Showing posts with label writing samples. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing samples. Show all posts

Air Pirates Status and Excerpt

I've fixed everything that needs fixing (for now) and am on to Stage 6, the full read-through. It might take a while, especially in the beginning. Whoever wrote these first chapters was a terrible writer. I've had to destroy one of every four words.

The beginning is better now - not great, but better. Good enough that I'm willing to show the current version to you. Feel free to offer critiques, if you like. I... I think I can take it.

Chapter 1 - Hagai

Hagai woke with a book attached to his face. Peeling it off, he found his glasses where they'd fallen nearby and put them on. Page 91 of Lushita's City was ruined. It was wrinkled by sweat, the words faded - probably imprinted on his face in reverse. Aunt Booker wouldn't be happy with him, but who was?

With a groan, he stood and shuffled to the dresser - the only furniture in the room other than his sleep pad. He took out the neatly folded shirt and pants from their respective stacks and put them on. While he buttoned his shirt - a routine he did deliberately slow - he stared out the window. The suns were up already - the amber was even near peak. It was going to be a hot day. With luck, he wouldn't have to be out in it.

Far below, the town of Providence bristled with work. Past that lay the sea - glittering blue for the most part, but out past the reef, the water was murky, almost black. The skylers called it dark water. The worst fate for a skyler was to have their ship fall out of the air over a patch of it. It was about the only thing nobody pretended to be brave about.

Aunt Booker's voice hollered from downstairs. "You done buttoning your shirt yet, Haggie?"

How did she always know?

Subtasks and an Air Pirates Excerpt

I realized one of my problems with editing is that I can't keep track of my progress as easily as I can with writing the draft. The result is that I feel unproductive which, ironically, makes me unproductive.

I think I've solved that by cutting it into relatively bite-sized stages. I did that before, but these are a little more concrete (i.e. for each stage, I have about 10-20 specific items that need changing).

Stage 1: Strong Ending. (Includes all the changes to beginning and middle that will help improve the ending).
Stage 2: Continuity.
Stage 3: Global Changes (i.e. capitalizing officerial titles or being consistent with the definite article and ship names).
Stage 4: Other Revisions. (Mostly improvement notes I made while drafting).
Stage 5: Strong Beginning.
Stage 6: Full Read-Through. (The subtasks of this one are individual chapters).

I've finished stages 1, 2, and 3. I'm almost done with stage 4, but stage 5 will be hard and stage 6 will be super-rough. Hopefully if I can track my progress and check things off of a list, it will help me stay determined. (I do like lists).

The title of this post also promises an excerpt, so here you go. I had a hard time finding one, since the beginning has all the world explanations in it but is also the least-polished.

This is the beginning of chapter 3. The stone has shown Hagai a vision in which the Oleanna, a merchant airship, crashes into the docks. Unsure whether he's seeing the future, he runs to the docks to find everything exactly as it was in the vision prior to the crash, and he starts to get worried. (In the excerpt, a dak is like a goat).

Chapter 3

Oleanna hung in the sky like a child's lost balloon, no bigger than Hagai's thumb at this distance. For a moment, Hagai thought the string of coincidences might end there. It didn't look like anything was wrong. If anything, the Oleanna was getting smaller as it floated away.

That was before he heard the explosion.

It was really quiet for an explosion. Just a small, muffled pop like distant fireworks. Hagai thought he imagined it at first. For a while, he hoped maybe it wasn't an explosion after all, until he saw smoke issuing from the top of the
Oleanna above him. That was also when the daks started getting nervous.

"Did you hear that?" Hagai asked the dak counter.


"That explosion, up in the sky. You didn't hear it?"

"Nay," the man replied, but he looked up towards the smoking airship.

"I heard an explosion, and then that smoke started coming out of the Oleanna."

The man squinted. "Nay, they're breezy. That's just exhaust from her boiler."

"No, it was an explosion. I heard it. I think they're in trouble."

"She's fine, see? She's still going."

The daks were getting louder and starting to push against the fences. Only Hagai seemed to notice. "Okay, look," he said, "I know this is going to sound weird, but… I
know that ship is going to crash into the docks. We need to get out of here. We need to warn everybody to get out of here."

"What?" he laughed. "What are you on about?"

"I got this stone, see, and it shows me the future." He put his hand on the sling.

"What'd you get that at the circ or something?"

"No, look..." Hagai looked up again. The airship looked bigger. "It's gonna... it's gonna crash right
there." He pointed. "People are gonna get hurt. The… the daks there are gonna break out and run wild, and, and you break your leg, and - "

"Here, now. That some kind of threat?"

"No! No, I just… I mean that's just what I saw."

"I got work to do, dog. Take your circus toy home."

"But I..." Hagai started, but the man had already turned around. The daks were restless now, and the dak counter looked pretty upset about it. Hagai left him alone. He looked for someone else to tell. There were plenty of skylers and dock workers everywhere, but they all seemed real busy. He considered yelling out a warning to everyone, but decided against it. He tried a one-on-one approach.

To one man he said, "Excuse me, I - "

"Outta my way, boy."

To another: "I'm sorry to bother you, b- "

"Does this look
light to you?"

"Excuse me, is that ship on fire?"

"Boiler exhaust. Please to move."

"Hey, that ship's falling."

"Nah, it's just coming in to port."

"But it just took off!" Hagai pleaded to the back of the last man.

Nobody would hear him, and the airship was getting closer.

Language Problems

(For WAG #6: Overheard, in which the goal is to eavesdrop and notice how people really talk. I had some problems, as you'll see, and so shattered the rules into tiny, glittering pieces on the floor. Wear shoes.)

I can't understand you. I've lived here 4 years, even went to school to learn your language, but I can't understand you. You're not speaking your language.

I realize they didn't teach me about languages in the US. Oh, they teach the big ones - Spanish, French, maybe Chinese - but nobody is expected to actually use them. When someone, or some country, doesn't speak English, the typical American sentiment is, "Why don't they just learn English?"

I didn't want to be like that, so when I came here I determined to learn Thai the best I could. For you. I've done that, am still doing that, but though Thai is the national language, it's hardly the language everyone speaks.

Even in my own house, Thai is everyone's second language. My wife and I speak English. My oldest daughter grew up speaking Karen. My youngest daughter speaks Lisu with her mom, Kham Mueang with her school friends, and English with me; she only uses Thai with her teachers.

By your rhythms and sounds, I know you're speaking Kham Mueang. I recognize it, even know a word or two, but I don't understand you. In northern Thailand, everyone speaks Kham Mueang. Everyone but me. In the market, if my face didn't already mark me as an outsider, my use of the so-called "national language" would.

It's not really fair, you know? Why can't you all just learn English?


Other participants in WAG #6:

How to Join the Writing Adventure Group

Cora Zane

Christine Kirchoff

Nancy J Parra

Mickey Hoffman

Sharon Donovan

Iain Martin



Jon Strother



I'm a Terrible Writer! Hooray!

Finally, my inability to write good endings pays off! Natalie over at Between Fact & Fiction recently ran a contest to see who could write the worst ending, and I won!

For your reading pleasure, and because I can't help but show off bad writing, here's my entry:
Frodo screamed as the twisted creature bit off his finger - the ring with it.

"My precious!" Gollum chortled and danced in ecstacy at having reclaimed his prize, paying no attention to the precipice behind him. The edge crumbled, and he fell to the burning lava below.

Suddenly a voice hissed from the darkness, "Accio Ring!" The ring leapt out of Gollum's clutch and flew towards the waiting grasp of a snake-faced man holding a wand.

"Who's that?" asked Sam.

Frodo shrugged. "Sauron?"

Before the wizard could hold the ring, it halted in midair. Without warning, it flew the opposite direction, over Frodo and Sam's heads, to a tall man dressed all in black armor. "Impressive," the armored figure said, "but the ability to control the rings is nothing compared to the power of the Force." Suddenly the armored figure howled. He fell forward; the ring flew upwards out of his hand.

Behind him stood another man, strangely dressed in a tight-fitting vest and leggings. His eyes were hidden behind a black pair of spectacles. He caught the ring neatly and said, "Tell me, Mr. Anderson, what good is a ring if you're unable to speak?"

"Master Elrond?"

The new arrival looked at Sam, stonefaced, and said, "No."

"Avada Kedrava!" A ray of fire shot from the dark towards the newest owner of the ring, but he avoided it with inhuman speed. The armored man got up suddenly, drew a glowing red sword, and attacked as well.

While the battle raged, Sam looked to his master. "What do you reckon we ought to do, Mister Frodo?"

Mount Doom was getting crowded. Even Gollum had scrambled back up the cliff face and was even now clawing at the back of the snake-faced man's head.

"I'm tired, Sam," Frodo said. "F--k the ring. I want to go home."
There were a lot of good entries (most of them not so long), and you can read them in the comments. Also be sure to check out Natalie's tips on what makes a bad ending.

As a prize, Natalie is going to draw me a full-colored sketch of my Air Pirates' protagonists. Woohoo!

Night Sky in Chiang Mai

(For Nixy Valentine's Writing Adventure Group)

Of course I understand the physics of it - suffusion of light, a terrestrial observation point, and all that. Even so, I am dumbfounded at how a handful of heated wires and gases can reduce billions of celestial furnaces into a countable collection of hazy dots in a not-quite-black sky.

MORE INFORMATION (added 3/9): The assignment was to describe the sky. This was observational, so writers were encouraged to use descriptive words more than metaphors or emotive words. Follow the links below to see how other people took the exercise:

Cora Zane - Stars Will Cry

Sharon Donovan

Adam Heine - Authors Echo

Nancy Parra - This Writer’s Life

Criss - Criss Writes

Carol - DMWCarol

Nixy Valentine

Marsha Moore - Write On!

Jesse Blair - SexFoodPlay

Jackie Doss - The Pegasus Journals


JM Strother - Mad Utopia

Actual, Physical Writing

Last week I was at a homeschool conference for a couple of days. One of the days, there weren't any workshops I wanted to attend, but I still had to be there with my kids. That meant either sitting in a classroom I didn't want to be in, or waiting around for a few hours.

I chose the latter, because I'm good at waiting (I always bring 2 or 3 things to do on plane trips to the States, for example). In this case, I decided to take Tobias Buckell's advice and write on paper. I took out my old moleskine, given to me by a friend like 4 years ago. I've done lots of brainstorming and pseudo-outlining in the notebook before, but never actual writing. That is, I've never written anything in the notebook that I transferred directly to my manuscript. Tobias followed his own advice and shared his experience, so I thought I might as well do the same.

The thing I liked least is no surprise: it's slow. I can type almost as fast as I can think (or at least as fast I can decide what to say). Writing by hand bugs me because by the time I write a few words, I'm thinking 3 or 4 sentences ahead, and I forget how I was going to finish the first sentence.

I also didn't like being away from my notes (my timelines, my outlines, my character bibles, my maps...). I'm a planner, which means I have faith that my outlines are pretty decent to start with - there's a reason I plan. As I spent time writing without my notes, I felt like I was getting farther and farther off my plan.

There was one really good thing about it: it forced me to keep going. There was no e-mail to distract me, no World Doc to write sudden world-building thoughts in, no dictionary or thesaurus to ache over word choice. No notes meant I didn't spend time hunting down details, so when the protagonist referenced something that happened "4 years ago," I had to write "X years ago" and move on.

One of the things that forced me to keep going surprised me: there was no room to edit. Often when I get stuck on something (even if only for a few minutes), I end up looking back and revising. But writing single-spaced in the notebook, there was only a small amount of room to edit. Once I'd changed a word once or twice, there was no more room to change it, and I was forced to leave it and move on.

In the end, I wrote 1,000 words in 1-2 hours. That's about the same speed as my normal rate (although I still had to retype the whole thing once I got home). I'd definitely do it again, if given the opportunity, but I think I'd have to study my notes ahead of time to make sure I stayed on track.

Maybe the next time I fly to the States, I'll bring my notebook instead of my laptop. It's easier to carry around and setup anyway (especially with 2-year-olds in the next seat).

The Voices in my Head

Tony Jay is an English actor, best known for his voice acting in various cartoons and video games. He's played many roles, but it was always his villains I loved. His smooth, British baritone lent an air of danger and superiority to characters like Shere Khan (though not the one in the original Jungle Book) and Chairface Chippendale.

Now you may have no idea what I'm talking about. You may never have seen Tale Spin or The Tick. Odds are good you've never played Fallout, Torment, or Icewind Dale either, all of which starred villains voiced by the late Tony Jay.

But for me, these were some of my favorite stories, and now it's presenting an odd sort of problem. See, the other day I discovered that no matter who my villain is, no matter how well I know them or plan their background and character or even pretend to talk like them - when I sit down to write the dialogue of that villain I involuntarily write the voice of Tony Jay.

Like Arad, the nigh-omnipotent tyrant of Travelers. In my head, he speaks with Tony Jay's voice. Now I didn't realize this at the time because the voice fit. Arad is a dangerous being who considers himself superior to, literally, everybody. So I thought it was just Arad's voice.

But then the other day, I was trying to write Jacobin Savage, the cruel pirate captain from Azrael's Curse (slash Air Pirates). The pirates in this world tend to speak like something between the Irishman from Braveheart and Pirates' Captain Barbosa - fast and flippant, with heavy use of slang and light use of grammar. Savage was supposed to be no different, but when I tried to write his dialogue he sounded less like Captain Barbosa and more like Commodore Norrington.

The difference is relatively subtle on the page, I suppose. For example, Tony Jay's Savage might say, "You want to change the world, isn't that it? You want to rid it of folks like the Imperium, and you think by hitting military targets instead of random merchants, you might do that. What you don't see is that you're just scratching an itch."

But Savage's words need to be more like, "You want to change the world, aye? Want to rid it of the Imperium, and you reck you can do that by hitting Navy marks 'stead of chance merchers. But you're just scratching an itch."

Subtle differences. And for all I know they both sound like Alan Rickman in your head. But it's hard when I want Savage to have a unique voice, and all that comes out is Tony Jay.

So thank you, Tony, for portraying such memorable villains that I can no longer imagine evil in any other voice. You've simultaneously enriched and ruined my life. Well done.

My First Published Words

A couple of weeks ago, I announced my debut on Thaumatrope. Multiple people informed me that this makes me a professional writer, but I just remembered that a small piece of my writing has already been published for payment long ago.

In a past life, I was a scripter for the role-playing game, Planescape: Torment. A scripter is like a programmer, except instead of writing complicated graphical algorithms, I wrote simple scripts that told each character and creature what to do. Perhaps the simplest example being:

IF See( PC )
Attack( PC )

I was also responsible for putting the levels together. Designers designed them and wrote the dialogue, artists drew everything, and I put the pieces together so it worked. On one level, I required a piece of dialogue to inform the player that he'd have to leave his party behind before entering the Immortal's Tomb. The designer told me to write it myself. I present to you the first 72 words of my publishing career (click to enlarge):

It's wordy, I know. I mean, I wrote it ten years ago. And anyway, in a game that contains an estimated 800,000 words, seventy-two is negligible. But these are my first words written and published for money.

So I guess I've been professional for a decade now and didn't know it.

Travelers, First Chapter Online

UPDATE (Feb 23, 2010): The first chapter of Travelers is no longer available online as it no longer represents my best work (far from it, in fact). If you really, really, really, really want to read it, you can try and e-mail me for it. But no promises.

For other samples of my work, see "Published Works" in the sidebar, or try the writing samples tag.