Friday, September 26, 2014


(Picture courtesy Pendragon1966 - Deviantart)

When I first started writing, there were a million new things to learn. I was always a good student in English class, and while I did take some post-secondary English, it was not my central area of study. So I plugged away at it, learned how to use commas correctly (most of the time), mastered the em-dash, the ellipsis, use of quotation marks in dialogue, all with the help of guides and books that told me clearly, if x then y. If your quoted dialogue ends in a period, then goes on to give attribution, the period is moved to the end of the sentence, after attribution, and the spot at the end of the quote becomes a comma.

Easy right? There are rules.

Then I heard about voice.

Agents want to hear voice. Many agents say they must have a good sense of voice from your first page, or they won't read on.

I researched voice, but I never really came up with anything helpful. "You know it when you see it." Seemed to be the consensus.

Well I think I have it now and I'm willing to share.

To me, voice is the character telling the story. It may be the author's own personal voice, but unless you're a character in the leap off the page sense, I think you need to invent that character.

Here's an example:

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches." - Opening to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Nothing happens. No characters are introduced. There's no conflict, no real plot development. The voice does all the work, and you'd read on, wouldn't you? Who could put it down after reading just the first page? Because this voice, this is someone cool, someone funny, someone with charisma. This voice is the person you want to stand next to at a party, because you know they're going to say interesting things and you won't be bored. If you gave this voice to an actor/actress they'd leap off the screen.

This voice is stardust.

Not that you, or I, or anyone should attempt to be Douglas Adams. We have to find our own paths, our own voices that suit our work. While we work at it though, it's important to remember the qualities of great voice. Big, bold personality, charisma, wit, and above all, confidence. There is little that draws humans to another person like confidence.

Read your favorite authors and think about why you like their voice. Write a list of attributes they have that appeal to you and examine how you can develop those in your own writing. Do not attempt to copy another writer's style. There's only one of them, just as there's only one of you and copies inevitably pale in comparison to the original.

Above all, write.

Revel in the act of creation.

Be the god of your world and bring that godlike confidence to your readers. Take them by the hand, give a confident squeeze and say, "Come with me, I've got something amazing to show you."

Monday, August 18, 2014


I was born.

Then some other things happened.

I read a lot of books. Mostly under the covers at night with flashlight in hand and one ear cocked for the creaky floorboards outside my door.

At an early stage I decided what I really wanted from life was to write.

I kept that desire secret. Maybe people would laugh. No... certainly some people would laugh. I drew maps, planned characters, plotted epic fantasies... and never started a single story.

The bios of my favourite authors spoke of madcap careers Army, professional juggler, rodeo clown... I don't remember all of them, but I was amazed at how many jobs my idols had gone through before finding writing.

What I needed to do, I decided, was to see the world in the most interesting way possible.

After High School, I registered to join the Canadian Army, with the intention of a career in the Infantry.

I wasn't offered a place in the Infantry. Too good at math. Electronics and Optics, that's where the big machine that read my test said I should go.

I took the offer.

Basic training was hard. I don't think a civilian can understand how hard it is. When you fail, they either choose to bump you back two weeks, where you enter a new platoon and try it all over again, or they discharge you... send you back home.

I failed. I could make a lot of excuses. There certainly were extenuating circumstances, but ultimately it was my failure.

They don't give third tries.

I failed again.

During my interview, I must have said something to impress the Captain. He noted that there were some irregularities in my training and gave me one... last... shot.

I screwed up again, but I made it.

In the second-to-last week of training, my punishment (for having a sweatshirt in the wrong part of my locker) was to carry a cement block weighing 20 kilos or so during the entire time. This week of training saw lots of un-burdened trainees fall out due to exhaustion, but I was more determined than ever.

I never came last on a run, in fact I made sure to be in the lead half of the platoon in everything we did, in spite of my extra load.

After basic it was all easy. After that all I had to do was be good at math and get through my electronics training.

When I joined my unit they were off in Cyprus on a Peacekeeping tour.

That's what I was there for, but I wasn't allowed to go. I had to wait in the empty barracks, doing simple tasks for months until they returned.

Several years later, when the chance to volunteer for Peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia came along, I jumped at the chance. They didn't have openings for me in my trade, but they needed drivers. Even though I wasn't going as a technician, I was thrilled at the chance. We trained hard for two months and flew over.

I won't go into all the details. We lost two good men. Cpl. Johnny Baichard, and my friend, Capt. Jim Decoste. The stories are heart-wrenchingly awful, especially Cpl. Baichard's death, so, suffice to say I'd seen enough. I got out of the Army.

I wandered.



I forgot all about writing.

I couldn't settle down. I did construction. Went to college, but couldn't stick with anything.

In retrospect, I probably had PTSD. Maybe I still do.

I found computer animation, and the creative outlet was good for me. Even working to the crazy demands of some clients was satisfying in its way.

A lull in work became a gap, then a chasm. I needed something to fill the time, and that's when I started to write again. At some point I realized I'd done just what I'd set out to do. See the world, experience life from all different angles.

Now all I had to do was put all that experience on the page somehow.

That's the hard part.

I'm still trying.

Maybe I'll get there one day.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Orphans of the Celestial Sea, E-6, C-3

The story so far…

Tom Cain rescued sisters Nikki and Willow Keats from psychotic Draggers (humans who have been turned into animalistic killing machines by exposure to Mist) and a Mist infestation with the help of sharpshooter Agatha West. They fled Milton on the apparently deserted airship Hecate. In the town of Havenvale they nearly lost Hecate to a crime-boss, Ponderoy Charkart, but a vertically-challenged mechanic named Shorty came to their rescue and joined the crew. On a smuggling run to Atlantis they picked up the latest member of the crew, Dog, a runaway gladiator.
Lately the crew tried to recover several tons of gold from Charkart’s warehouse, but they had to dump it to avoid crashing into a lake, as Hecate had taken heavy damage during a firefight. Tom managed to rescue some of the gold, but was dragged through a wisp of Mist. Before the psychotic rage that overtook him caused him to kill anyone, Ishara, a mysterious ghost-woman who haunts Hecate, twisted something inside his brain that knocked Tom unconscious. Now she’s patched his brain to keep him from turning into a Dragger, but the fix is only temporary. What’s more, Charkart has assembled an army to recover the lost gold and his forces are assaulting Bedford, where Hecate is currently undergoing repairs.

Episode 6
Chapter 3

Half-way to the staccato sound of gunfire, Willow caught up with Tom and the Sheriff. “Tom, you have to come quick!”
Tom stopped. “What’s wrong, can’t you see we’re in the middle of a war?”
“It’s Ishara, she’s gone all crazy, says she needs you.”
“Crazier than usual?”
“Incandescent, Tom. You need to come.”
The Sheriff nodded at Tom. “Go on, son. One gun on the line won’t win the battle. Best we just prepare to fight the good fight, and surrender on our own terms.”
Tom bolted for Hecate, leaving Willow behind, panting in his wake. When he got close he could see the entire bridge of Hecate was lit up and shimmering, like a powerful spotlight passing through water. The open field where Hecate rested on her stubby landing legs was bathed in pale blue light, casting eerie shadows in all directions. He threw open the forward hatch, and saw that the rest of the crew was waiting nervously outside the door to the bridge. Even Dog looked uneasy.
Inside the bridge, Ishara was raging. Tom shielded his eyes with his arm and approached her.
“You made me do this Tom! You foolish, foolish boy. Why oh why wouldn’t you listen?”
“What’s going on Ishara. Let’s just settle down a little, okay?”
“I will not settle down! You made me do this! It’s on your head.”
Tom could still make out the faint sounds of gunfire at the edge of town. He hoped the locals were still holding their own.
“Ishara, we have a bit of a war going on here. I really do not have time for your games right now. What are you doing?”
“I’m calling to them, Tom. They’re coming. Can’t you feel them?”
Tom could feel something. A presence that wakened the malevolent spirit wormed deep in his brain. Something in the hills was drawing closer.
“Oh hell Ishara. Did you call Mist and Draggers down?”
“Had to do it… You made me. Your fault. Your greed, foolish boy. Now go, I’m tired.” With that she flickered out like a blown candle, leaving only a faint afterimage in Tom’s vision.
Tom turned and saw the rest of the crew staring through the open door. “Well, what’s the matter? You never seen a ghost before? Get going, warn the townies they’re about to face the worst Mist they’ve ever seen!”
The crew scattered, and Tom fell to his knees. Charkart’s men were about to be massacred. They might have been on the wrong side of things, but nobody deserved what was coming for them. Was it all his fault as Ishara had said? The spirit worming its way through his brain said yes. Yes it was Tom’s doing, and it was good.
An explosion of pain ripped through Tom’s head. He pressed at his temples, trying to hold his skull together. It felt like his brain might explode any moment. The spirit within him wrestled him for control of the body. It was the body… not his body in that moment. The two of them shared equal dominance.
Tom squeezed his eyes shut, and focused every bit of his being on fighting the evil presence. He screamed until his throat was raw, his stomach roiled, and he fell to the ground, convulsing in pain.
Then without warning, it was gone, and Tom was alone with his thoughts. He was curled in a fetal position in the bushes at the edge of Hecate’s landing field. The fight with the other in his head had seemed mere seconds long, but somehow he’d left Hecate’s bridge and wandered away in that time. He shivered against the cold night. There was a vile taste in his mouth and a hollow in his belly.
Tom raised his hand to rub his eyes and smelled the iron tang of blood. What had he done? He rose unsteadily and ran toward Hecate.
When he burst onto the bridge, Agatha spun his chair around and raised an eyebrow. “Where have you been? You look like hell.”
Tom paused, panting for breath. He’d half expected to find the rest of the crew dead. “I… uhh, checking the perimeter. How are things here?”
Agatha tilted her head to the side. “Well, we were a little worried about you, but all things considered it was an uneventful night. I guess you’d know, you had the front-row seat, after all.”
“Yeah… uh…” Tom pulled out his pocket watch, it read four-fifteen. Six hours since Charkart’s attack had started. There should have been Mist and Draggers running rampant through town, instead Agatha was acting like it was just another night.
Tom burned with questions, but he was afraid to give himself away. Agatha might very well put a hole in him if he said the wrong thing, and he’d not only given her permission, he’d written her the perfect excuse in his journal. He swallowed. She might even be right to finish him off now.
“I’m gonna go clean up. You want me to relieve you on watch?”
Agatha squinted at him suspiciously, fingering the grip of her revolver. “Nah, you look like you need the rest more’n I do.”
Tom stumbled to the head. The mirror showed him a wild man with matted hair and dark splotches across his face. He gently applied some soap and water to reveal himself under all the muck and blood. There were two nasty gashes near his temples that looked to have been made by his own thumbnails. Tom breathed a sigh. At least it seemed all the blood was his own.
He stared deep into the mirror, but as far as he could tell he looked normal. The thing in his brain was silent.
Safely back in his own cabin, Tom collapsed on his bed. “Ishara… Ishara what the hell happened?”
“Tom… I’m glad you’re okay.” She didn’t appear, and her voice was a mere mosquito buzz in his ear.
“I’m glad I’m okay too.” Tom grinned, but it quickly turned to a grimace. “Am I okay?”
“For now. Did I ever tell you that you remind me of Nergal?”
“Ishara, this is no time for reminiscing. What happened?”
“People thought Nergal was evil… well some did. Did you know that? He wasn’t evil. He was actually really nice, but he’s gone now, along with so many others.”
“Please try to focus. I need to know what happened, and I can’t ask the others. They’ll kill me if they find out I’ve been infected by Mist.”
“We needed him. Killing him was the big mistake. The biggest. They all needed some place to go. Without somewhere to go, all they did was hang around. And you can’t leave that much power just floating around now can you? Someone’s bound to take advantage.” Ishara sighed. “Everything was better before they killed Nergal.”
Tom had never felt the urge to slap a woman before in his life. Now that he did it was useless. He laughed at the thought. Slapping a ghost, that was a joke. He was a bigger joke, thinking he could get any sense out of her.
“Why are you laughing at me Tom.”
“Not at you… at myself.”
“Really? I’ve heard your jokes. They’re not that funny.”
“It wasn’t that kind of laugh.”
“Oh… the sad kind then? Are you sad Tom? What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? I have some evil spirit fighting for control of my body, a fight you’ve told me I’m destined to lose sooner or later, I keep blacking out and losing time…. I thought I’d actually killed some of my own crew! On top of that my first mate is ready to kill me if I blink funny and I haven’t a thrice-damned clue what’s been going on for the past six hours!” Tom paused, panting. “Other than that I’m doing great! How about you?”
“Oh, I’ve been better. I’m dead you know.”
Tom rubbed at his eyes. “Yeah… I’d figured that one out. Thanks.”
“Really? I didn’t know until just a few hours ago. I guess it explains a lot.”
“Like what?”
“I keep losing bits of myself… Like memories, and other things.”
“Now, now, be nice. Though I suppose I must seem a little bit crazy to one in your position.”
“A little bit… yeah. Just like I’m in a little bit of a bad place myself, you know the whole turning into a monster who will kill all my friends before my twenty-first birthday. Ha ha… Just a teensy bit annoying that.”
“Really? I’d have thought it would upset you more.”
Tom sighed. “That was a joke.”
“See? That’s what I mean. You really need to work on your sense of humour, Tom.”
“Yeah… why don’t you tell me a joke for a change?”
“Okay, how about this.” Ishara giggled. “I actually managed perfect control of the Mist. I think that’s because of the artefact up in the hills. It’s a powerful one, maybe one of the Decatria. The Mist swept down and engulfed Charkart’s men before they knew what had happened. A few survivors ran toward the Bedford defenders and were picked off like lambs. The entire attacking force, hundreds of men, were killed or turned to Draggers in a matter of hours. It was a total massacre.”
“That’s not funny… that’s horrible. Poor beggars.”
“Horrible? Oh. I guess I’m not good at telling jokes either.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “You can say that again.”
“I guess I’m not good—”
Tom snorted a humourless laugh. “Not what I meant!”
“Made you laugh.”
“You know, the more I talk with you, the more I wonder which one of us is crazy.”
“Can’t it be both?”
Tom closed his eyes and massaged his face. “I’m going to sleep now.”
“We were just getting to the important matters.”
“Gosh, and here I thought we were off on another insane tangent of yours designed to drag me down into your own personal world of crazy.”
“If you want to be like that, I won’t tell you.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Fine, what is it?”
“No, no. You’re tired, and you need your beauty rest.”
“Ishara, just tell me.”
“Wouldn’t want to interfere with your precious sleep. No no no, that would be a crime.”
“Aww, don’t pout, just tell me.”
“Won’t. But in the morning you should really ask me about how to cure you, fix the Mist problem and save the world… that’s all.”
“What? Ishara, you know how to do that?”
“Yes, it all came back to me just now. That’s why I did it. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I keep saving you. Good night.”
“Ishara, this is very important. I need to know now, before you forget again.”
Tom listened intently but heard no response.
“Ishara, please tell me now. I’m sorry I called you crazy.”
There was still no response.
“Ishara! Ishara!”

End of Episode 6

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