Four-month Check In

I'm trying to break out of a miniature writing rut. Not sure how well it's working, but.... #amwriting #writersofinstagram #writerinoveralls #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #vintage #washingtondeecee #washingtondeeceeoveralls #hickorystripe #denimoveral

So, here we are, four months since my last check in! And so much and so little has changed. The pandemic continues, and for a while it seemed as if things might be slowly getting better…and then, for a lot of reasons, they stopped getting better and started getting worse again.

Anyhow…life goes on for me. I’m still writing and still reading, and I now have Book II of Seaflame! over 60,000 words, which is a roughly-projected one-quarter of the way done. This one is not progressing swiftly, and I’m pretty confident that after I’m done with this project, I’ll never tackle anything this long again. I have too many stories that I want to write to get bogged down in doorstops of this magnitude! But it is fun to write this one, and I will miss these characters when I’m done, so there’s that.

By way of announcement, I am planning to get The Savior Worlds released sometime this fall, most likely in late November, so work will be ramping up for that pretty soon. I will definitely have more to say about that as we progress toward that particular finish line.

Finally, I have a quote to offer on the subject of how one should treat one’s own writing. This comes from author Samira Ahmed, young adult writer of the brilliant novel Love, Hate, and Other Filters as well as several others that I haven’t read yet. She appeared on 88 Cups of Tea, one of my favorite podcasts, and one point she kept driving home was the need of storytellers to “say yes to themselves,” because creative life is hard enough as it is that we don’t need to be putting up our own roadblocks to our own work, in addition to the roadblocks the rest of the world erects. You should definitely listen to her entire episode, but for now, just this one bit absolutely floored me when I heard it:

SAMIRA AHMED: One piece of that kindness to myself–and I say that this is just for me, but I hope maybe it can speak to just one of the other storytellers out there–which is, I am gentle with the language that I use about my writing. So what that means is, I never say to myself that my first draft is ‘trash’. This is something for me; maybe this is OK with everybody else, your mileage may vary, but for me, when I was little one of those racist experiences that I had was a grown-ass man telling me, a kid, that I was ‘trash that America needed to take out.’ Words can be weapons, and I’m not going to use weaponized language against myself. So I don’t say that my first draft is ‘trash.’ I don’t say it’s ‘garbage’. I say it needs improvement. I say it needs work. I say I could make it better…but I don’t say that it’s trash.

That is, in my opinion, utterly correct. I’ve actually written about that before in this space, but Ahmed frames it in a way that I hadn’t thought of: you should not use weaponized language against yourself. I could not agree more.

With that I’ll wrap up this check-in, but do keep looking in! And you can always find me on Twitter, Instagram, and my personal blog, Byzantium’s Shores. See you ’round the galaxy, folks!

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April is here, and so am I

Greetings, programs! Last time I checked in I was gearing up to do a burst of edits for The Savior Worlds, as part of my effort to get it release-worthy for launch in May.


As I’m sure you’re all well aware, a month later…the world happened.

The plan was to release at Buffalo’s Nickel City Con in May, but now, because of Covid-19, Nickel City Con isn’t happening this year. And that’s not the only hiccup in the works. My wonderful cover artist got her work done and we were just starting to talk about when we could meet up to make the transfer of the art, when the world locked down.

A friend and editor at The Geekiverse, who provided one of my big sets of edits for the book, was going to meet with me to discuss plans for a whole relaunch of The Song of Forgotten Stars along with the release of Savior Worlds, but that hasn’t happened yet, either.

So, when will any of this stuff happen? I have no idea. When it does, I want it to be right. I’ll be revising the existing editions of StardancerThe Wisdomfold Path, and Amongst the Stars; among other things, I will be adding character lists to each book and synopses of the previous volumes in each book after Stardancer. I’ll also be tweaking the book covers, fixing font and color issues to make them “pop” more.

And let’s not forget, The Savior Worlds needs to come out, taking the story into a new era! So exciting! And so very, very frustrating to have a world-wide pandemic basically force me to slam on the brakes.

But, slam them I must. Everything will be fine, eventually, and if I take an optimistic view, I’ve been given the gift of more time to get everything done right. That’s big.

So what am I doing in the meantime? Well, my plan was to get the Forgotten Stars books revised and Savior Worlds launched, and then move on to finally drafting Seaflame! Book II (actual title TBD). Instead, I’ve moved that drafting process onto the front burner. I did a round of edits on Seaflame! Book I last fall and winter, so that story is fresh on my mind and I’m looking forward to completing that adventure.

And that’s where things lie right now, writing-wise. (As for personal observations from our Coronavirus-ridden world, I’ll save those for Byzantium’s Shores at some point. For now, we’re fine here. We are, it turns out, deeply cut out for social distancing.)

Until later, see you ’round the Galaxy!

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February: Into the Manuscript I go

It begins. May will be here before I know it! #amwriting #writersofinstagram #editing #sciencefiction #spaceopera #forgottenstars #thesaviorworlds


Greetings, Programs!

I haven’t posted in a couple weeks–sorry!–but the reasons, as ever, are good (I hope). Having received feedback on the manuscript of The Savior Worlds (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book 4) from several trusted voices, it’s time for another heavy dose of revision work before I send the thing out for proofreading in March. I’ve got kind of a hard deadline going here: I need to have this draft (Draft 3.0) ready to go by the end of this month. The ultimate goal is to release Book 4 at Nickel City Con in May, and that’s a lot closer than it feels!

As I write this post, I’m about a third of the way through the book, and I’m a little more than a third of the way through the month (and The Wife and I have a weekend getaway coming up at the end of next week that will not be a great time for writing), so I’ve really got my work cut out. I do want to keep this space alive a lot more than I have in the past, so…as always, here’s hoping!

Until next time, see you around the Galaxy!

Write write write #amwriting #writersofinstagram #writerinoveralls #editing #sciencefiction #spaceopera #forgottenstars #thesaviorworlds #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #vintage #gap #gapoveralls #bluedenim #denimoveralls #overallsarelife #vintageoveral

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Plannie McPlannerson

Now that I've written four books of a nine-book series, I should probably nail down the backstory! #amwriting #writersofinstagram


So last week I wrote about the various issues that arise when writing not just one novel but a series of novels, and wouldn’t you know it! I am running up against those issues right now.

In just a couple of weeks I start doing my next round of revisions for The Savior Worlds (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book 4), which is the volume in the series that kicks the larger story into real motion. That being the case, it’s suddenly clear to me that I need to really codify, if only for my own use right now, the backstory of this saga.

If you’ve read the three currently-published Forgotten Stars books (and why on Earth would you not have read them! They’re terrific, even in my biased opinion!), you know that I drop a lot of small and not-so-small hints and tidbits about the nature and history of the long-lost, long-fallen Arrilori Star Empire. I did this because the main planet of the first three books, Xonareth, was once a member of that empire but was banished and forbidden to travel to the stars until the Arrilori returned to set them free…and there they waited, and waited, and waited, while the Arrilori fell completely and utterly into ruin. Xonareth is, as I’ve mentioned before, the planetary society equivalent of those fabled Japanese soldiers who spent decades on deserted islands in the Pacific, never knowing that World War II ended.

But as the second act of The Song of Forgotten Stars dawns and is now taking shape, it’s starting to become important to hand out more and more information about the Arrilori Star Empire. It’s time to flesh out the backstory.

And all I have of that backstory right now is…hints and tidbits. I have a very “big picture” version of what I know befell the Arrilori and their galactic empire, but I need more than that. This is what I meant in the post about series writing, in that you need to do more ground work when you’re doing a series that tells a single, large story.

You may now be asking, “Hey dummy, shouldn’t you have already done all that work?” Well…maybe, maybe not. That’s where the whole “plotter versus pantser” thing comes into play, after all. But also in this case I knew that I could get away with the first three books in the series without a complete picture of who the Arrilori were and how everything they built came to ruin. I had the luxury of being able to throw in some cool stuff here, a few hints there, a couple of juicy tidbits sprinkled throughout. I was leaving puzzle pieces for myself as a storyteller, and now it’s time to put the pieces together for myself before I go on to do it for the readers.

At least, that’s the plan. Plans can go awry, of course….

See you ’round the Galaxy,


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Series? Can I write them in parallel, instead?

Day 5: Most re-reads. Here's my LORD OF THE RINGS collection! #bookchallenge #Tolkien #lordoftherings

Greetings, Programs!

The other day, the ever-fantastic Briana Mae Morgan asked on Twitter:


Naturally, I responded, because I have committed or am in the process of committing several crimes of Serial Fiction, and now I’m going to extend my thoughts a bit as to how to write a series.

I tend to think of storytelling, at its most basic, in terms of structure, so naturally my thoughts on writing a series would turn to structure. That means that if you’re considering committing an act of series, you have to ask yourself this question first:

What kind of series am I writing?

The answer to this question will affect how you write your series. So, what kind of series are there? The options, as I see them, are these:

TYPE 1. A single-story series, told serially.

Examples here are many of the long fantasy series out there: The Wheel of Time, The Belgariad, The Expanse, and A Song of Ice and Fire are good examples. Each book tells a part of the larger story, and reading the books out of order can be disorienting or downright confusing for readers who are jumping into the middle of the story.

At first glance, The Lord of the Rings might be thought an example of this, but I don’t think it is. LOTR is better thought of as a single huge book that for publishing reasons was broken down into a trilogy. There is no functional break between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers and The Return of the King, and each volume is only a part of the larger whole.

I would also file the Harry Potter books here, but they’re a bit of a special case in that each book tells a piece of the larger story while also serving as a self-contained unit. The later volumes have less stand-alone appeal than the earlier ones, but they still have internal structure. Can you read them in any order? Not really–but there’s enough internal structure to each book that it wouldn’t be as disorienting as trying to jump into A Song of Ice and Fire with A Feast for Crows.

TYPE 2. An open-ended series with larger story elements, but not a single larger story.

In a series like this, each novel is mostly independent, but there is character development and larger story development along the way. Events of earlier books have impact on the later ones, but there’s generally less danger in starting such a series somewhere in the middle. The James Bond books are a good example here, or Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan books.

TYPE 3. A series of independent stories featuring a starring character or a group of characters.

With this kind of series you can start at any point, because the books (or movies) are for the most part completely unrelated and self-contained from one to the next. The James Bond movies apply here (Ian Fleming’s books have more continuity than the movies, at least up until the Daniel Craig era, which have more continuity than any other sequence of Bond films to date), as do Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books. I’m not sure if Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories work under this definition.

So, once you know what kind of series you have on your hands as a writer, your next course becomes clear. If you’re writing that last kind, you’re golden because you don’t have to do any planning of any kind beyond what you would plan for a single novel. Just finish the current adventure or story, and then move on to the next one. Lather, rinse, repeat for as long as you’re comfortable tracking the adventures of a single character.

Now, with a series like that, you might want to have some continuity as you go: recurring villains, perhaps. Holmes had his Moriarty and Bond his Blofeld, after all. But you don’t have to do that: I don’t recall that John Bellairs had Lewis Barnavelt or Johnny Dixon square off against the same dastardly supernatural baddie more than once (though I may be wrong). 

It seems to me that the difficulties with series writing creep in with a Type One or a Type Two series. With these types of series, more planning is needed.

With a Type Two series, in which there are ongoing serial elements but no real larger “story”, a degree of planning is still needed for two reasons. First, all installments must reflect what has come before. If you shatter your protagonist’s heart at the end of one installment, you can’t have them bounce right back into a new relationship in the next. You have to be able to accommodate the changes in your characters over time, and what’s more, you have to let them change over time. In a Type Two series, your character can’t be the same person in the tenth installment that they are in the first.

Second, while leaving room for surprise and discovery is great, you’re better served if you know beforehand what kind of larger arc your characters or your story are going to follow. You need to have at least a partial idea of how you expect your characters to change and grow and what kinds of things are going to change in their world. A series of stories following, say, a sword-wielding warrior for hire as she journeys through various kingdoms and realms, should see the world change as she roams through it. Wars begin, perhaps; or maybe the cities are visited by plagues…whatever. The world should change, and your character should change along with it. And if that happens, you should have a bit of an idea of what kinds of changes might happen.

(Again, none of this should rule out the serendipity of a sudden burst of insightful inspiration that leads you to do something you hadn’t expected!)

This leaves us with the Type One series: the series that tells a single story, beginning to end, but writ large over the course of several individual stories or books. For one of these, you’d better do some planning, or you’ll end up really bogged down once you’re in the thick of it.

The bigger a story is, the more moving parts it has, and these all have to work together. Your cast of characters is likely much larger if you have a big story to tell, and they all have to develop along the way and their actions and choices have to affect the story, or else it feels like the characters are just cogs in a big machine of plot. But here’s the thing: with a big series it can likely be very tempting to just start out and figure out the big plot later, but if you do this, pitfalls await.

Your early books might not end up sufficiently supporting or establishing the larger plot to follow, or crucial things about your characters. If you find yourself needing Mary in Book Four to have a very specific talent that requires years of training to master, and you’ve never hinted in Books One through Three that she has this talent, it can be jarring for the reader or eject them outright from your book.

More importantly, telling a very large story without planning can lead you to losing the story entirely. You can find yourself wandering down tangents, or finding that farther on down the line your entire notion of how the story works has changed, or you might change your mind as to what happens. On the other hand, though, as with any story I feel strongly that outlines or plans should not be constrictive to the point of being a straitjacket, crushing spontaneity. You never know when the next great idea is going to come along, but if you’ve done the groundwork for your series, the great ideas are likely to supplement the work rather than supplant it.

So, those are my thoughts on writing series. Of course, my thoughts might change as I get farther into my own respective series!


See you ’round the Galaxy,




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November Update!

It’s November! Which means, of course, many things.

It means that it’s National Novel Writing Month, and thus it’s the time when writing-obsessed weirdos like myself gear up for another attempt at producing 50,000 words in a single month.

It’s nearing the end of the year, and thus it’s time to spend some time looking back at the year that is quickly heading toward the wings and anticipating the year that’s getting ready to strut onto the stage.

It also means that just about six months have passed since I posted on this site. As always, oops.

What’s been happening, then?

Well, the usual life stuff, naturally. Writing, working, eating, drinking, walking dogs. My writing of late has focused on editing: after I finished drafting ORION’S HUNTRESS, I did edits on THE SAVIOR WORLDS (FORGOTTEN STARS IV, for those keeping track), THROUGH THE PALE DOOR (the sequel to THE CHILLING KILLING WIND), and my as-yet-untitled novel about the ill-fated kayaking expedition in the Arctic. This year’s NaNo project will be the first thing I’ve drafted in nearly a year, which is kind of scary. What if I don’t remember how to do it! Consternation! Uproar!

Well, I’ll figure it out, like I always do. Lately I’ve been re-reading the manuscript to THE ADVENTURES OF LIGHTHOUSE BOY, Book One (not the actual title), as prep for writing Part Two, which is my plan for much of 2020 (in addition to getting THE SAVIOR WORLDS out into the world). But about a week ago a fresh idea hit me, and I thought it might make a nice short novel (ha! As if I could ever write a short novel!) to use as a palate-cleanser for NaNoWriMo, before I get back to the world of Big Wordy Doorstops (part one of LIGHTHOUSE BOY is more than 235,000 words long).

So, here I go. Want some details? The tentative title is AN ECHO UPON THE WATER, and the book is about a fifteen-year-old girl named Echo Perry who is sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle on their grape farm in the Finger Lakes of Upstate NY. While living there she struggles with figuring out the rules of her new home and of her new school and of her new town, as she constantly feels like an outsider. And then there’s the matter of the ghost train that rumbles through her backyard every night at 3:00am, and the girl she sees on board.

Or that’s what I think the book is about. I might be wrong. Hey, I remain, as ever, a pantser at heart.

I’ve also fallen a bit behind on some of my essay writing for this site, and for Byzantium’s Shores (my personal blog, if you’re just joining in), and for The Geekiverse (another site for which I write). That being the case, I’ll be using NaNo as an opportunity to get a bunch of those essays (some of which are already handwritten!) typed up so I can post them in the future.

So, onward and upward!

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My first Con is in the books!

The Author poses with his various and sundry Books.

So last weekend was Nickel City Con, which is Western New York’s biggest annual pop culture-related gathering. This particular con only started a few years ago, and there have been hiccups along the way (this year saw an unfortunate rash of cancellations by the booked celebrity guests), but I’ve had a great time at each event.

HOWEVER! The last couple of times I’ve attended as a paying attendee, while this year I was able to attend on an “official” basis as part of The Geekiverse‘s entourage. And even better than that, I was able to set up a stand and sell my books for several hours. Thus I set up my little stand, as pictured above, and proceeded to hawk my wares!

Well, OK. I sold one book the entire afternoon. But hey! The day was not remotely a loss, not by a longshot. It was a wonderfully fun time, hanging out with my fellow geeks and talking about geeky things and seeing the cosplayers wandering by and actually talking about my work with a few con attendees. Even if I didn’t move more than a single book, this was still the kind of event that I found affirming as a writer. (And I award myself bonus points for not yelling at the nice guy who dropped by to chat Star Wars and then proceeded to badmouth Attack of the Clones. See! I can behave!)

I’m already thinking about how next year is going to work: larger and better visual sales aids in addition to the books themselves, plus I hope/plan to have more than just the first three Forgotten Stars books there. The sky is, as ever, the limit…and the sky, when you think about it, is limitless. Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!!

[By way of a parenthetical aside, let me note as I always do after one of these cons that it’s high time for Buffalo to make a bid to host an upcoming World Science Fiction Convention. There is absolutely zero reason why this city can’t make this happen. It would be a fantastic event that would bring several thousand visitors from outside the region, and Buffalo is more than big enough. Remember, WorldCon just a couple of years ago happened in Spokane, WA–a lovely town that’s about half the size of Buffalo. Bring Worldcon to Buffalo! We can even call if BuffCon!]

[Oh, and one more parenthetical note: since this was an event to celebrate geekiness, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a Groot t-shirt under my trademark overalls. The press pass obscured Groot a bit in the photo above, so here’s how that looked:

I am Groot!

So, my first Con as an author is now behind me. What’s next? Let’s find out! See you around the Galaxy, folks!

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Reporting the Progress! (And there IS some to report!)

Greetings, Programs! So, what’s new?

And...BOOM! The first draft of ORION'S HUNTRESS is DONE!!! #amwriting #writersofinstagram #sciencefiction #spaceopera #orionshuntress

It’s been a good couple of weeks! Lots of relentless application of the nose to the grindstone, which has resulted in my long-awaited completion of the first draft of Orion’s Huntress. This book is the first installment of a new space opera series which centers on the all-female crew of the ship Orion’s Huntress, as they embark on adventures. It’s set in the same universe as my Forgotten Stars books, but there is no overlap at all (and I’m not even sure where they occur with regard to one another on a timeline). This is a series of more adult-themed adventures. I’ll be honest and admit that the main reason I set this series in the same universe as the other is to save myself some worldbuilding time. But, as Lt. Uhura once noted, “It’s a big galaxy, Mr. Scott!”

And now that this draft is finally done, I’m moving onto a bunch of long-overdue editing tasks. Counting Orion’s Huntress I now have five novel manuscripts awaiting first mark-ups, so I’m going to be focusing on that probably right up to November. First up is the initial markups of The Savior Worlds, book IV of The Song of Forgotten Stars. Then will be either the sequel to The Chilling Killing Wind or the untitled man-versus-nature supernatural thriller I drafted a few years back and have left fallow ever since. If time permits I’ll get through both of those, but if I only have time for one, it will probably be the man-v-nature story, and then I’ll edit Seaflame! Book One, because my hope and goal is to use this year’s NaNoWriMo to start Book Two of that one. (It will be a duology, and almost two halves of one very big book.)

So, here we go into The Savior Worlds!

It's time for me to return to the planet Xonareth.... #amwriting #editing #forgottenstars #thesaviorworlds #BookIV

Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!! Excelsior, Star Warriors!

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National Poetry Month: Why Writers Should Read Poetry, part I

[I posted Part One of this post last year, but then…well, last year wasn’t the best ever in terms of my posting and blogging regularity. I’m trying to do better this year, so we’re gonna try this again.]

Robert Frost
Image via

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

–Randall Jarrell (1914-1965)

When the Lion at his pleasure comes
To the watering place to drink, ah see!
See the lesser beasts of Al-Rassan
Scatter, like blown leaves in autumn,
Like air-borne seedlings in the spring,
Like grey clouds that part to let the first star
Of the god shine down upon the earth.

–Guy Gavriel Kay, from The Lions of Al-Rassan

April is National Poetry Month, so I’ll be doing some posting about poetry over the next few weeks, starting with this. Should writers read poetry? Should they write it? While I would never presume to tell writers what they should or should not write, I tend to think that the answers to both questions are Yes.

I have occasionally committed acts of poetry myself, but not very often, and as I don’t generally find the results particularly encouraging, I don’t intend to share them except as very brief excerpts in my fiction. I do, however, read a decent amount of poetry, and I firmly believe that all writers should do so.

It all comes down to what Stephen King called “the writer’s toolbox,” and his dictum that to be a good writer one must read a lot and write a lot. Reading a lot extends a writer’s grasp, and reading poetry extends it in ways that reading a lot of fiction does not. If writing is likened to carpentry–extending Mr. King’s metaphor a bit–than reading poetry is like learning entirely new methods and techniques. A new way to stain a piece of wood, say, or perhaps a new method of joinery.

While poetry can certainly be read for its technical aspects, I find myself concentrating much less these days on things like rhyme or meter than I did when I was reading poetry in school. What I’m after now is the language itself. I read poetry to see, in new ways, just what language can really do.

Consider metaphor. Here’s a poem called “Up-Hill”, by Christina Rosetti:

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

I suppose the metaphor here is pretty obvious: the road that is being walked here is life itself, and the inn at the end that cannot be missed and has beds for all who come is death. That’s not especially hard to see. But the craft of the metaphor is what’s interesting here, and in my experience, metaphor is best explored via an industrious reading of the poets.

Then there is description. Writers often worry about description: what’s too much, what’s too little, which details are best to utilize in painting a word-picture, which details are best left aside. As much as I love the work of JRR Tolkien, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo, the fact is that writers these days are not given as much space to craft their descriptions as in decades or centuries past, so we have to be careful.

This is where reading poetry can help us. Take this short verse by Tran Nhan-tong, a Vietnamese emperor and poet who lived from 1258 to 1308:

The willows trail such glory that the birds are struck dumb.
Evening clouds balance above the eave-shaded hall.
A friend comes, not for conversation,
But to lean on the balustrade and watch the turquoise sky.

(translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich, in the collection World Poetry)

So few details! In fact, there are almost no details given here, just statements of fact. But can anyone read this and not create a mental picture of a summer evening, looking out at the willows beneath a turquoise sky dotted with clouds? If they can, I don’t know how.

And then there is rhyme and meter and alliteration and all the other various things that our high school English teachers tried teaching us. Those are all wonderful tools that you can use in your storytelling. For all our focus on things like plot, character, and world building, ultimately the spell that our stories cast is deeply dependent on how we use our language. That’s where so much of the real magic lies, and this is best learned by reading poetry with an eye to what the language is doing.

Next up: Where to start?

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Remembering William Goldman

William Goldman, accepting his Oscar for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. From

William Goldman died last year. He lived a long and brilliant life as one of the finest screenwriters, penning such films as All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, and what might be his most beloved work, The Princess Bride. That last is doubly special because not only is the movie wonderful, but it’s an adaptation of a novel of Goldman’s as well. The novel works wonderfully on its own, and Goldman’s adaptation isn’t just a slavish transliteration of the book to the screen, but rather a loving creation all its own, that has its own focus and its own way of making use of its own medium to tell its story.

Goldman tends to be beloved of storytellers in many mediums, and not just because he was a great storyteller himself. He was also great at writing about storytelling, and this is borne out in two books of his that I consider essential reading for anyone interested in writing, or in film, or in the general enterprise of storytelling to begin with. Those books are Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell?.

Here is a wonderful anecdote from the making of Marathon Man, a thriller Goldman wrote (again, adapting an earlier novel of his) about the pursuit of a Nazi war criminal. The film starred Laurence Olivier, Dustin Hoffman, and Roy Scheider. Here is Goldman:

Last Olivier story.

He and Roy Scheider were rehearsing a scene. In the story they are very close to voilence, but both are still trying to figure out what the other one knows. The dialog went like this:

OLIVIER: We must talk. Truthfully. Are you to be trusted?–


OLIVIER: –Was that the truth? Or are you trying to upset me?–

SCHEIDER: –I know why you’re here—and I know that sooner or later you’re going to go to the bank–

OLIVIER: –perhaps I have already been.

Schlesinger [director John Schlesinger] interrupted them. He said, “Larry, that’s supposed to go fast, and after Roy says the line about the bank, you’re taking a pause before ‘Perhaps I have already been.’ Don’t take the pause.”

Olivier said “Of course,” and they started into the dialog again. And then he stopped. “I have a problem about not taking the pause.”

We waited.

“I’m trying to find out information. Roy says, ‘I know why you’re here.’ And I need to find out what that means. Then Roy says, “I know…” And I’m listening. Then he says, ‘I know that sooner or later…’ And I’m still listening. Now he says, ‘I know that sooner or later you’re going to go…’ And I’m still listening. Finally he says, ‘I know that sooner or later you’re going to go to the bank.’ That pause I’m taking is to give me time to register the information about the bank.”

“I understand,” Schlesinger said, “But we’ve got to get rid of the pause.”

Olivier turned to me, then. “Bill,” he said, “could I suggest an alteration in the line? Would it be all right if I changed it so that the line went, ‘I know that you’re going to go to the bank sooner or later?’ You see, then I could register the word bank while he was saying ‘sooner or later’ and I wouldn’t need the pause.”

Obviously it was fine with me and the line was altered and we went on without the pause. And probably this two minutes of rehearsal explained at length doesn’t seem like much put down in black and white.

But that moment—when the actor of the century asked me would I mind if he switched six words around—is the most memorable incident of my movie career. Olivier. Calling me “Bill.” Olivier. Asking me would I mind.

That’s high cotton….

Goldman knows, in Which Lie?, that The Princess Bride might well be the project of his most likely to carry his name into Time. He writes lovingly about that film, focusing in the end on the sad story of Andre the Giant, who so wonderfully played Fezzik in the movie. Andre died a few years later, and was greatly mourned. Here is part of Goldman’s tribute:

Andre would never come out and say that wrestling might not be legit. He fought 300 plus times a year for about 20 years, and all he ever admitted was that he didn’t like being in the ring with someone he thought might be on drugs. When he was in his prime, men who weighed 250 or 300 pounds would hurl themselves on him from the top rope and he would catch them and not budge.

But even seven years ago his body was beginning to betray him. There is a scene at the end of The Princess Bride where Robin Wright—and yes she is that beautiful—jumped out of a castle window, and Andre was to catch her at the bottom.

The shot was set up for Roin to be lifted just above camera range and then dropped in Andre’s arms. Maybe a foot. Maybe two. But not much and Robin was never that heavy.

The first take, she was dropped and he caught her—and gasped, suddenly white like paper, and almost fell to his knees. His back was bad. And getting worse, and soon there would be surgery.

Andre once said to Billy Crystal, “We do not live long, the big and the small.”


Next, two bits of inspiration, because every book on storytelling should make people feel better about this most ancient of human enterprises (I suppose there’s one human enterprise that’s older than storytelling, but who knows—stories had to play a part in that one, too). This comes at the end of Adventures in the Screen Trade:

I think there’s a wave of talent rising now. Thousands upon thousands of young men and women who literally love film. I realize this is a book about Hollywood, so obviously there has to be a happy ending. Only I’m not tacking this on. I believe that wave is upon us and that it’s not going to be stopped. And to all that talent, let me say, where the hell have you been and I wish you joy…

…and may you ignore the critics when they attack you, and pay no attention to their praise…

…and may you please remember when your scenes are sludge, that screenplays are structure…

…and may you have peers as willing to improve your project as you must be; treat them kindly, for they will save your ass many times over…

…and may you always remember “it’s only a movie” but never forget that there are lots worse things than movies—like politicians…

…and may you be lucky enough and skilled enough to make some glorious moments for all those people sitting out there in the dark, as earlier craftsmen created such moments for you…

…and finally and most of all…

…may all your scars be little ones….

And finally, this. It’s a sidebar at the very end of Adventures in the Screen Trade.

Writing Time

The one thing I think all writers like to talk about is their work habits. When do you write? For how long? Where? Endless questions. So I want to spend a minute now on the basic problem facing us all: doing it.

When I began, at twenty-four, the work always came out in a burst. The Temple of Gold took less than three weeks. A year later, Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow, less than two. And in between, nothing much happened that bettered the human condition, just going to the movies, a double feature a day, sometimes two, everything on 42nd Street or the Thalia on West 95th. Two years basically wasted until the next book, which was Soldier in the Rain.

I was having a career, God yes. Three novels published by age twenty-eight, two of them million-copy sellers in paperback, the third into a movie.

What I wasn’t having was a life.

I never had a real job so whenever I wanted to write, I could. Morning, night, all night if I watned—and I suspect it I had continued that way, I was heading for disaster.

There is no wrong when it comes to work habits. It doesn’t matter if you use a Mac or a quill pen. There is no best way to go about storytelling. Bergman writes from ten to three and in ten weeks, he’s got a screenplay. Graham Greene, another hero, counted words. Yes, you read that right, he counted each and every word until he reached his magic number—three hundred. And when he got there, guess what, he quit for the day, in the middle of a sentence or not.

They had the one thing writers need most: discipline.

My great editor, Hiram Haydn, was a very busy man. He started or ran publishing houses, had a wife and a bunch of kids, was editor of The American Scholar.

And wrote novels.

He was my editor from Soldier in the Rain through The Princess Bride, was a wondrous father figure for me. Once we were talking about a novel of his, The Hands of Esau, that he was so close to finishing, and I asked him how long since he began it and he said probably eight years.

How do you stay the same person for that long, I wondered?

You just do the best you can, he replied. You hope.

When do you write?

Sunday morning, he said. Every Sunday morning.

That was the only time available to him. The rest of his life was kids and work and family and commuting and meetings and dealing with crazy writers; Sunday morning was all he could carve out, so he played it as it laid.

You have to protect your writing time, he said then.

That’s the best basic advice I can give to any writer. You have to protect your writing time. You have to protect it to the death.

I think it should always be the same time. Each day, each night, each whatever. Can be half an hour, more when you’re on a roll, probably shouldn’t be less. I know a brilliant young writer who has zero problem writing. Her problem is sitting. Her computer is surrounded by a mine field and she will come up with the most amazing reasons not to try to cross it. And no, she is neither crazy nor along in her problem–

because the easiest thing to do on earth is not write.

The need for a schedule is simple: You’ll have hours, days, when you just sit there, but eventually, you come to know that your writing time is not and things begin to happen as you sit there.

And if you manage to suck it up, if you decide you must get your stories down, then there is one other thing that’s crucial: don’t talk about it. Tell no one.

Once others know, they will look at you strangely, they will question you, they will ask you terrible questions–

–how’s it coming?

–is it fun?

–when is it going to be finished?

–I bet it’s fun

–when can I see it?

You don’t need those words buzzing around your ears. So keep the start of your career secret. Keep the time sacred.

Remember: nobody made you be a writer.

Now, I myself am pretty firmly a member of Team Write Every Day, but you can’t always do that and you shouldn’t feel shame if you can’t do that. But in that case, the best compromise is Goldman’s Team Write At The Same Time Each Day/Week/Whatever, because there’s another, shorter term for members of Team Write When You Feel Like It. That term is nonwriters.

One last bit. In discussing the script to Casablanca in Which Lie Did I Tell?, Goldman says as an aside, “I wish to God I’d written lines as glorious as ‘I was misinformed.’”

Well, here’s the thing about that. Casablanca famously boasts that wonderful last line, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” That is an amazing final line, and I consider it one of the two greatest last lines in movie history.

The other? It’s by William Goldman. Here’s the scene, after the Grandpa has finished reading the book to The Kid:

THE KID: Grandpa?

The Old Man stops, turns.

THE KID: Maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow.

GRANDFATHER: (a beat) As you wish.

And his smile is enough. As The Grandfather steps out the door, tipping his hat–



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