The Craft: How to Hunt and Destroy Gerunds

Today’s post is for the writers out there. I’m going to put forward one quick, easy method to sharpen your later drafts. It’s a method that’s simple, but also has a little technological A Gerundtrick to it.

First thing, I’m going to assume you hate gerunds. You know, those words in English that end in –ing. Like walking, talking, etc. One thing I’ve noticed and come to loathe is the use of gerunds in my writing…Dammit…Wait…That one didn’t count…

Anyway, if you don’t hate gerunds, you should. They tend to make sentences and action weaker. And they can interrupt the flow of your story too. Just look at these sentences:

Burke was walking down the street. As he came to the intersection, he was thinking about last night, wondering if Carol had really meant what she said.

or try this:

Burke walked down the street. He came to the intersection, thought about last night and wondered if Carol had really meant what she said.

The second version, is objectively better, just like Ayn Rand said. (I jest). But seriously, I think most people would agree that the second version is stronger and better. Why? The use of verbs in their simple form without –ing, make less passive, they are stronger and  more direct. 

So, how do you find and kill these little bastards? It’s easy. You can do it one by one, of course. But the best thing to do is a keyword search in your word processor. Just search for “ing” and you’ll be surprised at how often they crop up. (I was shocked the first time I did this, in fact. I had no idea I wrote so many sentences with gerunds in them.) Once you search, all you have to do is reword the sentence, usually by using the infinitive (put “to” in front of the verb) or putting it in the simple past tense. You’ll be amazed at how a little freshening up like this will help your piece.

And what about adverbs?
Some have said that adverbs (words usually ending in “ly” in English). deserve the same treatment as gerunds: get rid of them. Elmore Leonard did not like to use adverbs to modify the verb “said.” That, at least, is a pretty good idea.

I can’t go there with people who think we should get rid of ALL adverbs, but they can be used as a crutch in situations where the reader should have been able to infer how something was being done from the action and the characters. Besides, if you’re getting rid of adverbs, getting rid of adjectives can’t be far behind. Then, you’re only left with nouns and verbs and a very gray world…but I digress.

So, how to get rid of those adverbs? You got it, do a keyword search for “ly” and, again, you’ll be surprised at what crops up. I don’t always ax the adverbs, but I usually do. It’s trickier fixing them because you have to find a way to subtly make it known how things are done without hitting your reader over the head with an adverb.

But isn’t that what the craft part of writing is all about?

See you next time,


Forging Ahead—with New Stuff

“Silence is a source of great strength,”—so says Lao Tzu (or something like that). And yet here I am blogging… Anyway…Laozi

Wow. 2 weeks have passed by in a flash. It’s frustrating when my day job gets out of control like it is right now. It means that the fiction writing suffers. And the blog? Well, it becomes just an afterthought. This was the first time in a long time when I really drew a blank on what to write here on the blog. Thus, the Lao Tzu quote. So, in a nod to the time I have had to sacrifice to earning a living, I’m just going to give you a quick cut on where my writing’s at. Here are the stories I’m working on right now:

Finally got this down to where I like it. On the recommendation of an editor (of a magazine I sent it to), I axed the entire first chapter. And I’m finally pleased with where this ended  up. I’m still waiting to hear back from various editors on an earlier version of this story. In the meantime, I’ll be submitting the new version to see if it garners any interest.

Got to input some changes on the draft of this piece and then decide what to do. I think it will need a little more work before I start submitting it. But overall, I’m pretty pleased where it ended up.

New Stuff/Project Selection
After I figure out what to do with those two stories above, the non-fun act of selecting what work to begin next starts. I like to begin new projects, to write first drafts, but it’s tough to select new stories to start. I dip into my pre-writing notes on my computer. It’s often difficult to decide which stories are ripe for the plucking. It’s not a science, that’s for sure. You have to judge how good the idea is overall and how well-formed it is in your mind. That is, how close it is being a blown-out, mature story. Just the seed of an idea—no matter how good—is enough to start a story. It’s not easy deciding which story idea to finally commit to.

So, wish me luck. I will put Pacha-Mama to bed somehow, and then decide on my next fiction piece. I’ll let you guys know what I decided next time I post in a couple of weeks.

See you then!

A Writer’s Equipment

Thought I would do something a little different today. I spend a lot of time talking about what I write, the craft of writing and all that stuff. But I want to take a play out of the musicians’ playbook and tell you what I write on. Guitarists in particular, will often list what guitars and amps they use. For example, there’s Slash’s preference for Les Paul guitars and Marshall amps. Bill Writes

But what do writers use these days? Surely, they don’t use quills and parchment, always sure to keep their pet monkey near by?

To put it simply, what does this writer use to write? Well,  here is a list of everything I take with me in my backpack when I go writing at the café each weekend:

  • Computer—A Dell Inspiron N411Z. With Intel Core i3 processor at 2.3 GHz with 4 GB of RAM. Nothing too fancy.
  • Operating system—Windows 7 Home. I’ve used Windows PCs for a long time and don’t see stopping now. I’m used to them and I feel I get better value for the money than with Apple. (Sorry, Mac lovers!). And no, I don’t think Windows straitjackets my creativity.
  • Writing software—Word 2010. Again, nothing fancy. It gets the job done. I might want to use something different if I go into writing scripts/plays, but I don’t think I would.
  • Red pens(2)—Uni-ball Micro red pens. I only use these when I have to markup/edit/proof the hard copy of one of my manuscripts (for more on that, see below). They seem to work well and, most importantly, don’t leak.
  • Pencils—A couple of Number 2 pencils, the brand doesn’t matter.
  • Chocolate—Chocolate, to me, is the most amazing stimulant ever created. It gives you energy, mellows you out a bit, yet sharpens your mind. It puts your right where you want to be for serious mental work. I have about 2-3 squares of my favorite chocolate bar with a dark coffee or black tea and I’m ready to get writing. I prefer something with a lot of cocoa, like Scharfen Berger’s 82% cocoa bar. So good.
  • A random book—I almost always bring a book (or sometimes, my Kindle) to read to get my brain warmed up for writing. After about 30 minutes of reading I’m usually ready to start writing my own stuff. The whole time I’m reading, I’m marking up favorite passages with my #2 pencil. In fact, I can’t read a book without a pencil anymore.
  • Print outs (when needed)—When I get to a third or fourth draft, I print out the manuscript and bring the sheets (single-sided with wide margins for easier editing) to the café and set to work proofing/editing them with my red pen.

First, NONE of these are endorsements and no one has paid me to mention the products above or to use them. They are simply what I prefer. I just want to list them to satisfy my (future) curiosity about the tools I use to write.

As you see, I like to keep it simple. I have written on computers since I was about 15 years old (that should date me, right there!) and can’t imagine writing on anything besides a notebook PC or tablet. I’ll post this list on a new section on the website which I will update over time. Look at this as a first cut to list the equipment I use to write and a sort of time capsule for how we wrote in 2015.

A writing update

Before I go, I wanted to give you an update on my writing.

As I previously said, I’m almost done with a new story “Pacha-Mama.” I hope to wrap editing on that piece up this weekend.

I’m also still sending two short stories around to editors. I have a number of rejections piled up, but no acceptances yet. I’ll keep you posted on the progress on all of these.

Finally, the clouds at work have cleared, so I should be able to write more freely and often now. Which is a great thing…So, until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,


When the Dust Settles

Hey, everybody.

It’s a been a really busy month. Work—you know, that day job—has really gone off the hook this month. In a bad way. I was trying to take work stuff down a notch, but that ain’t happening. In fact, it’s getting more intense. And it’s doesn’t look like that will clear up until the middle of September. Sigh…A dust storm envelops houses in Stratford, Texas, 1935. These massive storms, called ‘black blizzards’ or ‘black rollers,’ could reduce visibly to just a few feet.

Anyway, what am I getting at? The first thing I cut back on in my free time is the writing of this blog, so I had to do that this this time. The fiction writing is even suffering a little bit, but it’s for a good cause. I’m thinking about which story to start next. And I have a good plan for wrapping up the story I’m working on right now. So, there’s definitely more of that to come.

When the dust settles, I’ll be back to the blog here to update you all on what’s going on. Until then, I leave you with this little piece on today’s Hugo awards. And the promise that I’ll be writing more stories soon and posting here on the blog.

Until then,


Short Story Title Reveal: Pacha-Mama

…and I’m back.

Back to work, back to writing, back to civilization, which after all, is simply writing + fermentation, like Faulkner said(?). It’s true that it’s hard to think of a civilizacelebracion_pacha_mama_01.jpg_2033098437tion that didn’t have BOTH. Just think about it. The Mayans, the Babylonians, ancient Chinese, ancient Persians, Egyptians. They all had the two…but I digress…

What have I been up to? Writing-wise that is? I’ve finished off a new short story…It actually runs a bit long to about 8,000 words. It’s called Pacha-Mama and I’ve sent it off to a few of my Beta readers. Initial feedback has been good: I need to polish the work and figure out a few of the transitions a bit better. Overall, I feel pretty good about it. I’m going to give my B-readers a little more time to get back to me and then I’ll hit it again. Smooth out those remaining parts, proofread it and then start the submission process. I don’t want to talk too much about it here, I’ll only add that the idea came to me after a trip to Peru a couple of years ago. I was sitting on the deck in our hotel on Taquile Island watching a big storm blow in from the Amazon across Lake Titicaca and it hit me. Or should I say the kernel of the story’s main idea began there?

Anyway, more on that later. I just wanted to get down a few things I think I got right on the latest story. The common thread in the two is that I did what worked for me—Darius—as a writer. Some might be able to write a story without plotting it first. Some might be able to write a piece thinking “This is going to be young adult urban fantasy” or “This will be Islamic steampunk.” And good for them! They can do it and should. But for me, I know it would never work.

So, here are two things I did with this story that I’m proud of:

1. I plotted the hell out of it.
I wrote a detailed plot arch outline before I started writing. You know, with an introduction, rising tension, climax and resolution. As I wrote, when I got caught or something didn’t make logical sense, I stopped. One day in particular, a day I was intending to keep jamming on the first draft, I realized something didn’t quite make sense. I didn’t panic. I just came to a full stop. I stared at the screen, thought about the consequence of the action on the page and worked out a solution. I spent an hour or so doing that. Once I had the solution, I went ahead and kept writing.

That’s how this story went. That strict plotting let me write more freely once I had it in place. That structure helped guide my writing and how far it could go before I had to reel it in.

2. I wrote without a thought about what genre it would fall in.
I originally thought this was a horror piece, but going along I realized that wasn’t quite right. It makes sense much more as a fantasy piece or, if you will, a piece of urban fantasy. The bottom line is that the story and the characters come first. They dictate what your story is. They had to bring forth the truth of this story and, in tone at least, I had to follow where they led. (Yes, I’m aware this contradicts 1 above somewhat). So, I just wrote it. And you know what? As soon as I wrote the last word of the last line, I knew it wasn’t horror. I knew it was something else. After a little thought, I decided what it was: fantasy.

So, that’s it. A little recount of the writing of my latest story. Like I said, I’ll be working on it in the coming weeks and then submitting it. I also am continuing to submit my earlier works. No editors seem to be biting yet, but I’m confident it’s only a matter of time.

Until next time,


Vacation Time

Fink Beach

Taking a little break. It’s the summer and I’m on vacation, so not much time to update the blog. Or write. I’ll do a bigger post when I return on August 14.

Until then, I’ll be wrapping up a draft  of my latest short story “P” and resubmitting some stories that I’ve already finished. Just so you know it’s not all vacation.

Will see you all again soon with some more updates on where my writing is going.


Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing
To tide you over until I return, here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing. Great stuff here and lots of modern writing seems to follow his rules. His points keep on rolling around in my mind.

Alright, I’m out of here. Till next time…

Writing Update and…Short Stories Reconsidered?

[Part of a continuing series on where my fiction writing is at.]

Another update today on my writing and a little introspection further down the page.

I’m a little over half way done with a second draft of my new short story, “P.” I’m going to hold back on the title reveal until the second draft is in the can. That’s partly  because I don’t know if I’m satisfied with the story’s working title. Also, I would like to get the second draft (for me, always the hardest draft) done and off to Beta readers before I start promoting it. I just want to make sure the piece hangs together and works, before I start promoting or talking about it.

Which brings us to…

The Other Stories
I have three other stories I’m submitting now to magazines. I’m going to keep submitting those until they reach about 20 rejections. (This is based on some earlier feedback on my “rejection tolerance”). Then, it’ll be time to think about retiring (“trunking”) the ones which pass that threshold. So far, none of them have reached it. There is one, however, that’s getting close.

So much for the writing update…On to more interesting matters…

Short stories—reconsidered?
I may be getting a little “burnt out” on short stories. I have always felt I’m a writer who likes to write long. I have a lot of difficulty keeping my tales to the 7,500 words (or less) standard limit for short stories. I simply want to expand on scenes, characters, etc. to what I consider a “natural” length. Even my short pieces tend to be long: “The Ghul of Yazd” was over the 7,500 word limit for a short story.

In addition, many of my ideas tend to be for longer pieces. If you’re looking for someone to blame for this, blame my characters or Russian novelists. I can’t seem to stuff the best characters into a 7,500-word story. They just won’t have it. They’re always there in my head saying:

“What about this, Darius?”

“Oh! Don’t forget me in that scene! I would be fabulous!”

“Oh, and what would I do if you only placed me in that situation? Just imagine it!”


I also blame Russian writers for this. I do. In high school, I got hooked on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and the like (those wordy bastards!). And as you probably know, they write very long, dense books. Their influence on me was huge. These books (The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, etc.), in fact, are one of the reasons I became a writer. (But that’s a post for another time).

So, I blame them collectively: my characters and the Russians. I can’t say I’ve decided to act on this impulse to write long, but it’s there. Right now, I have a couple more short stories I want to get done, including “P.” But that doesn’t stop me from pre-writing or researching or thinking about how to plot out a novel…

Now does it?

See you next time,


Done with New Short Story

Hi, Everybody. Getting ready to take off on a trip for the long weekend, so I’m going to keep this one really short.

I’ve just finished a first draft of a new short story. It’s kind of late here, so I’m not feeling up to the whole “title reveal” thing tonight. It’s simply just another story done and I wanted to let you know. ecuador-andes

A basic overview of the story: It’s about 8,300 words and a bit too long to sell to a typical fiction magazine. I’m hoping to shape and sculpt the piece and remove some of the fat—and I have an idea just where that is. Namely, any part that doesn’t move the plot forward or develop a character. I’m hoping that simple cutting operation will get it down to around 6,000 words. A big part of the problem, you see, is that I’m finding more and more that I like to write LONG. But, I’ll address that whole thing a bit later here on the blog.

A few more details about this piece: It’s set in our world in the present day, mostly in Peru. It does contain some fantasy elements, so I’m calling it “urban fantasy” since that seems to be the hot genre these days.

That’s about it for now. I’m off to the Appalachian mountains tomorrow morning for some fresh air and hiking. When I come back I should be near a final second draft for the piece and ought to be ready to do the title reveal.

See you soon,


Keeping the Writing Going

[Part of a continuing series on where my fiction writing is at.]

Just a quick post today on where my writing is at.  P

“P” –This is a short story that’s become a bit long. It’s a fantasy story set in South America in the present day and it’s now up to 7,200 words. I have yet to write the last couple of scenes. After that’s done I think I will cut, cut, cut to get a solid, gripping read of about 5,000 words. A great length for selling to magazines.

I’m pleased with PARTS of the piece so far. Especially, the main character. I’m not as pleased with certain scenes and transitions. So, those will either have to be massaged or cut entirely. But that can wait until I have a final first draft.

I hope to wrap it up in the coming weeks.

3 other finished works—These works, which you can find on my Works in Progress  page, are still being submitted to magazines. I’ve learned one very important fact from submitting them: unlike speculative fiction magazines, “literary” fiction magazines tend to accept simultaneous submissions. This means you can send a piece out to as many venues as you like and wait to hear back. The DOWN side is that “literary” journals tend to take longer to get back to you. So, in a sense, you don’t really gain anything since you still have to wait a LONG time to hear back. Ah, the travails of the writer…

Finally, I did take a few minutes to update my Works in Progress page, so take a few moments to check it out.

OK. Enough from me, I’ve got to get back to work and back to writing fiction.

See you next time!


The Craft: Are You a “Plotter” or a “Pantser”?

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

I’ve been thinking a lot about something that came up at RavenCon earlier this year. It’s a question of primary importance to all writers: Are you Plotter or a Pantser?

First, a word of explanation. What is a Plotter? And what a Pantser?indexing plot

A Plotter
A Plotter is someone who who has to plan out each story, scene by scene, before they dive in. The most characteristic element of this way of storytelling is having a detailed outline of every plot point before you sit down to write. This is often done by writing each chapter (or scene) down on an index card and then shuffling or rearranging the cards until they have a consistent, logical flow. This often means the first cards set up a conflict, the middles cards describe rising tension and the final cards give us the climax and resolution. (See the photo for an example of this.)

A Pantser
A Pantser is someone who dives in before knowing how the story will develop. To borrow an old phrase, they’re “flying by the seats of their pants.” A good example of this, I’ve heard, was E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. A vision of a character at the Barabar Caves came to him and he just started writing from there without much of a plot in his head. (I could be wrong about this, so apologies to any Forster fans out there!) Somehow, with the way he was wired that was all he needed and the plot just sort of fell into place from there.

I’ve asked a lot of other writers what the best approach is. And most people seem to say: “You have to find out which one you are.” And there’s only one way to do that: trial and error. Eventually you’ll find out.

Am I a Plotter or a Pantser?
So, I’ve written lots of different stuff at this point. Novels, novellas, short stories. And what have I found? Well, I’m still working it out. But with each story, I’m leaning more and more toward being a Plotter.

Take my latest short story, “P” (I have not added a working title yet, as draft 1 is not done). The story started out as many do: just a character in a situation. And then…Bam! Something happens to this character. Action! But then what happens next? You see, it starts as just a scene, not a story. There’s no backstory to this character.  There’s no ongoing conflict. So, your subconscious starts building it out, starts fleshing out this character and their world. But there’s no order to it. No structure. Your mind starts filling in more and more. And that’s good and well, but it can lead you down blind alleys or to dead ends.

I’ve found that it’s best to stop a moment and do what I call the “CSP+K” prewrite. That is a template for a short story in which I list:

  • C: The Characters
  • S: The Setting
  • P: The Plot
  • +K: The Knowledge I need to write the story. 

In the CSP+K, I used to describe just the basic plot, but increasingly I write the whole plot structure down, point by point. I didn’t use that blown-out approach when I began writing “P.” I wrote the first chapter or two and realized I was headed in the wrong direction. So, I completely stopped the writing process that day and dove into my plot.  I switched chapters, added in small chapters to create bridges and deleted other chapters that did not move forward the plot. I basically took the time to make sure everybody involved—meaning the characters—knew  exactly what was going on and where we’re headed.

With that done, I copied  the basic chapter outlines over into my manuscript. As I write in the manuscript, I delete these short explanations of the action and fill them in with real action and dialogue. If that’s not being a Plotter, I don’t know what is.

I’ve also noticed I’ve done this in other works. Some say it ruins spontaneity.  But so far, I haven’t found that to be the case. I actually write MORE freely because I’m not worried about my story going off the rails. The plot points serve as guide to make sure I don’t go too nuts. But then again, I’m not a Pantser. And what might work for them, would never work for me.

Find What Works for You
At the end of the day, don’t take any of this too seriously…in the sense that this is a system I’ve found that works for me. You might be a Pantser and this would be horrible advice to follow for you. Or you might be a different kind of Plotter, in which case this system wouldn’t work for you either.

My advice? As always: Get Black on White. Find what works for you through trial and  error. Write and keep writing. That’s the only way to find a system that works for you. It might not be easy, but it’s the only way to find your voice and write what you want to write.

Good Luck and until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,