A Week of Writing: 1/20/20 to 1/26/20

This is one of those weeks where I’m almost ashamed to post. To say I did not accomplish what I set out to accomplish is an understatement. That said, accountability (and shame) can be particularly motivating. 🙂

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from one of my favorite writers and dispensers of writerly wisdom, Elmore Leonard.

“I don’t think writers compete, I think they’re all doing separate things in their own style.”

-Elmore Leonard.

I really like this quote because it addresses a fear I think every author has, especially when you’re starting out. That fear is that you’re writing something exactly like another author or that by sharing your ideas they might be stolen. I think the truth is simply that if you gave two authors the same premise and had them write novels, you’d end up with two wildly different stories. Once you actually develop something resembling a style of your own, everything you wrote is probably going to sound much different than another author, even if the concepts and tropes are identical. I mean, think about how many vampire and zombie novels are out there. With a few rare exceptions, there’s not a lot of new ground to cover with those particular monsters, yet authors keep (sometimes quite successfully) putting their own stamp on them. So write what you want and don’t worry about what other folks are writing. Yours will be yours and theirs will be theirs, and there’s plenty for room for both.

The (New) Novel

The outline continues, far slower than I would like, but some progress was made last week, mostly with figuring out character motivations and the like. It’s important work, but it bugs me I didn’t get more done. These little hiccups are part of the process I’ve found, and it’s important to not let them deter you. So this week I’ll be forging ahead and focusing on wrapping up at the end of the week.

Short Stories

Yeah, this is pretty depressing. Nary a submission to be found.

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

Very quiet week. I didn’t even get a rejection, which is odd when you have nine subs pending. I have that sinking feeling the rejections are coming, maybe all at once. I still have time to hit my monthly goal, but I need to get moving. The good news is I did finish two new short pieces I can polish up and start submitting, so, hopefully, I’ll get those January submission numbers up.

Microfiction

I think this week’s batch of #vss365 microfiction is pretty solid, better than last week’s anyway. I believe the January 25th entry is one of the better micros I’ve written in a while. Anyway, click the links in the dates to go to the tweet and like, retweet, etc.

January 20th, 2020

His murders stank of #jasmine. The smell floated on top of the latrine odor of death, mixed with it, until the combination was fouler than dime store perfume or the ruptured bodies beneath it. Now, over twenty years later, even a hint of jasmine makes me want to vomit.

January 21st, 2020

The big mule Sir #Obstinate listened only to our son James. The beast followed him everywhere, obeying every command. When brigands killed James, Sir Obstinate disappeared. We found him days later, his corpse hacked and bloody, six brigands crushed dead beneath his hooves.

January 22nd, 2020

“He talk yet?” Sal asked.

“Nah, still doing the crying and begging #rigmarole,” Lucky replied.

Sal tapped the magazine he was reading. “Says here the key to communication is honesty.”

“Well, I told him I’d honestly beat him to death, then he honestly shit himself.”

January 23rd, 2020

My mind blares with a #cacophony of foreign thoughts. It’s disorienting at first, but I quickly separate the good from the bad. Thoughts of impending violence I lace with telepathic poison and send back to their owners. The stroke usually keeps them from hurting anyone.

January 24th, 2020

When people complain “That’s not supposed to #happen!” I laugh and show them the scar behind my right ear where I was struck by lightning in ’97. If they’re unconvinced, I pull up my pant leg so they can see the chunk I lost to a great white in ’01. That usually does it.

January 25th, 2020

At my tenth birthday party I was angry I didn’t get a new bike. Instead my parents hired a magician. He asked how he could #amaze me; I said make Mom and Dad disappear. For thirty birthdays I’ve told myself the car accident wasn’t my fault. Some years I almost believe it.

January 26th, 2020

“Anything in our #range interest you?” the Best Possess salesman asked.

Moloch glanced at an array of inert, youthful human bodies. “Anything older?” the demon said. “After five millennia I feel I’m just not possessing these twenty-somethings to their full potential.”

Goals

Finish. The. Outline.

Send. Submissions.

Yep, that about covers it. 🙂


That was my week. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 1/13/20 to 1/19/20

One more week of writing in the books. Let’s see how I did.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from novelist Hallie Ephron.

“Outlining is like putting on training wheels. It gives me the courage to write, but we always go off the outline.”

– Hallie Ephron

Since I’m deep into the outlining stage of my novel, I really like this quote from Hallie Ephron. I outline for a number of reasons, and one of them is it lets me dip my toe into the story before I dive into the deep, cold water of the first draft. It’s that training wheels aspect from the quote. Sure, an outline has a ton of other benefits too. It gives me a roadmap to write the story and lets me work out some of the plot and character issues before I get into the thick of a draft. Still, I do find, as Hallie Ephron says, that the outline gives me the courage to write the book and the courage to stray from it when the novel and its characters need to go off script.

The (New) Novel

I’ve mostly outlined the first act of the novel, and I like where it’s headed. I’ve also done some character plotting, using aspects of my own experiences in certain things for the background of the protagonist. My hope there is her backstory and motivations will ring truer to the reader. My outlines are always three acts and thirty chapters, so I’ve still got a bit of work to do. I hope to finish up by early next week with an outline that clock in between 8,000 and 10,000 words.

Short Stories

A sad week for short story submissions, unfortunately, as I didn’t send a single one.

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

I need three more submission this month to stay on pace for one-hundred for the year. One would think I could do that, but we’ll see. The rejection was a simple standard form rejection of no particular note. I might pad my monthly total with a few reprints, as there’s a few anthologies coming that might work for some of the horror stories I’ve sold in the past.

Microfiction

Here’s this week’s batch of #vss365 microfiction. I’ll admit I struggled a bit with the prompt words this week (a failing entirely my own and not the prompter’s), so it’s not my brightest and best bunch of micros. I do like the last one, though. As usual, you can click the link in the date to go to the specific tweet.

January 13th, 2020

“Look at that beautiful #opaline sky.”

“Opaline? It’s gray. It’s always GRAY.”

“Nah, you just have to learn to appreciate the weather here in Seattle.”

“Weather? WEATHER?! Weather changes, dude. This shit hasn’t budged from morbid murder clouds for six fucking months!”

January 14th, 2020

He found the first growth on his palm. Hers bloomed on one pale cheek. They sat in the warm dark apartment, watching their growths multiply and extend #fibrous tendrils that laced together and intertwined. Soon, they were bound together by malignancy, closer than ever.

January 15th, 2020

“Is that a revolver?” Lucky asked.

Sal drew the old single-action from its holster with a #flourish. “Yep, gonna try something new.”

“What? Like a gunfight?”

“Uh huh. I wanna see how fast I am.”

“Sal, it ain’t a good sign when just murdering folks loses its thrill.”

January 16th, 2020

We had shelter, food and water for a lifetime, but as the immediate danger passed and years mounted, we all felt a terrible #yearning. The grim truth inside our concrete savior loomed over everything, and one by one we chose a quick end over decades of pointless survival.

January 17th, 2020

The ancient ruins on the planet’s equator indicated a #riparian culture. The towering idols and strange domed structures hinted at a deeply religious society. Lastly, the mangled remains of the inhabitants spoke of a people plagued by sins we humans could easily recognize.

January 18th, 2020

All contact guys drink. Unless you’re a psychopath, you gotta quiet the demons. But it makes you sloppy, #muddles your thoughts, puts you in situations that’ll get you killed. The truth is you hope for those situations. The drink just gives you the guts to look for them.

January 19th, 2020

I’m not as #articulate as I once was. The bullet they dug out of my skull makes thoughts and words distant cousins at best. I don’t really need to speak, though. As I thumb back the hammer and point my pistol, the man who tried and failed to kill me understands perfectly.

Goals

Outline, outline, outline. Then, in between outlining, finish a short story or two and submit them. It would be great to finish the outline by the end of the week, but I feel like it might take me a tad longer.


That was my week. How was yours?

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?

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 Way I Write Part 1: The Early Years

This will be the first of three (maybe four) posts that explore my writing over the last twenty years, focusing on how it has changed, and, hopefully, improved. With twenty years of writing under my belt and about fifteen of those years being the paid, professional variety, I have a lot of examples to draw from. I’ll be using the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores to assess passages from various stories so we can get good hard numbers on each piece of work and see how it differs from those that come after it.

Okay, let’s start with the early years, basically 2000 to 2005. This is before I actually published anything besides poetry (a whole other story), and though I think I had some solid ideas, the execution of those ideas were, well, lacking. A quick disclaimer before we dive into this. This post is an examination of my writing, what worked for me, and what eventually led me to publication and full-time writing and editing gigs. (Getting the whole me thing?) If I say something is bad or purple or whatever, I’m only doing so to compare my unsuccessful works with my successful ones. Much of what is coming is going to be opinions on style based on personal experience, so, please, keep that in mind.

“Lullaby” (circa 2000 A.D.)

The first passage comes from 6,500-word short story called “Lullaby” I wrote sometime in 2000. This is one of my first true attempts at a short story and the first I actually finished. I never sent it out for submission, well, because by the time I started doing that, I realized the story had some issues. That said, there is still a compelling idea here, but it REALLY needs a rewrite. Anyway, have a look.

I am not sure what woke me that night, but near three o’clock in the morning my sleep-numbed mind began the rigorous ascent to consciousness. I opened heavy lids to absolute darkness and a shivering chill that filled the room and pierced even our heavy comforter. As my eyes adjusted to the weighty gloom, I heard Karen breathing in short quick gasps and felt the tension in her body even through the heavy padding of our mattress. As I reached out to shake her from the grip of whatever nightmare held her, I caught, from the corner of my eye, a visible shifting in the deep shadows in one of the corners of our room near the floor. I froze, my hand hovering over Karen’s trembling form and watched with growing horror as a single shadow separated from its brethren and began a slow, stalking undulation towards my wife’s side of the bed.

As the shadow grew closer, and my eyes adjusted further to the darkness, I was able to discern a definite, fiendish outline to our unwelcome visitor. There was most certainly a roundish protrusion from the central mass of shadow that could only be a head, and two amorphous appendages projecting from either side that pulled the thing along the floor towards my slumbering wife. There were no legs to complete the vaguely man-shaped bulk, only a wispy trail of fading darkness that ended in the corner among the shadows that pooled there.

So this is how I wrote twenty years ago. Can you say purple? I knew that you could. Talk about tortured sentences. I mean, “. . . my sleep-numbed mind began the rigorous ascent to consciousness” is, uh, well, one way of saying “I woke up,” and probably not a good one. The other issue is that I’m aping the voice of writers I was reading at the time, such as Jack Vance and Robert E. Howard, who are very wordy. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with writing Vancian science fiction or Howardian sword & sorcery, but it’s important to have your own voice while playing in the literary sandboxes of those authors. I was obviously struggling with that.

So what about the raw readability numbers for this passage? Have a look.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 53.5
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 13.4

No passive sentences is great, but, oof, those readability scores are off the charts, in the wrong direction. You’ll find very little popular fiction this dense and wordy. Most of that is going to have reading ease scores between 65 and 90 and grade level score between 4 and 9, with most of it being in the middle of those two ranges. For actual literary comparison, you’d have to look at the writers like H. P. Lovecraft and other pulp fiction and turn-of-the-century authors. In other words, not many folks write like this anymore, and those that do it successfully do it way better than this.

Okay, let’s jump ahead a bit and see if a few years taught me anything.

“Rearview” (circa 2005 A.D.)

This next passage is from a 3,500-word story called “Rearview” that I wrote in 2005.  The difference between this one and “Lullaby” is I actually submitted this one. I’ll tell you how that turned out after you read the passage.

Jacob first noticed the object at midnight, a small luminous shape hovering silently in the center of his rearview mirror. It lacked any real substance or definition and called to mind the infamous unidentified objects, the “foo fighters,” that military pilots sometimes encountered over lonely stretches of the Pacific Ocean. Jacob struggled to discern the distance that separated him and his unidentified pursuer, but the isolated section of Interstate 5 cut through the featureless Nevada desert in a straight and unwavering path, making such a judgment nearly impossible. The object was the only thing he had encountered for most of a very dark and moonless night. The gloom receded, somewhat reluctantly it seemed, from the twin glow of his Mustang’s headlights, but beyond this splash of yellow illumination Jacob felt the ominous weight of a truly stygian darkness.

Despite the eerie atmosphere, Jacob felt nothing more than a mild curiosity regarding the object in his mirror, dismissing it as the monocular glow of a motorcycle’s single headlight or something equally harmless. The fact it had stayed with him – neither receding nor gaining ground – also didn’t concern him. The motorcycle, or perhaps it was a car missing a headlight, was likely traveling at the same speed he was, allowing the distance between them to remain a constant. Jacob was traveling at seventy-five miles per hour, trying to keep a tight rein on his notoriously leaden foot. Despite his caution, Jacob could not bring himself to drive the speed limit, figuring ten mile-per-hour over wouldn’t tempt any Nevada Highway Patrol he might run afoul of.

Uh, yeah, not better, and, honestly, a little worse. It just so wordy, and, I mean, how many adjectives do you need in one paragraph? The answer is less than this. I really did a bang-up job making that second paragraph sound like a complex math problem too. Hey, and how about the term “monocular glow”? Yeesh.

Anyway, let’s check the numbers and see if it’s more readable than my 2000 story.

  • Passive Sentences: 0%
  • Flesch Reading Ease: 37.9
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 14.4

Ye gods, that is dense. Folks, the only things with readability scores this low are like technical manuals and, well, H. P. Lovecraft again. This is not an improvement. I’m still trying to sound like the writers I’m reading (and not doing a great job of it), and I don’t have a clear voice. Like “Lullaby,” there is a decent story in all this mess, but it would need a complete rewrite.

As I said, I did actually send this one out for submission, and if you’d like to see how that turned out, check out the post Baby’s First Rejection. 🙂


So those are my first attempts at writing fiction. In the next post, we’ll look at some of my work that was actually published in the late aughts, and see if things improved at all. Thoughts or opinions on these passages? Let me know in the comments.