Category: The Process of Writing

Advice on planning, drafting, and revising the written word.

Writing Dialogue for the Elder Gods

lovecraft_god_dialogue

As a writer, how do you format the dialogue of an elder god?

This was the problem I faced while writing “The Elegy of Entrails,” a Lovecraft lovefest set on an extraterrestrial world.

Quotation marks felt too petty. You don’t say “What’s up?” to Cthulhu and expect “Not much” in return. Sure, the gods in Homer’s The Illiad speak like anyone else, but what about those things beyond existence? Creatures more dream than meat?

(more…)

Failed — Desmorious

Every writer has several projects initiated with gusto, abandoned with reluctance. My first was a forty-page novel in middle school—a Lord of the Rings knock-off called The War of the Bowl. In high school, my friend Jon Ying and I devised a western desperadoes-and-dragons webcomic called Dustbound. In college, I wrote rough drafts and buried them in the rough. Even now, as I revise my novel, I fear its future in a back-folder on Dropbox.

(more…)

Medicolegal Death

My wife and I went to see a medicolegal death investigator from the Douglas County Coroner’s Office discuss her profession—a presentation that was surprisingly lively. I thought I’d share a few interesting bits from the morbid monologue.

Naturally, the coroner was late a few minutes. Her Excuse? “Sorry, everyone, somebody died. No, really.”

According to her, a physician determines cause of death. But her job is to determine the manner of death. Both examine the body, but she also goes through the corpse’s effects, to the scene, to their homes and work places. Unlike the police, she doesn’t need a warrant.

The cause of death is something like this: stab wound to the heart. the initiation of the chain. The mechanism is what actually does the killing. So, stab wound? Mechanism: Exsanguination, i.e. blood-loss.

Cause: Pneumonia. Mechanism: Hypoxia, or lack of air, leading to organ failure.

As for manner? That’s the context of the killing.

She gave us the list of manners: homicide, suicide, natural, accident, undetermined. While the examiners will provide comprehensive data about the death, the manner ends up fitting into one of these five simple categories.

One of the coroner’s examples was an x-ray of a man with a nail in his skull. The point was near his ear, the dull hammerable bit in the center of his brain. Cause of death? A nail through the brain. But what was the manner?

After examining the wound, it’s entry, the equipment nearby, we determined the manner involved a nail gun. Judging by the angle, it was likely a suicide. He took a nail gun to his temple and blasted away.

We took cases (from out-of-state and with names removed) and had to determine manners of deaths. Mine was a guy who tried to prove a gun wasn’t loaded by putting it to his forehead and pulling the trigger. She called it a stupidicide but it was officially an accident.

We also looked at photos of grisly ends and did the same. There was a man who was struck by deer antlers. You could tell from the prong-pattern across his chest, the lacerations on his sides. There was someone who fell from a chair while fixing a lightbulb. Well, there was the chair, there was the lightbulb. We also looked at scenes without bodies and determined the cause of death. An alcoholic’s bed (the bottles, the trash basket, the sheets). A suicide by driving into a near-stationary bus (no skid marks).

One of my favorite anecdotes was about a skull she found. The examiner being a generalist, she passed on the item to an anthropologist, who determined the age and time period of the skull. She sent isotopes (water) to a lab and DNA to another lab. A femur was discovered with bite marks; this led her to find bone fragments in old bear scat. Within two weeks, they knew everything about this teenage girl, including how she was murdered.

The entire presentation was highly disturbing. I was appalled. My wife was enthralled. I hope she doesn’t get any ideas.

Comicpalooza 2018 — Writing Unforgettable Characters

I went to a literature panel entitled “Writing Unforgettable Characters” featuring Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Joe Lansdale, Carrie Patel, and Bev Vincent.

Well, Joe Lansdale kind of took over the Q&A in the best way possible. The others had some insights, but Joe exuded this pragmatic writing presence. A manuscript messiah miasma. Predatory parable pheromones.

A few of his best points:

  • The writer gives 50% of the story. The reader brings in the rest.
  • Some think character is giving someone a cane or an eye patch. That if they’re from Mars or were raised by Indians, they’re interesting. Don’t confuse oddity for character. When writing character, you need to think of motive. Why they do stuff. There’s Surface Motive. What they tell themselves is their Motive. And True Motive.
  • Characters must intrigue. They don’t have to be likable, just interesting.
  • When writing, there has to be music in the prose. Otherwise you’re just lining up turd after turd. Hemingway had a masculine poetry. Fitzgerald had a magical poetry. Learn how to combine rhythm, style, and character into the poetry of prose.

Story Ideas

One of my students wrote me a list of story ideas. Here they are:

  • A girl turns into an animal. She becomes vegan when she’s human again.
  • Time freezes then a General of the War moves people so that his side wins.
  • High School Basketball game but they all have telekinesis.
  • In the Civil War era, the battle from the spectators’ perspective. (There’s an additional note in parentheses that “people used to watch the battle.”)
  • Lawyer and Doctors switch bodies for the day.
  • Mom and Dad switch bodies.
  • On Halloween, everyone who dresses up becomes their costume.
  • One day, walls start talking and tell all about what’s going on in jail.
  • Utopian society and there’s a Government meeting about what color the university should be.

On the back of the page is one last idea:

  • All the founding fathers resurrect and go to war.

Author Interview at Theme of Absence

Theme of Absence runs an author interview series alongside its original fiction called, well, Theme of Absence Author Interviews. These dialogues employ the same questions every week, allowing readers to scan questions and spend more time on author replies. If you want a mixture of pragmatic and wild writing advice, I recommend a chai tea with a pinch of milk (I guess I’m not sure how milk works?), a comfy chair or lap, and one hour spent (c’mon, don’t be cheap) in the magazine’s archive (located here).

Oh, and don’t forget to read my interview for “The Spheres.”

Shirley Geok-Lin Lim


Shirley Geok-Lin Lim is one of my CCS Professors. Our class had lunch the other day and talked about writing. Here are some of her thoughts.

On balancing:

“I do this little dance. I’m a teacher nine to ten hours a day, but I’ll only be a poet for five minutes. It’s wrong. I either have to quit teaching to be a poet, or quit poetry to be a teacher.”

On the muse:

“The muse does not wait for you. If you say I’ll come back later, she’ll say goodbye. See you.”

On guilt:

“It’s always the back of my mind, that I could be writing more. I would write better if I gave it more time. It’s a nagging sense, an uncomfortable sense. Like I’m breaking promises.”

On professors:

“Some people get older and become calloused. Fossils. We need young people to keep us going.”