Do we judge by appearance? (the text in a book, to be clear)

(I added the last bit just because I didn’t want to come up on all kinds of diversity-related Google searches)

But to answer the question, we know people do, especially when you’re a teenager and trying to fit in. Appearances matter a lot. And sometimes not without reason. Clothes, hair, makeup, all tell a story about where we want to fit. If you’re dressed in all black and have a nose stud, you could be exactly my kind of people, but you probably aren’t worried about how the cheerleader squad thinks about you–not that there’s anything wrong with cheerleaders either. 😉

So how does this fit with writing? I’m thinking that people judge books by appearance too. The length of paragraphs. The amount of dialogue. The flow of fat paragraphs versus short ones, the ‘intelligence’ (glasses wearing, articulate chess club member vibe) versus ‘power’ (sleeves rolled up and buzz-cropped football player).

Does any of this change your story? Not at all. But is it worth thinking about? For sure. After all, it’s easy enough to adjust.

Or maybe I’m wrong and it’s all about story and appearances don’t matter. That’s what your guidance counselor would have you believe. ☺

And I buy their argument. Appearance shouldn’t matter. At least for the things you can’t change. But I would suggest that the things you can change, the things you have the power to choose, in writing as well as in life, are indeed important clues about where you want to fit in, and maybe the worst thing to believe is that they don’t matter at all…

(PS, I’m a terrible and indifferent dresser, and it wasn’t much different when I was a teenager, so don’t expect me to be walking the talk here…) 🙂


I’m having some fun putting a fine shine on StoneDragon. I’m also going to start doing some artwork for it this year, so the featured image is the start of some related sketches (in this case a map, not finished yet). I’m looking forward to doing a bit more art as a change of pace. I’m also having some fun introducing the Hooligans to art and animation. I’ve broken the bank and bought Toon Boom Harmony (yikes, there’s a big learning curve there) and promised them that I’ll get a story and some animation for them on YouTube. Depending on how horrible it is, I may or may not link it to my other stuff. Since they’ll be doing much of the drawing, and some of the story writing (I fight back where I can but…), those links may never appear here. 🙂

I’m Free… I Mean Finished!

The major promised rewrite of StoneDragon is finally done. Whoo-hoo! After a couple of years of delays, disruptions, and scraping up the bottom of the well for motivation, I picked up speed in the last 2-3 months and finished with a flurry on my holidays. I finished last night, realized that the formatting was a mess when I compiled it out of Scrivener, cleaned it up in Word, and have something that now resembles a manuscript. What a great feeling. It won’t hit the world yet, I want to run it past some new eyes to make sure it’s clean and polished (probably OWW and a copy editor at some point) and I also want to add some illustrations, many of which I’ll likely share here. But we’re now closer the end than the beginning and at least it’s not an incoherent mess that I couldn’t actually share with someone anymore.

On the personal front, my lovely wife has allowed me much writing time on our vacation (partly from being sick and going to bed early a lot, but let’s not split hairs!). We’re in Miami now, on the beach, and the day is beautiful. There are worse places to be!!!

May this be a wonderful 2017 for all of us…

Heroic Reflection (which isn’t sucking your gut in the mirror)

I think this is an appropriate topic (on the writing side, not sucking in my gut), as my current draft has an element of this in it. It’s a heroic style book, with a strong dark and gun-wielding hero, but I don’t really want to admire him from his own point of view. Even in stories with heroes that are larger than life, legendary, those same heroes must be modest, humble, and torn with doubt. Only then can they take actions that raise them above the average. They can’t admire themselves, or even acknowledge their own specialness, as that takes away from the humbleness. So how do you show how great they are, without having them say it, especially if you want to use a limited POV (no obvious narrative voice)?

You have to reflect their greatness from those around them. This can be in the other character’s dialogue, if you want a one POV story, or from other people’s thoughts, if you want to move it to multiple POV. This can even be to the extreme of making the entire narrative be the POV of a secondary character, such as Sherlock Holmes’ Watson. If you don’t want to go that far, you can do it more intermittently, such as the occasional female POV in Louis L’Amour westerns, or just through the dialogue and actions of the surrounding cast, such as the more recent (and very high quality) Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown.

A hero can’t admire themselves in the mirror.

Others must admire their sucked-in-gut for them…


I’m now past the 60% mark on my StoneDragon edit. I’m starting to get energized as the end crawls into sight. I will be SO happy when it is done and I can start doing fun things, like some illustrations and maybe even move to a new story. The question will be whether I want to start something completely new, or shift to another already finished story that needs some editing. It can’t be said that I’m not a sucker for punishment! 😀

Lessons from First Pages Critiques

(as in my critiques of other people)

I find critiquing someone else can be a valuable exercise, buy information pills in crystalizing your own thoughts about a topic, buy more about in being inspired by some things, thumb and recognizing things that you like less in others. To be clear, there is a wide spectrum of readers in any audience and I can only speak to my own tastes, as is often clear from other comments on the same work. So this is not meant to be a slam to anyone I may have critiqued at any point over the years, but simply things that I thought might be useful to my own work and what I find effective:

  1. Introduce tension and stakes early, some hint of the negative story problem, don’t leave those until chapter 2, the reader won’t get there.
  2. Have a question or curiosity that makes reader want to start reading chapter two, as it’s easy to stop at the end of chapter one and never pick it up again.
  3. Either make your POV character likable with a problem (creating sympathy and tension), or if you’re going for an ant-hero or redemption story, consider a) having some minor redeeming qualities, b) have them have minor regrets about how bad they are, raising possibility of a redemption turnaround in the story, or c) have them be very very good at something, as then people will follow them anyway, because they are so interesting.
  4. Work backstory in a paragraph at a time, spacing it out, and giving some excuse for mentioning it.
  5. In a short story, have the ending be consistent with the short story’s theme (as shown in the unique mix of character and his / her story problem). A short story works best if everything seems to fit together, blending into one another, rather than being disjointed.

These can be valuable things to have in mind when you’re either planning or polishing a first chapter or short story. Or at least I found them so. Good luck with the writing!


I am finding some time and picking up speed on my StoneDragon edit, which is gratifying. I’m a little behind on my art, partly because all the art stuff is still saran-wrapped in the basement and I haven’t really found the time and place to bring the art back into the day to day routine yet. But I’m thinking about it, and the creativity well is filling up. 😀

There’s only one book that matters to an unpublished writer – the first

(and I’m not talking about their own).

This could also be titled: a first time writer needs different skills than an established one. The first time writers need to prove themselves, and they haven’t earned any goodwill that might cushion missteps. The first boring section, a slow start, or an uninteresting section of dialogue, and the new author risks losing their audience and likely not getting them back, especially if they are not being published by a large traditional publisher with glowing reviews (which might by them cushion for one or two mistakes).

Established authors admittedly are generally more polished writers, but they’ve also earned a loyalty in their followers that will buy them at least a few pages of grace. They are likely more focused on the end of a book, of the spine of a longer series, of emotional payoff and drawing readers back when the book is over. All of which is important, but they can probably relax a little more on the opening few pages. This is almost the reverse for the new author. They have to intensely scrutinize the first pages, and may have no-one ever reach the end of their book.

So what is the practical take-away from this? For those trying to break in, and studying how to clamber over the barbed and electrified wall of publishing, when you are looking at established authors and what they did right, there is only one book you should focus on and try to emulate: their first. When they were in the same boat as you.

After you’re published, you can learn all sorts of things from their later books, but the author is then working in a new place, with new benefits and drawbacks. For better or worse, they’ve got their footprint in the sand, created expectations, establishing a certain audience and set of expectations. Sometimes that footprint in the sand may be aimed in the wrong direction, and that sucks, but one way or another it’s something that got them noticed, and it’s sometimes good to keep that in mind when listening to established professionals give advice. What they are focused on and struggling with for their tenth book may be absolutely the wrong piece of advice for your first…

Here’s to all our firsts! 🙂


We moved recently and I haven’t unpacked the art stuff, so this image is an oldie but goodie. I’ve gained a tiny bit of steam on the StoneDragon manuscript, maybe 25% rewritten now, and picking up speed. I’ve decided that much of the original writing was actually reasonable and in places, all I have to do is change the pronouns from first person to third. Where I’m adding new POVs takes a bit longer, but again, it’s more about finding motivation to ‘chop wood and carry water’ without much in the way of creative reward, that’s slowing things down. Chop, slosh, chop!