Sometimes things just click

Yesterday, while I was out shopping with my wife and daughter, well, I got inspired with a story idea.  In a matter of minutes I knew the setting, the main character, and the basic plot.  It was going to be a short fantasy piece.

It helped that I already had a setting I had used a couple of times, and some elements of that setting drove the plot.  There was a scene that was essentially already written because it involved certain things that had to happen a certain way because they were already established for that world.  Lift the scene from another work, tweak it for the different characters and details of specific location and there it is, ready to go.

My usual “comfort zone” in writing is the longer novelette to shorter novella lengths (10-20,000 words).  This one, however, I knew was going to be a short piece, probably around 2500-3000 words.

Well, as I got to writing, the story just flowed.  It came right in at about 2800 words using the “average full line” method* I learned when first starting. (I use this method because it gives the best estimate of how much space the story will take in print.)

And so first draft is done.  Next step will be to let it sit a few days and go back to it for another pass and revision.  After that, I’ll send it out to “beta readers” and then go back for a final pass before submitting it for possible publication.

*The “average full line” method works as follows.  You find the average length of a full line in your story.  You ignore short lines.  Just get the average number of characters in a complete full line.  (In most word processors this would simply be lines that wrap rather than terminating in a carriage return.) Divide the number of characters in that average line by 6 to get number of words per line.  Then multiply that number by the number of lines in your story.  That’s your word count.  This method counts short lines such as brief snatches of dialog as if they were full lines.  This is justified because even short lines take up a full line on the page.

Some folk consider it a bit archaic in this day of clicking a menu item and getting a “word count” but it’s the method I learned and it’s the method I use.


Dreamers in Hell out now.

I’m a bit late in getting back to this, but Dreamers in Hell, containing my story “The Knife Edge Bridge” is out now:

You can also find a great review of Dreamers in Hell at Black Gate.
And let me just go ahead and add in other products you might want to look at:

Books and other things by The Writer in Black that you can buy:

Rogues in Hell (Heroes in Hell 13)

Sword & Sorceress 26

Lawyers in Hell (Heroes in Hell 12)

Analog Science Fiction & Fact April ’91

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Winter 1991

Books by Janet and Chris Morris (Editors of the Heroes in Hell series):

Interview with the Devil (Heroes in Hell series)

The Fish, the Fighters, and the Song Girl

The Sacred Band

Wake of the Riddler

Mage Blood


LibertyCon 26 Schedule

I’ll be attending LibertyCon in Chattanooga June 28-30th.  My schedule is as follows:

Scheduled Programming Events Featuring David L. Burkhead

Day Time Name of Event
Fri 05:00PM Opening Ceremonies
Opportunity to meet the Con Guests and Staff
Fri 09:00PM Reading: David Burkhead & John Manning
Come out and have a seat as our author guests read passages of their works
Gallery B
(60 min)
Sat 10:00AM Dreamers in Hell Roundtable
Perseid Publishing is releasing book sixteen of the “Heroes in Hell” series, and 15 of the Hell Authors will be there to charm you with their tales and autograph your copies as well.
Sat 11:00AM Autograph Session
Autograph sessions will be located in the Dealer’s Room. Authors will cycle through hourly and will be either at the Autograph table or the Perseid Table, except for the author’s that have their own tables who will be available when they are not scheduled in the program.
Sat 01:00PM Yarl vs. Argh!
Rocky Perry moderates the next installment of the Yarl vs. Argh! tour (Vikings vs. Pirates) with a panel of other Viking & Pirate authors to assist
Sat 02:00PM Nanotechnology Now and To Come
David Burkhead moderates a panel on the science and promise of nanotech
Sat 10:00PM “Dreamers in Hell”, “Tomb of Kochun” Launch Parties; IOH and Fictioneers Parties
Hosted by the Hellions and the Bielaczyc Bros. in the Con Suite – come on down!
Sat 11:00PM Mad Scientist Roundtable
Roundtable discussion of various and timely topics moderated by Les Johnson. This is a remarkable panel dating back to the earliest LibertyCons. Everyone gets a say but no one gets to say too much.
Sun 10:00AM Autograph Session
Autograph sessions will be located in the Dealer’s Room. Authors will cycle through hourly and will be either at the Autograph table or the Perseid Table, except for the author’s that have their own tables who will be available when they are not scheduled in the program.

 It should be exciting.

Novel WIP Status

The novel I’ve been writing is on hold a bit.  It’s gotten too complex for me to keep the details I need in my head.  Too many characters, too many ship classes, ranks of different alien species.  That sort of things.  I have an outline, but, like most outlines from which I work, it’s rather loose and general.

As a result, I’m having to take time to sort out some of these details including:

  • build a detailed character list:  who they are, key identifying features, what their basic roll is, when they were introduced (I can just use chapters for that since I’m using rather short chapters here), and especially, where they were when last we saw them.
  • Build a list of ship classes, particularly for the non-human races.  For human ships, I can use terms like “Cruiser” or “destroyer” and most people (at least among fans of mil-SF) will have a reasonable idea where they fit in the scheme of things.  A “second claw” or a “least fang” on the other hand?  That’s a whole other ballgame.
  • Politics is starting to become important to the story.  I was expecting this, but not at this level of detail.  I’m going to have to work out, at least, the structure of the government, maybe even write up a “Constitution” for it.  For the non-humans I can be a bit looser.  After all, that they “don’t always make sense” from a human perspective is a feature, not a bug.  “The thing about aliens is, they’re alien.”
  • I’m not significantly worrying about astrocartography.  The scales are big enough that I don’t have to worry about the details so much.  A “typical” cruise speed for a liner or military vessel using short-jump technology (let’s just say it’s complicated and that there is more than one way to exceed C in the physics of the fictional world) is 1 light year per hour so the volumes covered by spacefaring polities are simply huge and the vast majority of stars within them would be (in current astronomy) nothing more than catalog numbers if that much.

The Change Up

In baseball, the change-up is a pitch a bit slower than the fastball.  The batter, expecting the fastball, swings early and WHOOSH.  Strike-three.  You’re out.

In writing, however, I use the term “change up” to mean a significant shift in mood.  TV tropes calls it “Mood Whiplash” and “Mood Dissonance”.

Joss Whedon is a master of it. (See Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog as a good example.)

The Change Up is an important tool in fiction.  Let me give you an example, not from fiction writing itself but one that illustrates the point.

When I first got an MP3 player, I loaded it up with my absolute favorite songs.  Now, at the time, my tastes ran to rather sentimental love songs and ballads.  Soon I had a playlist consisting of all my very favorite songs.

Only one problem.  The playlist was boring.  There wasn’t anything wrong (for my tastes at the time) with any of the songs on It–remember, they were all among my top favorites–but the same basic themes and styles over and over again became monotonous.  The fix, in that case was simple, to go further down my list of favorites and find some music with different styles and different themes to add to the mix.  The result was a far more interesting, and less boring, play list.

I find the same thing happening in fiction.  I like gritty, realistic military SF.  Such fiction often tends to be grim.  But the fiction I’ll come back to, the series I’ll stick with, and the writers I will continue to follow, are those who add a bit of lightness to the mix–humor, perhaps, or maybe some romance.

So don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit.  Add some levity to your dark and gritty story.   Get serious occasionally in your lighthearted comedy.  You may find your story all the better for it.

The anticlimax. It’s important

One thing some writer’s miss is the falling action (termed anticlimax by some) after the main climax of a story.  Some people stop right at the climax or, worse, right before the climax, when it becomes obvious that the climax is going to happen (for example, in a romance as soon as it becomes clear the girl is going to say “yes”).

This can be a mistake.

One of my favorite anime series was Maison Ikkoku. After about 92 episodes of torment. The principles go round and round with each other, two steps forward, 1.999 back, and so on, they finally “get together” in episode 92. Then the next 4 episodes showcase the new relationship and tie up various minor loose ends from subplots. And when it is done, it is done. The everlovin’ end. No more to be said. This story is over.

Compare with another one I liked but found rather unsatisfying in its ending, Marmalade Boy. (Why, yes, I do have a liking for funny romance, emphasis on romance. Why do you ask?) The basic structure of this one is that the primary couple, after they get together, faces a series of every increasing “threats” to their relationship. They get past one only to face a bigger challenge later. And when the series ends, there’s no real “They’ve finally made it” in beating the latest (rather than “last” if you get the distinction) of a series of challenges. What’s almost embarrassing to watch is that the final denouement is a resolution for a secondary character, not the primaries. Perhaps that was “realistic” in that there are no guarantees in real life and anything short of ones death leaves the possibility that things could go bad. Still, it didn’t make for satisfying fiction, not for me. So a good series that I enjoyed right up until the end and then went . . . bleh.

The key difference here is that one took the time after the “climax” to establish the new situation, to show that, yes, the conflict had been resolved, that it wasn’t just another of the “two steps forward” to be quickly followed by “1.999 steps back.”  The other one lacked that.  And, so, the other one was a less satisfying ending for me as a watcher.

So don’t be afraid to take a little time after the main conflict is resolved to show that it has been resolved and to show the new situation that arises out of the resolution.  Don’t take too much, of course, but a little bit can pay big dividends in reader satisfaction.