The Big Blog Question: Quantity vs. Quality

Choose Two: Quantity of posts, Quality of posts, or Your Non-Blogging Life.

Well, one of those is probably going to take priority (unless you’ve gotten past that ‘needing food’ conundrum), so the rest of blogging is just figuring out how to deal with balancing the other two.  Here’s some hints and tips I’ve learned to help with that balance.

Schedule Posts Ahead of Time

By scheduling your posts ahead of time, you can bank up time for when you need to be busy.  If Saturdays are your blog days, you can make all your blog posts then and not worry throughout the week.

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As well, many people can work faster when they’re on a roll.  If you write all your blog posts at once, you won’t have to get into or out of the mood as much.

Keep Most Posts Below 1,000 Words

The longer your post, the more likely people will get bored somewhere in the middle.

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By limiting the size of your posts, you reduce the chances for boredom and, thus, reduce the chances that your reader will leave before finishing.

As well, limiting the size of your post will help you decide the scope.  If you don’t have a scope, you might end up with enormous articles that take too much of your valuable time.  Remember – you can do a lot of work, but that will eat away at the time you could be writing your books or other publishable goods.  Keep scope creep down and cut your posts off when they need to be.

Decide On A Pattern

Do you post weekly?  Daily?  Something else?  Once you’ve figured out your routine, decide on what kind of posts you’ll make.

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I post daily, and right now I follow a week-by-week schedule as follows:

Monday – Book Review
Tuesday – Tanka Tuesday (Poetry practice!)
Wednesday – Prompt Showcase
Thursday – Blogging/Writing tips or Longer Stories
Friday – Carrot Ranch Prompt (Flash fiction!)
Saturday – Sammi Scribbles Prompt
Sunday – #CountVlad Guest Posts from Dracula

Because I follow this schedule, I know which posts I can write ahead of time.  I know what formats and types of information needs to be written.  This can almost act as a prompt, helping to give me a start on each of the posts.  That takes care of the hardest part – just starting.

Don’t Waste Your Readers’ Time

If you wouldn’t want to read the article, you can bet your bottom dollar that other people wouldn’t want to.  If you start an article or story and can’t stand it, think about if it’s worth your time to finish it.

If it’s a very short article, like a prompted flash fiction, you might as well finish it.  But if you’re prepping your major articles, stop before you think it’s going to fall apart.  Save what you’ve written and try to repurpose it – WordPress let’s you have plenty of drafts, so make use of them!

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How do you save time?  Are there methods you use to ensure quality?  I’d love to hear about some of your tips in the comments!

5 Ways Getting Personal Can Affect Your Blog

Now before you think this post is going to get raunchy, settle down.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

This is about when your Real Life intersects with your blog (and perhaps business, depending on the importance of your blog) life.

5. Posts About Your Life Let People Connect with You

It’s all over the ‘how to blog’ or ‘how to market’ world – you, yourself, are a major part of what needs to be sold.  If people like you, they might be more likely to buy your stuff.  They might just want to hang out with you ’cause you’re cool.

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Cool as f*ck.

By depicting your journey, whether it be in writing or video gaming or even mommy-blogging, you can also elicit help and advice from people who know what to do.

Or, if you get famous like J.K. Rowling, people will flock to those posts and think they know you.  It’ll give superfans something to focus on without mobbing you, y’know?

One of my online heroes is MRE reviewer Steve1989.  He’s one of those people so invested in his hobby that he’ll probably die of it.  And, surprisingly, he’s one of the few internet famous people we know very little about beyond the fact that he didn’t have health insurance in 2016.  You could use this as proof that you don’t need to be personal to get famous, but then again you’re comparing yourself to a guy who’ll eat a 150 year old cracker on Youtube.

If you don’t want to be extreme, consider letting people into your life a little more!

4. Your Memoir Stories Are Great!

This is probably the benefit of being personal that I take advantage of most.  If you’ve had an interesting life or are basically cursed to live through unlikely circumstances, you can write something that people don’t even realize is real.

Your connection to your own life allows you to tap deeply into the emotions.  You can play off relationships, events, and knowledge from your own life.  You can make that time your great-aunt challenged your mom to a pudding contest seem much more intense than if you wrote about some vague, unreal people.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Not only that, you don’t have to come up with a plot for a memoir-esque tale.  On a day where you just can’t put something together, drawing from your own life can give your writing that extra ‘boost’ so you can finish it.

3. Make use of “Stay Tuned!” Moments In Your Life

Do you follow people and root for their success?  Do you look forward to posts about “I published my book” or “I published a short story”?  I do.

A lot of people want to watch you to see how you might succeed.  There’s this secret hope that you’ll crack into the published and/or famous world, then it’ll all seem possible.  And, as long as you don’t give up, people will want to check in and see how you’re doing.

Unless you give up on a goal or die, your life story is basically constant episodes of a soap.

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Every episode leaves a reader at a cliffhanger, and every post gives this need to keep following up.

2. Heckin’ Cathartic

Life sucks hard sometimes.

And, sometimes, it can feel pretty good to just get something off your shoulders.  In 2018, Hurricane Florence had my house clearly in her sights, and I was feeling pretty wary what with all the intense forecasts.  I wrote a lot of frantic, overly-zealous articles about getting ready for the storm (which last-minute zipped around me).

Even so, people online are usually nice and can help you out.  Sometimes they can be a bag of awful, but that’s when you can bring down the ban-hammer and know they won’t be back in that guise, at least.

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So write about your life.  Put what you need to say in order to move on.  Accept what comfort randos give you.

1. Sometimes, It’s Easy

I hinted to this one earlier in #4, but it’s true.  Writing about yourself can be easy.

Copying is terrible, since it’s basically cheating if you don’t cite (and sometimes if you do). However, you can copy your own life and no one will give a crap.  No one’s going to ban you from art school for writing about yourself and taking credit for it.  And, yet, it’s kind of like copying a story from a known source!

So use your life as a cheat sheet.  Write what you know doesn’t just improve your quality – it can also just give you an easy time.

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Have you shared personal stories or updates on your website?  Have you found any additional bonuses or – perhaps – downsides to sharing your own life story?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Worldbuilding in Fiction – Geography 1: Maps

While setting usually doesn’t make a story in and of itself, a well-defined setting that is fitting with its plot can make a story far more rich and engaging. At the same time, a poorly thought out story can confuse readers as to locations, distance, and travel.

One book with fantastic geographical features, a well-thought out set of locations, and gorgeously written pieces on travel and setting is Watership Down by Richard Adams. A classic novel written for children but enjoyable on a different level for adults, Watership Down follows a set of male rabbits as they leave their home warren in search of a new one.

So why praise this book, a book about anthropomorphic rabbits, on its geography? Don’t many fantasy books have maps and plans and fantastic journeys? Does not the average fantasy writer have a much wider variation of settings, with grander and more pointed importance?

Perhaps. But what Adams does in Watership Down is make the journey come to life. The obstacles that are carefully and purposefully placed are intrinsically important to the story. The lay of the land, the placement of roads and railroad tracks, the idea of the existence of an ocean, and the presence of enemy forces are all important to the way the story plays out. It’s one of those stories that feels like the place existed before the plot.

So how can this lesson be applied?

Even if a reader won’t keep up with exactly all the directions and landmarks of a place, they can keep up with whether or not your travel times make sense. If you travel between the same two places and take half the time in one instance, there better be a reason!

It is easy to forget, though. A reader can focus on the inaccuracies in subjects they care about, whereas the writer must be concerned with inconsistencies in every realm. One way to make your geography and travel make more sense as you write is to make a to-scale map to help remind you.

Making A Rough To-Scale Map

A functional map doesn’t need to be very in-depth, just have a rough outline and enough room to write details as you figure them out.

If you have already written your story, it’s always a nice idea to make a map to be certain that your geography was consistent. Read over your work and take notes like “Main character traveled from the city to the village in 2 hours.” Collect all geographic information you can. Below is a table of cities and travel times that I came up with for a modern setting.

Travel Time in Minutes by Car

New Alcaran Karlotte Port Rumber Davistown
New Alcaran 38 89
Karlotte 38 51 46
Port Rumber 89 51 18
Davistown 46 18

In your book, you may not have so many details concerning your cities or places. Don’t worry, that’ll be fine. You’ll have more leeway to change up your places and positions.  If you have as much data as I have above, you’ll easily be able to tell if your story’s geography makes sense – you’ll see why later – but you won’t be able to adjust and make a different map.

Gather Your Materials

To make a useful map that makes sense, you can take a long time measuring distances (take the travel times above, figure out a scale with a ruler), or you can cheat with the following materials:

  • Materials for Map MakingPushpins – the number of these should match the number of locations on your map.
  • Wide rubber bands – the amount of these could vary depending on the distances and amount of data you have, so I suggest having more than you think you’ll need.  I guess you could also use string, but you’d have to tie knots and that could mess up your scale and be tedious.
  • Ruler – to help you determine the scale
  • Scissors
  • Paper(s)
  • A bulletin board would be nice, but I’m cheap and lazy and just used a couch (don’t tell anyone…).
  • Permanent Marker, Pencil and Pen
  • Scanner and GIMP or Photoshop if you want to make it pretty later

The first batch of steps is determining the scale.

  1. Label your pushpins using the permanent marker so you can identify which landmark or city is which.  I numbered mine 1 through 4.
  2. Cut the rubber bands so that they’re flat strips rather than curved bands.
  3. Choose the two landmarks with the largest distance between them.  Poke each of these pushpins through the ends of a rubber band.
  4. Measure the distance between the center of the two pushpins with a ruler.  Divide the distance by travel time (see note at the bottom of the page for multiple travel methods) to get your scale.  Calculate the length of each trip in rubber-band-distance by multiplying this number with the travel time (as seen in the table above).  You’ll come up with a new table like this one.  My scale was 19 cm/89 minutes.
    Rubber Band Distance in Centimeters

    New Alcaran Karlotte Port Rumber Davistown
    New Alcaran 8.1 19
    Karlotte 8.1 10.8 9.8
    Port Rumber 19 10.8 3.8
    Davistown 9.8 3.8
  5. Cut pieces of rubber band so that your trips are the right length.  For instance, I cut an 8.1 cm rubber band for New Alcaran to Karlotte.  Then, poke the two appropriate pushpins through the rubber band.  You may end up with some pushpins that have collected several rubber bands.
  6. You’ll have what looks like a mess of rubber and pushpins.  Choose one of the pushpins connected to your longest rubber band and poke it through your piece of paper.  Push the other end of the longest band into the paper, keeping it taut (or, if your travel must necessarily wind, leave it appropriately loose).  Here it is helpful to have a bulletin board so your pushpins will stay in place in your piece of paper.
  7. From there, take a connecting pushpin and extend so the rubber band is taut but not forcefully stretched and push it into your piece of paper.  Keep going until all the pushpins have been inserted.  You can rearrange to get everything onto one page, or just add paper to use multiple pages in a pinch.

Push Pin MapSo, as you can see to the left, what I made was pretty simple – only four landmarks, or cities, as per my plan.  More cities will take more time and be more confusing, but it can be sorted out.  These towns worked out nicely, with taught lines between them.

This is also where you’ll find out if your geography makes sense or not.  If you have any three cities that connect with each other, your bands will form a triangle.  However, you may experience floppy lines that you can’t get rid of.  Why?

The rule for triangles is that the lengths of two sides added together must be longer than the remaining side.  So, let’s say that my Port Rumber to New Alcaran rubber band length was 20 cm.  This is longer than the sum of Port Rumber to Karlotte and New Alcaran to Karlotte, or 19.9 cm.  If I don’t want to add ‘difficult terrain’ or have my cities be in a straight line, I’ll need to re-think my travel distances.

You may have cities with only one connection, so you can move those around until you have what you want.  If in the end you have nice, straight lines, everything makes sense and you can continue to the next step.

The next set of steps are how to draw your map and have more than just a piece of paper with holes in it.Map Scan

  1. If you have a lot of connections, consider drawing penciled lines beneath your connecting bands.  That way you have a nice guide once the pins are gone.
  2. Pull out your pushpins and, using a pen or pencil (pencil can be erased, so I’d go with that), draw the coastlines, rivers, roads, and any other feature that you think important for your map.
    (You can depart from what you saw exactly with the rubber bands – in fact, natural barriers make it preferable for humans to build curving roads!  You can see a scan of what I drew to the right, complete with a few leftovers of what was on the back of the page.)
  3. Get a new sheet of paper and poke new holes if you don’t like what you come up with and can’t erase it all.
  4. If you want to stop here, label your pushpin holes with city names and call it a day.
  5. If you want to make your map pretty, scan in your lines to the computer or ink them with a pen.

Making Your Map Pretty

You can try inking your page and carefully drawing your letters, which is a good option and can lead to some gorgeous maps, but I’m not going to detail that process here.  You can take some ideas from my computerized process into account, though.

I have Photoshop CS6 because my company has a contract that allowed me to get it without paying from my own pocket, but you can achieve the same quality of work using the free program GIMP.

Map LabelsIn Photoshop, I opened my scanned sheet and shrunk it down to make a smaller file (and a smaller photo to work with for a website space).  After that, I added a new layer (CTRL+Shift+N for those on PCs).  On this new layer, I used a 1-px black brush to follow the outline of the coast.  You can alternatively use color selection on the background layer to re-draw your coasts or roads, but this act can give you the chance to make a more detailed coast or fix some of the problem areas on your map.

I then added another layer, switched the brush to orange, and drew in the roads.  If I were actually going to use this map, I might consider adding a few more roads to nowhere, perhaps making up a few random towns as I went.

Anyway, after that, I made the labels using the text function, then the key by making a straight line of the appropriate color next to my labels.  After that, I cropped the picture to cut off the edges, made a new layer underneath that was white, and deleted the old background to get rid of all the trash from the backside of my paper.  Map Colored

You can stop here, or you can add color or more details.  I suggested above to put your roads and coasts on a different layer because, here, you can copy the coast and paste to a new layer.  This will allow you to select either land or sea to mess with.  You can use the magic wand to select, for instance, just the land pieces.  From that, you can use brushes however you want and not worry about coloring outside the lines.

You can see to the right that I chose to make Port Rumber and New Alcaran port towns on the coastlines.  I used green round brushes with 60% opacity to make the trees around New Alcaran, then 100% opacity left slanted brush to make the eastern shrubbery color.  100% opacity gray brushes created the city color.

For the ocean, I paint bucketed blue then used the magic wand to select the ocean.  For a quick wavy look, I filtered in the oil paint effect then blurred it just enough that you couldn’t tell that’s what I’d done.  Spending more time on this could have given you a better look, but I think that’s pretty good considering the effort I gave it.

All told, this took me about an hour.

You can also make these maps look old, or give them a photographic feel (I have an example of this below).  This will probably take significantly more time, but it can feel rewarding once a major effort is complete.

Now… I didn’t make up these distances.  I copied the driving times from Google maps for four cities in the San Francisco Bay Area and, from that, constructed my map.

Map Side by SideSo, as you can see, if you have appropriate travel distances when you make your rubber bands, your distances between your towns on paper will be roughly what they have to be.  If your map cannot work, you may want to make some changes to your geography to keep everything aligned.

Making Your Maps Super Pretty

I’ve made several maps.  Below, see a world map I made to go with my novel. I tried to give it a futuristic feel.  Whereas the above took me an hour, this took me several.  I find this to be my prettiest, so that’s why it’s here.

World Map

I’ve also made other maps for a more fantastical setting, with older appearance.  It’s one of my favorite parts of worldbuilding, so I hope you can enjoy map-making too.

Notes

What if your travel times aren’t all the same?  For instance, what if your characters are flying on dragonback between two landmarks, but riding camels between a couple of others?  You can take that into account with your scale.  Divide the speed of the ‘normal’ (or most common) travel method by your second travel method to get your relative speed.  To get the length of your rubber band, multiply your travel time by your scale (described earlier) and then by your relative speed.  Here I’ve tabulated the speeds of several common travel methods.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to determine the airspeed velocities of dragons and unladen swallows on your own time.

Transportation Method Speed in mph Speed in kph Notes
Ships
WWII Era Aircraft Carrier 37.4 60.2 Other battleships in the group can be estimated at the same speed
Modern Era Aircraft Carrier 38.7 62.2 Other battleships in the group can be estimated at the same speed
Modern Ocean Liner 25 40
Spanish Galleon 9.2 14.8 As in pirate ships
The Mayflower 2 3.2 Other old sailing ships
Land Vehicles
Car on Highway 65 104.6
Car in Cities 25 40.2
Steam Engine Train 78 125 Technological developments may alter this. Estimate for late 1800’s.
Electric Train 300 482 Technological developments may alter this.
Subways 33 52
Bicycle 15.5 24.9
WWII Era Tank 28 45 M4-Sherman
Modern Era Tank 45 74.2 M1-Abrams
Aircraft
Commercial Jet 591 951
Modern Fighter Jet 1385 2228 F22-Raptor
WWII Era Fighter Plane 400 643 P51-Mustang
Horses
Horse, Walking 6 9.6 Normal horses for long distance
Horse, Trotting 8 12.8 Like fancy walking, but less sustainable
Horse, Gallop 28 45 Only over short distances
Horse, Ambling 15 24 Sustainable over long distance, but only select breeds
Horse with Wagon 3 4.8
Humans
Walking 3.1 5
Jogging 6 9.6
Running 12 19.3

Note: This was published by me in June 2015, way before I was trying hard with the blog.  I think this post could be useful for way more people than the 2 I think read it before, hence why I decided to post this again.

Don’t Quit – You Didn’t Mess Up Your Blog!

I’ve blogged seriously for long enough to have done several dirty deeds, yet somehow I’m at what I find to be a satisfying position regarding growth and participation.  So how did I come back from blog-killing mistakes?  There’s a key lie in that question:

There are almost no blog-killing mistakes.*

you right about that sugar

Here’s some hints to handle some of the boo-boo’s and uh-oh’s that come around.

I Accidentally Turned My Comments Off for Like A Week!  How Do I Survive?

I just got through this mess – and Lord knows it ain’t fun.

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If you’re lucky, you’ll have friends who’ll take the time to make the way over to your contact page (MAKE ONE IF YOU HAVEN’T) and submit something on that little form.

If you’re just starting out or your readers are on the new/untested side, you might want to schedule a check to make sure your comments are on your new posts.

Right now, you can check each article by clicking on ‘more options’ on the post maker and finding the “Allow Comments” checkbox.

WP Comments

Unless you’re really neck deep in trolls and hackers, do a double check before you post.  It’s way easier to comment if the comments are on!

Oh Snap – My Post Didn’t Make the Reader!

Sometimes this happens, and I’m not even sure why.  Most of the time it’s because you accidentally backdated your post so that it appears on the reader last year or something silly.  Sometimes blogging software is like, “Screw it, just not going to work.”

But that SUCKS.  Having your post not make the reader is about the same as missing a post entirely – and if you’ve been looking at any how to blog help articles, you know that consistency is important.

But don’t panic.

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There are some silver linings to this. First, a post not making the reader doesn’t mean your post was bad.  You can try to rescue it.

If you want to rescue it now, make a copy of the post, check all the settings, and publish it.  Take down the old post so people don’t think you’re spamming (and so comments don’t get strewn around), then leave a note explaining potential email shenanigans to your readers.  You should still get most of the benefits of the original post with only a trifle more effort.

Something else you can do?  You can easily mark that post to reblog again on a later date.  With so few people seeing the post, you should be able to publicize it again without seeming lazy.

And those people who still read your blog post anyway?  Well, it means someone loves you.

Why Are Other People Politically Idiots!?

Tip one: stay out of politics if it’s not your professed thing (oops, I suck at that).  But, you know, sometimes you just gotta get some dip and speak the truth:

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And those fools out there just don’t understand!  Still, the best thing to do is to ignore it or block them.  Here’s how you can do that: Go to Settings, then click the Discussion tab.  Scroll down to Comment Moderation.

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You can also block annoying people without political aspirations like I have (I reserve the rights to moderate anyone with the words ‘sexy,’ ‘id,’ ‘.website,’ and ‘.ru’ in their names, comments, or URLs – this has blocked quite a few annoying spammers, actually).

The bigger problem is if someone is being real mean to you.  Do you ban them?  Try to ignore it?  Or do you spread dirt around about them?

Just ban them like an ordinary spammer.  There’s nothing you can do to make yourself look like the winner of an argument like that.  Who knows – that person may even be popular or influential, and you don’t want to tick off your mutual friends.

But, you know, what if you’re the person spouting stuff and getting banned?

Well… you’re gonna have to get off that high horse.

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There are a couple things you can do to save yourself if you say something obtuse:

  1. Ignore it and DON’T KEEP STOKING THE FIRE.  Wait and see if the blog author thought it was funny too, or if it’ll slide away unnoticed…
  2. Apologize privately if you can, publicly if you can’t.  This will let the person know you recognize the mistake.  As long as you’ve not been mean in the past, they’ll probably understand the limitations of written word and forgive you.
  3. If you can’t stand letting them win, write up the argument in a document you’ll save on your computer and NEVER POST.  Once you take the bait, you run the risk of becoming a target.

As far as I’m aware, the goal of most writing bloggers isn’t to win arguments – it’s to meet people, improve our craft, and create a community.

But I guess if your goal is to put the smackdown on as many people as possible, go for it?

Have You Nearly Killed Your Blog?

What’s happened on your blog that made you want to quit?  Is there anything frustrating that you wish could be done better?  Let me know in the comments – maybe I or someone will know some work arounds!

*You may be able to kill your blog if you do something illegal or so distasteful that you get permabanned.  Be reasonable, folks.

5 Tips on How to Use WordPress Tags, Categories, and the Reader

WordPress has a lot in common with other social media outlets in that you use things like tags, but there’s also categories, which seem so similar!  If you’re new to WP, it becomes pretty obvious that the help pages don’t really give you much to work with.  That’s why I decided to write this, even though many people will think these tips old hat.

In this series on how to get the most out of your WordPress writing blog (for beginners!), I’ve already shown you some ways to get yourself motivated and find communities.  In this post, I’m getting a little more nitty-gritty with a few technical details concerning how WordPress works.  So strap in and put your thinking caps on!

5. Use The BEST Tags First

Take a gander at your WordPress reader.  (If you’re super new, you can find your reader by scrolling to the top of almost any WordPress site and clicking ‘Reader’ or the newspaper icon.) Here’s a pretty typical Reader entry with the tags circled:

tags

This person may have used more than three tags, but three is what will show up on the reader.  Because these are the ones that will show up, you should choose the best ones first.

If you’re into writing, here’s some hints:

  1. Choose a wide-reaching tag: Writing, #amwriting, creative writing, poetry, poem, and fiction are good ones to include.
  2. Show  your reader a little more about specifics: Get down into genre!  Use things like science fiction, memoir, fantasy, literary, tanka, or haiku to show a more detailed description of your post.
  3. Link to Others’ Blogs: If you are participating in a prompt or tag game, it can often be good to look at what people use to denote that.  For instance, I often participate in the Carrot Ranch prompt and so put the tag “Carrot Ranch” on those posts.  Look at your prompt and some of the other responses to the prompt to see if there’s a way to connect with that tag.
  4. Get Really Specific: If you aren’t participating in a prompt, your third tag should be something very specific so your story can look unique.  For instance, this post has ‘how to’ as its third tag, which lets you know that this is intended to help.  I’ve used things like ‘Steampunk’ before or ‘#CountVlad,’ which includes the hashtag for the rare and unlikely case that I can start a Twitter fad.

To get an idea which tags you might want to use, click on some of the tags from posts you’ve liked.  The point of tags, in WordPress’s viewpoint, is to help show useful blogs and posts to other people. It’s like hashtags on Twitter that help organize and collate similar information.

4. Use Categories for Self-Organization

Categories are shown on your post, but they’re not the same thing as tags.  Whereas tags help WordPress show your blog post to others, categories help you build pages.  You can link to your categories, like this one to my Flash Science Fiction in category:

Science Fiction

You can also add your categories to a menu using the ‘menus’ option in your dashboard (yourblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/).  Here’s a picture of how you do this in January 2019:

menus

If you decide to use a category as a part of your menu, that part of your blog will automatically update when you add a new blog entry with that category.  So, if you want to have a category ‘short stories,’ the category will add to that page, like a blogroll, anything that includes the category.  It’s super handy if you don’t want to be always updating a page.

3. Decide on Categories Early!

When you first start out, decide well what categories you want.  It gets really hard to perform this organization after the fact – adding categories to 300 posts isn’t fun!  Keep up with it from the beginning and it’ll be so much easier.

While it’s true that you can always add new categories, you’ll have to go through and manually add categories later.  For instance, it would have helped me a lot to have the categories ‘Short Story,’ ‘Flash Fiction,’ and ‘Poetry’ a lot earlier.  As it stands, I’d have to do a lot of work to go back and organize some of those into my posts (soon I’ll be announcing that the work is done… mwahaha).

So think well about your categories.  Make more than you think you’ll need – it’s easier to just ignore a category than it is to make one and implement it retroactively!

2. Use More Tags Than Three

So, we said above to put your best tags first.  But what about those other tags?

tenor

Those other tags can be super useful, too.  Let’s say you choose ‘writing’ for one of your first 3 tags, but you think ‘creative writing’ is also good.  Put ‘creative writing’ in your fourth or later slot – whenever people do searches in the reader, your post will come up in ‘creative writing.’

So if you use more tags, your post becomes more accessible in the search function.

1. Follow Yourself

I know what you’re thinking:

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It seems like cheating because you’re artificially inflating your follower numbers.  It seems weird because it’s not entirely easy to get to the page where you can follow yourself (the easiest way to find it the first time is to go to the bell in the upper right hand corner, find a link to one of your posts – like when it announces ‘Post is Live!’ – and click that.  You can then find the follow button under your site info on the left side of the page).  But trust me, it’s clutch.

If you follow yourself, the big benefit is you get to see what your post looks like to other people on the reader.  If you turn email-alerts on for your site, you get to see how your emails look (and, if you’re on the free plan, how bad that is).  If you made a mistake – like forgetting to name a post – it becomes obvious quickly and you can fix it.

Not only that, you’ll get to see your stuff right next to the things you read.  You’ll get to see if your categories are making sense, and you’ll be able to wonder, “Would I click on that if I didn’t write it?”

I did this simply because I wanted to know if it could be done.  Since then, though, I’ve definitely decided it was an awesome mistake.

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Do you have any hints for how to make your experience with the reader better?  Tips for how to choose which blogs to follow? Got some tags you think are pretty legit? Tell us in the comments!

How Writing Prompts Can Help Your Blog

When you start a writing blog, there’s only a couple ways to start interacting with other writers and readers:

  1. Depend on people you already know to follow links to your blog
  2. Start using your blog to interact with other bloggers

If you’ve got #1 set because you’re a Twitter star, congrats!  That’s awesome!

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Most of us, however, have to (or want to) deal with #2, and a great way to do that is through the use of prompts.

If you’re not convinced, keep reading – otherwise, scroll down to find a list of active prompts (curated by me and checked at least monthly for dead links).

Why Prompts?

“Aren’t prompts just limiting my creativity?” you may say.

To you, my fine friend, I must admit that it’s possible!  Sometimes I answer a prompt and feel like the sliver of garbage I spewed out would have been better left with my other thoughts that go completely forgotten.  You may, as well, be a person who isn’t blogging for interaction and, instead, want to just have a place to send your mom when you come up with something.

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Ah, mom.

But prompts can give you an in on something it’s hard to find otherwise – other great blogs.  Just reading some of the responses to the prompt – usually in the comments – can lead you to other blogs to follow.  You can comment on these blogs and start talking with people.  Most of the blogs I follow were found by sifting through prompts and finding some of the authors I enjoyed reading most.

As well, you can respond to the prompt.  If you leave a comment along with all the others, a permanent link to your blog will show up on another page – a page that probably has more viewers than a fresh, new blog does!  Other people may take a liking to your work if they click on it, and they may leave comments for you.

A lot of the prompt-followers are some of the most die-hard bloggers, and that’s something you’ll want in your back pocket to encourage you during the hard times when the blog isn’t growing and giving your brain those sweet, sweet dopamine hits.

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Select Prompts

Unfortunately, I cannot cover all the bases – if I could, I would probably be a computer!*  Anyway, here are some blogs that post prompts and a brief description of how those work. Prompts on hiatus and legacy prompts are listed at the bottom.

BlogBattle

1,000 word stories for this monthly challenge!  New challenges appear on the First Tuesday of every month.

Capture a Critter

A writing prompt based off animals! A very cute idea that deserves a bit of love. Thanks to Chelsea Owens for finding this one!

Carrot Ranch

99 words – no more no less – for this amazing Thursday flash fiction prompt based off a word or small group of words.  This blog gives you everything: a large community with a tight-knit feel, a round-up based on a submission form, and even a yearly competition.

Crimson’s Creative Challenge

A smaller writing challenge blog that’s just starting out (as of January 2019), join this if you want to grow with the site.  It’ll probably do great, since it’s attracting several microinfluencers.

dVerse Poets

A set of poetry prompts that comes out on a well-defined schedule.  Tons of people join in, so it’s a great place for poets to go for extra challenges.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge and Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge

#FOWC, well established, is a moderately popular challenge.  This one gives you a word that must be used in the post.  No word limits on this one!  Curation is done through tags.

Similarly, the Flash Fiction Challenge (#FFFC) has no word limits, but there is a photo to spur your creativity.  Thanks to MyForeverBlog for pointing this one out!

Flash Fiction Challenge

Joanne the Geek sponsors this monthly challenge.  Get in on it now and be one of the founding participants!

Foto Flash Fiction Challenge

An In-Linkz curated flash fiction challenge for stories of 500 words or less. Be inspired by the posted photo and give it a whirl! The blogger is mostly a photoblogger, so this is a great way to branch out and meet new people.

Frank J. Tassone’s Haikai Challenge

I’ve seen some fantastic entries for this syllabic poetry challenge that goes live every Monday. The current set of regular participants are some very high quality writers, so join in!

(You’ll need to follow Frank J. Tassone to easily find the challenge, or you’ll need to use this link to find the challenges. His blog isn’t organized for you to easily find the challenges – otherwise I’d have gotten this link up earlier!)

Friday Fictioneers

Limit your tales to 100 words as you respond to a photo prompt.  Uses an In-Linkz linkup to quickly show you who else has posted that week.

Imprompt Prompts

A daily  prompt site with very light curation. Participants and friends do comment, but it’s very low pressure. This is great for people who might not want a community to join so much as a challenge.

Just Start Writing (NO LONGER ON HIATUS as of 1/6/2020)

A prompt on most Mondays for 200-250 word works of any genre.

Kira’s Sunday Scribbles

A picture drawn by Kira for your inspiration!  Give a story or poem based off the art given.

Linda G. Hill Prompts

Linda G. Hill has the weekly Stream of Consciousness Saturday and One-Liner Wednesday.  There is the monthly Coloring challenge, and Just-Jot-It Januaries happen throughout the month of January each year.

Menage Monday

A contest for flash fiction between 100 and 250 words with a rotating judgeship. The prompts are a combination of picture, phrase, or words, depending on what the judge wants. Winners will be touted on Twitter or other social media. Contest only lasts one day, though – Monday – so get those writing engines revved!

Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

A different kind of prompt with different rules appear nearly every day on this site!  If you don’t know what kind of prompt you want to do, this is a good place to play around.

On-Line Writer’s Guild

A list of three prompts that you can mix and match between – try to get all three if you can! This prompt has been rather long-lived, so you can depend on the creator of the OLWG to keep you going.

Peter Wyn’s Writing Prompts

An ecclectic sort of writing prompt that’s just in its beginning stages – come along and see where this goes!

Putting My Feet in the Dirt

Putting My Feet in the Dirt gives a new prompt for every day by posting a monthly plan on the first of the month.  At the end of the month, Michelle Cook organizes your posts for a round-up.

Reena’s Exploration Challenge

A phrase or word prompt that has no word count or format rules.  Currently a smaller set of regular respondents – join this if you want to get into a tight community, and follow Reena regardless because of her raw talent!

Ronovan Writes Haiku Challenge

A Monday prompt for Haikus!  A rather popular prompt to follow, this one will get you started well on poetry prompting.

Six Sentence Story

A Thursday prompt word sparks a story measured in sentences – not words or characters – which gives this prompt a rather interesting feel.

Six Word Story

A six word story including 1 word as a prompt? Wowza! This is harder than you’d think!

Song Lyric Sunday

Everyone’s been wanting it, and now it’s finally here! A music-based inspiration prompt! Curated and invented by the reliable Fandango.

Speculative Writing Challenge (Not entirely sure it’s still called this – there’s some confusion about)

A monthly challenge with a wide variety of prompt types.

Sunday Muse

A photo-based prompt that comes out every Sunday. Curated using Mr. Linky links. This might be a good one for WordPressers to get into, as it’s a BlogSpot blog and can introduce you to another world of writing fun! Thanks to Joem18B for pointing this out to me!

Sunday Photo Fiction

A 200-word-or-less story based on a provided photo.  Popular around the town!

Tanka Tuesday

A form poetry prompt every Tuesday, this prompt is great for beginning poets.  The community is friendly, and it’s big enough that someone is sure to stumble upon your stuff too!  Excellent instructions are provided, especially since the prompt has gotten popular enough to require a submission form.

Teensy Writing Contest

A seasonal contest wherein authors write something aimed at children.  There tends to be prizes!  Thanks to Chelsea Owens for pointing this one out.

Terrible Poetry Contest

No, it’s not just about writing poetry poorly – it’s also about writing a poem with a terrible subject, like crappy bosses or other poopy things.  A weekly contest on Saturdays, the participants and winners are announced on Fridays.

Three Line Challenge

A 100-word flash challenge that must be completed in three lines – no more no less!  This is a photo challenge that posts on Thursdays.

Three Things Challenge (3TC)

A daily prompt that I see come on my feed quite often. Paula provides three words that may not seem related for you to weave into a quick tale.  (Previously run by The Haunted Wordsmith).

Tuesday Photo Challenge

A VERY popular prompt set, this would be a great place to jump in to generate hoopla quickly.  Run by a photographer, you’re sure to get great prompts.

Twiglets

A short phrase or smattering of words is given on Tuesdays.  Respond with something short and sweet.  Moderately well-followed, curated through comment sharing.

Twittering Tales

A picture prompt that requires a response so short that it’s Tweetable!  A really popular prompt, and one you can use to expand your presence on Twitter as well as WordPress.

Weekend Writing Prompt

Sammi Cox’s Saturday prompt is great because the word length always changes.  The community is still growing, but the prompts are solid.

Weekly Smile

A weekly challenge posted on Thursdays by Trent on Trent’s World.  Response posts must be dedicated to things that make you smile.  Well curated, and VERY positive. Thanks to Marsha Writes for pointing out this challenge.

What Pegman Saw

Unlike any other prompt I’ve come across!  This one chooses a location on Google Maps and encourages you to take tours and write about the place.

With Real Toads (NEW as of 11/17/2019)

A variety of writing prompts from a person with a bit of spunk. A blogspot blog, this prompt can get you into a new selection of readers and fellow participants. Thanks to Joem18B for showing me this one!

Word of the Day Challenge

A daily prompt that gives a single word as a thought provoker.  Also posts the Kira’s Sunday Scribbles (mentioned above).

Write Now

Though not yet very well followed (at least not on WP), the posters are regular and happen to sport a very nice-looking site.  The prompts come in the form of phrases.

Yeah Write Challenges

A set of true contests, one of which has a cash prize, winners of the various challenges are announced weekly.  Uses InLinkz software to collect submissions.

#writephoto

A popular Thursday photo prompt with excellent curation.  A ton of people participate, so you’ll be seen out and about on this fantastic blog.

50 Word Challenge

This page is hard to navigate; to find the most recent challenge, you’ll need to have some reading glasses on and scroll through the recent posts on the left side of the page.  However, every Thursday a new prompt from Kristian surfaces, and the participants seem to have fun!  The Haunted Wordsmith makes roundups.

On Hiatus

On Hiatus prompts are those that have missed 3 or more predicted prompt postings (or a month without a post, if it’s a monthly or biweekly posting) when I check up on them.  The dates are the dates I decided to move them into the Hiatus category, not the dates they went on Hiatus.

I Write Her Weekly Haiku/Senryu Challenge (On Hiatus, Promised return missed – Will be moved to Legacy as of 3/1/2020 if no change)

Using only a haiku or senryu, respond to an intriguing stock photo.  New challenges every Tuesday.  I think this one looks hard, so go here if you want to stretch your abilities!

Legacy

Legacy prompts are those prompts that have either been on hiatus for a couple months without indication of return, or those prompts which announced an end date.  They are saved here for posterity’s sake and may return to active use if the author chooses to update them. However, I won’t check these links as often – if your prompt is in here and you need it taken out, give me a comment.

Aether Prompts (Legacy as of 8/7/2019)

An weekly image prompt with a real (real!?) prize for the best speculative fiction story at the end of the year. These stories should be short enough (100 words) to fit on the image prompt – I suggest looking at past entries and winners!

Daily Inklings (Legacy as of 9/20/2019)

If you were to look at these prompts as a Wheel-of-Fortune category, you’d get something like ‘common phrases’ or ‘weird things.’  These prompts can be any form of writing – it just asks for a blog post, not necessarily a story or a poem.

Don Massenzio’s Stock Photo Challenge (Legacy as of 7/21/2019)

A sadly short-lived photo challenge. The photos are all royalty free, so you can feel good that research has been done to give you something you’re allowed to use.

Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers (Legacy as of 1/2019)

Ending in January 2019, this epic, long-lived photo challenge series still exists in the form of a flash-fiction archive.  Even though it’s over, you can still comb it for inspiration.

Tell Tale Thursday (Legacy as of 8/21/2019)

In-Linkz curated prompt for fiction up to 250 words.

Time to Write (Legacy as of 11/17/2019)

Rachel Poli’s popular, and you’ll get prompts with a lot of variety from her site.  It’s a little more difficult to see comments and get involved, but they’re great prompts nonetheless.

Wacky Weekend Challenge (Legacy as of 4/6/2019)

This prompt was run by the Dark Netizen.  Check out his blog and follow in case he revamps the challenge!

What Do You See? (Link removed because it started taking me to weird places)

A weekly photo prompt where you can write anything you want (within reason, of course!) in response.  Curation is done through pingbacks/comments.

(5) Word Weekly Writing Challenge (Legacy as of 3/13/2019)

Challenge responses must contain all FIVE words given in the prompt, but you aren’t limited to poetry, prose, or (unless self-imposed) word count.  Prompts are posted on Mondays.

100 Word Wednesday (Legacy as of 11/17/2019)

A photo based prompt, 100 Word Wednesday is a mid-week prompt from Bikurgurl.  Use tags 100WW or #100WW to help people find your response.

See you around!

So come along, choose a prompt – or two! – and join in.  If you join one of the prompts I participate in, you’ll probably see my little icon slithering around the comments on your site!

*HRR is, sadly, not a computer as of 13 February 2020.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this fateful transformation has occurred prior to your current reading.

5 Devious Ways to Improve Your Writing

I’ve written as a hobby for a long time – as such, I’ve had a lot of inspiration from friends, family, people on the internet, and (a few times) teachers. I’m not formally trained in linguistic arts, so I try to keep the best tidbits of advice close at hand whenever I put my fingers to my keyboard.

5. Comma Rules on Coordinating Conjunctions

When I was a freshman in high school, I found out that my elementary and middle education had been sorely lacking in grammar. I taught myself parts of speech and some other pieces of basic grammar, but as a sophomore I got a red-inkedCommas paper back from my teacher that showed just how lacking my skills with grammar were. I got a book from my teacher and taught myself one of the most easily forgotten and easily broken comma rules.

The rule states that if a sentence has two independent clauses separated by a coordinating conjunction, it needs to have a comma before that conjunction.  Just as importantly, if one of those clauses is dependent, the comma should *not* be there.

I wrote an entire series on my favorite comma rules, complete with examples, mnemonics, and other goodies.  If comma rules are something you’d like to brush up on, these are some of the most easily forgotten and useful rules.

Click here to go to my first of a series of comma articles

4. Minor Characters Can Enhance a Story – Or Bog it Down…

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Justice League Unlimited – somehow I liked it, but wow… terrible idea.

In high school English, I had a teacher who made the class spend a long time focusing on how Beowulf, titular character of the English epic, made certain to pay tribute to the poor sod who had to remain with and guard his ship.  With that one action, in just a small stanza, Beowulf’s honor and concern for the common man is accentuated.

When minor characters serve as foils, drive the plot, or serve to embellish a main character’s traits, they are extraordinarily useful.  Minor characters can have as much depth through what is left out as what is written plainly.  Named or unnamed, minor characters add a richness and depth that you can’t get without them.

At the same time, I’ve beta read and edited enough books to know that there are ways to overuse minor characters.  One book I read introduced a named character approximately every 1,000 words, and in a 100,000 word story, it became entirely untenable.  It was impossible for the writer to do justice to each of the characters with so little time dedicated to any of them.  If a character is invented just to show off an item, have a magical skill, or sit around being pretty, they may be better off excised from the story.

3. The Hidden Way to Indicate a Speaker During Dialogue

group of people in a meeting

If you’ve followed my site for a while, you may remember that I am an engineer by trade.  I learned this technique very late in the game, so I’m pretty sure it’s not obvious.  I even made a more detailed post about it here.  There are three ways to indicate speaker: directly tagging, back-and-forth with no tags, and interspersing with action.

Direct tagging serves a great purpose and makes it easy for the reader to pick out the speaker with almost no effort.  This is the way that you learned in grade school, and it should definitely still be in your repertoire.

Using actions around your dialogue adds another dimension to your writing and makes it more interesting for your reader.  The reader forgets that you’re telling them who said something and instead falls into your narrative.

Click here to read a more detailed article about dialogue.

2. How to Seek and Reduce Passive Voice

dr strangelove

Passive voice can be really useful, but it can also make a passage drag.  Being able to identify, assess, and change passive voice sentences tightens writing and draws a reader into the activity.  While passive voice has its uses, they are a bit more obscure (and for obfuscation!).

A quick and dirty explanation of passive voice sentences is a sentence where the actions are performed on the subject, and the subject seems to take a passive role.  I.e.

The dog was rewarded.

vs the active version:

I rewarded the dog.

Note that in the passive version, the actor – the person giving the reward – is completely missing.  If you want the focus off the true actor and onto the person receiving the action, that’s when you want passive voice.  It’s not quite as powerful or engaging for any other purpose, so identifying the voice and being able to change it is important.

For greater detail on passive voice, I wrote an article you can find here.

1. The Best Word Isn’t Always the Biggest Word

This is something I would have balked at before reading Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.  It doesn’t just serve to use a word with more syllables or more arcane qualities.  The goal of writing is to communicate thoughts, not to impress people with your intellect.

Aim for clarity, precision, and ease.  Sure, you’ll probably use a couple words your readers won’t know just out of general differences in people’s vocabularies, but people in your target audience shouldn’t have to look up many words as they read your book.  Be wary – if people reading for fun have to work for it, it’s going to stop being fun.  Once a book stops being fun, people are much more willing to put it down.

For more on this topic, you can find an article here.

See you Around!

Hope you enjoyed this ‘Greatest Hits’ article!  Are there writing tips that have helped you through your ventures?  Any that you wish you’d known long before now?  Craft books that you love?  Pop that in the comments!  I’d love to find out more things that I need to learn!

SEEK AND DESTROY Passive Voice Sentences

dr strangelove

Perhaps the title is a bit gung-ho (passive voice can be useful, as I’ll talk about more later), but use of the passive voice changes the feel of a sentence.  It clouds true meanings and dulls action.  Though you may choose to use passive voice to great effect, simply knowing how to pick it out of your linguistic soup will help you improve your writing.

What Is Passive Voice?

Passive voice is where the subject and object are inverted from the normal English word order so as to create an interesting, dulling effect.  It’s grammatically acceptable, and I almost guarantee you’ve used it before.  Let’s look at an example:

Active: George smoked the pot.
Passive: The pot was smoked by George.

The two sentences essentially mean the same thing, but the second George is less likely to face charges.  Why?  The first George definitely committed the act.  In the second example, the word order is inverted, and native speakers feel like the act happened to George.  Actors and actions are dulled by passive voice, whereas objects are accentuated.

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Check for “To Be” Words

 

Passive voice needs helping verbs in order to exist.  By checking for this verbiage, you can spot passive voice more easily.

What do I mean by ‘to be’ words or ‘helping verbs?’  Well, they’re the words you use to go along with another verb or, in this article, make passive sentences.  You can sing them all to the tune “Jingle Bells:”

Am Is Are
Was Were Be
Being Been Has Had
Have Can Could Should
Would Might May Must
Will Shall Do Does Did

Jingle Bells

 

Using that info, which of the following is a passive sentence?

  1. I walked down to Grandma’s house and shot a couple squirrels.

  2. Billy Jo tended the garden with a bear by his side.

  3. The turkeys were dressed by my mother.

  4. Mr. McCalister owns the Tallahachee bridge.

Spoiler: it was number 3!  Number 3 takes the object, the turkeys, and makes them the subject.  The action of ‘my mother’ is dulled, indicating the importance is on the dressed turkeys.

This doesn’t mean all sentences with helping verbs are passive, so you can’t just rearrange everything to stop including helping verbs.  Here’s some other uses that you’ll have to pick through:

Future Tense: Suzy will eliminate all survivors.
Continuous Tenses: Mr. Buchard was bicycling.
Perfect Tenses: Jeff will have escaped from prison by 5.
Ownership: The ants have a picnic basket.
Being: I am a douchebag.

Wow – with all those options (plus a few more), it’s not entirely straightforward to pick out the offensive instances of passive voice.  Here’s a set of more difficult sentences to check your skills:

  1. Due to his sharing of military secrets, Renault was a traitor to his country.

  2. “What have you done!?”

  3. She sits alone, waiting for his question.

  4. His lips are dry, her heart’s gently pounding.

  5. She was defeated at checkers.

  6. Alex enjoys watching Le Tour de France despite all the doping controversies.

  7. You guys should love my dog.

The winner?  Number 5!  Though the subject, whoever defeated ‘her’ at checkers, was never mentioned, the subject-object sentence order was still inverted.  Numbers 1, 4 and 7 use the ‘helping verb’ as the sentence’s main verb, whereas the helping verb is used for tense in number 2.

When Is Passive Voice Ok?

Passive voice isn’t just evil, and you’re ultimately the one who decides what happens to any sentence.  Plenty of reasons abound to use passive voice.

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When the Actor is Unknown – Sometimes, things happen for unknown reasons.  Maybe “The solution to the problem was left on the board” sound better than “Someone solved the problem.”  It can add an air of mystery that “someone” or “something” might not be able to provide.

When the Object Is More Important – There are instances where you don’t want the actor to be more important.  Sometimes, the fact that a person was bitten is more important than the fact that a dog bit someone.

When You Want to Reduce Importance of the Actor – This is usually the reason you want to avoid passive voice, but sometimes you just got to mislead a reader.  Reducing the subject’s importance also makes passive voice useful for victim blaming.  Victim blaming is a terrible, terrible thing, but you can make it useful in writing.  If your villain is nasty and psychological, using the passive voice can gaslight a victim and shove blame away from the perp.  I DO NOT CONDONE MAKING REAL LIFE VICTIMS FEEL LIKE GARBAGE.

How To Write Biology In Science Fiction, Part 2: Evolution (Including How It Affects Religion)

In the first installment in this series, we thought about what DNA itself was, and we delved into ideas about genetic modification in science fiction.  What I was building up to was this article, which was a terrible thing to tackle in such a short space. Multiple scientists and philosophers have considered what to think about evolution, and many have struggled. What I intend to do here is show how evolution is theorized to work, show some of the common misconceptions about evolution and why using them makes for a weaker story, and then have a brief aside on the religious aspects of evolution.

How Evolution Actually Works

1. Cartoon version of Peppered Moths in their natural state.

Let’s say you have a spotted moth that lives on a tree.  They might look something like what you see to the left.

As long as the moth doesn’t get dirty, it will remain somewhat difficult to see by a passing bird.  A moth like this exists in Britain – and it has for quite a long time.   It’s the peppered moth, and it’s a lovely example of how natural selection and evolution work.

2. Cartoon version of peppered moths after their trees become covered in soot.

In the early 1800’s, right when Britain was industrializing and producing more coal smoke, people began noticing these moths.  Judging by the picture to the left, it’s pretty obvious why this happened – the dirty trees made it easy to pick out the mostly white moths.  Humans weren’t the only creatures to begin noticing this moth, though.  Birds, the natural predators of the peppered moth, were also better able to pick out their prey and eat them.

3. Some peppered moths are born with defects that make them darker than the normal moths.

Sometimes, mutations happen in DNA that cause interesting effects, or sometimes DNA combines from parents in interesting ways to create a new effect.  At one time, a moth or some moths were born that contained a darker pigment.  This sooty looking moth wasn’t easy to see, and the birds also did not notice them as much.  The white moths were eaten at an increased rate, and so were not able to lay eggs and make as many new white moths.  Meanwhile, the black moths were getting it on.

4. Eventually, nearly all the moths were black. The black moths remained predominant until environmental laws got rid of the soot and, in some areas, the white moths returned.

The black moths became more common, since they had babies and weren’t eaten.  Eventually, as many of the white moths died off, the dark version became the main color of moth.  Humans were able to notice this change because the lifespan of a moth is so much shorter than that of a person’s.  The moths evolved over the course of several generations, and the changes were thus relatively slow.

Common Misconception 1 – Passing On Adaptations

Let’s think about the above moth scenario again.  This time, though, a moth isn’t born looking darker.  Instead, it flies into some soot and happens to look like the dirty trees, sort of like wearing makeup.  When it mates and has babies, this moth’s genes are still the underlying white.  Its children are no more likely to breed than any other moth because they have no natural advantage.  That first moth that got covered in soot simply had a lucky break.  Experience or changes in an individual don’t result in evolution.

Here’s a potentially better example.  Let’s say you have a pig, and you need to tag it so your neighbors won’t steal it.  You thus poke a hole in its ear where it’s not going to hurt.  Later, since this pig is a good pig, you decide to breed it.  Even though an offspring pig would be better off if it came with a pierced ear (since you wouldn’t need to do it and risk infections or pain later), there’s no way your offspring piglet will come with a pierced ear.  Neither of its parents had this advantage, so without random mutations, it won’t either.

Things that happen to an animal during its lifetime won’t affect how its offspring look.  Those are individual adaptations, or things that an animal can go through without dying.  To pass on a trait, the organism must have had that trait to begin with.

Common Misconceptions 2 – Metamorphic Evolution

This is more like what happens with butterflies or Pokemon.  It basically means that you start out with one organism, and that organism changes into another organism sometime during its life cycle.

If you ever watched a butterfly metamorphose, though, you know that the stages it goes through will be the same stages its offspring will go through.  It’s not quite accurate to call the stages of a butterfly as evolution, since pupal, larval, and adult stages are all the same insect.  Deciduous trees go through stages during the seasons, but just because it doesn’t have any leaves doesn’t mean it’s not an oak or a maple anymore.  It is impossible to start with an animal of one species and end up with an animal of another species.

Am I Doing Something Immoral by Writing About Evolution?

Long story short – only you can really determine if writing about evolution is immoral for you, but if you’re looking at this section with any sort of seriousness, you’re probably looking for an excuse.

If this is true, look at this.

Pictured: Proof of humanity’s hand screwing with God’s master plan.  Adorably, though.

This is a Pomeranian.  While it’s my favorite breed of dog, it’s still a 5-lb ball of fur that needs a human to comb it lest the fur mats, skin develops hot spots, and the animal gains tons of health issues.  It has no way to fight against almost any predator or prey despite being (mostly) a wolf by genetics.  In fact, the actual dog pictured to the left was incapable of killing a betta fish out of its tank (he just cried instead, which did allow me to save the poor fish from suffocating).  If this dog were to be left to the wild, I have no doubt in my mind that it would fail to survive.

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household.  Like straight-up ‘7 modern-Earth length days of creation with no leeway’ kind of fundamentalist.  I appreciate that upbringing, and I totally understand where people who do think that way are coming from.  There is no way to prove them wrong, because in their mind God is too great for things that are so limiting as carbon-13 testing or the speed of light.  If you are in this camp, that is totally ok.  If believing in a strict 7-day, young earth interpretation of scripture is what makes you feel like God is the greatest of gods, then you should believe that.  If you believe that by writing a story with evolution in it, you are leading people away from a loving creator, you should strongly consider whether the story is worth telling.

I’m going to return to the Pomeranian, though.  Humans MADE that.  There’s no doubt in this fact.  They did so by selective breeding, or by making dogs with similar traits have puppies until they came out with the adorable fluffball.  The peppered moth above is a true story about how animals changed over a few generations without the direct (though, I admit, indirect) influence of humans.  While there are some gaps in evolutionary theory, like how eyes came to be, the basics makes a lot of sense.  I began to feel uncomfortable denying evolution as an undergraduate when I realized that dog evolution had to have happened.  Yet, at the same time, I felt uncomfortable leaving what I had learned growing up, especially when Biblical texts, interpreted literally, are pretty devoid of evolutionary theory.

But I could never leave the idea that God is too great for things that are limiting at all, whether through science or through our meager interpretations.  I decided that to read the text and limit God to 7 days as modern humans understand the time frame, to reduce his voice to a sound rather than a force which humans are barely capable of fathoming, or to reduce God’s workings into anything less than what God actually did is just as much a sin as forcing God out of the picture.  To deny the possibility of evolution, in my opinion, is wrong.  I suppose I can believe in both God and evolution because I don’t see them as mutually exclusive, but they are ideas I can hold in tension, at odds with each other in some ways, and yet believe both are true without believing everything is true.

If you can hold the ideas in tension, and if you believe that other people are just as intelligent and thoughtful as you, then no, it’s not immoral.  C.S. Lewis wrote fantastical stories like the Chronicles of Narnia or Out of the Silent Planet that have moral implications many believe trump the fantastical or evolutionary elements.  At worst, I think people are made in the image of God, and that means people enjoy creating.  Evolution can be a literary tool that, at least for us mere mortals, allows us to form ideas and imitate the creator that loves us.

My insight is probably not unique.  I’m probably not breaking any new ground or changing any minds, but perhaps I’ve given you something to think about.  That’s all I really wanted.

– If I Only Had No Heart – Chapter 13

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There wasn’t much of a line at the prayer room when the Colonel stepped in, but even with the short wait he wasn’t going to let the dictates of the Machine’s orders slow his progress. He dragged Spirit across the steel plated floor, causing her to trip upon some of the smoothed seams between the hunks of metal. The two people in line scoffed as he marched past them, but they soon saw the small army following him and their eyes opened wide with interest.

The guard stood at attention, putting his right fist to his left shoulder and bowing. “Colonel, sir – is there something you need?”

The Colonel let go of Spirit roughly, his corpulent mass hobbling over to the curtained entrance to the prayer room. “Get whoever’s in there out.” He pulled down heavily on the curtain while he reached up, handling a couple steel hooks at the top to take them off their rod.

“Sir,” the guard said, the halfling rushing up to him, “Sir, what’s going on? I thought we weren’t supposed to disturb a prayer this way-”

“Does it matter?” The Colonel pointed up to the light on the side of the sanctuary. “The light beam is red, so you’re to get the fool in there out immediately.” He took a couple more hooks off the rod, revealing a bug-eyed major who was beating on the slot where cards were shoved in.

The dragonborn major, flummoxed at first, stared out at the crowd he had no idea had accumulated.

“Get out,” the Colonel said. “We’re doing the Machine’s business, and your time is up.”

He scrambled to his feet and crept out from the inner sanctum, squeezing between the half-removed curtain and the door frame. The red scales on the man’s snout frowned slightly as he noticed Spirit’s steel face. Spirit held tight her hands, realizing that the man had quickly realized what must have been occurring.

The Colonel’s strong fingers gripped her arm again, tossing her into the room over the curtain. He scowled at her, then turned to the audience, lifting his hands. “This is a special day, a day in which we – as the Machine’s faithful – sit in judgment.” His scowl lifted into a wry smile while the last of his echos died out in the steel hall. “This mistake of a creation, Spirit of Michael, insists that she can reach the Machine without the prayer cards. If she cannot reach the Machine, then our judgment shall stand and she will be subject to the laws of the compound. If she can, then she will sit in judgment at the hands of the Machine, whose mercy is well known.”

The audience chuckled at the Colonel’s emphasis of mercy, making Spirit’s heart twinge. She held her breath, feeling her body heating until she released it and took in a new one.

“So pray, Spirit of Michael. Prove that you’re not just a lying virus, a hunk of trash. We’ll be watching.”

She nodded as the Colonel sidestepped from the door, his beady eyes still staring in at her. The single arcane bulb that hung above her head lit the room poorly, but he would still see if she took out a card and punched it. If she were to use the card, she would have to either be sneakier than she really was or do it faster than the Colonel could walk over and beat her.

Neither were real options.

With steel fingers she reached into her coat pocket, fiddling with the small bag of tobacco. There wasn’t much left from before the war, only a couple of prayers’ worth, perhaps. She took out a piece of vellum and lined up some of the thinly sliced leaves along the paper. “Pyyrpoustovoskchengalgilk, shorm navlovetiv skapfgaknargitamymir; oh powerful, dictatorial Machine, you are eternally my reason for living,” she muttered repeatedly. She reverently closed the eye that still had skin on it and tried as hard as she could to simply not look out the eye with no covering.

She picked up the packet and licked the edge to wet it before sealing the stick of incense. She stopped the muttering briefly, bowing to it and to the Machine’s prayer interpretation device, kissing holy ground she was certain she didn’t truly deserve to sit upon. “Molg proloskov shorm, skapfgalguklalmir. I love you, my Steel Mother. Revarevativ badyshsolichevimir! Please hear your servant’s prayer!”

At that, she licked the tip of her finger, causing sparks to come from the exposed sensors. Quickly, despite the cry of pain, she touched the sparks to the end of the stick of incense, causing it to ignite. She stoked the flames, blowing gently through sobs of pain while the sparks on her finger died down. Smoke began to fume up, increasing with each puff of air, filling the small, enclosed space where she knelt.

Once the cloud was large enough, she bent her face to the floor. She only had until the tobacco ran out, and then the Colonel would have no reason to let her try again. An arrow to the head or an axe to the neck would be warranted if the Machine didn’t answer.

She muttered aloud, translating her thoughts to the arcane language of the Machine, “Most holy and righteous one, I would beg your mercy, but I know that all of your plans are perfect. If it is your will to call or send me through death, I will follow your command. I submit my prayer to you as an alert that I, in my current form, am in danger of being killed by others in the Hub, most notably the Colonel. He is your scion and high priest, however, and I have no right to complain of his orders, but I appeal for you to look into the situation. Examine our minds, intentions, and loyalties. If mine is impure, let me fail, let me fade into nothingness so I can no longer taint your name.”

The tobacco burned, the vellum wrapper curling inwards as the plant turned to gray ash. Orange flames crept down the sides of the piece far too eagerly.
Spirit swallowed. “I have no other complaints, highest Machine. I would request instruction for future actions, but I don’t know if I am to have a future. I would ask you to test my intentions, but I know of what I am made. I know I am created from imperfection and am made out of mathematical sins, so I do not expect response. But I love you. I love you…”

Spirit looked at the tobacco, seeing it running down.

Her goddess wasn’t going to voluntarily protect her. She wasn’t loved, wasn’t important enough for a miracle.

No.

Spirit shook her head and bit her tongue, self-punishment for the lapse of faith. Fear was an organic emotion and worthless to the Machine. If she died, so be it. The Machine was all that mattered.

And the Machine prescribed sensibility and logic. Logically, if Spirit wanted to know that the Machine had heard and would guarantee a response, the card in her pocket was the way to do it. She slipped a hand into her coat, feeling the parchment with her painful finger.

The sounds of a clacking printer and whirring gears made Spirit’s gaze change. Black lines appeared on the white paper, the symbol of the Machine appearing just as it would for a card prayer.

The Colonel stormed in. “No… No!” he said, yanking the sheet as the first page printed out. He balled it up and tried to shove it into his pocket, but the crowd bombarded him. They swept him back out of the small room, backing him up against the table where the guard normally stood.

“What was it?” people asked. A half-giant woman, mechanical arms tensed, held the Colonel down and pinned him against the table.

Spirit tore her attention from the crowd as they buckled around the Colonel. The paper on the spindle turned, her own words from the prayer appearing. She blinked, mesmerized by the action, and couldn’t move.

Then, after a couple lines were skipped below her pitiful pleas, the Machine herself responded, “Grumm has been received and is undergoing repairs. He gave me your message.”

Spirit fell to the floor. She sobbed, shaking as her goddess responded. False blood began to flow under her face, dripping out from the skin that remained.
The printer clacked on, continuing a new line from the Machine. “I approve of your actions against the heretic, which puts me in a merciful mode. But it disturbs me… What makes you think you deserve to demand I respond to you without a card?”

Spirit could hardly speak. Breathily, between stammerings and sobs, she responded, “I don’t deserve it. I am faithless, a poor excuse for a follower of yours.”

“That’s right.” The Machine waited while the people outside shouted at the Colonel, their demands chaotic and simultaneous. “You are a pitiful believer. What does that mean about the others in the hub with you?”

“It is not my right to decide, my most high goddess, and I do not intend to pretend that I could influence your decisions or ways.”

“That is your problem. You will change.”

Spirit blinked. “May I appeal for an explanation, my goddess?”

“No.”

“Yes, oh righteous one.”

The printer clacked furiously, spitting out words as fast as it could. “Your hub is as good as dead. With Saifer’s soul bought by the Singer of Songs and Grumm’s contested by the Triumvirate, it has become apparent that Obrazet has followed the ways of Gate City, Yerexol, and Fleverre. Organic lies that started in the holy war followed the false worshippers all the way to the hubs.”

Spirit bowed. “I confess my lapses of faith, my lies made to save my own life-”

“Shut up. You know very well that you alone are the most loyal. You won’t smack talk your superiors, not even when your goddess asks you about it. That is where you have failed me, not those white lies you gave the Colonel. I believe that the Colonel has been sabotaging you, and thus me, since I gave him control of this hub. I asked you what you believed he was doing, and you didn’t answer. What is the ninth precept?”

Spirit nodded. “Obey your superiors, my goddess.”

“And who is the highest superior?”

She stammered. “You.”

The printer sat silent. Spirit couldn’t speak, not when she had been so harshly reminded of her failings.

“Are you going to be better?”

Spirit nodded. “I will do all I can.”

“You will,” the Machine spat. “If you weren’t capable of acting in an acceptable manner, I wouldn’t have answered, just left you to sit until the Colonel performed his judgment upon you. But now, like you were from the beginning, you are my faithful tool. Your reward is finally at hand. You shall witness my judgment upon him and all this disloyal lot.”

Shouts and punches popped up outside the tent, making Spirit turn her head. The Colonel, though he was fat and slow, held his own against the non-mechanically enhanced.

Spirit turned back to the printer as it printed. “Don’t pay attention to them. I am the one who is important.”

“Yes, my goddess.”

“Then listen. I know what is coming. You get out – get out as soon as you can. Gather what you need, put on a suit of armor, and grab a shield and a weapon. There will be no lenience.”

Spirit nodded. “Yes, holy Machine. May I take Klavdiya with me?”

“You’re not listening. I said get out as soon as you can. Does that include Klavdiya?”

“N-n-no…”

The Machine sent a line of dots, a sign of thoughts, perhaps a sigh. “If you seek to save this individual, it is on your own head. You are damned regardless of what you do for me, though…”

Spirit waited for a while. “Yes, my goddess?”

“Listen closely, because you will not hear from me directly for a long time hence. You are, as of now, the highest ranked believer on your plane of existence. As such, you shall no longer be remembered as Michael’s – for you aren’t his. That is your past, not your present, and certainly not your future. Spirit of Michael you are no more – high priest Konchet Dukhmir you shall be.”

“Yes, my goddess.”

“And now, the era of the prayer card is over. Perform your function as an end statement, a Konchet, and feed me lace.”

The sprawl of words ended, the final printed line showing the termination of code. Her goddess had spoken.

While the fight raged outside the door, Konchet – no longer merely Spirit, just as her goddess demanded – pulled the card out from her jacket. She searched the area just beneath the card slots, grabbing up the awl and hammer. She placed the punch over the first coding slot, knocking out a hole before moving the tool to the next hole. One by one, she knocked out the coding holes.

Outside, the mob howled. Incomprehensible shouts were interspersed with violent threats and tearing of cloth. “You can’t keep us from the Machine, Colonel! We saw what Spirit did, and she told us the truth!”

Konchet punched faster. She worked ever more quickly, knowing that the crowd had never cared for her fate, only for theirs.

The Colonel wiped his bloody lips outside the door, backing up. “How was I to know that the Machine would speak with her? Obviously she’s innocent, that’s not my fault!”

The half-giant, tall with her brown stripes crossing through an angry face, pushed the Colonel harder. “What else was she telling the truth about? Where’s the cards, Colonel?! You hiding them?”

Konchet smiled. She punched through to the second half of the card, feeling it become less structurally sound, weak and floppy like lace.

“The Machine never gave me cards for you people! She never did, so I had to do what I could! I had to give out the cards as best I could!” the Colonel blubbered.

Punch. Punch.

“Then prove it! Prove it, you fat piece of shit!”

Punch.

“I can’t! What do you expect me to do? How can I prove that I never received the cards?”

Konchet punched the last hole and pushed the card into the slot. The card reader poked and prodded, the thin, lacy card inevitably getting stuck in the process. The turning tapes behind the card reader stopped, the arcane lights dimmed, and at last the card reader shut down and became noiseless.

She stood up. A broken interpreter of the Machine’s will was still broken. The parts, taken in a rampage to tear Michael apart at the end of the war, would remain here, uncared for. Konchet was an honorable name, a strong name, a designation that would continually need to be earned. Ending Michael’s terror and ending Obrazet’s heresies wasn’t enough.

She steeled herself, reaching fingers up to the skin on her face. If she was to follow her goddess’s instructions, this vestige of Michael wasn’t going to serve her. What was gone wasn’t coming back. As the high priest of the Machine, one who knew that the hub was filled with heretics only the Machine could fix, one who had been told to arm herself, and one who already knew how to finish the job given to her, Konchet had the right to take what she needed. She was finally free.

She didn’t need Michael or the Colonel, either of her fathers, because her mother was there. Her steel mother was loving, guiding, unwavering. She was always there and forever would be.

Her steel fingers pressed between the skin and her face. The sensors burned and tingled when she ripped what was left of her face off and threw it into the corner. What little false blood had been generated dripped onto the steel floor, some dribbling across her face and to her neck. She caught the glass eye in her left hand and slipped the bloody thing in her outside pocket.

Once outside the door, she looked down at the Colonel, noticing the real blood that drained from his nose and the top of his head. He reached up to her. “Spirit – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it! You know I didn’t – please, tell them how I’ve been faithful, how I rescued you from them-”

“He keeps the cards in his desk,” Spirit told the small crowd threatening to beat the Colonel to a pulp. While they blinked, stunned, she bent down to his coat, sifting through it for a key ring that she tossed to the half-giant that held fists above him. “Top right drawer.”

The giant took the keys, then kicked the Colonel. “You better hope she’s not right, worm, or I’ll come kill you whether you’re my superior or not.”

“The Machine is watching you!” the Colonel cried out, desperation clear in his cracking tones. “She’ll torture you in hell!”

“You said it yourself – the Machine doesn’t care. She’s pulled out of this plane, she’s given up! We don’t matter to her, and you know that we all lied to save our pathetic lives! And those lies forced us here, damned us for eternity to live in the Machine’s hell!”

The half-giant started as if to pummel the Colonel, but a couple of heavily augmented humans and dragonborn held her back. The dragonborn puffed up his chest, the humans held back the giant. “Stop,” the human said. “He’s not going anywhere. Send a couple of people up to his desk and have them come back if they find the cards.”

Konchet saw the crowds move in on the Colonel. They drew knives, some of them swords, and pressed to his corner. The Colonel, eyes sad, swollen, bloody, looked up at Konchet longingly. “Please,” he begged, dragging himself to her. “Please, Spirit, you can’t let this happen to me. Please, you were broken, but I fixed you! I did so much for you, Spirit!”

She bent down to him, putting a hand to his shoulder. “I know that, Colonel. You loved me like a father, showed me the way to the Machine.” She leaned forward, putting her steel lips close to his ear. “And for that, I owe you eternity.”

The Colonel looked at her questioningly while she backed away, but a wry smile told him all he needed to know. He began to shake his head, realizing her true loyalty. The Colonel would be fixed, forever, once this was all done.

Konchet stood, smiling with empty, steel lips to the half-giant. “You are a true war hero. Look at your legs – you sacrificed to the Machine in one of the deepest, most important ways. Do you think that the Colonel deserves to make it out of this life in one piece? Wholly organic while so many of you have given so much?”

The goliath’s brows furrowed. “What are you getting at?”

“There’s a pile of limbs in the forge room. Should they go to waste? Shouldn’t the Colonel be allowed to taste the eternity you were promised? Shouldn’t all of the officers?”

The half-giant fought her way out of the dragonborn and the human’s grip. They didn’t fight very hard to get her back when she grabbed the Colonel up, holding on to him by the back of his neck. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Colonel? Being damned to haunt the halls of the mainframe forever?”

“No!” the Colonel cried out. He whimpered, but it was to late as sniggering dragonborn and simpering human grabbed tight his shoulders. “No – Spirit, what have you done?! You have betrayed me!”

“Don’t ask the stupid robot,” the giant shouted. “You worry about me – I’m going to cut you up, you lying piece of shit, and I’ll slaughter you if they find those cards!”

She smiled, waving at him as the crowd dragged him off. The loud noises and shouts continued, ringing out through the hall. Soon cries of pain emanated from them, the officers inevitably falling beneath the blades of the enhanced. Konchet marched around the bloodthirsty crowd to the door. They could murder these officers in the prayer room while she followed her goddess’s commands.

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