Monthly Archives: January 2010

Here and Now, There and Then

One of the TRAPS in fiction writing is dating your material.

Referring to something that is in the news, or of pop culture, you are in fact staking down your story in time.

Pick up a book you read in High School, one that meant a lot to you back in the day.  Do you find yourself stopped mid-sentence when the author brings up the price of bread… or of real estate.  What about the cost of a gallon of gasoline?  Don’t we somehow expect authors to know the future?  Don’t we want our books to see into our time?  Our now?

This  is especially critical when dealing with “near-future” stories.  When I read about  computers that are only twice or three times as powerful as the one on my desk, ten years hence, or a star ship 300 years in the future that uses magnetic tape, the magic slips away.

Now, consider this:  If a writer had complained about the rising cost of living without naming an amount, if the cultural icon, or song lyric were only hinted at, or better still, made up of whole cloth, do you think you would be so easily stopped?

On the other hand, writing historical novels demands accuracy in prices, names, lyrics, and the like.

It is clearly up to the writer.  If we want our work to live on, freshly, and meaningful now matter how many years in the future someone reads it, perhaps we need to remember to not hammer a nail into our story.


Good, or Good Enough?

In any community you find a similar mix.

You’ll find people who are quick, and people who are slow.  You’ll find people who like to laugh, and those who are serious in the extreme.   You’ll find people who are nice or grumpy, a few leaders and a lot of followers.

In a writing community you also have:

People who have a great talent, and people who WANT to have talent.  People who can write, and people who struggle with writing.  People who are POSITIVE that their work sings, and people who are looking for tips, suggestions and ideas.  We also have people who ARE writers, and people who want to LOOK like writers.

What it IS about is PRACTICE.  Practice and paying attention.

Anyone can learn the mechanics of writing.  Just about anyone can get to the point where they can make themselves understood on paper…

But it takes PRACTICE to get to a place where you can capture the mind, entertain, teach…  and practice means writing.  Writing.  Writing.  Every day.

It also means listening to criticism, considering the words of others, and it may also mean accepting their help, and taking their suggestions.

Yeah, it’s true, I want everything I write  instantly and universally loved.  I’d also like a Billion dollars, please, half in gold, and half in cash.

The Right to Your Copy

One of the questions I hear constantly, is this:  If I post my (story, chapter, essay, excerpt, poem, or other written work) online, can someone steal it from me?
Of course the answer is yes.  It’s as easy as mark, copy and paste.

But this does not mean that your work is not protected.

Copyright law very clearly states: Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

But what about registration of my copyright?  I can still do that, right?

Yes.  It currently costs $35 to do so, and it can be done online at

I have written elsewhere that this is not really necessary, because you own the copyright of your work automatically (above) and if you believe that you only have one or two good ideas, you’re probably in the wrong business

Taking It To the Next Level

Everybody you know has a computer, right?  These days it is an odd household that doesn’t have at least one.  Come to think of it, if you didn’t have a computer–or at least access to one–you wouldn’t be reading this.

Back in the day when computers in the home were brand new, better than 90% of the people who bought them said they wanted them for managing home finance.  That was just an excuse.  In fact, most of the purchases were for the sake of having a computer.  There wasn’t a lot of home finance being crunched back then.  Paper was still too easy, and too easily understood.

Back then most people bought computers because they could.  Yes, you could buy word processing, accounting, GAMES, and the like, for them.  Computers were used by people with vision, but most computers were just… there.  They were cool.  They were a status symbol.

Blogging, and writing in general, sometimes falls into the same class as early computers.  Not everyone feels a calling–a need–to write.  Some people write for the sake of blogging and writing.  For the status symbol.

Blogging or writing for the sake of itself might be good practice… it probably is, and there is certainly room in the Blogsphere for every level of work, but is it really where your time and effort belong?

Taking your work to the next level requires commitment, a search for meaning in what you think and write.  Is it time to aim higher than just another status symbol?

Past vs. Passed

Keeping these words straight can be very difficult.  They sound so much alike that in speech it takes a well-tuned ear to tell them apart.  Especially if the speaker isn’t clear about which is which.

These examples should help:

The old man passed away.
The Center passed the ball.
She passed me the note.

I moved past the crowd.
I am past that point in our relationship.
My past life flashed before my eyes.

A Question of Balance

I’m a novelist.  <BLAT!>

Cheeze.  Sorry.  That’s the Truth Machine I’ve just added.    Okay, so I’m trying to be a Novelist…  ah.  No ugly noise.

Let me start again.  I’m a writer.  I write.  I write every day.  Well, most days.  See?  (No nasty noise.  That’s good, right?)

So I’ve got this novel… and it’s nearly done.  The first draft of the thing won an award, but it never felt quite right to me, so I’ve been working on the edit for over a year.

As of today this novel–it’s called FIVE–is about two very short (and badly needed) chapters–and a quick run-through to get rid of the crabgrass–from being done.  So, what have I spent my day on?  What have I spent my week on?  Uphill Writing.  Yeah.  Blogging.  THIS blog.

I don’t think one can be called a procrastinating writer if he uses other writing to keep from finishing the big project…<BLAT!>

Sigh.  Maybe so.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect vs. Effect

This is a good to demystify.  On the face of it, the words are easily differentiated.  The Quick and Dirty way to do so is to remember that:

Affect is a verb. (a-FECT)
After a few drinks, Bernard will affect an Irish accent.

Effect is a noun.
The car explosion was a special effect.

However, watch for these less used meaning:

AFF-ect (emotion)
Effect a change.

Conan the Grammarian has this delightful graphic to help.