Tangents are not a type of citrus fruit

When I was in high-school I was introduced to tangents. In spite of the fact that tangent sounds vaguely like a small, tart citrus, in school it was used to mean a bit of mathematical wizardry involving one of those sweet graphic calculators. While I have no recollection on how to deal with tangents, I still feel strongly about how edible they sound. Of course, none of this has to do with the sort of tangent I’m thinking of right now. Mostly. 

The more I hear and read about proper plot construction, the more I keep hearing about this plot arc thing. It makes me thing of something  roundish or possibly completely round. This is not, usually, how I think about story telling. I tend to think about a story in terms of straight lines. Action A happens, so that B can happen, which causes C, and so-on. But, since it’s supposed to be an arc, I guess those things happen around a circle, which is illogical, but fine, I suppose.

Today, while my wife was putting together her blog post/newspaper article, she asked me to look it over. It was good. Usually is. This one was no exception, it was a solid piece. Then came the part that nobody likes to face. The bit where she asked, what do you think? So, I told her. Then she asked, Is it funny? That’s the sort of thing that makes my blood run cold.  Because my first thought was no, not really, but why the hell should it be. It’s good by itself. Anyone who’s ever given advice to a writer knows that just saying yes, it’s good, in spite of the fact that it is good, but not quite what the author thinks it is is easy, but stupid. In all cases, it will result in hours of questions like “really?” And “You think so?” With a smattering of “it’s good huh?” And “you think it’s funny?” Even though my wife most obligingly tells me my work is both good and funny, I decided to be honest. I said, “it’s a good and entertaining read, but I wouldn’t describe it as funny.”

“How do I make it funny?” Was her response. How could it not be? It’s the same thing I’d ask.

Naturally, I have absolutely no good response. If I had, I’d be a hell of a lot more successful writer than I am. That said, there is a feature in humorous writing, once pointed out, is obvious. Some humor takes lead up, planning and perfect execution, other humor simply requires profoundly artful understatement, and then there’s the tangent. Not the small tart citrus variety or the mathematical wizardry sort either, though if we’re sticking to the plot arc description, the mathematical tangent is a pretty good way to visualize this one. 

I asked my wife to think about the funniest book she’d read in a long time, which is a fun thing to visualize because watching my wife read something hilarious or just really funny is entertainment itself. I mean, except the parts where she’s laughing hard enough to challenge a blueberry for color. We came up with Terry Pratchett. One of the tricks he employs in his humor is the tangent. It works basically like this. You start your story and sporadically deviate with a vignette that theatrically embellish some tangentially related detail. I’d give an excellent example just now, but I think it would be better to just think about a funny story and go back to that. Look for the tangent. 

To be clear, I have no illusion that pulling off this little trick this makes you a funny writer, it’s a hell of a lot more work than that. but it is a trick that works. Anyhow, that’s what I wanted to share. I think it’s good advice, I mean, if you’re looking for it.

Progress Report – Wine Bottles & Broomsticks


I haven’t made nearly as much progress as I’d have liked after the first full draft was completed. My goal was to have it revised by last week, but that just didn’t happen. Work, side projects and working-out have gotten in the way. This weekend wasn’t any different. Yesterday I spent two hours at the gym, then we did a family day – movies & dinner. After a gentle prod from the twitterverse, I got kicked into high gear again and sat down to continue revising. So far, I’ve written 3 new chapters and extended another one by about a thousand words. Today’s goal, after laundry, shopping, and cooking is to work those three chapters in and finish revising and first-round editing the final third of the book.

Considering that the last book I tried to write took about 10 years to finish and I haven’t even thought about hitting it again for revisions, this is excellent progress for me. For those interested, I am planning a second book and there is a lot of material in this one that will feed into the second. For the second, I’ve got a basic outline, a few scenes have been sketched and there’s a theme I’m working around. So, all-in-all, not much to show, yet, but I’m working on it.

When I get this one buttoned up for a 2nd full draft, you’ll hear me crowing all about it. So, back to it…

First draft of a second book


I know I said I was going to update this blog more often a few weeks ago, then didn’t. Well, I got busy. With the end of the year on me, I started to feel the press of time with respect to my second book (which is the first in a series). Oddly enough, I never intended it to be a book. Really, I was just aiming at writing practice.

Earlier this year, I think June? I finished the first full draft of an epic fantasy novel and sent it out to beta readers. The feedback was very positive, but pointed out a lot of problems. Problems that are likely beyond my skill to fix, just now. So, I set it aside in order to focus on more immediate issues, like making sure I was still employed come August and the ducks had a place to live before the snow hit the ground. However, at about the end of July a funny thing happened. In a non-writing related conversation with a friend, I said: “You know, the funny thing about witch hunts is that sometimes you find one.” Well, that was it. It grabbed my attention. Then, perhaps a few days later I got a DM from someone telling me I should write a series on Channillo.com. I concluded that it would be something to try, so I sat down to see what my silly little quote might turn in to.

At first, I wasn’t really sure, except that I liked the concept and characters. Since I was putting this out for sale right away, I decided a nice book cover was in order, so I bought one. Unfortunately, I bought one that didn’t quite match what I had in mind, so given that I had a cover and no story, I wrote enough of the story to fit the cover. Much cheaper than spending a lot of cash on a custom cover for a book I wasn’t even sure would be a book!

For about the first chapter, I figured that if I made sure I was doing a chapter every 3 weeks or so, I could satisfy my Channillo.com goals and also be done with a draft sometime next spring. Yeah, that pretty much didn’t happen. I mean, it did at first, but that second chapter was written the day before my self-imposed due date. I don’t like operating that way, so I set out to write several more chapters, just so I was a little ahead. Then, I went to Kansas City for training, which was cool. Spent all day training, then socialized with co-workers for a while, but I still had hours to myself. So, I sat down to write. I think I knocked out 3 1/2 chapters that week alone (~12K words), My pace slowed a bit in November because of the great programming distraction of NaNoWriMo 2015, but picked up again after I went to Orlando for more training in early December. That time, my pace was more like 2~3 chapters. In any case, I plowed on through December until Christmas day when I sat down to organize a handful of content that had gotten out of order and didn’t fit properly into the timeline. Turns out it wasn’t that far off and a little manipulation put it close. So, yesterday, after getting back home, I realized I was maybe a chapter or two off of hitting the end of the first full draft – so I sat down with my Christmas coffee and went to town.

You know what? I got it. Today I went back over the second half of the book and concluded I needed feedback and to set it down for a while. So. there it is. My second full-draft book is complete – yes loads of work to be done, but the bulk of the story is there, and in only 5 months. Needless to say, I’m over the moon with myself. So what am I going to do with myself while I cool off from Wine Bottles and Broomsticks? Write book 2, of course.

Also – if you’re interested, you can hit http://www.Channillo.com to subscribe and check the series out. In January, I’m going to release one chapter a month. Once it’s all out there, it’ll be on Channillo for a month, then poof – gone. You’ll have to wait until I can figure out how to get it published.