The Return of Writer Brain: The Sequel

Brain: So you know how you had that home energy audit yesterday?

Me: Yeah.  That was pretty cool.  I kinda liked the door blower test.  Also knowing the water heater isn’t out to kill us all was cool.

Brain (impatiently): Yeah, yeah.  Remember how the guy went up in the attic?

Me: Sure.  I mean, I was there and all.

Brain: And remember how he came down and showed you a picture of the corner over your bedroom?

Me (uncertainty setting in): Yeah.  There’s a random box stuffed up there.  The previous owners did weird things.  On our first adventure into the attic we found a couple of busted lamps that had been put up there for whatever reason.

Brain: What do you suppose is in the box?

Me: I have no idea.  It could be empty.

Brain: Who would put an empty box in the tight corner of the attic?

Me: The same people who dumped broken lamps in it?  The same people who cut off the ground wire to the bathroom fan because they couldn’t figure out what it did?

Brain: What if it’s not empty?

Me: Maybe that’s where all the mice live?

Brain: It could have all sorts of things in it.

Me: It’s really not that big. so really, there’s a limit to what could be in it.  Kids toys from the seventies?  Old clothes?

Brain: This isn’t the kind of attic you store stuff in.  You know that, right?

Me: Obviously.  There are reasons I’m not allowed up there.  I’ll probably end up in the living room via the quick way down.

Brain: This is true.  You should definitely not go up there.  But you got me off track here.

Me: That was the plan.

Brain: I will not be derailed!  That box has so much potential.

Me: I really don’t think…

Brain: Potential!  Sure, it’s not a huge box, but it’s also not tiny.  And it took some serious work to get it into that spot.  I mean, it’s not going to be easy to get it back out.

Me: Which is why it’s still there.

Brain: Don’t you sass me!  That thing could be full of desiccated baby corpses!

Me: Well now you’re just getting gross. 

Brain: Skulls?  The sacred totem of a demon?  Pirate treasure?  Long concealed evidence of a murder?  Nosferatu (pocket size edition)?

Me: Yes… well… now that we’re dwelling on this, I can see we’re going to have to write something about it.

Brain: Good.  Good.  It’s getting close to fall.  This is always when you have your Poe and Hawthorne festival of darkness.  It’s perfect.

Me: I was thinking I’d have the box just be empty, you know all the work up and then nothing.  What do you think?

Brain: Clearly I’m going to have to supervise this task.  I’m not sure I can trust you with it.

Me: I have other things that are more urgent

Brain: Wrong answer! 


You can enjoy the entire Writer Brain adventure in chronological order here, or tap the #writer brain tag to read it in reverse chronological order. 

Speed Writing #14 – Going Solo

I woke disoriented and my eyes felt gritty.  Sunlight was shining on me from a strange direction, though my blanket felt and smelled familiar.  I stretched and rubbed my eyes before looking around the room.  The eggshell white walls were bare and there were boxes stacked next to the dresser.  I was in a new apartment.  I’d moved my stuff in yesterday, but hadn’t finished in time to even start unpacking.  Kicking off the blanket, I sat up and rested my feet on the bare wood floor.  It was cool against my skin, so different from the carpet of my old place.  But that had kind of been the point.

The efficiency was my first apartment on my own.  The last place I’d shared with my boyfriend.  Ex-boyfriend, rather.  We’d broken up a couple months back, and it had been ugly and uncomfortable ever since.  To be honest, it hadn’t been comfortable for the two or three months leading to our dissolution.  Getting out was a relief, and it felt like I could finally breathe again.  But it was also a very definitive sign that we were really through and there was no reconciling.  Not that I really wanted him back.  I mean he’d been a jerk.  He’d already slept with two or three people since I told him we were through, and that didn’t count the ones he’d been with when we were supposedly monogamous.  It wasn’t the end of the relationship that was hard; it was more the destruction of the idea of what the relationship was supposed to have been that hurt.

As I was rummaging through boxes for a bowl, I heard the soft sound of footsteps upstairs.  One of the things that appealed to me about apartments was that I didn’t feel alone.  There were people all around me, but I had my own private space.  Victorious with my initial search, I tried to find my silverware.  Cautious shaking of boxes eventually revealed it to me.  I was just starting my quest for cereal when the gentle background sound of water running through pipes in my ceiling started up.  I closed my eyes and embraced the way these noises differed from my last place.  I needed to get used to them, because this would be home for a while.  

Thirty seconds later I was startled out of this contemplation by the most beautiful baritone voice singing “She Moved Through the Fair.” He was really good, and I wondered if he was a vocal music major at the university about a mile down the road.  He was way too good to be an amateur, yet it seemed unlikely that a professional would live in a building of mostly efficiencies and two bedroom apartments rented by college students and recent graduates.  I felt the smile spread over my face.  I had no idea who he was, and it didn’t matter.  This one moment had totally made my day.

I tried not to get attached to the voice of my unknown upstairs neighbor, but it was hard.  He always sang in the shower, and I was embarrassed to realize I’d memorized his routine.  Six am shower, every other day.  He seemed to prefer Italian to Latin, though there was a German piece that distracted me so thoroughly I’d burned the eggs I’d been scrambling.  He had a whole repertoire of English folk songs.  He sang in the evenings as well, but didn’t really belt it out like he did in the shower.  I was torn between telling him that his spontaneous arias were a bright spot in any day, and accepting it as a gift from the universe.

The universe, as it turned out, had other ideas.  Ideas involving the two of us retrieving our mail at the same time.


Prompt: You live in the apartment above me and every day I can hear you singing in the shower; you’re really good and it makes my day.

Note:  I had to write this in two 15 minute stints because of a minor dinner calamity.  Everyone survived, and the lentil stew was awesome.

Fight Scenes: Missed Opportunities

In most creative endeavors, one of the goals is to do something different than others have, or to show something familiar in a new way. That may mean taking the same starting point and finding a divergent path to the same end, or creating an entirely new path to a different end.

Over time, many writers have certain words, phrases, and even descriptions that start to show up in multiple works or even within the same novel. Fight scenes (and sex scenes) can become routine, predictable, and indistinguishable from others by the same author. This may be the result of laziness or forgetfulness. It may be that these scenes are outside the writer’s comfort zone, and once she has come up with one, it becomes the stock version. Like stock photography, these scenes are bland and don’t pull their weight, feed the writer’s creativity, or satisfy readers.

While this argument for variation and trying new things can be applied to any aspect of writing, I’m going to focus on some opportunities to be new and interesting in fight scenes. Here are some techniques and targets that show up in real world fights, but tend to get overlooked in fiction.

Striking With Elbows and Knees

These are great for close quarters like elevators, cars, offices, bathrooms, trains, walk in freezers, hallways, etc. Don’t limit yourself to using the knee for groin shots and the elbow just for grabs from behind. Coming at a diagonal, a knee can take out an opponent’s knee (see more on knees as a target below) or, aimed higher, give a heck of a charlie horse.

Brought up or down vertically, an elbow can hit the groin, solar plexus, clavicle, and under the chin or nose. Delivered horizontally, the elbow can take out a knee, go for a kidney or rib shot, and strike the temple. Because elbows aren’t as fragile as hands and wrists, you can have an untrained character use these effectively without needing a splint and weeks of physical therapy in the next chapter.

The Claw

Some people put down this sort of attack or defense as ineffective girly fighting. The three problems with this judgment are 1) it’s actually very effective, 2) it’s not limited by sex or gender, and 3) do I really have to explain the fallacy of “fighting like a girl?” I didn’t think so.

Again, this is a great technique for a character who has no training but suddenly finds herself (himself, itself, themself, choose your favorite pronoun) in a brawl. It’s hard to defend against it because you can claw at any exposed skin from any direction, unlike a punch or kick which tend to be pretty linear. It doesn’t require a lot of strength or long nails (finger tips raking the face are quite painful). It also marks up the attacker or opponent, making them easier to identify later on. If your character needs something to focus on, have her channel her inner Bengal tiger, because great big cats totally have this down.

Hair Superiority

Again, once belittled as limited to girl fights, this is an extremely effective tactic that is often overlooked in fiction. Gaining control of your opponent’s hair means you have control of her head which very often results in winning the fight. The end of a braid or pony tail are less effective than a solid hold up near the back of the head.

Box the Ears

Depending on your age, your geographical region, and the sort of family you grew up with, you may not have ever had a grandparent/uncle/parent threaten to box your ears. If that’s the case, this involves cuffing someone upside the head, aiming for the ear. It can be done with the flat of the palm or with a cupped hand. Boxing both ears at the same time often ruptures one or both eardrums. This may or may not hurt, depending on the person and the severity of the damage. This impairs hearing until the eardrum heals and, better yet, can disrupt equilibrium making it hard to walk or even stand. Some people get severe vertigo which can be incapacitating (and gross).

All Your Jewelries Are Belong to Us

Most piercings don’t like to be tugged on, much less yanked. Your character can take control of an adversary through a firm grip on that nose ring.

Anything around the neck is fair game. This includes jewelry, ID badge lanyards, and neckties. Most of these don’t come with emergency quick release or break away clasps. Obviously, some sites prefer clip on ID lanyards for this reason, so keep it true to the setting. This can be used to get someone’s attention, take control of them, or put their life in danger.

While not technically jewelry, I’m putting a reminder about glasses here, too. I know from personal experience that getting smacked in the glasses can really smart. Even a little tap on the frame can concentrate enough force on the nose pads to make the eyes water, which makes it hard to see.

Eyes

Humans tend to prioritize vision over all other senses, and those of us accustomed to being able to do this are going to be severely hampered anytime it’s impaired. Eyeballs are fragile. Lots of things can sting or irritate the eyes, from innocuous things like sand and lemon juice, to more damaging things like solvents and acid. Pushing lightly on a closed eye can impair vision for a few minutes without causing permanent damage, and a harder push or strike will obviously do more. Light can result in temporary or permanent blindness, depending on the brightness.

Low Targets Rock

Honestly, it’s not that fun to get smacked anywhere from the knee down, and that’s just with someone’s bare foot. Add a shoe, sword, baseball bat, or umbrella, and it gets even more unpleasant.

Many men expect a groin kick, and guard accordingly (and in case it hasn’t occurred to you, it’s no picnic for a lady to take a straight shot to the bits, though we don’t tend to fall over quite so much). Knees, however, are hard to protect. They only like to bend one direction, and are pretty easy to damage even with a low-powered kick from the side.

If you’ve ever played soccer, you likely learned the hard way why shin guards exist. The shin, or tibia, doesn’t have a lovely layer of fat and muscle protecting it, so when you get hit, you enjoy both nerve-ending pain from the skin, and deep throbbing bone pain.

Have you ever had someone stomp on your foot really hard? It isn’t pleasant. If you’re somehow more fortunate than me, perhaps you’ve never dropped something on your feet. Or maybe you’ve had a pot roast fall out of grandma’s overly full freezer onto your foot. Now imagine someone stomping on your foot while wearing high heels, which will focus all the power into a smaller space increasing the damage.


This is just the tip of the iceberg of fight scene diversity, and anyone can better with some practice. I routinely contemplate how I could be attacked in random situations, and what good responses would be. After all, I’m trained to think about this stuff. Even if this isn’t your default, it can be a good exercise both for writing and self defense (which I hope you never need).

You can build up your repertoire of potential fight scenes and character reactions by building your own scenarios. Even if you don’t write them down or consciously save them for later, your brain will be able to tap into what you’ve thought about. Need a starting point? You’re in your car at a stoplight. What would you do if someone opened the passenger door and got in? How would your response differ if the person was a man/woman, armed/unarmed, drunk/sober/delusional? Or maybe you’re opening the door from your kitchen to your attached garage, and you find someone (or something, cause face it, I write speculative fiction) other than your car in there? Would your reaction differ if you’re home alone? Do you live in a town home or suburbia?

When you read a fight scene, even one of your own, ask yourself how you could do it differently. This alone can help you break away from your stock responses.

A Peek into the Indie Writer World – Part V: Presenting as a Professional

As an independently published writer, you are a professional and it’s in your interest (and in the interest of your fellow indie writers) that you present as a professional. We aren’t so far removed from the era where self-published authors were automatically dismissed as ‘not good enough for real publishing.’ While the majority of the population now recognizes indie authors as professionals, you’ll still encounter people who need to be convinced.

How do you get taken seriously? What can you do to ensure the image you’re broadcasting is professional?

The key places where your professionalism comes into play, in bullet format for those with very little time:

  • Website
  • Social Media
  • Email
  • Live Networking
  • Book Covers
  • Book Content

The more specific details regarding those key places to put your professionalism in place:

Website

A website is a must, even if it’s minimalist. Other than finding your books on sites like Amazon, this is one of the top places people will look to see how legit you are (or appear to be). This can include potential customers, the media, library purchasing departments, and schools or conferences looking for speakers.

  • Spring for the domain registry
    • Makes you easier to find
    • Implies greater dedication to your writing career
    • The cost is often bundled in with website hosting services (make sure you own the domain, so you can switch services and take it with you)
  • Go with a theme and colors that will speak to your audience
  • Hire someone to set things up if you don’t have the skills to do it yourself
  • Include or incorporate high quality photos
    • Your own if you have them
    • If using others’ photos, have the proper permission and credit as required
    • Use open source or free stock photography sources, crediting as required
  • Keep it current and engaging
  • Minimal is okay
    • About page – information about you the writer, genre, areas of expertise, and anything that will help your audience relate to you
    • Publications – your publishing history and/or where to purchase your work
    • Contact page – can be as simple as an email link or a web form
  • Consider a built-in blog for dynamic content
    • Announcements, appearances and news
    • Release information
    • Teasers

Social Media

Blogs and social media can help you build up and engage with your audience. Make sure you’ve picked a platform that hits your target readers. You don’t have to spend hours every week on a blog or forum if that’s not your thing, just keep it relevant and regular. A mostly dead Tumblr or Twitter won’t do you any favors.

Ensure that your interactions and posts are professional.

  • Avoid over-sharing or inappropriate assumptions of intimacy
  • The internet is forever; consider whether your posts could come back to haunt you
  • Approach controversial material in a way that is consistent with or related to your writing philosophy or your work
    • Eg: My blog includes real world social and political issues that are reflected in my stories and my approach to world building
    • Be careful not to alienate your audience with content that has no bearing on your work
  • Do not bully others (yes there are writers who do this) and engaging in flame wars will likely reflect poorly
    • If you mess up, damage control involves a real apology and future caution
  • Present yourself in the way you want your fans to see you
    • Be friendly and open to interactions if you want fans to find you approachable
    • Be a bit aloof or distant, if you’re aiming for more space
    • Be cautiously prickly if that’s who you are, but keep in mind that being an asshole will only chase fans away

Email

You should establish an email account specifically for your writing. This doesn’t have to run through your own domain if that doesn’t fit your budget. Select your email address carefully.

  • Easy to share and remember
  • Matches your author name or what you write
  • Doesn’t feel too casual unrelated to your writing work

Live Networking

Take advantage of the opportunities to network with readers and other writers in person. This can result in a valuable peer group, name recognition, and readership. While participating in these activities, you don’t need to wear a suit and schmooze like venture capitalist to present as a professional. Look up photos of these events and see what people tend to wear, and find something in your wardrobe that works and is comfortable for you.

  • Conventions – most genres have events where fans and creators get together
    • Volunteer and participate in programming you have an interest or expertise in
    • Attend the parties and meet people
  • Conferences – many genres have events for creators to discuss topics of interest and build their craft
    • Attend meet-ups or lunches
  • Readings – these can be held in bookstores, libraries, and at events like conventions and conferences
    • Prepare and practice your piece
    • You are in the limelight, be sure to shine

At any of these events, socialize with people you don’t know, even if that’s hard for you. You don’t need to meet everyone and you don’t have to try to impress people with exaggerations or lies. Just be yourself, unapologetically, and try to have interesting conversations. Listen at least as much as you talk, if not more. Swap contact information with people you may want to keep in touch with, and do follow up with them on social media.

Book Covers

Your book cover functions as your advertisement of the work; it sells the book. This is one of the places where a lot of indie authors make mistakes that result in an amateurish and unprofessional appearance. You can search online for “bad book covers” to get hundreds of examples of covers that have done more harm than good, and yes, some of them have been produced by big publishers.

If you don’t have the skills to design your covers, it’s in your interest to pay someone to do this. If you do have the skills to create your own covers, it’s still a good idea to run your drafts by a group of trusted individuals to identify any horrible mishaps you may have missed.

Book Content

The final piece of presenting yourself as a professional, is ensuring that your printed work meets the standards in the industry. This includes ensuring that you’ve told the best story you can, and that it is as free of spelling and grammatical errors as possible. It can be very helpful to get constructive feedback from fellow writers or beta readers, in case you’ve missed something. If editing isn’t your strong suit, paying a copy editor is not a bad idea.

In addition to the story itself, you also need to ensure your story looks good on the page, whether it’s digital or print. Pay attention to layout guidelines as these can influence whether the book looks professionally produced.

  • Margins – top, bottom and outside edges
  • Gutter – inside edges near the fold
  • Story title and author name in headings, often alternating
  • Page number in the footer

Printed work also needs properly set up front matter.

  • Title page, on a right page
  • Copyright page, on a left page, usually the other side of the title page
  • Acknowledgments, on a right page
  • A blank left page, unless your acknowledgments run two pages (which should be avoided in fiction)
  • Table of contents (TOC), on a right page
  • First page of the story, on a right page (there may be a blank left page between the TOC and the story’s first page)

Front matter can determine whether your book meets requirements for wide distribution.


Most of your steps for presenting as a professional don’t have anything to do with your actual writing, and it may be easiest to think of it as the marketing side of the indie writer’s job. It’s often easier to start out with your level of caution and professionalism set a bit higher than you think you need, as it’s unlikely to offend anyone. As you get more comfortable with the various venues, you can assess and adjust if your default is too far in one direction or another.



For the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part IV. For the next article in this series, check out Part VI.

For more articles on writing, check out Reflections From the Sol.

Combat Stuff Writers Frequently Mess Up

As a karate instructor, novelist, and former journalist, I like to keep my combat damage accurate. I worked with physicians for 19 years, and they were always great about answering questions for the crazy writer. Rather than making up more myths, I’ve checked with people who’ve taken care of patients who are on the receiving end of this kind of stuff, so you don’t have to.

The one arm back choke

Some writers seem to think this is the pinnacle of all attacks, and that there’s no way to get out of it. This is, of course, rubbish. I know several ways to escape this hold, depending on where in the attack I react. The first throw I ever learned was against this attack. If you have a character who has trained in combat, she should have a response for this attack (yes, Babe of Nine, I am scowling at you).

Here’s a video with three defenses.

The next problem with this attack, or hold, as many writers use it, is that most people don’t understand how it actually works. This particular attack has the potential to be fatal, very quickly, and about every other year you’ll hear about a bouncer or police officer accidentally killing someone while restraining them with this hold (which actually makes it a poor choice for a hold). There are two ways this choke works.

  • If the attacker puts her forearm against your windpipe, at the front of your neck, your air supply is cut off. You have about as long as you could hold your breath before you lose consciousness. This varies from person to person, but it’s not unreasonable for someone to go more than a minute without breathing. If the hold isn’t as tight, you can get enough air to stay conscious. Also worth noting, the human body generally needs more oxygen if it’s been active and if it’s pumped up on adrenaline from activity or fear.
  • If the attacker’s forearm and upper arm are against the sides of your neck, squeezing your neck between, with her elbow in front of your windpipe, the pressure is on your carotid arteries. In case anatomy isn’t your forte, this is the oxygen supply to the brain. Fully obstructed, you have ten seconds or less before loss of consciousness. Since this seems too fast, most people think that the person being choked is faking, and they don’t let go. Without oxygen, brain cells start to die off pretty fast.

Here’s a video showing the mechanics of both versions of this choke.

Palm heel/punch to the nose

Who grew up being told this was a potentially lethal attack? Yeah, it’s okay. I did, too. This will not actually shove bone shards into the brain of the person who gets hit. If, your protagonist happens to be a super hero, with super strength, it is theoretically possible to have a some skull shard and brain interaction, but because this is the frontal lobe, there’s pretty good potential for recovery, especially in our modern society. It would count as a traumatic brain injury, so the recovery may or may not mean returning to exactly the same state (personality or functionality) as before.

Throwing random knives

Most knives are weighted appropriately for use in the kitchen and suck for throwing. Grabbing a random knife and throwing it makes a great distraction, but odds are good it will miss the target or hit it with a non-stabby part (the handle, the back or side of the blade). Knives designed for throwing tend to be small and made of solid construction. They look incomplete or highly utilitarian.

Set of three throwing knives.

You can balance a throwing knife on your finger at it’s middle point. Having equal weight at both ends means it will throw evenly. On a side note, there are two dominant philosophies on knife throwing. The one that shows up most often is that you hold the knife from one end to throw it, and it rotates through the air before plunging pointy end in at the target. The other option is to hold the knife from the center and throw it straight, with no rotation, like a very tiny javelin.

Throwing knife balanced on a finger.

Being pinned under an attacker

Like the one arm back choke, many writers think it’s impossible to get out of this position. To be fair, this seems to get taught less, so it’s forgivable if a character who can fight doesn’t have an option for this. That said, most people with training have options for when they don’t know a technique for a specific grab. That’s what loosening moves (punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes, and biting) are great for. A person with no training may still be able to get out of this, but our media frequently pushes the message that it’s impossible, and it can be tough for some people to break that conditioning in a crisis.

Here’s a video showing two forms of this attack and a good counter response.

The bipedal roughly human-sized attacker is too big/heavy to throw

No. Just. No. Well designed throws are actually easier when your opponent is taller and heavier than you. The hardest person to throw is one who is shorter but heavier. I can’t speak for judo throws over the back or shoulder, but for many forms of martial arts, throws involve getting under someone’s center of gravity and tipping them over. This can be done by sweeping someone’s feet out from under them (leg sweeps), getting in close and compromising their stance, or by pulling them off balance (the one arm back choke throw above is an example of this).

Head injuries

Head injuries are so badly handled in fiction. A concussion is what happens when your brain bumps against the inside of the skull hard enough to bruise it. It’s considered traumatic brain injury. The severity of a concussion is based on the symptoms following the injury, not how severe the injury initially seemed. Loss of consciousness isn’t necessary for a concussion, though this is usually associated with more severe damage to the brain, and often more severe symptoms. Post concussion syndrome consists of an enormous list of symptoms. Your exact symptoms may seem random, but are related to the part of your brain that was injured. Post concussion syndrome can last anywhere from a few days, to a few months, to forever, regardless of the initial perceived severity. Some effects of a concussion don’t show up for months or years, and a recent study found that some visual changes (specifically refractive errors) may occur up to two years after a concussion.

My son hit the floor with his head in first grade. He never blacked out. He remembers everything. He ended up with blurred vision for a couple of weeks and seven weeks of post-concussion syndrome that consisted of random and uncontrollable anger outbursts (that scared him), general irritability, fatigue, and headache. It’s possible that the amblyopia he developed a year later is a result of the concussion.

If your character can go from knocked out to perfect fighting form in minutes, you need to have a justification (Buffy had amazing healing powers, Hobbits are resilient to head injuries, etc), so your reader doesn’t think you’re an idiot.

Snapping spines

This would be the rapid head twist that we have all come to understand as breaking someone’s neck. It shows up in movies and TV a lot and tends to be accompanied by a bone crunching sound. This bugs me less than other things on this list, because the end result is pretty much accurately portrayed. It’s just that this doesn’t break someone’s back or neck in the way most people understand it to. This severs the spinal cord at the base of the brain stem, the same mechanism for the fatal single punch incidents that show up in the news. As my doctor friends have explained, you’re dead before you hit the ground, because the body is no longer receiving any communication from the brain. Spinal cord damage lower down the neck or back is survivable because the body still gets the message to breathe and keep the heart beating.


All this said, it’s still okay for a character who should know what she’s doing to mess up on a defense. In life threatening situations, we don’t always make our best choices, and I don’t believe in victim shaming or blaming, even for fictional characters.

However, if your character realistically should know a way out of a situation, but doesn’t use it, you’ll need to address it in some fashion for the character to stay believable. It could be something as simple as she felt off or the adrenaline was too much and she wasn’t thinking clearly. It could be that she was taking the safety of others into consideration. It could be that her opponent knew a counter and was faster at executing it. There are lots of great excuses that allow you to address this without it becoming a major plot coupon. Use one and move on with the story.

Speed Writing #13 – Summer Vacation in Terra Norma

Laura was sitting in the mid-level branches of the oak tree when she heard the garden gate creak open.  From her vantage point she could see Aster’s entire garden, a formal European design in extremely rural Minnesota.  She recognized the blond-haired teen walking along the path, cobblestones that had been placed with liberal use of magic when Laura had been away two summers ago.  She placed a marker in her book and considered calling to Jason, but decided to see how long it took him to find her.

He started by knocking at the back door.  Aster answered fairly quickly, and Laura briefly wondered if he’d come to see her.  Though her grandma had lost the ability to do magic, she’d been highly trained and could still serve as a valuable resource.  Aster waved her arms around a bit, as if indicating the garden, but Laura couldn’t hear her voice.  They had a brief conversation, then Aster went back to the kitchen and Jason turned away from the door and looked around.  

After a moment, in which she was sure he was considering all the options, he walked the path to the bench nestled in a thick patch of lily-of-the valley, right beneath the oak tree.  He took a seat, then looked up and smiled.  “Hello, Laura.“

Lately, when he smiled at her, or bumped into her, or spoke to her, she felt a rush of happiness and energy.  He was her friend and her math tutor.  He was a house fellow in her dorm at magic school.  He was nearly three years older.  Having a crush on him was inconvenient. “Good morning,” she called back.  She tucked her book down her shirt and  descended the oak.  She’d been climbing trees all her life, and this one since she was six.  Nine years of experience made it a quick task.

Jason watched, no expression on his pale face, and his blue eyes wide.  As she dropped down in front of him, she heard him let out a breath.  “I know I haven’t told you this,“ he said, “but it completely freaks me out to watch you do that.”

She laughed.  “What, climb trees?  You’ve seen me doing it for two years, and I’ve never fallen.“  She shrugged.  “You’ve seen me climb far scarier things.”  The corner watchtower to the school’s outer wall was a favorite hangout.

“Don’t I know it,” he agreed.  “You’ve got no fear of heights, have you?  But then… I suppose you don’t need to fear heights like the rest of us.“

“I’ve always liked heights, even before I knew I could levitate myself.”

He shook is head.  “It’s not natural.“  He sounded serious, but she knew he was teasing.

“It is for me.”  She untucked her t-shirt from her shorts and pulled out the book.  “What’s up?“

“I’m so bored!” he said, throwing his head back and sprawling over the bench dramatically.  “I’ve always worked at camp over summer vacation… well except when I was younger, and I went to camp.“

“Why’d you take the summer off anyway?” she asked, setting her book on the bench as she reached back to pull the binder out of her hair. “You always seemed to like it.”  She put the binder in her teeth and started slicking back her tight orange ringlets as best she could.  She preferred her hair long enough to braid, which kept it under control.  But last summer she’d had to cut it off as the price to save a friend’s life.  She had no regrets, but she was glad she could finally pull it back, even if the tiny ponytail was dorky and needed adjustment every few hours.

He frowned.  “My mom wanted to have more time with me, since I’m spending the whole school year at Ming Tang’s, which she feels violates their custody agreement.“

“Ugh.” Laura patted his shoulder.  “That sounds nasty.“  His parents divorce usually seemed so calm that she tended to forget about the high emotions that caused it.

“Yeah,” he agreed.  “But I don’t want to get held back again, and I really need to learn magic, which I can’t learn here.“  He straightened up and a serious, yet puzzled expression crossed his face.  “Have you noticed that Clarissa Memorial K through Twelve lacks a magical curriculum?”

It took effort to hold in the laugh that wanted to burst out.  “I had.  Very odd, that.“

He nodded.  “Completely unsuitable for mancers.  I shall have to write a formal complaint.”  He shook his head.  “Anyway, I agreed to stay here for the summer if I could stay at Ming Tang’s for the full year again.  It kept things peaceful and we don’t have to go into mediation again.“  He rolled his eyes.  “But my mom’s at work all day, so we don’t get quality time until she gets home, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do all day.  What do you do for fun around here?”

She raised her eyebrows.  “You do remember meeting me, right?“ Their first interaction had been through her locker door.  “And you remember me talking about how much better life is for me at Ming Tang’s, right?”

“Yeah, but I’m sure you still know how to have fun here, right?”  He sounded hopeful.

Shaking her head she pointed to the book.  “The library is my idea of fun in Clarissa.  Also, long bike rides.“

He scowled at her.  “That’s it, O’Dell,” he snapped, as if he couldn’t take any more.  “We’re mancers stuck in a town smaller than our school, and we are going to have the best summer ever!“

She gawked at him.  Oh god.  He was really serious.  She could see her plans of laying low and reading for fun scattering like leaves in the wind.

He jumped to his feet and grabbed her hand.  “Starting with the ice cream shop on main street.”  He started down the path, tugging her behind him.


Prompt: Everyone else is on vacation and we’re both stuck in our boring home town. Wanna hang out and mope about it together?

Take Your Writer Brain to Work Day

Me (sitting in an extremely boring meeting): Why am I even required to attend this?  I’m in my last ten days at this job, I clearly no longer care, and I have a ton of things I’d like to get wrapped up before I go.

Brain: Since you’re tuning out, why don’t we do some plotting.

Me: Eh.  I should probably pretend to pay attention.  I’m trying to go out as a professional.

Brain: Given what passes for professional behavior around here, you could fall asleep in the meeting and spend the afternoon looking at porn and still hit that bar.

Me: You’re not wrong.  What do you have for me.

Brain: Since you’re about to be unemployed, I took the liberty of developing a writing blog series for you to debut in September.  It will give you something to do, keep you out of that disgusting emotional pit you just crawled out of, and further your writing.

MeThis is why we pay you the big bucks.

Brain (shares brilliant idea)

Me (impressed): That’s actually completely awesome.  This could be really useful, and fun.

Brain (surprised): You still remember what fun is?  I thought you lost that in like February.

Me: I’m pretending. Fake it ‘til I make it, yaknow?

* Later that evening *

Me (sheepish): Uhm. You remember that awesome idea you had during that meeting?  Could you go, uh, over it once more?

Brain: No.  You know I don’t store ideas.  I blurt them out as soon as I come up with them.  I forget them as soon as you acknowledge them.  It’s totally your job to record them.  

Me: So… you have no idea?

Brain (indignant): Of course I don’t!  You had a pen and notebook right there, what were you thinking not writing it down.  Sheesh.

Me: Dammit

Brain: Seriously.  I don’t know why I bother with you sometimes.  But since you obviously feel guilty, and while I know it’s no where near as cool, here’s an idea for a Chinese dance superhero.  I call her 小星 and she has three primary weapons; a dance ribbon, a set of red fans… maybe pink, and a red handkerchief.


This was written in August 2016, and while I haven’t gotten far with the Chinese dance superhero idea, I’m still planning on using it eventually.

You can enjoy the entire Writer Brain adventure in chronological order here, or tap the #writer brain tag to read it in reverse chronological order. 

The Value of Fight Scenes

Fight scenes can do all the same things for a story that sex scenes do; they are actually far more alike than they are different. Through a fight scene, a writer can develop characters, change character relationships, resolve or introduce conflict, defuse or ratchet up tension, and push plot points all while providing action that alters the story’s pacing.

You can really get to know a character by watching her fight, by seeing what she chooses to do, or not do, in a tense or dangerous situation. The character who elects to fight bare-handed is different from the one who draws a weapon at the first sign of trouble. Does the character delight in the fight or grimly acknowledge it as an ugly necessity? Perhaps the character is a pacifist who refuses to fight. How does she react when she’s outmatched and is it different from her reaction when she’s the superior combatant? Does she kill? Does she show mercy? Seeing the protagonist on the page, and understanding her motivation behind use of trash talk or intimidation lets the reader understand her a lot more in a short time. A fight scene gives you the opportunity to address any of these situations, and dozens of others, in character.

It’s pretty obvious that fight scenes can provide conflict resolution, but they can also be a source for introducing conflict. A bar fight could start our heroine on the path toward the end point of the story (however far away it may be). It could be the event that ignites a quest or mission, or maybe she has to skip town to avoid assault charges. Ta-da, conflict. Fights have almost become a trope ending for a novel or series, with the protagonist facing off with the antagonist for one last showdown. The reason it’s done so often, is that it works well, which is also why we don’t complain about the lack of originality in structure. This technique also works for wrapping up smaller arcs that occur within a more layered plot.

Tension is closely related to conflict, so it’s easy to see how fight scenes can influence this. A fight can be cathartic for the protagonist or the story, letting off some tension before a scene or chapter that won’t function properly with too much impending doom hanging over it. Likewise, strategically placed fight scenes can increase the sense of danger. If the characters are well written, the reader will be invested and concerned on their behalf. This can be a huge bonus in longer works and for writers with weaker plot skills, because character and tension together can greatly improve reader interest while masking less developed plot.

Plot can be pushed forward by a fight scene in much the same way character can be revealed. This can be done in fragments, perhaps with the protagonist gaining insight through banter or bargaining during or after the confrontation. It can also be done in large chunks, with the outcome of the fight directly shoving the protagonist in the right direction.

Any time a scene can do more than one thing for the story, it’s a win for the writer. It allows you to include more layered complexity without going over your word budget or boring your readers. Fight scenes are also a lot of fun to read, which means plotting and writing them can be fun too… if you like that sort of thing.