How to Write Dialog

Well hey there, partner! It sure is nice to see ya! Hope yer ready to talk about dialog, ‘cuz I’m about to git right into it!


Today is the 10th day of Blogtober. We’re about a third of the way through the month and we’re showing no signs of slowing. I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them! The experience has challenged me to unpack what I know about writing, or what I think I know, and the act of expressing these tips in essay form has served to reinforce guiding principles.

Dearest reader, I must confess that as the cold hand of winter draws ever closer, as the sun’s dominion over the heavens grows weaker, and the bitter, ever-changing Moon reigns through the lengthening darkness of night, some of these posts grow more vexing to write. And so it is my dearest hope that you will bear with me as I make my way through these words, for this treatise on dialog, I fear, will be the most challenging yet.


The key to good dialog is voice. Different people speak differently, their dialects divided by region, upbringing, age, affluence, and physical factors. A well-educated character might be more inclined to speak with longer words, eschewing the monosyllabic for complex diction and phrases meant to make them sound haughty or superior. A fella that didn’t maybe quite finish school, on the other hand, maybe might talk with smaller words that ain’t quite so clean.

Once your character has a strong voice within your mind, writing their dialog is easy. The characters will tell you what they want to say, and it’s your job as a writer to capture it as truthfully as you can. Truth in this case refers to staying true to the character, and not necessarily the content of your character’s speech.

In a medium that allows you to physically hear the different voices, such as movies or audiobooks, a different voice can be conveyed by altering the pitch and placement of the sound. On the page, you have two main tools available to capture the distinctness of each voice: the description and the content.

The description is the prose surrounding the text, and is the lesser of these two tools. It is you as a writer telling the reader what the character sounds like. This is where you can describe slurred words, a crisp British accent, the sing-song soft consonants of a Selas, the rumbling basso, the breathy rasp, the hoarse shout… you get the idea. You don’t have to (and you shouldn’t) do a lot of descriptions of the voice, and you should be wary of repeating yourself unless it’s for a purpose. That’s why this part of describing voice isn’t as important or as powerful as the words of the character themselves.

Since I started writing this post, I’ve demonstrated a few times how I can change my voice just by changing the content. I didn’t need to use dialog tags or any sort of description to the change the voice. I just did it, and you (more than likely) heard it.

The content of a character’s speech includes the verbs, nouns, adjectives, all of which shape the rhythm and delivery of the speech. Some people speak in language which isn’t as pristine, dropping punctuation, adding or removing articles in whatever way they see fit. This is the means by which you will be able to express your characters’ differing voices. If you do it right, you won’t even need to use dialog attributions.

Natural Speech

I usually think I do a decent job at writing dialog. Sometimes my critique group disabuses me of the notion, but then I forget their criticisms and I go back to feeling like I’m Quentin Tarantino.

For the sake of argument, let’s pretend I’m not as great at dialog as I think I am. How would I improve? What can I do to make my dialog feel more natural?

The first thing I’d tell myself is go do some people watching. Sit in a coffee shop, and let people’s conversations wash over me. The idea isn’t to spy or eavesdrop. I’m not interested in the specifics of what they’re talking about. I’m only interested in the way they talk. The modulations of the voices in the conversation. It’s like a dance, rising and falling and swooping.

People ask questions they already know the answer to. People reuse phrases they’re comfortable with. People fill the empty air with banality to make themselves and the people they’re with feel more comfortable. They approach important subjects then veer away, like carrion swooping over an uncertain carcass.

If I were giving myself advice, I’d tell myself to listen to the different approaches men and women take when talking about a subject. I don’t mean to stereotype or reinforce the binary, but in American society, the most common male approach to conversation is more direct, with a focus on fixing any perceived problems. The most common female approach is to share and empathize.

It’s important to remember that when writing dialog, the writer should try to emulate natural speech without actually being natural speech. When humans talk to each other in real life, they repeat themselves. They have a lot of “uhms” and “ahs” and other weird mouth noises dropped in to provide space for them to collect their thoughts.

Also, movie characters are usually way wittier than real people. Fictional characters quip like stand-up comedians. You can do this in your stories, and it will be entertaining, but it may not be realistic. Decide what kind of tone you’re going for before making all of your characters comedy geniuses.

Parting Thoughts

I have heard it said that dialog is one of those parts of writing that people either understand intuitively, or they don’t understand at all. I don’t fully agree with this sentiment. While there are some people that seem to have a natural talent for writing how people speak, anyone can write good dialog with enough practice.

Your exercise tonight: imagine two characters locked in some place and forced to talk. All of the details are up to you. Maybe it’s two strangers trapped in an elevator. Maybe it’s two friends in a car on a road trip. All of the detals are up to you. The caveat to this exercise is that you can only use dialog to convey the message and characterization.


How to Write a Fight Scene

It’s Wednesday evening, the 9th day of Blogtober, and we’re going to talk about how to write a fight scene.

I’m going to keep this post short and to the point. I have opinions and a little bit of experience writing fight scenes, but as with all of the other posts this month, I’m not an authority or an expert. These are just the tips and ideas that guide me.


The most important quality you can give your fight scene is clarity. If the reader struggles to imagine what’s going on in the scene, they will be pulled out of the story and a potentially powerful moment is lost.

Some readers skip fight scenes. They are used to being bored by them. Whenever your reader starts to skim, you’ve lost the game. The communication channel is broken. They will not pick up what you’re receiving.

The key to clarity is specificity. Be precise with your language. Include interesting details that help ground the reader in the moment and paint the best picture of what is going on. Sweat dripping into the eyes of the hero, the roughness of the leather hilt against the farmer’s calloused hands… include experiential, specific details that are important to the moment. If you keep it clear, the reader will stick around and see it through.


This goes hand in hand with clarity. If the heroine is left handed, keep the weapon in their left hand unless there is a compelling reason for her to switch. Keep in mind that it puts their shield on the other side, and changes the dynamic of the fight if they’re up against someone that’s right handed.

If someone gets shot in the leg, remember the wound when they turn to flee, or when they try to scale the wall, or when they go to lift their best friend and carry them off the battlefield.

What I’m trying to say is that the details are important. As the fight scene goes on, you will have more and more to keep track of. When you drop a detail or get it wrong, your readers will notice and it will pull them out of the story. Again, the communication channel is broken and you lose the game. They might skim, or they might put the book down. Stay clear and consistent, and your readers will have less reason to give up on your story.


This is related to consistency, but it goes further than that. If you’re writing a story about someone using a gun, do the research to make sure you get the caliber right. If you’re writing about a knight tilting in a joust, do the research to get the details correct.

The accuracy of a fight scene depends on the world building and the research of the writer. If the world draws from our world, more research is required. Even when working on secondary world fantasy, the writer needs to know the rules of the world.

This is not to say that all details going into a fight scene have to be real-world accurate. There is nothing accurate about a lightsaber. A plasma weapon like that would generate so much heat that it would set everyone in the same room on fire as soon as the Jedi flipped it on. We forgive these inaccuracies in the physics, however, because it’s so much cooler and more fun to be able to have a lightsaber in the story than it is to be completely true to real-world physics.

The portrayal of the lightsaber adheres to the accuracy of the world building, which helps us get into it. If a character ever picked up a lightsaber and started shooting it a blaster, we would not find it as cool because it would no longer be an “accurate” portrayal of how that weapon works.


Fight scenes — action scenes in general — are the places in your story where the characters are in danger. These are the scenes where hearts are racing, adrenaline is pumping through people’s veins, and things are moving. Ideally, the reader’s heart should race and their breathing should be impacted when they’re reading these kinds of scenes.

How do you get that kind of reaction out of a reader?

If they’re skimming, they’re bored and not invested. This is the opposite reaction that you want, so start with making sure your language is clear, and the details are consistent and accurate.

After that, consider the structure of your sentences. I am now writing a long, detailed, informational sentence that has a lot of commas and a lot of parts, that’s pulling you across the page in a ponderous way and stressing you out because I’m not giving you much of a chance to breathe and also, you’re having to try and remember SO MUCH since I started the sentence, that you might just give up and start skimming.

Don’t do that.

Include the necessary details and keep your descriptions brief. Consider making your sentences shorter. Frags are okay. People glide through short sentences. Do more with less. Simplify.

Your fight scenes need the visceral details for clarity, but not so many details as to bog down the pacing.

Common writing advice is to avoid adverbs. When you’re writing action scenes, adjectives are not your friend. Adjectives have a tendency to slow the pace of your story. Adjectives are wonderful, and make the details in your prose pop and leap off the page. In a fight scene, adjectives become the course, sticky mud clinging to your hero’s black leather combat boots, sucking them down when they’re trying to trudge to the other side of the battlefield.

Use adjectives. Just make sure to read over your sentences to see how easy they are to read.


It is exceedingly important that your readers are emotionally invested in at least one participant involved in your fight scene. If the reader doesn’t care about the characters, they’re not going to care about the scene, and they will skim or put down the book.

The purpose of a fight scene is to alter the emotional state of your characters. Your hero should be in a different emotional state at the end of the scene than they were at the beginning. Perhaps they see themselves as over-matched at the beginning, scared of their opponent that looks so much bigger and more prepared than they are. On the other side of the fight, they should feel euphoric for vanquishing their foe. Or they should feel sad about the friends they lost along the way. Or they should feel grateful, or shocked, or… they should feel something.

The character needs to feel something so the reader will feel something.

If the fight is trivial to the character, and plays out as trivial, it doesn’t need to be treated like a fight scene. Unless it’s extremely cool, it probably shouldn’t be in the story.

Just remember that “cool” is subjective, and what is cool to the writer may not be that cool to the reader. If you want to improve your chances of keeping the reader engaged, reach them on an emotional level through the emotions of the characters.

Parting Thoughts

Much of what I’ve written about fight scenes apply to the rest of the story, too. Clarity, accuracy, emotion, and consistency will serve your story in nearly every situation.

My stories don’t usually have a lot of fight scenes. There is action, but it’s spread throughout the story, with lots of chapters in the middle to allow the reader (and the characters) chance to breathe. Overusing the fight scene will reduce its efficacy, and runs the danger of making the reader bored.

Remember that if you do it right, you will produce a physical reaction in the reader. You will alter the rate at which their heart is beating, and you will impact their breathing. This can be tiring, and is one of the reasons some readers start skimming when they get to a fight scene.

If you have not written a fight scene before, give it a try. Your prompt tonight is: your hero is trying to get across a bridge, and their adversary doesn’t want to let them across unless they pay a “tax.” The adversary could be a troll, a bandit, or a dirty cop. If your hero doesn’t get across the bridge, someone they love will die. And your hero doesn’t have the means to pay the tax, even if they wanted to.


Internality and Show vs Tell

Welcome to Day 8 of Blogtober! Before I launch into today’s complicated topic, I have to say I’m a little disappointed more people didn’t read yesterday’s. It focuses on writer’s getting to their heart of themselves in order to make deeper, greater stories.

Now let’s get into terms.


If my editing software is to be believed, “Internality” isn’t even a word. Maybe it isn’t? Let’s define it so that it has value for the purposes of our writing.

I first started hearing the term from a couple of people in my writer’s group that primarily write YA. They wanted more internality from my character, and they wanted me to stop using so much distancing language.

After that, the term came up in talking with M. Todd Gallowglas. From his perspective, internality has more to do with the experience of the character. What did the Scotch taste like to the character, and how did that affect them?

For purposes of this essay, internality refers to the emotions, thoughts, and personal experience of the character in the moment of the story.

Show vs Tell

“Show, don’t tell” is probably the most common advice a writer will hear these days. It means that, rather than flat out stating how a character feels or what is going on in their heart or head, the writer should draw it out with descriptions and subtext.

Let’s try an example. We’ll write a couple of paragraphs about John sitting in a waiting room, about to receive some news. This is the “Tell” example:

John waited impatiently. He wondered if the doctor kept him waiting on purpose. When the doctor finally appeared with the news, John felt relieved.

I’m not a fan of this paragraph. I’ve seen many like it in manuscripts and while it’s brief, it is unimaginative, flat, and boring.

Here is the “Show” example:

John sat on the edge of his seat, his teeth gnashing at the corner of his thumbnail. Dull pain throbbed from a finger on his other hand where he chewed the nail down to the quick. His eyes darted up to the clock, fixating on the minute hand. When the minute rolled into the next with a ponderous click, John sprung to his feet and paced the short distance between the bench seats. His hand went to his mouth to mar another fingernail.

“Mr. Smith?”

John turned at the sound of the voice. An older woman in a lab coat carrying a clipboard stood at the entrance of the waiting room. At the sight of her, the wind rushed out of John’s lungs in a ragged sigh.

I like this quite a bit more. It’s longer, but it’s also personal. We’ve all been John. His impatience is palpable. We don’t know what kind of news he’s waiting for, but we’re more invested in waiting with him because we have an easier time seeing through his eyes.

That is the difference between Show vs Tell. It isn’t just about being more verbose. It’s about choosing details which convey emotion and imparts meaning to the scene.

Internality vs Tell

One of my friends asked the question, “If there is a demand for more internality, how does that relate to the idea of ‘show don’t tell’ when so much of what is being asked for looks like ‘tell’?”

The answer is that you can show internality.

Looking back at the examples above, the “tell” example contains internality. We know what’s going on inside the character’s head because it’s very explicit. In fact, that’s pretty much all that is in that paragraph.

We get the exact same internality in the “show” example. In both, John is waiting impatiently, but we experience it through him chewing his nails and watching the clock. As a reader, we know that time feels slow and sluggish for John. There’s a dread filling his mind, and he has nothing to occupy him from it.

A Confession

I struggle a little bit with the idea of internality as described in this essay, and I only recently discovered that it’s a problem. In my early drafts, I tend to use distancing language.

You may be like me. Look for all the places where you use the word “have.” Ask yourself if the word needs to be there. If you use “have” quite a bit, you may be doing what I do and putting distance between yourself and the character.

Adding the internality, getting deeper into the heads of my characters, is something I look for during revision. If you’re using distancing language in your early drafts like I do, it’s okay. Do whatever you need to in order to finish a draft. Just remember to look for this during revisions and your story will be fine.

Parting Thoughts

Sometimes, the struggle to become a better writer doesn’t seem fair. Just when you think you know what your doing with one aspect of the craft, another concept is thrown into the mix. It’s like getting the hang of juggling, and someone just out of eyesight keeps throwing more objects into the air for you to catch. Sometimes those objects are sharp and pointy.

My recommendation is to master “show, don’t tell” first before worrying too much about internality. When you get better at showing the characters, the scene, the action, the nuance, everything you write becomes much more engaging.

You don’t have to juggle everything all at once.

Your exercise tonight: go back through something you’ve recently written and look for places where you can make a scene more experiential. Ask yourself if you can put the reader even deeper within the head of a character. Or, if you prefer to write something new, take my example as a prompt and write a couple of paragraphs about your own character in a waiting room.


Write What Matters

For the last two days, I’ve been talking about genre. In somewhat subtle terms, I stated that genre is not that important. The first goal of the writer should be to write the best story they can. Genre provides shorthand for communication of certain ideas and story beats to the reader, but if a novel were a meal, genre would be the garnish.

Today I want to talk about the heart of the story. Let’s take a step back and look at story from a high level. Let’s talk about why your story is important, and why are uniquely qualified to write it.

But first, let me say something that sounds controversial.

The Plot Does Not Matter

Wow, it felt really good typing that, but I’m not sure I’ve earned your trust enough to just throw it out there without some support. So let’s break this apart.

Plot is the manipulation of the characters through the story. It is the journey, the trials, the tribulations, the dips and turns and peaks and valleys that take the reader from the first page to the last. The plot should make sense, and it should be coherent.

However, the plot is not the story.

You can take a perfectly good book, perhaps your favorite novel, and start cutting out all the parts that are not plot related. You can delete the descriptions, the dialog, the details of the action, chopping finer and finer until all you have left is plot. After boiling away everything that isn’t plot, what remains is an outline.

Outlines can be interesting, but they aren’t stories. People aren’t waiting with baited breath to read the next outline from their favorite author.

This is one of the places where Stephen King and I agree, though indirectly. In On Writing, King looks at plot as a clumsy tool, only to be used as a last resort. His stories have plots, but the plots are found along the way through discovery writing. He primarily takes a character or a group of characters, puts them in a situation, and then watches them get out.

I believe a good story has a plot, but what that plot is doesn’t matter. It could be anything. How you arrive at your plot depends on your style, and I’ve detailed a couple of approaches this month already.

I’ve already stated my point. When you sit down to write what matters, don’t worry about the plot.

What Matters?

There are as many different answers to this question as there are writers. The answer I will provide, the main point of this essay, is this:

Whatever matters to you, that’s what matters to the story. It is personal.

The best way I can make this clear is to tell you what matters to me.

Love is vital. It is the heart of my religion, and if I could make a wish and change the world, I would fill it with more love. I include all varieties of love in this statement.

Faith is important to me, though not as important as love. I grapple with my own faith, and characters defined in part by their faith resonate with me. This does not necessarily have to be a religion or spirituality.

These are two core principles that define me, Brian C. E. Buhl. Remove either from my being and I cease to be me. That doesn’t mean that’s all I am, and every word out of my mouth isn’t in reference to those two ideas. However, the shape of my life is steered by love, faith, and a number of other principles that define me.

So What?

Writing what matters to you guarantees that the stories you write will hold your interest. Novels require a tremendous time commitment. It doesn’t take much to slow a writer down or knock them off track. However, if what they’re writing is deeply personal to them, they are more likely to weather the hard times and see the story through to its end.

You don’t have to intentionally set out to write some deep treatise on one of your core principles. In fact, if you don’t think about it at all, the things that matter to you are going to show up in your stories regardless of your intentions.

Different writers have different ideas that follow them from story to story, whether they intend to include them or not. Referencing On Writing again, King talks about this while talking about themes. The themes in your story can be placed intentionally, or they can show up on their own.

How is this Useful?

Good heavens my section titles are snarky today.

I already mentioned one of the ways this is helpful information, in that if a writer knows what they care about, they can look for it in the stories their writing, and it will help them be more invested and get them through the draft. This is important all by itself.

Where this is most useful is in the quality of the story. When the writer is passionate about the ideas in their story, it translates to the reader.

When you write what matters, it is easier to write what is true. Your truth may be different than everyone else’s truth, but it will still transmit.

I don’t want to sound too mystical about this. In On Writing, King describes writing as telepathy, and while I don’t think he’s wrong, I also don’t think it’s particularly helpful to cloak writing in the language of magic or the supernatural. Writing is a learned skill, and even if we don’t know how to write a best seller every time we put pen to paper, there are methodologies and practices which improve your writing more often than hurt it.

A Few Words on Representation

If you come from a disadvantaged identity, whatever that may be, consider that as a core principle you can lean on in your writing. It’s part of what the Own Voices movement is about. That may be an aspect of your life that you routinely hide. Write what you like, but your life experience and your voice may be exactly what the world needs. It will give comfort to those facing the same challenges you’re facing, and it will give perspective to the rest.

If you’re a cis white male like me, you can write about the cis white male experience, if you like. That particular flavor of voice and life experience will most likely come across in your writing whether you want it to or not, and you will find an audience. However, you probably have more to say, just like I do. Focusing on a larger truth, a more interesting subject, will help set you apart from the rest and make your stories fresh.

Parting Thoughts

The tag line on my blog is “Write Something Good.”

If my primary goal was to make my prose spotless, easy to edit and easy to consume, my tagline would be “Write Something Well.” The difference between a good story and a story that is well written is important to me. I strive to craft my stories to the best of my ability so that they are well written, but that’s not why I write.

I want my stories to get into the heads of readers and make them think. If I’ve done my job correctly, my stories should resonate and change perspectives.

My wish is to add more love in the world, and I want to do that through my books.

Here is your exercise: Look at something you’ve written and ask yourself why the story is important to you. What is it you said in your story that lines up with your core principles? What are the themes that keep showing up over and over in your stories?


Writing Fantasy

It’s day 6 of Blogtober, and today I’m going to talk about fantasy as a genre. I admit I am not quite as comfortable writing about fantasy as I am about science fiction. Yesterday’s post was easy. Today, I need to work harder to provide useful and cogent thoughts on the subject, which in its own way, is a reflection of the genre itself. But we’ll get to that.

Why am I Talking about Fantasy?

Nanowrimo is next month. The project I’ve decided to work on for November is a new fantasy novel about a band of adventurers reanimated from stone and sent on a quest to save the province from an oppressive force preparing an invasion at the border. Our heroes know how to swing swords, shoot arrows, and cast spells, but they don’t remember how they became encased in stone in the first place. Along the way, they will discover who they really are, the nature of power, and who it is that’s been pulling their strings for so long.

I read fantasy, though not as much as I read science fiction. I believe many of the skills needed to construct an entertaining and believable world in scifi applies directly to fantasy.

I have completed an urban fantasy novel as well as several fantasy short stories. My experiences allow me to talk about the genre, though again, I am not an authority or an educator. I’m just a writer with interest and strong opinions.

Defining Fantasy

I’m tempted to copy/paste what I wrote yesterday. Science fiction and fantasy are both genres, and genre itself is not particularly useful as a writing tool. Genre informs the publisher and the marketer in how to sell the book. Genre sets up the reader’s expectations on what they’re about to read. As a writing tool, it tells the writer what details they can skip when introducing strange or unusual elements. Dragons, unicorns, elves, mermaids… genre allows the writer to slot these ideas without a lot of prep work or fanfare. But what’s the damage if a skilled writer takes the time to fully present the awe and majesty of one of these fantastical beings?

I want to define fantasy without relation to science fiction, and I’m struggling. Fantasy is so broad it is nearly all-encompassing of all fiction. That is not a useful definition, and not what people think about when talking about fantasy as a genre.

Fantasy is Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha books, it’s Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series, it’s Emma Newman’s Splitworld novels, it’s An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, it’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke. Arguments can be made that N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and Ann McAffrey’s Pern novels are fantasy. Those stories have many of the hallmarks of fantasy, and feel like fantasy most of the time, even if the authors said the books are SciFi.

Of course, fantasy is also Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, Brandon Sanderson’s multiple series, and the books by J. R. R. Tolkien. But you probably don’t need me to mention those guys.

What Sets Fantasy Apart from Science Fiction?

Both genres are about wonder and spectacle. Usually, SciFi deals in the realm of possibility while fantasy is filled with the mystical. In general terms, if you use a tool or methodology to solve a problem in the plot of SciFi, it must adhere to the laws of science. If it does not, then you’ve written a fantasy.

On the surface, it sounds like fantasy is easier to write than science fiction, but I find the opposite to be the case. If I want to know how to make simulated gravity work on The Moon, I can do some research and some math and come up with a solution. It may be improbable, but it’s possible and supportable. I can rely on the already written rules of reality to support my story. In fantasy, if I come up with a magical solution to a problem, I have to establish the rules of that magic and define reality itself. That is a lot more work, necessary in order to make a more satisfying and compelling environment.

How to Write Fantasy

The first goal should be to write a good story, regardless of the genre. That means compelling characters, relationships, emotion, truth, and passion — the ingredients to all great narratives. Writing a good fantasy means doing all of that plus world building, which is the main ingredient that turns your tale into a fantasy.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of writing fantasy, there are other, better resources online. Brandon Sanderson’s take on magic systems, for example, is complete and compelling. I’m not interested in parroting those resources or retreading that ground. Instead, I will just touch on two high-level topics I keep in mind while writing fantasy: consistency and cost.

When looking at the fantastical element of your story, the reader will be dissatisfied if the writer is inconsistent. Brandon Sanderson defines the rules to his systems thoroughly and exhaustively, and sticks with those rules while making them integral to the plot. Tolkien, on the other hand, uses magic in a more poetic fashion, and we trust that it all works because we trust Gandalf. Both approaches are wildly divergent from each other, but since the writers are consistent in the way they use magic, the stories work.

The idea of cost is a little bit more granular, and could also be described as consequences. Cost and consequence in fantasy usually refers to magic systems, but it could be any exploitation of a resource in order to achieve a goal. Unicorn blood can cure any wound, but the cured lives a half-life, a cursed existence. Pegasus can carry a hero across vast distances very quickly, but you must win the trust of the mythic beast, and there are very few of them. The sorcerer’s pen never runs out of ink, because it uses the blood of the writer to fuel it.

The cost of a magical solution doesn’t necessarily have to be obvious, but it should be present. If you do not have consequences, you do not have tension. If you have no intention of having consequences in the narrative, then you should consider how the free and abundant resource impacts the world at large. If there is no cost, the consequences are that the writer will need to work this alternative science or technology into the world building.

Parting Thoughts

Almost everything I said about SciFi yesterday applies to fantasy today. The goal of the writer is to create a great story first and foremost, which means developing compelling characters, interesting environments, inevitable but surprising twists, and emotional journeys. The tools you use to craft a good SciFi story are applicable when writing a fantasy.

Research helps ground a fantasy story when describing the elements that exist in the real world, such as horses, blacksmithing, sword fighting, and masonry. If you spend the time getting those details right, the reader will trust you when you launch into the aspects of your world that can’t exist.

The primary distinction between fantasy and other genres is the aesthetics and the feel. This doesn’t have to be based on European history, though that is common.

If you haven’t written a fantasy story, give it a try. Here’s your prompt: a mischievous character down on their luck and nearly out of money finds a magic wand. What does the magic wand do? How will they use it to improve their situation? Who is the rightful owner of the magic wand, and how will your character deal with them?

Thank you for following along along! Tomorrow we’ll talk about Writing What Matters, a topic which transcends all genres.


Writing Science Fiction

Today, the 5th day of Blogtober, I’m going to talk broadly about science fiction. While I won’t get too much into the nuts and bolts of writing scifi, I hope to convey a broader understanding of the genre and offer a few suggestions how to approach writing it.

Why am I Talking about SciFi?

As soon as I’m done with this blog post, I’m going to get another coffee, crack my knuckles, and do some word sprints on Twitter. I’m going to focus on my SciFi novel, Synthetic Dreams. As stated the first day, one of my goals this month is to finish the first draft before Nanowrimo.

This will be my second completed SciFi novel. Additionally, I read a lot of SciFi, and have been doing so since my early teens. I attend SciFi conventions. I dream to one day win a Hugo so that I can be in the company of my heroes, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.

While I may not be qualified to teach the topic, I feel sufficiently saturated in the genre to write a blog post about it. Again, I’m not an authority. I’m just enthusiastic.

Defining Science Fiction

SciFi is a genre, and genres are primarily used in marketing. They are also used as a way to group a set of tropes, patterns, and story beats so as to set the reader’s expectations. Genre is artificial and conceptual, much the way currency is representative of value without actually being valuable itself.

Okay, I intentionally packed that paragraph with controversial viewpoints. That’s okay, because SciFi itself is often packed with controversial points of view, and is viewed by some as the perfect vehicle for examining and criticizing society. Some of the best science fiction ever put to print relies on soft science, rather than hard.

SciFi is usually future thinking, and usually sticks to what is possible, even if improbable. I have to use the ugly word “usually” because several pillars of the genre are definitely neither of those things. Just look at Star Wars and Dune. I’m not bashing either of those, and there are lots of people that say Star Wars is a fantasy or a space opera, rather than calling it SciFi. However, most people consider Star Wars a SciFi story. You’ll find both Dune and Star Wars in the SciFi section of your local bookstore (if you still have a local bookstore).

So what is SciFi? It is space ships and robots and magic dust that lets you see the future and turns your eyes blue. It is physics and sociology wrapped in an allegory. It is Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, it is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, it is Andy Weir’s Martian, it is Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, it is Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, it is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

SciFi stories fill people with a sense of wonder and encourage the reader to ask the question, “What if?” SciFi explores space. It explores the human psyche. It trawls the oceans with robots and submarines. SciFi includes space marines and faster-than-light space travel and laser swords.

Is Science Fiction and Fantasy the Same Thing?

My plan is to talk about fantasy tomorrow, so I don’t want to get too much into the definition of fantasy today. I will say, however, that while SciFi and fantasy often get lumped together, they are not quite the same thing.

I believe there is often a fantastical element in every SciFi story. There is one or more element of the story that does not exist now, or simply cannot exist. Going faster than light is, at this point, fantasy. So are space battles as they are depicted in most stories and media. Post-apocalyptic stories start from a pessimistic fantasy. Even The Martian, one of the latest and best examples of good hard SciFi uses an inciting incident that is impossible, because the wind on Mars is not powerful enough to do what it did to Mark Watney. Andy Weir knew it, too, but went with it because it made for a good story.

Some die-hard SciFi fans focus on the science and are wont to nitpick the details that don’t measure up to their scientific standards. I think it’s important that when reading SciFi, you don’t forget that half of the title of the genre is “fiction.” SciFi is not supposed to read like the manual to your stereo receiver. To write good SciFi, you must write a good story.

How to Write Science Fiction

The first step in adding to this expansive genre is: read SciFi. Once again, the prevailing advice is “read.” Like yesterday, I recommend reading lots of SciFi stories in order to get the feel and flavor in your head. You should become familiar with the tropes, because that is the shorthand you will need to speak the same language as SciFi readers.

Reading SciFi stories also informs you of what territory has been recently trod. If you set out to write a story about a permanent settlement on The Moon, you might want to read stories like Artemis to see how another writer approached the subject.

Before I move on from the advice of “read SciFi to write SciFi,” I want to recommend that you talk to M. Todd Gallowglas about The Road by Cormac McCarthy. He will go into great detail about the importance of knowing the genre you’re writing in, even if your novel wins The Pulitzer Prize.

What else should you do to write SciFi? Research.

As an example of how research can make your SciFi story greater, I present The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal. Mary Robinette clearly loves the subject. She did enough research into NASA and space flights that if you ever find yourself on a tour of NASA with her, she will provide additional insights and information such that the tour guide learns things right alongside you.

Research into the subject does not mean you must become a subject matter expert. It means that you become familiar enough that you can reliably rest plot points and environmental details on specific, real information that gives your story a sense of reality that you don’t find in other genres.

As Mary Robinette herself has stated on Writing Excuses and in person, she is not a mathematician. She is not an astronaut herself, and she doesn’t know all of the things that her characters know. However, she’s done enough research that she can ask actual astronauts and material experts the right questions, so that she can present the information in a clear and cohesive way.

Parting Thoughts

Since I have now encouraged you to do research before launching into your story, let me offer a word of caution. Do the research, but pay attention to your story. After you have gone and learned a bunch of great information, the temptation is to dump all of that knowledge onto the page, whether or not it fits. Do not do this. Your goal is to write a good story, first and foremost. Do not turn your story into a science report or a reference manual.

You may have heard the phrase “kill your darlings.” This doesn’t necessarily mean kill your characters. What it really means is that you need to let go the things you love that are not serving your story. If you filled a chapter with intricate scientific equations because you spent a week figuring it out, only to discover that it’s interrupting the pacing and flow of your story, THAT is a “darling” that needs to be cut.

I love SciFi. I think you should, too. If you have not written any SciFi, give it a try. Start with some short fiction, maybe some flash that you don’t intend to share with anyone. Set your tiny story on a space ship between the stars with two characters that don’t get along very well, forced to deal with a problem they need each other to solve. You can outline this, using the advice I gave two days ago, or you can try/fail your way through this the way I described yesterday. Immerse yourself in this story for just a moment, and see how it feels. Maybe SciFi is your jam, too!


How to Discovery Write

It is day 4 of Blogtober, and today I’m going to talk about discovery writing, or “pantsing” if you prefer that term.

Normally with this topic, I would start with the spectrum between plotting and pantsing, followed with details that describe my writing style and how I relate to topic. I did that yesterday so I’m just going to assume we’re already on the same page.

For decades, I thought of myself as a pantser. I did not like outlines. Every time I wrote one, my interest in the story evaporated because I already knew how it would turn out. I’m not a big fan of spoilers.

Even now, though I use and enjoy outlines, I leave myself a lot of room to be surprised. I know where my stories are going. I have a map that will help me get there. But I’m willing to take detours if they look interesting, and I’m open to following the whims of my characters as they become increasingly bold.

Why Should I Discovery Write?

The truth is, discovery writing isn’t for everyone, just like outlining isn’t for everyone. Plotting is to pantsing in much the same way order is to chaos. The comparisons run deep.

Pantsing is about spontaneity and going with the flow. It’s about finding the story . Stephen King describes it like a paleontologist extracting fossils from the dirt. His book On Writing makes some interesting arguments against plotting your stories, some of which I only agree with in spirit.

Discovery writing is like going on vacation just to wander around the area without a schedule, letting your feet take you where they will and keeping yourself open to all possibilities. It’s about finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants and trying things you’ve never tried before. It’s about meeting people for the first time and being willing to listen to their voice and their stories.

As I described yesterday, I outline the big stuff, then I discovery write all the stuff in between, knowing that I will likely need to make several changes to my outline as I go. I seek to get the best of both worlds.

How to Discovery Write

Describing how to discovery write is a little bit like telling someone how to blink their eyes. Most of the time I just do it without thinking too much about it. However, I have a tip and a couple of tricks which will help.

The tip: read a lot. This is one of those obvious ones that is thrown at writers all the time, but I’ll go a little bit deeper. Reading a lot will familiarize your internal ear to common cadences writers use. It will also reinforce tropes and patterns that will help you naturally shape your story to something that is pleasing to other readers. The general advice is often read widely. However, for purposes of discovery writing, I recommend focusing your reading to stories within the genre you wish to write.

Now for the tricks, which I’ll break into two categories: situation and voice.

Situation deals with the circumstances the characters find themselves in. Mary Robinette Kowal talked about this on the cruise, describing try/fail cycles and the “Yes, but… / No, and…” approach.

If you’re not familiar with “Yes, but… / No, and…”, it’s a trick used in theater and improvisation in order to keep a story or sketch going. A character faces a problem. They come up with a plan to tackle the problem. Will they succeed? If you answer “Yes, but…” that means their plan is successful, but some other problem comes up. If you answer “No, and…” that means the plan failed, the original problem still exists, and now there is another problem.

Imagine a pastry chef. They’re working on a cake, and their sifter is nearly out of flour. They go to the pantry to look for more. Is there some there? Yes, but when they get it back to the kitchen, they can’t get the bag open. They reach for a knife from the cutting board to cut open the bag. Do they get it open? No, and in their attempt, the knife slips and they get a nasty slice across the palm of their hand. They still have to open the bag of flour, but now they also need to keep from bleeding into the cake.

I could have used examples from Star Wars or Die Hard, but I think this poor pastry chef demonstrated the technique pretty well. When I started writing that scene, I had no idea the chef was going to be injured. I just knew that they were going to have difficulty with a task, and the further things go off the rails, the more interesting the scene will become.

When it’s time to wrap up, you change the answer to “Yes, and…” if you’re looking for a happy ending, or “No, but…” if you’re writing a tragedy.

That technique can get you all the way through a scene. Write enough of those scenes, and you can try/fail your way all the way through a chapter, an act… the entire novel. That is one way to complete a story without using an outline.

The other trick, which you can (or perhaps should) use in tandem with the first is driven by voice. That is, create a fully realized character with dreams and ambitions, someone that is believable, then see what they do when you put them into an interesting situation.

With a single well-realized character, this will get you through action sequences. Think of Indiana Jones crawling through a dungeon. The circumstances present themselves, and since Indiana Jones is the kind of character he is, you have a good idea how he’ll resolve the situation. Bravely, poorly, and by the skin of his teeth.

Where the voice driven approach really shines is when you get two or more characters in a scene that have clear purposes that are not in alignment. That’s when you get drama and tension and dialog that all feels natural and dynamic.

Imagine a car salesman a week away from losing their mortgage, with a spouse at home that’s complaining about the bills, and a boss breathing down their neck about quotas and commissions. Now imagine a young man and woman, newlyweds, strolling onto the sales lot. They want to start a family, which means they’re going to need to get rid of his sports car and get a more affordable family vehicle. They’re just starting their lives, and every penny counts. At the same time, the new husband wants to impress his bride with something nice. The wife just wants to get something cheap and reliable, without a bunch of hassle from the sales staff.

Is the salesman the protagonist, or the husband, or the wife? It doesn’t really matter, since they all have stakes in the scene. They are all motivated and at cross purposes to one another. As long as the motivations are clear, and as long as the characters stay true to themselves throughout the scene, the tension will be felt by the reader and the scene will be compelling from beginning to end.

Parting Thoughts

Discovery writing usually means doing more work during the revisions. During the first draft, the writer is telling themselves the story, and it’s unlikely they’ll get it all in one pass. There may ideas and themes that emerge long after the writer began. That means going back and rewriting sections in the beginning to make the planting and payoff work best.

Sometimes, a character’s voice doesn’t become strong and distinct until after a writer has worked with them for a while. Again, that means going back to the beginning and adjusting places to make sure the voice is consistent and clear.

To develop a character’s voice, I will sometimes write them in something outside the story. It’s a way for me to get to know them without feeling like I’m wasting time in the novel. For one story, I wanted to get a better feel for a side character. The novel started in third person limited. To get this other character’s voice, I rewrote the story in first person, from the perspective of this secondary character.

Usually when I hear a writer talk about how much they hate editing, they’re a discovery writer. They’ve already gone through the story and they want to move on and enjoy something fresh. I used to hate editing, too. Now I see it as the place where I get to really make my story the best it can be. It’s where I get to be an artist.

If you haven’t done any discovery writing, start with some flash fiction. Decide on a character, put them in a situation, and try three try/fail cycles before they reach the end. Don’t bother with an outline. See how it feels just being fully present in the story with your protagonist. You might find it freeing, and a source for greater inspiration.


How to Outline

Before we get too far into the weeds, we need to talk about writers in general and one of the most common ways to categorize them.

Plotters versus Pantsers

I have written about this several times in the past. I don’t want to spend too much time on the subject again, but the plotters are the ones that do prep work in advance, laying out a plan before writing. The pantsers, people writing by the seat of their pants, are truly the first readers of their story as they’re writing it, and don’t want any of it to be spoiled. I prefer the term “discovery writing” these days for writing without an outline.

It’s more of a spectrum than a binary. Neither is wrong or right. They are different approaches with pros and cons associated with each.

Why Should I Outline?

The Repossessed Ghost was a product of discovery writing. Spin City and Synthetic Dreams are both outlined stories. From those experiences, I determined the main benefits I receive from plotting are: productivity, durability, and consistency.

What I mean by productivity is that I write faster when I have an outline. My characters don’t wander around mindlessly during the times I’m trying to figure out where the story is going. With The Repossessed Ghost, my first Nanowrimo victory, I completed the first 50,000 by writing half of it in the last three days of November. It took me another 2 months of floundering to add 11,000 more words, bringing the first draft to a close. I floundered a lot, and I underwrote it.

With Spin City, I needed to outline so that the underlying mysteries would make sense. It was my second Nanowrimo victory, and the first 50,000 words came smoothly and easily. I then wrote another 50,000 words over the next 6 months, very productive considering my busy my schedule during that time. I never felt particularly lost while writing that story.

Synthetic Dreams was my most recent Nanowrimo victory, and I completed the first 50,000 words in 19 days. Then work and other projects got in the way. The story sat untouched for 7 or 8 months. By the time I went back to finish it, I lost the flavor of the story and had work extra hard to recover. Ultimately, my outline saved me, and I’ve been able to work steadily on the story for the last several weeks.

I have three other Nanowrimo attempts on the books, all failures. I didn’t use an outline with any of those attempts. I didn’t have the structure to lean on when the going got tough. I’ve learned the value of outlining through trial and error, and I probably won’t try any more novels without some sort of written out plan.

How to Actually Outline

I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding this part of the essay. No more dallying. Here are the actual nuts and bolts of how I write an outline.

The first thing to keep in mind is that this tool is for you alone, so you should use it in whatever way works best for you. Some people like a strict tree structure, with roman numerals and indents and multiple levels, the kind of outlining we used to do in school. My approach is a bit more relaxed.

My first example is this blog post. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be too terribly long, I wanted structure. My preliminary thoughts: intro, background, detail, conclusion. I opened Notepad and typed the following:

  • How to Outline
  • Plotters versus Panters
  • What Kind of Writer am I?
  • How I Outline

That is, I started with the title of the piece. After that I decided on a topic that would be good for background information. Then I chose a topic that would allow me to move deeper into specifics, personalizing this information to myself. Finally, the last section is dedicated to this, the nuts and bolts of writing.

The actual writing of this article is mostly discovery writing. The outline lets me see where I’m going and helps me stay on track. I’ve deviated a little bit, and some sections are longer than I expected, but that’s okay. I’ve stuck with the structure I planned at the beginning. The brief outline allowed me to write this very quickly.

Blog posts are short and easy. Novels, on the other hand, are much more involved. Before starting a post or a short story, I can usually see the whole thing in my head. I don’t have to write an outline for something that small because I already know where I’m going and what I’m going to say. With a novel, I might have an idea where the story will go, but I can’t see all the details. There are pitfalls and traps in the unkind void. To make it to the end of a novel, I need a detailed map to keep me safe and keep me moving in the first direction.

Here is the first part of my actual outline to Synthetic Dreams.

Act I
Goal — Establish the world, the characters, set the tone for the story, and start each of the three cases which will act as the backdrop to the real story, which is the relationship between Dee-ehn and Jayvee

Scene — Dee-ehn and Jayvee investigate scene of highly graphic “death”
Scene — Dee-ehn and Jayvee interview victim’s neighbors
— We learn victim kept to themselves
— First view of someone suffering from the virus
— Introduction to another character which may be important later
— We see how interacting with other synths is stressful for Dee-ehn
— We see how interacting with other synths is Jayvee’s strength
Scene — On the way to the bar
— We get our first view of Humanists. Maybe they’re protesting
— We’ll get some explanation of Humanists and Singulars as Dee-ehn and Jayvee argue about the two sects

To start this outline, I decided on a structure from the beginning. This is a three-act structure, similar to what’s common in cinema. The first and third act are about the same length. The second act is about as long as the first and third put together, split in the center at a pivotal midpoint.

I state my goal for each act. For this story, with all of the strangeness and world building that has to take place, my number one goal is to get everything into the reader’s eyeballs in such a way that it isn’t intimidating, and that will get them fully invested in the characters. I even remind myself in the outline that, as interesting as I might think the mystery of the murder cases are, the real story is the relationship between our two viewpoint characters.

It might be difficult to tell in what I pasted, but there are three levels to this outline. The major acts, the scenes, and scene details. My scenes wind up aligning with chapter breaks, so what I pasted represents the first three chapters of this novel.

Some people go much deeper into the details. When I need to work through something technical or difficult, I add more descriptions in the outline. Because I could clearly see what the first chapter would be like, I didn’t add details beyond the scene description. The third scene, on the other hand, had two main purposes. It needed to give us more interaction between Jayvee and Dee-ehn while at the same time unfolding more important world building. To achieve those goals, I put strong ideas into the details of the outline.

Parting Thoughts

Putting something into an outline does not mean it has to go in the novel. We’re writing words, not laying bricks. While I depend on the outline to give support and help show me where I’m going, I listen to the characters when they want to surprise me and take over. Sometimes inspiration takes the wheel, or indigestion saturates my brain with magic writing juice. Whatever the reason, I forego the outline in order to purse what feels best for the story at the time. Sometimes this is awesome! Sometimes it produces hot garbage. Both the story and the outline are malleable, so I make adjustments along the way in accordance with what feels best.

If you haven’t written something using an outline, give it a try. The story doesn’t have to be long, and the outline doesn’t have to be that detailed. As I demonstrated here, you can outline a blog post before writing it.

I especially encourage trying an outline when you’re having difficulty staying productive.

When I write an outline, I send a message to my future self, instructing him on how to get to the end of a story. When I use an outline, my older self sits on my shoulder and rides along, doing his best to act as a navigator. In that way, outlining allows me to be doubly present during the writing process.


How to Evaluate Writing Advice

Since I will be doling out writing advice every day this month, it is appropriate I start with instructions on how to evaluate writing advice, whether it’s coming from me or someone else.

Before I begin, I want to repeat a little of what I said at the end of my last post, which is that I am not an expert and I am not pretending to be one. All of the advice offered on this blog comes from my personal experience, which may or may not align with the writing community at large. I am not an authority, and I am not offering prescription.

With that out of the way, let’s get into this.

Look at the Source

I encourage everyone to exercise a little bit of skepticism when taking writing advice. The amount of skepticism often depends on where the advice is coming from. You can usually trust a college professor or a widely published author. Conversely, if someone carves a few pearls into the bathroom wall, you might want to give that offered wisdom a little less weight.

Don’t (necessarily) dismiss advice out of hand. Use your best judgement. If the advice seems particularly radical, harmful, or destructive, give it a pass regardless of the source. But if, after spending several days climbing and hiking up a mountain, should you stumble into a cave where a wizened old hermit says, “The Oxford comma offers clarity,” go ahead and put that in your tool bag. It probably won’t hurt and you can always ignore the advice later.

Check Other Sources

Sometimes, you might receive advice that is clear in the directive, but unclear as to why. For example, I used to hear people say all the time, “Show, don’t tell!” The advice is sound, but no one told me where the advice originated, or why it was important. Later, checking with other writers, I learned quite a bit more about the notion, furthering my understanding and making me a stronger writer.

Writers love talking about writing almost as much as they love talking about their stories. If you open a fortune cookie that says, “You don’t have to put two spaces after a period anymore,” it’s perfectly acceptable to check in with your other writer friends. Post a message to social media. Ask your writer’s group. Writers are full up to the back of their throat with opinions, and they will share them with you if you ask. They will share them even if you don’t ask. Just look at this blog.

Also, don’t be afraid to look ignorant. I’m going to spoil one of the themes for this month, which is this: no one really knows what they’re doing. We’re all guessing, taking stabs in the dark, performing rituals to fill the blank page, hoping that the magic continues to work. This is a truth I’ve found present throughout the industry, from writers, to agents, to editors, to publishers, to marketing… no one really knows what works and what doesn’t. If we knew, we’d all be doing it. There are truths we cling to (like the advice of “show, don’t tell”) but some books succeed, some don’t, and everyone is guessing as to why.

So, ask your questions. Don’t be afraid to look ignorant, because we all are.

Be Leery of Absolutes

When someone gives you advice that starts with the words “never” or “always,” take it with a grain of salt. You don’t always have to show. You can use adverbs, sometimes. Your sentences don’t have to be perfect. Passive voice from time to time is just fine. Beware absolutes.

If someone tells you, “Never start a book with someone waking up with amnesia,” consider the advice. One of my favorite series, The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny, begins with Corwin waking up in a hospital room, completely unaware of who he is or where he came from. It’s an older story, and the trends have changed, but there are other examples of stories starting with an amnesiac. If you have a story idea that would be amazing with that type of beginning, write it. Just be aware that you might have a hard time getting the right people to read that story because you’re bucking the current trends.

Trust Your Gut

This applies across the board, from evaluating advice to crafting your story, from writing a query letter to accepting an offer. None of us know how to write an automatic best seller, but our instincts are often sound. Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them. Search your feelings, you know this to be true…

What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, instincts. Listen to your gut and use your best judgement. It might save you from destroying your work. Or, it might be the thing that elevates your story to the next level.

JK Rowling would not be where she is today if someone hadn’t trusted their gut and published a story that no one at the time thought publishable.


Sometimes, the best way to evaluate writing advice is to science the hell out of it. Take the advice and a blank page, put them together, and see what comes out on the other side.

As writers, we sometimes forget that we do not have to share or publish everything we write. It is healthy and good to write something you know you’re going to throw away. It’s practice. It’s an exercise. It will strengthen your skills and free your mind from the stress and pressure of trying to perform.

If you get a beta reader that says, “I don’t know… I think this would be a lot better in first person, present tense,” don’t threaten or harm this obvious heathen. Maybe they’re right! If you have the time and patience, take your opening and try rewriting it in another document. See how it feels.

You should not take every piece of advice offered to heart, and you also should not spend all your time experimenting. At the end of the day (or by the end of the month) you have word counts to achieve and stories to finish. If your vision is clear, trust your instincts and stick with your original plans. However, know that some of the greatest growth spurts you will achieve come after doing something that challenges you.


Blogtober 2019!

It’s October, and you know what that means. Blog posts, all month long!

Why am I doing this?

The main reason is to prepare for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) which is next month. I use Blogtober to help put me back in the practice of writing something every day. There is no word count goal. There is no extra pressure to create a coherent narrative. The exercise of finding time every day to write SOMETHING shows me the places in my schedule I’ll be able to utilize next month when I try to write something more meaningful.

Also, this is the one month in the year where I really take my blog seriously. Previous Blogtobers produced positive results. So we’re doing it again.

What will I talk about this month?

I’ve succeeded at Blogtober three previous years, and I discovered the best thing I can do is prepare my topics in advance. In the past, the topics were all over the place. This year, I’ve chosen a theme: writing tips.

While looking at posts from last year, I stumbled on this one titled Pithy Writing Advice. I think it’s one of my better posts, so I’m going to try and make this month similar in tone and usefulness.

Here is a full list of topics by day:

  1. Blogtober 2019 (this post)
  2. How to Evaluate Writing Advice
  3. How to Outline
  4. How to Discovery Write
  5. Writing Science Fiction
  6. Writing Fantasy
  7. Write what Matters
  8. Internality and Show vs Tell
  9. How to Write a Fight Scene
  10. How to Write Dialog
  11. How to Write Humor
  12. Descriptions – Pacing and Characterization
  13. Story Idea Myths
  14. Writing Different POVS – Pros and Cons
  15. Overcoming Passive Voice
  16. Overcoming Distancing Language
  17. Sensitivity Readers
  18. Trusting the Reader
  19. Handling Alpha/Beta Feedback
  20. Killing Characters
  21. Writer Support System
  22. Staying on Task
  23. Handling Writer’s Block
  24. Marketing and Writing to a Target Audience
  25. Profanity and Other Ugly Language
  26. World Building Pet Peeves
  27. Writing a Compelling Character
  28. Tone and Voice
  29. How to Revise a Draft
  30. Recovering a Lost Story
  31. Nano Project: A Clean Slate

That’s a pretty compelling list, and I will probably stick with it. However, if you’ve been paying attention to current events, you should know an impeachment has begun. We’re living in very interesting times in the US. I may stray from the dedicated topic to share my views and write from the heart. Maybe on those days, I’ll write two posts: one political and one writing related. We will see.

I also have these four other topics which I might use in place of any of the ones scheduled:

  • Tools – Scrivener
  • Time Management
  • Online Distractions
  • Why You Should Write

I have plenty to say, and I mean to say something every day this month. That’s the goal and the plan.

Is that it?

Actually, there’s a few other things I want to mention.

In conversations with some of my online friends, I had the idea that maybe I should spend Blogtober serializing a story. Instead of coming up with the list above, I could write an outline with around 31 beats. Then all I’d have to do is stick to the outline and make this blog entertaining.

I nixed that idea for one simple reason: I’m already working on a novel. I’m about 25,000 words from completing it, and I want to finish it before November. I understand my limitations, and splitting my focus to draft two stories at once is beyond me.

Writing blog posts while working on a novel isn’t so bad. I think I could even edit one novel while drafting another. I do not think I can write a novel and a short story at the same time. Not while I have a full-time job.

Here, then, are my writing goals for this month in order of priority:

  1. Finish the first draft of Synthetic Dreams, a story about two synthetic humans living on Earth about a century after the rise of The Singularity.
  2. Write a blog post every day for the month of Blogtober
  3. Create an outline for my next Nanowrimo project, A Clean Slate. If you have a really good memory, you might recognize that title as the story I tried to write for Nanowrimo back in 2012. I failed that year, and I want to try it again from the beginning. I still think it could be a really great story.
  4. Attend World Fantasy 2019 in Los Angeles, which is from October 31st through November 3rd.
  5. Plot out a short story to be serialized on this blog, perhaps in December or January.

That’s a full schedule, but it’s very achievable. Even though it sounds like a ton of writing, I can meet all my goals by writing around 1500 words a day. That’s significantly less than I achieved during Nanowrimo last year.

An Important Disclaimer

I’m going to be spending this month doling out writing advice. However, I am neither an expert nor a teacher. I have no formal education to support my advice. This exercise is not about my ego. I am not trying to tell anyone that what they are doing is wrong, and that my way is better.

All of the advice I will present this month is based on my experience and my opinions. These are the things that work for me. They are notions and concepts I think about when I try to work out a problem in my writing.

While I am open to hearing other people’s advice, I am not interested in getting into an argument in this space. That is not what this is for. Please leave comments as you like. You can even disagree with me. I’m just not going to entertain any debates on my blog. Not this month.

That’s it! Let Blogtober 2019 begin!