Skip to content

Galactic Diplomacy (Coming Soon)

I am currently in the process of proofreading Galactic Diplomacy, which is a sequel to The Galactic Peace Committee.

What will Jake Smith, proud diplomat and member of the Galactic Peace Committee, have to deal with this time? It will definitely involve ornery aliens, and you had better believe it will involve multiple near-death experiences. But what sort of ornery aliens and what sort of near-death experiences?

It won’t be long before you find out.


Well That Sucked…

I got my phone snatched by a thief on Sunday. I chased the bastard to the nearest train station but lost him at the turnstiles. He got onto a train and that was all she wrote.

Damn. Five years ago, with two working knees, I would have caught the fucker, but I’m not as fast as I used to be.

When Starting A Story #1

When starting a starting a story, there are a few things that you might want to consider.

  1. Establish the rules. The rules determine how the universe works in your story. If you don’t know what the rules are, then your chances of writing something that doesn’t contradict itself or come across as confusing are less than stellar. A story can have all sorts of fantastical elements and still come across as believable and logical as long as it is internally consistent. In other words, a story should be very careful about breaking its own rules.
    • Does your story have magic? If it does, then you need to have at least some idea of how that magic works. Otherwise, you’re likely to make a mess of it.
    • Does your story have advanced science or technology? If it does, then you again need to have some idea of how it works. The explanations don’t have to be perfect. For instance, we don’t actually know how hyperspace travel would work, but if you have hyperspace travel in your story, it should work in a consistent manner with rules that make sense given the state of science and technology in your story.
    • Does your story have characters with realistic abilities? If it does, then be careful about straying to far from realism. It rarely makes sense, for example, to have a story in which medieval combat is depicted realistically with no one having supernatural abilities and then suddenly have a single swordsman capable of slaughtering entire armies with nothing more than a rusty dagger.
  2. Know what kind of story you want to write. Some stories are humorous. Some stories are dark. And some stories are both. Of course, there are many, many other kinds of stories out there, but it always helps to know ahead of time what sort of story yours will be. This is because the way the plot and characters develop is going to be heavily influenced by what sort of story you’re writing.
    • Imagine you’re writing a light-hearted comedy. It might be intriguing as a writer to have a plot twist in which the happy, slice-of-life set up is disrupted by a horrible tragedy that plunges the characters into death and despair, but think of the reader for a second. You’ve basically promised the reader something happy and humorous. Suddenly filling it with tragedy could intrigue them – but it is far, far, far more likely to simply enrage your readers. Think of how you’d feel if you went into a movie theatre to watch Tropic Thunder only for it to turn into Saw halfway through.
    • On the other hand, if you’ve chosen to write a story with a darker atmosphere and plenty of twists, then your reader isn’t going to hate it when you throw in the occasional curve ball because you’ve already set the story up that way. Look at something like Game of Thrones. Knowing what sort of story you’re writing from the beginning will help you to establish the right tone and style, so that plot twists and a dark atmosphere actually suit the story instead of coming across as strange and bizarre.
  3. Cause and effect. I am not someone who goes into super-detailed plot outlines and chapter summaries before writing a story. However, it is important to know what makes your story tick. If you can answer the following questions, then you’re well on your way to having an idea of what the main causes and effects are in your story.
    • What does the protagonist want, and why do they want it?
    • What conflict does the protagonist face, and are there any ways to avoid or overcome it?
    • What does victory for the protagonist look like, and how can they achieve it?
    • What does defeat for the protagonist look like and how they can they avoid it?
    • What roles do the other characters play, and how do they relate to the protagonist?
  4. Characters, plot, and settings. When you start writing a story, these are the three things you should worry about the most. Technique (i.e., the technical aspects of your writing) is something that can be improved with revision and practice. However, actually writing anything will be almost impossible if you don’t have at least some grasp of who your characters are, what the plot will be, and what the setting is.
    • Who are your main characters? What makes them tick? What are their personalities and abilities? What do they look like? How do they speak?
    • What is the plot? What motivates the characters, and what obstacles do they face? Where is the story going, and what sort of end does it have?
    • What is the setting? What sort of world do your characters live in? What is its history? What is its culture and society like? Is there magic? How advanced are science and technology?
  5. Accept that what you first write will probably be bad. I’d like to be able to say that everything I’ve ever written has been awesome from the first draft, but I’d be lying. A lot of what I’ve written has been pretty horrible to begin with. It’s only natural. Instead of worrying about writing the perfect story right from the start, focus on writing something that you can build on and improve.
    • Your aim shouldn’t be to write a fantastic first draft. Your aim should be to write a fantastic final draft.

There is, of course, more to consider when starting a story, but these points should help guide your thoughts a little. Starting is usually the hardest part, so don’t get discouraged. Keep on writing and pushing yourself. Every journey, no matter how long, dangerous, or arduous, begins with a single step. The easiest way to fail is to never try at all.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, education, and other subjects, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

Humour: Make the Ordinary Extraordinary

There are many ways in which to write humour. Depending on your own writing style and personal experiences, it is highly likely that you will find writing some of them easier than others. However, one of my favourite ways to write humour is through making the ordinary extraordinary. In other words, you take a situation that people can empathise with (an ordinary situation), and then you change things about it to make it just that little bit crazy (an extraordinary situation).

This is probably the most common form of humour in Divine Assistance.

For example, consider the short story in which I take an ordinary situation, a father whose young daughter has asked him for a pony, and then scale that up to a question of near-cosmic importance by making that father Death. What is Death supposed to do? As a god of incomprehensible power and might, he can’t just not get his daughter a pony. But what kind of pony would be suitable for Young Death? He can’t get her a regular pony. It would keel over and die in a couple of decades, and most regular animals would be terrified of her. So what should he do? Therein lies the fun.

Another example is in the snippet in which Torment, a powerful god in his own right, makes a job-related mistake. We’ve all been there. We’ve all made mistakes at work. But considering the fact that Death is his boss, making a mistake might just carry graver consequences than for most people. It also doesn’t help when Bureaucracy, who is in charge of divine law, shows up as well.

This sort of humour can also be found in The Unconventional Heroes Series. Timmy, a necromancer, is a proud homeowner who has to deal with a seemingly never-ending stream of property maintenance issues. This is something that I think a lot of people can relate to. The only difference is that Timmy’s home isn’t a house. It’s an ancient and terrible castle built upon lightless chasms of unfathomable doom within which lurk primeval creatures who hope to usher in the apocalypse. Fixing a leaking pipe might just be a tad more complicated for him than it would be for most people.

More of this sort of humour can be found in Katie’s apprenticeship to Timmy. Many of us have had to deal with precocious children, and Timmy, I think, handles it better than most. The twist here is that Katie isn’t just any precocious child. She is the child he is mentoring in necromancy and minor to semi-major villainy. He also finds himself on the receiving end of lectures from time to time (which adult hasn’t had a child try to lecture them at least once?) since Katie also happens to do most of the paperwork and his taxes.

As you can see, this sort of humour can be very effective. But why? It’s because all of these situations include elements that we can empathise with. We’ve all been in Death’s shoes when someone we love (e.g., a child or a younger siblings) asks for something like a pony and we know we probably shouldn’t get it for them but we end up getting it anyway. Likewise, we’ve all be Timmy before, having to find the money to fix something around the house while dealing with an incredibly intelligent child. This allows us to feel for the characters, and it’s the exaggeration that it takes it to the next level. We all laugh quite possibly because we can imagine ourselves in that exact same position. We’re not so different from these characters, and watching them handle the craziness makes us wonder how we’d handle it.

The trick then is to take an ordinary situation, something people can understand and empathise with. You then take some feature of it and make it extraordinary. It can be through magic. It can be through exaggeration. It can be through simply upping the stakes. Whatever it is, people will still be able to get a grasp of it and find it funny because it isn’t totally alien to them. It is still something they can understand, and sometimes just seeing someone else dealing with it is funny.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, education, and other subjects, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

Learning Is Not A Linear Process

Despite what some people may believe, learning is rarely a linear process. Instead, it is often marked by changes in learning rate, along with significant plateaus after reaching important milestones.

Let’s start off with a physical example. Let’s say that you’re training to run five kilometres. If you’ve never run that far before, you’ll likely find the first days of training to be very hard. But once you get into the groove, you’ll also find that you improve fairly rapidly. But does that rapid improvement continue forever? No. There are physical limits to how fast someone can run, and the closer you get to these, the slower your improvement will be until you finally reach your limit.

Now, let’s try an example related to writing. When you first learn to write dialogue, things are probably going to be a mess. Dialogue requires specific punctuation, as well as a particular style that differs from simple narration. Your progress might start off slow as you struggle to master the punctuation and the change in style, but as you master those, your progress will likely speed up as you worry less about the basics of style and punctuation and worry more about the content of your dialogue. And this is when progress – learning – may slow down again.

Writing good dialogue is not easy. It requires getting into the heads of the characters, and mistakes are common. Your progress may slow down a bit as you realise that writing good dialogue requires a strong grasp of the characters, setting, and plot, and mastering how these interact with dialogue is a great deal more difficult than simply mastering the basics.

Another example we can use is plot development. When most people start writing stories, they stick to a fairly basic plot structure, and this makes perfect sense since they are still learning. While adhering to this basic plot structure, they are likely to see rapid improvement as they learn how to best take advantage of it. But what happens when they move beyond it and start working on stories with twists or misdirection? Again, learning will seem more difficult, and their progress will slow down. But that’s normal. Learning more advanced methods of plot development is harder than learning the basics.

Learning isn’t always a smooth process. There are ups and downs, but that is to be expected. Just remember, the things you treasure the most are often the ones you worked hardest to obtain. Keep learning and improving because it will be worth it, even if sometimes it can be very hard to keep going.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, education, and other subjects, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

Expectations and Reader Reactions

There is a scenario that almost every writer has encountered at least once. They write something that is technically outstanding and eagerly release it to their readers only to be bombarded with rage, disappointment, and dismay. Now, there are several possible explanations for this, but today I’d like to focus on just one: reader expectations.

In many ways, a good story is like a promise between the writer and the reader. Throughout the early parts of the story, the writer makes a promise of sorts through the plot, characters, settings, and techniques they use to tell the story. For example, if the first half of a story is full of warmth, humour, and quirky but adorable characters, then the reader will most likely expect more of the same in the second half of the story.

And this is where problems can emerge.

Imagine that story. Now imagine that its second half is full of the sort of grim darkness that would terrify even lovers of post-apocalyptic fiction. Everyone dies horribly, the bad guys win, and there isn’t a joke in sight. Some writers would argue that the sudden change in tone and style makes for an exciting twist. I’m not one of them. Veering so dramatically from the first half of the story, the part that caught the reader’s attention in the first place, is not unlike breaking a promise, and the vast majority of readers are not going to like that. It’s very much a bait and switch, and people generally dislike bait and switches.

Think about how you would feel if you bought tickets to a movie after seeing a heartwarming trailer about puppies and kittens only for the movie to transform into a bloody horror film halfway through. Would you be happy? There are probably a few people who would be, but again the vast majority of people would be upset, angry, and dismayed.

Consider another scenario. You are reading a science fiction story in which the protagonist has an unswerving devotion to logic and reason. As the plot reaches its climax, the protagonist suddenly starts basing their decisions entirely on emotion, forgoing the reason and logic that got them so far in the first place. The odds are pretty good that you’ll be some combination of confused, angry, and dismayed.

A story can be written with exquisite technique, attention, and care and still be disliked by readers if it violates their expectations, particularly if those expectations were established by the story itself. Readers generally don’t like it when their slapstick comedies turn into horror stories, or when their horror stories turn into romantic comedies halfway through.

This isn’t to say that twists can’t happen. If a twist makes sense and is consistent with the internal logic of the story, then readers may very well accept it, even like it. For example, if the protagonist from the science fiction story example given above only started making decision based on emotion after their family was kidnapped and held to ransom by their enemies, then the sudden change in behaviour is plausible. The reader may even empathise and find the battle between logic and emotion fascinating.

Likewise, if sudden twists and turns have been established earlier in the story as being possible, then no one is going to mind when they happen later. For example, in the Game of Thrones series, backstabbing, treachery, and skulduggery have been commonplace right from the start, so people are not going to be surprised when they happen. Of course, not everyone will like the twists and turns (or see them coming), but they aren’t going to think of those twists and turns as a broken promise.

As readers work their way through a story, they will undoubtedly develop expectations. These expectations are often created relatively early on through the story’s plot, characters, settings, and techniques. Deviating too far from these expectations can leave readers feeling as though the writer has broken a promise about what sort of story the story would be, which can result in readers feeling angry, dismayed, and disappointed. That isn’t to say that twists and turns are impossible, but they need to be handled properly.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, education, and other subjects, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

The Hungry Dragon Cookie Company is now Available on Amazon!

The first set of side stories for The Unconventional Heroes Series is finally available on Amazon! Join Timmy, Katie, and the rest of the gang for more adventures of the fun, humorous, exciting, and magical variety. The Hungry Dragon Cookie Company consists of fourteen short stories (totalling roughly 157,000 words) set before, during, and after the first three parts of The Unconventional Heroes Series. If you’ve ever wondered what other hijinks our loveable bunch of would-be heroes has gotten up to, you’re about to find out.

You can get The Hungry Dragon Cookie Company from Amazon here. And here is the blurb:

The Hungry Dragon Cookie Company – it sounds crazy, but it might just be Timmy’s ticket to financial security and a fully renovated castle.

To earn a pardon and avoid prison or execution, Timmy, Grand Necromancer and Lord of Black Tower Castle, has been completing missions for the Council with the help of an elite team of truly heroic individuals.

There’s Katie, his apprentice. She’s brilliant, cunning, and maniacally devious. She’s also ten years old, extremely adorable, and loves billowy robes and the colour pink.

There’s Avraniel, the pyromaniac elf who is responsible for more property damage than anyone in Everton’s history (including dragons, natural disasters, and demon gods).

There’s Gerald, the hyperventilating bureaucrat who is at the top of every monster’s menu.

There’s Old Man, a retired legendary swordsman whose hobbies include bonsai trees, fishing, and the occasional duel to the death.

There’s Amanda, ancient vampire and sophisticate who knows all about the Council’s founding because she was there when it happened.

And then there’s Spot. He’s cute, cuddly, and friendly. He loves tug-of-war and fetch. He’s also a fire-breathing dragon who can devour an entire cow in about thirty seconds.

The Hungry Dragon Cookie Company is a collection of fourteen short stories that take place before, during, and after the first three parts of The Unconventional Heroes Series. Each story hopes to answer important questions like:

How does a company involving cookies and dragons even work?

How did a trans-dimensional, protoplasmic horror and a Grand Necromancer become friends, and how did that horror develop an addiction to cake?

How does an ancient vampire acquire the comely, young virgins she needs to maintain proper vampiric health without looking like a total weirdo?

Answers to all of these questions and more will be revealed. With unconventional heroes like Timmy and the gang around, life is never boring.