Posts in Category: Writing

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

I decided earlier this year, after stalling out on yet another story, to start treating writing more like a job - in other words, to take a more disciplined approach and to go less by whim. To that end, I took Story Engineering by Larry Brooks out from the library and read it, taking copious notes the whole time. I'm not going to lie, the book was a slog. I don't read how-to books or even any stripe of non-fiction more than once in a blue moon, so it is a testament to my intention to take writing seriously that I made it through this book, armed with new tools to put to use in writing.

The Struggle

Despite the fact that Brooks mentions voice in his book as being a Core Competency, it is the worst part of this book. To be fair, there are long stretches where he just talks about the subject matter and his passion for storytelling comes through in a genuine way. But it almost feels like those are the times when he's not paying attention. On the flip side, the rest of the book, he's... is it macho? Is it condescending? It's probably some combination of the two, but it put me off every time I encountered it, and it made me glad for the notes I was taking, ensuring that I would not have to read the source material again.

The Payoff

What I got from the book is a set of tools - an exercise for each of the core competencies (minus Voice) that can help me lay out a story and take a lot of the frustration and uncertainty out of the process.

The Tools

Brooks talks about the six core competencies in his book - four structural elements and two required skills. The four elements are:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Story Structure

The two skills are:

  • Scene Construction
  • Voice

Concept

Concept is a high-level description of the story. It's phased as a "What if" question. So, something like, "What if we learned a meteor was headed to Earth to wipe out our population?" could serve as the concept for Deep Impact or Armageddon. You should be able to write your story as an answer to your conceptual question.

-- The concept section felt a little basic -- talking about it only because it felt like he should rather than because he felt he had anything to offer on the subject --

Character

Brooks takes the notion of a three-dimensional character and runs with it, defining for us what these three dimensions are:

  • Surface Detail and Quirks
  • Backstory/Inner Demons
  • Change & Response to Conflict

In defining these dimensions, he also talks about the traditional character arc in four stages (and how those stages fit into Story Structure). The four stages of a character arc are:

  • Orphan -- this is the character in setup mode, before the story has its way with them.
  • Wanderer -- After the setup, the character reacts to the first plot point -- every thing is a reaction in this phase
  • Warrior -- The character starts to overcome inner demons and becomes proactive
  • Martyr -- The character becomes the catalyst for the story's resolution

-- I've struggled with the concept of characterization, how much was revealing character, and how much was changing it. This section cleared up my questions nicely. --

Theme

Brooks says that theme can be as simple as having a strong character or or as complex as something that drives your entire story. He talks about exploratory theme where the writer plumbs the depths of a theme without really stating a conclusion. He also talks about theme as propaganda -- the writer takes a position and defends it. There is also a section on thematic intent -- if you hold the intention in your mind while you write, it will show in your narrative.

-- I kind of felt like Brooks was out of his depth here. He sort of contradicted himself and talked in circles. For whatever reason, that didn't bother me. It was almost endearing to see him flail. --

Plot Structure

This was the section where it felt like Brooks was his most confident. Which is good because I felt like this was one of the areas where I needed the most help. Basically, Brooks breaks down stories into milestones and goes from there. The milestones are:

  • Opening Hook: setup - Why do we care about the character? What are the stakes?
  • First Plot Point - The story gets its hooks into the character and his direction and conflict are set.
  • Midpoint Milestone - When the main character goes from reactive to proactive - gets something or overcomes something that gets him on his way.
  • Second Plot Point - The final piece that gets the character ready for the final conflict. Anything new after this should be well foreshadowed.
  • Resolution - Final conflict where the character is the catalyst for the resolution. There are also pinch points between the plot points and the midpoint milestone that shed light on the antagonist.

-- This section is, far and away, the longest of the book. It is the best thought-out, and the best laid-out. If I were the buying kind rather than the library type, this section (along with the character and scene sections) would have been worth the price of the book alone. Brooks shines in this section, dissecting stories and showing us their guts. Applying what he's showing us, however, is a different kettle of fish.

Scene Construction

Brooks talks about the missions of scenes, their exposition, their characterization, ad their purpose. He talks about setting up a scene minimally and arriving as late as possible into the scene to give maximum impact. What's most important to me, though, is that he talks about sequencing the scenes before writing them so that if something is missing or something doesn't fit, it can be added or cut with a minimum of impact on the narrative. I know this level of detailed planning sets some people's teeth on edge, but it seems like a good way to avoid rewrites. Rewrites, to me, are the biggest impediment to writing. I understand that there is a lot of emphasis on the process of drafting -- rightly so -- and I know that my own editing abilities are, as far as they've been tested, poor. When I see a structural problem with my story -- not something that is a polishing thing but something that requires I go back to a point and rewrite everything from there -- I generally know what it would take to fix it, but there's so much mileage between here and there that I just leave it and look at a new story that has less resistance. Finishing stories is a lot easier if you don't give up, and I want to see if plotting out the scenes can give me that.

Voice

Brooks has voice as one of his core competencies and I agree with that decision. But he says to go for a more neutral voice because that is safer. He does this in a voice that is grating and dismissive. I'm pretty sure that's irony, right there. I don't agree with his "be safe, sell more books" philosophy. I think that a skilled writer can subtly create a story that is more engaging with a little effort than someone who's playing it safe. I think, however, story structure and character and scene execution are important to consider in advance because when you know where you're going, you can concentrate on voice. I do agree with Brooks's assertion that voice is learned or earned, and I think that it's easier (and probably better) to tell a story naturally, in a style that doesn't seem forced, but I think that a story can be very successful in a particular style -- I'm thinking in particular of Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King.

Conclusion

I want to say that Story Engineering is a book that can be an invaluable resource to anyone who is looking to write fiction but who has had struggles. The unfortunate thing is that there is too much other stuff -- other stuff being useless metaphors that don't illuminate anything, an effort to project an image that doesn't fit at all with trying to teach something, and a never-ending sales pitch to an audience who is already reading the book. If you're serious about a desire to write stories, and if you have patience, this might be the book for you, because it has a lot of good information.

Disclaimer

There are a lot of good things this book provides that I didn't go into detail about. There are a number of checklists at the end of the sections to validate your planning, there are depths -- in particular about the timing of story structure to help with pacing, and about characters and motivation -- that I didn't have time to explore in this already very long post. I'm not going to copy and paste the checklists because, even if it is legal, which I'm not sure it is, it isn't fair to Brooks who has very evidently put a lot of effort into his book.

Classes?

[Yesterday I talked about being hypnotized in front of a crowd. --l]

Yes, I had classes that first year. Every year, in fact.

In the first semester, I started off more than a little scared. I mean, when I graduated high school, I had reasonably good marks in English and Social Studies, but my science marks, particularly Math, left something to be desired. I wanted to believe that it was the teachers, combined with my apathy, rather than something fundamentally wrong with me. In fact, that was what I had been telling myself since graduation, and the thing that made me believe that a major that required at least two math courses and encouraged a lot more than that was within the realm of possibility. But telling yourself one thing and paying hundreds of dollars to put it to the test are two completely different things.

As far as classes, I had a Political Science class, History, English, Math, and Computer Science. I had a good amount of confidence that I'd do well in English, History, and the Computer Science class. It was Intro to Programming, and there didn't seem to be anything in there that I hadn't covered in my pursuit of the C programming language.

Here's what happened.

Three quarters of the way through the semester, I was acing everything except Political Science, where I had a decent mark, but nothing near the rest of the classes. Computer Science was my highest mark, somewhere upward of 95 per cent. It was familiar territory, as far as understanding the language, but it pushed my boundaries where problem-solving was concerned, and I was fascinated. I'd picked the right major and I knew it. And Math was going really well, too. I was mid-to-high eighties, which surprised the heck out of me. Maybe I'd told myself that it was the teachers and my lack of motivation, but I obviously hadn't believed it.

But then the wheels fell off the train.

I won't say it was anyone else's fault. It was my responsibility to do the work, but the same complacency I'd had in high school hit me now. I didn't have to try so hard, so I defaulted back to the same effort level and coasted. It was garbage, but it was what I knew. I backed my way out of that semester, with a far lower grade-point average than I'd had up until mid-terms. I passed everything, and comfortably, and Computer Science continued to be my strongest class, but Math had fallen away, as well as History. I recognized the pattern and I tried to pull it back together, but just couldn't escape the gravity well of my own laziness. I finished up the semester disappointed in myself and looking forward to the break and a chance to recharge my batteries. Maybe I was just in need of a break, I told myself.

You Are Getting Sleepy

[Yesterday I talked about the house we lived in during my first year. At some point I'll get to talking about the actual school. --l]

Up until now, just from reading this blog series, you might think that my university days were just sports, coaster-fights, and manual labour. But it was a well-rounded experience. After all, we went to the bar a lot.

No, this isn't some tight-mouthed confession where I tearily tell you that I started drinking when I went down to Lethbridge and spent the five years down there treading gin. But I had friends who drank and so I went to the bar.

Friday nights were usually spent at the university bar, The Zoo, and quite often, they'd have acts in there. We showed up one night to find a hypnotist was performing. I've always been curious about hypnotists, so I volunteered. I knew it was going to be funny, embarrassing, and something to remember.

There were seven or eight of us up on stage, and he took us through the process, until we were all under. Then, he started in.

How to describe being hypnotized? I was aware during the show. I remember the things he had us do. It felt like I was in on the joke, going along because it was funny. And it was funny.

The first thing I remember was he had us passing around some imaginary banned substance. It made us feel good, but we weren't to be caught with it. Someone passed it to me, and the hypnotist yelled, "HEY!" I remember the shock at being caught, and hiding the thing behind my back. He questioned me about it, and I just shook my head with a terrified look on my face. I genuinely was terrified.

Then there was the time that he had us fall in lust with the person to the left of us. I was, alas, on the far left of the line, and had no one to love.

The kicker, though, was the imaginary pet that he gave all of us. He had us give it a name, pet it, and hug it, and convinced us that we were in love with the pet. When he came to me, he said, "You're stuck to your seat. You are definitely stuck to your seat. You cannot get up." Then he took my pet and petted it. He threatened it while I pleaded in desperation. He taunted me. He held it out to me, just out of my reach while I cried and begged for my pet back. Then, he threw the pet over a cliff. I screamed, "NOOOOOO! Why, you bastard? Why?" The end of it was lost in incoherent sobs. But I couldn't do anything. I was stuck to my seat.

All this time, I knew it was a show, and I was impressed at how much he'd convinced me to go along with his show.

At the end, he told us all to go to the bathroom and put our underwear on our heads. Once we went outside, the spell would be broken and we would laugh. I had no intention of doing this, and I was going to head outside when Scott told me he had something he wanted me to see outside. Going back to playing along with the hypnotist, I said that I just had to go to the bathroom first. He insisted, though, and I made it outside, and I laughed.

I don't know if I'd get hypnotized again. I'm not generally a big fan of being the centre of attention, and I've been through it now. But I'm glad, even though I spent four or five minutes with a tampon in my mouth, that I did it the once.

The House on the North Side

A House on the North Side

[ I jumped around a little bit with the last post but I want to get back to the beginning with this one --l]

The Sunday before classes were to start, my dad and I made our way down to Lethbridge in his Toyota Supra, jam-packed, and I mean stuffed to the tippity-top of that hatchback with my stuff. After doing the Dad-thing of taking me shopping for clothes and stuffing some cash in my pocket, he helped me haul my things into the house, and left me to it.

Let me say this: this wasn't the first time I'd lived away from home. Yes, the first time was in the walk-in closet of a guy I didn't know very well, and yes, it was only for a month, but I felt it gave me a good insight into what I was getting myself into. To set the scene, let me compare and contrast the two places.

Windows in my room were a welcome development. Room for a desk in my own room, rather than squeezed into the common living space was a nice touch, too. It gave me a place where I could go off and be by myself.

The lack of a bed was disconcerting, but I didn't panic. I knew it was a temporary situation, and I had more than enough blankets to make up a fake-o mattress until Dad showed up with the frame and mattress from home, along with the desk and a couple other things that, surprisingly, couldn't fit into a Toyota sports car.

Daryl and Sean lived on the second floor as well. Daryl got the big room upstairs, being the second-longest-tenured, and Sean and I had near-identical rooms. Sean's had a phone-jack, though. Brad, having blazed the trail into Lethbridge for the rest of us, had the entire basement to himself, which was ideal for privacy, and had only one drawback.

There was one bathroom in the place, which never was much of an issue, unless you take into account that the floor was carpeted. I don't remember there ever being an issue of lineups or anyone running late because someone else was hogging the shower.

We had a lot of visitors -- members of our intramural hockey team, friends that Brad and co. had made during the previous years, Bobby, who ran the comic book store, and, of course, Dylan.

I've mentioned Dylan in most of the previous posts. He was a fixture throughout my university career, and he'll be featured prominently in probably the majority of the posts going forward as well.

Dylan was, without a doubt, the most frequent guest in our house. He'd started off as a friend of Sean's, but that expanded to include all of us. I gather, since I wasn't there, that the others hadn't met Dylan before that year, but he made up for that.

I can't think of University without thinking of that house -- the good times, the not so good times, the drama, the extreme lassitude that crept over everyone as we approached Christmas. And of course, there was the fact that it was a co-op.

When we rented the place, we were made to understand that, in a housing co-op, everyone pulls their weight. Part of the reason that they were able to make the place available so cheaply was because everyone did their bit and that kept costs down. They would ask us to do work for them throughout the year, and, if we did what we were asked, things would be fine.

That's where I come in.

One Saturday morning, we were tasked with cleaning out the eaves-troughs for the entire complex. I don't know how everyone else managed to avoid doing any of it, but I spent four hours up on the really, really high roofs of the complex, scraping a metal putty knife through gravel in a metal eaves-trough and dropping the gravel into a bucket. I didn't mind the work. After all, it would be someone else's turn next time they came calling.

They never asked for anything again. We had either proven ourselves one way or the other, or nothing else came up all year long that required the skills of four able-bodied students. Whatever the case, those troughs were clean, and could do their water-channeling job properly, dammit!

During the Scott era, we had a coaster fight in the living room. The coasters were some that Brad had lifted from a night club. They were pressed paper, and they were black. To make a story that bruised my eyelid short, the black coasters hitting the wall left marks that we tried scrubbing out, we tried spraying with cleaners to soak, but nothing we tried worked. When they came to assess the property for how much damage deposit we would get back, I was nervous. I know everyone else was nervous too, but the ladies who did the assessment either didn't notice the marks, or assumed they were there when we moved in.

Considering that I only lived in the house on the north side for the first year, there are a lot of memories from University tied to it. I'm glad I lived with the Leduc Boys for that year.

Great Scott

[This post is the third in the 20To39 series, outlining at least part of my time in University. The last post talked about my ill-fated trip to find a home.]

Have you ever been friends with someone and not known why? Have you ever found yourself hanging out with someone with whom you could not relate, and just wonder where this came from?

I met Scott in my first Computer Science class. That is, I heard him talking before class. Another student had some etch-a-sketch watch and Scott was fascinated, loudly.

I don't remember the situation where Scott and I actually met, but I do know he needed help moving. I always help people move. It's kinda what I do.

Maybe, hearing that he had to move two or three weeks into the semester should have been a warning. But it wasn't.

He wasn't drinking, holding out until the end of the semester. Despite this, the second time I saw him outside of class, he was drunk.

I know I'm drawn to boisterous extroverts. Somehow, their tendency to fill the air with sounds keeps me from having to do the same. Scott liked to talk. A lot. Like, a lot.

I never felt entirely comfortable with the guy. But I spent a lot of time with him. He'd been a personal trainer back home and, when we went to work out together, he was unimpressed with the weight the big guy was pushing on the leg press machine. Despite this, he seemed to talk more than he worked out.

And he had to move out of his second place before the end of the semester. Yes, that should have been an alarm bell, but somehow, and Sean, Daryl, or Brad could probably tell you a more unbiased account of this, or just blame me for being a dumbass, but Scott ended up sleeping at our house for a little while.

During that time, he had a screaming match with Dylan over the difference between Fire Star and Firestorm, had a two-day inability to understand the definition of a lateral in football, and talked through movies, loudly, telling us when parts were or were going to be funny, or were not funny, and why or why not. For a situation that was supposed to be laid-back and casual, it turned sour quickly.

I don't remember the conversation. I remember Dylan volunteering to have it with Scott, but the guy had to go. It was a stressful situation that I'd brought into the house, and I felt bad. I don't think Scott handled being forced to move out of a third place in a single semester. We didn't talk much after that, which made me feel guilty, but mostly relieved.

I remember one time, when we were hanging out, he and some other guy were throwing a football in the hallway. It was inappropriate, and I remember being embarrassed about it, but that went into overdrive when Scott hit a librarian's yogurt and knocked it into her dress. He then proceeded to have a screaming match with her, ending with "I don't CAAAAAARE!" and storming out of the area, the other guy on his heels. I don't think I looked up from the notes I was studying for a good hour after that.

For all the things I couldn't relate to with Scott, I can't say it was all bad. He had my back. I can't go into specifics right now, since that's a story for another night, but he kept me from making an even bigger ass of myself when anyone else would (and did) leave me to it.

So, Scott, wherever you are, I hope you're laughing too loud and over-explaining this post to someone. The next time I laugh too loud and yell "That's FUNNY!' it'll be for you.

Liam

“I’m Liam”

[This is part 2 of a blog series from University experience. Part 1 is from the time I decided I could no longer hack it as a labourer and needed to exploit my brain instead of my ailing back. --l]

Decision made, I needed to find a place to live. Fortunately, as I mentioned, I had friends who were already in Lethbridge. I don't know if we ever consciously decided to live together, so much as I was subsumed into the Leduc Boys Lethbridge collective.

With very little warning, Sean and I drove down to Lethbridge to check out some places.

I'd visited Sean, Brad, and Daryl, my roommates-to-be, earlier in the year. I think it was when I applied to attend. Sean showed me around that time, but it had been a pretty quick trip, since I was working at the bleach factory and didn't have a whole pile of vacation time.

This time, however, I was working odd jobs through hire-a-student, and had no structural encumbrances, beyond the fact that I was borrowing my dad's car and he needed it back by the following Wednesday.

The good part about going on a trip with little-to-no warning is how liberating it feels to throw some clothes into a bag and hit the road. Heading south that Saturday - I wasn't employed, but I think Sean was - felt like we were breaking some unspoken rule, but with no consequences. Keep in mind that I'd been living the 8-4:30, Monday-Friday life, with weekends reserved for coffee at Humptys and catching up on sleep, and not breaking that pattern. So, to just hop in the car and drive five hours away for a four-day trip with a friend felt like complete anarchy.

On the less-great side of jaunting off to a city where I didn't know anyone on no notice, without a fortune in my pockets, was relying on the kindness (and availability) of strangers. Sean was sure we could stay with Dylan, a friend of his, and if not him, then we'd figure it out. I went along with that. After all, it was basically his show and I was just coming to find a place. And to try the city on for size.

Unfortunately, when we got to Dylan's place, we learned that his brother was getting married that weekend, and there was no room at his house for unannounced guests. That was okay, though, maybe, because Dylan and Sean had some friends who could maybe put us up. They weren't in town just then, so if they got back in time, we could stay with them. If not, well, we'd just have to figure that out.

It turned out, that night, Sean's friends, Lauren and Alaina, did not return. We ended up staying with them the next night, but that left us high and dry for Saturday night.

Between Sean and I, we had enough money, and maybe a little bit more, for food, and gas for the return trip. A motel would have put a serious crimp in those plans, if I recall correctly, so we did what you do. We snuck down to the deepest level of the fine arts section of the university and slept on the benches there. I won't pretend that I slept much that night. But I did have a decent book, and I made a lot of progress on that.

Brad and Daryl showed up the next day, Sunday. They were staying with Craig, another friend who was just making it into town that day. Just another near-miss that put us on the bench.

I started feeling a little queasy in the early afternoon but I pushed it down. We were up to the serious business of looking for a place to live. It could have been nerves, or maybe just indigestion.

Ten minutes into looking at our first prospect, I knew it was none of that. I was going to be sick, and no power on Earth was going to stop it from happening. But my butt was glued to the couch. If I moved, I was going to throw up right away. If I stayed still, maybe it would go away. I knew it wasn't going to go away, but that's how it is when you're sick. Bargaining with your stomach. But there was no bargain to be struck. It was getting closer no matter how still I sat. So, when I hit critical mass, I bolted for the door, covering my mouth with my hand. More the fool me, I reached out with the same hand to open the door. My stomach betrayed me the second my hand left my mouth. I threw up all over the foyer. I made it outside for the second wave, but the damage had been done.

Later, I did my duty and scrubbed the foyer -- even the pair of roller blades that had gotten in the way.

On my knees, cleaning up after myself, I looked up as one current occupant came in.

"Whoa! Who puked?! he asked, stopping just inside the door.

"I'm Liam," was my only response.

Sean and I left the next day, leaving Brad and Daryl the work of finding us a place to live for the first year. They did a good job, finding a townhouse in a housing co-op on the north side.

Dented, primarily in the pride, but undaunted, I went back dome and finished up the summer of odd jobs and family reunions before my next trip to Lethbridge, which would be to start my first semester of university.

But that's another story.

I’m Gettin’ Too Old For This Shit

I'm Gettin' Too Old for This Shit!

I was meant to be a writer. That's what I always believed. I carried around a binder chock-full of snippets, plots, plans, character outlines, maps - you name it, it was in there. So I was meant to be a writer. After all, my first paycheque from the Chinese restaurant in high school went toward a typewriter, and my first paycheque after high school paid for a computer.

High School, for me, was a perfect blend of me not giving a crap and the teachers not giving a crap. I'd given some thought to my future. I knew I'd get a job and work. I knew I would work hard and do reasonably well. Post-secondary education wasn't something I cared about, or even thought of as a possibility.

So, I went to work. And I worked hard. And I did well. But my back did not do well. I'd had back problems intermittently since I was fifteen, and one particularly bad bout in the spring of 1997 convinced me that I could not count on my back to see my through to retirement.

I had contemplated a clerical school, some career computer college, where I would get the skills I needed to do office work -- typing, filing, spreadsheets, all that kind of thing. My dad talked me out of that job, though, and I got a calendar from the University of Lethbridge.

The University of Lethbridge - a school some of my friends attended and, coincidentally, one I could get into -- was linked to the University of Saskatchewan in that Saskatchewan accepted students every year from Lethbridge into their journalism program. So, with that in mind, I figured that I was meant to be a writer, and more specifically, a journalist, once I transferred over.

To the calendar: There were so many compelling English classes. I could do it. I could excel in those classes and get accepted into Journalism.

Could I? There were only two people accepted each year and wasn't I just the guy who was only going to school because his back had given out? Well, I was determined to try, one way or the other.

I could have taken Geography. Maybe Logic and some other things. I needed four sciences. Chemistry, Physics, and, likely, Math, were out of the question. Those were my weakest subjects in high school. But I could have found enough.

Probably, if I'd settled on those classes, it would have ended there, and you'd be reading the blog post of a very different person. But I couldn't decide.

Then I did.

I told you before that my first paycheque out of high school went toward a computer. It wasn't much -- just a 286 with 8 MHz and maybe 512 kB of RAM. But it got me into computing at a time when most people weren't interested. And that, along with associating with others who were into computing, got me into programming. It wasn't much, at first. Just a little dabbling in C, getting my head around arrays, functions, and the like. It was a hobby, nothing more. And one that I had been neglecting.

Seeing the Intro to Computer Science course in the calendar threw a switch that I hadn't even known was there. They taught computers in University. I could fill up my sciences with Computer courses, and walk away scot-free. No Chem, no Math, no stupid Physics.

Intrigued, I started looking at course-descriptions -- systems programming, networking, graphics -- Hell, writing your own compiler?!

At first, I remember feeling disappointed that there were so many classes that I wouldn't be able to take -- only so much time for a guy who is working to become a writer, after all...

When it came to me, I was scared. I was meant to be a writer, wasn't I? I couldn't just throw the whole machine in reverse, could I? After all, computers were just a hobby.

I don't think there was ever a lightning bolt of epiphany. I think the writer part of me was just eventually ground down under the logic of the arguments that programmer me was making, and I hurried through the course selection for my first semester before I could change my mind.

I didn't need to worry. No matter how my resolve would be tested over the next years, it never again occurred to me that I was pursuing the wrong goal.

School Days

School Days

In 21 days, I will be turning 39. For the third year in a row, I will be posting anecdotes from my life in the 20 days leading up to my birthday. 20-to-39 is what it's called.

The first year, I didn't know this was going to be a regular thing, so I plucked the lowest-hanging fruit, like June Bugs at Tennis, First Day on the Job, and the Fight Double-Feature.

Last year, I did 20 work-related stories, because I was changing jobs. I didn't really divulge that theme until the end, but it was a conscious choice.

This year, and I hope it works out to have 20 worthwhile posts, I'm going to write about my time leading up to, and in university. I really didn't go into a black box and come out five years later. I had experiences, and now you get to hear about some of them. Hopefully twenty of them.

Hope you enjoy!

Liam

PS, if you want to read the stories from the previous two years, you need to check out 20to37 and 20to38.

What We Stand to Lose

[NOTE: Recently, Cliff wrote a dynamite piece about the recent stir Jim Prentice kicked up with his impromptu comments on looking in the mirror or tightening belts. Cliff's stance on how to look at the comments is enlightening. With an election probably looming, I wanted to take an opportunity to inform you as to some things you may not have considered, and probably save your whole way of life. You're welcome in advance -- L]

Coming up to a provincial election, as we seem to be, it is important to keep in mind some very important facts about our provincial government, headed, as it has been these past 44 years, by the Progressive Conservative party.

There are some would have you believe that the Conservatives have mismanaged the financial windfall brought about by our geological money-tree. These people believe that services have been slashed and the so-called Alberta Advantage, if it ever existed in the first place beyond a marketing slogan, has been reduced to a discount on gas because of lower transportation costs.

It's hard to rebut this argument. Despite the ever-flowing oil, the conservatives have catered to the whims of oil companies, so much so that the chairman of the Alberta Royalty Review, Bill Hunter, said, "Albertans do not receive their fair share from energy development and they have not, in fact, been receiving their fair share for some time." It's hard to argue that a budget with an extra 2 billion dollars every year would be a lot easier to balance.

Also, some want to say that the PCs have grown complacent, smug, and arrogant in their assurance that they will be in power no matter what.

That's a fair statement. Given that half of the official opposition caved in and was absorbed by the PCs, along with the fact that they have governed unopposed for 44 years, despite the previous argument, it would be hard to argue with a conservative who held the view that they were untouchable.

The last argument I'll touch on, that some people use to say that the conservatives should be replaced, is that they've become, though a complete lack of accountability, disconnected, disengaged, and unable to relate to Albertans.

I won't even try to argue this point, just days after Jim Prentice, who gets to be Premier without being elected to the post, told Albertans that we are to blame for the pitiful state of the economy, saying that we "have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs." As if we did not have to pay for the right to make a living, or the right to live in a place we own, or the right to buy something else, or any number of other dings and dents the government chooses to throw at us. I mean, expecting taxes to go away is like hoping that the sun will keep it down until noon, or your kids will stay young forever -- futile and destined for disappointment. They're a fact of life. But a politician insinuating that we are spoiled children who need to think long and hard about their impetuous squandering of government resources is beyond ludicrous. Out of touch? Absolutely. Unable to relate? It certainly seems so.

You might think, "Liam, you've basically made Cliff's point for him. I thought you were arguing another viewpoint." Well, I'm not done. And anyway, I haven't said anything that any Albertan with an internet connection and eyes to see couldn't have figured out for themselves. But you see, I've thought of something you obviously haven't. Because if you'd thought of it, I wouldn't have to convince you of anything. You'd know for whom to vote.

The internet, my friends. That's right. The internet. It's incredibly useful. Some would say that it has become completely indispensable. I know I would. All the accumulated knowledge of mankind is there at your fingertips, and all you have to do is know how to look for it. And that's just a facet of the internet. One part of the great mechanism that a lot of people overlook.

It's made the world a small place. If you want to talk to someone in Mumbai, now you can. You're a Skype call away. If you want to find the best deal on something, it's right there. There are stores that go into business without ever having a physical storefront. Amazon makes all its money that way. And the dollars we are talking for that are astronomical.

The internet brings people together in a way that nobody could have foreseen. Hell, my dad, who's sixty-five this year, posts jokes on Facebook -- horribly inappropriate jokes, quite often -- for the entertainment of his family and loved ones. He couldn't do that without the internet. Without the internet, he'd be stuck photocopying his dirty joke and mailing it out to the coast.

Now, I want you to think of the origins of the internet with me. No, not the first two networked computers pinging and ponging back and forth in Al Gore's twisted imaginings, but the internet that you experienced. For me, it was Alberta Supernet on a Windows 3.11 computer running winsock. I know, I'm an old geek. A lot of you would have suffered through similar trials. Most of you probably only know broadband. Always on, always really fast. Even when it's slow, it looks like something from science fiction compared to Mosaic over a 2400 baud modem.

No matter what form that internet genesis takes for you, hold it in your head for a second. Now, imagine it gone.

No internet.

No IMs, no FaceTime, no chat, no emails, no net-banking, and no online shopping.

Let that sink in. I know, I know. It'll be all right -- I hope. But really accept the notion of no internet. Got it? Okay. Because think of this:

The last time Alberta was run by a different political party, there was no internet. No Google, serving up your knowledge. No Bing, even. We're not just talking mobile web, but even the stuff you have to be plugged in for.

Are you ready for a world without internet? Because I sure am not.

The PCs are the only party in Alberta who have handled an internet-capable populace. You think those other bastards know what to do? You think they're even going to let us keep the internet?

Is it worth the risk, just so that we can have engaged, accountable, responsible government?

Is it?

Think about it, as you sit there, reading something that I've written and published WITH THE PUSH OF A BUTTON!

I think you know what you need to do.

The 2014 Goal-post

Some time last year, I decided that, while 2013 had been the year of reading, 2014 was going to be the year of writing. After all, if I'd managed to dedicate a year to reading and had it pay off that well, I could do the same thing with writing, right?

As it turns out, it amounted to not as much as I'd hoped, but more than I'd feared.

What dedicating the year to writing got me was two short stories, which fed into an idea for a bigger story around that; a second NaNoWriMo win, which was the story that the short stories had spawned; a way to finish the NaNo story from the year before, as a sequel to this story; and the beginnings of a serial fiction that will actually get me editing something.

It's the last one I'm most excited about right now. I mean, I know how to write a first draft, and I'm getting better at it, but I've never really committed anything to editing. I published the first entry almost two weeks ago, but I haven't gotten any feedback. I started to edit the second part, but it felt wrong and I ran away from it. I'll get back to it tonight, though.

Another unexpected thing that came from my year of writing is another big bump in the number of books I read. I'd originally planned on reading twelve books, really diving into them, and getting the storytelling elements out of them -- what worked, what didn't, what to tell, what to skip -- but instead, I just read a bunch of books. I made up for the lack of deeper dive by reading 70 books. I'll try not to dither about how it would have been better as a writer to use the reading time more productively. I had a good time.

So, another year is nigh, and I feel like, instead of moving on to something else, I owe it to myself to make a better showing at a year of writing, so I'm going to continue to focus on that and see what it brings me. I don't want to just crank out stuff. Now that I have three or four first drafts sitting around, I want to edit them, to make them something that someone else might some day want to read. But I have to keep writing new stuff, too. Oh, and also read. I don't know if I'll do the deeper dive this year, or if I'll continue to just read for pleasure, but I'm sure that I'll read.

So, guitar and game programming, you get to sit on the shelf for another year while I keep trying my hand at writing.

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