Posts in Category: Writing

Panicked Room

I had no ideas when I sat down at the computer tonight. I wanted to write something quick. I finally settled on something like a mystery. Obviously, this wants to be expanded into something bigger, maybe a conspiracy or something, but I think I'm pretty happy leaving it where it is. It could be polished up, edited, if that word makes you feel better about the process, but I'm not married to the story at all. It's more of an exercise than anything else.

I'd appreciate feedback,


Consciousness came to him, crashing over him like a wave of frigid water. It left behind the gifts of a blinding light and a dull ache behind his right eye. The walls around him were bright white, the same as the ceiling, and he was having a hard time telling just how far away they were.

With a groan, he rolled to his side. Focusing was its own special hell, but it was a focus of the involuntary sort, like when something startles you and suddenly it’s all you can think about. The woman lying, faced away from him, did startle him. She was clothed. He was not, he noticed all of a sudden, and his attention to the girl broke apart.

As he spun his head around, looking for something to wear, it occurred to him that he might be under observation. He could not remember the night before, assuming it was morning -- Why did people do that, anyway, assume that when they woke up it was morning? Habit, surely.

Behind him, out of reach, but not by far, were a pair of pants and a shirt. He struggled over to them, groaning at every lurching movement he had to make. Something was out in his back -- not a rare condition for him, but one that he steadfastly tried to avoid. He made it over to the clothes and struggled into them. No underwear. But he’d gone commando before. He’d done a lot of ill-advised stuff before. Obviously. You didn’t end up in a blinding white room with some girl, short any clothing, by watching the news and turning in early.

Dressed, he finally felt confident enough to go wake up the girl. He didn’t remember agreeing to anything like this, and he was sure that if he were asleep in a place like this, he’d want the only other person in the room to wake him up before they go-go. Maybe when there was only one left, the probes came out.

Shuddering, he crossed the room. It was a little easier now. Maybe the vertebra hadn’t slipped and it was just stiffness. He wasn’t young anymore, though he’d fight the label of "old" for a couple more years. He bent over and touched the girl on the shoulder. Nothing. He shook her. Nothing again. They really had done a number on her. He rolled her over to face him, and froze. Her eyes were wide open.

Dead. She’s dead.

There was no other way she could be lying like this, right? He racked his brain, but nothing came to mind. Not anything he’d googled or wikipedia’d. There was nothing like that.


Was it a door slamming? Or was it the large clack of power being cut? He didn’t know, and he didn’t care. He couldn’t remember signing up for anything like this. He hadn’t signed up for it. Simple as that. If someone were coming, slamming doors, or worse, shutting off the lights as they approached, it was time to get the fuck out of here.

But not by himself.

Bending over, he grabbed the girl. Despite the sharp pain in his back, she was not heavy. In fact, she might be a child. He hadn’t paid much attention to anything other than the fact she was dead, but the more he thought about it, maybe twelve, maybe thirteen.


He hunted for something that looked like a door. Frantic minutes. He eventually had set down the girl and run his hands over the walls, trying to find something different. Finally, he found it. A slightly raised panel in the wall. He should have seen it before, it was just the


panic in him that had kept him from seeing it. He tried prying at it with his fingers, but they were too thick to do the job. So he looked around the room for something. He started in his pockets. Then he gingerly searched the girl. Nothing. Finally, he scoured the floor, and found a slender metal strip that would have been lying under the girl. He grabbed it, and as he ran toward the door, two more slams echoed through the ... what? The room? The building? All he knew was he had to get out of this room. He shoved the piece of metal into the crease of the door and pried. The door opened inward. Sighing in relief, he turned back to grab the girl and left the room, her inert body draped over his shoulder like a sack.



I have nothing to give.

I have nothing to give you.

I have nothing to give you but my love.

I have nothing to give you but my love and devotion.

I have nothing to give you but my love, devotion, and my attention.

I have nothing to give you but my love, devotion, attention, and time.

I have nothing to give you but love, devotion, attention, time, and my heart so true.

I have nothing to give you but love, devotion, attention, time, my heart so true, and my future.

I have nothing to give you but love, devotion, attention, time, my heart so true, my future, and the fruits of my labour.

I give you my love, my devotion, my attention, my time, my heart so true, my future, and all the fruits of my labour.

I have nothing left to give.

Whattya mean, what have I done for you lately?

Real Writers

Have you ever wanted something so bad, like SO BAD, but you just couldn't figure out how to get started? I mean, like if they just had a tutorial or something, but even that's not working, and you just want into the club so hard? I've been there.

Barrier to Entry

I wanted to make simple little games for the longest time. I wanted to be able to sit at a code editor and type code, then run it and have a game there. I was never interested in the visual game makers like RPG Maker or Sphere or any of those. I mean, they were neat, but I wanted it to be like the olden days, just me and lines and lines of code ending in a spectacular graphical extravaganza. But I couldn't figure it out. I couldn't get past my own insecurities and I spent years wishing I could make games that way but never really did much to figure it out beyond trying tutorials online that I couldn't make work.

I will say that thanks to Robb, I got over that hurdle and worked on the spectacular remake of Astrosmash with James. I sat at a code editor and created a game. Granted, it was a lot of work, but I was happy to do that work.

I know I'm not stupid, and I know I have programming skills, but there was just a barrier to entry, a hurdle in my own mind that I couldn't surmount.

I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I've wanted to make video games. Maybe longer. For a long time, I wanted to make writing my career. I had ideas -- good ones, though they may have just been reimaginings of The Wheel of Time and The Maltese Falcon -- and I wanted to get them out there and get my name out there as a serious writer. But I didn't know how to do that.

Casual Brilliance as Motivation Murder

The problem with looking at published books as a way to write books is a thorny one, in my opinion. You see something that someone has slaved over, spent years improving their craft to be able to create, and you look at sentences like, "The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed."

It's a simple sentence, and it has words that anyone could understand, that practically everyone has used, and it's completely confounding that someone could rearrange those words to convey something so meaningful and lasting.

Even worse is when you read a book like Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk, and it's filled to the brim with brilliance: time travel, a smart story, and lines that just seem to leap off the page. These are problematic stories to read as a writer because you get something like that and then you write something like, "It was too much to hope that the man behind Korta had kept his knife in its sheath." and you think, 'Hey, that's good.' But then you realize that you spent ten minutes thinking of that one sentence, and there are something like 3000 more sentences like that in order to finish NaNoWriMo and you sure as hell don't have 30000 minutes to make word count for November because you've still got work, and there are kids to put to bed, and don't forget that staying married is kind of important. So you push on, using sentences that get written, but don't sparkle the same as that first line. Then you get, maybe, 500 or 600 sentences down, and you realize that you forgot the point of the story, or maybe you decide you want a different kind of story out of this. What then? Well, you could continue to work on this story, which isn't nearly as sparkling as the first sentence, let alone how it shone when it was just a thing in your brain. Or you could abandon this one, like you had so many others, but you were really liking a couple of the characters, so maybe you could just throw this bit into a different kind of story? But that's stupid, so you abandon the whole stupid thing because every successive sentence you write gets further and further away from the quality of that first one and Neil Gaiman is so brilliant and he probably got Fortunately, the Milk in one shot -- just scribbled the whole thing down in one go -- and I can't even decide what I want my story to be and why can't I just be a real writer?


I mean, feel free to argue with me all you want, but that's been my struggle in my quest to be a "real" writer. The stuff that comes out in stores is so much better than I could ever aspire to. Even the stuff that gets universally scoffed at, that's got a quality to it that I don't have. How couldn't it? Not only has it been completed, but it's also been published. There must be some secret.

Nothing Casual about Casual Brilliance

But there isn't a secret. The more time I spend scribbling words for my magic-book-revenge-story, I approach the conclusion that it's exactly this: writing is hard. Those breezy sentences that you read on the page, all that effortless art that Patrick Rothfuss rolls up into the Kingkiller Chronicles, yeah, there's a reason the third book has been five years in the making.

I've come to understand that the more effortless the story seems, the harder the writer had to work to make it that way.

As a person who's trying to become a writer, when you don't see the sweat that goes into revision, editing, and planning on another's story, you get to think that it must just be that you're not any good, or you are missing some vital attribute that other writers have.

And there's a certain truth to that. Published writers, whether they acknowledge it or not, have been through a lot to get where they are, and they've learned skills, which you have not yet learned. They've spent countless hours at the computer, at the notepad, and at the typewriter or tape recorder, working their asses off to hone skills that probably don't get enough press.

How To Be a Writer

[Disclaimer -- I am not a professional writer. It has, off and on, been an aspiration of mine to make a living writing stories, but the idea of doing it as my sole occupation right now is not anywhere near realistic. That said, I have paid attention to the things that other people, people who are smarter than me, and people who make their living as writers, have said, and these are the skills I think that people who are regularly published have learned. --L]

1 Write

I mean obvos, right? If you don't write, you're not a writer. Period. I nibble at the edges and there are months that go by without me writing anything. If I don't write, I'm not a writer. So I try to do better. Some people say to write everyday. And that's a good idea. Not always entirely doable, but a good idea. Definitely, it's easier to get on a roll and stay on it if you're writing every day.

2 Revise, edit, and rewrite

This is probably the second-hardest for me. I would love a good resource for how to properly edit stories. I suck at it. But I have permission from the man upstairs to suck, so there it is.

3 Accept criticism

I'm not saying that you should roll over and fix problems you don't think are there. I'm also not saying that you should meekly accept ad hominem attacks on yourself as valid criticism. I mean you should learn to separate the criticism that is going to make your story better from the shit that's going to kill your motivation or make you feel worse about yourself. I know there are resources out there on what kind of critiques you should accept from beta readers and critique circles. Those would be good resources for you too, if you're going to be beta-reading or critique-circling others' stories.

4 Critical reading

This one is my weakest point, I'd say. Which is saying a lot, considering what I've said about Writing and Editing. But what they say you need to do is be able to break down a story to its component parts and analyze what works for you and what doesn't. Basically learn to steal thematically and structurally, so you can make the story you're writing work for you. Also, if you read something that doesn't work, you learn what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes. My problem is that I get caught up in a story and two hours pass, and I know what's happening in the story, but I don't know how the author did it.

5 Writing

I know. Stupid Liam. It's there twice. But it's important. It's the most important. As my friend Rob Vogt says, you have to sharpen the saw. Write lots of stuff. You don't have to write a novel. You can write blog posts. They get you creating sentences out of words and help with your organizing-brain. This one's been a good one for me. I wrote myself into a corner, so I outlined what I wanted to say, and it's actually mostly coherent now. You can write poems. You can write short stories. You can write diary entries that nobody will ever read. You can look up writing prompts or writing exercises online, and you'll have more stuff than you can fit into a year right at your fingertips. There's lots of writing books that have exercises too.

But anyway, just write.

Motivation and Self-Worth and the Value of External Validation

A little while ago, Neil Gaiman posted on Twitter, "...If you want to be a writer, you want to go to Clarion, NEED to go to Clarion."

This raised a twit-storm and hurt a lot of people's feelings. I was unaffected, but I could see why people were upset about it. Needing to go to Clarion sounds like a barrier to entry, which is something that people could use as a demotivator and a reason to listen to the inner monologue of "I'm not a real writer." Real writers who have been published for years and years could take it as a slam. People who do not have the means to go to the Clarion workshop could see it as an example of a rich white guy exerting his rich white guy privilege and lording it over other people. And they did. Gaiman brushed the commentary aside with his usual charm, and explained that it was mild hyperbole. Considering in the next breath he mentioned that he'd never been there as a student, alongside all the stuff he's written about writing that he actually meant, this was the right reaction. Anyway, for most people, the pitchforks have been put away and life, such as it is on Twitter, continues. But it made me think.

How much self-worth and motivation do I get from external validation? How much would someone saying "If you don't [insert some criterion that I don't possess here], you're not a real writer," impact my ability to continue writing? Especially if it was something I couldn't do, and it was a writer I really respected, like Neil himself?

I have given this a lot of thought and the answer I came up with was, "Not a whole lot." I know I'm not a great writer. Probably, if I don't keep working at it, from more than just a "piling up pages and pages of rough draft" standpoint, I won't ever be. But I'm not going to let someone else put roadblocks in front of me when I put enough there myself, and when I have a good idea of what it would take to be a "real" writer.


Write. Read. Get better. Don't let anyone tell you you're not a writer if you're writing. I guess that's the tl;dr of this entire thing.

Goals and Focus

I've talked ad nauseum over the years about goals, personal development, and what I think it takes to achieve goals. I've talked about a willingness to be terrible in the beginning, the decision to dedicate time to getting better, and the elimination of distractions in the pursuit of improvement.

One thing I struggle with, and I may have written about this in the past, is focus.

Quite often, I'll be making good progress on something, and I will just stop. I don't know if it's that I get down on the thing I'm writing, or playing, or learning, or if something else all of the sudden flashes as urgently awesome and I turn away from the thing that honestly feels a little bit like a slog right now, and don't go back to it. Regardless of the reason, I have a hard time with follow-through a lot of the time. I mean, we're talking a 90% abandonment rate on things that aren't my job or parenting, probably.

And fair enough. I mean, it's my time, and how I use it is hopefully at least mostly up to me. But the thing is that I want to be able to focus on something all the way through to say I've finished it.

The latest thing that I've found falling by the wayside is the novel I was working on for NaNoWriMo last year. I realized very early on that I would not likely get it finished for the end of November, and I was very forgiving of that with myself, understanding that I could work toward finishing it beyond November and that would be fine. I worked on it sporadically through December, and re-jigged some things on-the-fly so I ended up with a better story. That didn't slow me down. But then something flashed in the distance and I started working toward it.

Hugh Howey writes, on his site, about what he feels are some steps that people should take if they want to be professional writers. In it, he talks about writing short stories and getting them out there for people to see. It's a good piece of advice. It gets you writing, it gets you editing, and it gets your stuff in front of people who can comment and then hopefully make you better at writing. Awesome. But also incredibly distracting when you're in the middle of something else.

I don't want this post to become a critique of his post. I think he makes good points and I think it's really hard for people to accept that if they want to be writers, there's no secret handshake, just a shit-load of writing, reading, writing, revising, and rewriting, not to mention the willingness to take criticism. But I'm going to put that aside for another post another day, and push forward.

What I'm getting at is this: Hugh Howey giving some advice on how to become a professional writer should be a good thing. I should be able to look at that advice, shrug, and say, "Maybe that's something to look at for later." I should not abandon a story that I've spent three months working on to go write some short stories. I shouldn't even be worried too much about someone's advice for becoming a professional writer. That isn't my goal.

Anyway, the only thing I can think of to do in this instance is to leave the short story I started to the side, finish the novel I'm working on, and then if it still seems like a good idea to start writing short stories to put up here, then do it. But take care of the thing I started and that had such good momentum for so long first.


If you and I had forever, would we use it wisely? Would we, knowing that we had the time, plan ahead, get and stay ahead? Would we slow our lives down, end the mad rush to be on time, make the best use of time, stop feeling the press of its weight on our shoulders and appreciate the emergence of our children as more than proof of our own mortality? Could we finally watch the years, the decades, the centuries sail by and observer the cyclic nature of man, the manic way he tries to leave his mark? Could we take a moment, a day, a year, and finally be together, just you and I, comfortable in and with who we are? Would our children finally join us at our sides as equals as we hurtle to eternity? Or would they pass us by, their lives a blink in the face of our immortality? Could they go from dream to consumer to producer to consumer to memory in the bat of one unchanging eyelash? Would our great-great-great-great grandchildren have as much fondness and contempt for us as our own children? Would our perspective change, do you think? If we were eternal could we really go through saying goodbye, time and time again, to friends who would pass from this world while we persisted? Would we be objects of envy or of pity? And when mankind is done? When extinction looms for our brothers and sisters, but we carry on, what then? Will you watch with me another Big Bang? Floating as we must be in endless space? Another civilization's dawning and destruction? The same prideful mistakes made without any substantial lessons learned? Because this is what eternity means. One endless loop of the same mistakes made over and over again. Or do we watch slight variations on a theme, changing minutely every time, moving toward something of which they are completely aware? Some perfection planned for them by an evolution of a celestial magnitude? Are we also moving toward this destination? Or are we immutable, unchanging because we are forever? Is five trillion Big Bangs too early, or too late, to ask where this relationship is going?


picIf I gave you everything could I have some of it back when I needed it? Like my car if I needed groceries or my dignity and self-respect when I had a job interview. Or would you hold on to it all, hoarding every piece of me, locked away in a trunk? I don't think my innocence would appreciate it. I don't think my good opinion of you would survive. I mean we can still say they're yours, but could I hold on to those things? They're desperately important to the everyday running of this shell. At least, if you could give me back my testicles. I'm way off-balance without them and my voice is starting to change. I think it's safer if I don't give you everything but instead say you can borrow them whenever you want, as long as you don't lose them or lend them to anybody else like the time I lent Cliff's Rollins tape to that guy in Wetaskiwin and then had to pay to replace it. And don't break any of the things I lend you either. Especially my heart, my mind, or my iPod. That thing is crazy expensive to replace since Apple discontinued them. Maybe it would be best if I don't lend you any of my stuff either. This has been a great first date. Hello? Hello?

Me and the Double-B

A Brief History of Time

Robb Reid (a.k.a, the Double-B) and I have worked together on and off since 2008, and on the auspicious occasion of his first day at a new job, I figured that I would chronicle our adventures together.

2008 - A Meeting of the Minds

I started at Haemonetics, after leaving Intuit, in October 2008. There were a lot of people to meet and whose names I would have to remember. Robb was one of these people. He did not like me.

As time went on, I think he warmed to me, so much so that after a few weeks, I came to understand why Dennis called him the RMDB. Robb knows his movies and TV, and nobody can tell me otherwise.

2009 - A New Opportunity

When Obama became president and destroyed the project I was working on (Thanks, Obama!), I found a new contract very quickly. They were looking for another developer, and I immediately thought of Robb. So we spent some time working together (albeit on different projects) at Accenture. I think that's when we started going for lunch together every day.

Late 2009 - Back to the Beginning

Robb and I both got work at Haemonetics on a new and improved project that was safe from the whims of government, being a commercial product. We worked there together, being the first two contractors on the project, and survived the (at least perceived) scorn of some of the permanent people there. We dismantled our cubicle and created the Collaboratron, which was basically just a hole in the wall where we could share ideas.

Toward the end of the first contract, we were both renewed, but Robb found a different job and took it, leaving me to patch up the collaboratron hole and pick up the pieces.

Late 2010 - 2014 -- Two Roads Diverged

Robb continued in his job with the government as I continued to pick up contracts. The work at Haemonetics dried up and I found Intuit, POSP (my own sojourn into government work), Telus, and Intuit once more. Toward the end of my contract with Intuit, Robb got in contact. He was starting a new job at Gamesys, a company I'd heard of only tangentially to that point, and we started going for lunches again.

2014 - 2015 -- Gamesies

Through March and April of 2014, I tried to get hired by Gamesys. And in May of that year, Robb and I were reunited at Gamesys. We worked together. But in July 2015, all of that changed.

2015 -- Gone Again

Robb accepted a position with IntelliWave, some kind of tracking company that uses RFID to save oil companies money. I understand the reasons he took the job, but it leaves me Robbless yet again.

I wish Robb well at his new job. He starts today, and I wrote this as much to wish him well as to mark his passing.

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 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 --


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. --


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.


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.


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.


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.


[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.

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