Monthly Archives: May 2014

Big News: Getting Published!

Ok, so it’s just a short story, not my (still unfinished) novel (… yet!), but nevertheless, I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be published! Yay! 🙂

I recently decided to “semi-publish” (ok, I might have made up that word) a short story I wrote some years ago by putting it in a password-protected blog post. Well, Nicholas C. Rossis, author of the epic fantasy series Pearseus (the first two books both went to #1 on Amazon and the third book is coming out next month), read my humble short story and deemed it worthy of being included in his collection of short stories titled The Power of Six. Of course I was honoured to accept.

The Power of Six, by Nicholas C. Rossis

The Power of Six, by Nicholas C. Rossis

I said in my previous post that I would be happy to give out the password to anyone sending me an email (just drop me a line at amosmcarpenter at gmail dot com) if they’re interested in reading my short story, Big Bang, and I’ll stick to that, although I’d of course love it if you went and bought Nicholas’ great book directly (after it’s been updated to include Big Bang). You’ll get six of Nicholas’ short stories, mine, and also a sneak peek (the first two chapters) at Ryan Schneider’s The Beginning, Book One in The Demon Drivers trilogy.

Edit – this just in from Nicholas: if you buy The Power of Six now, you can still take advantage of the $0.99 price before it goes up to $1.99 (still a great price, if you ask me!) at the end of the week, when it will be updated to include the new content. You’ll be able to update on the Kindle then to get my story as well, and can keep busy reading Nicholas’ stories until then.

So I’m very grateful to Nicholas for this opportunity, and I hope everyone who reads those short stories thoroughly enjoys them!

Happy Towel Day, everyone!

Back during the A to Z Challenge, my “D” topic was Douglas Adams, in which I mentioned the importance of towels in his books. (Never leave home without one!) Well, today is officially Towel Day. This day has been celebrated annually as a tribute since 2001, the year in which Douglas Adams passed away.

So this is just a quick shout out to everyone who knows what Towel Day is about, and an encouragement to anyone who may not to finally take the time to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

So long, and thanks for all the fish, Douglas Adams.

And remember…

Don’t Panic!

Semi-publishing my short story

A recent post from Nicholas C. Rossis where he published his short story, The Hand of God, on his blog reminded me of a short story I’d written quite a while ago. My dilemma was that I wanted to share it with the writers in my “blog circle”, but I didn’t want to just publish it publicly on my blog, just in case I ever decided to enter it into a competition or something. Not that I do that (I’m with Mark, the Aspirant Wordificer on that), but I don’t want to burn bridges just because I’m not sure I’ll ever use them.

So I’m semi-publishing (if that wasn’t a word, it is now) my short story by password-protecting the post. That’s the best solution I could come up with for now. That way, it’s not really published, but anyone who reads my blog (there aren’t that many anyway 😉 ) can contact me (you can find my email address on my about page) and I’ll happily send them the password required to access the short story.

Here’s the password-protected post containing my short story, Big Bang:

https://amosmcarpenter.com/2014/05/25/big-bang-short-story/

Feel free to send me feedback via comments or email if you do read it.

But please be nice, I’m kind of anxious – I’ve never shown any of my writing to anyone I didn’t know personally! And this short story is from a few years ago… I’ve improved since then!

On second thoughts… be honest. Let me have it.

(No, wait… be nice… no, uhm… AARGH!)

Protected: Big Bang – Short Story

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Planning the perfect murder

If you’re here because of the blog title and you’re some sort of law enforcement type, please go away. I’m not really planning an actual murder. Well, ok, it’s an actual murder, but not an actual person – just a fictional character.

If you’re here because of the blog title and you’re a fan of murder mysteries, please go away. Well, all right, you can stay, but if you expect this post to be about whodunit-type writing, you’ll be disappointed, I’m afraid. I write fantasy at the moment, but I suppose the topic of this post applies to writing in general.

So gather ’round, the Internet is a big space, I’m sure we can squeeze all three of my followers in here.

For reasons I explained previously, I’ve had a stop-start-stop-start relationship with my writing recently. Partially because of time constraints, but also because… well, I’ve been putting off writing the next bit of glue that needs to hold some other pieces together. Not because of writer’s block or anything like that – thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with that. No, for me, that’s usually a sign that there’s something I don’t completely like about where my story is going, or how it’s going there. Consciously or unsubconsciously, I stop myself from doing what I was about to do.

Don’t tell anyone, but I often have some of my best ideas in the shower. I’m a morning person, but only if I have my hot shower to wake me up. Prior to that shower, I’m a grumpy zombie, hardly able to open my eyes. Once I’m in, I wake up and sometimes have some great thoughts. (I apologise if that’s more than you needed to know. I needed to say that for things to make sense. To me, at least; I have to read my posts too, you know. I’m getting to the point now, don’t you worry.)

Anyway, so as I woke up this morning, it struck me that what I needed to do was to kill off one of my characters. On some level, I’ve known that for a few days, but I like… her. (Going with “her” but not admitting it’s a female character. I just don’t want to be continually ambiguous in the next few sentences.)

People die in books all the time, but when I say “killing off a character”, I don’t mean that a writer’s protagonist walks along and suddenly a tree flattens some guy in the background. I mean that one of the major characters, whom a writer has spent some time and effort endearing to his readers, meets an untimely death, the description of which is bound to bring a tear to the eye (or at least a mental “Awww!”) of the emotionally invested reader.

One writer who is well-known for killing off major characters is George R. R. Martin. Incidentally, one of the reasons I like epic fantasy is because the writer can invest some time in endearing multiple characters to the reader, only to have them kick the bucket when it suits the writer or the plot (or not kick the bucket, and the reader will be interested in how the story continues for that character). Shorter books have a harder time evoking that “Awww!” effect, because the only way to get it when a character dies who hasn’t had much screen time (“page time” for books?) is to make it clear that a protagonist is negatively affected by the death, and to hope that the reader’s connection to the protagonist is sufficient to carry that emotion across from the dead-guy-to-protagonist relationship to the protagonist-to-reader relationship.

How do you go about planning the best way to kill off a character?

First, it’s important to remember that the story is more important than the character. As a writer, you tend to form a relationship with characters you’ve created (at least I do), but sometimes you have to create some emotional distance and sacrifice that character to the Story God for the greater good. Then, find a way that character can die, hopefully in the right spot inside the boring-gory-cheesy triangle. I could draw a picture of that, but it would probably just look silly – I’m hoping you’re with me without a visual aid. You don’t want the scene to be boring, but not so overly exciting that it comes across as cheesy. I guess gory could work in some genres, but mostly you want to a) make it unexpected, yet realistic, memorable, yet not too exotic, and b) emphasise the impact this character’s death has on your protagonist(s). For the death to serve your story, it has to lead to the protagonist doing something he would not otherwise have done.

The death is also a great chance to tell the reader more about your supporting cast by describing how they are affected by it. Villify the bad guy by describing how he just smirks, or humanise him by telling readers that he didn’t really want to go that far, or is filled with regrets. Show how the protagonist’s best friend is trying to put on a brave face because she knows how much the dead character meant to him, but inside she’s struggling not to break apart herself.

Have you committed any good fictional murders lately? Know any good tips for writers about how/when/why to kill off characters? Or do you have any “favourite” (good or bad) character deaths that affected you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Woohoo, back to guilt-free writing!

This week has been the first really good “writing week” for a while for me. And I’ve finally figured out one of the major factors that lets me just write without restraint: being guilt-free.

I’m not talking about the sort of guilt one might get from having done something “bad”. I mean the sort of nagging guilt that sits in the back of your head, telling you that writing is something you should be doing after you’ve done this or that, that other things should take precedence and need doing first, and then you can get back to writing. That guilt actually has no right to exist! That might be obvious in hindsight, and some may be lucky enough to have a lot more time to dedicate to writing and it never becomes an issue, but to me, it’s something I only really thought about this week.

Working full-time and having a family means I have a very limited amount of time to spend on my hobbies and my passion, writing. (Not that I mind – I enjoy what I do and love my family to bits.) Work has been busy, plus I helped someone out putting together a website, plus a few other things that needed to be taken care of, plus I think I put myself under a bit of pressure taking part in the A to Z Challenge last month, so overall my writing suffered a bit. Oh, I found some time to edit here and there, to make notes about things I need to change/rephrase/improve/add/remove here and there while reading my work on the train to and from work, to write down some ideas I had; I even got around to writing just a little. But it wasn’t really much – not enough to give me that satisfaction that my book is progressing nicely, which is an awesome high.

The unexpected positive side-effect from having had all this time where I didn’t get around to writing much is that, instead of feeling a little guilty, I feel like… well, like I’m owed some writing time.

The pendulum has swung to the other side.

This Wednesday (my designated writing day during the week), I had a really great session and got a sizeable chunk of writing done. Ah, that feels great! And I think that I can now use this experience to my advantage by telling myself that I should be allowed to write more – as long as I don’t neglect the other things I need to do, that nagging feeling of guilt has no right to tell me I should do something else first. Feels good to have figured out that I can now “influence” that pendulum and tell it to stay the heck on one side, the other side is off limits unless it has a really good reason to be there. (Ok, on second thoughts, a pendulum isn’t really the best analogy… but you get my meaning.)

So now, I’m back to sitting at my desk, headphones on with some of my favourite music playing, and I’m enjoying writing a quick blog post (I keep telling myself it’ll be quick, but it never is…) before I get to travel back into that wonderful world I’ve created in my mind. I don’t even care whether saying that it’s wonderful is bragging. 😛 I got some gaming out of my system as well this week (something I need to do periodically, I’ll blog at some point about that “other guilty pleasure”), so nothing is standing in my way, including my own conscience. I have the right mindset and I’m not letting go.

Take that, guilt!

It’s Saturday night, no plans, no guilt, and there are hours left in which I can write. In the immortal (paraphrased) words of the great poet, Homer Simpson:

Mmmmh, writing… *drool*

10 more common mistakes writers shouldn’t make

Previously, on Amos M. Carpenter

In one of my very first posts, back in early March, I wrote about 10 common mistakes writers shouldn’t make. Spotting mistakes is one of my gifts – or curses; hard to say which at any given moment – and I’ll go over some I notice in writing of all types, from Internet scribbling to serious books.

To recap those from the last post, the five easy ones were:

  1. Definitely
  2. Don’t add apostrophes to make plurals
  3. Homonyms: “its” vs “it’s”, “their” vs “there” vs “they’re”, “your” vs “you’re”
  4. Using “alot” a lot
  5. I before E, except after C… how hard can it be?

The five that were slightly trickier:

  1. Careful with your tenses
  2. Singular “is” vs plural “are”
  3. Who thinks of whom
  4. The postfix -ward vs -wards
  5. Using “if” vs “whether”

Continuing on from last time, I thought I’d blog about 10 more mistakes that have caught my eye.

Five (arguably) easy ones

1. Separate

Like “definitely”, this is one of those words an incredible number of people just do not know how to spell. It’s not “seperete”, or “sepret”, or “separete”. If you can’t remember it any other way, think of the word “karate” when you write it.

2. Space before punctuation

I believe that some people who also speak (and read/write) French get confused on this one (because in French, you use a space before punctuation). Or they just don’t know any better. In English, there is no space before punctuation like commas, full-stops, exclamation marks, or question marks. (“No space for you!”) Of course there’s one space after them, though. With en- and em-dashes, it can be different, depending on which style guide you’re following, as some prefer to use spaces both before and after them.

3. Couple OF

Dropping the preposition “of” after using “couple” is becoming more popular. However, I’d always recommend adding the “of”, as dropping it is mostly due to writers following in the footsteps of sloppy speakers. In spoken language, of often gets abbreviated to o’, so we go from “a couple of apples” to “a couple o’apples” to “a coupl’a apples” to “a couple apples”. It’s the same with “a cup of tea” becoming “a cuppa tea” – but would you ever say “a cup tea”, dropping the “of” completely?

I recently noticed how much this annoyed me when I read Patrick Rothfuss’ otherwise wonderful books (as I mentioned in this post). He’s one of those people (or perhaps it’s his editor?) who don’t believe “couple” needs a preposition, and many times while reading his story, it jarred me enough that it broke my immersion. (He’s still one of my favourite authors. I’m a forgiving sort of person. At least when someone tells such great stories.)

4. Then vs than

This one should be very simple – use then when referring to time, use than when comparing – but many people still get it wrong. First comes one thing, then something else. Jack is taller than Jill. Simple.

5. Have isn’t of

When “have” gets abbreviated, as in “I could have” becoming the contraction “I could’ve”, it sounds like, but isn’t “I could of”. I suppose people who get this wrong just write things the way they hear it, but pausing just a second to think about it should make it obvious that the two are not interchangeable. I could of, would of, should of used could have, would have, should have.

Five more, slightly trickier

Ok, I’m sure you knew all of the above, so here are some that are just a tad more advanced.

6. Is “alright” all right?

Many careful English users would consider the shortened form, “alright”, to be less acceptable than “all right”, especially in formal writing. Some would even consider it to be an invalid word, but it can be found in some writing, mainly in the US, so perhaps it will become more acceptable in time. For now, I’d recommend sticking with “all right”.

7. Further vs farther

You’ll know this one if you’ve seen Finding Forrester. It’s easiest to remember if you keep in mind that “far” relates to (measurable) distance, as does “farther”. On the other hand, “further” is used when denoting an abstract amount of something. So it’s “set them farther apart”, but “of no further value”.

It gets tricky when the dividing line between the two isn’t immediately obvious, as in “to go one step further/farther” – you have to ask yourself whether it is a physical step (i.e. “farther”), or a metaphorical step (“further”).

8. Capitalisation of formal titles

Obviously, certain things are always capitalised (capitalized, if you prefer – in Australia, we use the “s” form, I believe both are used in the UK and the US prefers “z”), such as days of the week, languages, or countries. But what about formal titles, “honourifics”, like General, or Professor, or Queen? Are they capitalised or not? Well, it depends on how you use them. If the word is used to refer to a particular person holding that title, it should be capitalised. If it is used to refer to a group of them, or to the title itself, leave it in lowercase (with the obvious exception of being the first word in a sentence).

Thus, it would be “Professor Smith”, or even “there’s the Professor” (despite the name not being used, it’s a particular professor), but “he’s a professor at my university”, or “the professors have arrived”.

If you invent a title for your story, you should treat it the same way.

9. Full-stops (periods) after abbreviations

When do you place a full-stop after an abbreviation? Why do you sometimes see it written as “Mr.”, and sometimes as “Mr”?

In British English (similarly for AUS/NZ/SA as far as I’m aware), the deciding factor is whether the abbreviation begins and ends with the same letters as the full word or phrase. Since “Mr” does meet this criterion (mister), there is no full-stop: Mr Jones. “Prof.”, however, does not begin with “p” and end with “r” (professor), so it gets a full-stop: Prof. Jones.

In US English, I believe the full-stop is always used. Just something to be aware of when you read and write.

10. Ellipses at the end of sentences

The ellipses I’m talking (well, writing) about are the ones in creative writing that indicate the speaker trailing off, or leaving something unsaid, as opposed to those that indicate an omission in a quote.

This is one that depends on which styleguide you follow. Some argue that an ellipsis (dot dot dot) at the end of a sentence finishes that sentence, while others consider it a part of the sentence and add a fourth dot to end the sentence, just as if the ellipsis had been any other word….

Personally, I add the fourth dot, even in informal writing (e.g. in blog comments), but I think the main thing is to pick a convention and stick with it consistently.

Conclusion

There you go, I hope some of these common mistakes have refreshed your memory of what to look out for, or perhaps even taught you something new.

Which errors do you frequently commit, or spot? Which ones really annoy you when you see them in written form? Or do you think sticklers for detail (like me) should just stop with the nitpicky posts already? Please let me know in the comments!

A to Z Challenge – Reflection

So… the A to Z Challenge 2014 is over, and it’s time to reflect on my experience in the Challenge!

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Reflection

Overall, I throroughly enjoyed the experience of my first challenge of this kind. I only decided to participate a few days before it started, which was less than a month after I began blogging. There were a couple of minor things I didn’t like about it, but for the most part, they had to do with my own inexperience and my inability to estimate how much time I’d be spending on this.

Reading what the challenge was about, I initially thought, “A post a day, six days a week, visiting a few other blogs to check out what they’re writing – sure, I can do that.” I thought it was a good chance for me to get into my blogging existence and learn to swim by throwing myself in the deep end a bit. To some extent, that worked really well.

Naturally, I picked writing as my main topic, though, as haven’t written much worth writing home about (pardon the pun), at least not enough for 26 posts, I thought I’d share some of my favourite authors, books and characters during the challenge, and throw in some writing concepts and even one slightly technical post, ending with something personal and (hopefully) a little humourous.

If you feel like reading any of those posts, see the “I is for Index” one, or use the menu at the top of the page to get there directly. Alternatively, here’s a summary:

Out of these, the (slightly) humourous ones were: Douglas AdamsTerry PratchettHobbitsMarvin the Paranoid AndroidQuestsYours Truly, and Zzzzz….

What I didn’t anticipate was just how much time I’d be spending on all this. I admit I’d planned to “just do short posts” if I got into trouble time-wise, but I’m not so good with doing things half-baked. I ended up spending way more time than planned, both reading other people’s blogs and writing my own. I had fun doing it, and learned much in the process, but it cost me a few hours of sleep and, ironically, time away from my passion – writing.

Towards the end of the challenge, I was really looking forward to “having a few days off” from blogging and getting back to my own writing, i.e. working on my book. Notes I’d made while reading my own work on the train rides to and from work had piled up (electronically speaking) on my mobile, and after the challenge, I finally had time (or took the time?) to catch up.

So now, I’m actually looking forward to doing the occasional blog post – on topics I feel like writing about, not on topics that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet. 😛

What I’ve learned? Mostly, that next year (yes, currently I’d say I’ll be doing this again), I’ll be taking some good advice and preparing at least some of the posts before the challenge

I feel I should mention at least some of those challenge-related blog posts I read and enjoyed in case you’d like to check them out. I’m sure I’ve left out a few worth mentioning (I’ll keep notes next time!), but these are the ones I remember off the top of my head:

North of Andover – the link goes to a post of Thomas Weaver’s I especially liked, about a well-done interview.
Princess of Dragons – blogging about, you guessed it, dragons!
The Wannabe Writer Life – Allison’s blog is always fun and interesting
Janice Heck’s blog – Janice’s posts are usually quirky, fun, and teach some of the finer points of grammar
A Writer’s Life For Me – though she didn’t participate in the challenge, I’d feel bad not mentioning Mishka’s great blog; her comments are always cheerful and supportive – thanks! 🙂

I started following a bunch of blogs in April, despite my reader being too full already. Stop writing good blogs, people, seriously. People have to manage their time for crying out loud!

Congrats to all fellow bloggers who attempted or even survived the A to Z Challenge!