical implications. In time, he comes to learn the truth about the settlement of Yuva and just what implications their long-term plans will have for the native life.
  2. Whiskey Delta: This is my ongoing web story involving the Zombie Apocalypse and the men who are fighting hard to beat it back in New Mexico in the near future. Told from several points of view,  , the story tells the tale of the Counterattack, the assault led by the enigmatic Major General Thur (“The Mage”) to retake the country and beat back the undead hordes.
  3. Crashland: Another ongoing web serial where audiences get to vote on the outcomes they want to see. So far, the story involves the unleashing of infopocalypse on the world, the path of former CEO William Holden as he found his way to the Exigencies special operatives, and their culminating efforts to rebuild civilization.
  4. Data Miners: And of course, my ongoing efforts to finish editing my full-length novel about hackers, cryptology, security and surveillance in the age of the internet. For months now, this story has been burning a hole on my desk, consuming many hours of re-reading and editing time, but always seeming to require more. Dangit, I hate editing my own work. It’s like a hole into which creative energy and time disappear!

As for long term stuff, well you’re better off only hearing about the more immediate ones. The rest can just sit there until I get bored! Too many ideas to occupy my short-term/long-term plans as it is.

  1. Fortress: The sequel to Source, the story of overpopulation, survival and the fight against extinction in the distant future. In this installment, things begin to go truly awry as humanity finds itself united between two disparate factions that are forced to come together to fight an even greater extra-terrestrial threat known as the Beast. However, as the war drags on and conditions worsen at home, people begin to turn against each other in the name of something just as important as survival. This story has been in the works for awhile and is nearing completion, but then again, Source has been out in paperback for some time too. It’s not going anywhere, so this is something I feel I can return to every now and then and not worry too much about.
  2. Data Pirates: The sequel to Data Miners, where the story takes a turn down a dark alley and deals with the world of anarchists, cyberterrorism and the development of Future Soldier technology. I’ve hammered out the first few chapters to this one, but since the first book is still in development, I’ve felt safe to put it down. Hoping to remedy that by getting the first one done and out there!
  3. Apocrypha: Here’s an idea several years old which still kicks around in my mind from time to time. Basically, this book combined two thematic elements which I’ve been obsessed with in the last few years. One is the concept of democratic anarchy, and how technology may very well be bringing up into an age where that is feasible. The second is the Technological Singularity, and how humanity reaching a threshold of consciousness scares some to the point where they would want to forcibly regress. I’ve written at least half of this book, trashed it, and then began rewriting it. Soon enough, I hope to resurrect it and redo it in full, since much of the same concepts are at work in Crashlands and seems to be working there.
  4. Legacies: Now this is the oldest of the old! This is my first full-length novel to never be published. Way back when, before I knew what self-publishing was, I created the manuscript to classically inspired sci-fi novel set in the distant future and paid a company to print copies. Then… nothing happened! Yes, for years, the copies floated around and were circulated to my friends, but not one saw the light of day outside my family and friendship circle. It remains a project which I have yet to commit to the public for reading, mainly because I feel I’ve matured to the point that it needs a big rewrite. I still love the idea of it, just not the way I went about writing it. Huxley called this the “chronic remorse” of writer’s, but to me, it’s too symbolic of all my rookie mistakes a writer, things I’ve since learned to do without. We’ll see if it ever pops up again.

Wow, seen back to back, this list is actually a lot more daunting than my reading list. Maybe putting things into list form isn’t such a good idea, just reminds you of all the stuff you need to do. Ah, what can you do? Not thinking about them doesn’t make them go away. And frankly, if I organized myself along these lines sooner, I might not have so much stuff in my inbox. But of course, any time it seems overwhelming, I just have to remind myself that no one is paying me to do this. That always make me feel… a million times worse! 😉

My Personal Writing Tips, or “How to Avoid Rookie Mistakes”

Proofreading and editing can be such a chore, I tell ya! Thought I’ve never been very good at proofreading and criticizing other peoples work, I find that it is when I am called upon to edit and evaluate their work that I most want to retreat into my shell. I feel selfish when this happens, mainly because of all the people I have asked to review my own work and give me their opinions. You’d think I’d be better at this aspect of it!

But of course, I know that part of the reason I hate editing the work of others is because I hate editing my own. I’ve noticed this about most people who enjoy writing, composing, and anything else that requires active revision and corrections. By the time the work is done, they want to put it down and forget about it, to let others handle the business of finding the flaws and pointing out the necessary corrections.

Alas, I’ve had to check most of that baggage ever since I started to become a member of several writing communities. In fact, I’ve even volunteered to act as a contributing editor for two major projects, one of which is the “Yuva Anthology” (begun by Khaalidah and myself), the other being the “Worlds Undone” Anthology. The latter one people might remember from a few months ago, when I was doing mock ups for a cover and happened to find some primo artwork to feature in it. Thanks again to cazzyae at deviantArt for her talent and generosity of spirit for that one! Thanks to her, Createspace’s easy interface, and the suggestions of many people at G5N, here’s how the cover came out:

Unfortunately, that has opened up a different can of worms for me. While I’ve definitely managed to overcome some of my reservations about reading other people’s work, I find that my pet peeves, or what I consider to be the marks of weak writing, keep rearing their ugly head. After reading many stories, I began to think that a tutorial might be in order to help some of the newbies avoid some rookie mistakes, ones which I have committed at least a half dozen times. Each!

I should also take this opportunity to thank Kristen Lamb, who’s impressive article “4 Writing Crutches that Insult the Reader’s Intelligence” reminded me of this idea. After seeing the title in my Inbox, I immediately zoomed over to her site to see if we shared the same pet peeves and sensibilities. Upon reading it, I could tell she was much more versed in this whole writing thing than I am! Still, I happen to share her appraisal of some bad writing habits, especially item number four in her list, “telling instead of showing”.

So, to take a page from her book (no pun!) and to make good on something I’ve been planning to do for some time now, I present you with the list of rookie writing mistakes it is best to avoid. All are the result of what I myself have done repeatedly, and have managed to weed out (for the most part) after many years of practice:

  1. Avoid Infodumping: Never start a story with a long, drawn out passage telling the reader what they need to know in order to set up the plot. For that matter, never let your story digress into such exposition either. A story is by definition a journey, with information, details, twist, and revelations provided bit by bit over time. Even if it’s a short story, never, ever simply announce what’s happening or what the significance of it is. Such actions turn what is supposed to be a tale into a description and is boring to read.
  2. Less is More: When it comes to explanations and descriptions, avoid excessive detailing. You don’t need to tell the reader everything about what’s going on, moment for moment, nor do you need to describe the scene in perfect detail. A simple, straightforward description of the scene and the interactions taking place is enough, let the reader’s imagination fill in the rest. Think of it like telling a crafty lie: if you want someone to believe it, don’t tell them a long story loaded with details, keep it simple, straightforward, and plausible. (Editor’s note: lying is wrong!)
  3. It’s called Background for a reason: One of the best tips I ever got as a writer was to “leave the background in the background.” This kind of overlaps with points one and two, but I keep it separate because of how often I see it and how it has factored into my own work. Much like explaining a scene or dumping info into a chapter, going to great lengths to establish the wider context in which the story takes place (i.e. “universe building”) is a bad idea. Stick to the story, only include that which is absolutely necessary, and let the universe build itself. In time, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to write follow-up pieces which will allow you to delve into different aspects of your fictitious world in more detail.
  4. “No one talks like this!”: If there’s one thing I learned from the Star Wars prequels and the Dune spinoffs, it’s that wooden dialogue can totally ruin a story. When drafting scenes that call for verbal interaction between characters, always keep in mind that this is supposed to sound like a conversation between actual people. Do not allow yourself to be swayed by duty to the story or the need to establish character elements. Those things that need to be conveyed are best when done with fine strokes and subtlety, and never, ever let your characters fall into expository passages where they simply say what’s goings on. Or to quote the Robot Devil from Futurama: “You’re characters lack subtlety. You can’t have people just announce their feelings! That makes me so angry!”
  5. Referencing: When writing a story that is meant to have allegorical similarities to today, or is meant to make a point about a specific issue, avoid referencing them too closely. Never say, “this was just like that thing that happened back then” or “it’s this all over again”. Let the reader infer what you are referring to with your carefully crafted, fictitious comparison. In Foundation, Asimov never directly compared the Galactic Empire to Rome, nor did Frank Herbert ever mention oil in relation to the spice in Dune. Once again, trust in the reader to make the appropriate conclusions and avoid telling them anything outright. Otherwise, you risk turning an “ah-ha” moment into an unimpressed “oh.”

That’s all I got. Suffice it to say, I am still learning and still looking for ways to perfect my craft. That’s never going to happen, of course, but it’s the goal which provides endless opportunity for improvement. Speaking of which, more samples will be forthcoming soon as I work my way deeper into “Winston Agonistes”, “Crashland”, “Frontera”, and “Fortress”. And most importantly of all, Data Miners will finally be ready for distribution by August long weekend! Yes, after roughly six months of delays, the editing of that story is finally coming to an end. But more on that in a bit.

In the meantime, keep hammering those keys, keep working on those manuscripts, and keep reaching for the brass ring of artistic perfection. And while you’re at it, feel free to share with me some lessons that you’ve learned along the way and feel obliged to share with the newbies in your field. There’s no shortage of lessons, as there are no shortages of mistakes 😉