I recently posted that I am going to put American Chimera on Kindle rather than as a free book on my blog. Sadly, the day has arrived, and the posts and pages I created for the original book are being taken down (possibly as you read this, possibly just beforehand).
Never fear, though! The book is not gone forever, and it will still be available in a free e-book format. I received my proof copy of the print book in the mail last week, and I think I’ll be ready to publish by June 18th. The cover looked pretty good, and all I’ve been doing so far is reading to make sure all the kerning, spelling, and content is right.
(You wouldn’t believe how often you get a quote mark turned the wrong way! If you’re making a print book for Amazon, definitely get your proof copy and check for things like inverted quotation marks.)
I used to think all those people who got excited by the proof copy of their book were a bunch of nerds, but now that I actually have one of those copies in my hands, I understand how awesome it is. The “I made this” feeling is real. If you’re thinking about whether or not to try publishing (or self publishing), just know that everything they’re telling you is right. Holding that thing in your hands feels really successful.
The e-book and print options for American Chimera will be released this month, hopefully on June 18th! If I need to delay the date, I will let you know.
Once Armageddon was over, the angels gathered up the dust and bones of all the dead people that had ever existed upon the earth. They separated them in piles: good bones or bad bones, faithful dust or unfaithful dust. They placed the pieces into two boxes, then squeezed and distilled until the souls were extracted from the atoms within.
The good souls remained together, happy to exist in unity. They enveloped the earth and lived there forever.
The bad souls evaporated into the Chaos, and there they’ll stay there, alone, until they can forgive themselves and all of creation.
This was written for the 02May2022 99-word challenge on the Carrot Ranch, extraction. I’m in a rather religiously pensive mood, I think, so this came out.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com (I loved this one a lot)
So, it’s 2022, and I guess we’re still here. Mostly.
Here’s a gif with a Pomeranian in it.
And, because of this, it’s time for everyone to start making their plans for the next year and sharing them as if it’s important. Not going to lie, I’ll join in that too because it seems fun.
First off, Collective Fantasy: An Unsavory Anthology releases on January 3rd! I’ve got a story in this upcoming anthology, and it is dope as hell. I say this about every story I write, but I think this one may be the best I’ve ever published to date. “Come and In My Chamber Lye” is a book of witchery and laundry. Snippits incoming soon!
Amazon Link for pre-order – only paperback right now, but the indie publisher usually gets out an audiobook and Kindle version soon after.
We’re also having a “Book Signing” party on January 4th from 8 to 11 pm EST! If you’re in the Salt Lake area, the physical party is going to be at Under the Umbrella bookstore, and there’s a virtual Zoom link (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9630443174) for those who (like myself) are in other places. I’ll try to be on during the early parts, but no promises past 9:30 eastern, given my bedtime!
I’m going to try to be there, but I’m on eastern time so we’ll see how late I can stay awake!
Lastly, there’ll be another story in an anthology coming up in the next few months… I’m super excited to tell you all about that one, too, but it’s still a bit of a secret. Shhh…
Books To Read Lists
Last year (and every year before that), I made a list of books that I’d review every Monday. This list would come out on the first Monday of the month, and I’d coast through on those books for the rest of the month. That gave me 3 or 4 books to read per month.
Though I might not read as much this year as last, this limitation to 3 or 4 books per month meant a couple things. One, and probably the most important, is that not every indie book I read got a slot on the blog. That bothers me because indie books need reviews – including blog reviews – more than the big guys. It also meant a lot of other books didn’t get a spotlight even if they probably should or could have; instead of talking about books I liked, I spent all of August 2021 flogging a series that I hated.
Instead, what I’m going to do is just push out a post when I read a book (assuming I get it written quickly enough). That will both reduce my need to make “to read lists” and also give me more opportunities to post book reviews. It also will mean I don’t have to theme my months.
I want to do more life updates, mostly because blogs with a life update every now and then keep me engaged more. At the same time, I really don’t want to post about other people in my life. We’ll see if I manage to get anything along these lines done.
Religion is extremely important on a personal level to many people, and it affects everyone indirectly if not directly. Conflicts over differing opinions on the essential qualities of deity, creation, and human society as it relates to mystical importance abound in the real world.
Fantasy worlds can be equally convoluted. Even a fantasy world in which everyone is atheist or agnostic is still a world with a designed religion, but it can be elevated to a world with designed intent.
5. Know What Beliefs Real Religions Espouse
People can be led to believe in almost anything (just research QAnon), so it doesn’t really matter how mad you make the premise of your religion. What does matter, however, is how your religion makes adherents feel. How does it encourage your characters to act?
Successful religions have all encourages some form of morality and altruism tied into their beliefs. Do good things for the poor, don’t steal things, and respect your elders are common traits. At its core, a fantasy religion should include elements of good. Why?
Well, I’m glad you asked. See, remember that horrible set of books I read last month? Remember The Tombs of Atuan? In it, the gods only take, harm, and maim, and the king uses the reality of their existence to enhance his power. The gods in Tombs of Atuan don’t do anything good – so what was the use of worshipping them? Solely to prevent evil from happening? That lack of benefit – even lack of a theoretical benefit – to the gods in Tombs of Atuan made the entire religion a bit less believable.
People prefer to believe:
The deity will bring peace and health in return for faith and worship
The deity will support their people group, even at the cost of other people groups
The deity will bring prosperity to the faithful
The deity will enforce a social order, especially one beneficial to the adherents
Read up on how a religion uses these promises in order to attract followers. If you don’t know much about the Abrahamic religions, I encourage boning up on that because of their importance in English language literature. If you’re interested in polytheistic beliefs, study Hinduism, currently the polytheistic religion with the most followers. Strangely enough, I also strongly suggest watching Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath – if nothing else, it shows you how religions can successfully draw people in (though Scientology is a bit crazier than others) by using good acts as a sort of bait.
4. Define Your Society’s and Characters’ Goals
In that last section, we defined what a religion can give an individual. Individuals, though, don’t enforce religious rules and standards: communities do, and communities need reasons to keep the religion going. Society as a whole has goals, just like characters in a book. People often imagine countries as characters, and any group of people can be seen similarly. What does this group want?
Some societies struggle for survival. The Pentateuch (the Torah or first five books of the Old Testament) tell the story of a people fleeing persecution and establishing themselves with the safety God provides. Safety for yourself, even if it means the destruction of others, is a very interesting societal goal. I love that sort of thing because it can be easily twisted to develop a genuinely evil society while still giving the relief of moral goodness. Whether or not God physically did much to help them, the faith at least allowed the Jewish people to band together for their survival.
Remember, society tends to be out for itself. The word “genocide” wasn’t even invented until the 1940’s; even Winston Churchill called the Holocaust a “crime without a name” because nothing had been invented yet. That’s right – people didn’t care about wholesale slaughter of a people group enough to make a word for it until less than 80 years ago. Your society will want to survive and win.
3. Make a Creation Myth
There’s elements to every religion that go beyond creation myths, but almost unilaterally there needs to be a creation story in order for it to work. Part of what has empowered atheism in recent decades is the extremely plausible creation story* that didn’t exist prior to the increased pace of discovery in the Industrial Age. Atheism has always been around, but a “creation myth” was necessary to give it a boost and make it palatable to masses.
The order in which things are created is important in all myths. In Cherokee myths, there is the heavens and there is an expanse of water below. Animals came down from the heavens and dug up the mud from beneath the ocean, then tied the land to the heavens with cords so it wouldn’t sink.
Now, what does that say about the power of animals? How do you think a believer of that story would feel about animals vs. someone who believes animals a passive creation of a human-like god? They’d probably think the animals are much more important!
So what is important in your mythology? Start them early, give them a job, and give them power. Consider when “evil” is created, because that will determine much about the morality of your world.
Your myth can be as crazy as you want.
2. Create a Power Hierarchy
Your religion starts with one prophet, for whatever reason, but then the prophet leaves or dies. What next?
All groups, from companies to unions to religions, must have a hierarchy dedicated to protecting itself. Just like any society, as mentioned in number 4 above, church hierarchy will organize itself to carry out its goals of 1) spread religion and 2) get power for the religion. The Catholic church has a very complex and well-defined heirarchy, and honestly you really can’t get a better example when it comes to religious hierarchy and how it works. They have everything planned out, and it just gets deeper the further you look into it. Though the church hierarchy has done a lot to spread goodness and charity, it has also been used to cover up heinous abuses as well as entrench heinous beliefs. Whether or not the deity of your fantasy religion is good, the believers of the religion are still people, still flawed.
I grew up Baptist, and I didn’t realize there was a church hierarchy beyond just your deacons and a pastor until I got into high school and took history classes. Believe it or not, Baptists have no creed, no real external leadership structure beyond each individual congregation (there are “conventions”, but honestly churches leave those and get kicked out or join all the time, and no one really cares). There’s probably a looser-structured religious group out there, but believe it or not, Baptists have very little structure to their church despite the outsized political power they enjoy.
1. Entrench Your Hierarchy
After you’ve created an organization (or a lack of one, in the case of Baptists and the like), it’s time to look at the part that will really make your religion pop: how does it interact with politics?
There are two main ways you can entrench your hierarchy politically: an outright state with a theocracy (think Iran), or a sort of shadow state that influences government leaders and enforces itself through the power of a deity. A religious hierarchy with sufficient elaboration and order will be able to organize itself effectively and perform both its moral duties and lobby governments of any kind to do its will. Hold souls hostage, get what you want.
If you don’t have a great hierarchy, you’ll probably need to have extremely charismatic individuals that carry a lot of power. As a Baptist, I immediately think Billy Graham. He was crazy influential in politics, and it was probably him who made Baptists so much more powerful. He was able to move masses with a word and cause voting blocs to shift. Following his death, there is no single voice to fill the void, and that is also a risk for a less-organized religion: lack of continuity and lack of singular goal. It’s way harder to entrench loose confederacies for long periods of time.
Do you include a fantasy religion in your works? I’d love to hear about your deities and myths! Let me know more in the comments!
*These creation stories can be entirely right and still don’t disprove most mythos. However, they can be taken alone, which makes them both interesting and powerful.
Music’s important to a lot of people. I know I have excellent taste in music:
Because music is so important to people, I’ve seen it discussed in literature quite a bit. Sometimes, it’s done well – and other times, it’s not.
Here’s what I’ve gleaned over my brief years in life.
5. Keep Poetry in Prose Short
Songs written out in a book appear as poetry, unless you’ve figured out a way to use magic and include actual noise in your pages. Though songs are usually longer than a few lines, you probably don’t want to include the whole thing in your book.
I would say that about 95% of the time, I skip poetry of any sort – including songs – when I’m reading a prose novel. The last 5% is either the REALLY impressive stuff (like the songs in The Lord of the Rings) or something on the order of 3-10 lines long. And I’m someone who reads poetry on my own!
People who don’t study poetry often don’t even like poetry. Poetry in English is strange because the forms are all sorts of weird. In East Asian poetry, the number of syllables and shape of the poem is important and gives it life. In the Romance languages, the words flow and rhyme easily. In English? Our bastard tongue makes either of those types of poetry difficult difficult lemon difficult.*
That means the quicker you get your poem out, the less likely you are to throw off a prose-liking audience. If you want my suggestion for how to include poetry (and thus song fragments) in a book, I would suggest reading Where the Crawdads Sing.
4. Keep the Lyrics Relevant
Poems and songs carry a lot of weight in real life, and it should be even moreso in a novel. When you take the time to include a piece of a song in your mostly prose story, that break in the narrative needs to pack as much punch as possible.
Luckily, poetry can shove a lot into a small space (which I still don’t understand how). While poetry rarely forwards the plot, you have an array of important things you can include to enmesh it more fully with your story. Here’s a brief, brief list of things you can include in your poetry to help glue it into your story more fully.
Foreshadowing (SO common with poetry and songs in books – just read the Tolkien songs in LotR)
Background information (but be careful! it can bog down easily)
Once you get that done, it’s still important to carry through what you wrote. Make the foreshadowing come true, perhaps call back to the song without being explicit. People will carry the words of a poem on their hearts – let the words fall in when you crack their shells rather than shoving the poem in. Soft, yet forceful.
Like I’ve said before, do at least two things at once when you write. Don’t just put in a bit of poetry as a puzzle and expect it to be important. Make it be a part of your story and carry it.
3. Music Doesn’t Define a Character (and yet it does)
Does your character only listen to the darkest things like “Homicidal Retribution” by Dying Fetus**?
Sure, that defines the character… but it could easily define them in the wrong way. Hear me out.
When a character is very into a certain type of music, it doesn’t just define them: it puts them in part of a group. Music is rarely enjoyed by a single person, and the group of people then becomes important. Characters who are loners? Music still puts them in a group. It’ll give them a label.
For good or ill, yes, music and the groups that listen to them are usually defined in middle and high school (or whatever you foreigners call school for people between 12 and 18). The group you associated with in high school will forever have a certain place in your heart, and you’ll see the music you listened to differently from someone who hung out with a different group. Same thing for age – you’ll have different feelings about music from your time period in high school than other people will.
So when your character listens to “Second Death” by Abysmal Torment**, you may see them as a hero of edge, sass, and darkness. Other people will see them as losers. Other people will see them as scary. Clowns like me will be like “lol”.
Your character’s music may define them, but it doesn’t define them in the same way for every reader. It’s such a double edge sword that it must be considered very, very carefully.
2. Music Doesn’t Define Your Setting (and yet it does)
This is going to have a lot of similarities to the above, but it really has more to do with talk about technical things.
A relatively common trope I’ve seen is the use of songs to give a sense of place and, more importantly, time. Just name-drop the Beatles and put in a “Yellow Submarine,” and you’ve set your book in the 1960’s (or you’re trying to say your character listens to old music, but you can see #3 for that). The time period in which certain musical styles, songs, and artists were popular can easily be defined.
At the same time, it’s all just references. References are good for people who get them, but no one else.
Ready Player One is the grand poo-bah of all reference books. Including elements of music as well as everything else, the book makes extensive use of anything 80’s pop culture in attempt to build its world. From what I can gather, it works.
But only for people who already knew the information.
People who weren’t around during the 80’s (such as yours truly) and who haven’t studied up on it will get only a smattering of references. While dropping names of people and songs can help your intended audience feel in the moment, it can cause readers unfamiliar with it some stress. Any time something needs to be researched, it dampens the narrative.
My suggestion is to not reference music unless the information is almost universally known. The Beatles, for instance, are a household name and common knowledge. Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley also maintain a similarly important cultural niche (for now at least). Lyrics are almost impossible for people to catch, as well, so I wouldn’t rely on them as references at all.
In the end, know your audience and make your passage easy to read.
1. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T RELY ON A SONG’S WORDS
I said earlier to avoid lyrics for the purpose of setting. Now I’m going to tell you why you should just avoid putting in lyrics at all:
Yes, that’s right. You can usually get away with referencing things or including small bits of a song, but here’s the thing: every time I’ve seen this done, whether in an indie book or a traditionally published book, it’s usually not… good.
Like with the danger for characters and for settings, music evokes different feelings for different people. Your feel-good music could scream “PSYCHO KILLER” to someone else. Trying to find depth in lyrics is hard (with the exception of American Pie, I guess).
Most people reach their peak “into music” phase as a teen. Many teens define themselves by what music they listen to, and defining a book by a song reminds me of that. It makes me, at least, feel like a book is a teenager. Regardless of the defining song, it seems…
By a long shot, this article has been the one relying least on research and most on my opinion so far. Do you agree with what I’ve said? Have a bone with me to pick? Let me know in the comments!
*difficult difficult lemon difficult is supposed to be making fun of easy peasy lemon squeezy.
**I enjoy listening to the local college station at 5-7pm on Friday night. The DJ is this Aubrey Plaza sounding woman who explains why the maggots on such and such album cover thrills her, and it makes me laugh endlessly. I just have to put up with vomit sounds, oinking, and people singing about putting pig blood on their penises in order to listen to this fantastic, anonymous person.
Welcome to the Witty Nib Writing Club, where we study all things writing and look to hone our craft! This week we look at a subject that can be very touchy to a bunch of people for a bunch of reasons: eating.
Sometimes, when we’re on a writing binge, it can get pretty intense and we don’t want to stop and consume a calorie or two – here’s a few quick recipes that may float your boat.
5. Lazy Nachos
Fair warning: dogs will beg aggressively when you make this.
Chips of any variety
Microwave safe container
Sprinkle chips on the plate, keeping them to a single layer if you can.
Sprinkle cheese evenly over chips.
Microwave like 30 seconds or something to melt the cheese.
Shove it in your face hole.
You can add other things like salsa, black beans, hot sauce, cilantro, or other things to enhance the flavor profile. Or olives if you’re Satan.
4. Creatively Eaten Cereal
Cereal has several calories and other things people need to survive.
Viscous, sticky food (I suggest peanut butter)
Bowl (suggested, not required if you eat this over the sink)
Put a bunch of viscous, sticky food on your spoon.
Pour the cereal somewhere. This can be your hand or a bowl.
Stick the sticky food onto the cereal.
Lick off the cereal and a layer of sticky food.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you run out of cereal or sticky food.
You can change this up by choosing a different viscous, sticky food:
Peanut butter or other nut butters
Corn syrup (bowl required)
Honey (hard, but can be done without a bowl)
Sweetened condensed milk that has been in the fridge overnight
At least a fork, but preferably fork + pancake turner
Melt the butter in the pan.
Dip one side of one slice of bread into the melted butter, then set aside.
Melt some more butter.
Put a slice of bread into the pan.
Put some cheese on that.
Slather some pepper jelly on the non-buttery side of the slice of bread you set aside.
Put the jelly side of the bread down on your cheese.
Squish the sandwich with your fork or pancake turner.
When the cheese is melty and the bottom of the sandwich is browning, flip it.
Brown the buttery side of the jelly bread.
Take it out of the pan.
I guess you don’t have to use the pepper jelly, but screw that. It’s fantastic. Pepper jelly also BELONGS on burgers.
2. Drinkable Cake
Because it’s not technically liquid calories, right?
About a tablespoon butter
Teensy bit of salt
Microwave safe Container (I usually go with a mug)
Melt the butter in the microwave.
Add all the other crap. Amounts don’t matter, but I try to make the flour, sugar, and milk be approximately the same volume.
Adjust ratio of sugar/flour/milk to get better consistency and flavor.
Drink it some more.
Wallow in self hatred.
You can make this chocolate by mixing cocoa powder in with the butter at the beginning. You can’t mix the cocoa in after nearly as well, which I don’t understand because theobromine should be sufficiently hydrophilic, but whatever. Maybe it depends on your cocoa processing and particle size.
You can also get a better texture by replacing some of the milk with an egg. You’ll just have to go for a desired texture rather than any sort of measurement, and it’s really hard to fit it in just a cup.
By adding just a touch of salt and baking powder, you can also put this in the microwave to cook and come out with a burning wad of disappointment instead!
A tasty, calorie-dense disaster that even drunk people can cook.
1 pack of ramen (not a cup noodle)
Some water to cook the ramen in
2 or 3 eggs, it doesn’t matter
A pat of butter
Microwave Safe Bowl
Almost any utensil
Microwave cook the ramen noodles in the bowl. Measure the water or not, it doesn’t matter. I also don’t care how cooked it is, but I suggest at least until the noodles flop.
Drain said ramen. Save the bowl on the side so you don’t have to dirty another one later.
Put the pan at medium heat. Melt butter in the pan.
Put the damn noodles in the pan. Stir them some.
Crack the eggs in the bowl you just cooked the ramen in.
Stir the ramen seasoning into the eggs.
Pour eggs over ramen, then cook it like an omelette.
You can complicate this but make it next level by frying some onions in the butter before you add the noodles. You can do other, fancier stuff, but let’s be honest and admit we’re not making a Rammelette to be fancy. We’re making it because we’re desperate and not wearing enough pants to go to Denny’s.
Technically, you don’t have to cook the noodles, but it just doesn’t have the same effect. You just don’t have to dirty a bowl.
Do you have any go-to, super-easy meals or foods that you enjoy when you’re busy? Tell me about it in the comments!
Welcome to the Witty Nib Writing Club, where we study all things writing and look to hone our craft! This week we’re examining something that can be jarring when people read it: bathrooms and lack of bathrooms. I’ve read plenty of bathroom scenes that are pretty sh*tty, so come right in, sit on the throne, and have a read.
5. Consider that Most People Pee and Poop
Believe it or not, most people happen to have bodily functions that end with excretion of undesirable by-products. And, even more unfortunately, most humans experience several instances per lifetime of food to excrement processing time being less than desirable.
Do your characters even think about going to the bathroom? Does no one experience the urge, whether at critical or non-critical moments? Isn’t that unrealistic?
When you read about someone going to the bathroom, it’s often meant to give one of the following feelings:
Some kind of sex thing
Give a character an excuse to not be on screen
Get a character somewhere it’s just them and the narrator
Bathroom scenes need to accomplish something, or they’re just a waste of space. If the scene doesn’t add anything to the story, people will notice. People remember poop stories because they’re so jarring; don’t make an empty scene be the thing readers remember.
4. So You Want to Add Grittiness?
If you want to add grittiness to your story, start by taking out the TP and replacing it with sandpaper.
More seriously, grittiness of feel is one step away from putting in a scene solely for “realism”. “Realism” The difference between grittiness and an attempt at realism is worldbuilding.
Why is opening your sphincters different in your world? Do you live in Arizona and worry about scorpions in the toilet on the regular? Are you in space where everyone and their mother (even if dear ol’ mom won’t admit it) wonders how you use the poop chute in zero G? Those types of situations are things you could do to reinforce your world.
You may even use the opportunity to reveal the stringency of social norms. Let’s say your characters have to perform a makeup regimen on the regular, and deviation from this protocol will cause major social blowback. That’s worldbuilding. That’s grit, even if it’s not bloody awfulness.
And, then, you can use a bathroom while a character’s bleeding out, adding some grittiness in that there’s no other option or it’s a terrible place. Bathrooms make us automatically feel a little dirty (and by us I mean most people), so adding dirt to a vulnerable situation can often make it feel grittier.
3. Are Your Characters Into Bathroom Sex Things?
Pretty sure this is a thing some people are into, also sure it’s not me.
However, this is something you’ll need to think about if you ever have two characters in the bathroom at the same time. I’ve read several stories where there’s two women in a bathroom, and that (at the moment) doesn’t seem so weird because society has taught us it’s not weird. But when you have two men who do any talking – ANY talking – in the bathroom, there’s a weird feeling that leaves the question of eroticism or sparks open.* A girl and a boy in the same bathroom? Slow down, Nelly, that’s gonna require some ‘splainin.
Enough people appear to have a sex thing/expectation with bathrooms that you may want to consider how to mitigate it (unless, of course, your raunchy characters are fixin’ to bump nasties). Battlestar Galactica (the new version) includes bathroom scenes with teeth brushing and face washing with men and women using the same room, and they do a great job taking their super-sexed-up characters and somehow showing greater-than-real-life equality between men and women with their weird bathroom scenes.
So yes: if you want sex clues in a bathroom, go for it. It’s easy. Otherwise, think about it and get Beta Readers to help you figure out if there’s some lascivious feelings laced up in that mess.
*I’ve heard this mostly from my husband and an interesting conversation about the placement of the urinals in the library bathroom during Korean Music Appreciation class in undergrad. You may disagree with my friends from Korean Music Appreciation class.
2. Give a Character an Excuse to be Off Screen
This one’s pretty common.
Spy says “Gotta take a piss,” or a woman says, “I’ve got to go to the powder room.” Next thing you know, they’ve left through the bathroom window and come back with the mafia to kill the hero. Alternatively, tne character in the group leaves and everyone else instantly starts telling secrets the missing individual can’t know.
But be careful: this sort of thing is common enough that it may be noticed. When a character leaves to go to the bathroom, a reader may get this twinge of “Ok, so why are they going to be absent right now?” Taking a piss is rarely the point of a bathroom in a book, and getting a character off screen can provoke a reader to pay attention or start being suspicious. Use this to your advantage by allowing for the hint, but be sure to let the absence pay off. Otherwise, it’s just “realism for the sake of realism” again.
1. Get Your Character ALONE
My favorite instance of this is inThe Long, Long Trailer, a 1954 film by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. It’s not the same characters you know of Lucy and Ricky, but they’re “Tacy” and “Nicky”. They buy a long, long trailer to live in while the travel the country, and it progressively makes them both miserable.
In the bathroom scene, however, Nicky (Desi Arnaz) tries to take a shower. He can’t seem to get the shower head to suit him, and everything keeps falling. It’s a wonderful symbol of his growing resentment, of his marriage, and of his life. It’s humorous while at the same time foreboding and telling.
The best “alone in the bathroom scenes” have a definitively literary examination of the story. It adds to the characterization and plot in such a way that nuances enter your mind, even in subtle, sneaky ways. Get your character alone, and let them pour out secrets while they’re in a very secret place.
Have you ever written a sh*tty scene? Remember any that you’ve read or watched? Dump something in the comments for the rest of us to read while we’re taking our own dumps!
Welcome to the Witty Nib Writing Club, where we study all things writing and look to hone our craft! This week we look at something I personally have struggled to get better at: writing about technical things.
Do you want to write a book in which cars take a central role? A fighting style? A complex system of magic? All of those things can get technical, and there’s a fine line between not enough and too much information!
5. Do Some Research
Unless you are already an expert on the subject, you’re going to want to bone up on what you’re writing. Let’s say your main character uses a bow to hunt or, like Katniss from The Hunger Games, kill people. You might, then, want to know words like “fletching” or “nock” and what that means. And there’s two ways to do your research.
One is to experience it yourself. Go to a shooting range and get someone to teach you about bowhunting. Your experience will sharply deepen your ability to understand your characters. It will also help you speak with some authority on your subject.
Unfortunately, gaining real life experience is often expensive, time consuming, or completely unavailable. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to read as much as you can, look at pictures and – most definitely – watch YouTube. There’s tons of videos of people doing sword fighting, bow hunting, almost anything that ordinary people won’t be experts on. Keep a list of resources, and follow some of the tips in my Research post.
If you’re doing a fantasy or hard science fiction system, of course no one else knows what you’re doing; the difficulty of this research is looking into yourself and establishing the rules of your world’s system. This can be hard because you’re inventing the knowledge yourself!
4. Establish the Limits of Your Knowledge
Unless you’re an expert who can’t be easily questioned or pressed about their knowledge, you want to better understand where you are and how much you know. There are two main reasons you should do this: one, and the most obvious, is to see if you’re ready to write extensively about a technical subject.
Another, and the more devious, is to avoid the Dunning Kreuger effect. This is when a person who doesn’t have any expertise considers themselves to have more knowledge than they really do. Think about the last time you talked with someone about driving, and you’ll realize almost everyone says they’re an above-average driver. That statistically can’t be true. And, what’s worse, I believe I’m an above-average driver and there’s no reason for me to think that.
We tend to over-inflate our skills when we think about things we’re just ok at or even just dabbling in. When we’re talking about our driving skills, it probably won’t affect us much (as it never has). When we’re writing a book, though, it does matter. Establishing how much you know and how much is possible for you to know will help you avoid saying incorrect things, help you establish a path forward, and decide when your research stopping point will be.
3. Figure Out Your Target Audience’s Typical Knowledge
Most fans aren’t going to be like the Game of Thrones superfans who know more about the setting than the author. You really can’t write for those people because you’ll always be wrong. But, if you’re writing any specific genre (which, let’s be honest, you’re inevitably writing some genre), fans of those books have an idea of what to expect. If you’re writing a steampunk story and put your characters in polyester, the fans are going to call you out on that. If you have a medieval fantasy and your character uses a steam engine, your readers won’t stand for it.
One way you can do this is be familiar with your genre. If you’re writing historical fiction, how do other authors handle the information about the time period? How do other people review this author’s book, especially when it comes to analysis of the period pieces? How do people of that time period write about themselves?
Another wonderful thing the internet and modern technology is extreme connectivity. You can look up forums in which people discuss the topic or books relevant to your interests. Connect with people and figure out what other people know.
2. Less > More
If there’s anything I can’t stress enough in this article, it’s this one:
Don’t. Over. Do. It.
Yes, you just gained all this information and have thought critically for untold hours. You’ve just decided exactly why your plot will work given the constraints you’ve researched. You’ve established where your readers’ knowledge ends and yours begins.
And now, I swear to you, you don’t want to go much further than your average readers’ knowledge – if at all.
When one is reading a novel, we’re reading for characters and plot. We’re reading for themes, symbols, metaphors. Technical information gets in the way very easily.
If your reader wanted to know the extra tech, historical, or other info that you’ve gathered, they’d have done the research themselves. And, you know, there will be readers who know that info. You don’t need to tell them about it as long as you’re self consistent. Consistency is what you do your research for, not for your writing.
What I’ve experienced happening with runaway explanations of technical information is that they either bore a reader or they make them feel stupid. Use the most common terms as you can without being incorrect. Don’t talk about numbers if you can avoid it. Even if you’re talking about cars, it’s probably best to avoid things like horsepower or torque unless essential to the plot.
Most of all: don’t brag or act like you’re bragging. There’s nothing worse than feeling debased by reading a book.
1. BETA READERS
You’ve done all of the above. You think you’re spot-on. But it’s not over!
All sorts of guesstimates about your average reader can be off. Once you do enough research, it’s hard to go back to where you were before. For example, I recently wrote a story that includes 19th century cannons, and I used cannon terminology like “caisson” and “limber”. Both these words are common in books about the Civil War or the Napoleonic Wars, but when I tested it with a purely fantasy audience, I got a lot of “wtf” and “this is confusing – I’m going to ignore this word.”
That means I estimated using the wrong standard! I shouldn’t have chosen a Civil War buff as my standard audience. The people willing to read the book showed me that. A test audience will help you figure out just how technical you need to be – and it’s almost never as technical as you believe it should.
What obstacles have you come across when reading or writing technical things? Have any opinions about info dumps? Let me know in the comments!