Friday, April 30, 2010

Heat Map and Answers

Heat Map and Answers

First of all, I must remind you that

The Bad Girl Blogfest is one week from today!!!

Over twenty people have signed up. Will you be next? And there are a couple other kewl blogfests over the next couple days. Check out my Master List!

Scroll down if you just want answers to your questions!

But first, some boring revision nonsense. Remember this post I made last week about revision? Here’s the results of some of that analysis:

Steam Palace Heat Map

The columns left-to-right:

  1. Scene Number
  2. Word Count
  3. Cumulative Word Count at end-of-scene.
  4. Importance (0-10). High values indicate a critical scene that usually contains some form of turning point.
  5. Promise Count – Promises are new pieces of story information not explained in the scene. This is high in the beginning of the book and tails off towards the end. I do have a “promises kept” count column but I haven’t started filling it out yet.
  6. Tension Level (0-10) – How high are the stakes in play in a given scene? This is what keeps the reader interested.

Note that this is Act I and a bit of Act II. Can you tell which scene is the transition scene? So you can see that the map starts pretty hot, levels off, then pops up for a bit. From here on, the map should increase into the reds as we press on into Act II, then Act III should be red across the board. Hmm…does that mean the ending is more important than the beginning?

One thing to note is that anything in green is probably worth cutting or combining with another scene. Since I’m running about 6K words over budget, I’m going to look through this carefully to see what I can do.

Okay, enough of that. Now how about some


Myne Whitman asks: What of a post on how to review?

A: I think you mean critique. I do have a couple:
Critique Technique
Critique Technique 2
Revision Test Results

But I hope to write another one soon. I’ll let you know!

 Ryan asks: Do you write them from time to time (meaning shorts longer than the flash pieces you've posted here), and if you have, have any of them been published?

A: Not really. Most of my ideas are too big. I probably should. There’s one I’ve been working on lately that is almost ready to send out. I should write more short stories but who has the time?

 Donna Hole asks: Well, what do you do in your "spare time"?

A: What is this “spare time” you speak of? I write every moment I can. :) But yes, I do stuff outside of writing (and blogging). I’m a Seattle Mariners season ticket holder, I score games for my son’s Little League team, I attend writer’s meeting (oops…guess that’s not non-writing), I’ve started going to cons again (need to get to writer’s workshops too), and I work out.

 Sara McClung ♥ asks: Favorite actor? Favorite actress? Favorite movie of ALL time? If you were trapped on a deserted island and could only bring ONE book, what would it be?

A: Whoa! Slow it down!
Favorite Actor: I’d have to go with either
Ryan Reynolds or Vince Vaughn.
Favorite Actress:
Lucy Lawless! Did anyone see her in Spartacus?
Favorite Movie: How can I choose just one? Maybe
Desert Island Book: The Dummies Guide to Surviving Desert Islands. Hmm…that book doesn’t exist…do I smell book proposal? Actually when I think about it, I wouldn’t want a book because no matter what I brought, I’d wind up hating it after a while, so that book would be ruined for me. Maybe the complete works of
George R. R. Martin.

Thanks everyone for your questions!

Monday, April 26, 2010



I hate to say this, but I’m out of good ideas for my blog. Okay, I should say I have some decent ideas, but nothing really worthy of much effort at the moment. So therefore, I’m turning over the blog to you. Ask me anything. Writing technique. Personal stuff. Questions about my stories.Requests for blog topics. Critique requests (public or private).  Anything. Heck, give me some writing prompts and ask for a story. I’ll try to answer at least one question from everyone. Thanks for your support!

And, of course, the Bad Girl Blogfest is May 7, a week from Friday! I just saw a movie with an awesome, awesome Bad Girl.

hit girl comic


This is Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass! AKA Mindy Macready, the left is the graphic novel version, the right is the movie version played by Chloë Grace Moretz.

She reminds me of a bad-ass character I created for NaNoWriMo, Elena Galistina, who started her nefarious career sometime around the same age as Mindy. I may have to include a snippet of Elena in the Bad Girl Blogfest.


Seriously, no one knows the left and center characters? The left is a character from a recent graphic novel that is schedule to become a movie, and the center is a character from a TV series that featured a warrior princess. Click on it for a larger image. And yes, the girl on the right is indeed Jessica Rabbit…who BTW is not actually bad, she’s just drawn that way. But I still think of her “that way.”

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Body Language Blogfest – Steam Palace

Body Language Blogfest – Steam Palace

Thanks to Harley D. Palmer for hosting the Body Language Blogfest!

And let me remind everyone of the Bad Girl Blogfest on May 7! And check out my master list of all upcoming blogfests!

So, the challenge of the Body Language Blogfest is to come up with a scene with no dialog, but still portray a conversation. Umm, I’ve wracked my brain and nothing I’ve written in the last 25 years really qualifies. SO, *takes deep breath*, I’m just going to post part of a scene where there is no “dialog” (okay maybe there’s an exclamation or two…so sue me) but lots of action. Just because I can. So I readily admit that I fail this blogfest test, but I hope you enjoy my piece anyways.

This is an excerpt from Steam Palace. It’s your pretty standard “being chased by wolves” scene…in a violent storm…except our heroine is riding a mechanical horse…

wolf-pack Sophia circled the mechohorse around the thick forest in a fruitless search. Thunder rumbled ever closer, and a chilling wind bent the trees. She halted the machine near a towering rock outcropping and prepared to dismount her lightning-attracting contraption. A growl met her. A lone gray timber wolf crouched on top of the rocks, his teeth bared.

“Go away,” she shouted. “Off with you!”

In response, the wolf barked and gnashed its teeth. Hair bristled along its spine, and steam spouted from its nose and mouth. Another wolf appeared next to him, and then another crept behind her on the forest floor. They licked their lips and snarled. Five, then ten of the monsters surrounded her, pawing the earth. Lightning lit their hungry eyes. They approached and sniffed the legs of the machine. Sophia eased the levers forward, hands shaking. They stalked the mechohorse, nipping its legs. Would a wolf pack attempt to down a machine?

She shoved the levers and they chased her with yips and barks. They jumped up against the body and clawed the metal, but could not find purchase. Sophia zigzagged her way through the trees, ducked branches, avoided rocks, but could not shake the pack. An open road would prove handy, but in the closeness of the forest, they must sense her dire predicament. Like a wounded deer, they would pursue until she stumbled, and then they would pounce.

The woods teemed with furry bodies. The lightning struck close and glinted off their yellow eyes and wet fur. A clearing appeared through the fog so she jammed the levers in a wild attempt to lose the hungry beasts. The mechohorse surged forward, pounding the wet ground. Rain slashed her face. She aimed towards the clearing, holding on as the mechohorse rumbled over uneven ground. She glanced behind for a split second. The wolves had fallen back. The mechohorse pitched down in a sickening lurch, jumped a riverbed, and then impaled itself into a muddy riverbank, its front legs digging in. Sophia flew from the cockpit, repeating her performance from the previous day, and splattered down into a pond of mud.

The ooze sucked at her limbs. Behind her, the mechohorse was stuck nose-first into the ground, its front legs bent at an unnatural angle. Sophia pulled herself out of the mud, sliding back to the machine. Furry heads appeared among the trees on the far side of the stream. They spotted her and trotted down to the water as she climbed up to the cockpit. She yanked on the levers, trying to get the machine righted, but it only screeched and shook.

“Come on, come on!” The rear legs swung wildly, the front refused to budge, while lightning flashed all around. Sophia yanked on the sticks, and the machine screamed an ear-piercing shriek, shuddered, then went limp. The levers no long responded. “No, no, no!” Across the stream, the wolves loped up and down along the banks, searching for a crossing. The rain eased, sunlight filtering down in the distance. An oily substance leaked from the seams of the mechohorse.

Downstream, a wolf stepped out on a fallen tree and jumped across, then bounded towards her. Sophia had nothing, not a single means of defense. She grabbed a branch the stream had washed up as the wolf charged. It leapt, and she slammed the branch against its head. It yelped, but turned for another charge. This time, it caught the branch in its teeth, and yanked it out of her hands.

Sophia’s heart raced, and her breath drew ragged, seeing death in the fangs of the voracious beast. Others crossed and converged on her position. The beast finished rending the stick and turned to her, growling, drooling, its ears pinned back, crouching for one final death-dealing lunge at her throat. Sophia backed up until she felt the crippled mechohorse behind her.

So I hope I portrayed a lot of good wolf body language in there at least.

Friday, April 23, 2010

More on Revision

More on Revision

love_on_the_square Or is that Moron Revision? Anyways, as usual, I’m now five months into my revision of Steam Palace. I’m now at the point where I’m in a full rewrite and done with all the endless analysis. So much stuff is changing that it’s hard to keep up. I now have to figure how twins were separated at birth. D’ohh!

I’m trying to avoid getting sucked into the Evil Twin meme. Even though the twins grow up on the opposite side of the tracks, I don’t want one to be the polar opposite of the other.  And then there’s the so-called love triangle, where my MC is marrying one guy but is in love with another. Well that damn twin messes everything up, because she loves the guy the MC is supposed to marry, but then gets with the guy the MC loves….it’s a horrid mess. BTW I’m NOT a romance writer. So now I have a Love Quadrangle (or is it a Love Square?). Help…me……

And then there’s this new element, this whole backstory that explains why and how my alternate history is alternate. And I’ve barely touched on it, and it’s an integral part of the story.

So right now, I’ve printed out what should be the first third of my novel (Act I + maybe a little Act II) and I’m going over it with a fine-tooth comb. I can see a lot of issues in the printed version I can’t see in Word. Aside from writing down all the story issues I find, marking up poor sentences, and checking consistency, I’m rating every scene on these dimensions on a 0-10 scale. Then I add a comment to justify the score.

Dimension Definition
World/Setting How real is the setting? How unique is the world?
Conflict How intense/interesting is the conflict? How can it be improved?
Tension How much will the reader care about what happens here?
Twist How big, permanent, and irreversible are the actions in the scene (the outcome)?
POV How strong/deep/intimate is the POV? Do we really feel the emotional arc of the scene?
Importance Probably the most “important” dimension…how important is this scene is the grand scheme of things? Turning points should be 8-10, pure backstory should be 0-3. How much does this scene contribute to the Main Plot?
Character How believable are the character’s actions? Are they “in character?” Would they really do these things or am I making them act for my own convenience?
Continuity/Transition How does this scene flow from the previous to the next scene? Do we know where/when we are relative to other scenes? Are we missing anything in between?
Theme How strongly does this scene express the Main Theme of the novel? Do we go off on tangents?

And now here’s my write-up for Scene 4 to give you an example. I probably need to be harsher on the numbers, but I’m still fleshing out my system.




World/Setting 7 Nice intro to RL. Maybe some more details on clothing
Conflict 8 Emperor is asking Dunstan to do a lot of hard things he doesn't want to do.
Tension 9 Emperor is nuts.
Twist 8 Dunstan now has a few to get married
POV 7 Dunstan really sees what's going on...need a bit more emotional reaction
Importance 6 Kind of backstoryie. Also promises a lot that won't show up until Act II. It might make sense to push back a few scenes
Character 6 Emperor is good, Dunstan a bit soft, but he knows his place. Emphasize Emperor's power a bit more

This gives me a better feel for time but it's not related to the other scenes in any way yet.   

Theme 6 Nobility gone wild. Power madness.

And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t plug my Bad Girl Blogfest coming up May 7! And checkout my Blogfest Page for many more!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Steam Palace Wordle!

Steam Palace Wordle!


This is the wordle from the first chapter/40 pages or so of Steam Palace. Look at all them adverbs! For shame.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Inspiration Vs Perspiration

Inspiration Vs Perspiration

thomas_edison Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.
     —Thomas Alva Edison

Whatever. Many of you know the story of why I call this blog “The WriteRunner”. (Hint: It’s not anything to do with Khaled Hosseini’s similar sounding novel.) I do my best writing while running (or working out). For some reason, the rhythm of the workout allows my mind to tune out and concentrate on the problems. There’s nothing to interrupt me, no cell phone, no email, nothing. It’s how I turn perspiration into inspiration.

When it comes to writing,  the above formula isn’t quite valid. There really isn’t any “work” involved in writing. (Copy editing maybe). Every sentence has to be inspired. There should not be a single “throwaway” word in your entire piece. No filler like, “then he went to the store, grabbed some chow, and then went to bed.” No! That’s uninspired. That’s when writing becomes work. The real work of writing is finding time to write. And then, of course, there’s the whole publication process, but we’ll ignore that for now.

I bring this up because yesterday I started debating whether to write or cut a planned scene. I couldn’t bring myself to write it. I’ve been telling myself lately, “if I don’t feel the scene, then the readers won’t either. If I’m not head-over-heels in love with a scene, then it’s wrong.” I even cut the scene out of my spreadsheet, but then I undid the delete. Something told me I needed the scene, but the outline I had for it sucked. Just two characters arguing. Boring.

The thing is, scenes need to matter. Arguments don’t cut it. Yes, the scene introduces a character. Yes, it shows a specific conflict and certain backstories that will be threaded throughout the book. Yes, there’s tension and setting and a bunch of stuff that I’ve mentioned in my Scene Structure series. But I didn’t want to write it. It had no Mojo.

So of course, I’m thinking about it this morning during my swim workout. (BTW, you know you’re a swimmer when you can think of anything but not drowning and maintain that thought over several laps). I looked at the scene from different angles, different points of view. Then I thought of another scene with the main POV character, where she’s motivated to hurt another character for no reason. Why? Dum dum DUM! Put her motivation into this scene! Inspiration during perspiration! Give her a goal, and to achieve that goal, she must hurt this other character. Now my characters are motivated. Done and done! This scene matters. Wheels have been set in motion. The world has changed, and nothing is the same as it was before.

Scenes are like one-way doors. (Think of an airplane hatch. Once it closes, you’re along for the ride, and you will not land back at the same airport). Every single scene in your novel must move your plot and characters to a new place, a new destination, from which they cannot escape without great effort. Words must be said that cannot be unsaid. Feelings must be hurt or otherwise altered. Actions have permanent consequences. The bullet cannot be put back in the gun.

Okay, enough rambling for today. How do you ensure that every scene changes the world? And can you turn your perspiration into inspiration?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Scene Structure Part X – The Little Things

Part of an ongoing series on Scene Structure.

The Little Things

ponder-the-little-things-thought A couple posts ago, I mentioned all the big things you can do to ruin a scene. Now here are a bunch of little things you can think about to make a scene shine.

  • Mood – What is the mood of the setting? Dark or light, day, night, scary, confusing, quiet, desperate, cool, inside, outside, etc. How does the mood of the setting echo or contrast the mood of the characters? Are they fighting a war in a beautiful glade? Romance in a graveyard? Stealing from an old folk’s home? How does the mood of a place affect them? Do you illustrate the mood in tidy language without boring description?
  • Transitions – Is the user placed in a scene? Are scene changes clear? Does the scene end on a note that leads to the next scene? How have you indicated passage of time? Change of setting? What in the setting has changed since the last time you used that setting? Is it clear who the POV character is?
  • Emotion – It’s important to express the characters’ emotional state in each scene. Is it clear whether they are happy, sad, expectant, depressed, joyous, angry, delighted, jealous, determined, confused, etc? What is the emotional arc of the scene? How do emotions change? Do you illustrate the emotion without just saying, “she was angry” or the like?
  • Subtext – This is the “story within the story.” Hidden attractions, secret liaisons, hidden agendas, moral qualms, secret identities, all the things that are unsaid but still exist. Is there more going on than meets the eye? Usually subtext is evident through the characters’ actions, rather than through inner or explicit dialog. Lingering touches, unexplained phone calls, unusual gestures, subtle things that the astute reader can pick up on.
  • Style – Does the scene have a consistent style throughout? Is is consistent with other scenes written from the same POV? The style should also reflect the mood of the scene, choppy for action, slow and luxurious for more intimate moments. Does the style reflect the thought process of the POV character? Or is there a strong narrator’s voice guiding us through the story?
  • Voice – Speaking of voice, this aspect of style can be critical. Is the scene interesting to read? Are there clichés, obvious similes, and other contrivances that dumb down the prose, or is the voice original, authentic, and unique? Aside from actually figuring out the plot, voice is perhaps the hardest aspect of writing to get right.
  • Tension Level – As you go through your work, think about the tension level of each scene and rate it. Tension should vary, growing at times and relaxing at others. No one likes a rollercoaster that just goes down. Ups and downs, nice calm scenes, heavy terrifying scenes, and everything in the middle. Once you rate each scene, you can plot it in Excel to see the ride you take your readers on and adjust as necessary. Sometimes you need to let your readers breathe, other times you don’t.

And that’s really all I have to say about Scene Structure. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series. I posted my scene structure “cheat sheet” here. I actually started out the cheat sheet with information from this post on Make A Scene, so that site is another great resource for building scenes.

Good luck building scenes, and stay tuned for my next exciting series on….?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bar Scene Blogfest – Steam Palace

Bar Scene Blogfest – Steam Palace

Thanks to Tara Fouts for hosting the Bar Scene Blogfest! I raise a toast to her!

Also, please check out these other Blogfests including the Bad Girl Blogfest!

Bar scenes are the staple of my novels. I think every great novel has a bar scene in it somewhere. I also think that a lot of great writing actually occurs in bars. There are a lot of bar scenes in Steam Palace, mostly because the Steam Palace is, in essence, a giant floating bar. Some of the scenes are a lot more engaging than this one, but since it comes early in the story and more or less introduces a character, I figured I’d run with it today. He’s not on the Steam Palace—this is just the local watering hole in Podunk.

tavern Thomas threw back the fiery drink, praying for a surcease of the pain coursing through his leg.

“Your mother actually threw you out? Your own mother?” His companion Bob was another wounded former Aeronaut, his hand torn off while repairing a driveshaft.

His mother, the town’s only doctor, and the Duchy’s only real surgeon of merit, had caught him stealing into the opium cabinet. She had begged him to allow her to amputate, but he had refused, so she patched him up as best she could. His hands shook, and his mind circled around sneaking back to steal the drug, but instead, he waved to the serving wench for another round.

“What are you going to do,” asked Bob. Instead of sitting at a proper table, cripples and the like shared barrels standing on end at the rear of the tavern.

“I’d rather be shot in the other knee than endure the torture of losing opium,” he said. “But I cannot be a prisoner to it either. I don’t know. Who in this town would hire a one-legged cripple?”

“At least you have your horse.”

A most painful experience to mount. “Well. There may come a time when I’m forced to sell her for food, I fear. Or opium.”

“To opium!” The men clinked drinks. Thomas slurped another shot and rubbed his bandages. The joint had been completely blown away, now broken bone rubbed on broken bone. It would never heal, and he would never put weight on that leg again. He clutched his companion.

“By the Furies…did you see her? Over there!”

The fellow looked around. “What?”

Thomas sat up. The girl appeared through a doorway, heading towards the front. “Oh my word. No.”

“What? What?” Bob’s mouth hung open.

Thomas swallowed. “It’s her. Here.”

The man cuffed him in the face. “Snap out of it.”

The girl carried bottle after huge bottle into the back, then dragged an ice sack, and then carried some boxes. He shook his head in wonder. “It’s the Princess.”

“Whoa, a Princess? You still on opium?”

The girl ran back out.

Thomas gripped his fellow’s arm. “It is her. Sophia Stratton.”

“What’s a…a sofee stratarm, Captain?”

Miss Sophia Stratton. The most cold-hearted, meanest, and most patrician woman this side of the Connecticut. But—if you ask me, the most beautiful. We call her the Princess of Podunk, and if you ever heard her talk, you’d understand. I’ll bet you anything that she’s still not married.”

Bob bent to look but she had exited. “Yeah. I’d be happy if one of them whores upstairs gave me a second look.”

The room shook from the sound of a shotgun. Thomas pushed himself up, his heart pounding. “Sophia’s out there!”

He hobbled out to the porch on crutches, after the patrons. Sophia stood her ground while a crowd assembled around her, her face black and angered—no different than usual. Once assembled, she spouted a litany of insults and berated the gathered townsfolk.

“Some princess,” said Bob, helping Thomas stand. “She’s got them mean eyes and a forked tongue.”

Thomas could not pull his gaze away as she stood fearless in the midst of the hostiles. A smart person would flee the mob, but she laid into them with every verbal contrivance at her disposal. Her eyes were sharp, not mean, her tongue quick, not forked. He felt a touch of pride at her valor in the face of such opposition. Or was that the alcohol talking?

The mob shared no such emotion. They carried her down the street above their heads, laughing and whooping. They tossed her high, and she landed with a splash, embedded in the muck. Thomas’s heart went out to her, but in his condition, he could do naught but watch.

She pulled herself up, her head hung low. The masses hurled imprecations at her as she scraped the mud from her face.

“Come on, let’s get another round,” called his companion, but Thomas stood his ground, unable to pull himself away from the spectacle.

The patrons filed back into the tavern. The girl dragged herself through the mud. She appeared unhurt, and pulled herself to her feet using a leg of the mechohorse. She looked up at him and he froze, unable to pull his gaze away from her.

“What are you looking at,” she screamed, shaking her fist.

Thomas turned towards the door, but couldn’t stop watching. She crawled into the cockpit and fired up the mechohorse, which flung mud as high as the eaves of the buildings as it raced away.

He shoved his way back through the door and hobbled back to his barrel. Bob smiled. “You sure know how to have fun in this town. I guess the Princess won’t be coming around anymore.”

Thomas stared at his glass of whiskey, freshly poured. A thought coalesced in his alcohol-addled brain. “Did she say where she was going?”

“I think Hartford. Why?”

Thomas sighed. “If I know her, she’ll be travelling alone through the river trail.”

His companion studied him. “What are you going to do? Stalk her?”

Thomas shrugged and downed his drink. “Maybe a change of scenery would be a good thing. Hell, when do any of us leave this shithole aside from the Service? Instead of tossing her in the mud, we should have carried her right out of town on our shoulders, cheering all the way.” He slammed his hand down on the barrel. “That’s it. Tomorrow, I’m leaving. If the Princess can do it, so can I.”

His companion dropped face-first onto the barrel, unconscious. Thomas finished his friend’s drink and then ordered two more.

The scene previous to this one is the exact same scene from Sophia’s point of view, which is why there’s a bit of hand-waving over what she said, why she’s there, and what exactly happens to her.

Any comments/critiques welcome!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

First Kiss Blogfest – Dawn’s Rise

First Kiss Blogfest – Dawn’s Rise

Thanks to Melissa Dean for hosting the First Kiss Blogfest! Click through to check out the other entries!

Also, please check out these other Blogfests including the Bad Girl Blogfest!

I don’t really have a good “First Kiss” in Steam Palace, so I’m going to have to go back a bit to a previous WIP called Dawn’s Rise, where two characters discover something they share…

This is set in 2101. Dawn has just remotely orchestrated a rescue of John who is marooned in a crippled space platform (which is indeed called Obama…it used to be called Bush before the election…just keeping up with the times so don’t get all antsy-pantsy on me).

kiss sculpture John fidgeted while Alpha worked the makeshift communications array from the command center. The 28-second delay between Earth and Obama chafed him.

Instead of the cool, subdued woman from the previous message, an excited girl faced him. She waved, grinning from ear to ear. She had pulled her long hair back in a ponytail, and her lips shone with a bit of gloss. “Hi,” she said. “You can call me Dawn. I know you won’t get this message for a half a minute so I’ll start.”

Her head sat in the monitor, close enough to touch. John spoke directly at the image as if Dawn stood in the room. Judging from the austere background, he decided that she hadn’t altered her image, something he appreciated. She continued.

“It seems like some force in the universe has been drawing us together. Did you know people have been having visions of me and all these disasters? It’s true. I’ve been dreaming about you. When I saw you tied to the chair, I recognized you from my dreams, and I knew I had to save you. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the ‘Mystery Woman’ but—that’s me! Not so mysterious anymore, I guess. I know how this sounds, but I think I may actually be psychic. Ok, go.”

John just stared for a moment, his mouth agape. The tall, slender, dark haired girl with an accent didn’t quite resemble the older woman in his dreams. He spotted the Chairman’s Insignia on her lapel. Could this be some cruel joke his crew had come up with to welcome him back? Did she just say she was psychic? Surely this was a joke.

Before he could question her authenticity, something clicked in his head, and he drew in his breath. “Wait—I do know you. You grew up in the Carolinas, right? Did you ever attend soccer camp during the summer? There was this girl there, a couple of grades behind me, but maybe a couple of inches taller. I’m pretty sure her name was Dawnie.”

“Hello?” she said, interrupting. “Oops, sorry, still getting the hang of this.”

She paused, waiting for his response. The faint echo of his voice carried through the transmission. Her face clouded, and she squinted at John’s bandaged face. Recognition lit her eyes, and her mouth dropped open. “No. You’re…Johnny? JJ? No way. You were my first crush, and you—you totally ruined my summer! All this time I thought I’ve been dreaming about some awesome man—and it turns out to be you the whole time? I don’t believe this.” She shook her head and crossed her arms, scowling.

Memories flooded John’s mind. “Oh my God, you are Dawnie! That crazy girl from camp. You! You wouldn’t leave me alone. You were like a little sister, following me everywhere.” The most embarrassing summer of his life. A summer well worth forgetting.

Dawn shifted as she listened to his words. “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have kissed me! Do you know what that did to me? Kissed by the hottest boy in camp? That was my first kiss. And then—you wanted nothing to do with me.”

This was not going well. Was he really having a long-distance argument with the Chairman of HLSCO? Each second of transmission must cost countless shares. “Jeez, that was a long time ago, I was just a kid. And you were, well, you know—” The embarrassment still felt fresh.

“What? What was I? I’m waiting for your answer.” Dawn’s eyes blazed at him as she waited for his response.

John mumbled a few words. “I’m sorry, Dawnie. You were really, really nice. I was really stupid. You were a little—different. What did they call you? Crazy legs? Spiderella? No one ever told me you were in Junior High, I swore you were older than me. I was bragging about how I made out with a senior. When my friends found out you were just a kid, they wouldn’t leave me alone. I was a laughing stock.”

The woman in the console almost choked when his words arrived. “Jeez, Johnny, thanks for reminding me of that time of my life. I can’t believe you remember that stuff. How do you think I felt?”

John tried to recover. “I remember everything. You know, I still wanted to hang out with you, but I had a lot of peer pressure. I always wanted to look you up again.” He paused. “You were my first kiss, too.”

He studied her features. Even filled with anger, her large almond eyes captivated him. Her smooth neck descended into delicious shoulders. She had no figure to speak of, but he imagined her long thin arms wrapped around him. His reverie vanished as she spoke.

“You’re a frigging jerk. God, how I hated what you did! You made me feel so worthless, like a freak. I wish I’d known this before I saved your ass. You broke my heart. Mister ‘King in the Field’ super soccer star. You do remember I beat you for the winning goal that last game, right? About the only redeeming moment of camp. Now I’m older, and I’ve gotten over it. Let’s just drop it. Looks like we’re stuck with each other.”

I wanted to add some tension between these characters, and unresolved past, so I added this shared history. I think it came out a little goofy but I like it.

Murder Scene Blogfest – Steam Palace

Murder Scene Blogfest – Steam Palace

Thanks to Anne Riley for hosting the Murder Scene Blogfest. Click through to check out the other entries!

Also, please check out these other Blogfests including the Bad Girl Blogfest!

This excerpt is from my proposed Prologue to Steam Palace, my steampunk epic novel.

BloodyKnife-716411 Laurel held her week-old infant to her bosom. Her child’s life would be hard, painful. How easy it would be to dash her baby’s head upon rocks and be done with it, rather than witness the years of suffering she would surely endure. In the upper reaches of the manor, another woman suckled another baby, one destined for a life of ease, of luxury, of comfort and security. A nobleman’s daughter, born into a wealthy, reputable house.

Didn’t her child deserve such a life? Her Lord and Lady had cast her out, ordered her back to her impoverished Native village on the morrow. Her child was an embarrassment to them, a vile reminder of their sins. How would they feel if their precious infant was raised in such a harsh environment, forced to beg, steal, and prostitute herself for her daily bread? Why shouldn’t her child have all the advantages? It hardly seemed fair, not after certain promises had been broken.

An idea hatched. She had tended both infants, and earlier, mistook her master’s for her own. Through some curious vagary of nature, the babies appeared identical. A close examination revealed differences, and surely as they matured they would grow disparate, but right now, they were as indistinguishable as twins.

Her resolve hardened. She wrapped her babe in a blanket and climbed up the spiral stairs towards the nursery. She listened outside the servant’s door, ensuring that the mother was asleep and alone. Laurel pushed the door open and crept towards the bassinet. She placed her baby down and picked up the other as gently as she could. One errant cry and her plan would be foiled. She left the room and descended the stairs, releasing the breath she had been holding. Her heart thundered in her chest. Half-way down, she encountered Nehanti.

“What are you up to, Laurel,” hissed the old crone, a woman far beyond her useful years, and long overdue to succumb to the next wave of the Olding. A scarf covered her half-bald head, and her mottled skin hung from her limbs.

“Just walking,” replied Laurel, her throat constricting. “My baby needs air.”

The crone pointed a bony finger at her. “I know what you have done. It will not stand. Return that child to her mother.”

How could she know? “Please, I beg you, think of it—an Agawam as a nobleman’s daughter. She shall be given the life she deserves, not our life of filth and slavery. My child deserves this, and you know it. They will never know.” She prayed the baby would not wake.

The crone shook her head. “It makes no difference. Your child is cursed either way. Place her back at once or I shall summon our masters.” The crone blocked her way, her sunken eyes reflecting moonlight.

The crone’s meddling knew no bounds. “No! I will not return her!”

The crone drew a deep breath to raise an alarm, but before she could release the words, a dagger plunged into left shoulder. She slid to her knees and then tumbled down the stairs, smacking the stones in sickening thuds. Laurel tiptoed after her as the baby stirred. The crone lay still.

No one investigated. Now to hide the body, to allow time for escape, for the infant could awaken at any moment. She shuffled to her room and placed the stolen child in a bassinet, and then returned to dispose of the body. She gasped—the crone had disappeared. No blood trails, nothing. She searched the servant’s quarters and outbuildings for frantic minutes, but the urgent cries of her baby returned her to her motherly duties. She packed up her meager belongings and departed the manor with the infant, never to return.

And yes, we do find out in a bit that the old crone dies of her wounds, so it is indeed murder! (not to mention kidnapping). Any comments/critiques are welcome!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction – The Train

The Train

girl tracks “Please don’t do this!”

Susan yanked on her foot, stuck in the switch point of the train track. A faraway horn sounded, too distant yet to determine if the train rode upon these tracks, but Susan noticed a tickling vibration in her trapped foot.

The man in the dark business jacket and red tie shook his head. “We’ve been more than patient with you. Your time is up. We need to know Maria’s location, and we need it now.”

“No!” Give up her daughter’s location on the eve of the biggest trial in North Carolina history? Her testimony would put these thugs away forever. She twisted and pulled, but the mechanism held her tight. If she told them, her daughter would be dead before the evening news started.

“As I see it, you have a couple choices here. First, do nothing. Boom! Second, I think you like bend somehow and just lose the foot. You might survive the amputation. Maybe. Third, you could just tell me the name of the hotel. That’s all I’m asking. Not even the room or floor.”

“Never.” Her legs cramped, and she doubled over, gasping for air, tears streaming down her face. Her trapped foot throbbed.

“Hey look, the 2:52, right on time.” He shaded his eyes as he peered down the track. Another horn sounded, closer this time. Susan swirled around. Sure enough, a passenger train rumbled down her track.

“You don’t have to do this! I could talk to her! Tell her not to testify! She can be reasoned with. Please!” Why wouldn’t he listen?

The man sniffed. “Oh really? Hmm, let me see.” He reached into his pocket and withdrew a newspaper. He threw it at Susan’s feet. “Go ahead, pick it up. Pick it up! Look at the cover. ‘Maria Figliano to testify against Mob in husband’s killing.’ Do you really think she’s going to back down now? After all she’s been through? She is one tough broad.”

The horn tooted with more urgency. Susan yanked her foot with a supreme effort, but the tracks held fast. “You could hold me hostage. She wouldn’t want me dead.”

The man snorted. “You are really living a delusion. Tell me where she is, and we can put this unpleasantness aside. That train isn’t slowing.”

Susan glanced at the train. Sweat and tears poured down her face. The horn blasted her eardrums, and the tracks shimmied beneath her.  How had it come to this?

“Come on, Susan, talk! Talk! Or it’s all over!”

She glanced back at the train and swallowed. “Okay, okay! It’s the Grand Arms Hotel, Room 331! Now please, release me! Hurry!”

The man smiled, suppressing laughter. “Susan, Susan, Susan. You thought you could put my boss away? We already know where Maria is. In fact, she sent me.”

“What? I did what you said, now please, let me go!” The train blasted its horn again and again. He had to let her go!

The man crossed his arms and stepped back as Susan lunged for him. “You see, your daughter suspected all along that you had her husband killed, and then framed my boss. This was her idea: she leaked her location to you, and then we would test you to see if you would give her up to save your own skin. Guess what? You failed. And once she hears that you’re dead, she’ll rescind her testimony. Goodbye, Susan.”

Susan’s chest heaved. “No! No! Oh God, that bitch! Tell that bitch that he got what he had coming! Tell her—”

The train rolled past. The man straightened his tie and walked away, dropping the remote switch point control which could have spared her life.

621 words.
I came up with this idea while writing my last
Scene Structure post. I decided to play out the scene to see what would happen. Not sure if it quite “works” but I thought it was an interesting twist. I’m glad I finally got around to writing another of these!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

ANNOUNCING: Bad Girl Blogfest!

 Bad Girl Blogfest

On May 7, 2010, I will be hosting the Bad Girl Blogfest. Here’s how it works: Sometime between now and the end of the day May 7, post a scene to your blog and enter the link down below. Then, on May 7, come back here and check out all the other entries!

So, what is a Bad Girl? Do you have a female character who’s a little bit mean? Haughty? Conniving? Wretched? Does she lie? Cheat? Steal? Is she on the run from the Law? Or is she an Enforcer, dealing out Justice to those who deserve it? Bad Girls come in all shapes and sizes, from the not-so-innocent schoolgirl to the mad Empress of your fantasy Kingdom. Does she think she’s better than everyone, and that the world owes her something? Does she shoot first and ask questions later? We know they’re out there, haunting nightclubs and stalking graveyards, mixing potions and casting spells, hacking bank computers and  pushing drugs, you name it. There’s no end to the variety of good-girls-gone-bad out there. Bring it on!

If you tweet this, please use the hashtag #badgirlfest.

Bonus points to whomever can name the three bad girls in the banners! Here’s a small banner if you want to link to this post, followed by the embedding code.

Bad Girl Blogfest

Sign up here!

NOTE: I have closed the list to sign-ups and deleted all links that do not lead to a blogfest entry. If I inadvertently deleted a good link, add a comment here with your name and URL and I will add it back.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Scene Structure Part IX – Conflict

Part of an ongoing series on Scene Structure.


railtracks (Me talking about) Conflict is inevitable. Conflict is what drives stories. Conflict is especially important in scenes. If my last post described how to make scenes boring, this post describes how to make them exciting. Let’s start with a definition.

Conflict is when a character is faced with multiple choices and desires a particular outcome.

For example:

The black train rumbled down the track, smoke billowing from the stack. A toot blasted from its horn.

Okay, can you spot the conflict? No? Good. There isn’t any. You might wonder why it tooted, but all trains toot four times before crossing a road, so it could be anything.

Compare to:

The black train rumbled down the track, smoke billowing from the stack. A toot blasted from its horn. Susan pulled on her foot, hopelessly stuck in the switch point where the track split.

Now then, we have sense of conflict. We see a character who wants to get out of the way of the train. She has choices here. She can let the train hit her and kill her, she can lay down and maybe only lose the foot, or keep working on the problem.

Conflict occurs when a character’s needs are not immediately met.

Now how does this apply to scenes?

Every scene must contain conflict. Otherwise it’s just a description of a train running down the track. Not only that, but to keep readers involved in the story, every page should contain conflict. You heard me. Every page.

I read a lot of first pages in the recent First Page Blogfest. Most were brilliantly written, but the ones I enjoyed the best contained conflict from the very first sentence. The ones with no conflict made me think, “who cares? There’s nothing at stake here.”

Conflict Goals

  • Establish the Stakes. In the first example, what were the stakes? None. The first paragraph or two of every scene must establish the stakes of that particular scene. Then it becomes easier to throw in some nice scenery, a little backstory, and some other notes of importance, but don’t get away from the conflict of the scene for more than a paragraph or two. The stakes may change as the scene progresses, generally increasing.
  • Make the Conflict Matter. I have a whole post on this topic, but to summarize here, it’s much better in the long run if the character doesn’t achieve their primary goal in a scene. In the example above, a character dealing with the consequences of a severed foot are much more intriguing than if she escaped scot-free. But if she does escape, it must come at a cost. Otherwise, the train’s just a scary bit that doesn’t matter in the long run.
  • Provide an Antagonist. Perhaps there’s someone standing there, watching Susan’s predicament, unwilling to help until she gives him the information that might lead to a loved one’s death. Characters with conflicting goals are the spice of literature. It’s not a requirement, but it does intensify the conflict if there are characters in opposition in every scene.
  • Inner Vs Outer Conflict. Good scenes have both. Outer Conflict can be defined as a character’s goal facing external obstacles, whereas Inner Conflict can be defined as a character dealing with conflicting goals, where achieving one goal would prevent achieving the other. Susan wants to live, but she also wants self-respect, which she would lose if she acquiesced to the Antagonist’s demands.

Conflict Non-Goals

  • Don’t Keep it Level. Conflict must ebb and flow, reflecting the level of stakes involved. If someone is running late for a date, don’t make him run over pedestrians like a fleeing bank robber. Then again, your fleeing robber shouldn’t wait for the crosswalk to clear. Don’t create conflict for the sake of creating conflict, it must be meaningful and appropriate. Consider crossing the guy running late for a date with the fleeing bank robber… ;)
  • Don’t Leave Conflict Unresolved. Stories must progress. Create an outcome in your scene…hopefully a bad outcome which leads to greater conflict. It’s fine for an overarching goal to remain unresolved, but focus on what this particular scene is trying to achieve. You can only run late for a date for so long.
  • Characters Resolve Conflict. Not magic fairies or the Lottery. The main character of a scene (and only that character) acts to resolve the conflict. Other characters might act to increase or prolong the conflict. The train won’t miraculously jump the track or stop just in time. The man’s date won’t call and say she’s running late and he needn’t hurry. The bank robber won’t have the cops decide he’s not worth pursuing and he can keep the money. These people are in serious predicaments, and the world will not change to accommodate them.

How have you ensured that you have conflict in every scene? Or page?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Blogfest Voting Results!

Blogfest Voting Results!

Here are the final results of my Blogfest poll:

imageFirst of all, THANK YOU FOR VOTING!! I was kind of hoping for “A Proper Blogfest” but this…well now what? All of the top three are great. What makes a character a true hero? What moment changed your character’s life forever? But with the third choice…there is so much room for fun!

So later this week, I will be making the official date announcement and open sign-ups for

The WriteRunner’s Bad Girl Blogfest

Do you have a female character who’s just plain mean? Abusive? Snotty? A good girl gone wrong? Thinks the world owes her something? Do you have a woman who’s crossed the line, done things she’s ashamed of (or not), and is hopelessly lost? Or misunderstood? Do you have an angel turned into blackest demon, now stalking the pages of your work with her ferocious anger? Or is she as as sweet as molasses, up until the point where she sinks her fangs into your unsuspecting hero’s neck?

Now for my Bad Girl Anthem

Does she

Pour acid on roses and pull whiskers off kittens?
Smash copper kettles and burn woolen mittens?
Send brown paper packages tied up with strings
Trying to blow up your favorite things?

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I know that she sent me those god-awful things
And then I don't feel so bad. But not really.

Bad Girl Blogfest!!

BTW if you voted for a different blogfest, please consider hosting it yourself! I won’t mind at all!

Friday, April 2, 2010

First Page Blogfest: Steam Palace

Thanks to Kelly Lyman for hosting the First Page Blogfest!


Now this isn’t actually my first first page. I wrote a prologue, but I’m still on the fence about keeping it in there. But there’s a nice little murder in it and I think it draws the reader in. For now, I’m posting the first page of Chapter One.

Steam Palace Chapter One

Airship11_Smoke From high above the ground, Thomas viewed the smoking wreckage of a royal airship and the bloody bodies that littered the clearing. He pulled back on the throttle and tugged the gas release. His one-man dirigible scout descended and landed among the bodies, which all bore the red and blue uniform of the New Britannia Royal Guard. He jumped out, secured his ship to a nearby tree, and searched for survivors. Throats were slashed, execution-style. Thomas checked his revolver. A gaping hole punctured the wreckage of the downed airship. Its deflated balloon rested across nearby trees, shimmering in the breeze. This crash was no accident.

A trail of bent grasses led to the South and into the forest. Survivors? Thomas followed the trail, keeping his head low. The sun glinted off something hidden under a pile of branches. He discerned a shiny black mechohorse with rear-mounted cannon, the likely author of the destruction. A white painted cross revealed its ownership. Reichlanders? On this side of the river? They had become bold of late, but this incursion would have lasting implications.

Thomas froze. Voices murmured through the forest. He dove to the ground, breathing fast. His gold-trimmed airman’s uniform would reveal him in an instant. Past the mechohorse, a dark hole opened in the ground, a cave. Thomas crept towards it. The voices emanated from that cave. Then a scream…a woman’s scream. The Reichlanders were interrogating a prisoner—most likely the same person Thomas had been tasked to locate. He stole up to the cave, his hand trembling on the grip of his revolver. He considered his options. Possibly an autonomous unit, but they set no guards. They were questioning the prisoner onsite, so they must not be holding her for ransom. They must intend to kill her, judging from the merciless screams that rattled his ears and chilled his blood.

Thomas maneuvered next to the cave, peering into the darkness. He wiped the sweat from his brow, and then turned into the entrance. The voices grew louder, the screams more dire. He stepped inside. A torch blazed down the cave shaft. He proceeded. Past that, the cave opened into a chamber lit by additional torches. He spotted chairs and paper-strew tables, and even a filing cabinet. He clenched his revolver. A Reichland advance scouting camp, and they just bagged a huge prize. He formulated a plan.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Alternate Version Blogfest: Steam Palace

Thanks to Livia Blackburne for hosting the Alternate Version Blogfest.


alternative I chose a scene from my WIP Steam Palace where Prudencia, my main character, meets Lily for the very first time.

Original Version:

A rustling noise shivered the door. Prudencia shot up, feeling vulnerable with only a towel to cover her nakedness. The door opened, and a figure stepped in, closing and latching the door behind. The figure removed a cloak and turned to face Prudencia.

“Oh,” she said.

Prudencia held the towel tightly. “Um...hello? Who might you be?” The person who had just entered didn’t look much like a housemaid. She bore long golden hair, a contrasting dark complexion, and her low cut shirt revealed half her bosom, which had been enhanced with some kind of tight corset. Dark liner circled her eyes, and her lips were painted a painful red. Her skirt ended shockingly right below her hips, exposing her knees and ankles. Prudencia wonder if some street walker had just walked in by mistake, not that she knew what one looked like except in books of course.

“I’m Lily. I’m the—maid.” She extended a white gloved hand.

Prudencia studied the girl. Buxom, handsome, mixed ancestry, but the kind of figure she knew men sought. She grasped the hand and shook it. “Aunt Bea—I mean Lady Harwinton is not up yet,” she commented.

“She never is.” Lily lifted a sack and handed it to Prudencia, who managed to grasp it without losing her towel. “Put that on the counter, would you dear.”

Prudencia lifted the heavy sack and heaved it over. “I’m Prudencia, Lady Harwinton’s niece. I just arrived late last night, and I’ll be staying here.”

“For how long?” Lily eyed Prudencia.

“For—as long as I want, I suppose. She wants to show me Hartford.”

Lily laughed. “Not much to see here. Factories, banks, whale rendering plants, machine shops, a lot of boring stuff. If you want some excitement, you’ll have to leave this part of town.”

Okay, I call that “Welcome to Snoresville.” So during revision, I completely changed Lily’s character into someone much darker, and changed her name to Viola. I wanted her and Prudencia to be in conflict from the first second they meet. In the first draft they become fast friends. In the new revision, they hate each other…but they will be forced to work together and overcome their differences. So here is the “alternate” version of their first encounter:

Prudencia woke to the sounds of rummaging. Judging by the moon’s progress, dawn’s arrival would be imminent. She pulled on a thick woolen robe and wrapped it against the night’s chill. Something downstairs clinked and clattered. She stepped into the hall and glanced into Bea’s room from which emanated the soft sighs of sleep. Could some stray animal be foraging in the house? She grasped a baleen broom from the corner of the hall and crept down the stairs, prepared to beat away any crafty raccoons who might be pilfering the pantry. The nocturnal animals were regular infiltrators in the Wethersfield Manor, and a strict beating would usually deter future infiltrations.

She froze near the bottom. This was no animal. A dark figure moved among the shadows. An intruder. Prudencia clutched the broomstick. The creature dropped something and cursed. A woman’s voice. She peered into the unfamiliar pantry, searching for an accomplice, but the female felon worked alone. She spotted no sign of forced entry, but the darkness could conceal the evidence.

“Come on, where is it,” muttered the figure.

The intruder lit a small lamp. In mere moments, Prudencia summed up the figure before her. A black corset and dress, long dark tresses of hair, and deep colored eyes revealed the hallmarks of a lady of the night. Prudencia might have been raised in Podunk, but she knew enough of the world to notice the bright painted lips, the red sash, and ambergris scent of a prostitute. As she computed this postulate, the woman’s gaze fell upon Prudencia. A thick silence gripped the air as both women appraised the situation.

The black-clad intruder sprang for the door, but quicker than thought Prudencia blocked her, wary of her sharp red nail-tipped fingers. She waved the broom above her head. The thief crouched like a cat, her gaze darting about the room. “Who are you,” demanded the intruder at last, pointing a finger at Prudencia. “What are you doing in my house?”

It has come to my attention that people do not like the name “Prudencia.” In fact, many people hate it so much they would rather read something else than deal with it.
So in the spirit of “Alternate Version”, I’d like to suggest some alternate names. Let me know if any of them resound with you, or if you have any suggestions.. I’m looking for a formal, antique sounding name. (Last name is Stratton FWIW)


Apparently, there’s more to “Alternate Version” than I thought…many people are alternating genres….so here’s my attempts (very off-the-cuff and unedited)

Spy Version:

Agent Stratton woke to the subtle noises. She was instantly awake, every sensory nerve firing at maximum. She downed a stim, just in case, and checked her Glock as quietly as possible. Something stirred down in the parlor. She had come to this B & B her aunt run as a vacation, and now she feared her past had found her. She slowed her breathing, and hugged the walls as she crept down the stairs.

Down in the kitchen, a dark figure rifled through drawers. Dressed in black riding clothes, a helmet sat on the counter, along with a brown leather duffel. Stratton noted the curves of a woman. She hoisted the gun to eye level.

“Drop it,” she said, but before the words left her throat, she must have made a telltale noise, because the intruder pulled her own gun. They stared each other down.

The intruder spoke. “Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my house?”

Slash Version (The alternative alternate version)

Prudencia woke from her usual dreams, her body tingling with a lust no man could satisfy. A noise echoed from downstairs. Throwing on a sheer silk, she stumbled down the stairs, wondering who dared disturb her delightful slumber. A woman pawed through drawers in the kitchen, but not any woman. Perhaps another guest, Prudencia could not remove her gaze from her curvy figure, her pert breasts, her deep eyes and tumbling hair. She drew in a sharp breath, and the figure turned to her.

The both watched each other as time stood still. Every sense in Prudencia’s body came alive. She dared not hope for the impossible, that this woman shared her desires. At last the angel spoke.

“Please tell me you’re staying here too,” she said, her breast heaving with emotion.

Sci Fi Version

A chime woke Prudencia. Words flashed across her vision, something about a visitor. She rolled out of bed which deflated and retired to its box. She waved and arms fell out of the closet, throwing clothes on her. She checked her message list and feeds, finding nothing of import. Her hoverpad approached, and she stepped on. “Downstairs,” she said, and the pad pushed her along while a head spider arranged her hair.

She stopped at the bottom. A readout appeared in her vision, identifying the person who rummaged through the kitchen.

Robotic Model “Viola”
Current Location: Steam City
Current Assignment: Pleasurist

Yes indeed, the android bore the trappings of a pleasure provider, the vinyl and rubber of a machine dedicated to the whims of its clients. The machine turned to her.

“Return to your designated quarters and you will not be harmed.”

I hope you enjoyed those!