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One of the most important things you can do as a writer is to constantly add tools to your toolbox. What do I mean by tools? A story can be divided into several areas:

  • Technique
  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Ideas and themes

Adding new tools mean diversifying and improving your skills in these different areas.

Technique is all about the technical aspects of writing. How large is your vocabulary? How good is your punctuation? How varied and fitting is your sentence and paragraph structure? Adding tools in this area is all about improving the mechanics of your writing. The thing about technique is that although readers will rarely comment on the difference between good technique and exceptionally good technique, they will almost definitely notice if your technique does not meet a basic standard.

Adding tools when it comes to the plot can be done by learning how to write different kinds of plots. If you’re someone who likes to write straightforward plots, then perhaps try something with a bit of mystery and intrigue in it. If you’re someone who always goes for complex, mind-bending plots, then try something simpler and more direct.

Characters are an incredibly important part of any story, but it is not unusual for writers to default to the sorts of characters they are most familiar with. For instance, someone might only write grizzled, hard-boiled detectives. Alternatively, someone might only write cheerful, upbeat teens. Adding more tools to your toolbox means being able to write more kinds of characters.

Setting refers not only to the actual setting of your story but also to all of the world-building that goes on behind the scenes as well. Writers will often gravitate toward a particular setting and world-building style (e.g., a hard science fiction setting with an expositional world-building style), so why not try something a little different? Consider writing something in a very different setting in which the world building occurs in a different way than you’re used to.

The ideas and themes of a story are not always at the forefront of a story but what they are and how they are communicated can have a lasting impact on the reader. If you’re someone who likes to focus on themes of nobility and self-sacrifice that are explored through the fates of the characters in your stories, you could try looking at themes like friendship and family that are communicated through the relationships between characters instead.

One of the questions you might be asking is: why bother with all of this? There is certainly an argument to be made for sticking with what you do best. However, consider this analogy. Imagine you’re a carpenter. You’re the best carpenter in the world when it comes to using a hammer, but you can’t use a saw to save your life. Are you really a good carpenter? Aren’t you limited in what you can do if you can’t use a saw and other tools? Of course, you are.

Having a limited number of tools to draw upon as a writer will naturally limit what sort of stories you can write. Even if you don’t use certain tools very much or very frequently, simply having access to them gives you options that you wouldn’t otherwise have. In genres like fantasy, warmth and humour are often juxtaposed with tragedy and horror. Having a glaring weakness in one area can render you hard work elsewhere moot.

It is almost always better to be able to do something and not have to do it than to have to do something and not be able to do it.

I doubt there is a writer alive who has ever complained about having too many tools at their disposal. Don’t walk around with just a hammer. Bring a toolbox.

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 Normal Guy

One of the ways that I like to create humour in my stories is through the perspective of the ‘normal guy’. Obviously, the normal guy doesn’t actually have to be male or even all that normal. What matters is that they are more normal, at least at first glance, than everyone else around them.

Jake from The Galactic Peace Series is a good example of this. He grew up on what was basically a farming world. His childhood was fairly normal and so was much of his young adulthood prior to being expelled from naval training over an incident involving a space station and an attempt to produce alcoholic beverages. That last bit is very clearly not normal, yet Jake nevertheless comes across as the quintessential normal guy due to the other characters.

Don’t believe me? Let’s just look at some of those other characters.

Orgex is a C’thark, a tentacle monster whose culture believes in the importance of hats, volleyball, and dismemberment. Not only is his appearance alien to the reader but his attitudes are also extremely alien as well. Orgex thinks it is completely normal to threaten to eat people’s families, and he has no problems dismembering his foes and beating them to death with their own limbs.

Pana is a Pailian. She might look like a fairy, but her attitudes is similarly alien to most readers. She thinks it is okay to threaten people with deadly weaponry for pizza pockets, and she has no respect whatsoever for the concept of not bringing weapons to a peaceful negotiation.

A lot of the humour from The Galactic Peace Series arises from the conflicts between Jake, Orgex, and Pana. Jake, of course, is the stand-in for humanity, and he holds attitudes that are not all that dissimilar to most people. It is this normalcy, and his conflicts with the two aliens who are decidedly not normal (by human standards) that generates humour.

Jake looks at Orgex and Pana, and he struggles to understand why they do and think the things they do. We have all been in his shoes before, struggling to understand other people. It’s just that in his case, galactic peace may hinge on his decision making. And just as we can find humour in our own struggles, we can find humour in his.

And like so much of humour, exaggeration plays a role here. In our lives, we might struggle to understand why one of our co-workers likes their coffee a particular way. Jake struggles to understand how Orgex and Pana can come to blows over which is the greatest human food ever created (for reference, Orgex thinks it is pancakes whereas Pana is a supporter of pizza) or why they think arming themselves to the teeth for a diplomatic conference is okay.

At the same time, the ‘normal guy’ idea works the other way. For as alien as Orgex and Pana are, they are also very familiar. One of Orgex’s defining traits is his pride over his volleyball skills, often to the point of absurdity. As a gigantic multi-tentacled alien, he is basically unbeatable at volleyball, yet he still revels in each victory. We all know people like that. In fact, we are all people like that in some respects since there are things we pride ourselves on being good at despite how silly they might seem to other people.

Likewise, Pana’s tendency to react with threats and skulduggery to most other people is not totally alien to us either. There are people who do that, and seeing an alien do those same things can also be reassuring. It tells the readers that the aliens are aliens… but not without some similarities to us. Indeed, it would be hard to find anything funny in a story if we didn’t see at least some of ourselves and our lives in it.

Having a ‘normal guy’ in your story can help foster humour. Yet at the same time, there can be a little bit of the normal guy in even the most alien of characters, which can also help create humour as well. Just remember that the things we find funniest are often the things we can see ourselves and our lives in.

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.


Galactic Diplomacy is now Available on Amazon!

Galactic Diplomacy, the second part of The Galactic Peace Series, is finally here! The adventures of Jake Smith continue as everyone’s favourite diplomat from The Galactic Peace Committee faces yet another round of diplomatic mayhem with an assortment of aliens that vary from cute and cuddly to utterly homicidal. Can Jake survive? Does he even want to? If he does, it won’t be easy. There are killer robots, tree people, and aliens who are ready and willing to go to war over volleyball and pizza pockets.

You can get Galactic Diplomacy from Amazon here, and here is the blurb:

Man versus machine. Synthetic versus organic. The galaxy has seen countless conflicts between these factions. Civilisations have fallen, worlds have burned, and stars have died.

Clearly, the Galactic Peace Committee has more work to do.

As a proud diplomat of the Galactic Peace Committee, Jake Smith is all too familiar with the difficulties involved in keeping the peace between men and machines. From the petty – like convincing a robotically enhanced organic to join a gang of robots – to the absolutely horrible – like killer robots with plasma chainsaws for arms – Jake has seen it all… and somehow managed to survive even if there’s usually a lot of running, screaming, and bashing things to death with pieces of furniture involved.

And, well, if sometimes there’s a little bit of collateral damage, what’s a planet or two between friends?

But Jake’s life isn’t all about evil killer robots. There’s his killer robot secretary, and she’s only kind of evil. There are also volleyball-loving aliens with a penchant for dismemberment and aliens with advanced technology who are perfectly happy using that technology to rob people of their pizza pockets. Yes, there’s plenty of villainy to go around, both minor and major.

And then there are the tree people.

The galaxy is a weird and wonderful place. Unfortunately for the brave – some would say suicidal – diplomats of the Galactic Peace Committee, it also tends to be less than peaceful.

On Psychometrics and Individual Differences

Psychometrics and individual differences are the parts of psychology that are devoted to measuring people. This measurement is most commonly concerned with gauging either intelligence or personality through some form of test, but it can also be applied to a host of other attributes (e.g., social skills, emotional intelligence, clinical practice, etc.). However, this measurement should not be carried out recklessly.

Before a test can be used, there are three conditions that must be satisfied:

  1. Be certain that what you want to measure is actually measurable
  2. Be certain that you can measure it accurately and consistently
  3. Be certain that measuring it is useful

If you cannot meet all three of these conditions, then you may end up doing more harm than good when using a particular test.

These three conditions are related to three very important concepts in psychology:

  1. Measurability
  2. Reliability
  3. Validity

The order in which they are given here is not a coincidence. For a test to be valid, it must first be reliable. And for a test to be reliable, what it is testing must first be measurable. Of course, at the moment, I’m writing mostly in jargon. Let’s simplify things.

Read more…

A Small Change…

Over the next day or so, you might notice a small change. The Galactic Peace Committee will soon have a slightly different cover reflecting the impending arrival of a sequel. Beneath the main title is a subtitle: The Galactic Peace Series Part One.

As you can imagine, this means that part two is not far off.

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.