how to write

Get to the story, and stick with it

The word counter tells me I’m about 65,000 words into the last book. This series was started in August of 2013, its first draft miraculously finished in ten days. It was a huge amount, even for me. One or two days at that pace was fairly normal at the start or finish of a book, but sustained for ten days wasn’t anything I’d set myself up as a goal.

I started the second book soon after the first. It took a lot more time, but I really got the characters by the start of the second book. When I went back to reread the first, though, everything was off. The characters on the page weren’t the characters who had just survived a holdup at a gap store in downtown Victoria. All their hopes, needs and secret desires were missing. There was generic wounded protagonist and a generic understanding boyfriend. Interesting in-laws, those I could keep, but the problem at hand was far too small to be worth all the effort.

Going back to fix was frustrating. Finn’s point of view was too bland for the stress that he was under. The emphasis was on the abuse, not the love between the two characters.

No one would know if I didn’t tell them what the characters could be, but if I didn’t do the work and sharpen each sentence to drive itself just a little bit further into the reader’s head, the book would be putdownable, forgettable, average.

I wasn’t aiming for average. Donald Maass advised a time limit. That helped shape the first book. The magic was vague because I didn’t really know what the magic was, but I’d spent last summer watching videos of quantum mechanics and suddenly the vague magic follows the wave/particle duality.

A lot got cut. I rewrote entire scenes where nothing changes but Finn’s desperation. Murder your darlings is an easy bon mot to pass to newbie writers, but actually spending day after day, writing three thousand words, cutting three thousand words is next to impossible. I stayed at 65,000 words for three weeks.

I’m at 65,000 words now, and the first book is due back for its first round of edits in two weeks. I can make the trilogy fit into each other like nesting dolls was worth the wait.

I told dozens of people to murder their darlings while spending tonnes of effort trying to save what was on the page instead of saying what I meant the first one. A new bon mot is easy to say, harder to do. Don’t edit the first book until you finish the second. If at all possible, try holding back the trilogy until you can edit book one and three at the same time.

I wonder if this will still hold true the more I write. I can pretty much plot out a 60-70,000 word story just by making the problem big enough. I trust that the words will fall where they need to go. Book three still needs work, but all the scenes are in the right place.

No one could love writing more than I love writing. But the more I wrote, the more caught up I got in trying to impress other writers instead of trying to tell the best story I could. Get to the problem and stick with it. Whether or not you have a good hook is secondary to finding out what your character wants and then do everything in your power to keep them from it.

Rewriting and getting the reader to want to read your next book

I’d spent a lot of time editing my work, but I found I wasn’t trying to make the story better, I was trying to preserve what I had written. Murder your darlings is more than just cutting the dead weight. It’s cutting the bits that work, but don’t work as well as they could as well.

I remember the first time I’d finished the second book of the series I was working on and then when back to look at the beginning of book one. This is an impossible thing to do if you publish everything as they come out of the pen. I took a year to just write, not even thinking about publishing anything, and when I realized just how generic my main characters felt at the beginning of the book, it almost broke my heart. When that first book goes to print, it’s set in stone.

There was so much work left to be done with the characters. I started to go back and rewrite the book from the start as soon as I had reached the end of the book, and that made a huge difference. Then I started to complete the second book of the series and then go back to make the world’s problem bigger from the very first page.

I wasn’t changing much of the plot when I was rewriting, but even shifting the motivation by 10% made it impossible to try to piece together the new bits and the old bits.

I’m sure if I had left the second draft alone, only a small percentage of people would have noticed the difference, but I would have known it could have been better. Rewriting a book from scratch when the previous draft isn’t completely wrong is really, really hard. But if you don’t put that effort in, someone else would. You want your writing to appear absolutely effortless in its flow, and effortless requires a ton more effort. But ultimately it is worth it. Not for the readers, but for yourself.

No matter how much you preplan, you are always going to end up knowing more about your characters at the end of the book as you did from the beginning. After about the half-way point, your characters should be taking on a new life above what you’d planned them to be. Going back to the beginning and put in the characters you know they evolved into, minus the insight they’ve learned on their own journey. No matter how much you think you know about the characters in the beginning, they are always going to feel like a generic version of themselves until you’re elbow deep in their POV.

I’ve read dozens of unpublished books by my friends where by chapter 14, I was absolutely enthralled with the characters, but people who are not reading it as a favor to the author cannot be expected to wait that long for the characters to evolve into someone interesting enough to want to read about.

I get that’s a hard job writing characters that are already interesting but still have room to grow in the beginning of a novel, but if writing publishable work was easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s going to hurt, but you have two choices when you have a chapter 14 takeoff. You either cut all that has come before and start with the character being interesting, or you rewrite what’s on the page and make that character appear in chapter one.

You can go back and edit characters in and out, you can delete plot points or add them in, but you absolutely cannot edit words on the page for a change in motivation. Motivation fuels the story on a sentence level. Every sentence has to reflect your character wants and needs, and going back to edit that in without changing everything leads to Frankenstein-like scenes (frankenscenes) where a character would act one way during one set of circumstances and a completely other way in the unedited bits. That bit of inconsistency will confuse the reader and lead to wanting to throw the book across the floor.

While you do want to create an emotional reaction inside your readers, the one you want to avoid is the desire to throw the book across the floor. It might get tidied up the next time the room is cleaned, but it’s not going to be put back on the books-to-read pile.

It’s true that some readers might give you another chance and as a completist they may actually finish the story, but once they’ve paid for a book, they’re not going to let themselves be tricked again. Getting a reader to buy your book is only step one in the how to write business. Getting them to want to read your next book should be job 1 the moment the reader sits down with your book.

Working with Writer’s block

I’m not a planner. I used to write one scene a day, so around 1500 words. At that pace, it’s more or less possible to write a full book in two months. I have in my mind what the beginning mess is going to be once the world has been introduced, the bit in the middle that will change everything the main character thought they knew an then have a rush to the end where all the pieces fall in place.

The more I wrote, though, the easier knowing how the next bit of story would fit into the whole. It used to take the rest of the day/best thinking time at night to come up with everything I needed to know about the world to continue. Now I just take a break between scenes and I can write 2-3 scenes a day. When I’m stuck, though, I am really, really stuck.


When I can’t write, there’s a flaw in my matrix. Writing is supposed to be fun. I write for my beta/ideal reader and my wife who get a kick out of the stuff I do, but above both of them, I write to make me happy. If I find myself trying to impress other writers and not myself, I’m probably off on a tangent that stopped being fun a while ago.


I write about some pretty dark topics, but survivors know if we aren’t laughing, we would all be sobbing. It’s hard, but if you’re stuck and the magic is gone, I always go back to the last place where the magic was and start cutting away. It’s brutal if effective. I have done that enough times that now, just when my writing is just starting to drift off into boring land exit, I stop myself before I get too far from the free-way of fun.

The importance of Frost Giants as Plot Devices

The importance of Frost Giants as Plot Devices

I used to suffer from talking-head syndrome. I loved them so much that I didn’t seem to notice when they spent page after page, just talking without anything happening plot-wise because I was enamored with the characters. Then I got a job in a kitchen while I was going through school and learned the “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean” cliche.


The same thing happens with writing. If characters have time to sit around and talk without any issues at all, anyone who is not the author can get bored. While writing the book, if I found my boys just talking, I threw frost giants at them. I think it worked perfectly. When I’m bored with what is happening on the page, I remind myself of what Donald Maass said in one of the two brilliant workshops I’d attended with him. I ask myself what is the worst possible thing that could happen in that exact moment and then let that happen.


Writing has never gotten boring since. It meant a lot of throwing out a lot of my pre-planning as the character who is vital for the plot suddenly ends up dead instead of helping the characters get to the next part of the story, but I don’t mind the cost. Great writing is a lot of things, but obvious shouldn’t be one of them.


The Care and Feeding of Sex Demons at Amazon

They Became What They Beheld

This video is a year old. I had sent in my letter of resignation about four months before it came out, and when I watched it, I remember being so stunned I watched it three times in a row. It’s specifically about how to keep youtube from going the way of television, but it’s also about finding your voice and understanding what it is you want to say.

I remember the first time I discovered erotica. I’d slash my own characters in the books when I was in junior high. That I could actually write smut for a living is my actual dream job. I want to mix urban fantasy, erotica and abuse survivor narrations in the same story. I still want my stuff to be escapist, but I want to acknowledge that not everyone have had healthy, safe relationships modeled for them.

There may not be a strong market for what I’m trying to do, but that is what I want to do.