“Prune what is turgid, elevate what is commonplace, arrange what is disorderly, introduce rhythm where the language is harsh, modify where it is too absolute.” – Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, circa 65 A.D.

“I know that if I have been working on one paragraph and I have written it three times, it goes in the bin. Unless it comes straight out, it is wrong, it is awkward, it does not fit.” – Robert Rankin

“Really, in the end, the only thing that can make you a writer is the person that you are, the intensity of your feeling, the honesty of your vision, the unsentimental acknowledgment of the endless interest of the life around and within you. Virtually nobody can help you deliberately — many people will help you unintentionally.”- Santha Rama Rau

“Don’t mistake a good setup for a satisfying conclusion — many beginning writers end their stories when the real story is just ready to begin.” – Stanley Schmidt

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of a void, but out of chaos; the materials must in the first place be afforded; it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself.” – Mary Shelley


Brandon Sanderson Lecture


Things about being a writer… being published…

3 quick lessons, themes of this class.

1. Writing is NOT about inspiration.

2. Writing is NOT about ideas.

3. Writing is NOT about luck.

What is writing about then? Writing is about skill. Here, proof.

Metaphors. When someone sits down to play the piano, how quickly can you tell whether they’re a good pianist or not? Mm.. 2-5 notes? A minute or two of playing?

Editors, published writers, people who know what they’re doing, can do the same thing with one page of your writing in the exact same way. In one page, they can judge how good a writer you are.

People wonder how editors can just reject manuscripts, how readers can put something down after just one page when they haven’t given it a real shot. When you’ve read enough, when you know enough, you can judge if something whether something is going to work for you or not pretty quickly. Perhaps not as quickly as most editors can, but you’ll know.

So how do you develop this skill? PRACTICE. Inspiration, ideas, and luck are all important. But it’s not about those things.

Metaphor. Let’s say you’re a world-star batter. When you step up to the plate to hit that ball and you connect, is it inspiration, ideas, or luck? It’s skill. You have done that so many times that when you step up to swing, you know exactly what to do. It’s not a matter of luck. It’s a matter of having spent thousands of hours practicing how to do that.

One thing I’d like to encourage you to do: Start looking at writing as a little bit more of a performance art.

When you sit down to write, all that skill comes in to bear. Your mind will figure out the problems you’re trying to work through on the page, how to bring out the characters, how to create an engaging plot–all in interesting ways because it is natural to you.

We’ll break down writer’s techniques in this class, but realize that most of the time, writers are not sitting there consciously thinking about that method they’re using, much like a baseball player will not think “I need to bring the bat down at this trajectory, with this exact force.”

One of the primary questions young writers ask: Should I start with short fiction?

But what do you read more of? Short stories? Or novels? Back in the day, the answer would be YES, and it’s still a good way to get into the publishing market, but only if you’re good at it.

The problem is, they’re such different art forms that if you spent all your time practicing with the short story, and never with the novel–yet the novel is what you want to be doing, you’re doing yourself a bit of a disservice.


Ideas are usually cheap. Great ideas do not necessarily make a great book. While a certain quality of idea is important, a great writer is one who can take the most basic ideas and make a brilliant novel out of them. A terrible writer will take the best ideas in the world, and turn them into something terrible.

You shouldn’t have to worry about your ideas, you shouldn’t coddle your ideas or think a certain idea is The One and that, once you finish it, everything will be great. Instead, work with fresh things and teach yourself to write. THEN maybe you can do justice to the “magnificent idea you’ve been working on for ten years.”

You should not treat ideas as sacred things.

There’s a school of thought that says: writing is mystical. And the muse strikes you. Ideas pop out of your head like Athena and it’s like BOOOOKKKK. I don’t buy into this at all. Some days, it feels liek this and words flow, but it’s not the case. Some days, it’s pure drudgery. Like chopping wood. The thing is? With good writers, readers can’t tell the difference.

That’s because you wring the entire thing through the drafting process.


Discovery writers vs outliners

There is no one way you have to do this. Outlines and writing groups are tools. Some will work for you, and some won’t.

Discovery Writers: Work best when they don’t have a lot of structure. They tend to get bored with the book by the time they’re done with the outline and want to move on to something else. That, or they feel restricted, like their characters have no life because their lives are determined for them ahead of time.

George R. R. Martin is a discovery writer. He uses the term “gardener.” They are those who tend to grow their story. Not like the muse mumbo-jumbo. They view inspiration as important, but still are disciplines about working on their story every day. The inspiration comes, for them, only after a lot of hard work and sweat. It takes a long time. “Inspiration is not sitting at a wall until something clicks, it’s sitting and working until something clicks.” They do work best without an outline.

Outliners: “Architects.” If they just sit down in empty, open vastness to write a book, they have no idea where to go, and don’t ever get going. They work best when they know what their goal is. They see what they’re shooting for, and can build it step by step. They develop their sequence of events as an outline, as a map. They tend to have explosive endings that come together really well.

Orson Scott Card is a famous architect. He tends to spend months outlining, then will write the book in a matter of weeks because he’s done so much prewriting. Other people describe the book, almost as book proposals, in these long, run-amok sentences, then takes each sentence and expands that when he sits down to write the book. He’ll also record his ideas when he’s out hiking.

A lot of people tend to fall in one of these camps. You really don’t know which’ll work better for you in which situation until you try book.

Foibles & Follies

Discovery Writers: Tend to like to revise a lot. To get it just right before they’ll move on. They’ll write a chapter, edit it a few times, write the next chapter, then come back “Oh, now I know where my book is going.” They’ll rewrite the first chapter a couple times, then the second chapter another couple times, then go on to write the third chapter. They’ll go through this process endlessly. Generally need a kick to the head to keep going. What they’r really doing is writing a really long outline to their book–their revisions are usually pretty dramatic. Also: endings. Usually quit with “I guess it ends” endings. Need to learn how to write endings. They need to finish their book, give it to people to read, then brainstorm together for that ending.

Outliners: World-builders’ disease. Love building a setting, tweaking it. Spend 20 years building a world, but never writing the book. When they do finally write, they tend to rip through a first draft, throw it aside, then start on something new. That’s what he did, write 13 books before he sold one.

You’ll probably have attributes of both. He Outlines his settings, and Discovery Writes his characters. Problem is that his characters can’t have line-edit veto of the outline. His children’s books, he’ll just discovery write. Larger epics, series’, he’ll outline. A lot of discovery writers have one point on their outline: It Ends Here. Sometimes, that’s the most important thing. Some writers have a pretty strict structure, but give themselves some wiggle room so the story won’t lose its spontaneity.

Book Review of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

It’s probably indecent, really, to find a book about the end of the world so funny. Yet, Douglas Adam’s voice carries the reader through the uproarious adventure that is Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with such an offhanded irreverence that you really can’t help but laugh. He treats fundamentally important and weighty questions about existence with such a nihilistic humor that you can no longer take yourself seriously.

It opens with Arthur, an average everyman, laying down in his driveway on a Thursday morning to stop a yellow bulldozer from demolishing his house. Little does he realize, there is a massive yellow spaceship above the earth, poised to destroy it. Thanks to his friend, who turns out to be an alien, he is the lone survivor of earth’s destruction, and has to “hitchhike” his way around the universe.

As much as the ideas presented probably should offend people who believe in an All-Knowing Creator, the sanctity of life, and divine purpose, the style is undeniably delightful to read. I would be sure to advise anyone to read it with caution, though, because the ideas–through presented in a humorous light–will take hold and begin to influence one’s thinking.

Notes on this Massive Story(which is yet largely unwritten)

There were no students in grades five, six, and seven.

Blue and white light flickered around the room. He snuggled down behind her, tucking one arm under her head, the other around her waist.
The four of them, sitting in a bar at some crummy diner. Turd got a chocolate shake. The rest are nursing coffees.
acerbic |əˈsərbik|adjective1 (esp. of a comment or style of speaking) sharp and forthright: his acerbic wit.2 archaic or technical tasting sour or bitter.

Jaundice? bitter
“Riiight, to be thankful because III was old enough to survive. Because I wasn’t born after January 27th three years before.
Because I wasn’t one of the one thousand seven hundred and
fourth-nine children massacred in the Great Day of Sorrow. Like my little sister. Because I lived, when she died. Isn’t that right, Mom?”
Her mother just tsk’d and grabbed her chin, inspecting her nose, and the new piercings therein.
“Really? Because a simple piercing on the side of your nose wasn’t enough? You had to go and pierce the other side and the in-between, too?”
“Septum, Mom. It’s from Latin, a scientific term. Means “a partition separating two chambers, such as–“
“Jesus, Caroline. I was expecting an apology, not a science lesson.”
Well. “Who does all these piercings for you?”
“I do them myself.”
 Burning Border Towns
Those still in the womb would be between 10 and 11. Those killed would be 11, 12, 13, or 14.
ages between 11 and 13. Bitter Girl is 15, barely.
Turd is 11.
Bitter Girl is curious about her sister, who would be 12. Nobody really knows whether she was saved or not.
the fake-cheer of the yellow walls.

You might recall (Luke more than Michelle, as I had the good fortune to discuss this with him during a study hall last week), that the story is only /kind of/ about ghosts.


It initially began as I was trying to think of ways I could put my whole I’ve-Grown-Up-In-Two-Houses/I-Don’T-Really-Belong-In-Any-One-Place perspective into story.


Also, I had Jesus and Moses on my mind. Wondering about the Other Kids–the ones who were killed when the Men In Authority issued the killing. For Moses, all the little kids killed to avoid the Hebrew Uprising the Egyptians so feared; for Jesus, all the children under the age of two Herod ordered to be killed when he received word that the Messiah had been born.


Moses was hidden, then raised in safety; Jesus and his parents fled to another county. I want to talk about /those/ characters, sure, the Ones Who Survive. But I REALLY want to talk about those who were killed. (….she said, ominously.)


This is all… Set in some Dystopian “Utopia,” by the way. That’s important to know. And the government issued the killing. I have several theories behind their motives, etc, but… I’m giving it time. No need to rush these things, now.


But, regardless of why these kids were killed and all that, I figure… There are three types of kids.

1) The Survivors. These are the living. The kids who were above the Age of Being Killed, or below if; the kids whose parents fled for free lands, or who were raised in secret; the kids who did not die. When the story opens, those Above the Age are at least 15: those below are 10.

2) The Killed. These are the ghosts, and shrouded in mystery for much of the book. I’m not even sure how much I want to disclose here. These kids were alive when the Orders to Kill All  Children Ages Three And Younger was issued. Now, they would be between 12 and 14. Are between 12 and 14. They are, of all the groups, the most vindictive.

3) The Gamins. It’s a French word, ‘Gamin,’ meaning ‘street child.’ I refer to these kids as gamins in a metaphorical sense. See, these are the Kids Who Never Lived. When the government issued the Kill Orders, they were sill in heir mothers’ wombs; the mothers were given a choice: abort the baby, or be killed themselves. (Semicolon AND a colon in the same sentence. Win.) These kids, regardless of how they were killed, did survive. But differently than the Ghosts. I’m still working through the kinks, but here’s what I do know: they can be ‘seen,’ where the ghosts cannot. They’re my ‘neither-here-nor-there/always wandering/stuck in the middle/ gypsy/ Hebrew characters. Which is to say, they’re my favorite. They also, oddly enough, open the story up for discussions of pro-life, Jewish-Promised-Land?, childlike innocence?, and Street Kid Problems. I’m kind of stoked. And a little intimidated. They, like Gavroche in a way, are the most pure, the most pitiable. They have not “lived” ever. But because they also do not sleep, they “live” in a way, more than anyone. In Les Mis, Victor Hugo calls such Gamines/Street Urchins, the “cherub of the gutter, and describes them as perpetually cheerful in manner; slightly academic; being a child, naturally “pure;” intrepid; cautions and clever. They are he tie between the Survivors and the Dead. They are so alone, and uncared for. But they’re also the ones you root for the most.


SO. All that to tell you…..

I have a few characters.

The first is A Survivor, too old to be killed among the rest, and about 15 when we open. She is kind of based on my manager’s descriptions of her sister. Or was, initially. Her name’s Nova, like the scientific term for when a star explodes, burning extra-brightly for a little while. The temporary explosion stars do sometimes. There re two important thugs about her. One, she is extremely bitter. Like Mary in much of  ‘A Little Princess,’ she cannot cry. Her mother refused to abort Nova’s younger sister, and both were executed. Nova, only four at the time, buried that resentment so deeply into her soul that all other emotion was evicted. She never properly mourned over he loss, and to this day wonders why she, too, was not killed. The second thing? Is that she is /desperate/ to feel again. To feel anything. The skin of her arms, abdomen, and thighs are all thick with self-wielded razor scars. Trouble is, she has such a high pain tolerance, even that failed. She’s tried everything, from drugs to promiscuity to attempted suicide: her body refuses (to a degree-the suicide attempts weren’t exactly…foolproof.) to let her go. And her heart refuses to pump anything but the toxic sludge of resentment and vengeance.

Less important details: she has short, pixie-cropped, bleached-angel-white hair. She shoplifts most things she wears/owns. This includes her 7 sets of earrings, nose ring, and two lip rings. All self-pierced, mind you. She might attain more as the story unfolds. At any rate, she steals to get a thrill, right? But it doesn’t last. There should be some mention to a superb heist that she pulled off, like finding her school superintendent’s medical records and proving once and for all he was once a she, or something like that. Something cooler. Anyway, one thing she has not stolen lately is new shoes. Her sneakers are falling to pieces, worn in the toes and all nasty. She could buy new ones, even. But she’s waiting.

As far as stealing for thrill- that’s all it is. She has a job, some money… But she prefers to stash it.

She lives, with her heartbroken father (ideally, I’d like to paint him as an Andrew-Jones-After-Losing-His-Wife… Like, /that/ level of heartbroken… But we’ll see), live above their hole-in-the-wall restaurant. She works there often, so you see her camaraderie with the Resident Mexican who’s been employed there since forever… And maybe some other employees. Also, her dad is included.

On the street corner across from her bedroom window is a 24-hour convenience store of sorts. Like Walgreens, but with more. That ‘s where she normally shoplifts. Also, the ever-glowing, sterile, reminiscent-of-hospital, lights shine through her blinds every night. She could read, that’s how bright they are.

She and her dad, living over their restaurant, are in a rather run-down, crumbling portion of the city. It used to be the hub of historic downtown, but now sits at the outskirts of a massive city. The metropolic citizens has long since moved elsewhere, leaving only the remnant of happy cwindow-shoppers.

Also, she eats tomatoes. With salt. And she doesn’t have her own phone.


I want the No-Strings Girl from Jones’s short sketch by the same name to have a small cameo: There was a girl who was watching the windows of an anti


Then there’s Mezzanine Mustard. She’s a gamin, so she’s been raised kind of ‘on the streets,’ of sorts… no parents, no real upbringing… and she’s awesome. I’m trying to go about creating her in a way that doesn’t make her out to be this super-awesome incarnation of All Things Good. But, in a way, that is what the Gamins are. Anyway, because she has never slept, she has had a lot more time ‘awake,’ and has read extensively, and knows a good deal of several languages. She knows the most, but is also the most pure, the most innocent.

I’ve obviously spent a great more deal of time on Nova, but here’s what I have for Mezzanine…. They call her “Turd,” by the way, the other gamins. She’s the first to ‘reveal’ herself to the ‘other characters.’ Muahaha.

There’s some line that I want her to quote from a book about zombies…

“We are… Oh, how did he put it? ‘Trapped in the gap between the cradle and the grave, no longer able to fit in either.'”

     “Mmm. Who said that?” I ask.

     “A zombie, once.” She pours herself more apple juice.

That’s another thing: she LOVES apple juice. It’s like, a child-like-innocent thing… There’s another line, when she speaks of something good, using the metaphor, “[if there was more of this around], the world would be a whole lot less like bilge water, and a whole lot more like apple juice.”

She’s small, a bit fragile. Longish light brown hair. An 11-year-old Lily Glennon, in her build. She’s “wise beyond her years,” and quite funny—but often mistaken over things.

And her purity is more of an intrinsically-wholesome sort, versus in an untainted way.
She has big, brown eyes.

She’s the most innocent. But she knows the most.

She has the child-like impulse to collect things, but nowhere to really put them.

Furthermore, she is the initial ‘bridge’ between the Ghosts and the Living. Because they have never lived, many Living have no idea they exist. I’m not sure if I could pull it off, but I’d like to create a lot more mystery around Gamins in history… like in Les Mis, Oliver Twist, other street kids throughout literature. Like, as if all children that were either miscarried or aborted or killed while in the womb still lived, only “showing themselves” when aligning with some force of people for the cause of freedom.

But I don’t know.


Soooo… I need to come up with more characters and situations and such. The Ghosts will remain unmentioned for a good portion of the story, only being revealed in some dramatic way. Sorry to ruin it for you.

Spiders on the Fourth


[a little girl is being tucked into bed, on the top bunk in a corner of the room]

Dad: You know, Debby, fireworks are only dangerous if they explode next to you. There really is no rational reason to fear them. Besides, we’re far away from the launch site, and fireworks detonate in the air. You shouldn’t fear them–they’re cute little things.

Debby: Okay, Daddy.

Dad: Okay, Debbycakes. Good night.

[Dad gets up, crosses the room. Debby is still quivering in fear as booming can be heard. Dad flicks off the light, and a flood of spiders deploy from behind a poster, making their way around the top corners of the room, toward Debby, who sits up, SCREAMING.]

Dad: What? What’s wrong? [hops up and down, rushed toward her]

Debby: Dadddyyy!!! They’re getting closer!!!”

Dad: [walking back to the door] No, Debbycakes. They won’t– [flicks light back on] AAAAHHHH!!!!!!! [runs from room] Carol! Call 911! Get the repellant! Call the poison control! Grab the Swiss cheese! Our daughter’s life is in jeopardy!!!

[Carol enters the room, gas mask on her face; a fire extinguisher in one hand, a bat in the other.]

Carol: Outa my way, John! I got this! [She sprays at the spiders on the wall, plastering even Debby with the extinguishing foam. She is kind of out of control, swinging the bat as well. She hits Dad on the head, knocking him out cold.] The spiders.. are extirpated.

[lights out]

Questions on a Character

Who am I? Mezzanine Mustard. Occasionally known as “Turd,” but only to the other gamin/ghosties, and especially NOT to my father. Being raised in secret (as I am technically not alive,) I’ve been able to acquire a load of unusual skills/knowledge for an 11yr old, but I think I know more than I actually do. Also, I’m a big fan of zombies and apple juice.


What do I want? To stay warm, at the most basic level—if I’m too cold for too long, I’ll die. Which I don’t want. Furthermore, there is a massive anti-invading-and-ruling-government group that looks to us as the only hope for overthrowing them. So there’s that. I’m still unsure, though, whether 1) I have what it takes and 2) if overthrowing them is really the best option….


Where am I right now? In a warehouse, in a somewhat crumbling city, with several other ‘ghosts.’ There’s a scratching outside the room, and we’re all terrified. Turns out, it’s only my dad, but he’s bleeding, desperately needing medical attention. And I’m squeamish.


Why am I here? My mother was killed before I was born. I survived, but no one beyond my father and a few other such kids knows. So that explains the warehouse in the crumbling city, I think. Why am I alive? That’s something even I would like to know.


When is all this taking place? Nearly ten years after the Big Bad Invading Government (grrr) “won” after their siege in hopes of taking over our country. Once they came to power, they ordered the murder of all children under the age of three. It’s weeks from the 10-year-reunion, which is then the massive anti-invading-and-ruling-government group is planning something… big.


What is my physical life like? What clothes am I wearing? What is in my pocket or purse? Short, brown hair; big, brown eyes. I’m pretty small, with a slight build—though you’d never guess, under all my layers of sweaters and scarves. I have apple juice boxes in my pockets, and I have this enormously childish impulse to collect things. Junk, mostly.