Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

Two Cents on Writing Short Stories

Posted: June 18, 2015 by writingsprint in My two cents, Writing
Tags: , , ,


Recently a good friend of mine wrote his first short story. He came away exhausted by the process and frustrated by some of the thoughtful, though still negative, feedback he received. I gave him a pep talk on just how hard writing a short story is. He appreciated it, so I thought I’d share.

Dude, make no mistake, writing a short story is HARD. Lately I’ve looked at them like sonnets. They have a rhythm to them, and a structure. Yes, anyone can make their own and do it any way they want, but if you take the lazy perspective and say “just write it” — as most people who don’t write will say — it will kick you in the ass.

The trick to writing a short story is to come up with a single problem that could be resolved in the space of a day. Or a weekend, tops, and only if you gloss over the events of the weekend. I know we’ve read longer short stories, but I think the good ones move fast. It’s easier to imagine big, complicated problems that spiral out of control. Fiction is NOT reality. In a short story, things tie together. You want to do this as much as possible to keep your story focused.

A simple short story looks like this:

  • Meet the main character and what they want
  • What they want has a catch — do they really want it?
  • Put the outcome in jeopardy
  • Force the main character to choose: take what they want and pay the price, let it go, or invent another option
  • Wrap up

My favorite short story that I’ve done is Slave Soldier — several of these take place over one or two mini-scenes:

Scene 1: Cartog meets Lord Sestra, who can take away his slave collar
Scene 2: Lord Sestra turns Cartog’s squad into psychos
Scene 3: Cartog realizes his commanding officer won’t help him
Scene 4: Lord Sestra tells Cartog that he and his squad will serve him or else
Scene 5: During their next mission, Cartog arranges for a friendly fire accident to kill Lord Sestra
Epilogue: Cartog meets Darth Jadus. This scene really wasn’t even necessary, though it puts a good bow on the story, especially for SWTOR players.

Start, finish; beginning, middle, end; boom, boom, boom. Small focus is TOUGH. One of these days I plan to write a short story about someone who wants a glass of water, for the exercise. He wants a glass of water… but a little boy wants water too… the plumbing is broken… and THEN WHAT?

For your first short story, you did a bang-up job. Congrats, man!

Image credit: “diary writing” by Fredrik Rubensson at Flickr
Shared under Creative Commons license



Inspired by Vorcha Girl’s playlist for her Shepard character from Mass Effect, I wanted to post the playlist I made for one of my characters from Star Wars: The Old Republic: Jeana, the Light side Sith warrior.

Theme Music

“Break On Through (To the Other Side) [Remix]” by BT vs. The Doors — Jeana’s theme song. As a Sith, she’s seen the other side.

“Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani– Jeana, Vette and Jaesa are three badass women. They ain’t no hollaback girls and they’ll knock you the eff out.

“Goddess” by Soho — Jeana’s a true heroine, fighting darkness when there’s no other light but hers.

“D’Artagnan” by Michael Kamen — This epitomizes Jeana as a low-level character: incredible potential, hopeful, full of life and a dash of well-deserved arrogance.

Dance Music

I was playing through Jeana’s missions while I was first getting into the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. Any hero has a life outside of saving the world, and Jeana’s first love is dance. These are the kinds of songs she would enjoy dancing to.

“Peace and Love, Inc.” by Information Society — I first heard this song watching an NCAA gymnastics competition. The power, grace and fire that I saw remind me of Jeana.

“Trip Like I Do” by The Crystal Method — Jeana would shred a song like this!

“Right Here, Right Now” by Fatboy Slim — This too!

“Veins” by Charlotte Martin — Quirky, cool and mysterious. This is where science fiction veers into magic.

“Turn Down For What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon — And sometimes, you just dance like a badass.

Scene Music

“The Thorian” by Richard Jacques and Jack Wall — As a Sith, she’s fought a lot of nightmares.

“Distants” by Celldweller — Jeana watched the twin suns of Tatooine set beneath a stone arch the size of a mountain. With the dry air, sharp as a blade, she thought she could see every crevice, every crack and pit in the rock face. She said to Vette, “Now I understand why prophets come to the desert. It burns away what doesn’t matter.”

“Sand” by Nathan Lanier, featuring Karen Whipple — This is one of my favorites. The song opens as Jeana sees a vision on Tatooine that lays her destiny before her. Her childlike hopes for a peaceful Empire vanish. As much of a gut punch as it is, she sees what she has to do: join forces with a Jedi padawan who experiences the Force with as much passion as she does.

“Eptesicus” by Hans Zimmer — Having the will to act is the first step.

“Enter Sandman” by Metallica — Like I said above, sometimes she’s just a badass.

“Ra” by Nathan Lanier — There’s a villain in the game named Thana Vesh, a Sith who is Jeana’s equal: arrogant, fast, vicious, and fights like a tiger. This is the music for their confrontation in the middle of a burning space port.

“Girls With Guns” by Tommy Shaw — Jeana’s friend Vette carries twin blaster pistols and shoots them like a demon!

“Samara” by Jimmy Hinson — This captures the awesome power of the Force that surrounds her. I imagine Jeana walking into a room full of bad guys, trying to reason with them, then their sense of dread as she fires up her lightsaber, throws some across the room, and they realize how much trouble they’ve gotten themselves into.

“Mother vs. Daughter” by Jack Wall — “Jeana and the Sith fought like a bladed whispers. They moved too quickly to see.”

“Torn” by Nathan Lanier — Jeana is nearly killed by her Darth Baras, her master. Her mother picks up her lightsabers again to avenge her daughter. Darth Baras has no idea what fury he’s unleashed.

“Rise Above” by Veigar Margeirsson — Heroine or hero, anyone can have a crisis of faith.

“Bernini’s Angels” by Kerry Muzzey — Or as I call it, “Like Mother, Like Daughter.” Jeana and Raffa fight Darth Baras’ apprentices while her mother and father cut through his armies like chaff.

“Don’t Let Go Yet” by David Roch — On the verge of turning to the Dark side, Jeana finally finds something to give her hope. Vette sobs as she watches Jeana dance again.

“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons — Jeana defeats Darth Baras and takes her place as Darth Soleus. The Empire is about to change. Welcome to the new age. Roll the end credits!

Making a Wish

Posted: April 14, 2015 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been trying to explain this to family and friends but nobody seems to get it. I hope that you do.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get “dragged” into being a stage hand on a community theater production of “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim. I say “dragged” because they didn’t know they needed help until last week, and I’ve never been into musicals. I grew up rolling my eyes every time someone broke into song in old movies. Real life isn’t like that! People are awkward, not beautiful! You get the idea. Well, even if it’s not my thing, I support the arts and artists, and I was happy to help.

Well, I’m hooked now.

I’m sure that there are theater companies where the actors don’t like each other, where the directors are mean, where dueling egos and deadlines drive everyone to the verge of stabbing each other to death with anything they could grab off the prop tables. I was brought in too late to get to know everyone, but I can tell you that the performers were wonderful, dedicated, friendly, and talented beyond belief. I knew that people in theater worked hard, but I didn’t know how hard.

For three nights, I helped move Rapunzel’s tower on and off stage, including a gaffe on the first night where we started pulling it off too soon. I could barely watch the show because it was obscured by curtains and actors running on and off, but I could listen, I could look at their faces and feel the energy that they brought to the show. I feel… tremendously… lucky, and blessed, to have been there. For three nights in a row I shed tears during “Children Will Listen” and “No More.” You have to understand, for the past twelve years I’ve worked on various projects in my day job that have involved hard work and teams coming together on their best days. They didn’t involve singing, and music, and people putting their hearts out there and creating something beautiful. Even if it was just for three nights.

At 46 and never having been on a stage in my life, not to mention having a serious writing addiction, I don’t know where I’ll find the time to make it on stage, even as Villager #4 or Spear Carrier on the Left. But I want to.

Careful the wish you make,
Wishes are children.
Careful the path they take,
Wishes come true, not free.

Into the Woods, “Children Will Listen”

Sometimes, It Works Like This

Posted: April 7, 2015 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff
Tags: , , ,

I thought I’d share a fun story about how one of my characters is developing. I’m not insane, but sometimes it looks that way.

"Corso Riggs" from Star Wars: The Old Republic

“Corso Riggs” from Star Wars: The Old Republic

He was originally inspired by Corso Riggs from Star Wars: The Old Republic, a gentlemanly hired gun who’s a bit of a country guy. My character won’t look or act like him, but he’ll be just as tough, good-hearted and loyal. First, I needed a new name. One Google search later, I picked the name “Kahlil,” nickname “Kal,” which means “friend.”

I was writing a “get to know you” scene where everyone on the ship is having dinner together for the first time. At first I had Kal’s boss, Raffa, cooking chili, but then I realized that Raff was making dinner, and had put on the music (blues) and was a musician himself (guitar player). He has plenty of things that make his character interesting, and I wasn’t leaving anything for Kal. Switch over to Kal doing the cooking. At first I kept the chili, but then I thought, let’s follow the ancestry of his name and make it Middle Eastern. I mean, it’s the year 3000 or who knows (not even me, yet), so he could cook anything, but I wanted to make it simple.

(My characters break the 4th wall and look out at the audience. This is simple?)

So he’s a hired gun who likes to cook. How good is he? I decided he’s very good at it. When you’re stuck in space traveling all the time, you might as well try to eat as well as you can. I even made a gag out of it, saying that the rest of the crew often does his chores for him so that he’ll cook for them.

Dinner was kebabs using meat from an animal he shot in the field, the local version of an onion, and spices that they picked up on other planets. He also improvised hummus using some alien rendition of chickpeas. So not only is Kal a gunfighter and a cook, we also know that he’s resourceful, persistent or stubborn, and takes pride in what he does.


Don’t mess with the Zohan

My pop-culture-addled mind jumped from hummus to Adam Sandler’s Zohan. Do I want to play Kal for laughs, too? Make him listen to disco, have 1980s hair? No way. If I can work in having him and Raff play hacky sack to build up their coordination — maybe Kal’s a martial artist too — that’s fine, but no more than that.


To get a visual of what this feels like, watch the “Script in Development” sketch from Saturday Night Live :).

"Script in Development," from Saturday Night Live

“Script in Development,” from Saturday Night Live

All images used without permission.

Two Broke Girls with Guns

Posted: March 30, 2015 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff
Tags: , , ,

Actually they’re not broke, but they’re starting out with the clothes on their backs. And guns. 2,107 words tonight, about 900 of which came from a scene I wrote a few months ago when I was jumping ahead. Risha and her best friend are on their own now.

Having 900 of today’s words was a huge shot in the arm, but even without it, I can’t get over how much better the writing feels now than it has before. I think it’s because I’m getting to know the characters better and I’m taking my time with the story. Originally I had expectations of what had to happen when and when the story should look like. To be blunt, f*** that. Let the characters tell you what they feel like. Listening to them, exploring the story, is opening it up more than I ever dreamed.

Do you eat dinner with your friends with expectations of what they’ll say and when they’ll say it? Hell no. You sit back, have a few drinks, and let the night go where it does. Never mind that an evil empire is chasing after you. That’s a whole ‘nother problem.

Two days until Camp Nanowrimo officially begins!

Fear Helps

Posted: March 28, 2015 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff
Tags: , , ,

fear will find you

“Why do we write?”

* * *

“You do not fear writing. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.”


“How can you write more than possible, imagine more than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of writer’s block.”

“I do fear writer’s block. I fear that my stories will never be written, while I stare at the page every day, and my voice will never be heard.”

“Then write your story.”


“Pour the words onto the page. Then fear will find you again.”

1,366 words today: an argument, a revelation, and a touching family moment. Also some scenery and a little bit of jumping ahead as a seed for a scene in the future. Fear helps.

It’s funny, I feel a little guilty having success while writing several days ahead of the official start date. I do this to make it easy on myself. I started last November’s Nano several days ahead, too. If this was a competition I’d certainly wait until Wednesday to get started, but it’s not. This is all about the writing and encouraging people to write. Writing is hard enough without deliberately making it harder. I’m going to pour it on.

And thank you, Batman.

Camp Nanowrimo Inspiration

Posted: March 28, 2015 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff
Tags: , ,
flawed diamond

Photo of a flawed diamond from the Wikipedia page “Perfect is the enemy of the good.”

My good friend Steve Phillips sent me some inspirational quotes for Camp Nanowrimo — which starts on Wednesday, in case you’re interested!

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” George S. Patton

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” Confucius

“Striving to be better, oft we mar what’s well.” Shakespeare, King Lear

The Pareto Principle: it takes 20% of the work to complete 80% of the work. (And believe me, that last 20% of the work really does take 80% of the effort.)

“Give them the third-best to go on with; the second-best comes too late, [and] the best never comes.” Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the developer of early warning radar for the British in World War II.

I’m all about making the story as good as I can, but now is not that time!


Posted: March 25, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Part 2 of my new Nanowrimo challenge

400 words last night, 1600 words tonight, leaving me about 600 words behind. I started working on a scene with Risha as a child, from when she meets one of her best friends. I don’t even know if this scene will make it into the final story. It’s a decade too early. Still, I had to write it. I wanted to get to know the characters better.

Risha’s learning to be a con artist faster than I expected. Her parents’ integrity is showing in her generous heart, which is getting her into trouble. I’m not sure how long she can stay that generous in the life she’s living.

It is a weird feeling when you want the characters to go right and they insist on going left.

Here We Go Again…

Posted: March 24, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Last April I reblogged a post called “Seven Reasons to Set Outrageous Goals.” We set outrageous goals to make the impossible possible.

Last April I gave myself a challenge to have the first draft of Dubrillion Burning finished by the end of April. Well, I have somewhere over 50,000 words of The Lost Princess down, and a lot of concepts and research added since then, along with bits and pieces that I’ve thrown at the wall to see if they stick. There’s a lot that’s still undefined, but you know what, I’m in the home stretch now. I’m going to dive in and do another 50,000 words by the April and see what happens.

A Mechanic by Trade

Posted: March 20, 2015 by writingsprint in Science fiction
Tags: , ,

Firefly game

If it’s crazy, but it works, it isn’t crazy. While I’m doing research, I played a few solo rounds of the Firefly board game to give me a handle on what it feels like to be an interstellar merchant. The first thing I discovered is that you work with some interesting characters out in the Black, some that you didn’t know you needed.

Corbin shifted the trader into hyperdrive. The ship lurched, then dropped as it entered the void. The shift tossed everyone who wasn’t sitting down sideways, and those were sitting down fell out of their chairs. All except Corbin. He had belted himself in.

Corbin grimaced as he heard people swearing over the ship’s intercom. Might as well face the music. “Everyone okay out there?”



“That’s a bumpy ride, boss.”

“Sorry about that. I’ll see if the inertial damps need replacing.”

Corbin locked in the autopilot. He pretended to work. The inertial damps were fine. Instead, he ran diagnostics on the ship systems and other busy work that had to be done anyway. He worked on everything but the inertial damps, except for the systems check, which showed, yes, that they were fine. He held his favorite screwdriver while he worked his way down the list.


“Jesus!” Yolanda’s quiet, breathy voice, soft as feathers, made him jump. She stood at the cockpit hatch. She didn’t look bothered that she’d surprised him. She leaned in just enough so that she was inside the cockpit and not the accessway. It set him at ease, which set Corbin on edge. He’d only known her a few days, and so far he’d seen her stop two arguments and warm up to everyone he’d seen her meet. She knew just how to get everyone to like her. It bothered him.

Anyway. Corbin said, “Hi, Yo. You need anything?”

“How’s the ship?”

“It’s what I thought. Starboard dampener. It should just need an adjustment, though, not a full replacement.”

“Good. Great.”

“Yeah.” She didn’t leave. “Anything else?”

“It’s a tough job.”

“What? Being a…” She said she was a personal assistant. He didn’t know what that meant.


Corbin grinned. He put on his best poker face. “Not as much you’d think. When you’ve been around a while… you…”

Yolanda tilted her head as he kept talking. Corbin had to work on his poker face.

“You’ve never flown before, have you?” she asked, her voice soft again.

“I have, as copilot, with much better pilots,” he admitted.

“Ah. Your first ship?”

“I never said it wasn’t.”

She smiled. “And they tell me I’m selective with my words.”

He sat back in the pilot’s chair. Corbin dimpled his palm with the point of his screwdriver. “I’m a mechanic by trade. Nursed Bonanza back to health. She’s purred like a kitten ever since.” He put his hand on the bulkhead. “She’ll keep purring as long as I don’t wreck her.”

“A word of advice… captain.” Yolanda stepped over to him. She took the screwdriver out of his hand. Yolanda held it up for him to see, like teaching a junior grease monkey. “Most pilots don’t wear tool belts every waking moment. If you want to play the part, look the part. And hire a pilot.” She handed it back to him. “I don’t want to be holding my breath every time we transit in and out of jump.”

She started to leave. Corbin frowned. He felt she’d just psychoanalyzed him. “Every time? You’re a passenger, not my crew.”

Yolanda glanced back at him. “Really?”

He stood and met her at the hatch. “So you can read people. What else?”

Yolanda stared straight into his eyes. Soft as velvet, she said, “You’re flying the best-maintained ship I’ve seen in a year. You like engines better than people. You carry a gun that you’ve never fired. You have friends in both high and low places and you don’t trust either of them. You have contraband in the starboard hold. You like to stay clean but you’ll get dirty, and you’ll roll with people and jobs who are… unsavory. You need someone who’s good with people, can shoot, can keep a secret, and who can get dirty and look like a bouquet of roses doing it.” She smiled. “That’s me.”

Corbin didn’t know if she was telling the truth or wrapping him around her finger. The smart part of his brain told him that he had more reason not to trust her. But he smiled, and said, “I don’t like engines more. They’re just easier.”

“Point taken, captain.”

“Corbin’s fine. What’s your cut?”

“Equal share.”

“After expenses. And I decide what the expenses are.”

She smiled sweet as honeysuckle. “Done.”

Yolanda walked out of the cockpit. In the ship’s lounge, he heard one of the passengers ask, “What was it?” and she replied, “Starboard inertial something or other.” Corbin tapped his screwdriver on the heel of his hand. He wondered where Yolanda picked up her unique skill set.