The Way I Write Part 4: Something Resembling a Style

Over the past month I’ve explored my writing as it’s developed these past twenty years. I’ve been using the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores and the old fashioned eyeball test to chart changes in my work. We’ve looked at some of very early pieces, purple and laden with adjectives, a more transitional phase where I started to reign in my wordier impulses, and then some of my published work, where my voice and prose began to resemble something similar to how I write today. In this last post we’ll look at recent work, and see how the writer I am today is different from the writer I used to be.

Before we get into to those recent examples. Here are the other posts in this series for reference.

“Night Games” (circa 2014 A.D.)

This is passage from my short story “Night Games,” which I completed in 2012 and sold in 2014 (after a revision or two). I sold it again to Pseudopod in 2016 (click this link to listen). “Night Games” is an important story to me because it’s one of the first pieces I wrote where I really felt like I knew what I wanted the story to accomplish, and then I went and did that (and it mostly worked).

Randall Simmons only plays night games. As he steps into the right-handed box and taps his bat on the plate, he reminds me why. His smile, aimed at the pitcher’s mound, is wide and predatory. The bright stadium lights catch for a moment on his teeth. Even from 60 feet, 6 inches away, those teeth are too long and too sharp.

Randall is showing me his secret smile, some of it anyway. His smile is for me because I’m here to preserve the Kansas City T-Bones’ one-run lead in the top of the ninth against his team, the Wichita Wingnuts. It’s also for me because I’m the only person in the stadium who knows Randall Simmons is a vampire.

Anytime I step out of the bullpen it’s a big deal. It’s a chance to earn a save, win the game, and even make someone notice a washed-up twenty-five-year-old pitcher trying to make it to the bigs. That’s a tall order in the independent leagues, where dreams of big-league baseball and big-league money go to die. Unlike most nights, I’m not thinking about my fastball, my curveball, or the good slider that got me drafted by the A’s five years ago. I’m thinking once the game is over Randall Simmons will kill me.

I’d had the idea for this story rattling around in my brain for a few years, and then one day it all clicked, and “Night Games” became a thing. I’d say it’s the first story I published in, well, my current era of writing, for lack of a better word. With this story I started to figure out what my strengths were and how best to utilize them, but let’s have a look at the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 73.3
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 7.0

You might notice those numbers are a little higher than where I was trending in the last post. The difference here is that I am trying for a specific voice, one that’s going to come across as technical and a little wordy (baseball is a pretty nerdy sport). That voice is borne out in the numbers, but, as opposed to the wildly purple prose of my stories from the early aughts, this is still very readable.

Let’s move on a couple of years and look at another piece.

“Scare Tactics” (circa 2016 A.D.)

With this story I started using a voice and style that is very much what and how I enjoy writing. This story is one of the first of my horror/noir/urban fantasy mashups that features a healthy dose of black humor. It’s also one of my most successful stories, as I’ve sold it three times. The Dunesteef did a great little audio version of the piece you can listen to right here.

She got out of the car, popped open the trunk, and made a face at the awful stink within. A pungent mix of the worst fart overlaid with rotting meat and old garbage wafted up from the dark enclosure.

“Jesus,” Lindsey said, covering her mouth. “Can’t you control that?”

A jumbo-sized Raggedy Ann doll that had seen better days lay face-up in the trunk. Moth holes pocked its pinkish cotton, and its once-bright dress was dirty and stained. Only the red yarn hair retained its original color.

Adramelech’s voice drifted up from the doll, faint and irritated. “You know I can’t help it. You keep a demon in physical form, you get the stink. That’s the way it is. Maybe you shouldn’t stick me in a small, enclosed space.”

“And have that stench up front with me? No thanks. Hey, switch to silent mode. It’s almost show time.”

Ugh, are we doing this again? Adramelech’s voice spoke in Lindsey’s head now, as she’d requested. It wasn’t quite telepathy. He couldn’t read her thoughts, like she couldn’t read his, but they could “hear” each other when they wanted. It’s demeaning, you know. I’m a demon of the first order, a goddamn chancellor of Hell. I’m not some bullshit scare artist.

Lindsey stifled a chuckle. Chancellor, my ass. I’ve read de Plancy. He says you were primarily Lucifer’s fashion consultant.

I had so much fun writing Lindsey and Adramelech, and I’m about to write a whole lot more about them. Anyway, this story just clicked for me, the characters, the subject matter, the genre mashup, all of it. I think a lot of having any success as a writer is figuring out where you belong, and for me, this is probably it.

Okay, what about the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 80.5
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 4.4

Yep, that’s right where I want it. Nice and conversational. These stories have a ton of dialog (and a fair amount of four letter words), and so they make for quick and, well, easy reading, and that too is where I live now.

One more story.

“A Point of Honor” (circa 2019 A.D.)

The final story is one I published last year, and it’s a bit of a departure for me in genre and tone. It’s near-future dystopian sci-fi that deals with a real-world issue–cyberbullying–in a Twilight Zone-esque manner. You can check it out from the publisher, Radix Media, right here

Jacob opened his mailbox and froze. The sight of the scarlet envelope between the bills and advertisements twisted his stomach into cold knots of dread. He’d never seen a declaration from the Bureau of Honorable Affairs in person. 

Jacob glanced around the street, empty and quiet, terrified someone might see. He snatched the declaration from the mailbox, tucked it into his robe, and hurried inside.

Sara stood at the kitchen counter drinking coffee. “Anything in the mail?”

He pulled the declaration from his robe and tossed it on the counter. It looked like a fresh bloodstain on the white tile.

Sara’s eyes widened and she covered her mouth with one hand. “Why do you have that?” 

“I don’t know. I haven’t hurt anyone.”

“Of course you haven’t. You’re a forty-year-old computer programmer.” 

He grimaced at his wife’s blunt assessment. “Maybe it’s a mistake. They’re a big government agency. They screw up, right?”

“Yes, a mistake.” Sara seized on this scant hope. “Has to be.”

The difference between this story and “Scare Tactics” is mostly tone. The writing is fairly similar I think, with direct, even Spartan prose and a lot of dialog, but let’s check the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 75.1
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 4.5

Yeah, that’s still in what I’d call my sweet spot. The reading ease is a tad higher in this passage, but if you run the entire 5,000-word story its right at 84.


Before I wrap this thing up here are the readability numbers for all the stories in the blog series.

Date Story Reading Ease Grade Level
2000 Lullaby 53.5 13.4
2005 Rearview 37.9 14.4
2006 The Tow 61.6 10.7
2007 The Fate of Champions 62.9 8.7
2010 Blasted Heath 75.1 6.0
2012 At the Seams 85.8 4.7
2014 Night Games 73.3 7.0
2016 Scare Tactics 80.5 4.4
2019 A Point of Honor 75.1 4.5

So what have I learned from this exploration of my writing over the last twenty years? I think the easiest conclusion to draw is as the writing became simpler and more direct, i.e., more readable, I started getting published. This is not the only way to get published, of course, but for me, stripping things down, focusing on dialog and action (things I’m good at) instead of long descriptions and beautiful prose (things I’m NOT good at) has allowed me to publish a fair amount. I’m certainly still a work in progress, and there’s more growing and learning to be done, but I like where I’ve ended up. I don’t think I’m trying to sound like other published fiction (at least not on purpose), and I now have something resembling a style. But who knows? Maybe in five years I’ll change my mind and start trying to sound like H.P. Lovecraft’s dictionary again. 🙂

A Week of Writing: 1/6/20 to 1/12/20

Well, it’s a new year, so it’s time to start accounting for my writing and submission endeavors again. Here we go.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Vincent van Gogh.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.

– Vincent van Gogh

This one resonates with me at the moment as I start writing another novel. Long-form fiction can be overwhelming, especially if you look at it as a single monolithic piece of work. I finish novels by breaking them down into smaller tasks, manageable bits and pieces, that once assembled create something greater than the component parts. Of course, this is oversimplifying to some extent, but I think the sentiment is sound. I approach a novel in terms of what can I can accomplish today, usually that’s a single chapter or somewhere around 2,500 words. That’s served me well in the past, and I hope it continues to for the foreseeable future.

The (New) Novel

I’ve started a new novel, yet untitled, based around characters from an existing short story. The story in question is one I’ve sold more than any other, and I think it may be the most quintessentially me of all the pieces I’ve written. I’m deep into outlining at the moment, putting together my typical three-act thirty-chapter roadmap for the story. That’ll probably take me most of the week and maybe part of next. Then it’s on to the first draft, which I’ll write at 2.000 to 2,500 words a day, five days a week, until I have a complete novel.

Short Stories

Last year I fell short of my goal of one-hundred submissions by nineteen subs. This year, I plan to stay on track. Here’s how I did last week.

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

In truth, one of those six submissions was sent the week prior, but I’ll just count it here. So that’s five submission this week, and one last, which puts me on a very nice pace. I need to be around nine submissions a month to hit my goal of one-hundred. The rejection was your typical, garden variety form rejection, but the acceptance was a good one. It’s a story I shopped quite a bit, and it was even shortlisted at Flash Fiction Online and NewMyths. It’s nice to finally find a home for it. More on that acceptance when it’s published.

Microfiction

I’m writing microfiction everyday over on Twitter based on the #vss365 prompts. Here’s this week’s batch. If you’re unfamiliar with vss365, the hashtagged word in each micro is the prompt word for the day. You can click the link on each date if you wanna throw me a like or a retweet. 🙂

January 6th, 2020

I drag my busted leg behind me. It’s gone numb, but at least I can’t feel the bone grinding into the sand anymore. That’s the least of my worries, though. The excited #yips and howls have grown closer. They smell the blood, the sickness, the meat. I used to think coyotes were cute.

January 7th, 2020

“My shotgun #obviates the need for the .45,” Lucky said and hefted his Remington 870. “Leave it.”

Sal blinked and set down his 1911. “It does what to the .45?”

“You know, obviate. Removes.”

“Those word-a-day shit tickets are really workin’ out for you, huh, Lucky?”

January 8th, 2020

Gary stared up at the new girl, eyes wide, nose gushing blood. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, he had ruled the 6th-grade playground, hurting any who resisted his bullying. His #usurper was half his size but had a boxer’s grace and a roll of quarters in each clenched fist.

January 9th, 2020

She defied her opponent’s sword, his height and reach, with #kinetic and overwhelming skill. His feet and hands blared his intentions like a neon sign, heralding a clumsy thrust. With a languid turn of her shoulder, she slipped his blade and filled his heart with steel.

January 10th, 2020

I’m not #inquisitive. That’s why I’m still here and all my friends are gone. Jon asked what they were. Amy wanted to know why they’d come. I just worked the jobs they gave us, ate their food, and kept quiet. Now, alone, I do have a question. What’s the point of going on?

January 11th, 2020

“What do you tell people when they ask what you do?” Lucky asked and took a drag from his cigarette.

Sal shrugged. “The truth. I tell ’em I’m a contract killer.”

“And that doesn’t freak people out?”

“Nope,” Sal said and grinned. “Death makes for a #lively discussion.”

January 12th, 2020

After he finished his work, rinsed off the blood, and disposed of the body, he would sink into a quiet #languor and ignore the terrible presence squirming beneath his skin. He’d feed it’s urges eventually, but the blessed peace following a kill made him feel almost human.

Goals

Continue outlining the new novel is priority one, but I need to finish some short stories if I want to keep up my submission pace. I have a number that are half-finished, and I’ll aim to complete at least one this week.


That was my week. How was yours?

The Way I Write Part 3: Refinement

Once more we’re taking a look at my writing as it’s progressed over the last twenty years to see how it’s changed and if it’s improved. The first post focused on pretty amateurish works of fiction from the early aughts. The second post jumped ahead a few years and we saw what might be called an evolution of style and voice. Still, the fiction in these first two posts was flawed, overly wordy, and pretty much the polar opposite of how I write now. In this post, we’ll jump ahead a few more years, starting with 2010, and see what’s changed.

“Blasted Heath” (circa 2010 A.D.)

This passage is ones of the first bits of fiction I wrote for Privateer Press, not too long after I took the position of editor-in-chief for No Quarter Magazine. This was a bit of league fiction supporting the organized play of the tabletop miniatures games WARMACHINE and HORDES.

Grim Angus stared at the faint tracks in the muddy ground, rubbing his chin with one blunt-fingered hand. He’d expected to find skorne tracks—the Bloodmseath was full of the murderous bastards—and maybe even tracks of the few humans that lived in the marsh. But these weren’t skorne; neither were they human or trollkin.

By the size and spacing of the tracks, Grim counted two dozen man-sized creatures. The depth of the depressions on some of the tracks suggested armor, and heavy armor at that for such narrow feet to leave lasting impressions in the swampy earth. Others tracks were fainter, left by lighter armored troops – scouts perhaps.

“What’s that, Grim?” A deep, gravelly voice asked over Grim’s shoulder. A resounding thud that shook the ground followed the question.

Grim sighed, stood, and turned to address the speaker. Noral Stonemapper was an immense trollkin, easily seven feet tall and so stoutly muscled he was often mistaken for a full-blood troll. The huge trollkin was a krielstone bearer. His honored burden, a six-hundred-pound chunk of granite inscribed with the great deeds of trollkin heroes, was sunk a full foot into the mossy sward in front of him.

What I like about this piece, as opposed to the earlier passages I’ve shown, is I’m definitely starting to simplify, to edit down, especially when the voice of the character demands it. In this case, Grim Angus, a trollkin bounty hunter, and a stoic and pragmatic one at that. In addition, this just sounds more like the stuff I currently write, but let’s look at the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 6%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 75.1
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 6.0

Now that, folks, is pretty damn readable, and it’s well within the parameters of most published fiction. Additionally, if you look at the stuff I’m writing for Privateer Press today it’s within this range, so as far back as 2010 I was starting to dial in my fantasy fiction voice. Now let’s look at something in another genre.

“At the Seams” (circa 2012 A.D.)

This is from one of the first pieces of flash fiction I wrote back in 2012. I initially wrote it as apart of a one-hour flash fiction contest, and the following passage comes from that first draft.

My head is throbbing now, but I have to maintain focus. If I let the thought slip for just an instant, I’ll lose something—maybe just a bit of fingernail or a few flakes of skin and maybe a whole lot more. I almost look down at the smooth stump where my left foot used to be but manage to avoid it. I’d like to hold on to my right foot a little longer.

In the end, I know it’s pointless. How long can you keep thinking about not falling apart? How long can you think about any one thing at all? It’s not really possible. The mind wanders, and you just can’t—

Blinding pain in my right hand wrenches me away from thinking about thinking. I look down to see that my right index finger now ends after the second knuckle. The rest of the finger lies on the floor. There’s no blood or anything, just a clean separation, as if my finger never had that extra inch of flesh and bone.

If you were to look at a some of my fiction now, I think you’d see a lot similarities, but let’s look at the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 85.8
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 4.7

Yep, this is pretty much where I live now. Sure, the occasional story goes a bit higher or even a bit lower on the readability scale, but for the horror, crime, and even sci-fi I write these days, this is my happy zone. My style has grown into something you might call streamlined, hell, even straightforward (I can even live with spartan), and I’m happy with it. One other thing to note is I published this story with The Molotov Cocktail in 2013, my first flash fiction publication.


Well, I think the improvement between 2007 and 2010 was a big one, and it’s pretty clear my style became much more streamlined, less wordy, and well, actually publishable. Again, for reference, here are the readability score and dates for the excerpts we’ve covered so far.

Date Story Reading Ease Grade Level
2000 Lullaby 53.5 13.4
2005 Rearview 37.9 14.4
2006 The Tow 61.6 10.7
2007 The Fate of Champions 62.9 8.7
2010 Blasted Heath 75.1 6.0
2012 At the Seams 85.8 4.7

In the final post in this series, I’ll look at stories I’ve actually published in the last few years and see if we can detect any further improvement.

Aeryn’s Archives: At the Seams

Today’s installment of Aeryn’s Archives features my very first flash fiction publication back in August of 2014, a weird little number called “At the Seams.” It was published by the good folks at The Molotov Cocktail, who have gone on to publish me another dozen times. Let’s have a look.

So how did this publication happen. Well, that part’s simple. I submitted a story, the editors liked it, and they published it. What’s more interesting, though, is how I started writing flash fiction in the first place. That actually took some convincing. I was working at Privateer Press at the time, and a number of the writers and editors there were participating in a bi-weekly one-hour flash fiction competition over on the Shock Totem. (Shock Totem is a horror magazine that sponsored the contest on their forums). Well, my colleagues said I should give this flash fiction thing a try. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was probably something like, “Fiction in a thousand words? How ridiculous!” (I know; joke’s on me, right?) They twisted my arm a bit more, and finally I took the plunge. After that first sweat-soaked, anxiety-wracked hour of trying to throw together a cohesive story, I was hooked. I started doing the flash fiction contest every other week, and I even ran it for a while. Hell, I still do it with my current writing group, and a good portion of my published fiction began life as a one-hour scribble.

Anyway, one of the best things about the one-hour contest is that it pushes you to write outside your comfort zone, and for me, weird is definitely outside my comfort zone. “At the Seams” is decidedly weird, and I think that’s what The Molotov Cocktail dug about it. I’m so glad I started writing flash fiction and that I discovered the wonderful folks over at The Molotov, who have graciously continued to publish me fairly regularly over the last six years.

You can read “At the Seams” by clicking the big ol cover illustration above or the link below.

READ “At the Seams”

2019 Writing Rearview Review

Well, it’s that time of year when writers the world over tell you all about the stuff they wrote and published for the prior year. So here I go! 🙂

Short Story Submissions

Okay let’s start off with short story submissions, rejections, and acceptances:

2019 2018 Difference
Submissions 81 120 -32%
Rejections 61 100 -39%
Acceptances 14 19 -26%
Accept % 17% 16% +1%
Publications 17 16 +6%

As you can see, my production in 2019 was down significantly from 2018. The only thing that increased were the number of publications and my actual acceptance percentage, which is good, though I can’t help but think if I’d had the same output in 2019 as I did in 2018, I might have 20+ acceptances for the year (or maybe just 20 more rejections).

So, why fewer submissions this year? Mostly because I was focusing on long-form fiction, a novel, and more specifically revising that novel, and it ate up a lot of time. Also, I didn’t write much new stuff, and the new stuff I did write was, well, harder to sell until I figured out where I should be sending it (that happened late in the year). The truth of the matter is that some of the old stories I’ve been shopping probably need to be retired, and I need a new crop of pieces for 2020.

Words, Words, Words

Okay, so the above is what I submitted, but how much did I actually write in 2019? Let’s have a look.

  • Written in 2019: 183,632 words
  • Published in 2019: 90,494 words
  • Written AND Published in 2019: 74,978 words

That total written number includes 54,745 words of blog posts, 12,455 words of microfiction, and 6,950 words of stories I began but did not finish (yet). The published numbers do NOT include blog or microfiction totals. I spent a lot of time revising my novel and a bunch of old stories, but it’s hard to quantify that in terms of words written. It feels like another 50,000 or so, but, hell, it could be 100,00 for all I know. Anyway, I stuck with the most easily quantifiable numbers.

Those numbers on a whole aren’t bad, but if you look a little deeper, there are some things I want to change for 2020. For example, of the words written and published in 2019, a measly 2,068 came from submitted short stories, the rest are the novel I wrote for Privateer Press. I simply did not write enough new material this year. Most of my short story publications came from material I wrote last year or the years before. I need to finish and write more new stories for 2020 and stop being lazy and trying to sell old stories that, well, aren’t selling.

There were 260 work days in 2019, and I average a bit over 700 words for each of those days. I’d like to get that up to 1,000 in 2020. That shouldn’t be too difficult, as I’m starting a new novel and revising another.

Goals for 2020

You gotta have goals heading into the new year, right? Well, here are the broad strokes of a few things I’d like to accomplish in 2020.

  1. Write and submit more short stories. Let’s say a solid 100 submissions and at least 20 new stories. This year, I’d also like to crack more pro markets. You know, markets like Fantasy & Science Fiction, or The Dark, or Nightmare, or any of a dozen others. That’s no small feat, and I know I’ll need to up my game, but I think I learned a thing or two in 2019 that might give me a fighting chance. We’ll see.
  2. Release at least one short story collection. I’ve been threatening to do this for years, and now that I have enough published pieces for a respectable page count, it’s time to pull the trigger. Gonna shoot for first quarter, but I won’t hate myself too much if it’s second quarter.
  3. Write a new novel and revise the one I have. I spent a lot of time last year revising my novel Late Risers, but it’s still not where it needs to be, so I’m taking a short break from it and I’m writing another novel, something more inline with what I normally write, more me. That’s not to say that Late Risers isn’t me, just that it’s more experimental, and I struggled with it in places. So the goal is to write the new novel in the first quarter of the year and return to Late Risers after that. It generally takes me about two to three months to bang out a first draft of a novel, so this should be an achievable goal.
  4. Redesign Rejectomancy. The blog needs a fresh coat of paint and slight refocus in 2020. Don’t worry; it’ll still be chocked full of rejections and advice about rejections and all that jazz, but you might have to endure a few more shameless plugs of *gasp* my own writing. 🙂

And that’s my rambling review of 2019. How was your year? Tell me about it in the comments.

The Way I Write Part 2: Evolution

Last week, I delved into the earliest existing examples of my fiction (all unpublished) to see how and what I was writing back in the early aughts. I gave examples from two short stories and used the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores, plus the old-fashioned eyeball test, to gauge the quality and publishability of what I was churning out back then. To refresh your memory, both stories were crazy wordy and very purple. If you’d like to see for yourself, check out The Way I Write Part 1: The Early Years.

Now we’re going to jump ahead a few years and look at two more pieces (still unpublished) and see if I improved at all. One quick note, I was working and publishing in the tabletop gaming industry during this time, but that is a decidedly different kind of writing, and these posts will focus solely on narrative fiction.

“The Tow” (circa 2006 A.D.)

This passage comes from a 3,500-word story I wrote in early 2006. I remember when I finished this one I really thought I had something, but I was still too chickenshit to submit it. Of course, what follows is not publishable, but let’s take a look and see if the work has improved at all.

Jack owned the only towing service in town, and for that matter, the only tow truck. Most of his time was spent hauling the broken-down junkers that dominated the streets of Arbuckle, dragging their rusting metallic carcasses to the scrapyard, or, if the owners had any money, to Kyle’s Repair. But this tow was different. The call he received from Norman Gaston at the Lucky Load this morning offered Jack the rare opportunity to make some money from his small impound yard.

Jack could not suppress a smile when he thought of the exorbitant amount of money he was going to charge the owner of the Mercedes to get it out of hock. He figured a person who owned a car like that was bound to have enough spare cash to make Jack’s morning one of the best he’d had in weeks. He sat for a moment behind the wheel of his modified Ford F-650 super cab, idling thirty feet away from the Mercedes, soaking in the sight of the lonely German luxury car. He was grinning and imagining crisp hundred-dollar bills floating out of an expensive alligator skin wallet and into his own dirty canvas and Velcro rig. He savored his good fortune a minute longer, then put the truck into gear and rolled forward to claim his prize.

What I think is interesting about this passage and what surprised me when I dug it up is that it’s kind of an embryonic version of how I write now. Yeah, it’s still way too wordy and it’s definitely clunky in places, and, yes, it highlights some of the issues I STILL deal with (like being overly procedural), but I think there’s maybe, kind of something that could be called a voice here. Anyway, let’s look at the numbers.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 61.6
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 10.7

Like I said, still very wordy, but this is a definite improvement over the two stories from my first post. Both of those had reading ease score below 55 and grade level scores above 13 (college textbook density). This is better. Not great, but better. All that said, I love the concept in this story (which you can’t really see from the excerpt), and I’ve started rewriting this one from scratch. I dig what I have so far, and I hope to finish it and submit it in the new year.

Let’s jump ahead to 2007 and switch to fantasy instead of horror and see if things improved.

“The Fate of Champions” (circa 2007 A.D.)

This passage is from an unfinished story I began in 2007. It is decidedly high fantasy and thus includes some fantasy tropes (like long, impossible-to-pronounce names) that tend to bloat readability scores.

Umbar stared up at the ragged battlements of Illumar’s Shield, counting the wasted, ashen faces staring down at him. The fortress had once been a shining beacon of purity and law, its white towers gleaming like the halo of Illumar himself. It was now a decrepit, magic-scorched wreck. Still, the walls had held. After six months of relentless pounding, both magical and mundane, Illumar’s Shield stood defiant of everything Umbar had thrown at it.

A single arrow soared out over the battlements, wobbling in its flight from the unpracticed hand that had loosed it. The shaft, guided by luck or perhaps even the vengeful hand of Illumar himself, struck Umbar’s blackened steel breastplate with a hollow clang. It had been a simple hunting arrow with a blunt iron point, and it failed to pierce Umbar’s armor, doing little more than adding yet another scratch to its battle-worn surface.

Hey, now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not perfect, and it’s still far wordier than I write today, but this a bit more readable than the earlier excerpts (once you get past the names). I even like some of the imagery here, and I’m not wracking the poor sentences (as much) to do it.

Let’s have a look at the numbers:

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 62.3
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 9.1

That’s a definite improvement, and it’s getting closer to what you might actually find in popular fiction, especially fantasy. One interesting thing here is that you see a divergence of styles. The first excerpt is the beginning of how I writing everything but fantasy, and the excerpt above is the beginnings of a style I use for things like Privateer Press and the steam-powered fantasy setting of the Iron Kingdoms.

This is another story I actually quite like and I think might have legs with a serious rewrite.


I think there is definite improvement in these two excerpts over the very early ones from the first post. The work is becoming less wordy, more readable, and, dare I say, more publishable (but not actually publishable) than what I was doing a few years earlier. So, yeah, I’d call this improvement, evolution, or, you know, positive yardage. For reference here are the readability score and dates for the excerpts we’ve covered so far.

Date Story Reading Ease Grade Level
2000 Lullaby 53.5 13.4
2005 Rearview 37.9 14.4
2006 The Tow 61.6 10.7
2007 The Fate of Champions 62.3 9.1

Next week we’ll continue on and look at some of the first short stories I actually published and see if those readability scores improve further.

The Tiny Adventures of Lucky & Sal

So, as many of you know, I’ve been writing microfiction over on Twitter (@Aeryn_Rudel) under the #vss365 hashtag, and having a lot of fun with it. Much of my microfiction falls into the crime genre, and a while back a created two characters, a pair of hitmen Lucky and Sal. I’ve written a bunch of them, and most are little snippets of conversation between these two killers, usually with a humorous slant. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to collect the ones I’ve written thus far right here. They’re not all winners, of course, but I had fun with them. Hopefully, you will too. Who knows? Maybe there’s a complete short story or even a novel waiting to be written about these two guys. 🙂

Oh, the hashtagged word is the prompt for that day. If you click the date for each entry, it’ll take you directly to the tweet, you know, if you wanna throw me a like or a retweet or something. 😉


March, 2nd 2019

I don’t watch Lucky work. It creeps me out. My job is talking, his is making people receptive to talking. He comes out of the garage, wiping blood from his knuckles, that weird satisfied look on his face. “You’re up.”

“Can he still talk?”

Lucky shrugs. “He can #listen.”

(In this first one, I was still figuring out their voices, hence the first-person).

 

April 15th, 2019

“Hey, Lucky, are we #villains?” Sal asked, wiping blood from his knife.

“Nah, just bad guys,”

“There’s a difference?”

“Sure,” Lucky said. “Bad guys work FOR villains

“Man, it would be great to be a villain.”

Lucky nudged the body with his shoe. “Keep working at it, Sal. You’ll get there.”

 

April 21st, 2019

“And that works?” Sal asked, grimacing.

“Sure does,” Lucky said. “Most guys don’t get past the fingers before they start singing.”

“Jesus, what happens when you run out of fingers?” Sal shuddered, dreading the answer.

Lucky shrugged. “Lots of stuff fits in a vise.”

 

April 26th, 2019

“Gun, knife, or garrote?” Lucky asked.

Sal rolled his eyes. His partner would often #vacillate between tools of the trade.

“What?” Lucky said. “It’s an important decision.”

“And a fuckin’ easy one,” Sal said. “The gun’s too loud, and you wore a white shirt today.”

 

April 27th, 2019

Lucky put his gun away and frowned. “I need a #vacation.”

“Yeah? Where do you want to go?” Sal said.

Lucky pointed to the splatter of blood on the wall behind Mr. Favero’s head. “Hey, what’s that look like?”

“Kind of like Florida.”

Lucky nodded. “Florida it is.”

 

May 5th, 2019

“Sal,” Lucky said. “Little help here.”

“Sorry. You caught me #reminiscing.”

“About what?”

“The first time we, uh, cleaned up.”

Lucky chuckled. “Jesus, we made a mess with that hacksaw.”

“We’re smarter now.” Sal smiled and picked up the chainsaw. “Head or feet first?”

 

May 8th, 2019

“Hey, Lucky, do you #love your job?” Sal said, looking up from an issue of Cosmo.

“I don’t know. Why?” Lucky said.

“This article says if you don’t love your job, you should quit.”

Lucky looked down at the corpse of Joey Fritz, partially wrapped in plastic. “And do what?”

“Something else. Whatever.”

Lucky shook his head. “You ever heard the term institutionalized, Sal?”

 

May 24th, 2019

“What’d this guy do?” Sal asked and stooped to pick up the spent .45 casing.

Lucky rolled the corpse up in the carpet they’d brought with a grunt. “I don’t know. Something #vile, probably.”

“You think?”

Lucky blinked. “What, you think we’re offing guys who do Doctors Without Borders and work at soup kitchens in their spare time?”

 

May 31st, 2019

“He looks kinda peaceful, don’t he?” Lucky said.

Sal nodded. “Yeah, guy looks like he’s lost in #reverie.”

“What?”

“You know, reverie. Daydreaming. Pleasant thoughts.”

Lucky glanced at the hole in Donnie Ranallo’s forehead and chuckled. “I doubt that last one was pleasant.”

 

June 7th, 2019

“Don’t stand too close,” Lucky said. “That #smoke ain’t good for you.”

Sal stepped back from the two-story bonfire consuming Ivan Petrov’s house, lit up a cigarette–Camels, unfiltered–and took a drag. “Thanks, Lucky. I’d hate to get the wrong kind of lung cancer.”

 

June 11th, 2019

“Hey, Lucky, do I lack #empathy?” Sal asked.

Lucky shook his head. “Nah, you’re a real sweetheart as hitters go.”

“You think so?” Sal pulled his knife from the body with a wet squelch.

“Sure. I’ll bet Mr. Luciano there appreciates you only stabbed him the one time.”

 

June 16th, 2019

“What’s around your neck, Lucky?” Sal asked.

Lucky held up a coin on a gold chain. “Magic quarter. Keeps the bullets off me.”

“Uh, you’ve been shot eight times.”

Lucky smiled and showed Sal the lead bullet embedded in the other side of the coin. “But not nine.”

 

June 23rd, 2019

“Sal, what do you want to eat?” Lucky shouted.

Sal shut off the chainsaw and wiped blood from his face. “What?”

“Dinner? When we’re done with Mr. Russo. What are you in the #mood for?”

“Oh. I don’t know. Kinda feelin’ roast beef or steak.”

 

July 1st, 2019

“You run last month’s numbers?” Lucky asked.

“Yep,” Sal replied. “Five hits. Twenty-five Gs.”

“Not bad.”

“Less expenses, we netted only fifteen.”

“What? Why?”

Sal sighed. “The Rosetti job. Clients thought he was a werewolf. Silver bullets cost a #fortune.”

 

July 7th, 2019

“This might #sting,” Lucky says and pours hydrogen peroxide over the bullet hole.

His partner gasps. “Jesus, that hurts.”

“Come on, Sal. Just a little through and through.”

Sal brightens. “You think it’ll scar good?”

“Yep. It’ll be a nice addition to the collection.”

 

July 21st, 2019

“No way. I’m not going unless we drive,” Sal said and crossed his arms.

Lucky sighed. “You’re a goddamn contract killer. You work with some of the scariest motherfuckers on the planet. HOW are you afraid to #fly?”

Sal rolled his eyes. “I can’t shoot a plane, Lucky.”

 

July 23rd, 2019

Sal handed Lucky another #stack of hundreds and sighed. “Getting paid in cash sucks.”

Lucky shrugged. “What do you want? Something like Venmo?”

“Yeah, but for contract guys.” Sal grinned. “Maybe call it Kilmo.”

“Oh, genius. You should take that shit on Shark Tank.”

 

August 18th, 2019

“The gun, the knife, and the garrote?” Lucky said as Sal packed for the job. “How many times you gonna kill this guy?

“I just don’t want to play #favorites.”

“I don’t follow.”

“They’re like my kids, you know?” Sal grinned. “I want them to know I love them all the same.”

 

September 13th, 2019

“This article says killers are triggered by the full moon,” Sal said, tapping his iPhone.

Lucky glanced at the corpse at his feet. “Uh, there’s no moon tonight.”

“Guess we’re doing it wrong.”

“Yep, we’ve just been killing for money like a couple of assholes.”

 

November 14th, 2019

Sal handed Lucky the cordless #drill. “You do it.”

“Me?” Lucky said. “Why the fuck me?”

“I got a code. You know that.”

“Bullshit. I watched you dismember a guy with a hacksaw last week.”

“Sorry, Luck. No kids, no civilians”–Sal shuddered–“and no fuckin’ teeth.”

 

October 4th, 2019

“Damn it, Lucky,” Sal said, “Look what you did.”

“I shot him. He’s dead. That’s our job.”

“Right, but look at your shot placement.”

Lucky shrugged. “So?” “Heart, liver, kidneys.”

Sal flicked the driver’s license at his partner. “Guy’s an #organ donor, asshole.”

 

October 24th, 2019

“He ain’t #invincible,” Lucky said. “Just huge.”

“Bullshit,” Sal replied. “He strangled four hitters AFTER they shot him.”

Lucky closed the cylinder of the .500 S&W Magnum and grinned. “Those guys went after a man.” He patted the giant revolver. “I’m packing for bear.”

 

December 3rd, 2019

“You going to Jonny Fazio’s wedding?” Sal asked.

Lucky picked up shell casings from the ground and nodded. “Yeah, just need a few more of these.”

“What for?”

“You ever been to a hitman’s wedding?” Lucky shook the brass casings in his fist. “You don’t throw #rice.”

 

December 23rd, 2019

“Lucky, what the fuck is on the end of your gun?” Sal said.

“Huh? Oh, #jingle bells. The recoil makes ’em jingle.”

Sal rubbed his eyes. “Why would you do that?”

“It’s Christmas. Everyone deserves a little holiday cheer.”

“Even dead guys?”

“Especially dead guys.”


Well, I hope you enjoyed the exploits of Lucky & Sal. Keep an eye on my Twitter account (@Aeryn-Rudel) for further adventures. 🙂