So, necromancy is a thing.

Huh. Well, it’s been awhile. If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering what the hell happened to me. Stay awhile and listen. Hopefully over the course of reading this, you might learn some things out of my mistakes.

After completing Blood In The Machine, I took a break. This was one of the worst decisions I could have made. It went on longer and longer, each time telling myself I would return to work soon. Changes in my day job also impacted this, adding stress that held me back. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself.

Soon came a year later, when I returned to work on Project: Embers. This was an effort that would ultimately be doomed, but it taught me a lot. For me to elaborate, I need to tell you how I worked on projects before and what I learned from Embers.

When I would first start thinking up projects to work on, I would take mental notes. I have a very good memory for things like this, so I had assumed it would be good enough to draw from. Then I would get to work and start writing down the rough scenes as they came to me. I would have an extremely rough idea of what scenes I would write and when, but I would also wing it the majority of times.

The ultimate result would be that I would have very little planned scenes outweighed by essentially freeform work. This worked for short stories, even Blood In The Machine, but when it came to a full-length novel…

Short summary? I did an insufficient amount of planning before a project and I took down little to no notes both before and during the writing process. It was quick, sloppy, and while it worked for short stories, it crumbled under the weight of a full-length novel.

Well, when I got back to editing the 1st draft of Embers, I saw all of those bad deeds come back to haunt me. Giant details were jumbled, timelines were jumbled, city names were mismatched, characters were left feeling incredibly uneven, etc. Nothing was right, everything demanding a full re-write.

Looking at the big picture, I saw only one real course of actions. I sat back, took time, and started taking notes. Not notes on a new project mind you, but notes on all of my failings with Embers. I mothballed the project and used it, instead, as a study piece for the hows and whys of failure. That version of Embers would never be something I could release, so at the very least, I could learn all I could from where it went wrong.

“The only mistake is not learning from failure.” I heard that quote a long time ago and it stuck with me. I thought it simply sounded poetic back then, but as I’ve mired myself in both my day job and in writing, it became less poetic and more sage advice.

To add to that, I wrote a couple short stories that gained no traction when I sent them out for submission, so that hurt the ego as well.

Now, I’ve started a new project from the ground up, Project: Echo. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it belonged to an older project I mothballed as well. I’ll talk about the project later, because for right now, I want to talk about how I turned my failures from Embers into strengths for Echo. So, let’s break down my four main keynotes…

1: Plan your entire story.

Some writers are able to plot everything out in their heads and write from there. I used to think I was one of these types, able to draw everything I needed from memory and able to go back and pull details from previous text blocks when memory failed. Turns out I am not.

Looking back at Embers, the story shifted as I wrote the first draft. I had my original idea and slowly but surely deviated away from it until soon enough, it didn’t look anything like what I had started with. An idea here, a revelation there until eventually, it all adds up to a mess.

Going into Echo, I took the basic idea and took it to my timeline software (Aeon Timeline 2, a now completely invaluable piece of my toolbox) and started mapping it out from start to finish. This approach lets me see where pacing problems might arise, where new side-story arcs needed to be added, where new and important characters needed to be added, and get a feel for a proper ending.

This story is also taking place in my Scifi universe, Dark Stars, which I’ve been adding to the codex for a while now. When plotting this all out, would you like to know how much I added to the codex and timeline software for continuity?


Three new planets, one new station, one new named ship, fifteen new people, three new types of technology, and two new corporations. These are in addition to the fact that there are roughly thirty-nine primary scenes to the story. In the old method, none of this would really have been figured out before starting. Instead, it’s all concrete before the first word goes down.


2: Take notes.

In Embers, when I had an idea or a character said a choice phrase? Yeah, I basically never took down notes. Want to know how it played out? I’d spend half my time trying to recall if a character ever addressed a topic, if a scene had happened on the page or just in my head, a wound was sustained, etc.

It. Was. A. Mess.

Instead, I’ve got a pile of notes already plugged into both Aeon Timeline and my mind-mapping software (XMind). Character involvement, ranks and positions, skills acquired, personalities and habits, etc. Both pieces of software will also be updated as the story goes on, making it so that one could simply pull up their file just to be refreshed on if something happened or when it occurred.

So yeah, +10 points for consistency.

3: Seriously, take your damn notes.

Mentioning a city or planet? Note it. The character picks up a new habit or trait? Note it. The antagonist takes a non-lethal wound to the shoulder that might mess with his range of motion? Note it! The time you take to make notes in your story as you write pales in comparison to the time you’ll spend going back to fix it because you messed up and had no notes to save you.

4: Take the time to explore your tools and get to know their features.

Seriously, if you’re going to dedicate yourself to the tools you have, at least know what they can do besides the obvious surface features. I use three particular tools: Scrivener for writing, Aeon Timeline 2 for timelines (character interactions, births, deaths, story-arc tracking, etc), and XMind for a codex (notes on characters, tech, places, etc).

I’ve been using Scrivener for years but I only recently learned it even had a name generator in it. I struggle with names, always have, so I was rather ashamed I didn’t ever take the time to learn that I already had the tool to help me.

Don’t hesitate to adapt your tools beyond the intended function either. For XMind, a piece of mind-mapping software, I use a second map to act as a makeshift star-map to show what systems are where and connected to which neighboring systems. It wasn’t intended to be used like that at all, but it suffices.

So yes, there were most definitely some common sense and easily avoidable problems I could have skipped if my head wasn’t wedged up my own backside. They were obvious in hindsight, but up until that point, my old methods had worked well enough for me. It wasn’t until Embers that I really saw how they were messing me up.

I suppose scale can help reveal some of the smallest mistakes.

The biggest mistake I made out of the entire ordeal? Complacency. Instead of continuing to trudge on and work more, I sat back and told myself “Any day now.” Procrastination, kids, it’ll kill you. It nearly did me.

With those lessons taken to heart, Project: Echo is now starting to be written. Every scene has been mapped, every character has been created and taken into account, the whole thing has been nailed down like a blueprint. It’s simply a matter of building it according to plan.

It took me a long while to come back from the “studying break”, due in part to questions over if I had any right to get back into the field. Regardless, the urge to write has muted my doubt.

So yes, I’ll add some details to what Project: Echo is in the days ahead. Until then, the show must go on.

The spark.

It’s been awhile since I actually sat down and talked about my process as a writer, hasn’t it? Well, how about we take a step back and look at the one process that a lot of non-writers always ask.

“How do you get your ideas?”

It’s such a simple question, isn’t it? Yet, despite its simplicity, it’s a very loaded question that we have to even ask ourselves. So, when I begin working on a new project, what do I start with when I begin to brainstorm an idea?

A single image.

That’s right, I’ve had entire projects and everything spring to mind due to just one single image in my head. Everything grows from the roots that the image plants, ranging from the beginning to the end. Characters, worlds, etc, they all come from that.

Take for example, my current NaNo project. It features an Air Force pilot testing an FTL drive for NASA, but he gets sent to the other side of the galaxy when it goes awry. To get back to Earth, he integrates with an alien fleet that is essentially the last survivors of their species, and becomes a pilot for one of their gunships on the journey home.

Where did the idea for this story come from? What image could I conjure up in my own head that bred this story concept? I had the mental picture of a squad of infantrymen in a scifi setting, while a VTOL gunship flies in, hovers above them, and begins opening fire on the hostiles attacking the infantry squad.

That single image then begins to raise questions in my mind. Who’s fighting on the ground, and why? Who are they fighting against? What kind of man is the person piloting the gunship? Is he alone in there, or does he have a gunner? Is that ship limited to just the air, or is it capable of fighting in space?

Questions like those arise, and as I imagine answers that sound interesting, I start putting them down as possible story elements. The squad on the ground? Aliens, because they’re trying to protect the last pockets of their species that remain. Who are they fighting? Machines that were built for war by a race that is now extinct and can no longer hit the ‘Off’ button.

Questions and answers continue, with the answers constantly breeding more questions. Eventually, I then wind up at a point where there is a web of details, all explaining different aspects of the story and its elements. With that web, I then begin to piece together a story, figure out who the characters are and what they’re like, find the type of feeling I am aiming for, etc.

It is a long process, but there eventually comes a point where I sit back and look at the overall picture. Seeing who the characters are and what their motivations and weaknesses are, finding the subtle messages one might be able to interpret, and so on. At that moment, I either realize that it still needs more work and refinement, or that I am on to something and need to start penning it.

The thing is, the forming and creation of ideas doesn’t end there. I could be in the middle of penning the story and an idea will strike of a plot point or a new character will strike. Hell, I just had an epiphany about one of my character’s fate in my NaNo project today, and I’m already well into writing it.

Even all the way into editing, one can have a brand new idea that spices up the story, or even cleans it up. For Blood in the Machine, I wound up actually cutting an antagonist because he wasn’t fleshed out nearly as well as he should have been, and there wasn’t a way to make it happen.

So you see, the idea of creating a story doesn’t come all at once. There are few moments where something of depth and meaning will strike in one swoop. Instead, the process of creating a story exists all the way into editing your first draft and even later.

Anyways, just thought I’d let out some “behind the scenes” info, and maybe add a spotlight as to how I work on a story. I hope you find this insightful or intriguing, and might have learned something here. If you’ve got your own process that differs from my own, feel free to share and let us know. Until then, have a good one.

~ James.

Two weeks in the trenches.

… Wow, kind of hard to believe it’s only been about two weeks since the last update. Why? Because it’s been over two weeks since I entered the trenches of NaNoWriMo.

It feels like it’s been an eternity since I posted. Though in part, that’s because NaNo’s consumed my nights. What do I have to show for such time consumption? Over 25,400 words.  Yup, you read that right. That’s even after a lack-luster start due to ineffective writing practices which forced me to shake things up a bit.

Want proof? Okay, just keep in mind that the last bar is today and I haven’t written yet today.

 I’m not sure, but does it show where I suddenly found my new technique? That sudden jump in count was on a weekend, so that’s why there hasn’t been another like it yet. That said, guess what tomorrow is.

 It also helps that my story, Under A Falling Sky, is really coming along very nicely. The characters are getting deeper, the action is ramping up, truths are starting to come out, ect. Oh, and it’s also a good thing I didn’t outline much, considering I abandoned my mental one in chapter 2.

 So what is this amazing technique that scores me the progress each and every time? Well, for the low price of $14.95 it’s Google+ Hangouts. Seriously, this is actually a thing, especially during NaNo season.

 I’ve been in Hangouts with Jonathan Barton, Audrey Lee, and some regulars every night since I found out this trick. 15 minute muted writing sprints, 15 minute breaks, all captured with live video chat provided through Google’s Hangouts. Simple, yet extremely effective.

 So will this progress slow down? Highly doubtful. It might later on in the unforeseen future, but not for now. Progress is going too good, the company has been fantastic, and I’m falling in love with the story and the characters that inhabit it.

 For now, however, I’ll fall back into my reclusive silence as I survive the work days and the writing nights. Occasional posts might crop up on Google and such, but I’m mostly going to be writing my ass off or screwing off as a mental break. Until we get to the other side, however, ciao!

Religion in fiction.

Religion. For only being one word, it has an utterly insane amount of implication when you think about it. So then how do you properly use religion in fiction?

It’s not easy. When you think about it, depending on your beliefs, religion can be everything from a factor in your life all the way up to being the sole guiding part of your life. At the same time, religion can range from being a source of good will and charity all the way over to being a destroyer of lives and catalyst for war. It is a part of our lives and, theoretically, a part of our deaths.

So if religion is such a powerful factor in our lives, how can we best use it in fiction? Let’s face it, we writers love to twist and use anything we know (or don’t) in story writing. After all, for the sake of a good story, any topic is fair game*.

The first thing is that you have to identify A) how many religions are in your universe, B) what types of religions you have,and C) what mentality that religion teaches. As you can tell, it isn’t something so simple as “Religion X” that takes on a role in your world. Think about it, if you’re building a world from scratch with a religion playing an integral part to your story, how can you justify skimping on details you’d otherwise afford political groups or classes?

So what do I mean by the three earlier questions about your fictitious religions?

A) “How many religions are there?” Think about our world for a moment. We have a multitude of religions on our planet, each of them with their own distinct ideologies and beliefs. Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Agnostics, Deists, ect. We don’t exactly lack diversity or choice in our world for religions, so why should your fictional world lack that choice?

The only reason not to have that much variety, at least to my mind right here and now, is if you definitively show how your primary religion is right. Even then, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t have more than one. That’s the funny thing about fiction, just because you can prove how one reality-bending idea is real doesn’t mean you can’t make another idea just as real.

B) “What type of religions do you have?” This is where diversity strikes again. Christian and Catholic faith teaches that there is one God who can be merciful or wrathful. Norse, Greek, and Egyptian mythology says that there are many gods, each with their own “aspect.” Buddhism, however, does not assert a belief in a creator god. As these examples point out, there’s more to religions than just one God that you accept, so why should your fictional religion be constrained?

C) “What mentality does your religion teach?” This is a big one. Think back to the Middle Ages where religion was an over-ruling part of everyone’s lives. The church had an overwhelming amount of power and control over people’s lives, launching such historical events like the Salem Witch Trials and the Crusades. This created a culture that lived in awe and fear of the ruling religious body. At the same time, there have been other cultures throughout history that have been shaped by their spiritual and religious teachings.

In fiction, what this means is that your faction/country/whatever is shaped by their sources of faith and vice versa. It rarely makes sense to think that a pacifist religion and spirituality would belong to a militaristic state. Just the same, an expressive and welcoming faith doesn’t fit well with an isolationist state. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist, just that it doesn’t make sense to have them dominantly guide a society that contradicts them.

So for all of these constraints, what does having a decently fleshed out religion provide you? First, it gives you a motivation and driving force behind characters in your world. Maybe one character is a very pious man who’s beliefs are based on his faith. Perhaps he might be a rebellious one that wants to lash out against that faith. It builds motivation for their stories and beliefs while also providing a means to shape their very minds.

Second, it can provide an explanation for numerous other fictitious aspects. Magic? It’s a gift of the gods, rather than some anomalous force. Enemies? Demons make an easy foe that very few people would want to associate with, just sayin’. Need a goal? A holy mission given by the gods makes a nice option.

Third, it adds that much more depth and detail to your world. You have landmasses, political parties, and a history that goes back hundreds – if not thousands – of years. Why, then, would you skip on the very thing that such a massive amount of people in our own world believe in?

Maybe yours is a twisted version of an established religion or, perhaps, it’s an entirely different take on belief as we know it. Be that as it may, it provides you and your readers with a sense that there is more depth and detail in the world than initially would be assumed.

Hopefully this will give you writers some food for thought with your upcoming works. At the same time, it’ll hopefully give readers some extra perspective on what can go into making a world from nothing. I, however, am signing off.


~ James

(*There are certain circumstances where this point is invalidated. Some topics really do need to be treated with a healthy dose of respect. The bigger a mark on someone’s real life that it leaves, the more respect you need to afford it. Just because you think something would make a great story point for your character or world doesn’t mean that you should just play around with it willy-nilly.)

The dangers of using real life in your writing.

Recently I talked about how using the modern day in writing can be a difficult thing to work with. When I say “recently”, I mean back in this post.

Now I want to talk about why it’s as difficult as it is.

There are three methods to working with the real world in your story: Authentic, believable, and fringe. Each is rather distinct in their implementation, but each poses their own problems and advantages. Each, also, works better in specific genres on average than another. Using the fringe method in a crime novel … probably not the best idea unless it’s specifically that way. Just the same, using an authentic style in a supernatural story can be risky.

1 – “Authentic”) The authentic use of the real world is the act of making sure that everything (details, people, agencies, companies, ect) matches its fictitious counterpart. This method of writing in the real world can be the most difficult on someone who isn’t as worldly or experienced as the true professionals. That said, it can be the most convincing way to draw a reader in if, you know, your story is still any good.

One of the perils of using this method, good at it or not, is that your story will always take a backseat to the authenticity monkey. You will always scrutinize every detail in your story to be sure that you have the right region, weather patterns, agencies and departments, building designs, ect.

It can get kinda crazy. On the other hand, if you pull it off with a convincing story, you can have your readers stuck to you as if they were glued.

The people that are best equipped to use this style of writing are those that either do a ludicrous amount of study on all the aspects of real life that they use, or have past experience in the fields that they bring to the literary table. Let’s face it, who’s gonna write least authentically: A nurse, a med student, or a writer with a day job and a movie collection to weed through?

2 – “Believable”) The believable method is that odd little child that popped up from a weird night when Authentic and Fringe both got wasted and booked a hotel room. It lacks the nitty-gritty details that make up the authentic method, yet it is more plausible than the fringe method.

When would one use the believable method? Unlike the authentic or fringe methods, you can be believable nearly in any genre. Crime story? It might pay to be more authentic, but believable can suffice. Got Elves drifting around in Chicago? You could argue that being more of a fringe writer would be easier, but being believable can make your readers attach to the set piece.

While putting some research in to make sure you’re using the right agency (ex. FBI or US Marshals?) can add a layer of credibility to you as the writer, it can also put you in an awkward spot. If you do some digging and use the right details for some aspects, lacking other details can make your readers scratch their heads.

If you want to be believable, you want to be more on the side of authentic than fringe; however, be ready in case any blow-back comes your way for some incorrect details. I’m not saying you can’t make up some city in Florida, but please don’t say that the Space Needle is in Miami.

3 – “Fringe”) And then there’s the fringe method. I’ll be honest, this one is my least favorite of all these styles of using the modern world. It lacks any sense of believability or authenticity, and reeks of someone just spouting off some random real world names and abbreviations  for the sake of saying “Hey! You know of New York, right? That’s where this story happens!”

That’s not to say that the fringe method doesn’t have its own uses. In particular, it can be best put to use in paranormal or science fiction stories where it can be used to provide some basic attachment.

You only want to use a fringe method of writing for the modern day if your story absolutely must come first; trying to be make people think you actually know what you’re talking about while mixing up or inventing names just doesn’t work.

In real world fringe writing, you don’t care about the details and their accuracy. All that matters is the story and your characters; making sure that you have the right name of a state county or checking to see if SWAT teams belong to the FBI comes last. While I love stories and characters that come first, I am no lover of a story that completely forgo any fact checking.

So here comes the great question: What method do I use then, if I am such a connoisseur of styles?

I aim for the believable spectrum. I am not an expert on the world by any stretch. As of writing this, I am twenty-two and have worked at a retail store and a tool shop. I have no experience with the FBI, I’ve not had any extended stays at a hospital, nor have I signed up with the military. As such, I don’t have the experiences or knowledge that an FBI agent, a doctor, or an infantryman might have.

All of that said, I also can try and put my best foot forward and make sure that the right agency investigates the correct type of crime. I can check and make sure that the US Army does not have its own battleships. I also know that the Empire State Building is not, in fact, in Toronto.

I may not have the worldly experiences of someone who has traveled or lived some of these amazing lives, but I can at least do some due diligence in making sure that the basic facts are checked.

The only thing I can ask of anyone who wants their story to take place in the modern world is that you realize what style you’re using. If you’re going for an authentic crime novel, don’t be an expert on the police side of the story but not know a single thing about how a hotel operates.

If you’re gonna write a story in the modern world, find your style and stick to it. Don’t jump from authentic to fringe in the middle of your story, just be sure that you recognize where you belong and work with it.

In my case with The Veil (again: modern story with divine/demonic forces), I want it to feel like the story could happen today. That doesn’t work with a fringe method, but I don’t have the knowledge or experience for authentic. That leaves me with writing a story from a, hopefully, believable perspective.

I’ve tried to get what details I can in order for it to seem more plausible, but I know I’ll make some mistakes in the process. I know I’ll get some details wrong in how the FBI conducts its investigations, and that I’ll not have correct hospital procedures followed.

That said, I’m at least making sure that I am sending the right agency after my protagonist, and that my home state of Washington isn’t as hot as Arizona. The more details that I get right, the more I can draw my readers in. At the same time, my story and characters will come before exact authenticity.