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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Mailbox: Should I Outline My Book?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Thursday as long as I have enough to do.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.  And reword the greatest author in the English language to write a question to a sixteenth rate blog at your own peril.]    

Mark asks:

To outline or not to outline, that is the question.  Whether tis nobler in the plot to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous spontaneity.  Or to take arms against a sea of characters.  And by opposing, end them.  I really like to outline what I'm going to write, and a lot of writers in my group swear by it.  But I've noticed that many writers who I love seem to advise against it.  

Help me Obi-Chris Kenobi.  You're my only hope.  By which I mean, I might actually get an answer from writing to you, and Cory Doctorow just won't get back to me!


My reply:

Maybe you should leave the jokes to me, Mark.

Around here, the Shakespeare quips more along the line of taking Sonnet 23 to see The Book of Mormon while Unsupportive Girlfriend and I order a pizza and watch The West Wing reruns on Netflix. That or I make some crude references to the beast with three backs (See what I did there?) in an effort to seem "edgy."

I do like the Star Wars reference though.  I can probably work with that....

So my first disclaimer in answering something like this is always to do what works. Always. Whenever we get into a "right way to write" kind of question, I'm probably not going to end up taking a side so much as trying to explain the sides because that shit is like biting on tinfoil to me. Elitist douchey tinfoil.

Actually, that's not true. My really really first disclaimer should be that this is about fiction. If you are doing expository writing, outlining is one of the single most useful techniques you can use to organize your thoughts. If you want to turn in the worst abortion of an essay you possibly could, don't outline it at all (even mentally) before you sit down to write it. In fact, the success of outlining in the kind of writing most people are doing for the first 12-16 years of their writing career may be one of the reasons it is so popular when those people shift to fiction.

But my SECOND disclaimer is that you should always do what works for you. If outlining works for you, fuck everyone else right in the ear. Hard. Like grudge sex. Ear grudge sex. And if it brings you joy and contentment to outline, that's all that really matters. But that said, let me see if I can untangle this raging debate that threatens to tear our peaceful community asunder and shed some light on why so many established authors eschew outlining, and so many would-be writers swear by it.  (And why a few of the verses are viced?)

Is tossing out your outline the one thing that is holding you back from greatness? Money? Fame? Groupies? Groupie threesomes? Groupie foursomes? Groupie five--

Well, I trust you get the idea.

As usual, my advice in issues like this isn't to just pony up my personal opinion, say that everyone else is a mountain of mentally deficient pimple squeezings, remind you to tip your cocktail waitress, and then drop the microphone and spread my arms triumphantly as the feedback blows out everyone's eardrums.

Rather, I try to listen to who is saying what and why.

You are right to notice that many authors don't outline--at least not very much. Andre Dubois III says it's the worst thing you can do. Harlin says writing should be driving in the fog (I wonder if he knew about Mapquest). Stephen King discourages it. Murakami doesn't even know what the fuck is going to happen and he's probably going to win a Nobel prize for literature. This is because modern lit tends to be more focused on character. I don't just mean the literature genre either. Even in science fiction, westerns and mysteries, there is much more attention paid to the character than there has been. (Back in the day, the mystery was the story--now you need an interesting detective like Monk or House to solve it.) The characters should be driving the plot, and if you have already decided what is going to happen, very often it can feel like railroading to put your characters into that position. If your horror heroine tells you there's no fucking way she's going to check and see what that noise was, it is difficult to push her to do so, and if you've ever thought the characters were being really foolish in a horror movie, this is exactly what I'm talking about.  If you already know what everyone is going to do, there's no character development. Your characters are just puppets in your Kabuki Theater. Modern readers don't like that.

The Greeks loved it! Modern readers...not so much.

However, certain KINDS of writing practically require outlining. Any kind of television screenwriting will need to be tightly scripted to fit into a time slot. Thrillers, complex plots, and mysteries are often sludgy dribble with deus ex machina endings that give new meaning to "epically stupid" if they aren't outlined well before being written. John Grisham spends more time outlining than writing  (~cough~ it shows ~cough~).  Robert Ludlum does hundred page outlines or more. But these writers are also writing the sorts of things that need to be very tightly plotted.

And I will warn you up front, this type of writing is seen as "less literary" precisely because it does favor plot over character. So don't come crying to Uncle Chris that you weren't informed how your Legal Spy Thriller with the cardboard character who you might as well have described as "The role of this guy will be played by Tom Cruise," is not helping your bid for Nobel laureate.

Just sayin....

The problem is, a lot of outlining tends to come from an impetus not to write.

Wait. Hang on. Put down that pitchfork. Don't light that torch.

Before everyone gets REALLY pissed, let me qualify that.  I don't think everyone who outlines is doing it in order to avoid writing.

Those people exist, certainly. Let's not play happy make believe world where talking cat people have rainbow weapons and fight for the rights of kids to use their imagination. People who would rather outline than write are not exactly tough to find. Walk into any coffe shop in the continental U.S. and you can probably find no less than three of them sitting around outlining because they're not "quite ready" to start writing. The problem is, they're never quite ready. They don't ever get around to actually writing.  In the end they have these incredibly intricate outlines, but no actual words on a page. Oh, and they have coffee.

Believe me when I tell you that John Grisham doesn't have this problem. When he's done outlining, he writes a fucking book.

But finding poseurs is easy-peasy-hope-you're-sleazy. They sit around the gym talking arguing about whether it's better to do cardio or weights first but never get around to working up a sweat. They sit around drama departments and argue about method acting vs natural acting but never end up going to auditions. And they sit around art stores and argue about the merits and flaws of oils vs acrylics but never seem to actually do much painting. So what happens if we forget about these folk? What about well-intentioned writers who outline?

Again, do what works, but let me make sure I tell you about this other pitfall before I leave you to your own devices....

If I had to pick one way, Mark, in which successful, accomplished writers differ from dreamers it would be this: they respect the process. 

Accomplished writers know they have to work on a consistent routine--probably daily. They know it's going to take a lot of work instead of being genius right away. They know the first draft of anything is shit. They know they're going to rewrite. They know that things are going to get messy. They know they might take out scenes, even characters. They know there's going to be a moment where they realize that their entire first half isn't working and that they're going to have to have a good cry and redo the whole damned thing. They know that what they end up with is not going to look like what they started out to create. They know making mistakes is part of the process, and art is knowing which ones to keep. They know that if we could just sit down and write a good book, they wouldn't be so impressive.

Young writers hear stuff like this and they think: "Not MY story." They don't like these ideas. They don't want something to change from their initial vision. They don't want to have to take out a whole character or scene. What they want to do is get it right on the first shot.

Outlining can be a little bit like the opposite of respecting the process. It can be--I'm not saying it always is, but it can be--a way in which a writer refuses to give that control. It works against the process. It's like deciding ahead of time that the process won't count for this story because this story is going to go exactly how the writer wants. Many outliners seem to hope that with enough preparation, the first draft won't be shit--it will be exactly right.  If you just think about it enough, it will all come into place. That's not how art works.

You have to give up control.

Then again, for some people outlining is just their "zeroth" draft.  That's the way they write with broad brush strokes first. As long as they're willing to break out of the mold of what they have done and change things, there's nothing really wrong with it. As long as an outline isn't exerting control, it may not be so detrimental.

My last point--take a look at this great bit from Flavorwire where they reveal the outlines of several famous authors.  Obviously some authors outline or this would be a pretty fucking stupid article, right?

Right.

However, notice something about these outlines: with a couple of exceptions, notice how small they are. Most of these are one page--a one page outline for a whole book. Notice how what is being outlined are things like timelines and a handful of plot bombs, not the entire arc of every character or what they will do in reaction to those plot bombs. So if you're plotting a story with lots of plot, you might need an extensive outline, but if your characters are going to drive the plot, you may want to meet them and see what they want to do before you railroad them.

Order of the Phoenix is an 870 page book that is largely character based; Rowling used a single sheet of notebook paper to outline it. A single sheet for 870 pages to outline the best selling novel of all time. Let that sink in.

There are some pretty solid reasons to outline and some pretty solid reasons not to. If your characters feel two dimensional, if you are trying to write character based fiction, or if you are outlining to avoid the mess that will become your draft, you should toss the outline and see what happens. If your stories wander off their main plot, you are writing tight plot based fiction (like thrillers or mysteries), or you find that even after a shockingly brutal bout of self-honesty you can say that you are not using outlining as a way to not write, but you still enjoy outlining, then you should probably be outlining.  To the best of my knowledge, you are no more or less likely to form the beast with three groupie backs if you choose one or the other.

And that's all that really matters. Well, that and all the meaningful artsy soul enrichment stuff.

I hate to end without a definitive answer, but you don't really get that Peter North caliber money shot unless you ask questions like: "Should I read?" or "Is it good to write every day?"

Pay attention to why you like outlining. You should consider the kind of writing that you are doing and that you want to be doing. (You PERSONALLY, Mark, may want to consider the fact that the writers you love tend to avoid outlining.) Most importantly, you should check yourself to make sure outlining is not something you're doing instead of writing, and then you should do what works for you.

Oh, and then you should kick anyone in the nuts and/or punch them in the tit if they try to tell you that you're doing it wrong. Cause fuck them, that's why.

Personally I don't outline, but I also have a very good memory for the general landscape of a few plot points and the sheer enjoyment of finding out how my characters are going to handle themselves beyond that.  I write as much to discover what is going to happen and delight myself as anything else.  In a way I'm reading my own work.  Some of my most hackneyed moments have come from trying to force my characters to do something they didn't want to do to get the plot to do what I wanted.

Sorry to be all Obi Chris Kenobi on you, Mark, but you're going to find that many of the outlines we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

Also, do me a solid (get it?) and hook me up with a translucent glowing blue groupie, will ya?
Preferably two.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Last Chance to Vote for Best Stand Alone SciFi Novel


Please take a moment to give us your opinion on which of these write-in nominations is the best stand-alone Science Fiction novel.

Imagine the scene:

You are sitting with your child.  Perhaps you are eating or playing a game.  Whatever you are doing, their youthful exuberance is making the moment light and happy--like a late spring frolic through a gorgeous field of clover and daisies, when the pollen count is down and animals have stopped mating out in the open, and the bees won't swarm you and sting you right in your face.

In short, perfect serendipitous whimsy.

You look at your child, with their doe-like eyes, filled with innocence and that perfect trusting love, and a wash of deep affection crashes over you like a cliche wave at high tide.  It is as if you cannot pick a more perfect moment.

They turn to you, tilt their head at that tiny angle that reveals a perfect, angelic curiosity--like a questioning cherub.  Then they speak"

"How the fuck could you not vote for the best stand alone novel?" they ask.  "I mean do you just not care if Flowers For Algernon ends up being the best Science Fiction novel, or what?  What in the name of Jesus's Middle Eastern summer-sweaty scrotum is WRONG with you people.  How could you not care?  HOW COULD YOU NOT CARE?"

And there, on that perfect day, you watch that child-like innocence die before your very eyes.  And not a Disney death either where the innocence just falls off something tall and you never see the suggested end.  I'm talking like the last Pawnee in Dances With Wolves; the innocence lifts both arms and gives a war cry before being shot by like...fucking everybody.

That's your innocence.

Then your child becomes jaded and twisted, and from that day forth, their response to everything involving democracy, an opinion, even life itself is "Why bother.  There's no point."

But now is your chance to avoid this fate.  Now is your chance to have a child who actually respects you and feels empowered to affect the world around them.

VOTE!!!

The poll is down below the "About The Author" section on the left.  Everyone gets THREE (3) votes--although only voting once makes that vote "stronger."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Six Things I Learned (as a writer) At Dundracon-Part 4


Part 1 To Boldly Go
Part 2 Mutant Saga
Part 3 Arabian Nights

Part 4- Break all the rules...consistently. 

5- Bad food is bad.

Yes, I've begun to feel the pangs of age that I was apparently supposed to start feeling a decade ago.  Other than running around saying "I'm getting to old for this shit!' and complaining that I was two days from retirement every time a gunfight erupts, there are actually some practical applications.  Hotdogs and cheeseburgers might make dreadfully convenient fare when one has a forty minute turn around between two five hour games, but my body is not the trash compactor it was in my chimerical twenties.

Gotta remember to put in the extra ten minutes to go somewhere where there is some cellulose in the food.

6- Friendship might be magic, but willing suspension of disbelief is even better.

Sunday night, I got into a My Little Pony LARP.

At first I wasn't sure.  I mean playing the iPod and being able to identify Apple Bloom is a little different than five hours of pretending that friendship really is magic, but Ace of Geeks always puts on a great show. Whether it's their blog and podcast or their first rate LARPS they (insanely) manage to crank out every major con (with few reruns).  They always take quality to the next level, so I was willing to take a chance. And their Dundracon offering of a My Little Pony LARP turned out to be no exception.

I got to play Flim (...or was it Flam?), and one of the better role players I've played with was my counterpart Flam (...or was it Flim)--we shall call this awesome roleplayer Wry-In.  We shall call him this because he can insert his hilarious wry humor into pretty much anything.  Wry-In even brought matching bowler hats and a fake moustache so we could really rock the look. You can probably tell all you need to about the character even if you never seen the show.  But in case you need some help, watch this clip:


I know I have to stop here.  I just can't let this go without some explanation.   Cause as soon as you say "My Little Pony," people completely, utterly, wholly lose their motherfucking minds.  Suddenly it's either the best thing in the world or the obvious mark of a pedophiliac and both sides get to work voiding their bowels at extraordinary speed (it's like a super power) in an effort to one up the other at completely losing their shit.

If you're too cool to watch this clip or to understand in your bones how fucking ultimately badass Twilight Sparkle is, and just how ass-reamingly hard she will kick you in your face if you mess with one of her peeps, that's okay with me.  Unless you're Chuck Norris or Ursula LeGuin, I'm not going to believe that you're too cool, but whatevahoodles.  It's actually a funny clip with a catchy tune.  But I am aware of the way My Little Pony makes people get....uh....weird.  I wouldn't want you to have to question your gender or age stereotypes by enjoying something that wasn't specifically crafted for your demographic.  I don't want you to have to like something that mainstream media tells you not to, after all.

I guess technically I'm a "Brony."  I've been bro-hoofed.  Someone chanted "one of us" at me.  I went through the secret ritual which I cannot disclose here lest I be impaled with a unicorn spire.  But, to be honest, beyond three or four episodes, I haven't really seen much of the show.  It's a really funny show, but it IS a kids show, so most of the time I can't watch hours of it like I can Doctor Who or Stargate.

Mostly, I just get a kick out of how I'm not supposed to like My Little Pony, and everyone who takes time out of their day to tell me I'm acting like a 12 year old girl.  They amuse me to no end.   If they would stop doing that, I'd probably find ponies FAR less entertaining.  But I whip out my My Little Pony iPad game just to watch people try to figure out what the fuck is wrong with my brain, and it is delightful.  I guess that makes me an Ironic Brony.

But back to Flim and Flam: these characters were AWESOME.  (I mean you have to hand it to any pair who can get an entire town of predominantly young women to chant "suck, suck suck.")  But we sold so much crap to people--from used apple cores to "monster-be-gone" apple cider.  I think we even signed a 10 record deal with Octavia and DJ Pon.  In the end we actually ran a con on Discord.  Trying to sell him the liquid hate for the "reduced price of 200 bits!"  He turned us into chickens and just stole it, quaffing the whole bottle in one swallow.

Discord is kind of a dick, tbh.

But Flim and Flam are con artists.  We didn't want to see Poniville hurt, we just wanted lots of money.  That's why what was in the bottle was actually liquid friendship.  Wry-In and I even did a big back to back smile as Discord felt his heart melt and ended up becoming friends with everypony again.

What the holy smoking cod semen does this have to do with writing, Chris?  Jesus tittyfucking CHRIST!

Shut up evil italics voice.  I'm getting to that.

Everyone was really cool about letting us con them.  I mean obviously the players knew we were conning them (our fricken names were Flim and Flam!), but they let themselves be taken advantage of as characters.  With only two exceptions they let us smooth talk them into buying lucky used apple cores and magical bow strings and stuff.  They were all very cool about enjoying the story rather than a "realistic" reaction to such an obvious...uh....flimflam. One of the exceptions was a younger player who I don't blame.  The other....I think she thought we were playing Game of Thronies or something because she was obviously channeling a little too much Cersei Lannister into her role of Sapphire Shoes.

The point is, you can get away with shit if you set the rules early.  Readers actually aren't going to get pissed off about a lack of realism.  They're going to get pissed off if you break your own rules.  That's why a gagillion Bronies love My Little Pony despite the naiveté of nearly every pony on the show, the reason we never once demanded to know what made an FTL drive work on Battlestar Galactica, the reason we cheerfully accept transporter technology on Star Trek even though a single transport would take as much energy as a sun going nova, but when you set up one set of rules and then break them, people call you out on your shit.

A writer should bear in mind that the internal consistency of their world is more important than some objective measure of realism.  Willing suspension of disbelief goes a long, long way.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Return Triumphant (This is not really a con report.)

To a geek this is like spinning rims or a gold tooth.
So normally Tuesdays is for guest bloggers--both the real ones and the really real ones, but to be honest I missed you all this weekend, and I missed writing here, so I thought I'd pop in and let you know that the con went well.  

Actually, if you can believe it, the con went a little TOO well.  Every other convention has involved at least one game I don't get into.  That's a six hour time slot of relaxation and writing.  I usually write for a couple of hours, take a nap, maybe even take a bath, read, and just chillax.  I had hoped to finish my DDC write-up and do a little bit of some other writing, but I just kept getting into games.  Again and again.  Even when I started to grow weary and kind of hope that I would get a break, I would show up on the roll sheet for my first choice.

The shuffler is a capricious and cruel mistress who usually denies me the one LARP I really, REALLY want to get into, but this year her harshly-taught lesson was: "Be careful what you wish for, mortal."

Supportive Girlfriend bought me a lifetime membership, so I have to go to Kublacon for at least nine more years to get my money's worth.  Plus since I'm an unrepentant manwhore, in order to Supportive Girlfriend, I'm going to have to act totally kept for a while.  So be sure you INCLUDE her in the groupie threesomes you might be planning for me.  Here's hoping the con doesn't take a sharp downturn in quality.  (Though I must say, I hope contracts are up soon and/or the decision to be in that PARTICULAR hotel is rethought.  As lovely as the site is, we are way too big a con for that venue, both in terms of hotel rooms and gaming space.)  Given that I've been coming for seven years now--Kubla was my very first gaming convention and where I got hooked on the dynamics of one-shot LARPs--I somehow doubt that I'll be disappointed in this purchase.

Anyway, tomorrow will be the last of the DDC write ups (even if it kills me) and I have lots of good stuff coming including a write up of THIS con, and the most amazing moment I have had as an artist/entertainer within the public sphere.   (There's an entry coming, but it involved T-shirts, an hour long blushing session, almost brought me to tears....and that's all you get for now except to say that it isn't nearly as dirty as my regular readers are probably assuming.)  Plus I have lots of good articles partially written on craft and process that have just sort of been log-jamming in my brain since my teaching stuff kicked into the high gear of finals.

Summer is here, though!  All that stuff has an out now!  I plan to take advantage of the free time before summer school kicks off, and get some really good articles into the cyberverse.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I Blew It. And Not in the Good Way.

No not that---  Damn it!
You've got a dirty mind, Google.
This is NOT what I meant when I said "Pure as the driven snow."
Well... the day has finally come.

I blew a deadline.

It was my deadline to myself, but I really wanted to get this last DDC write up done before we left for Kublacon.  That's not going to happen.  There's too much packing and prep left to do and only an hour to go before my peeps want to get out of here.

I just totally didn't give myself enough time to get ready given everything I needed to do.

I kinda feel terrible.  Especially to my patron peeps.  So, I'm going to do the closest thing I can do to "staying late."

I'll keep writing once I'm at the convention.  I'm not going to make this worse by heading off on vacation.  Depending on how many games I get into (or rather how many I DON'T get into), this article might go up later tonight, or it might go up on Monday. I usually take convention weekends off.  I do my usual daily fiction writing, and then go have some fun.  And with the three day weekend, there isn't a Monday article.

Writing About Writing is going to hit the ground running next week.  Now that Spring semester is over and before Summer school starts, I plan to do some serious penance for the last couple of weeks of jazz hands.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How Can I Support Writing About Writing? (F.A.Q.)

Short answer: Pay the artist!

Long answer:

Well there's the obvious.  Flowers.  Chocolates.  Promises you don't intend to keep....  But maybe you meant a somewhat less.....hands on way.

I get this question with caveats ranging everywhere from: "in ways that don't involve spending any money" to: "I have been hugely entertained by your blog for three hours, so I want to give you $8.75--the price of a movie."  So let me put this roughly in the order of how useful/helpful/supportive each method is.

1- An ongoing donation.  
Simply put, nothing will contribute more to the ongoing survival of Writing About Writing, support the site more, or ensure future offerings of fiction and timely articles than will a few dollars that I can reliably count on month after month and use to budget.  Nothing fuels an an artists' or entertainers' sense of duty more than feeling like they have a patron's generosity to live up to. (There are days my patrons were the only reason I wrote a word.)  Whether it is scaling back hours at my other two jobs or being able to give this blog the energy of a full time job, none of it will happen if I need to make ends meet from other revenue streams.  "Support your local artist," isn't just a slogan about pats on the back and encouraging emails.  If you want any artist or entertainer to be able to go on creating, the very best way to do that is to make sure their rent stays paid and their electricity stays on.

The easiest way to do this is through my Patreon. As little as a dollar a month helps me and will get you in on backchannel chats and polls.

2- A one time donation.  
Not everyone can give a set amount month after month but money will still be the most supportive thing a supporter can do. I hate to sound like a materialist, but writing is so much easier to do when the power isn't turned off.

A one time donation is easy through Paypal. Just look over to the left side for the conspicuously placed tip jar. I also have Venmo.

3- Subscribe. 
Success begets success. Big numbers attract attention and draw even more audience. More audience will widen the net for folks who might be able to afford to give a dollar or two. You can help me even if you don't have money to give yourself. If folks think their carefully written guest blog is going to reach 18 people, their attitude about contributing will be a little different than if they think it's going to reach 10,000.

Find all the ways to stalk me, and pick a few of your faves.

4- Share the articles you like on social media.  
The hardest part about blogging is getting the word out.  If I share a post on social media it's all my same friends seeing it again and again.  They all secretly (and some not so secretly) hate me and want me to shut up.  Not everyone likes my style.  Not everyone cares about writing.  Not everyone can maintain their composure when it's time to use their scroll wheel. Finding people who really like the work I'm doing is tough, so helping push that process along is incredibly helpful. You have friends I've never met.  Some of them might love what I do.  It is an absolutely free and easy way to really help W.A.W. to simply share the articles you like on various social media in order to help me to find the narrow niche of people who like both what I'm saying and how I'm saying it.  They're out there...but I need your help to find them.

5- Click the little buttons.  A lot.
In today's world of web content designers and search engine competition there is a "Red Queen Race" between content providers trying to figure out how to trick a search engine into listing them higher and search engines trying to make sure that what is high on a search isn't filler crap.  Google is constantly coming up with new tricks to make sure someone who's just dropping keywords into a fluff piece doesn't end up as the first result of a search.  One of the most effective ways to help an article get more traffic (by being a higher result on a search engine) is to do things like give it "Likes," "+1s" and "Thumbs Up."  If you want to help W.A.W. you might be just a little more generous with those endorsement buttons than for a normal site.

6- Comment or drop me a line.  
I am SO a real writer!
Am so.  Am so.  AM SO!!
It's a thankless job.  I make about a third of my bills from a forty hour a week job.  There have been a deplorable lack of hawt groupie threesomes since ever.  Most of the time no one makes a comment unless they've got a problem with something I've written.  And half the time I get these anonymous nast-o-grams that are absolutely intended to make my cry like the Dawson's Creek meme.  It's really nice to hear some of the good stuff from time to time whether it's just an article you particularly liked, or a general appreciation of my work.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Question: Will You Post More of Your Fiction? (FAQ)

Short answer: Yes, but.....

Long answer:

I will.  However, blogging takes a LOT of time and I have two other jobs that take thirty hours a week before I even sit down to write.  So my fiction hits this site slowly when I have the extra time to do it.  It isn't fire-and-forget the way some of my articles are or easy like cutting and pasting a bunch of memes.  I really try to polish fiction and think about it carefully and even run it past some peer review before publishing it.  And then I have to go and want to have time to relax and be with my family and shit.  It's madness I tell you.

So what that means is that I put in about ten fold as much time and effort on a page of fiction as I do on a page of a regular article.  If I published a lot more fiction, I would have a lot less time for the rest of the blog.  So I will keep posting fiction, but it will probably continue to trickle in until/unless I'm making enough money to forgo a lot more of my day jobs.

I'm also currently working on a novel that will drop here in serial format (in addition to being available in e-format and through print on demand).

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what I have posted over at the Reliquary menu: "And Occasionally Some Writing."

Question: What is Writing About Writing Supposed to Be? (FAQ)

In retrospect, perhaps an editor would have been a wiser purchase.
Full Question: Is Writing About Writing supposed to be a show, or a TV station, or like a building, or what?  And will you put all the "plot arc" posts in one place.  

Short answer: Yes.  And no.

Long Answer: Writing About Writing is a blog.  It is a blog with several different thematic segments.  It has many guest bloggers.  It broadcasts updates regularly.  It has a compound with central offices and a very nice gym in the east wing.  It has an independent staff including a monster named Grendel who works in the cafeteria and his mother who works in the kitchen.  It research and development team that experiments with the time space continuum when it's not trying to thwart evil guest bloggers who post bad writing advice.  It had an advanced cloning facility...but that blew up when it was attacked by inter-dimensional cephalopods bent on destroying the human race for my pretentiousness.  There is a weird guy on the third floor who is really over-the-top about his obsession with cheese. 

I trust that clears everything up? 

I will put the past season's main plot posts in one place.  But if you want to get the current season's story as it unfolds and/or you want to get every last development of the ongoing plot, I encourage you to read every day.  I have to reward my loyal readers somehow.

Question: How Can I Get Pageview Numbers Like Yours? (FAQ)

You too can make your pageviews into a phallic symbol!
Short Answer: Post free porn.  (Seriously, your numbers will explode--right up until your host shuts you down.)  

Long answer:

Write five to seven entries a week.  Make most of them 2-3 pages. Over half the entries should be original content of as high a quality as you can produce at that pace. (The other half can be a combination of trying to get people to vote on polls instead of just complaining about the results, link recommendations, personal updates, running gags, and threesome references.) Cross post everything. Annoy your friends. Post your own entries on Stumbleupon, (even though they discourage that) so that you can control the tags. Ignore the friends who threaten to "mute/unfriend/set you to "important only" if you don't shut up. Keep going even though you have days where 50 pageviews seems like a big deal. Avoid mobs of your friends with torches and pitchforks coming to kill you for your incessant self promotion. After a year or three, get back to me.

The main problem I see isn't that people working hard can't seem to improve their blog numbers. The main problem I see is that people who post infrequently and sporadically are looking for some kind of shortcut. There isn't one. 

I mean besides porn.

First of all, my blog really doesn't do that well. If you live in The Ukraine, you might think England is a steamy place for a sunny summer vacation, but if you live in Belize, England is an overcast popsicle. In this analogy there are an awful lot of Belizes. If I self-promote for hours a day (two to three), I can get around 10,000 hits.  It's a long, hard pain in the ass, and not in the good way. If I let things kind of go on autopilot without ANY self-promotion at all, I will get around 2500 hits. If I write an article and do some low level self-promotion (mostly just cross-posting on G+, Facebook, and Stumbleupon) I will probably get around 5000 hits. On a really good day, I make about $25 from writing. 

So let's keep these numbers in perspective. I'm hardly the next HuffPo or Gawker.

Honestly, I don't have a secret or shortcut. I don't want to channel your dad or anything ("The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary, you little whippersnapper ") but there's just no substitute for working hard to produce good content. That's why blogging and e-publishing and the new dimensions of the publishing industry are still not yielding fruit to people who don't apply ass to chair.

I know a little about SEO because I'm the kind of guy who does my homework on the activities I partake in. (You should have seen me in the library with the physiology books the day I finally got a girlfriend.  Though...um....maybe that's another story....) I'm much more interested in the writing itself, so I am more concerned about how much energy and time I'm putting into things that aren't writing--like SEO and self-promotion. I'm much more interested in finding the sweet spot where I'm doing the work I want and slowly growing than just getting "MOAR HITS!!!" no matter what. I also know that any attempts to "trick" SEO (like with keyword rich text) are met by search engines changing their search algorithms to ignore such tricks. Google prides itself on its ongoing ability to weed out bullshit and keep good articles at the top of a search.

This means the best advice I can give anyone (that will still be good advice in a year from now) is this: write good, high quality, original content as often as you can and on a predictable schedule. If you do that, your numbers will grow. Maybe not as fast as you would have hoped, but they will improve.

Check out the section in The Reliquary called Blogging About Blogging if you want access to all the insight I've gleaned. I'm not stingy with my insight.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Question: What's With All the Threesome and Cheerleader References? Are You a Total Perv?

The Short Answer:  Totes, yo!  You should see my porn collection!

The Long Answer: 

Well....yes, I am, but I don't usually stick my perviness in other people's faces.  Unless...you know...they ask for that sort of thing. 

So to speak.

Writing About Writing is written through a persona--a character if you will.  While "Chris Brecheen" and Chris Brecheen have a lot in common, they aren't exactly the same person.  One writes threesomes as often as possible and considers an article to be a little bit of a failure if there's no reference to one in it. The other one might not turn one down. Maybe.

If we're being painfully honest here,
I have to admit that this is WAY too suave for me.
Honestly, if you met me in real life, you'd realize that not only am I pretty shy, but I actually have pretty high standards.  My usual approach to sexual adventures generally involves some completely inept flirting, and being so awkward that women realize they have to take the lead or we really ARE going to talk about the social significance of zombies vs. vampires as movie monsters all night long. I've never successfully asked anyone out. Ever. I always get turned down. Women have always approached me.

The frequency of people finding my Unfly McAntigame charming is pretty low, so it's not like a lot of opportunities fall into my lap....

...uh....

....so to speak.  (It's kind of bothering me how much these jokes are pretty much just writing themselves.)

And yeah, while I have a pretty typical heterosexual male reaction to girl-on-girl action, or the thought of being in a hottie sandwich, I only turn my Crass-O-Meter up past eleven (where instead of the actual number "11," there is a picture of Barney Stinson looking AWESOME) when I am writing here. 

Question: Did [X-event] really happen to you? (FAQ)

Oh yeah...I know it doesn't look like me.
That was...uh....back when I darkened my hair.
Short Answer: Yes.  But probably not.  Although in truth, absolutely.  

Long Answer:

Writers tell the truth by lying.  If I can't achieve perfect verisimilitude while lying through my guileful little writerly teeth, I'm not sure what the hell I'm even doing here. So if you're looking to fact-check me like I'm a journalist or something, I'll probably keep you quite busy, but if you listen closely you're probably going to get more actual honesty than from most people who describe events "as they really happened."  

But yes, it probably happened. Maybe. I just may have some strange relationships with the truth.

Once in a while I write an article that isn't intended to be the usual shtick (like "Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative").  It's often way outside the realm of writing and contains events that--to me--involve enough gravitas that storytelling about them in a way that is not CLEARLY fiction might be hurtful to those who have experienced the events for real. It's usually pretty easy to tell when I'm being honest. And yes, that one really did happen.

In my writing you'll find composite characters, characters who are fractured aspects of real people, personifications, fabrications, alien invasions, cloning machines, and talking cats just in case someone out there had it in their head to go A Million Little Pieces on me. But to clear up the one I keep getting about "Did I really graduate Summa Cum Laude?" that I keep getting.  Yeah, that's really really real.

So did it really happen? Absolutely. Sort of. Maybe. Undoubtedly. Did it really happen exactly the way I said? Perhaps. Probably not. Almost assuredly not. Except yeah. If I got some details wrong, it's probably because they were better off happening the way I said. Details need to know who's in charge. Did I change some facts without changing the core truth, or in fact to illuminate it? Almost certainly.  

Or...did you really think I actually lived with a team of superheros

Question: Did you know about ____________ grammar mistake? (F.A.Q.)

Short Answer: 

No. Thanks for pointing it out.  

Long answer:

If you're asking me if I know I make grammar mistakes...IN GENERAL, that is a bit like asking Kareem Abdul Jabar if he knows he's tall. I make a lot of mistakes, actually. Copy editing is a skill with a learning curve and I have A.D.D. and mild dyslexia, so I have to work very hard for limited returns. I'm slowly getting better, but it's like tacking through the Cape of Good Hope. (Hey, I'm not too lowbrow for a sailing metaphor!) You should have seen me ten years ago.  I had a hard time spelling "teh." But, I know that even though I'm better and even though I can edit my own copy if I really try, I almost always publish an article with a couple of real doozies.

In a perfect world I could afford a copy editor, but I have yet to entice one with an offer of the dollar a day I could maybe sort of afford.

I could put something here about how creative writing and copy editing are actually very different skill sets. I could match the snide tone of the emails I get (almost weekly) that say I'm not really a writer because I used the wrong team/teem (or some such error) by pointing out--with equal snidility--that proofreading is the one of the only parts of writing that can be farmed out to someone with no creative input, and how common it is for most grammar police to end up copy editing other people's creative work and scratching their heads about why their error-free prose just isn't getting them a book deal.

I could, but I won't. I'm totally a better person than that.

If you're asking me about a specific mistake, chances are I did not know about it, or it wouldn't be there. For all my problems with people being obnoxious religious zealots about grammar, my main problem is that they are obnoxious religious zealots about it--not that they are wrong. In fact, they are usually right. So
 if you're pointing out something that I've done wrong, I will be properly mortified and fix it. I might even thank you if you didn't point it out like I was committing a Cardinal sin.

Of course there are some exceptions. If you try to get me to say "persons" instead of "people,"* I'm going to make a joke about how the forties called and they want their grammar back. (Or maybe not exactly that joke, but trust me, it'll be funny and cutting.) This blog is hip and trendy....except for its use of words like "hip" and "trendy." There are also a few rules that are contested (like the Oxford comma*, putting apostrophes to pluralize single characters*, or putting S's after words like toward or afterward*) and I'm not really going to be to emotionally invested in jumping into the fray on those.  I'll let pedantic-er minds than mine fill the forums of the world with pixels about how that's totally important stuff worth arguing about. 

I should also mention that I cut my teeth on typewriters and learned two spaces between sentences for like twenty YEARS, so I'm sorry to all you one-spacers out there. I'm not saying I'm right; I'm just asking you to forgive a long learning curve.*

Oh, and I totally end sentences with prepositions* and split infinitives*. To boldly write those "mistakes" is something I'm completely unapologetic about.  

Generally, I am happy to have any mistakes pointed out. One of the main advantages of this medium is that I can go back and change mistakes. So thank you! 

*None of these are arbitrary examples. I have gotten messaged at some point about each.

Formal Prepologies

Prepologies= Pre-Apologies (in case you didn't know).

I mentioned it last night, but I'd like to say it again.  I'm going to be changing the F.A.Q.  from its current form.  Instead of an increasingly imposing wall of text, each question will link back to its own small entry.

That means I have to create those entries to give them something to link to, and that means there are going to be a LOT of small entries in the next couple of days.  So please don't stop loving me.  I'm still cute and cuddly.  
Totally a self portrait.
See how cute I am.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Week 2: SNAFUzifying My Schedule

This next week isn't going to be any better than the last one in terms of me being fantabufuckingloustacular with my posts.  Every semester I get an e-mail from the administration saying that the last day of class will be the last day I get paid.  I will not be paid to do a study group on the day of finals.

It's like the electronic version of them narrowing their eyes at me, and saying, "Don't you dare!"

And every semester I think that my last week will be the last week of class (which would have been last week).  I try to be strong.  I gird my loins.  I eat my Wheaties.  I screw my courage to the sticking place.

And then I see their terrified little faces looking back at me like Fiver and Blackberry going tharn in front of the big rig of their onrushing final.  And I feel my mouth asking them before I can stop it (with a voice that sounds like it's not mine and is coming above me) if I ran a study group before their final if they would come.  And I see the look of relief flooding their faces.  And I realize that I've committed to another week (and kind of a rough one at that).

The worst part about it?  It's totally worth it.  I'm a huge sucker for my students.

Anyway, I should probably work the end-of-semester shenanigans into the blog schedule since it has pretty predictably been the point where I really start to break down in my ability to post articles on a regular schedule.  I'm still writing every day, but my ability to do six hours of it on a predictable schedule is compromised.

I'm going to keep updating up some of the tabs and the F.A.Q., and there wil still be content coming every day (but Sundays--and next Monday since it's a bank holiday).  I'm going to keep working on A Demon's Rubicon, and there may be another part of that going up this week.  I also absolutely need to do the final bit of my Dundracon write up since I'm going to have Kublacon to write up soon.

Apologies in advance to folks on RSS feeds or other systems that update every time I post.  There may be a lot of redundant posts in the next few days as I straighten things up.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Demon's Rubicon by Chris Brecheen

A Demon's Rubicon
By Chris Brecheen

In the dreams I am back at Canyon High School, though it might be more accurate to say that I’ve never left.  I am always alone.  Behind the G building, I do not find my geeky cadre of friends in an animated discussion about why the “clearly superior” Wall of Fire is a fourth level spell, but Wall of Iron is a sixth.

“A wall of fire does damage!  A wall of iron just sits there.”

“You can walk right through a wall of fire.  Right through it!”

“Sure, if you’re an unmitigated badass.  A wall of iron doesn’t do damage.  What’s going to deter you from trying to get past it more...some kind of metal or a wall of FIRE?”

“Let me drop a wall of iron on your head and you tell me how you feel.”



“Yeah, like I’m just going to stand there while you do tip it over on me.  It's not a weapon.  You don't get a strike roll.  If I want to move, I just step out of the way.”

“A wall of iron is permanent.  ‘Hey, we’re out of iron.  What ever will we do?’  ‘Here you go.’  Try doing that with fire.  You just end up with a blacksmith looking for a cleric to heal his third degree burns.”

But this conversation is the echo of a memory. My friends are not here.  The locker alcove is empty and silent. Everyone has moved on.

Everyone but me.

I wander the halls between building complexes and the portable classrooms (which ended up being permanent) and the other portable classrooms (which also ended up being permanent).  The sunlight shines off the tinted windows, gleams across the many athletic fields, and then casts the school in a surreal saturation of technicolor green grass, red bricks, and splashes of orange, yellow, and royal blue.

However, even though it is the middle of the day, the campus is deathly still.  No students.  No teachers.  No patrols of administration saluting each other with a closed fist over their heart and the words “Aeterna vigilantia!”  I can smell the lawn clippings of the freshly-mowed fields, but the sound of the riding mower driving its endless vigil is conspicuously absent.  Not even the hot, dry Santa Ana winds rustle the trees or bushes.  The only sounds at all are the echo of my own footsteps against the rusting lockers behind the math building or the swish-swish of my sneakers on the the bright green grass of the quad.

Clip clop.  Swish swish.  Clip clop.  Swish swish.

Sometimes I know I am completely alone.  Other times I know the buildings around me teem with desperate students taking horrific finals and somewhere is one that I’m late for.  But always the campus is an unending labyrinth.  There is no half-doughnut drop off for busses and cars to the north.  There are no stairs down to the street on the west end.  If I struck out across the field toward White’s Canyon, I will just see the same buildings ahead of me I just left behind.  The doors are all locked, as well.  I can wander endlessly, but I will never get where I am going.

And I will never leave.

The reason I am there is always different.  Sometimes I’ve returned to the band to finish out that final semester that I never took.  I had to choose band or choir due to a scheduling conflict with college prep government class.  Mr. Gilpin has decided to let me redeem myself for my eighth semester betrayal...but I haven’t practiced.  Sometimes I need to take trigonometry the way I was supposed to when I started high school--before I began to fail math classes with a tenacious predictability.  Sometimes I am trying to find James to apologize for stealing his father’s Penthouse magazines and blaming his little brother.  Sometimes I know (the way you just know things in a dream) that somewhere I am missing the most important final of my high school career...but I don’t know where it is.  Sometimes I cannot remember which locker is mine or its combination, but I know that if I do not return the book trapped inside, I will never graduate.  Sometimes I am in some sit-com’s desperate fourth season plot device: I must complete one last obscure class for my graduation to stand, but for some reason I have not attended it all year.

But always these dreams have three things in common: one, there is something yet undone, and I must finish it if I am ever to escape, two, I am utterly unprepared for the encounter, and three, the reason I am there is real.

Sort of.

Oh the reasons are not really real.  Not really really real.  I haven’t once been called to come back to Mrs. Milne to retake biology in order to have my graduation stand or had to face a disappointed Mr. Burrell that I aced his algebra classes and then went on to bomb geometry.  But they have enough of a ring of truth to keep me trapped inside.  If gooshy purple aliens had landed in the senior quad, the administration had been turned into Cybermen, or even if I’d been failing English, I would have laughed, realized I was asleep, and tried to lucid dream up a kinetic ion pulse rifle--not to fight the aliens or Cybermen, mind you, but just to use on Mrs. Franklin’s face.

Mrs. Franklin was a horrible teacher and I have every reason to suspect a horrible human being as well.  My freshmen year, right in front of Candice (sweet Candice), she leaned down to check my homework one Tuesday morning, and I shook my head (the way I always did) to tell her it wasn't done.  Her face split into the grin of a field commander who has vanquished an enemy with a flanking and feint of pure genius.  “Well, this is good news for me,” she smiled.  “You are now mathematically incapable of passing this class.  No matter what you do, I get to have the supreme pleasure of giving you an F.  I’ve been waiting for this moment, and I just want to thank you.  You made my day.”  I watched Candice (sweet Candice) as she watched me.  Her face curled into one of those weak smiles of pity. Mrs. Franklin's glee, her timing, her obviously rehearsed speech--they would put her on the business end of my dream ion pulse rifles for decades to come (though it would not be until I started teaching that I realized just how unprofessional she had been to delight in the failure a student and even glut her appetite for sadism at their expense).

No, in these dreams, the reasons I am trapped ring true--true enough to trick me.  True enough that I never start to wonder how I got to Santa Clarita Valley in the first place, think to try reading, or end up learning to fly.  I really did feel like I betrayed Mr. Gilpin to leave band after seven semesters.  I really did lose a book and my locker combination.  I really did blow off math classes, lose friends to my dishonesty, and graduate more as the punctuation on the end of a sentence than as some kind of accomplishment.  I really did give up, fail, and not really try for four years, and they patted me on the back anyway for successfully running out the clock.  I really did leave that campus crawling with personal demons.

And like most demons, they weren’t going to just let me walk away.

In my twenties, and even into my thirties, the dreams came often.  Once or twice a month, I woke tangled up in a tight knot of bedcovers, feeling small and introspective, trying to remind myself that I really did finish high school.  I really did.  I really did.  I really did.

But seriously, I really did.  I graduated in early summer of 1993 amidst a plume of gold and green squares.  I tossed my cap into the air because.....well, because that’s what you did. (Though I did not toss it too high, and I watched its arc carefully.  The tassels made for popular rear-view mirror adornment, and they had a tendency to wander off if left unattended).  The band played Pomp And Circumstance.  The principal told us he was proud.  And the parents cheered.

I was pretty sure my mom was going to make a joke about being surprised I’d made it.  That was the sort of sarcastic quip she loved.

“How the hell did you only have one cavity?  I’m fairly certain you don’t even know what a toothbrush looks like.”

“How did you get an A in that class, kiddo?  You spent less time doing homework than the dog.”

“Hey Chris, do you think you might go to swim practice this month, or do you just imagine I enjoy giving my money away because your swim coach is cute?”

“You’re getting to march with the band?  You only practiced like twice.  You sure your instructor didn’t ask you to just hold your trombone and not play?”

So I was ready for it when I walked up to her after it was all over.  She stood next to my girlfriend, Heather and just pressed her lips into a tight, flat line.  “I am so proud of you,” she said.  “I am just so proud of you.”

My decision to leave band, my difficulties in math, my lackluster performance in any class but English….my noodle limp loyalty to friends.....none of these things stopped me from getting my very own dangly 93 rear view mirror charm.  But when I wake from the dreams where twisted mockeries of my alma matter’s halls twisted and stretched in labyrinthine horrors it would take me long minutes of replaying my own graduation to remember that I had left.

It would be years--decades really--before I realized why I went back to high school so often in the dead of night.  And it would be Lenore the Anthropology Instructor that finally showed me.

She was in her mid sixties with a frizzy shock of hair that drifted up from her head in apparent defiance of gravity and somehow achieved a color directly between barn red and hot pink.  She was one of those radical types who decried any form of ethnocentrism or cultural elitism and then the next class talked about how backwards FGM, machismo, and Arab misogyny are.  She would drift off on feminist tirades about how any sex initiated by a man in our society was essentially an act of rape.  And her main point about race relations in this country boiled down to the fact that there has been no meaningful progress of any kind--socially or politically--since the antebellum south and that saying there is means that you have been fooled by the illusions.

“Well, I see you got a double helping of the Kool-aid,” she said to me when I brought up Civil Rights and the Thirteenth Amendment.

Lenore also loved David Carradine.  I mean this woman had a serious clit boner for the guy.  That’s the only way I can explain what went on in that class.  When she wasn’t on one of her tangents about how she “wouldn’t be surprised” if HIV/AIDS was engineered by the U.S. government to kill black people, she would play us anthropology videos narrated by David Carradine.

It wasn’t like she just liked one particular series that he happened to narrate.  She had multiple shows from multiple different sources that all involved his dulcet tones doing the voice over.  I mean maybe he was just the “go to” guy when you wanted your anthropology documentary narrated, but I always imagined that she collected his works the way some people collect old Beatles albums or rare stamps.

This particular day we were listening to David voice over the coming of age rituals of many cultures. From the crocodile hunt of the Dassaanech tribe to the Quinceanera of the Spanish speaking world to the Bar Mitzvah of the Jews, most cultures have a way of marking and celebrating the moment when a child becomes an adult. 

“It is an idea lost in western culture,” David said (or something similar). “We scoff the meaning of an arbitrary age or event, and yet in our bones we have lost a sense of our own maturity. Extended childhoods and an increased sense of aimlessness plague our young adults who don't know when they should be grown up.”

I can’t remember exactly what David said, but I seem to recall it involved some pretty unflattering things about twenty-somethings who still didn’t feel like adults.  If only we could have dodged the draft and studied music theory like he did we would all have hair on our chests and be able to walk proudly if someone did the five finger death punch on us.

But there, in crazy Lenore’s class, listening to the twenty-fifth or so David Carradine voice over video, I realized why my dreams were plagued with desolate images of Canyon High School.

I could look back on so many moments where I changed, grew, maybe even grew up.  They exist in my mind as a cavalcade of trivialities.  The one moment that perhaps should have been significant, wasn’t.  I had those dreams because I hadn’t won.  I had those dreams for the same reason I assumed that my mother was going to be sarcastic and yet, she caught me off guard with her pride.

She was proud of me, but I was not particularly proud of myself.  Instead of a coming of age ritual, I had only a cluttered pile of moments in which I think I wasn't quite the same at the end of them as I had been at the beginning.

Continue to Part 2

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