Writing Techniques with Examples

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Writing Techniques with Examples

Sometimes I get the itch to post fiction here on OL, but I am still learning many techniques.

Besides, I have a writing blog I want to do before too long. Something not mixed with philosophy or politics. (It's way overdue.)

So I have come up with compromise to myself.

I will make posts in this thread about a specific technique, explain it, then provide an example from my own writing or provide and example from others to demonstrate what it looks like.

I want to take my time with this, so don't expect this thread to grow quickly. But grow it will.


So here is the first technique with example. I just now wrote the example in my Writing Journal. It took me about 45 minutes or so.

The technique is called Image Moment and I learned it from Method Writing by Jack Grapes.

The idea is to interrupt action and present a still image. It functions in the reader's mind like a small stretch of slow motion.

Jack comes from a poetic and theater background. That makes his rules workable and standard--I like them a lot. So here is how you do an Image Moment.

First find a single action in a passage. Interrupt the motion, then describe the following in any order you wish. (There are other flexibilities, but this is the version I used here.)

Set dressing

Each of these elements means something specific and has its own rules and limitations. If anyone is interested, I will explain them. The major thing is that no movement can happen during this Image Moment unless something was already in motion before and it is in the background (running water, traffic in the distance and things like that).

After you describe the moment, you resume the interrupted action and continue.


Here is my example. Please remember that it is a first draft. If I ever use this in a work, it will probably look different.

I put the Image Moment in bold and italics so you won't miss it. But that is only for this post. Also, there is nothing special or meaning-laden in this example. I am using normal situations on purpose when I do these practice exercises. Learning to crawl before I walk, so to speak.

My interrupted action is the guy rolling toward the hole. I also included the briefing I always give myself before I write a passage. It will not be included in the finished work, of course.




It’s a cliché situation, but this is what is in my mind right now. The main character, Jerry, is running through the woods at dusk, not dark but dimming light. Jerry is unarmed except for his wits and will to live. He is being pursued by a person with a gun. He doesn’t know who or why. 

My Image Moment happens when he is forced to stop and hide as the person passes by not noticing him. The action the narrator will interrupt will be the moment he sees a place that looks so ordinary it is easy to miss, but decides to hide there, and starts toward it.



Jerry was more tired than he could remember but he was scared. Pure adrenaline was fueling him. 

He saw woods and more woods. Who was shooting at him? Why?

He didn’t know. All he knew was that he had to keep running and death was the answer if he stopped to find out. His arms and face were scratched and cut from low branches and high weeds. He didn’t think when he chose a new direction. He saw. He went. He was terrified.

He only saw the fallen branch when he tripped over it. As he fell, he noticed, off to the side, a hole the size of an open grave covered by bushes and weeds. He only saw it because an animal, it looked like a fox, came running out. 

He got up. From standing, he could no longer see the hole, only woods. Hide there! How? The crashing through the underbrush behind him was enough. He fell to the ground and started rolling his body toward the hole. No noise, he thought. No noise.

The sky dripped light through the leaves above. There were six trees close to him him, different sizes. They looked like they were raising their arms to grasp the dripping light. So much green and dark, the blur of the fox, the smell of the fresh earth. No time to notice. Not even the small dirty stone he was clutching for some damn reason.

And human feet in the distance. He saw feet in boots. Dirty well-worn boots. The boots of a hunter, one who knew what he was doing. The boots were coming his way.

He realized he was under a thick bush covering. Damn it! Why didn’t he make it to the hole yet? 

He kept rolling and the hole appeared. He lowered himself in without a sound, then threw the small stone toward the fox blur.

He only saw dirt, but heard the stone bounce. Then the boots hastened by. He waited until he heard no more.

Then he let out his breath, looked around and saw three fox pups at the other end of the hole. They looked at him and snarled, “Oh shit,” he thought.



Not great, but not bad for pulling it out of my ass in 45 minutes. 

I cannot recommend this Writing Journal for practice idea enough.

This is more than learning how. This is ability in the making.

I get a kick out of my growing skill.



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I want to add a comment to the post above.

That little thing I wrote also included two techniques I needed to learn just as much as a child needs training wheels to ride a bike.

I've always been good at memoir writing, but I was winging it. When I had to write fiction from scratch, I would choke. And I didn't know why.

Now I know. In a memoir, the events already existed. In fiction, I had to create them from nothing. Learning the two techniques I used were part of the way out for me. There are other techniques I do, too, but these two are biggies.


1. The character goal. Most fiction passages have to have a character goal to hold the reader's interest and the goal has to be physical. Not mental. Not emotional. Physical. In the case of the passage I wrote, the goal of the main character is to escape and the goal of the pursuer is to shoot him.

Those are simple, physical goals. Easy to imagine with a character in action. 

But a character goal can be a lot of things. I didn't realize what a blank I had in my head about this until I started looking and making a list of them. Here are just a few physical character goals I listed for myself: perform or finish a task, travel to some place, solve a puzzle, call attention to himself or herself, confide in someone, kill a person, adopt a role, and so on. In my example, the goal was to escape, first by running, then by hiding. That comes to one goal divided into two forms as the story went along.

There are a bunch of character goals I have listed for myself.


1a. Note that this does not exclude other elements in a passage. The best term for these other elements I have found so far is "Dramatic Content." This means emotions, descriptions, character arc development, seeding or finding clues, style, and so on. But most passages without a physical goal are boring no matter how good the Dramatic Content is, so character goal is fundamental and all the rest is secondary.

(The only exception is a character coming to a decision, that is the most goal-oriented thing a character does mentally. And those scenes are the minority, by far, in a story.)


2. The next technique is one I struggled with for years, but I finally found it. A screenwriting teacher named Eric Edson came up with the term. It's called "Fresh News."

This is not just something new that pops up. It is tied to a character who is dealing with a goal, generally a secondary goal. Once the character attains the goal or fails at it, meaning pursuit of that goal can take a pause in the reader's mind, something happens that creates a new character goal, generally a secondary one.

In my passage above, the immediate goal of the character was to escape, first by running, then by hiding. Once he was more or less successful at hiding, he sees the fox pups snarling at him. That is Fresh News. It's a new situation that creates a goal that needs to be dealt with like now. :) 

Fresh News also takes many forms: reality turns out to be different than imagined, permission is granted to the character to do something, the character is falsely accused of something, the character gets smitten by a love interest, hidden or unexpected stakes are revealed, a danger appears (like in my example) and so on. Fresh News can be a cliff-hanger, but it does not have to be. Since it prompts the character to deal with a new goal, this automatically keeps the reader turning the page.

This little thing may seem obvious, but I didn't see it for years. And there's a little present that comes with groking it. I discovered that it is one of those things that, once you get it well got, you can't not see it, like, everywhere. It's similar to the Jeep Kat and I own. Before we got the Jeep, we never saw one on the roads. Ever since, we see a bunch of them. 


Believe it or not, I can talk about the neuroscience involved in this stuff, too.

Right now, I am writing examples that are mundane on purpose. It's not because I want to write mundane things or I want to automate mediocrity or hack situations.

It's because I want to hone in on keeping to the character goal and keeping it tight, making sure the Fresh News is interesting and compelling, getting the Image Moment right, and the other stuff I do. It's like I used to do when practicing scales on my trombone back when I learned it.

Speaking of Image Moment, in keeping with the emotion of the situation, I would probably now change the part about the sky dripping light through the trees and the trees lifting their arms to grab at the light, to something more ominous and tense. Something like this. The sky stabbing rays of light through the leaves on high and the trees lifting their arms to ward off the stabs.

That feels right to me.


The point is, once I am able to get all that stuff right (and several other techniques), I feel I will be able to crank out stories and novels and know they are good. Then I can put in philosophical messages, moments of transcendence, and other goodies I have in my notes.

I hope this helps you if you want to write fiction.

If not, I am still fine with writing it because I know that I. myself, will use it. 



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Here is an Image Moment I did today--I did it in about 45 minutes. I'm putting it here because I like this one.

The end might seem off because this is a part of a story, not the whole thing. 

Basically, a relationship problem happens, then the man, Jerry, sees a snake. The snake comes out of nowhere when this passage is the only context. One of the reasons is that I did not write any foreshadowing. In a wider context of a more complete story, the snake becomes a metaphor for the poison in the relationship in addition to raising the stakes for Jerry.

Still, if I use this passage later, I might keep the snake, or add foreshadowing, or eliminate it, or who knows? 

It is definitely Fresh News as I mentioned above. And as Fresh News, I'm leaving it as it is right now because it clearly shows how Fresh News works. After all, it is new and Jerry is going to have to deal with the damn thing. But the abruptness and sudden danger in the middle of heartbreak also makes it feel off. And that shows the danger of letting story elements in the same narrative get too distant from one another.

Unless you are writing pulp fiction and hit a dry spot in the story where it is getting boring, things have to jive with each other. We don't want the reader to become confused or think the story got silly, do we? Of course not.

But what about that dry spot? I don't remember who gave this advice, but there is a pulp fiction fix. If the story is slowing down, make a corpse fall through the roof. That will liven up any story for the reader. 



Anywho, enjoy. Or not.

This is only practice. The Image Moment is in bold and italics.

As for me, I'm having a ball writing these things.


Jerry and Raquel got out of the car in front of Big Discount Foods. Raquel had been complaining that Jerry did not pay enough attention to her.

“Let me go get a cart,” said Jerry. He wanted to get away from her nagging. But a lady was taking a cart back and offered it to him.

Jerry took it, both hands on the handle and turned the cart toward Raquel. She said, “Do you know what Irving asked me today?”


“Go on, take a guess.”

Jerry was getting annoyed. “Irving again? Really? What’s with all this Irving stuff?”

“He’s my friend.”

“Yeah? And how far have you gone with this friend?”

“All the way.”

Jerry looked at her. “I’m serious,” she said.

Jerry started pushing the cart toward an aisle. His mind became a blur of white as his hands gripped the cart handle and tried to squeeze it to death. His arms felt like electricity was running back and forth between the cart and his spinal cord.

Raquel stared at him stone-faced. Her thumb was rubbing the diamond engagement ring on her finger. She did not notice that a couple of buttons had opened on her loose white blouse.

Big Discount Foods was famous for its large spaces. It was airy and pleasant. A background of light blue and soft orange let the aisles highlight arrays of sparking colors on the products. But the jumbled arrangement sucked out all long-term feel and interest.

Jerry looked at the children monsters on the yellow cereal boxes of Sweet Poppers. He wondered, what are those idiots grinning about? They were right next to a display of red licorice. What was that doing in the cereal aisle? 

And that round blue gumdrop on the floor? That’s got to go. 

Jerry knew he had to get that damn gumdrop off the floor. If only he could do that one thing, everything else would fall into place. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. He did not notice the tears dripping off his face.

Just get to that gumdrop, he thought. 

He plowed into a display of Fancy Tarts. As they fell all over the place, Jerry saw a dark green snake on the ground right where the center had been.


Who knows? After I grow up, maybe I can do soap operas, too.



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I don't intend to post all of my creative practice from my Journal in this thread.

But I just did another Image Moment that, to me, came off right for a first draft. So I want to share it. As usual, it took me 45 minutes or so.

This time I wanted to do a shorter one, but still include all the 7 elements (setting, set dressing, prop, character, costume, mood and comments).

I left the Fresh News open-ended in case I want to use this later, but I also wanted to prepare it to avoid the clunk I felt with the snake in my last one. The cognitive effect for the Fresh News I am seeking here is surprise along with inevitability. In some cases Fresh News is just surprise. After all, a corpse has to fall through a roof sometimes, right? :) At other times it is something expected that finally comes in like a job or the outcome of a test or permission to do an assignment. This varies a lot.

Just a reminder. Fresh News sets up the next minor physical goal the character will have to deal with while pursuing the overall goal. Also, even though I am dealing with Fresh News in this Image Moment exercise, it is a technique in itself. An Image Moment does not need Fresh News after the completed action. It just needs interrupted action, a passage with no action, then the interrupted action resumed. (Seeing, hearing and other sensory input, and remembering, feeling and other mental processes are not considered action.)

So in effect, this covers two techniques for the purpose of illustration and practice: Image Moment and Fresh News.


As usual, the Image Moment is in bold and italics. The interrupted motion is Marie waving.


Marie kissed Leon briefly, turned around and walked away. He started to get into his car, which was running to warm up. This was killing her. She turned around and raised her hand to wave goodbye.

Boston has winter days like this where it’s lonely, cold and sunny. Marie looked at the line of cars parked along the street. Each wore a small layer of snow. It reminded her of the white frosting on a prank cake her brother made when she was young. He used soap as one of ingredients. 

When she looked at Leon, her handsome Leon in his smart-looking suit, glowing with expertise at the right to live on this earth, she felt the same sour taste as when she bit into that cake.

Her gaze settled on that silly cross dangling from his rear view mirror. Why did that trouble her?

Marie finished waving and thought, enough of that. Leon closed the car door and pulled out.

She couldn’t do this, but she did anyway. She took out her cell phone and pushed a button. She raised it to her ear and waited. A tear inched down her cheek.

“He just left,” she said. “It’s on.”


There we go.

What do you know? Maybe soap opera and thriller when I grow up.




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Good piece, Michael. Looks like you have fun while writing each day. 

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In another thread a little while back, I posted a writing technique I use for scenes or passages. I basically cobbled together two pieces of writing advice (writing techniques in their own right). What is the purpose of this? Well, for one thing it makes fiction story stuff pour out of me like nothing else I have tried.


The first technique (advice) comes from David Mamet. He said he always asks three questions whenever he is writing any fiction and they always keep him on track. For me, I add that these three questions put me on the track to begin with. When I try to answer them (for myself), stuff just pours out of my mind. The three questions:

1. What do the characters want?
2. What happens if they don’t get it?
3. Why now?

If I don't answer any of these three question, I run into a brick wall of blankness. So before I even start a fiction passage, I answer these questions, even if I have to pull the answers out of my ass. And, yes, I can change the answers after I get going, but that usually entails throwing away parts I have written.

I have no problem doing that if I need to. At first, it hurt, but as the virgin said, you get used to it.



The second technique (advice) comes from a thriller writer, Steven James, who is also a Christian writer, but not so much in his thriller stories. He is a pantser , not an outliner, and proud of it. (A pantser is a writer who sits down and writes by the seat of his pants). Steven has a scene template he uses. This is different than an outline since it is abstract, not specific.

Of all the templates I have come across, this one has been the most useful to me. His template has five parts and when you look at his writing, you can see it happening over and over. The good part of this template is that it can include surprises and twists, romance, action, reflection, dialogue, even speeches. The five parts are:

1. Orientation
2. Crisis and/or Calling
3. Escalation
4. Discovery
5. Change

One of the top publishers on the New York scene, Donald Maas, is a huge fan of this template.

If you want to go fractal, you can use this template for the large divisions in a novel or screen-play (rather than, say, the Hero's Journey or 3 Act Structure) and use the same template over and over for the scenes or even moments within a scene. And all of it will work wonderfully.


The technique I came up with from fashioning these two together makes it easy for me to write fiction. This is a big deal for me because for years I could only write memoir-like passages. I would hit writer's block every time I tried to invent fictional situations. I did some, of course, but man did I suffer for them. No longer. Now I have too many. I'll learn how to deal with that as I go along. Poor me. :) 

My technique has two parts.

1. Write a briefing.
2. Write the first draft of the scene or passage.

I modified and expanded David Mamet's 3 questions for my briefing. I based this on my study and I still change it slightly as I go along depending on what works best for me. It has 7 questions.

1. Where and when? (Setting and time?)
2. Who are the characters?
3. What is the basic scene event?
4. What do the characters want?
5. What happens if they don’t get it?
6. Why now?
7. How do they intend to get it?

Once I answer those questions, I write the first draft of the scene or passage. For that, I basically follow Steven James's template. There are two things I have added over time. The first is to take something inconsequential from the beginning or middle and bring it back later (usually near the end) in a different context. This is a great device for highlighting theme through symbols and without preaching. The second is to come up with Fresh News at the end as discussed earlier.


In the thread I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I included examples from my Journal writing. And yes, they were all written in one session with no Second Draft. Also, that session was always from under an hour to two hours. I am repeating these examples here here, but with links to the original posts. Note that the briefing is slightly different than above and the first draft doesn't always have Fresh News or the return of a glossed-over element. I'm growing and skills are congealing. :) 


First example from this post.



Setting: In a row boat on a lake during the day.

Characters: Elly and Peter, two people in their 30’s who are trying to see if they can date, but they have many differences.

Basic scene: They need to decide whether to eat and keep fishing or row back to shore. 

What do the characters want? Peter wants Elly to agree with him as the couple’s leader for any possible romance. Elly wants to be seen. Both want to romance the other despite warning bells going off in their heads

What happens if they don’t get it? Peter will lose a bet he made  with his friend Jeff, and Elly will go on an all-female trip so she won’t have to worry about being rejected by another man for a long time.

Why now? Peter will lose his bet if he doesn’t get her as a girlfriend today, and she will have to decide on the trip by tomorrow. Neither can know this is the respective condition the other has.

How do they intend to get it? Peter tries to teach Elly to fish and she tries to learn to fish from him.




It was a fine sunny day as Peter rowed away to a new spot. Man, did Elly look pretty. By God, he was going to get her to fish or else.

He said, “We have to go to this other spot I know. The fish here don’t seem to be biting.”

She said, “We could break to eat something.”

“Only when I say so.”

Elly looked at him. She liked what she saw, but she did not like what she heard. “Really?” she asked. “Why’s that?”

Peter pretended to think. He affected the pose of Rodin’s statue. “Ummm… Because I know how to fish and you don’t?”

A flying fish jumped out of the water and landed with a splash, getting them both wet. They laughed and Peter started rowing.

“I’m thinking,” he said.

“Don’t think too hard. You might pull up another fish. Is that how you fish?”

“Of course that’s not how I fish. Why would you say that?”

“I’m joking, grumpy-puss.”

He smiled, but his heart wasn’t in levity. He started rowing hard.

Elly wanted this to work, but it didn’t look good. Peter was hot, smoking hot, but he seemed to have a head full of rusty nails. If she could not get him to kiss her, not as a piece of ass, but because he liked her, she was going to say yes to that trip tomorrow. Only women for 97 glorious days. No men need apply.

As Peter rowed, he wondered how he could impress Elly. He was moving the oars in a way that showed off his arm and shoulder muscles. He tensed them up to make them even more impressive.

“We’re almost there. Now you’ll see what I mean. I know how to fish.”

He stopped the boat as a flock of birds flew overhead. The sun was getting hotter.

He needed to land a fish real bad right now. And he needed to land Elly. He bet Jeff he would have her on his arm after he came back and he needed the $200. 

As he prepared their rods and showed her what to do, he said, “You know, I was thinking.”

She looked at him for a couple of seconds, then burst out laughing.

He said, “OK. OK. I get it. But seriously, you are a very pretty lady.”

Elly wanted to blush, but she couldn’t. “Well, you’re hot in all the right ways, but is there anything upstairs?”

He said, “Hey. Are you still joking? That’s not funny.”

“I’m hungry.”

“Wait until we catch something. The food isn’t going anywhere.”

“But I’m hungry now.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. He instantly regretted it. Elly pulled out the basket, opened a sandwich, chomped down hard on it and started chewing like a monkey close to his face.

Jeff was seeing $200 fly off into the horizon while Elly tried to stop. She wanted him to like her, but he wasn’t seeing her. This guy was going to find a way to her good side and find one fast, or she was going to chew him up like that sandwich. The trip tomorrow wasn’t looking so bad after all.

If only she didn’t feel so damn lonely.



Second example from this post:



Setting: Police station in a small town.

Characters: Josh (the bandit), about 23 years old and Clay (the cop), about 40.

Basic scene: Josh comes in to file a complaint against a person who ripped him off, but he is as high as a kite. The cop is trying to be cordial, but he’s having a hard time holding it together.

What do the characters want? Josh wants his money back for being ripped off and he wants to stop feeling resentment at the unfairness of it all. Clay wants to find some way to make sense of all this and he is so weary of the bullshit, he just wants to get up and leave.

What happens if they don’t get it? Josh will have someone he has to pay do something bad to him. This stays unspecified. Clay will lose a little bigger piece of himself and let a small punk off, and he doesn’t even care.

Why now? For Josh, the bad guy is right outside his house, stalking him. For Clay, he’s close to a nervous breakdown.

How do they intend to get it? Josh wants to get his money back by complaining to the police, even though the money was probably used illicitly. And Clay wants to calm the beast inside himself by feeding the beast the same bullshit that made it grow.




Josh came stumbling up the concrete stairs and fell into the police station. “God damn it!” he yelled.

Clay looked up from the bench-like desk, then over the desk at Josh. He sighed. When’s it ever going to end?

“Hey, buddy,” he said. “Are you all right?”

“No I’m not all right,” Josh said. He giggled. Then he frowned. “You gotta get my money back.”

Clay’s stomach gurgled and he tasted bile. “Sir. Will you please come over here and fill out this form? Oh… I forgot, do tell. Do you need someone to help you up, sir?”

Josh crawled about a bit, then got up wobbly. “Nah, man. It’s all cool, ya ‘ know? You gonna get me my money back?”

“What money are we talking about, sir?”

Josh made it to the bench desk. He took the form and stared at it, not comprehending. 

“Well, I bought some shit, ya’ know? And the jerk took my money and ran off.” 

Clay stared at him. He started daydreaming about being at home in front of the TV with a beer.

Josh, weaving, said, “That was all my money, man. All of it. I need it back.”

Clay stifled the urge to get up and leave. Just walk right out that goddam door. “Sir. We need more details. Let’s start with this. Who are we talking about?”

“The man, dude. The man who was selling shit.”

“Does this man have a name?”

Josh looked like he was going to fall over. Then he started to dry heave.

“Hey buddy. If you’re gonna be sick, the men’s room is over there.”

Josh stopped, then looked around. “Where am I?”

“You are in a police station. I am a cop.”

“Oh yeah. My money. The man took my money. And I have a secret.”

Clay went back to his daydream. He imagined himself right there in his living room. He was getting up, setting down his beer, going to the bathroom as he took out his gun. What would it be like?… “Stop it!” he told himself. 

“Don’t you want to know my secret, man?”

“OK.” Clay tried to act calm. “I guess I don’t have much choice. What is this secret of yours?”

Josh giggled. A little drool came out of the corner of his mouth. “The money ain’t even mine.”

“What are you talking about, sir?”

“It ain’t mine. I was getting some shit for a dude, ya’ know? And the dude is right there, near my front door. I know he’s gonna fuck me up because no money, no shit, ya’ know?”

Clay looked at the clock. There was still three hours to go. He wondered what he should do with this guy.

“Sir, were you buying anything illegal?”

Josh sobered. “No, officer. I don’t do illegal.”

“So what are we talking about?” 

Josh’s eyes bugged out as he looked around the police station. “You can’t help me get my money back?”

Clay was fighting himself. Just sit here he thought. Do not go around the desk and beat the living hell out of this crazy asshole. Oh, God. What he’d do for a cold beer. What’s this jerk on, anyway?

“Hey,” Clay said, coming out of it. Josh looked up at him.

Clay pointed to the door. “Who’s that guy out there on the street? The one running?” 

“What guy?”

“He went up the street to the left. He looked like he had a bag of money.”

“Huh?” Josh turned around, stumbled to the door and down the steps. He looked both ways squinting. Then he started running to the left up the street.



Third example from this post:



Setting: In a protestant church during a service. 

Characters: Joy, a young girl of about 12. Amy, her older sister, about 16.

Basic scene: The girls sit bored to tears through a sermon. No parents. As time goes on, they start misbehaving. Something happens to make Amy start a laughing fit she can’t stop and she gets up to leave, laughing all the way out the door. Joy is left looking around at all the people looking at her, then she starts laughing.

What do the characters want? Amy wants to act grown-up, be accepted by the other grown-ups as a grown-up herself, and she wants to teach Joy how to do it. She uses Joy sort of like her private lab rat. But she also wants the sermon to end because she doesn’t know how much longer she can take it. Joy just wants the sermon to end so she can go home and watch cartoons on TV.  

What happens if they don’t get it? Amy actually doesn’t get it and the laughing fit is what happens. If she did get it, she would carry herself in a snooty manner. Joy needs to do something with her energy. If she doesn’t get to the end of the sermon soon, she will start throwing things at people and other mischief.

Why now? Both are bored to tears and they don’t know how to stand it much longer.

How do they intend to get it? They both intend to get to the end of the service by sitting through it. Also, Amy wants praise from other adults about how mature she is for not only being a model church-goers, but how she keeps her younger sister in line. They don’t make it.




It was too pretty of a day to be indoors at church listening to Pastor Walter drone on about God’s love of mankind. 

Amy, 16, in her lovely blue Sunday outfit, had a twinkle in her eye and a yawn wanting to come up. But she held both down. She wasn’t a girl anymore. She was Amy, the young woman. Amy, just one more adult in the congregation. Amy, the mature older sister.

She was at church without her parents for the first time. They were traveling. 

And she knew the day would come when she would hear the ladies say, “Did you see that darling Amy sitting so still during the service? What a wonderful young woman she’s turning out to be. Look how she kept Joy in line. Why, maybe we should invite her for tea sometime.”

Amy felt a warm rush and tingling over her skin when she thought of things like that. A half-smile formed as she looked over at her 12 year old sister.

Joy was looking here, there and everywhere. Amy knew her and feared it was just going to be a matter of time. 

“Keep still, Joy,” she whispered, trying hard not to be heard by anyone else.

Joy whispered back, “I’m bored. I want to go see cartoons.”

Pastor Walter was up there talking something about sheep and flocks and green pastures.

Joy said, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

Amy groaned. Joy was going to spoil this for her. She looked around. There was Mrs. Engles in the second pew, up left to the front. She looked enthralled by the pastor’s words of wisdom. Mrs. Engles was at peace with the world and loving every minute of it. Amy wanted to be like her.

And there was Mr. Livingstocking in front. Amy didn’t like Mr. Livingstocking. He was stern. Mean. He liked to be obeyed. If there was anything Amy didn’t want to do, she didn‘t want to cross Mr. Livingstocking more. 

He was famous for making young women cry with just two words. He could wither a rose by looking at it. So imagine what he could do to Amy if Joy….

It was at this very moment Amy looked at Mr. Livingstocking’s right ear. He had big ears and they turned outward. He grew his hair long to cover them, but it didn’t do the job. What she saw was a smooth surface of brown with a piece of ear sticking out of it.

Amy turned her head, then looked in horror as Joy pulled back a rubber band like a slingshot. She had a small rolled-up piece of paper getting ready to bean that ear and win the prize.

Amy put her hand over the rubber band and Joy grunted and jerked her body once in frustrated protest. Mrs. Engles turned around and looked to see what was going on. Amy felt like slinking down under the pew. She could hear her heart’s pulse in her ears and she knew she was turning red. 

But if she tried to grab the rubber band away from Joy, she could just see the fuss. Joy would embarrass everyone except Joy. Why was she so impossible, for the love of Pete? Couldn’t she just be a good little girl for a change?

Pastor Walter invited everyone to pray. All bowed their heads. Amy did not dare keep her eyes open for the prayer. Adults who were adults closed their eyes when they prayed. That’s what adults did.

But as Amy heard, “Our heavenly Father, we come before you,” she also heard a twang. She looked up in time to see the paper missile bounce off the extended ear of Mr. Livingstocking, who proceeded to break wind. The beaned ear and the other ear turned red and Mr. Livingstocking sat as still as a stone. He even stopped breathing.

Amy looked at Joy, who smiled at her, happy, with that “look what I did” face of hers. Amy looked back at the ever reddening ears of Mr. Livingstocking, then over at Mrs. Engles, who looked back. Then Mrs. Engles gave her a thumbs up.

Amy started laughing. She tried to stop, but she couldn’t stop. She heard the pastor say, “… we beseech thee, Oh Lord.”

Between gasps of air, Amy said, “Beseeeeech…” and she lost it. She couldn’t stop laughing. She got up and started walking down the aisle toward the door. Everyone was looking at her. Even Pastor Walter had paused. She doubled up as the guffaws came out. Tears streamed down her face and she stumbled along. She needed to get to that door like now.

Joy stood up. She looked around. People looked at her. She laughed in delight and followed her sister out of the church. Leaving early. Wow. Today she could see even more cartoons.



And just to show that I am using this stuff as practice, here is another from my Journal, but from back then, that I did not post here on OL. 



Setting: Two people in the front seat of a normal car on an asphalted country road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, one driving, one passenger.

Characters: John, the driver, about 40, and Freddy, the passenger, about 30.

Basic scene: The two people are driving down the country road talking. Something happens to get John to steer toward causing an accident. Freddy grabs the side of the steering wheel and sets it right. The car keeps going and they keep talking.

What do the characters want? John is brokenhearted. He just lost his wife to cancer and he just got fired for acting bad about it on the job. He wants the pain to stop. Freddy wants to get to the next town, say Brevard, NC. He’s running late and if he doesn’t get there, he might lose the sale of a piece of land he owns there. He wants to sell it to help John over this phase in his life.

What happens if they don’t get it? If the pain doesn’t stop, John is going to know for sure he is a burden on everyone and he will commit suicide. If Freddy doesn’t get to Brevard in time to sell his land, he will not be able to find any other funds to help John with. Maybe a loan that he can’t afford…

Why now? John’s pain needs to stop now. He’s been pretty good at hiding the war going on in his mind, but it’s about ready to make him pop. For as much as Freddy tries to play it cool, he knows John is near his limit. He doesn’t know what John will do.

How do they intend to get it? John tries to make his pain stop by driving. Freddy tries to get to Brevard by letting John drive and he’s none too happy about that.




John and Freddy were speeding down the Blue Ridge Parkway, leaving Virginia and going into North Carolina. It was a gorgeous  mountain day outside and an ugly mood was riding along inside the car.

Freddy asked, “Do you want me to drive?”

“Why? Don’t you think I’ll get to Brevard in time?”

“Oh, you’ll get there. Unless you don’t.”

John looked over at Freddy. He kept looking at Freddy and grinned as he pressed harder on the gas pedal. He did not look at the road. “How about now?”

“Stop it, John. Get your goddam eyes front and center.”

“Or what?”

Freddy pointed straight ahead. His voice dropped. “That way, John.”

“Ha. Made you look, right?” John turned his head, faced the road and slowed down a bit. “Well how about this? Life sucks.”

“Gonna say it again. I’m sorry about Joan, man. She was what wife is all about and she loved you. She loved you, man. I miss her, too. She didn’t deserve cancer.”

They went along in silence.

John asked, “Why are you selling that piece of land in Brevard? I mean, it’s none of my business…”

“I’ve got my reasons. You’re one of them.”

More silence.

Freddy said, “You’ve gotta get back on your feet.”

“God damn you! How?”

“Calm down, John. I’m here for you, buddy.”

John started speeding up. He weaved into the oncoming lane and back. A smile froze to his face. He started weaving back and forth. Freddy looked over at him. This wasn’t good. John was staring straight at the road. His head wasn’t moving. He didn’t blink.

“Come on, John. It was only a job. The guy pissed you off, you were hurting so you lost it. OK, you really lost it. But we’re going to be OK. Now would you slow down and stay in your lane?”

They heard the truck around the bend before they saw it. John was across the yellow lines and he was headed for a font end crash. Freddy grabbed the side of the steering wheel and yanked hard. The truck’s horn blared as it passed inches from the car, which scraped against the guard rail. 

Freddy looked with eyes wide. He gasped hard. Past that guard rail was nothing but drop. Nothing but death.

Freddy yelled, “Stop the car. Stop it now!” 

John yelled back, pounding on the steering wheel with both fists, “God damn you! God damn you!”

John started slowing down. As he slowed down, Freddy let go and said, “Pull over when you can. I’m driving.”

“No you’re not,” said John. “I’m getting you to Brevard. On time.”

Freddy was breathing in and out, in and out. “I want you to, buddy.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Nothing, man. I want to drive.”

John pulled over to the side of the road and got out. Freddy got out and went over to the driver’s side. John looked to the sky. Blue sky. Clouds. He screamed long and hard. He screamed again. Then he yelled out, “Life sucks!”

Freddy got into the car. John stood on the side of the road. Freddy rolled down the passenger window. “Come on, man,” he said.

“You go on without me. Just leave me here”

“Leave you here?”

“Here.” John’s tone was final.

Freddy looked at him. He looked at the blue sky past John. He looked at the clouds. Then back at him. “No fucking way, man. Get in the fucking car.”

John sighed. He walked down the road.  Stopped. Then he came back, opened the passenger door and got in. 

Freddy said, “Seat fucking belt, John.”

He buckled up and Freddy drove out onto the road. They were going to Brevard.



So how's them apples?

Note that I am not posting this stuff to show off. Well, maybe a little. :) After all, I'm 70 fucking years old and doing this stuff. I guess I'm putting the late in late bloomer. :) 

(I look and feel about 50, though. God knows why. Clean living? Heh... Now, maybe... Before? Hell, I am a monument to the capacity of the human body to heal from drugs, alcohol and other kinds of self-abuse. :)  )

But I'm including these examples so you can look at them and see the cracks and parts and maybe that will help you in your own writing.

You don't need to guess at the BRIEFING part since I repeated the questions. (Nowadays I sometimes do that and sometimes just write without questions.)

But in the FIRST DRAFT part, if you read it carefully, you will see the five parts of the template clearly. As I was reading this over, I even saw an example or two of Fresh News and glossed over element from before.



Anywho, more will be coming in this thread. If you get value from this, wonderful. If not, that's fine, too. I'm doing this because I love it.

Call this the prequel to my Writing Blog.


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  • 4 weeks later...

Here's an Image Moment I did this morning that came off well.

The action is not much. A guy goes into a room and starts toward a piano. Then the image moment interrupts this actioon. Then he continues, sets down and starts playing.

I don't even have two characters. Just one.

I am keeping these exercises to mundane event for now in order to focus on the technique. Also, in the back of my mind, I want to be so comfortable with these techniques I am practicing, I can do them about anything.

I'll add the excitement, wonder, deep philosophical themes and all the rest later. Right now, at least for this Journal entry, I needed to do an Image Moments well. Granted, I ramped up the emotion. And this is the first time I did that on purpose with an Image Moment. It worked. :) 


Just a note. Not all description is in the form of Image Moments, nor will all description in my writing be that way. But I like this technique a lot since it keeps the motor neurons engaged, but paused, while the sensory input neurons throw out a light to see what is around.

It's a wonderful technique to keep people in the story trance when you need to feed them information.


Also, if you are getting your own ideas on writing processes from reading this stuff, here's a word about the briefing. I am now at the point where a briefing just pours out of me. What you read below under the heading BRIEFING is the way I often write to myself. So don't forget, this is not a briefing for others. This is a briefing for myself. Since that is not for public consumption (except for places like here where I show the process), I'm not worried about anything stupid I may write in it.

In general, a briefing (in the way I do it) deals with time, place, characters and action and anything else that seems relevant at the moment. I like to add intentions. And here I included emotions.

If time is implied, even though this is a briefing, I don't mention it. But it has to be there. For example, below, since I am going from a personal memory out toward a fiction story, the time is more or less now as opposed to, say, in the 1300's or in the future. It's implied, but it's definitely in the briefing.

I used to include the seven elements of an Image Moment (set, set dressing, prop, character, costume, mood, comments) in my Image Moment briefings, but they are becoming second nature. If you look, you will see them all in the text.


One last thing. Jack Grapes pushes you to make Image Moments that use less than the seven elements and that are a lot shorter, say 50 words. I have not allowed myself to go there yet. The feeling I have had acquiring this skill is like I have had to create the neural pathway in my brain for this technique to become second nature. I want that settled and part of me. Then I will start doing all the variations when I feel I need to polish something or correct a weakness and so on.


Anywho, here we go. 



An image flashed before me just now of back when I used to compose music on the piano. The truth is I suck at playing the piano, but my character does not need to. Also, I’m thinking of making the environment a bit different than what is in my memory. And give him some grief and fear for the moment. The action is that he enters a room and sees the piano and starts to go to it while looking around. Image Moment. He arrives at the piano bench, sits down and starts playing.



Seth felt that old friend, his fear, show up as he opened the door to his music studio. Could he still compose? His girl friend Veronica had just been murdered. He didn’t feel like doing anything.

But it was worse. He hadn’t been able to compose for the last three months. Something was drying him up and he didn’t know what it was. Granted, Veronica had been nagging and overbearing, but he didn’t want to think about that. God damn it, she had just been murdered.

Seth knew he had to do something to keep his sanity. He wanted to scream and break things. But he wanted to curl up in a corner and shut the world down at the same time. 

Did he still have the magic? There was only one way to find out. 

He started walking toward the piano bench. How many hours had he spent in this small room? It wasn’t much of a room, but it was his. There were no pictures on the walls, just bookshelves loaded beyond capacity with books and books and more books. And piles of music scores. 

But there was a mirror in the middle of the mess. Seth saw a stubble growth on his cheeks and a rip in his shirt. Who cares? His eyes lost focus and the array blended the colors into a drab smear. But he loved it that way. No distractions. 

He entered the world where music was his sight and smell and taste and touch. That little voice in his head didn’t use words when he was there. Only notes.

Seth had a small brown plastic stand of drawers beside the piano. It wobbled all the time and he kept score paper and pencils in it. And on it. They would fall off, but he never minded. That was part of the ritual.

He never composed in ink because he could not erase the notes. His process demanded erasing. He worried ideas to death and chewed on them like a wild animal on prey before the music was done. Ink would never do. But who was he fooling? Veronica was dead, for God’s sake.

The room felt stuffy. Seth willed the stuffiness away. Right there was his old beat up upright piano with the varnish streaked and pealing in a few places. It was calling him. Even as tears came, it was calling his name, Seth… Seth… Seth…

Seth’s eyes focused on a quarter on the keyboard. A quarter. What was that doing there? He continued to the piano bench and sat down. He threw the quarter on the floor, put some score paper in front of him and loaded a pencil behind his ear.

He started sobbing and let it run. Then he took a deep breath and stomped right through the middle of his grief. He had to control it. 

Seth closed his eyes and put his hands in place on the keyboard. Could he still compose? He stayed that way for several minutes, timeless like a statue.

Then his fingers started to move. They gained traction as the music from the piano sliced through the air and cut his heart into pieces.


I know this is just practice, but I'm kinda proud of this one. It moves the heart and the images stay in memory. That's a writer's dream. I don't always get it right, but I like this Image Moment. I might use this as part of the first draft of a larger work.



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On 2/23/2023 at 7:08 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

One last thing. Jack Grapes pushes you to make Image Moments that use less than the seven elements and that are a lot shorter, say 50 words. I have not allowed myself to go there yet.

I wrote that yesterday and this stuck in my craw.

So I decided to do one this morning at 50 words or less to see what happens.

I did not expect the following, but I did it. And it took about half an hour or so.



This is to be 50 words or less and include all 7 elements. Jill is pointing a gun at someone. She starts to pull the trigger, Image Moment, she finishes pulling and the boom happens. 

Note to self. This particular point, the instant an action causes a shot (or punch to land, or collision to happen, or anything like that) is a good Image Moment for lots of thriller and action stories. 


Jill yelled and started to pull the trigger.

The cold rain soaked her. A nearby tree swayed. Fear was in Bud’s eyes and his pants were falling down. What a mess, she thought. That damn belt buckle. Damn him.

Her finger tightened. She heard the boom and Bud fell.


That came to 49 words and included the action. I am stunned I did that.

I'm normally a blabber-mouth.

What's more, it was fun.



Just so you know how I hit all the points:

INTERRUPTED AND RESUMED ACTION: Jill pulling the trigger.

SET: Outdoors somewhere, implied by Jill getting soaked from the rain.


PROP: Bud's belt buckle. (It's not the gun because, in Jack's rules, a prop has to be the size of a deck of cards or smaller.)

CHARACTER: Jill and Bud.

COSTUME: Pants falling down.

MOOD: Cold rain and the wind that causes the tree to sway. (Mood in Jack's meaning is the sensory aspect--five senses--of the environment.)

COMMENTS: Jill thinking, What a mess, that damn belt buckle, and damn him.


That's a hell of a lot of information in 49 words. And I even had room left over for fear, eyes, a yell, a boom and a fall.

I'm getting good at this shit.



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I did another 50 word Image Moment just now. 50 words exactly, including the interrupted action. And it took about a forty minutes, including the briefing.

This one has a few things that go a bit beyond the exercise, so I think it is interesting to share it and talk about them.

I cheated a bit by including a set dressing (the crystal table) before the action, but since I included the action in the 50 words, I felt justified. Besides, there were the bulletproof windows for more set dressing. And the crystal table works so well there, helping give an aura of wealth (to set up the ensuing tinge of danger) without slamming the effect over the reader’s head. I’m happy with it.




David is sitting at his computer writing. Sharon comes in trying to get a glance at what he is writing, but he does not want her to see it. The action could be him typing or him speaking.



David stopped typing on the cool crystal table and looked up. “You know I can’t show you yet, Sharon.” 

God was she lovely in red. And that blue sapphire broach. Expensive. He looked across his luxury office, out through bulletproof windows. The air was fresh. Perfect.

“But you’re the villain.”


Just so the elements are clear:


SET: Luxury office.

SET DRESSING: Crystal table and bulletproof windows..

PROP: Blue sapphire broach.

CHARACTER: David and Sharon

COSTUME: Red outfit on Sharon.

MOOD: Fresh air.

COMMENTS: David thinking Sharon is lovely, the broach is expensive and the air (or situation) is perfect.


Note that this is not a story, just a small piece in the middle of one. A moment to see and feel. I don't know what the rest of the story could be, but I have plenty to work with here to develop a full story that could entertain an audience and keep its attention. including a small unanswered question piquing the reader's curiosity. (Villain? What's that about?)

Once again, it is fun writing this stuff.



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  • 1 month later...

It's been a while since I have written anything in this thread. I want to continue because I have only scratched the surface. If you are an aspiring fiction writer and feel lost (like I have felt for so many goddamn years), you are the person I am writing to. The rest doesn't matter.

Before I start up with new techniques and examples, there are a couple of issues.


It seems like some people have misunderstood what I am doing here. One person even complained that there was no climax in my examples and things like that. Well... there is not supposed to be. How about that?


I am doing exercises, not writing short stories or things like that.

For example of what this means, I have a terrible time with descriptions, even when I write intuitively (mostly memoir). So I was delighted to come across the Image Moment form. And I learned it. However, once I learned it, I wasn't done. I was just getting started. I had to automate that process in my subconscious. And the only way to do that is through intentional practice.

There is no other way. You do that by writing one day after another in full focus on the writing. That means you do not allow your thoughts to be contaminated by being approved by anyone. Not when you are practicing. You only focus on the writing and the technique you are working on, usually within the context of a problem you are solving.

On a side-note, do all good descriptions have to be Image Moments? Hell no. That's just one form and it is for action scenes. If I were writing a scene where the person is pondering something critical to him, my descriptions would not only be more isolated and expanded, they would also be infused with a lot of thought. There are many kinds of descriptions. I focused on the Image Moment here because it makes my mind think theatrically: setting, set dressing, prop, mood, character, costume, comments. And I think about presenting this description during an action. Now I do that off the top of my head, just like I ran that list off. I was not able to do that when I started. 

The result? I have grown. I can use this skill as part of a story that has interesting characters doing things that pop with climax, epiphany, catharsis, philosophical theme, an emotional roller coaster and all the rest. Another way or looking at this is that now, when I am writing a story with interesting characters doing things that pop with climax, epiphany, catharsis, philosophical theme, an emotional roller coaster and all the rest, it will no longer be marred by poor-ass descriptions that flop around in it like fish out of water.


I felt something was mediocre in my writing, I isolated one problem that caused this, I found a technique that solves it, I put that technique into a form I can practice, I repeated practice sessions in full focus day after day after day, and I solved my fucking problem.

That is the purpose of this thread. I am writing this thread for people who need that in their writing.


On another issue, I cannot stress the following point enough. I have written in my journal every day since last May. I wrote in it every day since last March 1, which was my last post on this thread. You didn't see anything from it, but I did it. I write in my journal even when I write serious things during the day that are geared toward creation or projects. This is a habit by now, but it is one I will keep until I can no longer write.

In a certain sense, this liberated me. I do a minimum of 500 words a day in my journal. Everything in first person. No adverbs and few adjectives. I sometimes work out a writing technique idea in free flow. I sometimes work out an idea I am using in my fiction writing, also in free flow. I often practice a writing technique. And when I get stuck, I keep writing no matter what. I do not pause to think through anything although I might pause to look something up like how to spell a name or whatever. And, of course, there are a few exceptions where I catch myself pausing. In those moments, I tell myself to stop it and get back to writing.

And when my brain is deep fried and almost nothing comes, I pick up an idea (any idea will do) that is in my mind and write about it from two perspectives. How does this relate to the truth of who I am right now? How does this relate to my past, the things I have lived? Something always comes with those two questions. Also, I do this process at times when my brain is not fried just for the fun of it.

I also start each entry with an expression of gratitude to The Great Out There for making me in such a form that I can do things like this to improve myself. Gratitude for all of it, not just the success.

I never get writing block this way.

A session is usually half-an-hour to an hour. It only goes longer when I write 1,000 words or so (or more). I have done that a few times, but that does not affect the 500 words for the next day. Each new day means 500 more words minimum in my Writing Journal. 


Also, I have found that when I write in a free manner like this, it warms up my writing brain. I can feel the brain kicking in as I write. Then I find I have too many ideas to write about and that is when I narrow my focus.

I got this warm-up idea from David Morrell (who wrote First Blood, which later became the movie Rambo). He wrote a book on writing novels and mentioned that he got an idea from Harold Robbins, a writer of huge bestsellers of yesteryear. (Ones they used to call airport bestsellers because people would buy them in airports for their flights. They were light reading, but engrossing). Robbins would start writing on his typewriter (back then no computers) and addressing his muse. He would talk to her and tell her to give him her gifts and thoughts and idea and so on and he would type those out as they came to him, or he would keep asking her. He would do that stream-of-consciousness style for a few paragraphs and his writing mind would warm up. Then he would go on to write his fiction. Afterwards, he would throw away the muse part.

In my experience that works. I have modified this for a form that works for me, but it is the same at root. Warm up your writing brain by writing stuff you know you will never use and address it to something "out there." Talk with your fingertips to that something out there. Before you know it, ideas are flowing.

I have some more techniques and examples I want to share, one in particular based on 6 questions. 

But I will do that in another post. Otherwise this thing will get too damn long.



For now, if this stuff helps you, I am gratified. I am doing it to help you. And to show you that when you practice, your results do not have to be perfect. They just have to be focused on the problem you are addressing.

If you are not interested, no biggie. I'm writing to a specific kind of person for a specific reason.

If you want to use this stuff to bash me or criticize me or whatever (you know who you are and you know you want to :) ), have at it. I don't care. This is my path. Bashing me is your path.

Guess where the gain and increase are?

When I'm writing in this manner, I am in my own world and I couldn't be happier.

As Roark told Toohey, "But I don't think of you."

Not when I am there.



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As a further addendum to my last two posts, I love the information Glenn Gers provides on his YouTube channel, Writing for Screens. I may discuss some of that information in this thread later (especially his video on six questions).

But for now, I did not know he had been interviewed by the Film Courage lady. He is wonderful in that interview (for the full thing, see here).

A clip from that interview gives one of the best descriptions of the two kinds of writing I have come across. One kind is just letting it out and getting the words down on the page no matter what happens. The other kind is revision.

Glenn goes on to talk about other interesting things in this clip, but the first part covering the two kinds of writing is the most important for my purpose here.


So what is my purpose in showing this clip? 

It's to emphasize that when I do my exercises in my journal, a few of which I show in this thread as examples, I am practicing only the first kind of writing. This is noncritical. Some good, some bad, a lot mediocre. I am not showing revised work. I am showing what comes out of my head at the moment.

I had to learn to practice this to make it fluid.

In Objectivism, which is the base of my worldview, there is one thing creators get clobbered with. They get afraid to make a fucking mistake. I suffered with this and I know others suffer with this. For me, for the longest time, just letting it all hang out was so unnatural to the way I was inside, it made me feel awful. However, the best lines I ever wrote, the best things in general I ever wrote, was when I lost myself and let it flow. Then revised. Two different processes. Two different times.

Memoir writing came easy to me because I knew I was correct when I reported what happened in my life. That fear of being wrong was not there during the first draft.

On writing fiction, I had to learn to tap into that blurt part of my brain where the first kind of writing comes from. I had kept that part under lock and key for the longest time because in my worldview. That is, excellence and human competence reigned supreme. I mistakenly thought a first draft or brain dump was schlock writing. It wasn't and it isn't. It's a first draft or brain dump.

As I learned this late in life in practical term (I always knew it in theoretical terms), I have had to practice it, and practice a lot to get rid of the bad habits.

So when I practice my exercises, they are almost always done in blurt mode. If it is good or bad or mediocre, cleaning that up is for a later stage. I am at the point where I no longer feel guilty for letting my creativity loose and shit comes out. Sometimes that is what is supposed to happen. I learn from it and realize where I need to improve.

Frankly, the examples I present would never see the light of day were I not interested in helping others get over this same problem I had. Put it this way. It's fine and OK and even good to write shit. It's not ever good to publish shit.


One other point. I always start my Journal entries with an expression of gratitude to the Great Out There. I used to hate revision, even after I started writing in my Journal. (Remember Gail Wynand writing stuff and never having to revise? Lil ole me read that years ago and said I wanted to be just like that, Har-dee-har-har. How did that work out for ya', genius? :) )

To fix my aversion to revision, I tried something out and it worked. I started expressing gratitude in my Journal every day for being able to revise in addition to write. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with revision. I still don't do as much as I need at times, but I know when I finish a first draft, I have some pleasure ahead so I no longer feel the need to get the crappy version into the public eye. 


OK. Enough of this stuff.

After this detour of these last few posts, I will get back to posting my routines and some examples.

As usual, if this is valuable to you, it's the reason I am writing it. Your appreciation and improvement are my payment. If this is not valuable to you, just skip it and we can still be friends.



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It's about time I added something else here.

btw - I am still writing in my Journal every day and training my skills. May 5th will make it one year I am doing this.

At 500 words minimum a day, but usually going over (about 700 on average or maybe a little more), man, have I written a lot of shit.



I mentioned a few times the six questions I got from Glenn Gers. This has become so fruitful for me, I have written a ton of story starts with it. I call these brainstorm outlines because I know I will change them after I get going. Later on, I will show what I mean by adding plot twists, deepen character, enhance climaxes,  and so on. Maybe even show how this can wed (for enhancement afterwards) with Mamet's 3 questions and Steven James's scene routine that I have found so useful.

Once again, this six question routine is a brainstorming tool, not a template or outline. And, at least with me, it taps into the subconscious level of my mind where shit just pours out of it. 


Here are the questions. And note, to do this right, you have to write out the questions and write out the answers. It may be different for you, but this is how it works for me.

1. Who?
2. What does the character want?
3. Why can't he or she get it?
4. What does the character do about it?
5. Why doesn't that work?
6. How does the story end?

Here is Glenn Gers himself talking about these questions.


Now here are a few examples from my Journal. Remember, these are not notes for me to write the next Atlas Shrugged. These are me farting around as I try to learn a new skill. In fact, I keep things ordinary on purpose so I will not lose focus on developing the skill. It is easy for me to get distracted by big ideas and start dreaming of changing the world. Later, with solid skills under my belt, I will work on my works of high art and entertainment. 

Here is the very first one I did with 6 questions and it is just awful. :) But if you know what to look for, you will see that I did not get stuck, even when more Randian values tried to sneak in from my subconscious at the end. That's because this damn thing works, even when part of my subconscious was trying to sabotage it.



Who is the character? 
Let’s call a man in his 40’s Luke.

What does he want?
He wants to build his dream-house on the beach.

What keeps him from doing that?
He does not have enough money to build it or live there.

What does he do about that?
He tries one get-rich scheme after another.

Why doesn’t that work?
These schemes never work.

How does it end?
He wins a lottery ticket, starts to build the dream house, realizes it doesn’t mean anything unless he has earned it instead of won it in a lottery, gives up the house and puts his money to work in investments, then starts a new project in life with study and practice and all the rest. Something he will have to earn. 

I want to say become a writer, but that’s only because this is what I did…



My second one was a bit better.



… for a younger audience.

Who is the main character?
A young girl named Maddie, say about 12 years old.

What does she want?
She wants to win the affections of Franz, a boy in her school because she has a mad crush on him.

Why doesn’t that work?
Franz is only interested in boy things like fighting and building things with his hands. 

What does she do about that?
She tries to learn how to fight in the way he does and build the same stuff with her hands that he does hoping he will notice her.

Why doesn’t that work?
She can’t fight. And she screws up everything she tries to build because it bores her to tears.

How does it end?
He ends up falling for her because he had to rescue her in fights. And he starts getting a kick out of teaching her how to build. But he shows no interest in the things she likes. Still he develops a crush on her as she goes cold on him. :)



Here's another. I kinda like this one. 



Old Bart. He’s about 80, feels young and ornery.

What does he want?
He wants to go sit in his armchair on the porch (in the country) and admire the countryside as the noise in his mind settles down.

Why can’t he get it?
He has to go to his country house and he isn’t there yet. 

What does he do about it?
He gets in his car and goes there. 

Why does that not work?
He has irritating mishaps on the way. And he solves each mishap by becoming more and more cranky and sociopathic.

How does it end?
When he gets to his country house, there is a party going on there with his grandchildren. They welcome him with shouts of joy and things just get worse for him. When he goes to his porch seat, there is a raccoon sitting on it. He goes and gets a double-barrel shotgun and blows a hole in the outside wall beside the raccoon. The raccoon hurries off. The kids turn off the music and start leaving one by one. Silence ensues and he finally sits there rocking in contentment.



This one is not great, but I like it, too. Maybe I will work this up to something better.



Daisy, a country girl in her 30’s. 

What does she want?
She doesn’t just want, she dreams about going to the big city and getting out of what she thinks of as this dump.

What is stopping her?
She is afraid due to the stories she has heard and she doesn’t have the money.

What does she do about it?
She sleeps around with guys who are from big cities and tries to get opportunities from them to get to the big city.

Why doesn’t that work?
She is a lousy chooser of dudes and she keeps getting her heart broken with scumbags.

How does it end?
At her lowest point she resolves she has to get to the big city on her own, so she cuts off all the dudes, borrows enough money to get to a big city and goes down to the bus station. She doesn’t know how she will make this work, but she does know it will not involve sex.



As a next-to-last example and an unbelievable descent into tastelessness and farting around, I have done this process for a series of what I call "Slob Stories." Here is the first I did of that series.



A slob named Joe who is in his twenties and mostly aimless.

What does he want?
Since this is a guy who doesn’t want much to begin with, I have to make sure his desire and methods fit his slob nature. So let’s say he wants to invent a way to eat seven hamburgers in one whack.

Why can’t get get it?
He only has one mouth and two hands and the hamburgers keep falling out of them.

What does he do about it?
This is comedy, of course. So I can come up with a series of contraptions and ideas. The last one will be a large funnel with the small end going to his mouth and a plunger to shove the hamburgers on through.

Why doesn’t that work? 
Each thing has it’s own form of failure built in, so it turns into a Wile E. Coyote deal. His last thing works, but leaves him unsatisfied since he cannot taste certain things since they are all mushed together.

How does it end?
Just to have an ending, I will say it ends by him congratulating himself on getting the burger part done, but then he has to figure out how to stuff 7 milkshakes down at the same time without freezing his brain.



Here's a last example. This is also from the Slob Story group.



Ann, a musician (a keyboard artist) with a lot of talent and no discipline.

What does she want?
She wants to find her own sound and become famous.

Why can’t she get it?
She is too lazy to keep showing up. She only wants to play when she is inspired, not when she needs to train herself. And this, plus her innate talent, has made her lazy and valuing other things above her music. However, she is unhappy (in a slob-like manner) that she has hit a ceiling and she knows it is a low ceiling at that.

What does she do about it?
She hires better musicians than she is to have them carry her. She tries to go into singing and being a vocal performer. She tries to become a sex symbol.

Why doesn’t that work?
The musicians do carry her, but they are not inspired by her, so no original sound appears. She only gets competent performances that sound like others. Her voice is not pretty and she sings offkey all the time. And even though she manages to convey a type of sensuality, she is not the sex symbol type, either too scrawny or too fat. What’s worse, she is vulgar, not exciting, when she tries to be seductive.

How does it end?
This is another story ripe for an moment of transcendence. She either encounters a mentor, or sees a movie, or gets advice from a sidekick or something and realizes she needs to hit the keyboard every day for a practice time in full focus. She starts doing that and finds a glimmer of a sound appearing. Someone or something from her lazy values calls to her with a gangbuster experience and she does not go. She stays and practices.



Once again, I am presenting these as examples of how to do this technique, or at least how I do it. These are not story outlines per se. Call them the material from which I can start to make a story outline.

I have a bunch of these. When I feel uninspired, I just pull out these 6 questions and let 'er rip. Then shit just pours out on its own. I don't do any heavy thinking at this stage, nor do I censor myself with criticism. This is what brainstorming fiction by me looks like. It never takes long, either.

Imagine what this will be like when I release the restrictions I have put on myself for learning skills. I can imagine it. And, man, will it be fun. :)  

You have no idea how grateful I am to have found these tools. I never used to be able to do this stuff.

There are plenty more tools, too. I will mention them as I go along.


And, as always, if this helps you write better (like this sucker has helped me), this is what I am aiming at. If this is not your cup of tea, no biggie. Just ignore this thread.


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I had some other things I wanted to put here first, but I came across a technique I had not noticed before. I liked it so much, I wrote an example in my Journal just now.


How do you present technical information in a story? That's the technique.

It is easy to kill the momentum by describing a technical process or give an information dump, so this is important. I know this should be important to people in O-Land who want to become writers because they will want to write characters who do things and build things in reality, not just interact with each other.


The easiest way to present technical information is by simple description. Just find a natural pause and describe the thing. But that is boring. And it kills a story's momentum. What's worse, if you have researched the technical topic well, you will have a tendency to present too much detail.

But you can still do this without killing momentum if you give out small bits of information over time.


I learned a cool way from Aaron Sorkin. He calls it his “get out of jail free” card. He presents a character who needs the information but does not know it, then has another character explain it. They are often doing something as they talk. Michael Crichton was a master of this way.


However, yesterday I noticed a different form when I was reading a novel by Robert Crais called "Demolition Angel." Crais used it to explain what demolition experts look for in a specific situation.

This form is akin to the Image Moment where it interrupts something. But instead of an action as in the Image moment, this interrupts dialogue. The trick is to have a character say something with a jargon word that means nothing to the audience, or maybe a character gives a reaction that makes little sense. At this point, you can write a paragraph or two explaining the thing for the audience, then resume the dialogue.

I want to add my own idea, too. I think this works well if it is followed by something unexpected or drastic or otherwise notable.

Here is a moment where I do this with technical information about a trombone. I just now wrote it.



Jerry makes a wisecrack to Jane about Dustin’s trombone mute. Then the narrator explains what the mute is for.

Dustin responds complaining about the goof.



Jane looked at the two trombonists. She said, “The rest of us are going. Are you guys ready to take the plunge?”

Jerry said, “Just so long as it doesn’t end up like Dustin’s plunger.”

Trombonists use a literal plunger as a mute. It has to be the wide open type and made of something like rubber. The wooden handle is removed. Players hold it in their left hand over the trombone’s bell. When they play a note, they open it and a “waa” sound comes out.

Dustin said, “Screw you.”

Jane looked at him. “What?”

Jerry said, “Don’t mind Dustin. We once did a gig. Some band members got a wood handle and used his plunger in a real toilet. A dirty one. Then they put the plunger back next to his trombone. When his solo came up, he grabbed it, felt the slime and then the smell. God, it was priceless. He stopped playing he was so pissed, so I took his solo. I was laughing so hard I almost couldn’t get the notes out.”

Dustin was scowling.



I avoid presenting philosophy and weightier things as I practice these techniques, especially when I just now detected a new technique. But this form can be used to explain any philosophical concept in a story and keep the momentum rolling forward. This even works with Rand's ideas if that is your desire.

I only have one example this go around because this is brand new to me.

I might write a Randian example before too long, though, just to experiment with it.

From what I felt just now, I don't think I need to practice this one too much. I just need to remember the trick when I write fiction for real, but the rest is easy. One of the benefits of forum writing for years, I guess...



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  • 2 weeks later...

Wanna see a stylistic thing I just learned?

Granted, reverse-engineering is not my invention, but the way I did it recently made me write some things in my Journal that gave me that sense of wonder: is the coming from me? Man, that's a good feeling.

(As an aside, I have been writing my 500 word minimum in my Writing Journal every day, practicing techniques, musing on writing issues, expressing gratitude and so on. I celebrated my one year anniversary of doing that on May 5th. That's a lot of writing just for myself. But I can't see myself not doing it anymore. In fact, I will be doing this for the rest of my life.


But back to reverse engineering. To start with, I am consuming a lot of fiction. I am currently going through Raymond Chandler. There are only seven novels, so this is easier than authors like James Patterson. (btw - Patterson is great for learning how to write "briefing" outlines and to keep scenes tight. But Chandler has a way with words that knocks my socks off. If I leave the wisecracking and hardboiled persona aside, sometimes he just pops out with a phrase and you look on in awe.

Chandler is the style-man. He's not so great on plot. In fact, when Howard Hawkes made a movie out of The Big Sleep, his writers couldn't figure out who killed a minor character, the chauffer. They asked Chandler about it and he said damned if he knew. :) Also, Chandler openly gave his main idea of plotting: if a story starts lagging, have a man with a gun enter a room. :) 

Don't discount wisdom there, but good plotting can be learned.


Style-wise, though? Wow. I decided to take quotes from Chandler, reverse-engineer them and see if I could do something similar.

I'll give you my process below and show what can come out.

In The Big Sleep, there is a scene where Christopher Marlow is looking at marks on a carpet and realizes the marks were made by someone dragging the missing corpse. And while musing on how otherwise clean the crime scene was, then he popped out with this: “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

That is one hell of a great way to say it. And it sticks in the mind.

So I took that sucker apart.


In that quote, Chandler has three elements that apply to human beings: death, love and gravity. Dead men (death), broken hearts (love), and heavier (gravity).

All three are universal to humans. So to do something similar, I need to pick two mismatched universals about human life and add a physical condition. 

If I just stick with love and death as the mismatched life universals, here is something that came off the top of my head as I was writing about it. I used temperature instead of gravity for the physical condition.

The situation: A lady is hunting for her lover outdoors in the winter. She is in despair, but not giving up. She sees some frozen corpses on the ground.

The first draft that popped out: “Her longing for Phil was hotter than the cold that killed them.”

Meh... First drafts are that way, though. I tinkered and tinkered with that, especially the sound of the words and feel they give me,

I finally came up with the following: 

“She burned for Phil more than dead men freeze.”

I like it.



Here's another from The Big Sleep.

Apropos, I have also read Farewell, My Lovely and and now in the middle of The High Window. I am doing them in chronological order. I have some great quotes from those, too, but for this post, for illustrating a technique, I am just doing a couple of short quotes from his first novel, The Big Sleep.

Here's the second quote: “He didn’t know the right people. That’s all a police record means.”

This shows a shortcoming in a person according to an official black mark, but the shortcoming is really that of the institution.

So I need a black mark, a shortcoming of an institution and an individual who suffers from the black mark.

I settled on a school boy being expelled. Being expelled (black mark), disdain of the poor (the institution's failing), the student victim (Stevie).

So this popped out of me in blurt mode: “The school didn’t like the low amount of money Little Stevie’s parents had, so when he got rowdy, they expelled him.”

Don't worry. First drafts are supposed to suck. :) 

After polishing, I came up with this: 

“The school was rich. Stevie was poor. He got expelled. What’s so complicated about that?”

I can polish this even more, especially the poetic-like wordplay but this is just for illustrating how to do the technique.


One thing is for sure, I just learned a trick I am going to use for the rest of my life. Find a saying I like. Break it down into abstractions (I like the mismatched ones) that include life and context (physical conditions, social conditions and so on). Use different concretes than the quote, concretes relevant to my story. Maybe mix it up a little.

Who says form has to come from hand-me-down templates? Reverse engineering works better, or at least just as well. It's a lot of fun, too. :) 

Later I intend to apply this technique to some Ayn Rand quotes.


As a final thought, as I go along reading Chandler, he keeps referencing another great wordsmith, Shakespeare. Chandler actually has his characters throw barbs at each other while mentioning Shakespeare. So I have a feeling Chandler learned his "combine mismatched elements" description style from Shakespeare much in the same manner I did with him here. Chandler did it his way, of course, but I bet the essentials are the same.

In fact, before too long, I, myself need to dig into Shakespeare. I've kept away from him because Rand trashed him. Besides, all those long boring hours in high school... :) 

But Angus Fletcher (who I am studying) luvs him some Shakespeare from a neuroscience perspective, so going there will not be so bad. And the kicker. There comes a time to let go of excuses and bad memories and imitating others and do the friggin' work...


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I'm having so much fun with these Chandler quotes I did a few more.

btw - If you want quotes from an author to use this technique with (Ayn Rand, Shakespeare, the Bible, others), you can get fairly reliable quotes at Wikiquote. For instance, here is the link for Raymond Chandler.



There are three examples from me I want to share, two from one quote and one from another.

I bent over and took hold of the room with both hands and spun it. When I had it nicely spinning I gave it a full swing and hit myself on the back of the head with the floor.
From "Pearls Are a Nuisance" (short story, 1939)

Abstracting: This contrasts reality with unreality and a physical action that ends up hurting the character by surprise. I believe this is supposed to be a representation of someone drunk.

But this process can be for other situations of delusion or even dreaming. Also, it can be turned upside down. A person starts doing a self-destructive action because reality sucks, includes unreality in the action, then ends up emerging from the ashes.

The guy was a giant. I sauntered up to him, pushed him in the chest, taunted him, danced evasive maneuvers, spun around to deliver a deadly dropkick and landed my nose in the middle of his fist.


Here is the contrary.

I put my pistol to my temple and gritted my teeth. What? A flock of ducks? I started to squeeze the trigger. I saw Dad's face sneering at me, so I pointed the gun at him. It roared, flew out of my hand and a duck fell off my windowsill.


A new quote.

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room. 
From Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

This is a desire chain depicting a progression of desires. Then a contrasting reality depicted by physical items and an action. It's held together by a poetic device of repeating the verb for the desire chain as a setup, then paying it off with reality items and action.

Chandler’s desire chain: wish to avoid, scared of danger, weariness of it all, desire for peace. His repeated verb: needed. His reality items: coat, hat and gun. Action: put them on and exit.

For my action, I want a young person to raise his leg and mount a horse. His desire chain: wariness, being afraid to fail, trying to look cool, thinking about his chick. His repeated verb: worried. His reality items: stirrup, saddle and reins.

As Joey got close, he worried about the horse. He worried about his friends mocking him. He worried about looking cool. He worried about his girlfriend. His eyes zeroed in on the stirrup, the saddle, the reins. He swallowed his spittle, lifted his leg and mounted the horse.


They all need more work to make the words sing, but I like them. I also did some cursory revision, so I did not show my gawdawful first blurts.


This is what practicing a technique looks like. It's different than full on writing and revising a gazillion times until the piece is polished.

But I have developed a love for revision I never had before. I'm just not going to do a whole lot of revising at practice time unless, someday, I need to practice different revision techniques.


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I'm not going to overburden you guys with my practice files, but I think the variety of abstractions from the different Chandler quotes makes these examples useful. I didn't expect to see such variety when I started, but here we are.

I know I would have loved to see something like this years ago.

As an aside, I have no rhyme or reason for when I come up with a situation. It appears in my mind out of the ether and I blurt it out onto the page. (I credit my daily Journal work for the ability to do that.)


Now onto the first. I did two examples from the same quote.

Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.
The Big Sleep, Chapter 6

Abstraction: The assumed agency to think and act is given to two figures being introduced. But death is the state of one of them. There is also a third party acting.

So I need to find out what agency I want the two figures to have (or have assumed).
Which one is dead (or asleep, or unconscious, etc.)
Who the third party acting is and what he is doing.

How about musicians in an orchestra? One is asleep. The conductor is the third party.

Soon after the lofty climax, an orchestral whisper arrived when the French horn and oboe were the only instruments left playing. Both musicians faced the conductor, who gave them a gentle loving cue. The French horn was exquisite but the oboist was fast asleep.


Another example from the same abstraction in a far different context.

I saw a man sitting with his mouth open as I ran into the empty restaurant to warn about Syd coming. He was dead, but I yelled “Get out!” anyway. A nearby table upended as a kid ran from underneath it to the door. 


Here is the second quote:

We sneered at each other across the desk for a moment. He sneered better than I did.
Farewell, My Lovely (1940), Chapter 20

Abstraction: This one is tricky. There is an implication of superiority hiding as humility. You need two people doing the same thing. One is singled out as better at it, but the implication is that this makes that person inferior in other things. It helps to tickle the visual cortex with this.

Let’s try a cop shooting a bad guy.

I looked at Glenn. I wondered how sucking up to the chief was going to help him now that bullets were flying. Then I saw the kidnapper. I aimed my pistol, pulled the trigger and down he went. Glenn walked over without a care in the world and put three bullets into the corpse.

I would love to be as concise as Chandler’s example. But that is revision work for another time--that is when I have to make fewer words, finer words, and make the space between them sing.


And the last quote for this post.

A check girl in peach-bloom Chinese pajamas came over to take my hat and disapprove of my clothes. She had eyes like strange sins.
The High Window (1942), Chapter 17

Abstraction: What a cool description. Two people. One acts to serve the other, but also shows signs of disapproval (or any other strong emotion about that person). Then a body part of the serving person gets described with an abstract metaphor that tickles the imagination.

Let’s make this a prison guard giving something to an inmate.

The guard marched over in military style, stopped in front of the prisoner, and threw the letter on the floor. The prisoner looked at the letter. The guard stared on with an impassive face chiseled by self-restrained savagery.


I think I can polish any of these suckers into some fine writing if I ever use them in a story.


Enough for now.



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I've been writing and writing on my own, but I came across something I want to share: a Chandler quote I found different and striking. I wondered if I could do something with it.

I'm also reading a bio of Raymond Chandler and his wife, Sissy, who was 18 years older than him. I was curious if she helped with his style, story ideas or what not.

I didn't see that she was, but I did uncover that Chandler taught himself to write by taking a work he liked (from Black Mask at the time since he could not stand to read lady magazines :) ) and making an in-depth summary of it. He wrote to Earl Stanley Gardner that he did this with one of his novelettes to learn the form. Then he said he wrote through the summary with his own stuff. Then he went back and rewrote it all over again.

That is sort of like what I am doing with these quotes, except I am not writing an entire book. Instead, I am passages where I can add some umph and zest. Practice...

In fact, I watched part of the MasterClass with Shonda Rhymes (I need to finish that sucker :) ) and she said the way she learned how to write a TV series was that she took an entire season of West Wing, took it apart and analyzed it to death. Even Ayn Rand gave this advice in her fiction writing lectures that later became a book (off the top of my head, in one part she took a passage from Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), worked it, and that ended up in Atlas Shrugged--Dagny musing to herself about Atlantis sinking).


Now onto a Chandler quote I dissected and wrote through. I am not presenting this as good work of mine. It's first draft so it sucks. :) But I like the solid skeleton I created on which to polish and put flesh and clothes. For those of you who are getting value from following my exercises, this is a longer quote and I hope the way I took it apart will give you ideas on how to do your own stuff.

I am quoting directly from my Journal here because, frankly, I am too tired to rewrite this thing. I know I should just do a deep rewrite to keep naysayers from feeling superior and shit, but my purpose is didactic, not aesthetic. I think those following this in earnest will get the gist while I will reserve my big guns regarding style, plot, character, theme, emotional impact and all the rest for the upcoming works I publish.

So, I don't care much about what the naysayers think. I am only mentioning this to preempt any obstacles they will want to put in the way of you who are learning form it (just like I learn from it every time I do it). 

When you are writing and glimpsing the reasons for each technique, from what you see and where you can go, don't take negative people with you. Keep your own company and you will improve. I know, this is happening to me.


Now the excerpt.


There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
"Red Wind" (short story, 1938)


ABSTRACTION: This is a pure description of a place and the weather, but it involves nameless people in the place and the weather is symbolic of the appearance of good, but an underlying reality of unease, just like when the people are described.

So I need a place, a “mood” (to use Jack Grapes’s term for the sensory feel of the environment, and that can include the weather), contrasting or conflicting emotions, two scenes of nameless people doing something, an indication of foreshadowing conflict, and a start of the action kicking off the next story item.



Place: An indoor meeting hall awaiting the appearance of a cult leader.

Mood: A pleasant temperature with a slight odor of something overripe.

Two emotions to contrast: Elation and anticipation contrasted with repressed fear and resentment.

Scene of nameless people doing something: The hall was a place where a graduation ceremony had been held in the past for a class that had perished in a train wreck.

Scene of nameless people doing something: This is where janitors had come in to find an orgy of 5 starting and had been promptly fired.

Foreshadowing comment: The anticipation was intense and expectations were high for answers to the questions of life and death.

Kickoff to the next story item: The lights lowered and people sat down waiting on magic.


I arrived at the Seymour Meeting Hall to see a lecture by Honor Sirumashi, the new thing in gurus. I was sticky with sweat from the heat outside. As I went in with the crowd, I gave thanks for the coolness provided by the air conditioning, but there was a faint odor of something not yet rotten. Just overripe. I couldn't peg it. The crowd was dense. 

Nobody remembered the former Class of 82 graduation at the Seymour Meeting Hall. The ceremony ended in smiles and cheers only for most of the students to die in a train accident later that night. Nor did anyone remember the janitors who, on a holiday, had walked in on the beginning of an orgy of Very Important People because they got fired and nobody heard from them since.

Music started. The excitement was growing in the crowd. There was a little too much impatience in the brusque movements as people snapped in anger at each other right before they grinned in friendliness.

Everyone wanted to know the meaning of life from Honor Sirumashi. Some even wanted to know the meaning of death.

The lights dimmed, the music swelled, and all the people sat down expecting magic.


I need to work on this to make it shorter and tighter...



Oddly enough, when I read that again, I got the itch to start correcting it, to replace this word with that, to find the whisper in between the lines, to clarify the theme and align the conflicts with it, to remove "telling" passages with "showing" ones, and so on.

I also feel good about using unnamed people and their actions as symbols and local flavor and foreshadowing. Rand did this a lot in describing a new place, but she did not teach it.

The unknown cast, how we loves ye...


I'm pretty happy with that passage as a rough draft of an introduction to a scene... I might even add this to my notes on The Apostate...



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I did another Chandler in my Journal, this time focusing on woke and racism.

In fact, the only reason I am putting this one up is because of the current events. Writers are always looking for a way to do this without preaching an agenda. The same goes for religious writers, or, ahem... those interested in dealing with Objectivism. :) 

Gotta crawl before you walk, though. So current events it is.



Her hot black eyes looked mad. "I don't see what there is to be cagey about," she snapped. "And I don't like your manners."

"I'm not crazy about yours," I said. "I didn't ask to see you. You sent for me. I don't mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle. I don't mind your showing me your legs. They're very swell legs and it's a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings. But don't waste your time trying to cross-examine me."
The Big Sleep (1939), Chapter 3


ABSTRACTION: This is two people. It starts with one person objecting to the way the other is acting. We can say objecting to something about the other person. The reaction is a smart-ass retort, but after the retort, to make a point, it uses a poetic device… anaphora.* 


It uses anaphora 3 times with a zinger on each, then ends reinforcing the retort.

This form, the way Chandler did it, is great for a subtext, especially with left-handed compliments.

It is also good for blasting woke culture.


Situation: A woke person tries to make the other person feel guilty for using a phrase that can be rendered into outrage.
Person 1 objection: Shame on you.
Person 2 retort: Not invited.
Anaphora phrase: Where were you?
Final zinger: Beat it.


The girl saw her brother in tatters and bleeding. I told her black thugs were after him.

She got red with outrage. “This is Chicago. Do you know what equality means? You are so pathetically privileged. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I glared at her. “Equality? Privilege? Who invited you? That’s your brother bleeding over there. Look at him.

“Where were you when your lily-white parents got run out of the ghetto? I know. You weren’t born yet and human history had not been improved by your arrival. Where were you when I was beaten to a pulp because I stood up for the only black dude at school? Yeah… A baby, right? From where you come, sweetheart, schools with lots of blacks weren’t always there. Where were you yesterday when I had to go to the South Side and haul your brother’s sorry ass out of the middle of a gang fight? Black gangs. 

“You know where? You were at college on a goddam safe space. Well tell your brother how that safe space stops bullets. Shit, I still gotta deal with those fools. They’re coming for you, too, if you’re around. I didn’t invite you here. I don’t want you here. Go back home, eat some avocado toast and yell at at a pronoun or something. Beat it.”


* Anaphora means starting new lines with the same phrase. Chandler's anaphora phrase was "I don't mind."


I did OK just now.

But I long for the day when my stuff flows like the magic Chandler makes. Maybe after I rewrite it a gazillion times.



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  • 2 months later...

If anyone has been following along with this and been discouraged by the lack of entries, here is an update.

I have not missed a single day in my Writing Journal. My minimum is 500 words a day and it usually comes to an average of 700 words a day.


Awhile back I was going into description (and I now have some great thoughts about description) and landed on "beats" of all things.

A beat in writing is a moment of emphasis, but emphasis on what varies from writing teacher to writing teacher.


So as I mused along, I came up with a term--"bit"--for myself to avoid all the different meanings of beat. It's a good concept, too. Rather than go into it in these introductory comments, as I don't have a lot of time, I want to share some excerpts from my Journal writing. From when I started to work on the concept.

I go though my thinking as I landed on the concept and started chipping away at the rough edges. I include a fiction example where I used the "bit" concept to see how it would work with pacing. And there is an analysis of a short scene in a movie using bits.

If you have had the problems I have had in just letting a story unfold, this is one discussion I had with myself that might be interesting to you.

Don't just use my formulation, though. Think it through and come up with your own thinking about it. If you agree with me, fine. That becomes your thinking. If you disagree with me, fine. if you only agree with part of what I came up with, that's fine, too.

The value comes from thinking this stuff through on your own. 

There's an old saying that no man is worthless. At the low end, he is at least an example of what not to be.


Ditto for this writing adventure I have embarked on here. No thought I explore is worthless. At the low end, it can prompt some excellent questions about what not to do and why.

And answering questions, as the great Glenn Gers says, is how to do fiction writing in the quickest and most productive manner possible.


The following is a compilation of several different Journal Entries over several different days where I talked about "bit." I talked about other things, too, on those days, but I will not include them here. The thing is "bit" right now, not other stuff.

You can see the concept of "bit" grow. 

From lil' ole' me :) :


I want to make an observation about Orphan X as I am listening to the last book of the series. I am paying attention to length of the actions and noticed that they all involve a place and situation with that place. In other words, the action sequences are a series of place+situations. What goes on in each situation is different in importance, but it is somehow emphasized.

NOTE ON REVISION: And the string is organized by a “script schema.” I will write more about this in other Entries and think about it more elsewhere. END NOTE

For example, the character may come to a door that is locked. Bingo: place and situation. He may try to use a lock-pick or bust the door down or both or something else. And he may look around the neighborhood to make sure he is not being watched. If something is weird about what he sees, he may mull it over and compare it to a past memory. He may wonder about what awaits. Or he may even feel hot or hungry or something.

Once he goes through the door, he is in another place+situation. Looking around and absorbing what he sees. Maybe interacting with someone. And so on.

Then he goes upstairs. Or to the back door through the kitchen. Or something like that. New place+situation.



As I listen to audiobooks and read, I am more and more getting into the place+situation stop sequences. By stop, I mean instances written about. A point where I take the time to write the small event and write about it. 

I recall the writing advice of someone, but I no longer remember who, that I filed away in the back of my mind, then hardly ever thought about it until recently.

The writer was instructing a young woman who was having a lot of trouble sounding natural in her writing. So he asked her about a passage she was working on at the time, one he had not seen. She mentioned that the scene has the protagonist going into a house during a party and going up to the person he wanted to talk to and say something clever (or insightful or dramatic—I no longer remember). This person he wanted to talk to was on the other side of the room. 

And the writing student said that in so many terms. Protagonist went through the door. A party was going on. He walked up to Person and spoke.

The writer asked her (the writing student) to describe what happens along the way. What was the door like? Or going through it? Did he see any friends or other people who interested him? What did he think of them? Did he get served a drink on the way? What was it? Did he like it?

And on it went that way. The writer told the student to imagine everything the protagonist would do from entering the house to arriving at the person, then write that in. She did and all the other students in the class commented on how this was an instant improver for her problem.

I can see how this would go too far and get boring, but I think this is the foundation on which all the other techniques reside for a story that moves along. You can add scene and sequence to it and discipline it that way. You can use any of the different templates. You can add obstacles or not. 

And for thinking, it is about the same. A person is thinking one thing and will arrive at another. Just make a list of the thoughts in between and use them as virtual place+situation stops in a sequence. Except instead of a place, there will be a question, or musing, or opinion, or memory or something like that. And there will be opinions and comments about it.

In my brain, I try to connect everything to theme or goal or something deeper than a random motion in a direction, so I have no doubt I will be fine with this.

I remember Peter Russell talking about BMOC (beginning, middle, obstacle, climax) as a mini-form, but I see the place+situation stop as even more basic. I could add the BMOC to this, but I could not do the contrary if conceptual hierarchy is my standard.

I am going to have to come up with a term for this. I want to use beat, but that has so many meanings, I don’t want to confuse my reader or student.

I just looked at a lot of synonyms and came up with “bit.”

Instead of beats, I will use  bits. Woah… I love it.

I can use this to dissect any writing. A bit in story is an emphasized stop point in a sequence of movements or thoughts.



Now I want to talk about pacing with bits. See? I’m already using my term “bit” and it makes perfect sense.

Let me outline a person coming into a room, sitting down and turning the computer on.

The bits (action only):
1. The character comes through the door and walks to the chair.
2. The person sits in the chair.
3. The person turns on the computer.

Jordan stopped at the door, looked around and walked over to the desk. The chair was wobbly, but he pulled it out and sat down. Without waiting, he pushed on the computer’s power button.

Jordon got to the door and wondered what in hell he was doing. He looked over at the desk, then back where he came from. Oh well, he thought. Let’s get this over with. He marched to the desk, tripped over the wobbly chair, set it right and sat down. What else can go wrong? 

It took all his strength to raise his finger to the computer’s power button and push.

Jordon was worried. Right now he was going to violate every principle he held dear. All he had to do was go through that door. Could he get back to where he was inside himself after this? He didn’t know. He only knew he had no choice, even as he chose. 

Forcing his legs to move, he took a step inside. He saw an old wooden desk in a modern office. The dark carvings in the woodwork reminded him of a Dickens novel. It looked more out of place here than he felt out in the world. He went over to the desk and walked around it once as he pretended to himself he was examining culture. 

Damn it, he thought. There’s no turning back now, so get on with it. He put his hand on the back of the chair and felt the wobble. That’s just great, he thought. The chair was wobbly outside and he was wobbly inside. Do it, he told himself. You’re not a coward.

He eased down into the chair, almost fell over, but managed to keep it in place with his footing. Deep breath. His hand trembled as he raised it to the computer’s power button. He started to bring his arm back, but suddenly shoved his finger forward like poking at a sore and turned on the computer.



I just saw The Sound of Freedom and I am still under the spell of the storytelling elements I saw in it.

Since I have come across bits not too long ago, I will look at parts of the movie through that lens. When I did that while watching the movie, I became aware of how well the setup-bits-to-payoff pattern was done over and over and over.

It’s obvious to me, and for me, that learning and perceiving bits in a story come before conflict if you want to go in a hierarchical manner and master story form. If you get the bits wrong, the story starts go off in all kinds of tangents.

There is nothing wrong with that, if that is the effect desired, but if the purpose of conflict is to keep the audience engaged and in a trance, flopping around all over the place in the bits will produce poor results.

A long time ago, I tried to read Truby’s book on story. At the beginning, he produced several line drawings of how a story progresses, but I could not figure out how to follow this except by some feeling. And that stopped me from reading further. What was a meandering form, for example? Or a spiral form? He gave some explanations, but they did not satisfy me.

However, with bits, it’s easy. For physical action bits (place+situation), you can find the points and mark them and this will not feel arbitrary. A meandering story will have sequences of bits that are not related to each other, or are remote from each other.

On another note, for emotional arc bits (which I have not thought through yet, maybe I will use something like intensity and valence), I know it will be just as easy to find the points and mark them for analysis.

I want to look at an example in The Sound of Freedom. We know that reuniting with someone beloved we believed was lost is a tearjerker moment. So the moment of the hug (the payoff) is set up with bits and that makes it powerful. 

There is a good sequence of bits when the father sees the girl in the hospital, but there was a long line of bits setting this moment up all through the story. Just at the scene level, for this scene (going from memory):

1. The girl is sleeping and facing toward the window on the left of the screen from the audience’s view, facing away from the door. This is a bit without much movement, but it is lingered on.
2. A silhouette of a head starts coming in from the door to the bed.
3. The hand of the person shakes the girl in a halting and gentle manner to get her to wake up.
4. The girl wakes up confused and takes a moment to get her bearings.
5. She slowly turns and looks and sees her father and smiles.
6. She hugs him and he speaks.
7. She backs off of him to make sure he is real.
8. She hugs him again with him hugging back and this moment is lingered on.

This is a wonderful way to start an analysis.

I thought I was going to do an emotional arc sequence, but instead, I did a normal bit (place+situation) sequence.

Emotionally—in audience emotions:
—The sleeping girl is neutral (neutral bit). 
— Hope starts up in with the head silhouette and shaking the girl awake as the audience hopes this is the father (hope bit). 
— A warm emotional awakening happens as the girl wakes up and recognizes her father (surge of warmth bit). 
— Then the tearjerker money shot emotion happens (tearjerker bit). Or I should say money-sequence-of-shots.

I did not need to practice this technique to make it part of me. On the contrary, it seems like second nature.

I believe this form unites the muscle neurons with sensory input neurons. After all, words and images are sequences of individual sensory inputs, and the cause-and-effect feeling comes from entity’s law of identity and schema. 

By delineating the bits and embellishing them with details, emotions and putting them within a “setup-to-payoff” frame, the wedding of the two forms of thinking happens like magic.



Please keep in mind that I do one revision on my entries. I revise right after I write it just to make sure most of the glaring errors are removed.

As I reread that stuff just now, several places jumped out at me where I know how to write it better. But I resisted the temptation to make changes (except in three places where the meaning was not clear at all--for myself I would not have changed them, but since I am posting these excerpts here for others, I want the meaning to be understood).

If you are looking at this and trying to find your own way in writing, I want to show you how I do it, warts and all.

You will see my polished stuff when I publish it. Or one day I might decide to do an entry where I polish a section to show how I do this work.

So hold your judgment if you want to get value from this. You are not looking at polished work.

Or, at the very worst, you can look at those excerpts from my Writing Journal and say to yourself, "Damn. If he can write that fucked up and keep going, I know I can do it. And better."




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  • 1 month later...

I have written so much in My Journal since I last posted in this thread, I don't know what to extract and share. For those who are following this, especially for those who think bad thoughts about me :) , I have not missed a single day.


But I want to write something here right now. So, riffing off the top of my head:

This may be of interest to O-Land writers. It comes from Dwight Swain, who taught how to write popular fiction. Not hack stuff and not la-tee-dah snoot writing. He uses the scene and sequel form to weave (1) unfolding action and (2) the inner life of characters into plot.

And what, pray tell, is scene and sequence? Briefly and just for information (this is oversimplified):

A scene in Dwight's jargon is proactive and has three parts.
1. Goal,
2. Conflict,
3, Disaster.

A sequel is reactive and also has three parts.
1. Reaction,
2. Dilemma,
3. Decision.

I will talk about this a lot later and, yes, I have practiced it.


But there is a smaller part before getting to the scene and sequel that Dwight calls MRU. If you don't get this down, your scenes and sequels will probably suck. :) 

MRU means Motivation and Reaction Unit. Clunky but useful. (Actually horrible. It sounds like a hospital room. :) )

To use a more Randian lens, this is cause and effect as related to a character's behavior.

You have a motivation (a cause). And the character reacts to it (effect). Then another cause and another reaction (effect) and so on.

The reaction, for Dwight, has three parts: feeling, action, and speech. And, for him, the logical sequence goes in the same order.

For a simple example, there is a sudden loud noise (motivation). The character jolts (feeling), often called a startle reflex. The character looks to where the sound came from (action). Then he asks, "What the hell was that?" (speech)

You can do this out of order, but it is not smooth that way. As someone said somewhere (sorry, I don't remember the person), the reaction goes from the less rational to the more rational to be smooth. This is because our minds work that way.


But wait! Didn't Rand hate reactive characters who didn't act by their own choice?

Well, here's my spin. Dwight always meant for the motivation to be external, something from reality.

And, obviously, if a character is walking across a room full of people, he doesn't consciously choose each step. He reacts to a lot of stuff and people because they are there in front of him. What's more, each step is part of an automated motor routine in his cerebellum along with inputs from his eyes and ears. His real choice is to get from one side of the room to the other.

Now back to Rand. She held that Romantic Realism was based on humans having volition. She also called the individual human a "causal agent."

So in my idea, to align this with Rand, a choice can also be a motivation at this micro MRU level. 


Here's an example off the top of my head using choice as cause.

Lester decided he was going to kill his wife. Heartburn crawled up his esophagus. He put one hand over the other to make it stop shaking. "Screw me," he said out loud.

Look at it with the parts mentioned.

Lester decided he was going to kill his wife. (choice) Heartburn crawled up his esophagus. (feeling) He put one hand over the other to make it stop shaking. (action and more feeling) "Screw me," he said out loud. (speech)

Notice that the reaction is not 1 1 1. There can be more than one feeling, more than one action, and more than one speech. It depends on the mood and mental image you want to create.


Dwight also said you don't need all three for the reaction. That would slow pacing way down and get tedious over time. 

For example, back to reality as motivation, if it was Lester grabbing a hot frying pan handle, it would be silly, in my view, to give him an enumerated feeling before a reaction since a reflex action to heat is so automatic. So here it is without the feeling.

Lester walked up to the stove. He grabbed the hot frying pan handle and snapped his hand back. "Ow!" he said. 


Lester walked up to the stove. He grabbed the hot frying pan handle (motivation or cause) and snapped his hand back. (action) "Ow!" he said. (speech)

I could keep the 3-part order, but it takes a lot more work to not feel clunky to me. But here it is with the feeling added and the clunkiness removed.

Lester walked up to the stove. He grabbed the frying pan handle. Searing pain woke him up as he snapped his hand back. "Ow!" he said. 


Lester walked up to the stove. He grabbed the frying pan handle. (motivation) Searing pain (feeling) woke him up as he snapped his hand back. (action) "Ow!" he said. (speech)

There is a small secret in this last example. An MRU, according to Dwight, has to present the three steps in order because words are linear and have to obey linearity. However, they can describe an event where several things happen simultaneously. In the last example, searing pain (feeling) and snapping his hand back (action) happen at the same time (or so close to each other as to feel like the same time). So even though I mentioned them one after the other with my linear words, I used the word "as" to denote they were simultaneous.

And just to be a bit more complete, look what happens when I do them in reverse order.

Lester walked up to the stove. He grabbed the frying pan handle. "Ow!" he said as he snapped his hand back. The searing pain woke him up.

Notice that even using the word "as," you have to push your mind a bit to focus to keep the image in mind.

Now read it again in the right order.

Lester walked up to the stove. He grabbed the frying pan handle. Searing pain woke him up as he snapped his hand back. "Ow!" he said. 

Do you feel the difference?

I do.

I love this system.


If you want to get more depth on the ideas I just mentioned, see Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain.

And as Glenn Gers always says on YouTube at the end of a lesson:

"Go write something."



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  • 2 weeks later...

Feels a little weird to be a non-Michael poster to this thread.  If he or an admin thinks this post should be deleted or go elsewhere, feel free.

In the spirit of being brave enough to post first-draft quality prose, and also with respect to that awesome quote further up about writing great by writing bad and fixing it, I thought I'd share something:  a bit of first-draft prose from my novel Existence, followed up by the polished version of it.

Let's start with the first draft.  Parts of it looks like a dog’s breakfast, which is the point. I use brackets, of any sort, as editing markers, and to help me keep going in drafting mode without stopping. Not sure about that phrase or word I just wrote? Bracket it off(maybe briefly type some indication about why) and keep going.



Where was she?

She sat up abruptly, which started her head pounding. Too fast. She’d risen too fast. She held herself still, waiting for the dizziness to pass. Her dry throat made swallowing difficult. When she breathed in the dessicated, hot air, it dried her mouth as well. The relentless sun [beat down] from high in the cloudless sky, though shade from a nearby tree sheltered her from the worst of it. Her robe/toga allowed what meagre wind existed to aerate her body.

Sitting high upon a hill with gentle slopes afforded(syn) a view of the surrounding area. A rocky and barren landscape wavered, partially opaque due to heat waves. She blinked her eyes, trying to perceive more. That revealed a rough/paved/gravel road in the distance, snaking through the dirt and rocks. A weatherbeaten wooden sign, too distant to read, stood beside the road.

Conditions were more pleasant where she sat, beneath a sprawling tree. A pond lay close by, [maybe large enough to swim in]. The tree’s shade effected a boundary, the edge of which extended [a little] beyond her feet, [encased in sandals(ancient?)]. In a few hours, the shade would disappear](phr&fore for time acceleration event later on).

Not wanting to test her equilibrium by rising to her feet, [she crawled](nec?/implies?) the short distance to the pond. It’s clear, placid waters reflected her visage.

Her [creamy brown] skin contrasted(?) against her white(colour?) toga/robe, which accentuated/accommodated(syn) her slender body. Her gentle, green-gray eyes were [wide and curious]. Her straight(syn?) black(syn) hair flowed down over her shoulders, [reflecting the light](syn?/phr?-vitality), [not short as a man’s, yet not as stately or unmanageable as a noble’s]. Her face [possessed mature(more so than reality) youth](show).

[Hey there, uh, chinese woman].

She gasped and twisted her body, searching for the [man who spoke]. A fat(syn?) man with [dull, black] skin, wearing a toga/robe similar to hers. The bandage/cloth(/syn) wrapped around his eyes snagged her attention. How could he see?

His shoulders rolled in a self-conscious shrug. “[Another day, another woman freaking out].”

Another…what? Do we know each other?

His flat mouth twisted into a wry grin.You told me your name, earlier. Zee, or [something like that](Teifsis?).”


That’s the one. We should get going.

How presumptuous. With you? Where?” she asked. “Who are you? Why are you here?” Thinking of the bandage/cloth over his eyes, she asked, “How are you here?”

Can I speak? [You know](Teifsis?), to answer one of the questions you keep piling on? [The man who should be here got(syn-prec/dram) summoned away] and I [lost the bet/coin toss/drew the short straw].”

I don’t under–”

Getting back to our predicament,” he interrupted, “we saw this…oasis?…in the distance and decided to rest a mo/sec/bit.”

We…did?” Why couldn’t she remember that? What had possessed(syn?) them to travel so far up this hill in this heat?

Yes, we did.” [Impatient show?] “Trust me,” he added in a sarcastic tone, “[I would never lie about being with a woman].”


Did you find [animal name]? That’s why we left town, after all. To search for it.” To her blank expression, he prompted, “Your [fantastic animal].”

[animal name],” she said, vexed. “[S/he [chewed off it’s rope] and wandered outside of town]. S/he will be helpless, out here.

[animal name] will show up.” His words were casual, his gaze focused.

The pain in her head spiked, causing her breath to catch(syn?).

[Feeling alright]?” he asked.

She started to shake her head, then wished she hadn’t. “A headache, that’s all.” She rubbed at her temples(ch/plural?). “I should resume searching.”

[her animal makes a noise].

[animal name] has found us instead.”

Incredibly, it had. Rather, it had found the pond. After lapping at it’s surface, it lifted it’s head and [made a noise] again.

He chuckled. “S/he’s asking where youve been.”



Where was she?

She sat up abruptly, which started her head pounding. Too fast. She’d risen too fast. She held still, waiting for the dizziness to pass. Hot air dried her throat and mouth. The relentless sun loomed high in the cloudless sky, glaring down at the desiccated land. The canopy of the tree’s branches and leaves draped over her like a friend’s arm, reassuring her with soothing shade that extended a stride beyond her outstretched feet, which were encased in worn, yet sturdy sandals. She had time. Sunset wasn’t due for several hours yet. Her linen tunic comfortably covered most of her body, allowing the occasional breeze through to cool her skin.

Her tree stood high upon a hill. Gentle downward slopes gave way to wide views of the expanse beyond: a rocky, barren landscape, it’s details subtly obscured by undulating heat. She blinked her eyes, trying to focus. In the distance, some distance from the foot of the hill, a worn, unpaved road wriggled through the dirt and rocks. A weather-beaten wooden sign, too distant to read, stood sentry beside the road.

Perceived from the cool shade underneath the tree, the hot, barren landscape seemed unreal, out of place, like a vista-sized painting draped between her eyes and reality. As no other person could be seen, so too could no other tree like hers, with it’s vibrant leaves, sturdy branches and strong bark. She and it were out of place within this dreary brown landscape, populated with little except stunted, withered plants and dead weeds.

Beside her and the tree lay a calm, clear pond, only a few strides in diameter. Crouching by the pond’s edge was… an animal? A rather strange animal? What was it?

She shook her head. Actually, she knew this animal. He was Polplev, her mineown. Polplev rested on all fours by the edge of the pond, the hooves of his forelegs touching it’s muddy edge. His pink tongue lapped at the water. His long, floppy ears dangled. After drinking his fill, he waded step-by-step further in to dip his furry head and mane beneath the surface, then raised it up to shake with vigour, flinging droplets of water at her. He didn’t bother dunking the rest of his long, equine body nor his yellow-and-black striped sting-less backside, neither being covered with fur, thus not overheating in the hot sun to the same extent as his head.

She gently pressed her hands to her temples, trying to soothe the throbbing. Still feeling light-headed, she didn’t want to test her equilibrium by rising to her feet, so she shuffled on her hands and knees across the short distance to the pond. When she was beside him, he greeted her by licking her cheek. The pond’s clear, placid waters reflected their visage.

Her pale brown skin contrasted against the white of her tunic, which accentuated her slender body. Her jade eyes were sincere and curious. Straight black hair flowed down to rest upon her shoulders, reflecting—

Hey there, uh, you.

Pol started growling at the first word. Startled, she half-turned, half-scuttled away from the pond, toward the tree. A rotund man had appeared out of thin air. His black skin and curly hair seemed soft and new, contrasting against most of the harsh background. His round belly stretched out an elaborate toga. Was he a public official? An official, outside, amongst the hills in the middle of nowhere on such a hot day? Instead of standing straight, he leaned back on one leg. Her eyes were drawn to a cloth wrapped around his head, covering his eyes. How could he see?

Me?” she asked.

No,” he said wryly, “the other Chinese woman next to—wait, what is that?” His head recoiled when he saw Pol. “Is that a horse? A miniature horse with a bee’s butt? And a dog’s head?”

A horse? What was that? A throat problem? “That’s Polplev, my mineown.”

Your—yes, obviously. That was my next guess. Such a handsome minn… minnow… dog-horse-bee thing.”

His uninvited presence, plus acting as though her pet and trusted companion was a freak, bordered on offensive. “Do we know each other?

He faced her again. You told me your name, earlier. Jer-shue, right?

Zhéxué.” His attempt was flat, mispronouncing elements and lacking tonal variation. She found it difficult to look away from the bandage wrapped around his eyes.

That’s what I said.” His shoulders rolled in a self-conscious shrug. “Another day, another woman freaking out.”

Did he mean her reaction to the bandage covering his eyes? How could he know that?

Ready to go?” he asked.

How presumptuous. With you? Where?” she asked. “Why? Who are you? Why are you here?” Thinking of the bandage over his eyes, she asked, “How are you here?”

Can I talk, now? You know, to answer one of your seventeen questions? My situation is mega complicated. TLDR: the man who should be here got summoned elsewhere, and I lost the bet.”

I don’t under—”

Surely,” he interrupted, “you remember us discovering this, uh, oasis? Yes, oasis. Probably. We decided to stop here.”

We?She couldn’t imagine wanting this man’s company. “We stopped here?” Why couldn’t she remember that? What had possessed them to travel so far up this hill? Perhaps the heat had gotten to them. The tree and pond would have looked inviting from a distance, assuming they could be seen from further down.

Yes, we did.” The man crossed his arms. “Trust me,” he added sarcastically, “I wouldn’t lie about being with a woman.”

If so, where were you just now?”

Picking berries,” he said quickly.

She eyed the barren expanse. “Around here?”

Yup.” His hands were empty.

The thought of berries made her feel peckish. “Have any spare?”

I ate them all.”

She frowned at his large stomach, emphasised by sunlight and shade, demarcated across his abdomen. “You didn’t think to share?” Should she be so audacious as to ask an official to give her berries?

No.” He switched over to his other foot. “So, you found your dog-horse-bee thing. Great. That’s why we left town, after all. To search for it.”

What was he talking about? “We did? Oh, yes, we did,” she said, the details coming back to her. He must have chewed at his rope leash. “I found him up here.


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What little bit I read of your work, you seem to me, to be starting in the middle of things, which is called in medias res in English literature. I prefer a beginning a middle and an end. And as a fan of Ayn Rand the people on this list may enjoy fantasy, but for me “hard science fiction’ is the genre I like: real science used as a literary tool to tell a story. Though only a few years old even Robert Tracinski’s article seems a bit dated. Peter    

September 12, 2016 FEATURE ARTICLE Futurism TV  Nine Ways Star Trek Anticipated and Celebrated the Future  by Robert Tracinski In the field of future technology, life has a tendency to imitate art. The creators of science fiction are often able to imagine something before science fact makes it possible. The real technology then catches up when somebody sees it in fiction and asks: how could we actually do that?  This is true of Star Trek perhaps more than any other science fiction franchise. It's no coincidence, because the show's creators consulted with scientists and technology experts about what was possible or might be possible. They took the future seriously and wanted to know what things might look like when we got there. In a lot of ways, they got it right. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first episode of the original series, let's look at nine ways Star Trek anticipated the future, helping us to imagine the next wave of innovation and to think about how we will live with it.

1. The Gadgets Star Trek predicted or inspired a lot of the devices we have now, and the Internet is full of lists of them--even though this is just the start of my list. Of course, a lot of Star Trek technology still isn't here yet. No, your 3D printer is not just like a real-life replicator. We don't know how to "beam up" anyone or anything in a transporter. And no one has figured out warp drive yet. It's not just that we don't know the specifics of how to do these things. We don't even know if they're possible. So we still have something to aim for over the next century or two. But a lot of other Star Trek technology is ahead of schedule. The communicator has already been and gone, in the form of the good old late-1990s flip phone. Some compare the tricorder to certain new medical devices, but I don't think that gets to the essence of it. You have to cast yourself back into a 1960s mindset and realize that what was really radical about the tricorder is that it was a handheld computer--at a time when your average computer took up an entire room. Speaking of handheld computers, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" brought us what is clearly a touchscreen tablet computer--an iPad 15 years early.

Star Trek's universal translator works a lot more smoothly than anything we have today, but you can still go on Google and get your text translated in seconds with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Throw in a few more decades of progress in artificial intelligence and language processing, and real life is on course to match fiction way ahead of schedule. And speaking of AI....

2. Artificial Intelligence Yes, we'll get to Commander Data in a moment. But the closest thing in Star Trek to what we're doing with artificial intelligence right now is the Star Trek computer, which is capable of communicating in normal spoken English. It responds to commands, gives relevant answers to requests for information, and can even perform some fairly complex (in a few cases implausibly complex) analysis. It is well known that this is the inspiration and goal for Google: to be able to ask a question in normal English and give an accurate, relevant answer. We're still not there yet today, but we're headed in exactly the direction imagined by Star Trek. As for higher-level artificial intelligence--the kind that goes way beyond the advanced pattern-recognition we're experimenting with now and actually achieves sentience--"Star Trek: The Next Generation" gave us Commander Data, and it used him, in true Star Trek fashion, to explore some larger questions about what it means to be conscious, to be alive, to be human, and to be a person with rights. While the original series suggested that uploading a human consciousness into a robotic body would result in a loss of humanity--Ray Kurzweil take notice--Commander Data suggested that a sentient robot could become fully human, or if not actually human, it could be as interesting as a human. All of this came to a head in one memorable story arc in which Data's status is put on trial. What stands out most about this, two decades later, is that this is a benevolent, sympathetic portrayal of a sentient android. Yet sentient robots are featured today mostly as the monsters in our horror films--a dozen different variations on the Frankenstein myth in which the creation turns on its creator and seeks to kill him.

Star Trek is famous for its optimism and for its humanism, so it is no surprise that it brought both to its portrayal of AI. It is a surprise, perhaps, that those characteristics are lacking from so much of our contemporary science fiction. Oddly, though, Star Trek did not show us the use of robotics. We got Commander Data, but the Star Trek universe doesn't really have anything below his level--simpler robots performing menial tasks. Except with maybe one exception.

3. Autonomous vehicles. This is not emphasized much in the franchise, and we rarely even see anything like an automobile. Why drive when you can beam up? But by the "Next Generation" era, the shuttlecraft seem to be "piloted" exactly the way we would expect autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles to be piloted. There's no stick and rudder, no steering wheel. The operator sits at a console and gives the computer instructions, which it appears to execute in its own way. In the new "reboot" movies, we're starting to see more of this. Star Trek into Darkness features a fight scene on what appear to be flying autonomous garbage barges. But material from the reboots doesn't hold as much weight, from the futurist's perspective, because autonomous vehicles are almost upon us and don't really count as a "prediction" any more. There are other technologies from today, though, that have older roots in the franchise.

4. Virtual Reality It's fair to say that everything people are doing with virtual reality right now is just an attempt to recreate what "The Next Generation" did with the Holodeck. The Holodeck went beyond mere holographic projections--the stuff of most previous science-fiction speculations--and offered a fully immersive experience with what we're now calling "haptic" feedback: a sense of touch and solidity to virtual objects. It also included taste and smell, which is presumably the next step. What is most interesting about the Holodeck today is the rich and varied ways it is used. It is used for entertainment, for games, for exercise, as a set for plays, a place for a first date, and for bringing favorite works of fiction or historical settings to life in an interactive way. We're basically working on the same thing today.

The biggest lesson for today is that Star Trek's most interesting uses of virtual reality are to create a shared experience. Today's VR headsets tend to be a closed-off, individual experience. It's kind of hard to have a first date with one of those visors on. But the Holodeck reminds us that virtual reality is going to have to expand to become something that people can enjoy together.

The one thing Star Trek didn't really envision was the mixing of virtual reality with the real world, i.e., augmented reality. The only prominent science fiction franchise to present a really prescient vision on this was The Terminator--so much so that before the Pokemon Go popularized the term "augmented reality," it was generally known as "terminator vision."

That's one thing that I think is going to end up looking dated, particularly when it comes to computer interfaces. In "The Next Generation," everyone is interacting with the starship's super-advanced electronic systems through the super-advanced technology of...touchscreens. And the displays are all in Okudagrams, which give Star Trek's visual displays a distinctive look but not a futuristic one, certainly not now. I'm afraid the "Next Generation" user interfaces are going to seem as dated as the clunky push-buttons of the original series.

But not always. The closest they got to anticipating elements of virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence--and how they could all work together--was Geordi La Forge's holographic brainstorming session with an AI reconstruction of a starship engineer.

5. Technological Progress Star Trek doesn't just feature a lot of futuristic technology. It also takes for granted that technology is constantly changing and advancing. I don't want to get into the never-ending battle of the franchises between Star Trek and Star Wars, but this is a striking contrast between them. The story line of Star Wars now spans about 60 years, but the technology is all pretty much the same from start to finish. Sure, maybe this was a period of war, political chaos, and dictatorship that caused the Galactic Republic and the subsequent Empire to stagnate. But not much seems to have changed for a very long time. Star Trek was so founded on the idea of future progress, and the vast changes in technology from then to now, that when they made "The Next Generation," they decided to keep it going, giving the new crew more advanced technology and better gadgets with sleeker design. Just the way it works in the real world. But for all its optimism, Star Trek didn't actually celebrate all new technology. It made a few key exceptions.

6. Genetic Engineering This is an area the Star Trek franchise is notably reluctant to explore. The franchise created a major recurring villain--Khan--to stand for the evils of genetic engineering (eugenics in the original series). We're led to believe that the technology has been banned after a group of genetically engineered super humans tried to subjugate everyone else.

This is explored a little bit more in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," but still mostly in a negative context. The Founders who rule the Dominion, the main Federation enemy in "Deep Space Nine," have genetically engineered whole subject races of administrators and warriors that they use as their minions. This is an interesting contrast to most of the future technology in Star Trek, which is either accepted as natural progress or at least regarded in a balanced, open-minded way, as something with advantages and disadvantages. It is perhaps a missed opportunity to explore the pros and cons of changing human nature itself. The same is true for another form of human enhancement.

7. Cyborgs  The Next Generation" features a major character with a visor that allows him to perceive non-visible wavelengths of light and which connects to him through a brain-machine interface. So how come Geordi is the only one who gets this funky new technology? In the real world, everyone else on the crew would be looking at him and thinking: I want one of those.

Instead, the franchise's main portrayal of the cyborg future is though their biggest, most reviled villain: the Borg. The Borg are a collection of cybernetically enhanced drones integrated into a kind of collective mind. And while I appreciate the use of the Borg as a metaphor for the evils of collectivism and its subjugation of individual identity, it is the integration of technology with biology that is portrayed as the main mechanism for stripping away individuality. In the real world, we're going to be cyborgs in our own small way. It's just a matter of time. We sure could use a more encouraging model to follow in figuring out how to do it without losing our humanity. Fortunately, Star Trek generally does a good job of that in other areas, and that leads us to one of its happier omissions.

8. No Media Frenzy There's no Twitter in the Star Trek universe and no Facebook. People aren't glued to their devices all the time waiting for the latest news updates or celebrity gossip--thank goodness.

It is certainly true that there are whole parts of life Star Trek deliberately omits for dramatic reasons. For example, it's pretty clear that the Federation is not a dictatorship--but we never hear about elections, and the crew never debates politics. We get to see some of the internal political wrangling among the Federation's competitors, and the politics of the Klingon High Council intrude pretty frequently into "The Next Generation." But the Federation's own politics are opaque.

Economics is also pretty much absent from the Star Trek universe. This is sometimes a bit embarrassing, as in the (fortunately infrequent) references to the idea that the Federation no longer uses money, which is definitely science fiction--with an emphasis on the "fiction"--from the standpoint of the science of economics. Both of those omissions are corrected a bit in the later spinoffs, especially in "Deep Space Nine," where Quark's bar is the thriving commercial hub of the space station, and Commander Sisko and his crew get swept up in Federation galactopolitics. But they're not a defining feature of the Star Trek universe. Which is probably just as well, because part of the point of tuning into Star Trek is to get away from politics. Yes, the franchise has always dabbled in political and social commentary--the Klingons vs. the Federation were an obvious analogy for the Cold War--but it generally did so allegorically. It distances us from the details of current controversies by projecting some deeper issue onto a weird alien species, which makes it feel more like the show is raising questions and less like it's taking sides.

And there's one more reason to omit these things. If the future inhabitants of the Federation don't have their noses always stuck in some future equivalent of the smartphone, you could see that as a failure to project the impact of technology, or maybe as hope that we will outgrow our current ways of using it. Which leads us to the final way Star Trek anticipated the future.

9. Human Progress While Star Trek's futuristic technology draws a lot of attention, the biggest improvement isn't in our machines. It's in ourselves. No, I don't mean in our basic physical or mental capabilities--and maybe that's part of the reason Star Trek doesn't embrace genetic engineering and cyborgs. The franchise tends to be more interested in the progress of our minds and character. The future envisioned in Star Trek is a better place because we are better people.

At root, Star Trek is a vision of the eventual triumph of humanistic values. This triumph is portrayed as hard-won, with humanity having suffered through a period of warfare and chaos, a kind of mini dark age. The beginning of this dark age keeps getting pushed back as we keep catching up to it in real life (though sometimes in this election cycle I've thought we might finally be getting there). But we have come through that and emerged into a very hopeful future. One of the things that was shocking and refreshing in the original series is how it showed all of mankind united and at peace, including a ship with black and white crew members and Americans and Russians working together. It was certainly a contrast to the real world circa 1968. This triumph of humanism is occasionally tied in with a certain degree of smug, conventional liberalism. But I can assure you that the show has plenty of fans on the right, too. After all, it would be the ultimate in smug liberalism to assume that only the left cares about a world without racism, poverty, war, and oppression.

Star Trek is a little vague about the details of how we achieve this humanistic progress, but there is one aspect it repeatedly dramatizes: the importance of reason, science, and technology. The activities of scientific exploration and technological problem-solving are made into the central plotlines of whole episodes, and these are regarded as a Star Trek crew's most important activities. This is the root of the technological optimism of the series. Not that our machines were automatically going to make the future better, but that we are going to have to be better people--and clearer thinkers--in order to get to the point where we could build that amazing future. When it comes to technology, we're moving along toward the future anticipated by Star Trek at a pace that keeps us right on schedule. I hope we will be reminded to put the same degree of effort into the progress of our souls.

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In finally got some time to read this. I could have skimmed it, but I wanted to read it for real.

At first blush, I am pleased you posted this. That took courage. (Don't I know?) :) 

And congratulations. You are doing it for real. :) 

But before I comment in depth, I want to read it again a time or two. (However, I can say right now I love the symbolic nature of the tale, and the name of the type of animal that Zhéxué's pet is, a mineown. :) ) 

I want to reflect on everything a bit, first, though. I'm a big believer of letting ideas cook in the subconscious, although at the same time I am a far-too-enthusiastic practitioner of the art of the blurt. :) 

Also, I do not want to criticize qua criticize. That's too easy and I am more interested in encouraging new writers, not shutting them down.

I certainly do not want to tell you to write like this or that. Those are your decisions and you alone should make them about your writing. What I want to do, if you are interested, is fantasize what I would do if I were writing that passage (your polished passage). Note, this might not have anything to do with what you are aiming at, or it might. Either way, I believe this form of discussing it would allow you to keep your own vision and efforts yours, but also give you something to think about. And, I think this is good for the kind of reader I aim at on this thread (authors in O-Land seeking different approaches and angles and techniques).

In other words, if this were me writing, I would write what I would do to clarify this over here, or change that over there, and why. And especially what I resonate with and how I would draw out the resonance to a vibrancy level. Or if I would use a specific technique for this idea or that. Things like that. I find this an interesting exercise. Don't worry. I don't want to go too deep. :) After all, this is not about you or me. In this thread, it's about the reader.

(I also believe we all should do this at times with writing from others, especially the greats. To use a Randian example, in Rand's Hollywood days, she practically ripped off and modernized Cyrano de Bergerac for a Hollywood script she was called in to rewrite called Love Letters. At least, she got Cyrano out of her system. :) If I remember correctly, she had been bugging the hell out of producers for a long time to do a Cyrano story. When the opportunity cane, she rammed it through. But I think she learned a lot by doing this, too. Just look what she later did with myths in Atlas Shrugged. I don't think she would have been able to do the latter without going though the former.)

If me riffing off of your passage does not interest you, though, I will not do it.


Also, as a bit of housecleaning, the purpose of this thread is didactic. I appreciate that you gave an example of "before and after" from first-draft-brain-dump to the polished version. Like I said, that took a lot of courage.

I would love it if you mentioned a few specific items you revised and why you made the revision choices you did. There is no right or wrong in this. But I think the target readers would get a lot of value from it. (And, incidentally, this is a great way to develop creds as a writer.) From a first reading, I suspect you are a pantser rather than an outliner, and if so, what goes on in your mind when you revise? Or if not a pantser, how did the outline work? Thing like that.

I have no problem if you do not want to do that. If you do, I would like to keep this example and discussion here in this thread as it aligns perfectly with the intent. If not, and you want to focus mainly on a discussion of your work, I could move the Meet and Greet thread to this writing section (but leave behind a link) and move your post over to that thread. That way the theme of that thread would be your work.

Either way is fine with me.

Your move...



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