Critique this Blog


So, what’s going on with the blog? Good question? I think I’m posting too often and I mean that with regards to everyone involved, both you, and me.

For you folks, I’m just way to wordy. I find myself doing it on other people’s blogs too. I tune in, look to see how much I have to read, sigh, tell myself I’ll come back to it later, and then don’t. I do that all the time with David Farland’s Kicks. They don’t work as kicks anymore because they’re too damned long. Save for when his brother does them for him. In those instances they act more like kicks.

For me, I’m just not getting things done because I’m spending all of my free time working on posts. Last week, ahead of our trip to Colorado, I was busting my butt to get posts done ahead of time so that they would be ready while I was gone. That meant that while I was on the plane I was working on critiques for my critique group and posting those things late.

My reward for all of this hard work? Another low readership week. The lowest in six weeks.

Obviously something has to be done. I just don’t know what it is. So I need to test out some things. The first thing I’m going to test out is posting less often. For a while the numbers seemed to say that I should post as often as possible, but I think that has oversaturated readers. That and there seems to be this collective busyness taking over everyone’s lives right now, my own included. It’s not summer anymore, and we just don’t have the time.

So, here’s the question, what is a good posting schedule for Divining the Words? Should they continue to be every weekday but broken up into smaller segments, maybe spread an article out over a week? Post one full article a week? Every other day? You tell me. You are the reason I do this after all because it sure as hell isn’t for the money. J

There you go. I’m opening DtW up for critique. If you don’t want to publically broadcast your opinion, send your thoughts over to And remember, I can handle criticism of all shades, so send your nastiest and most kind, I’ll take them all.


Your humble servant,


Monday Funny: Marriage


In honor of my sister's wedding this past weekend and my officiating of the ceremony. 

With dipping readership numbers over the past few weeks, I'm considering making some changes to the blog, so stay tuned for that. 

Until tomorrow, I bid you a happy Monday. 

Heroes How NOT to Character Motivate

The writers for the Heroes television series have had long enough to straighten up their act after the union strike. Last season was lack luster, and if the premiere I watched this week tells us anything, season four is going to be comical.

Never mind the opening with the casket where my first thought was, “This guy is totally going to be an earth mover and he's going to cover the casket with his power.” (Actually, he's probably an empath or whatever the Sith lord called Peter, because after all, he's playing the role of father Patrelli in this rehash of every other season so far.)

My biggest problem with Heroes has always been character motivation. There is none. People just do things for the sake of moving the ill conceived plot along. This premiere was proof enough of that.

Claire moves into college and a dorm room with a power hungry, straight A student (save for that B+ in Poly Sci or whatever it was) who knows just where she's going in life, has it mapped out, and happens to be gorgeous as well (because aren't they all, did you see the hotties at the other lunch table?). And like all roommates do upon first meeting someone new, she berates Claire about her life plan and teddy bears no more than two minutes into their stay together. In fact, those few moments that they spent together were more than enough for her to then fill in Claire's father about how good of a student Claire could be if she just applied herself. People do that sort of stuff all the time in real life. Don't they?

If Annie, the roommate isn't unbelievable enough, Claire's fatal flaw, tell the truth even if it kills you and the ones you love, is almost as unbelievable as Noah's fatal flaw of lie about everything even if it costs you your family, but even more unbelievable than both of those is the reset button hit during every season with these two. It always goes back to “Oh I love my father with puppy dog eyes, I heart him, I really really do” after every season in which Noah turns out to be a scum bag and Claire proves how much of an idiot she can be.

And what's the most inconspicuous thing a super powered idiot can do? Apparently jump out of their own dorm room window, because no one would notice on a college campus. Everyone knows that college students go to bed early, save for the stalker/murderer/super powered Gretchen. (Yes, I'm calling Gretchen out as the invisible woman, “So I heard that you didn't see a suicide note.” Uh huh, riiiiight. In another show that would be a slight of hand, in Heroes it's the writers thinking they're witty.)

Then we jump to Hiro and Ando who have decided to go public and advertise their services as heroes. Really? Richest guy in all of Japan, he's saved the world more than once, watched his mother and father die, and he's still pretending to be a twelve year old trapped in a man's body? Really? Oh, but it's because he's dying. I gotcha. I mean what better time to act like a child than in your last days.

Oh, and let us not forget Peter. If you don't remember, Peter's fatal flaw is that he is fatally optimistic. Why be subtle about saving people's lives after you've been hunted to near extinction for an entire season? Just jump around New York like Spiderman, (or PETER Parker) and rip the doors off of wrecked cars in front of onlookers. I'm sure no one will notice. And if they do, hey, they'll appreciate that you're helping someone and applaud like they should. Besides, if saving lives is your new form of crack, who really gives a damn.

Even when a Heroes character starts to make sense, like with Tracy Strouse and her quest for vengeance, the writers do their damndest to frack it all to hell and back. Sure, sure, Tracy has always been cold and calculating, so much so that she became the ice queen, but why not turn her into the ray of sunshine in Noah's life because she saw a dirtbag that absolutely no one cared for, die. That's perfectly believable to me. I'm always meeting people who are willing to drown to death four men in a row and then suddenly turn into Rainbow Fracking Brite.

To sum up the rest of my feelings, I hope Sylar kills that pantywaist Parkman (no relation to Peter PARKer) and takes over his body. And then I hope he finds Suresh before he can make an appearance in this season and kills him too. Then he needs to make his way to Nathan and kill him before he has another bizarre coming to Jesus moment that totally changes the fate of the world. After all of those messes are cleaned up, we wait and watch Hiro die so we don't have anymore time slippage idiocy.

Unfortunately, where Heroes lacks in developing characters who portray believable motivations, they excel at killing off those characters who do have believable motivation. Case in point: Speedster girl who thought Parkman was an idiot for falling in love with her based on a dream. That's believable, and of course, that's why she had to die.

Images: NBC/ Chris Haston

The Danger of Making Stuff Up

So I'm sort of at a loss for today's post. I had this really witty witticism all witted up and ready to go, and now I can't use it. What I was going to say was that today's small cleaning task was knocking down cobwebs. I started in one room and then moved one by one, twirling up all kinds of webs and watching daddy longlegs try to flee by zip-lining away from the brush only to find that I was twirling the rod that said brush was attached to, pulling them in like a wench.  

Most would try to cut their line, choosing instead to take their chances with a fall to the ground. With the brush swinging back and forth over my head I found myself worrying about one of them going kamikaze and falling on me instead. But I remembered something. Even though daddy longlegs are the most venomous spider on the planet, they don't have the proper mouth with witch to bite us. What a wonderful correlation with a character's fatal flaw. What better way to explain how someone's strength can also be their weakness.

Now, why can't I use that example? Because Daddy Longlegs aren't the most venomous spider on the planet. They (the scientists) don't even know how venomous they are. It's never been tested. This is just another lie spread by the disinformation era where any idiot with access to the net can pretend to be a scientist and send out senseless drivel. That's how elections are won, folks.

And that's my short thought for the day: FACT CHECK EVERYTHING. Don't do it just because we want to stop the spread of disinformation, do it because when your reader gets to something like that and knows otherwise, they're going to stop and say, “This joker doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.”

Granted, in my case that might be true, but don't flat out tell people about it. As a writer you want to be sure that the only time your reader pauses to think about things is when you want them to, and you especially don't want them to pause because they're questioning you. It stops the story, pulls them out of the scene, reminds them that “hey, this is all made up.” I should know, because I just made this all up.

Kidding. It's true. Really. No, honestly, it is.

Writers Are Known For Their Writing

I grew up with a man that can do anything. When I was little he was a bus mechanic, I got a little older and he started building houses, older still and he went back to college to become a science teacher. My dad knows way too much about politics, dietary health, and exercise. When other dads were buying their first computers my dad was bringing home the components so that he could build his.  

That same can do attitude has haunted me through much of my life. There's never been something that someone else can do that I looked at and didn't think, “Anything you can do I can do better.” Some might call that conceit, but I think it's a great attitude to have in life, just so long as you don't let it go to your head.

I honestly believe that anyone can do anything they put their minds to. It's not that I think I'm amazing, it's that I really don't think that there is much that separates two people in what they do aside from the time that they've spent working on it. And there in lies our problem. Time.

You see, each one of these new tasks that I take on requires an investment in time. The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not the time spent learning something new would be better spent furthering progress in something you already know. Concert pianists don't learn their trade, get some diploma, and then stop learning and practicing.

If you want to be the best at something, or even noteworthy, you have to dedicate yourself to it. There is no special Jack-Of-All-Trades award presented every year. Thomas Jefferson might have been a great politician, architect, and thinker, but he only became recognized for the second two because of his dedication to the first.

So as you're getting ready to code and design your own website and blog, then quickly pick up Photo Shop so that you can design your book cover, and oh, while you're at it become a master at digital photography so that you can shoot all of your own photos, try to figure out how much of that time might be better spent on honing the craft of writing. You know, that thing on which all the others hinge upon.

If you have the money, it might be a wiser decision to find someone who has chosen one of those aforementioned fields and made it their own. Especially when it comes to marketing. Take it from a graphic designer turned carpenter turned writer turned. .  . okay, so I don't practice what a I preach. Sue me. But wait till after I take the Bar. (Kidding)  

What To Do With A Clichéd Character

So I was struggling through the end of Spark this weekend, as promised. I got to thinking about it and realized that part of my hangup is that I don't know who one of the characters is. Actually, no, that's not right, I do know who she is, she's based off of someone I've known. But when I go to write the character she comes out so clichéd.

Through the various versions she's seen a few different incarnations, one closely based on reality, the next pure evil, the last a bit more caring and concerned. So when I sat down to write her big scene I had to come to terms with these different aspects. That's when I wrote an interview in her voice, basing it off of things that I've heard in real life.

The surprising thing was, when I got done I found that, no, she is just as clichéd as she sounded originally before I tried to add to her character.

I mean, clichés and stereotypes come from somewhere, don't they? I guess, the key is in finding that bit of unique truth hidden within the cliché. For Cara it's this misguided mothering. She can be so cold and cruel with her work, but at the same time she sees herself as a mother figure, the rock to which her brothers can tether themselves to.

I'm wondering what other characters I have that are coming off as clichéd and what unique truth I can find in them.

Does this give anyone any thoughts on their own characters?

And I'm sorry about another short post. I'm desperately trying to catch up and then get ahead in preparation for the out of state wedding this weekend. So much to do and such little time. Sigh. I almost decided on taking a week off from the blog, but I won't fall off of the wagon now, I can't. I've been making too much progress to toss in the towel, even for a break. 

Monday Funny: Road Trip


It's Monday, and it's not funny. No completed Spark. Not happy about that. No time to write. 

"I don't tell my parents, and I don't tell my friends, I'll just grab some rubber tubing and pull on my depends, and then I drive. It's time for a road trip." 

Writing Your Beginning Later


Let's end the week on beginnings. We started out by talking about them, but I had another thought that I wanted to add to that discussion. Along with not doing a serious critique of the first chapter until you've reached the end of your novel, so too must you be ready to trash said beginning. And not just in a novel, in shorts as well.

The only reason I bring this up is because I for one, and a few others that I know as well, tend to stress about beginnings. We can't get started until we fully understand where the story is going, who our character is, who they will become and so forth. The trouble is, you've got to get something  onto the page before all of that is going to spring from the eternal fountain of brilliance that is your head.

Honestly though, this might be one of those discovery writer sorts of things. Outliners might not have this problem (cue for the Outliners to chime in in the comments section). I'm terrible at it myself so I can't really say. But what I have tried with outlining would still tell me that I'd likely still need to rework my beginning after I got to the end.

I've found that I do that with posts for the blog. In fact, that's how the thought occurred to me. I sat down one night to write a post and found myself agonizing over the words for the opening. Then I stopped and thought about it. “David, you're just going to rewrite the beginning of this post when you get to the end anyways because that's what you always do. You just need to start. The beginning will come later.”

Keeping this idea in mind with regards to beginnings will help in two ways. First, and most obvious, letting you get started without having to worry about coming up with the perfect beginning. Second, it keeps you open to the possibility of trashing it later on during a revision.

Sometimes suggesting that a beginning isn't working and needs to be scrapped is hard to hear. But like I said in Tuesday's post, that beginning is what gets your foot in the door with an agent, publisher, and reader. So much rides on that opening that it doesn't pay to be stubborn about the beginning.

And that, my friends, is it for this week. Sorry about there not being any pictures today, but its been a long week and there's a long weekend ahead. But keep your heads up, I sense that things are turning around for everyone. Remember the friend whose relative was in the hospital? Well the relative is doing much better and the dreaded swine flu is leaving the friend's body

Happy Writing!

Pitfalls Of Putting Yourself Into Your Characters

Write what you know. Right? And what could you possibly know better, than yourself? Probably a lot of things. You see, I don’t think we really know ourselves as well as we think. We have issues and hang-ups that we haven’t even begun to discover yet. They are what holds us back, ties us down, and clouds our minds. And I don’t think anyone lets those things carry on knowingly. 

But here’s the thing, even when we don’t think we’re writing about ourselves, we are. And when we do so unknowingly, the writing gets harder. Sure, your character is more interesting because they’re actually dealing with real issues, but you have to be willing to deal with those issues yourself before you can get your character to.

Case in point: Spark, the infamous never finished but always mentioned short story. I finally realized why I’m having such a hard time moving forward with it and putting it to bed. I don’t have the issues that I had when I started it. Sounds pompous, right? Hear me out.

Spark came to me one night as I crept into bed after a long day’s work. I snuggled up to my wife, placed my hand on her belly and tried to feel my son dreaming away inside her. Like most writers, I had a dream of my own. That dream led to Spark, where a young man, too afraid of the commitment, challenges, and responsibilities of having a child causes the death of his unborn daughter. The story is his quest for retribution.

Here I am over a year and a half later working on a revision to the ending and I can’t think like that frightened father-to-be anymore. Not only am I Dad, I’m Stay-At-Home-Dad. I spend more time with my son than most moms get these days, let alone dads. And you can call me conceited on this one if you want, but I’m a damn good dad. At this very moment I’m watching a baby monitor while my boy sleeps and though he’s three rooms away, were he to pop up and make a move for the edge of the bed, I’d be there before he could fall. (LOL, he must have heard me thinking because he just woke up. Don’t worry, he’s fine, just needed to know I was nearby and went back to sleep.)

I’ll eventually be able to put myself into that frame of mind and playact what it was like, but I fear that it won’t be as powerful. But that's what's holding me back, fearing that I won't speak truth to the character any longer.  

And what about the other instance, the one where you don’t even realize you’re writing about yourself? You know your character’s problems, what holds them back, what they have to deal with, but you can’t write it. It could be that one of the reasons you can’t deal with your character’s issues is because yours and theirs are one in the same.

Have you considered that? Have you looked at your character’s flaws and considered that they might be your own? Are you ready to deal with those flaws in your own life so that you can write your story? Maybe that’s not you, but it is definitely something to consider.


Behaviour & Communication:
How To Be The Best Dad In The Galaxy

One last thing. A little patting myself on the back. This marks my 100th post and come Friday this will be my 15th straight week without missing a post. So yay me. I shall celebrate by poring cement, preparing dinner, washing clothes, washing dishes, and writing another blog post. :) 

Collective Angst and Airplane Gremlins

So I had something else in mind for today, but honestly, I'm exhausted. A late night storming session yesterday with a writer friend to get her book going, my wife's open house tonight that brought me and the little guy out to her school with dinner (and that means entertaining him by chasing him around on the grass for hours), the Novel Crit group started yesterday, I'm helping my wife photograph a wedding on Saturday, my sister's wedding is in less than two weeks out in Colorado and I am performing the ceremony (have NOT practiced), the house is in no way ready for the rains and the cold, a friend is coming to stay the night, the dog kennel needs to be finished or a separate dog house built for the third dog, the garage is decades from completion, money is tight, queries to write, stories to finish, the blog, the house, don't get me started on the house –

And that's what today's post is about. You're not alone. It seems like everyone is going through all kinds of stress right now. Another writer I know just got back from a relaxing two week vacation only to find that her daughter is going in for surgery and another relative had a stroke. She's missing her favorite annual event. And to top it all off, she's got the flu so she can't visit any of her loved ones.

It's everyone right now. You. Me. Everyone.

Forget the Collective Unconscious, this is like Collective Angst.

I mean, what the hell? Is there like some evil gremlin out on the wing of flight 607 nonstop to Happyland and we're all on it or what? (Wanna see something creepy? I picked 607 off the top of my head, wrote that sentence about Happyland and thought, “I wonder if I'm using a flight number from a recent crash and that's why it's stuck in my head. That would be wrong.” So I googled it. No way I could have known ahead of time what I ended up finding. No known cause. Just creepy. Really creepy.)

Really, that's it. No long winded post today. Not because I don't think you deserve the best I can give you, but because I think that everyone is running a mile a minute right now and we all just need to slow down, collect ourselves, take in a deep breathe, and relax. Maybe think back to better times, when life was slower. For me, that's the beginning of the 80's when I was two and you can't possibly have fewer cares.

And you know what always makes me feel a little better when I'm stressed . . . THE MUPPETS!

Just something about it. My folks used to record episodes on a cassette deck so that we could listen to them way back before there were VCR's. Or maybe there were VCR's and we just couldn't afford one. Remember those? Back before they had clear plastic for cassettes? I can still hear that Muppets Star Wars episode they did.

So remember, when life tortures you with gargling Gershwins be ready with a good song and dance number. “You are my lucky star. I saw you from afar.”

I Will Not Read Your Fracking First Chapter

So everyone has read that rather juvenile piece written by Josh Olsen by now. If you haven't, you've likely read clips of it here and there because agents and editors are eating that shit up. And yes, it's crap. The general premise is a good one, that hobby writers need to leave people who are working professionally ALONE, and that real writers aren't deterred from honest feedback. Unfortunately, that message is lost in Olsen's Junior High bitch fest because he won't own up for his own part in the incident that spurred his tirade. (Amber Gardner does a great job of pointing this out on her blog, and honestly, I thought she spoke more truth to the subject as someone just starting out than did the supposed professional script adapter Josh Olsen.)

I've been cultivating another critique thought for a while now, and Olsen's tirade brought it to fruition. We're starting up the Novel Critique group this week and that will bring a lot of first chapters my way. In addition to that I've recently critiqued a few first chapters by different writers, and I have to say, first chapters suck to critique.

The first chapter is pivotal to the entire story. Whether or not your story is even read is based on those first few pages. Agents tend to ask for just the first five, and if you can't sell them in that span then you're on the chopping block.

This brings us to our problem. As writers we look for a good critique of that first chapter to help us fix it and make it as amazing as it needs to be, but I honestly don't think that is possible. Your critic doesn't know your characters, they don't know where the story is going, they don't know the feel or mood of the story, so how are they supposed to help you fix it? They can't, not based on the first chapter. They can give you general thoughts, fix style issues, grammar, punctuation, flow, setting, so on and so forth, but the really important stuff, the Story Worthy Problem, the Inciting Incident, the Surface Problem, how all those things tie together and relate to the journey ahead and your character – they can't help you with that.

That's why I purpose that we stop critiquing first chapters. Put them out there as an introduction to your story, maybe collect some very general feedback or first impressions, but save the serious critiquing for later. Get several chapters into the story or ideally, done with it, before you ask for a serious critique on the first chapter.

I'm even willing to say that the first and last chapters should be critiqued side by side. That ending needs to tie directly into the beginning. It's a cycle. You need to have come full circle. You can't tell that about the first chapter until you've read the last.

So no, the title to this post does not mean that I'm turning into a professional dick. I would hope that I approach these writing topics with little more care than some “professionals” do. What I mean is that I think we should stop basing our critique interactions on first chapters. Yes, that's all that an agent gets, but that's not our goal in critiquing. Our goal in critiquing is to make that first chapter the best it can be. When we critique it first we do a disservice to the story. And that's what I'm saying.

See the full version of that amazing “full circle” picture here.

Monday Funny


In honor of  a recent crit session in which I was totally playing the part of Ben Stiller. Oh, and we had a chicken vanish recently so this ones for you nameless chicky, your eggs will be missed. 

Coming this week:

No, I Will Not Read Your F@#&!^* First Chapter

And other STUFF!

(Don't worry, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds) 

Spread the Word Saturday


I had a few things in mind for sharing today, but then I read the following article about Michael Jordan's acceptance speech at last nights Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I'm not a big sports fan. Heck, I don't even have a TV. While my soon to be brother-in-law is busy setting up his three television sets in their living-room so that he can watch three football games concurrently, I'm busy scratching my head and wondering why. But I always did marvel at Michael Jordan when I was growing up. 

I think it's because he looked like such a little guy on the court. I always cheered for the small guy that could make the big beefy guys look like fools. Hence my love of Bruce Lee. And last night while I was out with a couple of my buddies being reminded why it's so great NOT to be single, I watched clips of Jordan tearing up during his speech and thought, "Man, that guy always had such class." 

Then I read this article, an article that's more of a character sketch of the man. It shed a different light on him and his career and totally changed how I look at him. It also made me think of character flaws and how traits can be perceived differently by different people. But don't take my word for it, go read the article.

Valuing Your Freelance Work

So many of us talk about valuing life, but I don't think that we really do. As a matter of fact, I think that most people, at least in the states, see the life of another person as rather worthless in practice. Sure, when we stop and think about it we would say the opposite, but our actions speak otherwise. 

This post had been on the back burner until I read something by a successful author who was trying the self-publishing route. Said author (who shall remain nameless to protect MY safety) talked about his own venture into self publishing. He gave a long and interesting list of expenses and headaches suffered along the way. Freelancer after freelancer bailed on him at the last minute for flaky reasons. But two stood out.

The first was an artist who was approached to do the cover. While not all of the details were given, concepts were produced, a specific design chosen, revisions were made; but in the end the author felt like it was going to take too long and be too expensive. So the author made his own cover and paid for some touch ups to be done to it. As for the original artist, no money is said to have gone his way.

Our second freelancer, “turned out to be a bargain. I [sic] friend at a publishing company recommended a freelancer who was nine months pregnant. She did not go on vacation and did the job for $20 per hour—about $160 total. Earlier bids for typesetting had been between $1000 and $2000.”

Now, if you're waiting for the part where the author says that he gave her a bonus because he felt both bad about taking advantage of a pregnant woman, and grateful for the services she provided . . . don't hold your breath.

We All Do It

Kind of makes you cringe, doesn't it? But this author is actually a really good guy. He seems to do his best at helping out other authors, in fact the whole point of him sharing his ordeal was to steer others away from the same mistakes. He shares information freely, and in the end only hopes that you'll pick up one of his books. He's an artisan just like you and I, but he's also got bills to pay, a family to take care of, probably even a mortgage or two. If he can get a break, he'll take it even if he does have enough money tucked away on the side to experiment with self-publishing.

This is an unfortunate fact of life, folks. If you don't value your time, no one else will do it for you. In fact, they will knowingly take advantage of you if they think they can get a “bargain.” These same people may very well be members of the artistic community just like you and I. They want their work and time valued and paid for appropriately, but when it comes time to doing the same in kind there's a good chance that it's not going to happen.

I know this sounds a bit pessimistic, but it is Friday, and this is snark. Along with that, this is true in many cases. If you don't stand up for yourself, you will be taken advantage of. I was going to use examples from my own life, from being a freelance graphic designer and doing construction. People that know me are always asking me to bid jobs for them hoping I'll do it on the cheap, and frankly, I usually do. The most recent one I bid in at nearly half the going rate which was still too high for this person. Rather than cutting my price, I wished them luck on getting the job done right.

What You’re Paying For

You see, we have to remember, you're not just paying for the person's time, you are paying for the years and years worth of study and practice that went into them being able to do what they can do. A person might look at a job quote and choke at the price compared to the number of hours spent doing it. Well you're not paying for the hours; you're paying for the experience.

Take a person that knows nothing of the craft and ask them to do the job for you. See how long it takes them and what kind of quality you get out of it. Unfortunately, people don't think in those terms. They think in terms of a Walmart bargain culture where cheap prices come at undervaluing the work used to create said product. They want the best, (or what looks like the best) but they don't want to pay for it.

So as you head out in your freelance ventures, keep that in mind. Do the appropriate market research. Know what price your quality of work is going for, and bid appropriately. Then stick to your guns. It's rather tough to ask for more money after the job is done.

If you really need the money, then you have to do what you have to do. But consider this, in the above typesetting example, if we take the going rate for the job as being $1500, that poor woman would have to do nearly ten jobs before she made what she was worth. On the contrary, had she held out for one person to pay her the appropriate wage, she’d have the same amount of money and would have done one tenth the work.

Please keep this in mind when you become rich and famous and can afford to pay people what they are worth. I know I can’t, that’s why I do everything myself.


Just as a side note, if that driveway looks like a good job to you, please don’t ever touch concrete. EVER. Don’t even look at it. In fact, I’d suggest not walking on it either.



Speak Truth

I wanted to do a brief follow up post to yesterday's post about censoring your online existence. After a long debate with my wife about where we would be if folks like Emerson and Thoreau had heeded my advice and kept their yaps shut, I decided that I need to make a point clear: Understand what you want to get out of this.

If your driving passion in life is to speak truth to a cause, then by all means, do so. Just understand that you will have to navigate your ship accordingly. If you are extremely conservative, believe that homosexuals should not have the right to be married, and so on, and not only convey that in your writing but also in your public persona, fine. Understand that you won't get your foot in the door with a very liberal agent from San Francisco whose best friend is a lesbian whose marriage was just disallowed by a state law that you backed (hypothetical, I have no idea if this person exists).

You'll also have a hard time reaching those in the middle of the road because they're not going to want to rock the boat. And depending on how you've portrayed yourself, you may have made it easier or more difficult to sell your work. They might perceive you as being difficult to work with because you come across as being so headstrong.

I guess I just look at it differently than most. I'll admit, I was getting very riled up and outspoken with the last election cycle. I spent hours researching my points, seeking the truth. Trouble was, no one else paid any attention to that truth. In the end I was left with a lot of anger and resentment.

That's when I turned back to fiction. I realized that I was so much happier dumping myself into the cause of good writing. I could tell my stories, show people the possibility of a better world through my words without trying to hammer it into their heads. At the end of the day I came away from it satisfied. I wasn't angry or fed up or left feeling helpless. I felt content.

For me, my biggest drive is to have my words read. I'm not going to change my message or beliefs in order to make that happen, but I will accept that I am trying to take on the role of an entertainer, not a politician or activist. Until I can make my own rules like Card and others, I'll keep quiet and let my stories do the talking.

So please, speak truth in your words. Just be sure that your words get heard. Otherwise, you end up speaking the truth of silence and those who knew how to play the game get to inundate the rest of us with their views.

Whitewashing the Writer's Identity

Have you Googled yourself lately? You should. 

There used to be a time when the search terms 'David' and 'Noceti' would bring up a long list of links leading back to a spat between the one time Miss Universe, Andrea Noceti, and David Letterman. During those days I never put my real name on the net, and always went by handles so I had nothing to worry about. Eventually, I wanted to be taken seriously, and so I started using my name. Big mistake.

Well, not really. A search for my name now brings up pretty much everything that I want it to bring up, although not in the order that I would like. Damihjva's link in the comments last week to this livejournal post regarding agents doing searches on writers, and allowing those results to weigh in on their decision of representation got me to thinking, “Just what is out there under my name?”

About three pages in I found a link to my old MySpace blog, my very political MySpace blog. Don't bother searching for it, they're all gone save for a short writing piece and a poem by someone else. But I didn't stop there, I kept going and going. Some 20 pages in I was still finding links to my name. I found comments on a forum that I have not been to in years (DELETED), and even some comments on an agent blog that were not made in sound judgment (DELETED). I dug until I could dig no more and erased my footprints as best I could.

My wife thinks that this is sad. I just think that it is part of the price we pay. To throw the fluffy bunny artist card or pitch a fit about how “I'm a person too and I'm entitled to my opinions,” is to be willingly ignorant of how our society acts.


Then I got into a rather rousing debate with another writer about the importance of speaking out for truth. My opinion at the end of it all: Keep your mouth shut. Until such time as you reach the heights of Orson Scott Card and have people read you in spite of your belief that “Most Americans report mostly conservative viewpoints on most issues,” (actual studies disagree with Card) I suggest you keep quiet. I know people who have stopped reading Card altogether after discovering his political views, and he's a respected writer. As nobodies, we don't have such luxuries.

I know, I know, that's not what “Democracy” is about. What will it lead to if we all silence ourselves? When I was searching for images related to the search term “shut up,” I found a number of fabricated U.S. Military posters telling citizens to keep their mouths shut. I also found that Dixie Chicks poster up at the top of the article.

Honestly, that scares me. The Dixie Chicks were huge. They were respected. And almost overnight they were torn down. I've watched Shut Up and Sing, and it wasn't pretty.

Now, someone somewhere said that the best thing to do for book sales is get your book banned. Don't ask me where I heard it, I just remember hearing it. Maybe for some books it works. It might have worked for Slaughterhouse Five (maybe that's where I heard it, an NPR interview with the author) but it sure as hell didn't work for the Dixie Chicks. Sure, they're still making music, but they've been cut down at the knee. They'll never rise higher than where they are or even get that big again.

Colored Lenses

Never mind the possibility of backlash, what about simply manipulating the reader's perception of the material? Let's face it folks, our opinions about politics and religion will color the lenses of our readers. And I don't know about you, but when I'm reading I really don't wan to know these things about the authors. I was perfectly happy with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was younger. Then I found out that it was Christian allegory and all of a sudden a lion wasn't a lion anymore. I'm sorry, but if I want to read that story I'll pick up my Bible, I don't need C.S. Lewis to whack me over the head with it. People try to cram their ideologies down our throats every day. When I'm reading escapism, I'm in part trying to get away from that.

I want a reader to come into my story with their own thoughts and experiences. I want them to look at it with no preconceived notions of what I'm trying to tell them. I'm sorry, but after finding out the religious leanings of some authors that I've read, I've forever looked at their work differently. Somewhere in the back of my head I'm thinking, “Are they trying to make a religious statement here? Is this scene an allegory?”

Soap Box

There's one last piece to this puzzle. It's when you as the writer set out with an agenda. One of the writing books that I read very early on talked about this point and it stuck with me. At the time I was doing exactly that, writing with an agenda.

 The author warned his readers to stay away from such preaching. I wish I could remember the book's name but the advice went something like this, “Write the story in your heart, make the characters real, and your message will come through the writing.” Forcing it hits your reader over the head with the mallet of obvious.

When I stopped and thought about it, the advice rang true. Back then I was fresh off of a Dune kick. It's one of my all time favorites. When I talk to people about it, about what I took away from it, what resonated with me the most, they often scratch their heads.

You see, when I got done reading Dune I wasn't worried about social structures, how we are the mere pawns of those in power, I wasn't even worried about predestination and our possible impact on it, what I was wrapped up in was this notion of conservation. Every time I ran a faucet I had this nagging in the back of my head about how precious a resource water was. Show of hands, does anyone think that Herbert set out to write a manifesto about water conservation? Hell no. But could that have been something he was concerned about that just so happened to seep into his writing? Yeah.

So get off of your soap box, stop preaching, and start telling a true story. Breathe life into your characters. Honestly represent their views, and your ideologies will show through even when you try to tell the story without your bias.

Or start an online political column where you preach your own world view. I'm sure that not too many agents will be all that worried about how it will impact sales.

So, did you find anything interesting in your Google search? 

Update: Forgot that I wanted to link to this as well. Literary Agent, Janet Reid's take on keeping your mouth shut, or thinking you're wearing a invisibility cloak as she put it. 

Photoshop Skilz


I just wanted to throw a before/after shot of that scrap up. I realized that my saying that I have mad photoshop skilz means nothing without a before and after. So here you go. Totally random, I know. Also, razorblade brain had uber nice things to say and also linked to a lot of fun blogs you should check out (but only if you promise to keep reading this one). 

So what do you think? For using my laptop and mouse as opposed to the desktop and the wacom pad, I'd say it turned out pretty good. 

Writers Cure

I'm currently reading Les Edgerton's Finding Your Voice (expect a review soon) and came across one of those little creative accidents. In the beginning he talks about syntax and refers to Melville's Moby Dick. He points out that in Melville's time much of his audience didn't know a lick about whales, so a book jam packed with info about them would be interesting to the people of that time period. With the advent of the Discovery channel and idiots that climb into shark cages with cameras, the current marketplace would be rather disinterested in a story filled with whale mating habits (cue porn music: bow chicky wow wow).

That got me to thinking about audience. Today's audience would want that same Moby Dick story jam packed with excitement and adventure. Life threatening peril at every turn of the page. And why is that? Because we live fairly safe and mundane lives.

This is not to say that everyone is looking for same thing. Some people live in loveless marriages, or comfortable ones where steamy romance is a thing of the past. Others find that their jobs and day to day activities lack a certain heartfelt emotion or bond with a good friend every Tuesday.

Of course there are sub-genres within those audience groups. Some more erotic, others more fantastical. The question is, who is your market? And more importantly, what is missing in the lives of those people?

In copywriting there is the concept of the great elixir. Few things sell better than those that promise to cure a problem. Not even protection sells as well as elixirs. How many people do you know run out and get a house alarm after they've been robbed. We're a country looking for cures, not preventions.

That led me to think: what cure is today's reader looking for? In every case it's escapism of one form or another. Heck, even Moby Dick is escapism. But what specific things are your readers looking to escape from?

Now, I know that there are a lot of fluffy bunnies out there that would rage against the notion of doing research before writing a book. They can't stand the idea of outside pressures impacting their artistic process. Fine by me. Don't sell a book. See if I care. Makes more room for me to slip in there. But if you do want to sell a book you're going to keep this in mind.

I also know that this topic has been talked about by many others many times before, “know your audience,” is a common how to theme. But that's not what I'm asking you to do. I'm asking you to figure out what your audience needs to be cured of? What is their sickness, their affliction? And then tackle it from that point of view.

Are they an angsty teenager with low self-esteem who really just wants a knight (read: stalkerish vampire) in to die for clothing to come and literally sweep them off of their feet while still respecting their desire to take things slow? Maybe they're a bit younger, a bit nerdier, other kids pick on them, but if only they could reveal to the world that greatness they hold inside that not even they are aware of, then they'd show them. Or, perhaps they're all grown up. They work in a dead end job, are about to be married to a loveless prude, and would love to have an excuse to go on a real adventure. Maybe a girl shows up, one who can open doors that lead to an underground world that this person always knew had to be there, filled with assassins, hunters, and crazed Angels.

So I guess, in all my rambling, I've redefined the question. It's not, “what is the cure?” The cure is escapism. The real question is, “what is your reader trying to escape from?” But look at it in terms of a cure. You're not simply writing a story, you're writing a cure.

I can actually point out where the last photo came from, and that's Head Trip comics, a web comic where the art is fantastic. Check it!

Monday Funny Date My Avatar


My brain is still drained from last week. I can't even think of a title for this post. But don't you worry, dear reader, the reason my brain is so drained is because I was playing Guild Wars until three in the morning last night . . . uh, no. Wait, that's not what I meant to say.

What I meant to say was that I worked double time last week and came up with several ideas for posts while I was working on last week's critique series. That afforded me enough extra time to try Guild Wars again after having not played for the past two years. All that talk of guilds for the Critique Guild got me thinking of that game and I could not resist its siren's song. 

Also, Guild Wars 2 is coming out soon!!! You know what that means, don't you? It means that I'll be able to get some of the older games for cheap. :) I never buy a game when it first comes out. First of all my computer is way too slow to enjoy all of their pretty graphics, and 50 bucks!? Come on, seriously now. I can wait a year and get it for thirty. Besides, I don't even play in guilds. I have a strange disillusionment with regards to making virtual  avatar friends. Now then, if the redhead from "The Guild" wanted me to be in her guild . . . we might have to talk. 

Coming this week . . . STUFF!!!

Honest Scrap Award


Spread the Word Saturday

I won my first award! Twice! Alright, so there isn't like a panel of judges or anything like that; and as Paige Bruce put it, it's almost like a chain letter because of the number of people you're supposed to “award” it to (read: pass it on). Here, I'll let you read the rules for yourself.

This award is meant to be passed on to bloggers who post from the heart. The rules for receiving this award are simple, pass the award on to seven worthy blogs and list ten honest things about yourself. It’s all about driving traffic to your favourite sites so here goes.”

Both Paige Bruce of the aptly titled Paige Bruce and klstevens of Cutting My Own Path noted me on their blogs for the Honest Scrap Award, and both had very nice things to say. It's the nice things that people say that keep me going, so I really appreciate it.

These ladies talk about writing adding in their own personal anecdotes to this sometimes troublesome journey that we all find ourselves on. Recently Paige has moved more towards instructional aids and klstevens has been sharing more of her own progress, even going so far as to post a bit of her story the other day. (See, I do read them!)

After the rouge finally left my cheeks I realized, “Oh crap, now I have to give it to seven 'other' bloggers. Do I even know seven other bloggers? Wait, I know eight. Ah crap, now I've got to leave someone out. Someone is going to end up hating me.”

For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you've come to accept that I like to make things difficult. I rarely say, “Oh, that's good enough the way it is.” I'm always trying to figure out how I can make things just a little bit better. So I decided, “Screw this, I'm making my own rules.”

Apparently with the old Honest Scrap, folks used a really bad picture of a sign. I didn't like it. So part of the DtW version of Honest Scrap is that fancy new image you saw up at the top. I found an old propaganda poster from wartime U.S. history and turned it into something cool with my mad photoshop skilzzzzzz. You'll notice that it doesn't have any drop shadow like my images usually do (yeah, I know you tooootally noticed that about my graphics didn't you? pft) and the reason being is because I want people to be able to snag it and use it freely. Along with being a writer, I'm an artist, and it annoys the hell out of me when bad graphics like that sign get plastered all over the blogosphere.

The New Rules

The recipient of the Honest Scrap Award chooses one blogger (not the person that awarded it to them) who they feel honestly posts from their heart. Create a separate post on your blog recognizing the person who awarded you with the Honest Scrap and about the new recipient, noting why you chose them for the award. In your post note ten honest things about yourself (consider it your acceptance speech). Feel free to use the new Honest Scrap Award image on your blog as you see fit. Notify the new recipient in the comment section of their blog so that they know that their hard work is appreciated.

And the Winner Is

Razorblade Brain written by golddust3681 (I'm omitting her real name because I'm not sure if she wants it shared I'll edit it in later is she wants). Frankly, with posts about things like “Dick Afros” I don't think they get much more honest than what you'll find on Razorblade Brain. This blog is written with a great deal of wit and snark. She's not afraid of poking a jab at herself or anyone else, even her adorable daughter. So if you're interested in a good laugh and are mature enough to make it past the content warning, definitely check it out.

Ten Honest Things:

1) I didn't lose my virginity until I was 20. Come on, does it get much more honest than that?

2) I'm an eighth black and didn't find out until I was 31. Imagine my surprise.

3) I'm a hermit. For the most part I can lock myself away from the world with only limited contact and be completely content.

4) I'm a terrible friend. I don't call. I seldom write. I don't ask for help. But I still get butthurt when I'm not invited to things.

5) Like klstevens, I hate having dry hands after washing. All the oils get sucked from your skin and it drives me nuts; hence why you'll often catch me grooming like a cat just after washing.

6) I was dropped from my track team in my senior year because of bad grades (read: I'm a lazy idiot) but somehow managed to finagle my way back on to it by pleading with teachers for changed grades (read: I must have looked really pathetic).

7) I am terrified of failure to the point of not trying. You don't try, you don't fail. (I'm working on this one).

8) I should have been hit by a car when I was 15. It was lunch time and I was in town heading over to the pizza parlor yammering with my friends. A bread delivery truck was parked on the curb in front of the cross walk, I went to step out to cross the street, the bread guy yelled “Hey, look out!” I hesitated. A car flew by right where I should have been. Because of that Wonder Bread guy, you now have to put up with me.

9) I accidentally tricked my wife into dating me. She had a Christian only rule for dating, I thought I was Christian at the time. She fell in love with me, I with her. I found not Jesus, but it was too late, I'd already woven my spell. (sucker)

10) I wet the bed on and off until I was something like ten years old. Friend: “What's that smell?” Me: “Huh, what smell?” Friend: “It smells like it's coming from your bed.” Me: “Oh, that. Uh, we have a new puppy and it was up on my bed playing and it had an accident.” Riiiiight. Sigh.

Types of Critique Groups


Part Five of the Critique Series

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

How Do You Group

I've been thinking about crit groups for the past few weeks and have some different configurations dreamed up.

The Hodgepodge: This is just a bunch of writers who happened to find each other. They likely all write something different. Face to face groups are more likely to end up like this. There's a group in my city that fits this description. Everyone who attends is a writer, but they all seem to write something different: mystery, paranormal romance, fantasy, westerns, so on and so forth. I honestly don't see how this kind of group can be of much help aside from grammatical and very basic style issues. Otherwise, what would be considered cliché in one genre would be spot on in another. They can be dangerous places for your writing to be edited, especially if you are impressionable.

The Forum: There are lots of these about, and often many genre writers end up finding their way to these at one point or another. They're great for finding like-minded people, just be wary of those who tend to be there ALL of the time. These people aren't writing; they are talking about writing and I question their seriousness with regards to it. The Forum is also notorious for not being very dedicated. You get random critiques, often from random people, and it's hard to count on them. Oh, and the fluffy bunnies! They're everywhere in The Forum. Tread lightly or they'll sneak up behind you and strike you down with their fluffy rainbow of sugary sweet emotionality.

Genre Group: “Hey, you write Fantasy, I write Fantasy, Bob writes Fantasy, John writes . . . well, terribly, but he's my roommate, we should get together and critique.” Nothing wrong with this one. I think that most personal groups fall into this category. These groups tend to be smaller and often the critiquing is done on a turn by turn basis. This usually works out well for those who are working on short stories or who need larger gaps of time between critiques so that they can get work done. But, if you're looking to churn out work; the gaps between crits can be agonizingly long in some cases, especially if meetings are skipped. My last crit group met once every other week. That means you get a critique every six weeks unless you start doubling them up like we ended up doing. But then there's a holiday, or an emergency, or who knows what and now you're looking at eight weeks or worse. 

Novel Group: I totally stole this one from the writing excuses kids; a small group of no more than five writers, all of a similar genre style, and all working on novels. Each person in the group submits a chapter a week of their WIP and each member critiques all the other chapters. This creates an artificial deadline that drives you to keep moving forward with your novel. No excuses in this group. You don't show up with your work and you get caned by the other members as punishment. But be careful, some people might join this group for the sole purpose of being caned when they fail to show up with their chapter. Naughty. 

Crit Guild: There's a temptation to find writers who are just like ourselves. We want them to have the same voice so that they can hear what we're saying and notice when something doesn't come out quite right. But what happens when everyone listens and no one looks, smells, tastes, or feels? 

This third crit group is likened to an RPG guild. In a guild you try to have characters whose strengths lie in different areas. You have the ranger who attacks from afar, the soldier who carries the front line into battle, the healer who keeps everyone's stats up. Super hero groups get this too. Heck, even we as writers understand it when we are creating our group of companions. Unfortunately, we forget this valuable lesson once we get to critiquing. 

In a Critique Guild you might have one person who is strong in dialogue, another at pacing, another at setting, you might even have your token grammar nazi. Alone, they can manage well enough, but bring them together and you are UNSTOPPABLE!!!11!!1ELEVENTY ONE PWNAGE!!!

Each member focuses on their strength when they crit. They can give broad opinions too, “The opening works really well,” but Dialog-man focuses on your dialog, Grammar Nazi Girl focuses on your grammar, token annoying guy brings the snacks. This way, when you get your WIP back, you can go through each crit and work on that focus area. Of course the trouble is, how do you find these people? Do you use Cerebro to search them out? Do you find the local guild house for Grammar Nazis?

Anyone have any thoughts on this? I think I'd like to try the Crit Guild but have no idea how I would figure out who is strong at what? Heck, I don't even know what I'm strong at. Dialog, I suppose. Yup, that's it, Dialog Dave. It works. Do you just ask what writers find comes easiest for them, what they get the most comments on (hey, that's a good idea)?

Feedback please. :)

Critique Group Rules


Part Four of the Critique Series

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

Remember critique circles? When you'd go out and drop a wad of cash on a huge stack of copies all collated and stapled, text double spaced leaving just enough room for inline comments. Remember that feel of the warm ink and smooth copy paper in your hands? The slightly metallic smell of the freshly burned carbon. The lugging of all of those copies into a class and wishing them luck on their journey as they were passed around the room. “Fly little birdies, fly.”

Remember getting them back? By and large the feedback you get on most wasn't worth the fifty cents a copy that you blew on getting them printed in the first place. You got a lot back with “Wow, great story!” scribbled on them with silly little smiley faces, a bunch with meandering comments that didn't make any sense, some came back a gory mess, and maybe one or two that were actually worth a damn. Oh, and let us not forget that one jerk who returns your story with nothing written on it at all. Thanks Jasper; appreciate it.

All of my different experiences with crit groups led me to come up with my own "rules" with regards as to what should happen during crit group.   

Thoughts On Rules:

I think that there have to be parameters set up for crit groups. Get too many artsy people collected in one place and drama is sure to ensue. Remember, the key to a critique is open, and honest feedback.

Don't Talk Back: When you're being critiqued you sit there with your notepad and copy of the story, keep your mouth shut, and you listen. Period. As soon as the back and forth banter starts, even if it's all positive and Rainbow Brighty, you're affecting the critique and won't get honest feedback. We read body language, intonation, all those subtle hints and cues that others give off. And since humans have a strange desire to please those that we are around so that we appear favorably in their eyes, we'll adjust our feedback accordingly.

Don't Explain Yourself: When you send your story off to an agent or editor, you're not going to get to explain things. “Obviously you didn't get it, you see, so and so has to do such and such in order for this to happen so . . . .” Uh, no. You're story has to stand on its own two feet, so let it. If the reader didn't understand something, that's your fault, not there's. Now you just have to decide if you need to clear that part of the story up with your writing or that you like the ambiguity. 

Constructive Feedback Only: It's fine if you feel like there is a problem in a story but you can't put your finger on what it is. Just make sure you note that. “At this point in the story I found myself drifting away but I'm not sure why.” Also, try to give them something to go on. It's your job as the critic to provide more than just a read through.

The Critic is ALWAYS Right: If someone is telling you how something in your story made them feel, that's how it made them feel. They can't be wrong about that. Opinions are never wrong, just different. Now, whether you act on that opinion is up to you, but don't discredit it.

Don't Disagree: At least don't 'openly' disagree. To do so tells your critic that you don't value their opinion. In the future, said critic is not going to give you their open and honest thoughts. They'll filter their feedback so as to spare you're fragile ego. A tell tale sign of this is when your writing suddenly goes from being filled with feedback to receiving nothing but praise. It's not that you got into a car accident and turned into Stephen flipping King overnight, it's because no one wants to argue with you about how they feel about your story.

Take Notes: All of these rules don't mean that you don't get to interact with anyone. Once the critique is done, then you get to ask questions. If you didn't fully understand something that someone said, ask them about it. If you get an idea and think it might solve their problem with a story element, run it by them.

Wait Till The End: Related to the above, I think that questions should come at the very end. In this regard I like the crit circle setup. You go around in a circle, starting next to the author, everyone goes through their feedback, highlighting points that they think might need clarification or that really stood out to them as either good or bad, and then only at the very end does the author get to ask questions. This is a huge time saver.

Time Limits!!!!: I've been subject to no time limits before and it is an agonizingly miserable experience. You've done your crit, you're ready to move on, but said author wants to pick pick pick at your brain until nothing's left. Again, this is yet another way to earn yourself 'glowing' reviews.

Write Your Own Damn Story: Feedback should be general, and not specific. Rewrites should not occur during crit group. Two reasons: 1) it's your story, write it, 2) it will kill your voice. Take the suggestions home, sleep on them, then fix things.

Deadlines: Part of being in a crit group is coming through for others, both in your crits and in providing your work.

Rules Can Be Bent: Not broken. Everyone has stuff come up in their lives, though I'm finding more and more in life that those who achieve success do so because they don't come up with excuses. There are those of us who allow circumstances to get us out of things, and those of us who decide that we will get things done regardless of circumstances. Success seems to follow the latter group.

Today is supposed to be the end of the crit series buuuuut . . . tomorrow will be the end. Promise. The rules sound kind of like a rant anyway, so I'll post the above as a Friday Rant of sorts. Either tomorrow or later tonight I'll post the last article on critiquing. It will outline different forms of crit groups, my thoughts on both, the crit group I'm starting, and then a second crit group that I'm considering putting together in the near future.

Sorry about carrying this over an extra post. I hope you can all hang in there. I've noticed the comments slip off for the crit series, so I'm assuming that series aren't everyone's cup of tea. But I've got lots of fun stuff in the cue for next week.