Updating the Blogging Process

I've been thinking about my posting process and realized A) I’d like to have something earlier than the night before and B) I've been posting first drafts.

Some of the writing the night before was to keep what I was writing relevant to what was happening with me now, not a week ago. But let's be honest. It was mostly lazy/working just-in-time/over scheduling projects.

Which is what led to the first draftness of my posts. If you write the post the night before it goes up, there's no time to do a rewrite. Even if I’ve always gotten Partner to read it over for typos and word salad fails.

I don't show folks the first draft of stories (not without an explicit ‘this is very much a first draft’ warning). So why am I content to do that with blog posts? It's all reflective of myself and my writing abilities. Time to do better.

One of the things prompting this reflection is that Partner and I recently moved to a new place. Nothing like having to reorganize all your stuff and learn a new commuting habit to prompt reassessing everything else in your life.

The new commute is providing a solution to this actually. At least partially. Before, I had a 15 minute walking commute to work (so spoiled by that). Now it'll take me 30 minutes to get to work, 15 of which is on public transit. So, by loading up the Google Docs app on my phone, I can write more. And burn through more cell phone data.

I won't get all 15 minutes in the morning though. Most days, if we're running on-time, Partner and I will be commuting together, up until his transfer point. Have to admit, I'd rather have that time with him than wrangle with this new swiping keyboard on my phone. Even if it is faster than the old method of typing.

Technically, I could have spent the same amount of time writing before or after I got home from work under the old commute. But I wasn't. We’ll just have to see if I can develop the habit/keep up the discipline to write.

And then actually revise what I write before it goes up.

A very bad first draft

I'm having trouble getting started writing Poor Private Collins and traveled this weekend to Atlanta for partner's birthday (plus lots of family birthdays). So! Here's a first draft of a vignette I wrote in the Eclipse Phase universe, followed by commentary on what's wrong with it. Or at least not right yet.


      "Why are you wearing that vac-suit? It’s a breathable atmosphere.”
      “I ever tell you ‘bout my first crash?”
      “No.”
      “I was going to be working security on a supply run to a research station. Known world, about .8g, blue skies, research station had been there for a couple years already. Didn’t require a vac-suit, just a rebreather to keep the mix right and the massive allergic reactions minimal. So cargo’s all lined up, we’re going to be escorting it in, two to a box. I’m fifth back from the front, paired up with one of the company’s veterans - they’re getting real impatient with my antsiness, I can tell, but still can’t settle the pit in my stomach. Scout bot goes through, sends back the all clear. First pair go through, then the second, and I just figure ‘Fuck it, I’m about to walk through what is at best guess, a fold in the fabric of space and time. I’m wearing the damn helmet.’ So I pop that as the third pair go through and now it’s our turn to start walking up the ramp. Fourth pair in and I get my first look at one of these gates. Eerie fucking things, this one looked like it had extra angles and more colors than actually exist - so I’m walking through this tear in space and time, damn near freaking out at what hell I’ve gotten myself into, and pop out onto an airless asteroid. Black void above, scattering of stars, and definitely no more than a quarter of a g. Partner goes down, choking and clawing at their breather, cargo boxes piling up in front of the gate, six other folks keeled over on the ground. That’s why I always wear a vac-suit.”
      “Weren’t there 8 guys ahead of you?”
      “Yep, don’t know how, but somewhere between the first and second cargo box, the entire gate reset to a new destination. Never shut down, didn’t look like anything had changed, just a different destination. Astro later figured from my XP we weren’t even in the same arm of the galaxy as where we were supposed to go. Gorgeous place though, in a quiet, desolation type way.”
      “Christ. What the hell you’d do?”
      “Turned on the mag-boots, prayed they’d keep me at least semi-anchored, grabbed my partner, and bodily threw them back through the gate. Hoped the corp would take the hint that something was wrong, stop sending folks through, and leave the gate open. Shoved our cargo back through, gave a bit of a push to the other three in the other direction to get to folks, started grabbing ‘em and shoving them back through too. What else was there to do?


Well first off, it's a talking head piece – all dialogue, no description. There's nothing about who's talking, no indication of who they are, what they look like, anything. No sense of place. No sense of science-fiction wonder. The horror I'd like to get in there from the gate and folks walking into an airless void isn't there yet, not without more description. The dialogue still needs tightening too, more conversational/story-telling than big blocks of text.

This is a usual problem of mine. A story idea comes to me as dialogue and I need to build everything around it. In this case, I got the dialogue down so I wouldn't lose it and haven't gotten back to work on the piece. Yet. 

Minimum, I need at least one (probably two+) paragraphs of description before the opening line of dialogue. I need to add in dialogue tags. Description of people shifting and fidgeting as they talk. Heck, I need to figure out who the second talker is. For all I know right now, they could be an AI communicating with my first character (who I do have a clear visual for) via mesh enabled ear piece.

Day 2471

Reposting a short story I contributed to the Technical Difficulties podcast's blog. Come check out our actual plays of Red Markets, Call of Cthulhu, and Eclipse Phase – you can hear what I sound like on the internet.


I was shoveling the fourth scoop of irradiated dirt on top of the bundle at the bottom of the shallow grave when Emil stood up and whined. Abandoning the shovel to the dirt pile, I leaned over to give Emil a scratch behind the ears while I pulled the backpack for my plasma cannon back on. Both of us were watching the ridgeline with all senses on high alert. I’ve never been sure if Emil had one of the smart animal enhancements or had just been well trained before he trotted into my life.

I may have been willing to drop the cannon for this little chore outside, but I wasn’t completely suicidal yet; I was still suited up in full combat armor with rail pistol easily to hand. I’d gotten the backpack strapped down, and the tear tracks down my face mostly wiped away before the metal-on-metal thrumming and the screaming reached us.

At my hand-signal Emil raced ahead as I brought up the rear. Some idiot was about to die by the half-broken TITAN war machine trapped on the other side of the ridge.

Emil was racing ahead, paws digging through the softly crunching dirt and was nearly halfway up before I even made it past the rows of stunted food crops laboriously coaxed out of this fucking planet. My breath was already hitching. Bad day to be short on both water and food rations. I gave a mental sigh for the stupidity of wasting one of my last two doses of MRDR on the fractal-bait I just knew I was going to find on the other side. But I pulled an injector and, shooting my wrist out of the armored arm cuff of my suit as much as possible, pressed it against the skin.

I felt a couple blood vessels in my eyes pop. Just in time for the aches and pains that were my constant background noise to recede.  The rest of the world fell a stutter-step behind as the combat drug sped up my nerves. The world always looks slower on MRDR.

Up the hill. Over the edge of the ridge. Past the stunted trees growing metal leaves. Start down the other side of the hill.  I miss my muse, Galahad. And TacNet. Battlefield awareness has never been my strongest suit.

Combat hasn’t altered the landscape this side since I last saw it. Usually I avoid this side. Half-dead war machine and all. Running, then sliding down the hill – the last of the trees and brush died off months back, it’s just loose dirt now. Stunted yellow grass at the bottom of the hill, a flat area I can charge across safely. All the dangers in this bit are on the mesh; I had turned off my inserts years ago. Burned out vehicles up ahead, reminders of the last stand that partially crippled the war machine, left it in a crater it still hasn’t climbed out of. Futile gesture. Found the convoy the folks who did that bit of military heroism must have been buying time for a mile or two up the road. Well, their decapitated skeletons anyway. Head hunters don’t leave skulls behind.

Half-broken TITAN war machine still in its crater, 250 yards ahead. House-sized center mass with its ever shifting color patterns. Seven tentacles sprouting out, constantly furling and unfurling, the edges fluttering off into ragged fractal fronds.

Too far to see individuals.

Shots ringing. At least they’re using the dead vehicles as cover, sounds like. Two assault rifles, probably the same blueprints, same printer they’re so similar. An SMG, the smaller ammo has more of a popping sound. With a whining clatter, three rail-pistols tossing off bursts. Massed fire? Why?

Snap a shot off at one of the telescoping fractal metal arm cocking back, ready to slam down on a burnt out vehicle, while I’m running up. Plasma leaves a burnt ozone stink. Spot Emil barreling sideways into something before the arm comes down. A pause from the weight slamming into ground. Then a human head pops up from where Emil landed, followed by armored arms and an assault rifle that starts walking shots up the machine arm. Other rifle, also a human morph, comes out of cover 20 yards east to join in the shooting, going for center mass at least. Pause for a better placed shot myself, center mass – must have gotten through some of the armor, couple of the tentacles curl further back.

SMG dashes out of cover, charging straight towards the crater. First rifle, the westward one, starts screaming at him to get back, ‘Azar’ is already dead. Emil’s not going to reach the SMG in time. I’m charging forward after him, wondering why the fuck I’m do–

Neo-octopus

There’s a neo-octopus morph behind the husk of a vehicle 15 yards to my northwest now. Space suited octopus as tall as me. Two railguns aimed and ready, third one having a clip slotted in with the fourth of eight arms. Fractal-hells, when did transhumanity start uplifting octopi? Explains the massed fire.

A screech of metal, the ground shaking again, and railguns firing forward push my attention back on task. SMG is almost to the crater, slowing down like he’s going to jump in and slide to the bottom. Emil is barking up a storm, distracting at least one of the tank’s many limbs. I’ve never seen the damn thing grow more limbs, for once when dealing with a TITAN toy, so hail to the poor dead bastards whose vehicles I’m using for cover.

A burst of speed, and I reach the edge of the war machine’s crater just as the SMG does. A kick to the back of his knee forces him down far enough that I can take another shot over his head. Might have singed a bit of hair; idiot isn’t wearing a helmet. I grab at the back of his neck, find the bar for clipping on a rescue line, and yank him up and off his feet, back towards the neo-octopus. Just as the edge of the crater crumbles under my feet.

I’m on my ass, sliding down, firing as often as the plasma cannon can cycle, when I spot what SMG must have been coming in for – fresh corpse. Must be Azar. I let the slide continue until I’m next to Azar, pulling out my knife as I go. Wish I had an axe for this.

Fire the cannon. Flip the corpse. No helmet. Fire. No neck protection either. Line up the knife at the base of the neck. Swift chop. Fire. Knife got stuck halfway through the vertebrae. Leverage knife back and forth until vertebrae crack. Fire. Saw through more muscle and skin. Fire. Grab head by the hair, throw it up and out of the crater. Fire. Push back up to my feet and start walking backwards up the hill. Fire. Never stop firing. A meter or so from the top, turn and scramble out as fast as possible.

Back out, Emil is racing in a straight line towards home, decapitated head dangling from his mouth. Good dog. The neo-octopus isn’t far behind him, fouling the shot SMG man is trying to line up on my dog. Idiot is kneeling, back to the crater, screaming at ‘Akemi’ to get out of the way. He’s so focused, there’s no resistance as I grab the gun out of his hands, booking it past him. Didn’t even have it clipped to his armor or anything. If he doesn’t figure out to start running away at this point, there’s no saving this idiot.

Both assault rifles disengage and fall in behind me as I hightail it away. Three sets of pounding feet, good. Falling behind, less good. But none of us stop running until we’re back past the flat grassy area, past the metal trees, over the ridge, past the open grave I’d been digging, past the garden I’ve coaxed out of the ground, and in front of bunker I call home. Akemi is standing outside the door, rasping noises coming from the suit’s intake valves, looking at Emil. Emil’s sitting right outside the bunker airlock, head still dangling by its hair from his mouth. He stands up, tail wagging furiously, trots over to me, and drops the head at my feet.

Akemi just stands and rasps, staring at me, as I work through the vertebrae. Two up from the cut, I find what I’m looking for – the grape-sized, diamond encased copy of whoever just died in that crater. A cortical stack. Almost certainly uncorrupted by the war machine. I toss the stack to Akemi.

The other three skid to a halt behind me, wheezing. I turn, backing away towards my front door, and look them over. Armor no dirtier than I’d expect from just that fight. No scrapes, dents, or gouges. One of the rifle users pulls their helmet off to suck in air faster. Bright eyed, no hollow circles under their eyes, cheeks full and round. None of this lot have missed a meal, perhaps ever.

Turning back to Akemi, I prepare to say my first words to another person in almost three years.

“Why the fuck would you come back to Earth?”

 

As always, comments, questions, suggestions, and critiques welcomed in the comments section.

Getting back into writing

Lately I've only been critiquing on Scribophile, trying to be a good member of one of my trading groups, and squeezing in some transcription of audio I'll need for the next big writing project. It wasn't until I sat myself down to write some backstory for my GM for one of my gaming groups that I realized how much I wanted to be putting words to electronic paper. It was also good for me in that a) I had a deadline, which always makes it easier for me to block out time and sit my butt down to just freaking do it already and b) taught me I can write a short story. Yes, that was the first time I've written something short that I felt was complete. Yay! 

So, flailing a little bit, casting around for what to talk about for this blog post, I decided to use that example, perhaps more literally than I originally intended. But the end result is that I sat down and wrote another short story, some flash fiction if you will. And yes, it's backstory for a character I'm playing in my second gaming group.

The stats:
Status: First draft. Very much so. Written in one sitting with editing and spelling correction happening as I write.
Time: Written in two hours (including the two different 15 minute breaks to play 2048 as a mind clearing move).
Word count: 881
Feelings about: Reasonably pleased. It's a pure descriptive piece, no dialog, which is unusual for me, but that's how everything was working in my mind. And I'm happy to have concentrated on description for once.

Critiques, things you would like to see added (or taken out), typos, spelling mistakes, grammar fails, what you liked and what you hated all welcomed in the comments!

Catrin rolled over and fumbled for the alarm clock on her bedside stand – no need to wake up her parents for this little chore. Especially not at 8am on a Saturday. One of the so very few times in the week she was sure she would have some privacy. She just needed to finish packing her personal things before heading off the other side of the country for college on Monday. The last of the going-away and graduation parties had been thrown months ago, at the beginning of the summer, but there had still been the chance she’d run into someone at her crummy retail job or out on the beach over the summer. With only two days until she started the cross-country trip though, it was time.

Sitting up on the edge of her bed, feet flat on the floor, Catrin rubbed her face briskly for a moment to wake up just a little more. She then grabbed the hair scrunchy on the stand and pulled her hair back into its accustomed ponytail. Standing up, she briefly debated not getting dressed but settled on a loose pair of yoga pants and a sports bra – easier to lie to Mother that she’d gotten up early for one last morning meditation that way. If it came to it. Not that Mother would approve of all her bracelets.

Looking down at the open dresser drawer, Catrin had to admit that Mother might have a bit of a point. Enough thin, single-band stainless steel charm bracelets to form a solid(ish) cuff of two inches up each of her wrists was a lot of bracelets. Slipping them on one-by-one was a bit of a pain in the ass too, but moving from just one to multiple charms per bracelet would make it harder to grab precisely the right one in an emergency. Which had been the entire point in the first place.

Finished slipping all of her bracelets on, Catrin reached in the back of the drawer and pulled out a box. It wasn’t a very interesting box to look at it, just one of those cheap colored cardboard pieces jewelry stores packed your purchases in to walk out the door with. But inside were about half of the charms which had originally come with the bracelets. She was going to need to put roughly three-fourths of those back on their bracelets.

Sitting down in the middle of her floor, in between the packed suitcases and sealed boxes, Catrin began systematically taking off all the bit-and-bobs type of sympathetic tokens she’d collected from her classmates over the past four years of high school. Once those were all off and in a small heap at her feet, Catrin examined one of the teeny-tiny test-tube charms she’d spent so many hours scouring the city for. Be a shame to loose those, but she really didn’t need the scraps of bloody tissues in them anymore.

Trying to work the first of the little corks off the charm nearly sent it flying out of her hands and across the room. Tapping the end of the tube to get the tissue out was not working either. Catrin made a moue of frustration with her lips for a second, before her face cleared and she headed off to the bathroom for the pair of tweezers in there. And the tiny bottle-brush that’d come with the box of test-tube charms.

Half an hour later, the heap of old sympathetic tokens on her floor included all the test-tube contents and all the bit-and-bobs had been replaced with some of the original charms. The cutesiest of the originals stayed in the box – Catrin figured she might need them at some point, like if some of the tubes broke. May she could drive over to that crafting store she’d found the tubes in the first time and pick up another set today.

Catrin paused at a sound from her parents’ room next door. Were they getting up already? No, must have just been turning over in bed.

Looking at the heap of tokens on her floor, Catrin bit her lip. Some of them were probably old enough to have lost their emotional significance to her former classmates. But most could still be magically useful for hexing their original owners. Wouldn’t be fair to the classmates for her to dispose of them only for some other witch to come along an use them. Seemed like a remote chance, but still. Worth the time to do things right, Catrin figured. A cleaning ritual should do it.

From the back of the bracelet drawer came her ritual blade. She did rather hope that Odin would approve of the wisdom or Loki would be amused at the trickery of a butterfly knife as her magical tool. She wasn’t worried that any of the Æsir would object to using a practical fighting knife for magic. After all, what good was a knife you couldn’t fight with?

Kneeling down, Catrin took a deep breath and centered herself. It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet. As soon as she’d cleansed the tokens of their sympathetic links and disposed of them in the trash, she’d have plenty of time to start hiding her sex toys in suitcases before her parents woke up.

So my Shadow Run Game Master gave us homework...

Basically he was giving out in-game rewards for writing backstory (one karma point per 150 words, for you Shadow Run players). And, since I'm a dork, I did it. So here's a short (short) story... eh, okay, it's really some flash fan fiction I wrote in about 40 minutes Sunday morning. And then I'm going to pick apart everything wrong with it, you know, for when I clean it up for a second draft.


Ms. Dressler?” Gabbi asked, shifting a bit on her feet in front of her teacher’s desk. It was still 10 minutes before class was supposed to start this morning.

Ms. Dressler looked up from her handheld with a small sigh. “Yes, Liesel?”

Gabbi bit her tongue, just a little. Her name was Gabbi. Stupid school rules about first names only, no nicknames. “Um. The project due today? I um, never heard from the rest of my teammates. I tried contacting them, I swear, in school and after, but no one would talk to me. Um. I made a text file of all the times I tried. But, um. I couldn’t talk to them. Or find out what they wanted me to do on the project. So, um. Here’s my copy of the project,” Gabbi said, shooting a project file over to Ms. Dressler’s inbox via her open Matrix connection. “I um. I didn’t want to take up the team’s slot in the classroom… thingie.” Gabbi dropped her eyes back down and shuffled her feet again. She wasn’t sure but that might have been the most she’d said to anyone in one go all week.

The handheld made a small clunk against the desk. “Liesel, please look at me.”

Gabbi looked back up.

“Are you telling me that you did the entire team project by yourself?”

“Yes? I’m sure the rest of the team did the work too...”

“Liesel, that project was designed to take a team of four students two months to complete.”

“Oh.” Gabbi looked back down again and shrugged. “Maybe it’s not very good then…?”

“I’ll take a look. But Liesel, the next time you’re having trouble with your team, come to me and I’ll talk to them.”

Gabbi cringed, hunching her shoulders, and muttered “Yes ma’am.”

“You find that an unsatisfactory solution?”

“Um… That usually gets me hit.” A lock of white hair fell forward into Gabbi’s eyes and she tucked it back behind her ear “And they complain to the teachers I don’t do any work. And I get hit again if I protest… I’d rather just do the work…”

Ms. Dressler pinched the bridge of her nose and didn’t say anything for a moment. “Well, are you ready to present today?”

“Yes ma’am,” Gabbi said, swallowing hard. Presentations in meat space were the worst.

Ms. Dressler’s computer pinged Gabbi’s with an invite into the classroom Matrix node. “We have some time before class starts. Show me what you’ve got.”

Oh, in the Matrix. She could do that. Gabbi flashed Ms. Dressler a grateful smile and slipped into the Matrix space.

As a first draft, that's got more description and less talking-heads dialogue than usual for me, so that's an improvement. It's still very talking-heads though, not going to lie – still need to keep working on that.  For instance, Ms. Dressler needs some description. Like at all. And I need to look up the correct terminology around the Matrix in Shadow Run – I was stuck in the Eclipse Phase setting so words were not coming. (In my defense, all the SR books are at the GM's house.) I've gotten across that my main character, Gabbi, is bullied, but not that part of the reason is her albinism. And for all the description I've given, she could be anywhere from a middle school student up through college. And anywhere in the world. I can probably skip trying to place the story in location, but really do need to put in an age for the poor kid. And more physical description. Also, there's nothing truly specific to the Shadow Run setting here, which I suppose could be a good thing or bad thing depending on your point of view. The term Matrix, while used in the setting, is used in plenty of other worlds too, so that at least could convey what's going on with the computer systems to folks not versed in the setting. Maybe want to get into the story that there are other intelligent species, like elves, orcs, and dwarves, in this world. Maybe.

For flash fiction, I'm reasonably happy how it's come out. Honestly happier that I could write a) something short and b) how long it took. Once I sat down to write that is. Pretty sure this one percolated in my brain for a week, in that space between when I lie down for sleep and when I actually fall asleep. 

Blurbs, my nemesis

Everyone has the things they find more difficult to write - for me, it's the blurb for the back of the book. Along with 'About Me's on social media, cover letters for job applications, emails asking for favors... Notice the pattern there? If it's directly intended to market the rest of my writing, it's like pulling teeth getting the words to march up in line in my head, much less out onto the page. I'm sure if I ever try the traditional publishing route, a query letter will be just as difficult as blurbs. It's amazing how 120-130 words can be so recalcitrant, and that's a short blurb too.

The nice part about novelizing RPG actual play episodes is that in many ways you're in a conversation – there's more to work with than just what's in your head. And the episode I'm working with right now, The Dangers of Fraternization, the GM already wrote a blurb (for the GenCon program), so I have some really good copy to work with. Why not just use that then? Well, because it's really good copy for gaming, for setting up the world and problem and letting people imagine themselves into the space. Good for enticing people to come play your game. Less good for convincing people to buy the book to find out what happens to characters they'll identify with.

Or at least be interested in seeing what they do. None of the folks I wrote in this novella are good people – maybe a little worrying if folks identify with this lot.

Anyway, the long and the short of it all being that I have written a second draft blurb and posted both, GM's and my version, to Scrib for feedback during the massive posting. I'm even getting a decent amount of that, feedback.

5 to 1, folks prefer the GM's version.

Don't get me wrong, they're making suggestions on things to include, to cut, to rewrite, etc. all over the place. And really, I think the GM's version was pretty dang good myself - got me interested in his game after all. But still. Little frustrating that, not having improved at all on scaffolding provided.

Oh well. First drafts are shit after all. Time to get back to rewriting.