Three More Stories

I’ve been doing other things, mainly fiddling with this web site, but I’ve also been writing some more stories in the Mage and the Boffin series. Here they are!

Flickering

When Alan is threatened “everything flickers” and he finds himself in a strange new place. He will have to start again from next to nothing. No home, no friends, no money. He needs to find someone who can help him make sense of it all.

The Dichotomy

The Mage and the Boffin go to Hell. They have an interesting talk with the Devil, and they talk about the Great Dichotomy. The Devil is friendly enough until he reveals his true nature.

I am the Apocalypse

A pandemic sweeps the world, and Mack holes up in his apartment. But has he isolated himself in time?

Some of my stories have been published on Amazon (as eBooks and paperbacks) and Kobobooks and Smashwords (as eBooks). Here are the links to my Author Pages on those sites.

Please note, I’ve decided to share my stories here as PDFs. If you would prefer a different format, for example, an ePub file, just let me know through my feedback form.

Pet – A Journey

The Road
The Road (Photo by Tyler Kellen from FreeImages)

Imagine a world where men are much less intelligent than women. What would it be like? Would the men become little more than pets, or would they still be able to hold their own in a relationship? What would such a relationship look like?

I’ve written a story about a couple, Jess and Pet, who live in such a world. The story is available here. It’s in a number of parts, and each part is less than 3,000 words long.

Please note, I’ve decided to share my stories here as PDFs. If you would prefer a different format, for example, an ePub file, just let me know through my feedback form.

Some of my stories have been published on Amazon (as eBooks and paperbacks) and Kobobooks and Smashwords (as eBooks). Here are the links to my Author Pages on those sites.

Black Swans and Cherry Picking

A family of black swans. [Photo by luis rock from FreeImages]

There’s nothing quite like arguing with Climate Change disbelievers or those who believe that 5G is harmful. Or similar ‘fringe’ believers. Oh, some of the fringe beliefs may turn out to be true, it is true, but most of them, and almost certainly the ones I mention above, will turn out to be false.

One particular line of argument caused my jaw to drop. I want to share its ridiculousness with you. It goes this way. Firstly those who cite mainstream articles, ones which espouse Climate Climate or the harmlessness of 5G are accused of cherry picking the results that support the mainstream point of view. There are after all, hundreds of papers, the critics point out, that espouse the opposite view.

Well, yes. In a very narrow sense they are right, of course, but why would anyone cite papers that oppose their point of view? There are good theoretical grounds for believing that Climate Change exists, and that 5G will not harm us, therefore the fact that most experiments support this view is not surprising. Experiments that do show that Climate Change doesn’t exist, or that 5G will harm us should therefore be considered with suspicion, especially if, as is usually a case, there is no theoretical basis for the claims, and the claims are unverified.

It is worth noting that some papers that support Climate Change do cite papers which deny Climate Change and the same is true of some papers that investigate the effects of radiation on the human body. They cite them in the sense that “we looked for the effect described in this paper, but didn’t find it”.

But mainstream believers can turn around and accuse the deniers of Cherry Picking their references too! Can’t they? Surely they also have been choosing only those results that align with their view?

“Not so!” the deniers cry. “The references that we pick are Black Swans!”

What?

A little background. The philosopher Karl Popper stated that a theory can never be proved, but can only be disproved. One example that is often quoted is the theory that “All swans are white”. This can never be proved because, no matter how many white swans that you find, the next one you find might be black. Or red or green or blue, maybe. All the white swans that you find support the theory, but one Black Swan demolishes it completely.

Of course, it is rarely as black and white as that (sorry). Scientists figuratively find an off-white swan.

“See, we said that the theory is false. That is not a white swan,” say the deniers. The other camp say “Yes, of course it is white! A bit of a dirty white, but still white.” “No, it isn’t!” “Yes, it is!”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a finance professor and former Wall Street trader, extended this idea. He defined a Black Swan event as one which  is impossible to predict due to its extreme rarity but which could have catastrophic consequences, and which is explained in hindsight as if it were actually predictable. Just as a verifiable counter example could be catastrophic for a widely accepted theory.

The deniers, it appears, have in turn extended this definition to “a Black Swan is any experiment whose results run contrary to mainstream thought”. This completely demolishes the counter argument, supposedly, whether the experiment is verified or not. And they are never verified.

A true Black Swan experiment could be defined as one which is a) verified and accepted as producing true results, and b) contradicts a currently widely held theory. The ‘Black Swans’ pointed to the anti-5G supporters fail to fulfil ‘a)’ above.

Leaving aside the fact that scientists have their biases just as do normal folk, one can’t tell simply from a list of papers whether they have been verified by others or not. Very often, the list is said to contain ‘peer reviewed’ papers, as if that adds any veracity to any of the papers in the list. A peer reviewer merely reports that a paper is OK to publish or not.

For example, there were plenty of peer reviewed papers that supposedly showed that smoking cigarettes was harmless. There were others that supposedly showed that smoking would kill you.

Why did those that argued that smoking was dangerous win? Certainly not because of any ‘cherry picking’ or ‘black swans’.

Picked cherries [Photo by fgdfgd dfgdfg from FreeImages]

Firstly, there was a consensus among scientists that smoking endangered health. This was driven by the sheer corpus of evidence that built up in favour of that theory, and the fact that the experiments that favoured the opposite could be criticised on many levels. It couldn’t be said that the opposition was ignored. In fact many scientists spent many hours examining supposedly contrary evidence and decided that it was wrong.

Secondly, there was evidence that the chemicals in tobacco smoke were shown, outside of the context of smoking, to be dangerous. So, if you inhaled them because you were smoking, then you exposed yourself to those dangers.

Thirdly, there was ample evidence that stopping smoking resulted in better health outcomes, even if the smoker had been a smoker for years. Even the proverbial man in the street could see it.

As regards Climate Change and 5G opposition, the evidence continues to build for the former, and attempts to demonstrate a harmful effect for the latter continue to be less than impressive.

Climate Change is all but confirmed, but people do continue dissent. That is their right, but it is pointless.

The 5G opposition is strident and irrational. They continue to ignore the evidence, and instead present a body of so-called evidence that is not convincing. They ignore a body of evidence that claims that EMF of the 5G frequencies does not affect the human body, and justifies this by a ludicrous appeal to ‘Black Swans’ which is misapplication of the ideas of Karl Popper.

I’m sure that Popper would be spinning in his grave, if he knew the ways that the 5G opposition were misusing his wise words.

5G [Image by ADMC from Pixabay]

Unprecedented

The situation is unprecedented. There will be mistakes, over-reactions, back downs, changes of directions. There will be shortages of this, that, and the other and panic buying and hoarding, people not getting the help that they should. There will be accidental and intentional breeches of self-isolation. There will be people saying stupid things (I’m looking at you Hoskins) and others doing them. There will be others selflessly putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of you, me and the rest of us.

The authorities are moving faster than they have ever before to try to contain the situation. Many, many times faster. Obviously not everything is going to go right. That is not their fault, though they will probably blame themselves. It is the fault of the situation.

The Government is probably unable to help those stuck overseas. They are probably unable to help those from overseas stuck here. There’s no use in assigning blame.

They are probably going to change their minds on things twenty times a day. This doesn’t show indecision. This is merely day to day reaction to what is happening.

Let’s not forget that they are doing their best. The Government, the police, the medical profession, shop keepers, food growers, all the supply chain workers, from the farmers to the supermarket workers. Plumbers, who fix that pipe which burst at the worst possible time. Teachers who are struggling to keep the education system going. They are all doing their best.

In my opinion, temporarily making supermarkets the sole source of food and other supplies is a good move. Shutting butchers’ shop might not have been a good idea, but I understand why it was done. Letting booze outlets sell their wares online is probably a good idea, for morale, if nothing else. I reluctantly agree that keeping the cigarette factories open is a good idea, though I hate smoking.

Sadly, when this is all over, there will be recriminations. People will accuse the Government, the police, the medical profession, and all of those who struggled to maintain some sense of normality in these abnormal times, of making wrong decisions. Wrong decisions will have been made, but those decisions will have been made with the best of intentions. People should remember that.

(My apologies. I will not be including any images in this post. I just want to get it out there.)

What to do When You Have Nothing to Do

Comfy Chimp
Photo by Chad Littlejohn from FreeImages

The previous post, which I posted on February 20th, was about the possible extinction of the human race as a result of global warming. Since then, the Covid-19 virus has become a huge threat, and we all have to self-isolate and stay home. It’s not an extinction threat, but it is a threat.

For those of us in paid employment, self-isolation means working from home, which of course brings problems, especially with regards to any children who are in the home. Even though in most cases there will be partners at home who can give the home worker a hand looking after the children, it may well be that both partners are working from home, and it then becomes a question of how child care is arranged between the partners.

That could be a problem of course. But for those of us whose children have left home, there is a different issue. Typically, a married couple or long term partners have different interests. That’s fine in a “normal” (scare quotes) situation, but in these unusual times, couples are forced more closely together.

That can be a mixed blessing. You may be able to recapture some of the attraction that brought you together in the first place, which, while not lost, has mutated into a more mature relationship. But you have matured, and you will have, usually, developed interests which you partner may not share.

Photo by carl dwyer from FreeImages

They may not share your interests, but they will support you in them. They will tolerate your culinary experimentation, while you will indulge them in their taste for art house cinema.

So, I am a writer and a geek. My wife tolerates these interests, just as I indulge her in her liking for quiz shows on the TV. I actually enjoy them too.

I’m a deep geek. I have written low level routines for several Operating Systems, and I’ve even written programs which run at a hardware level on some. Don’t worry about the terms I use. It just means that I have delved as low as it is possible to do so without actually designing computer chips and the circuits that they operate in.

So, what has this to do with my title? Well, in the absence of doing things like shopping, at the supermarket and other places, which I’m happy to do with my wife in normal times, of course, how do I fill the hours?

Photo by Renxx Gmdr from FreeImages

Well, I’m spending a little more time on my writing, but on the geek side of things, I’ve been looking at moving my web site from WordPress to Drupal. Not seriously. I’ve long been a fan of Drupal, but I’ve settled on WordPress as my platform of choice, and that is unlikely to change.

Drupal is much more flexible than WordPress. That means of course that it is more complex. WordPress has ‘posts’ and ‘pages’. Pages are static, intended to have a long lifetime. Posts are intended to be ephemeral, at least in terms of relevance. You might want to look at a post from three years ago, but you are more likely to want to read a recent one. Pages are the things that tell people about you (“about” pages) or allow people to contact you (“feedback” pages), and so on.

Drupal has ‘Article’ and ‘Basic page’ ‘content types’ which, roughly correspond to WordPress posts and pages, but you can easily add extra content types in Drupal. Drupal has a highly complex system which allows you to do this, often using one or more of an extensive list of modules which enhance the system.

WordPress also has a system, the plugin system, which allows you to extend the base system. In fact there are thousands of plugins, but if you can’t find one that you want, you may be able to cobble something together from existing plugins.

The Drupal icon
The Drupal Icon

So these are the things that I have come across so far in my geeky delving. I downloaded the Drupal 8 package onto my ‘server’ (otherwise known as the computer in the back room) and installed it.

Drupal works out of the box, after a fashion, but you would probably not use it like that. Some things can be fixed, like the site logo, but others need one or more modules.

I set about downloading and installing the modules necessary to make the site look better. One example of Drupal’s quirkiness out of the box is that Articles and Basic Pages have addresses like https://<site-name>/node/293. A module is necessary to change it to something user friendly like https://<site-name>/feedback for the feedback form.

Somewhere along the line I discovered that the correct way to install Drupal and its modules these days is to use a program called ‘composer’. This is basically a package management system. Yes, yet another package management system to learn. Oh well. So I blew everything away and started again from scratch.

Photo by Dimitris Kritsotakis from FreeImages

Next I downloaded the modules necessary to allow me to import my WordPress website into Drupal (using ‘composer’). I always knew that it wouldn’t be an exact fit, but at least I would be able to see what it looked like, and what I had to do to make it look reasonable. I wasn’t trying for an exact copy of my WordPress site.

I managed to import my Posts and Page from WordPress into Drupal as Articles and Basic Pages, and they looked, um, OK. So I went looking for ‘themes’. Both WordPress and Drupal have themes, which are essentially great bunches of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript. They can change the look and feel of a site in an instant. I downloaded it and installed it via the ‘composer’.

That was a lot better, but I wanted to tweak the styles a little, so I sub-themed it and created a small file with just my changes in it. This small file overrode the parts of the main theme, while the main theme supplied the rest. Or so the theory goes. In fact I had to add some parts of the theme configuration (the ‘regions’) to my sub-theme to make it work properly. I don’t know why sub-themes don’t inherit everything from the main theme automatically. It seems sort of broken.

I discovered that the images in my Drupal site still pointed to my WordPress site, which was a nuisance. One way to prevent that would be to edit the Import file and manually change the addresses. Definitely do-able, but I shelved that problem for now.

Photo by Luiz Fernando Pilz from FreeImages

Another thing that I spotted about images was that the images that I uploaded appeared under the ‘Images’ tab of ‘Content’ part of the Admin pages. But there was another tab, labelled ‘Media’ which was empty. After a bit of reading I discovered that there is move away from images towards Media Image objects, which are more like WordPress Media images.

Which sounded great until I found that there Media Image objects could not (currently) be embedded into content via the WYSIWYG editor. No button. But this is, fortunately, scheduled to appear in the next release of Drupal.

And that’s about when I gave up. Drupal is a great CMS, but it is not easy to learn, like WordPress. I could use it, but it would take a lot of work, and maybe I’ll delve into it again at some time, but for now I’m happy with WordPress.

Drupal is flexible, but the price of that flexibility is complexity. I was trying think of an analogy to contrast the two CMSes, but the only ones that I could think of denigrated one or the other in some way. There’s more than enough room for both.

Image from https://kinsta.com/blog/wordpress-vs-drupal/

Extinction

Trilobyte
Photo by Martyn E. Jones from FreeImages

Most people would agree that the climate crisis is real and serious. Many people would say that we are not doing much to combat it, and they are probably correct.

One effect of the climate crisis and the spread of humanity to all corners of the globe is that species are becoming extinct, as climate change or the spread of humans and their activities destroys their habitats. In some cases, humans have deliberately targeted species for food or even sport. If you search the Internet you will find numerous lists of extinct species like this one.

The effect of our activities and the resulting climate changes on wildlife is horrific. For example, Polar Bears are affected by the melting of the sea ice, which they use to travel, and which they hunt on and hunt from.

Image by Thomas Picard from Freeimages

Unless these animals, and others who have lost their habitats from climate change, or human expansion, can find new ways to hunt, then they are doomed to extinction.

Humans are expanding so fast, and taking over so much land, that they are destroying the habitats of species and driving them to extinction. Logging and forest fires, both natural and deliberately lit, have decimated the habitat of the orangutan , for example, and many, many other less noticeable species have probably already been driven to extinction .

As I have said, the coming apocalypse is probably unavoidable. Many species will become extinct, and the human race, at best, will be reduced almost to the caveman level. At worst, we will become extinct too. Post-apocalyptic novels generally show the human race bouncing back from almost complete annihilation, but that is unlikely to happen. Species don’t often rebound from such a set back if their habitat has been destroyed.

“_MG_3544” by Lauer Manuel B is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Suppose the human race and 90% of life on Earth becomes extinct. What then? Well, actually, the outlook is bright for the planet. This is not the first time that such an extinction event has occurred. According to some, there have been five prior mass extinction events.

So, life on Earth, as a whole, has bounced back, even if individual species, have been rendered extinct. How does this happen? Surely there would be fewer species around, and while competition might be reduced and predators may have become extinct, still, how are a few species going to repopulate the world?

It may be surprising to some, but almost all of the species that have ever existed are now extinct. Every species that we see is a descendent of a few species that survived the previous extinction event. Only about 25% of species that existed at the time survived, and in earlier extinctions, only 5% of species survived.

“Badger’s face” by Heliosphere is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Suppose one species, maybe a badger, survives. Whatever species (plural) survive, they are likely to be adaptable, able to eat anything, and be fast breeding. The badger flourishes in the post-apocalyptic world, and spreads far and wide. Few other mammals are around to compete with it.

The badger families start to differentiate. Some prefer open areas, some prefer trees, some might even take to the water. Over a long period the families lose the ability to inter-breed. They become different species, filling all the niches that other species used to fill, and they don’t even look like badgers any more.

If this is a sixth extinction event then for a long time only a few species would rule the world. But over a longer time frame, as I noted above, the few species would evolve to fill all available niches.

Photo by schulergd from FreeImages

DNA, which is within every living thing, determines everything about an organism. Species, shape, abilities. DNA is so flexible that the number of possible organisms is very large, almost infinite. This means that even though millions of species may become extinct, the few survivors can evolve into millions of new but different species.

So, while there would not be mice, there might be mouse-like creatures. There would be bird-like creatures, mosquito-like creatures, and probably human-type creatures. They wouldn’t look much like their present day counterparts, but they would fill those niches, provided those niches still exist. As an example the replacement for the bird species would probably be as different from birds as the pterodons were from present bird species.

Photo by Davide Guglielmo from FreeImages

It depends on what the conditions turn out to be. For example, in the time of the dinosaurs, the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, conditions favoured large herbivorous animals, although there were certainly also large carnivorous animals.

But those were only the most obvious species. I avoid the word ‘dominant’ because they may have been the most obvious, the biggest animals, but there may have been smaller, less obvious animals that we know little about. (I may be showing my ignorance here!)

Intelligence has, so far as we know, only evolved once. It may well be a fluke, and in the future, post-apocalyptic world, it may not evolve again. If it does, let’s hope that any intelligent species that evolves in the future will do better than we did.

Photo by John Nyberg from FreeImages

Three New Short Stories

The Girl, the Boy, and the Dragon

Idris was a dragon. Not a huge, fierce, fire-breathing dragon. No, Idris was a tiny, two weeks out of the egg, baby dragon, who had lost his mother. Fortunately Idris had met a young human, Jim, who was on the run, though he’d committed no crime. Jim didn’t know how to return Idris to his mother, but fortunately he had a plan.

Download the short story as a PDF here.

How to Save a World

How do you stop mankind from wiping itself out through constant war? Why, you form a special team to use their talents to change the mindset of the leaders and persuade them that diplomacy and trade are a better answer to conflict than constant war. If that isn’t enough there’s one other course of action that will bring peace to a troubled world.

Download the story as a PDF here.

The World Within

Fi seems to be just like any young girl just starting University, but she isn’t. She has a secret. Fi does her best to fit in, and quickly settles into Varsity life. She finds that her new friends, Jess and Felix, also have a secret, one which comes between Jess and her boyfriend, Mark. Fi quietly tries to find out what Jess’ problem is, at first without success.

Download the story as a PDF here.

These three stories will eventually form part of my next “Mage and Boffin” collection of stories, to be published on Amazon and Kobobooks. Here are the links to my Author Pages.

[Please note, I’ve decided to share my stories here only as PDFs. If you would prefer a different format, for example, an ePub file, just let me know through my feedback form.]

The Coming Apocalypse

Bombed out church
Photo by Lisa Setrini-Espinosa from FreeImages

I see people and nations trying to come to terms with global warming, but the efforts to reverse it seems disorganised, incomplete and ineffective. Governments sign agreements containing measures that sound good, but which are not implemented or implemented badly, and all the time the ice melts and the ice caps break apart.

I see Greta Thunberg ranting at the United Nations about their inaction on climate change. She has a point. If the world is to be saved, then those in power should take decisive action, now. But she is preaching to the wrong congregation. Most of those in the UN are in the later stages of their careers. The people that Greta should be taking to task are those of her parents’ generation, those who are just coming into their powers, mainly the millennials.

Can the millennials save the world? I think not.

Can the world be saved through democratic processes? I think not.

The problem with global warming is not the flooding of islands and the melting of the icecaps inundating coastal areas. People can always move inland. No, the problem is inland, in the areas that grow the crops that feed the world and in the forests that provide the life-giving oxygen and remove the stifling carbon dioxide. Global warming is going to inevitably cause crops to fail and forests to die. Droughts, floods, storms that devastate large parts of whole countries will become common.

Dry ground
Photo by Scott Liddell from FreeImages

This will lead to food shortages and famine. Famine leads to the spread of disease and to war, as those without food invade those areas which have food, and those who have food fight to keep what they have. Inevitably the wars will result in the inability of the food growing areas to produce food, leading to deepening famine, and deaths in the billions.

Technology will suffer. The things that we use every day, like cooking equipment, technology that we utilize to entertain ourselves, or our means of communication, like our smartphones, will not be produced as people find it necessary to concentrate on obtaining food rather than producing technological wonders. The networks will fail.

We will see the failure of democracy and the rise of autocracies as wars proliferate and famine and disease spread.

Fidel Castro
Photo by Mike Minor from FreeImages

The autocracies and wholesale death by famine and disease may be the saving of the human race. If the human race is decimated, the pressure on the planet may ease, and the forests may return, springing up from remnants of the original forests or from species that have imported into the area by humans of our era. The autocrats may force workers to recreate the forests, because, after all, they will have experienced the effects of global warming. They can compel whereas democracies cannot. Autocrats are not magnanimous, but their best interests will hopefully be served by an end to global warming.

Where does that leave us? With a human population of much less than a billion. With the forests returning, maybe not the original forests, but forests made up of different species from other parts of the globe. There will be animals, but probably not the original species. With temperatures falling, and oceans returning to health.

There will be countries, but not the countries of today, and it is unlikely that any global organization, like the United Nations will remain. All current treaties and agreements will be long gone, replaced by other more local agreements and treaties.

Indigenous peoples may resurge in some places, but disappear in other.

It will be a world unlike our current world. Technology will have reverted as the huge factories needed to support it will have gone, but the knowledge may be retained, and the technology may resurge, but probably in a simpler fashion, using fewer resources. The day of the mega-factory will be over.

People will not fly around the world, and would probably live, and die close to where they were born. Large cities, of the size of London, Shanghi, or New York, will probably die, but smaller cities will likely survive.

That is the best case scenario. In the worst case the famines and wars will reduce the human race to very small numbers, and once the decline has got to those sorts of levels, the human race will fade away. No species resurges to previous levels after a die off of this magnitude without outside help. Where are the aliens when you need them ?

Inflatable aliens
Photo by Cheryl Empey from FreeImages

A Can of Worms

The Writer at Work
The Writer at Work

This is yet another post about the writing process. OK, it fascinates me, as I consider what happens in my brain/mind as I write something, but I risk the possibility of it not being interesting to anyone else. It’s around 1500 words long, which is a bit longer than my usual posts.

So, the conventional view of the writing process is that it is a linear process. The writer sits down at his or her desk, starts furiously writing, casting off page after page, until with a final flourish he types or writes “The End” and the deed is done.

The real process is much more dynamic than that, at least for me. The following is a brief description of what happened when I wrote a story that I have written about in previous posts. I haven’t included any elements of the story because I want to concentrate on the process.

The End
The End

In a previous post, I wrote about a story that, as I wrote it, became too long for the competition in which I wanted to enter it. When I had completed it, I modified it and shortened it. However I wasn’t happy with the result, so I abandoned it, and started again from scratch, cutting and pasting bits from the original now and then.

This worked fine and I submitted the story into the competition. However, I now had three versions of the same story, and one of them, the original short one, was significantly different from the other two. A core topic in the story had changed, and the motivation of the main character was consequently different. There were other things about that version that I didn’t like so I considered consigning it to the bit bucket. However (fortunately) I didn’t do that right away.

I was happy with the version that I submitted for the competition, but I felt that the longer version could be improved. With no limit on the length, I could be more descriptive, go into the characters a bit more and draw out their motivations and fill in their back stories. I could also pull in bits from the short version which did work, and also ideas from the competition version that weren’t in the longer version.

Merging three stories into one
Merging three stories into one

I hope that I’ve given some idea of how complex this was. I was effectively merging three versions into one, and some bits didn’t fit together too well. I was constantly revising the longer one so that the timeline and the events fitted together properly with the bits I was getting from the other two versions. Normally things don’t get as complex as this for me!

After I got a consistent story, I developed it further. I’d add a paragraph or two to bring out the motivation of some character or other, and as a result one or two of the minor characters blossomed into being more than minor characters.

Initially the main character and his wife were a bit aloof, but I decided to make them more sociable, more friendly. The wife mostly dropped out of the main story, but returns for a major cameo. Another major character developed to become almost the equal of the protagonist, and a minor character emerged from the shadows to become a more rounded character.

The Protagonist
The Protagonist, but not of my story! It’s actually the goddess, Nike.

By this stage my story was complete in the longer version, and, because I had effectively gutted and abandoned the original shortened version I deleted it, as mentioned above. So now I had two versions, the shorter competition version and the longer version.

Now, when I’ve written a story, and although it is in a sense complete, I don’t leave it there. I read it through, again and again, constantly revising and modifying it. I don’t usually change the story that much, but I go after spelling errors, grammatical errors, continuity errors, and so on. In every run through I change something. Maybe just the way that I said something. The position of a word in a sentence. Maybe a name, a location, a motivation. I could keep editing probably for ever. I never write “The End”.

My main point here is that, using modern technology, I have been able to, basically, rewrite the story twice and extend and revise the original story dramatically.

Juliet's Balcony
A balcony in Verona which has nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet, but still gets visited and photographed by tourists who think it has.

I wonder how ancient writers did it. I can’t imagine Shakespeare turning out multiple drafts of his plays. For one thing, he did it by hand. To create a new draft, he would have to write out the whole thing again with the changes. The decision to change the name of a character from “Fred” to “Mercutio” wouldn’t be taken lightly. For another thing, paper was, relatively speaking, expensive in those days. Printing was expensive.

Once he had written the play, it would be printed, but only a few copies would be produced. The printed copies were not intended for general reading, but were intended as “prompt books” for use in a theatre. This means, of course, that each printing might be different.

Old Books
Old books. I imagine that Shakespeare’s plays would have been printed in books like this.

I’ve not heard of Shakespeare making notes or outlines of his plays, but maybe he did. Maybe somewhere there is Shakespeare’s hand a scrap of paper that says something like “R sees J on blcny. J doesn’t see R. R calls J, J calls guards. R thrown out.” But we know that the final version doesn’t run that way!

I conclude that Shakespeare probably had the whole play mapped out in his mind, or at least great parts of it, including the words that he invented, the sentence construction, the characters and the plot. It’s an awesome feat if he did do it that way. The idea of juggling all those characters and scenes in his head, developing the story, and finally getting it down on paper in an almost final version is amazing.

Well, I wrote that before actually wondering if there was anything on the Internet about how Shakespeare wrote his plays. The answer is fascinating, at least to me! It seems that Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights of the era cooperated extensively with each other, adding bits to each other’s plays. So Shakespeare’s plays were, in part, written by others! Interestingly, that’s very similar to the way that TV shows are written today, I understand.

An author at work
An author at work

We have the luxury, these days to dash off a story (or a play or whatever) and not worry too much about the details. We can fix those on the second go through! Electrons are as cheap as chips. I could have edited the bit about Shakespeare above, but I wanted to demonstrate how I was thinking, since this is post is about my thought processes when I write things.

So, I’d say the my writing style is like opening a can of worms. Who knows in what direction they are going to wriggle? Who knows where they are going to take us? I have a strong feeling that when I write a story, I’m only nominally in charge. The characters seem to have a life of their own, and they have their own needs and desires. They interact in way that I would not have predicted when I started writing their story and often the story changes as I write it. I’m often interested in how it is going to turn out.

That’s how I write. But others do it differently. Some, even in this electronic era write things out by hand. Others use mechanical typewriters and a few swear by old, really old, versions of software.

Mechanical typewriter
Mechanical typewriter

Things are different from Shakespeare’s day in many ways. It is more usual to write novels, rather than plays, and books are cheap and widely available. Writers do not, as a general rule, cooperate, as in Shakespeare’s day. A book will perused by an editor and checked by a proof reader many times before it is printed, and may be revised many times.

Even for those who write things by hand have the advantage of paper being cheap and readily available. They, and those who use mechanical typewriters, can easily rewrite a page and slot it into the manuscript fairly easily.

If you read the advice out there on how to write, you would sometimes think that the bare essentials are a well developed plot and well defined characters. I’ve read advice to that effect many times, but there are people who advocate the “just start writing” approach, and that is, as you can see above, my preference. I would not like to be straitjacketed by a rigid plot and static characters.

Inspiration?
Inspiration?

But some people prefer that approach and good luck to them! And there are those in the middle. Those who might have plot in mind or a set of characters, but aren’t about to spend time in developing the plot or the characters in detail. That’s maybe most writers.

Whatever approach you prefer, it is a good idea to research how to write. How to structure a story, how to develop characters and so on. It’s silly to think that all you need to do is pick up a pen and write, and you will produce a best seller. Even the best writers didn’t do that. They wrote at home and at school as kids, and they will have read voraciously, in all sorts of genres, and they may have actually formally studied literature. They will have practised extensively. And that’s what I am doing, and continue to do. Studying and practising. It’s one of the reasons for this blog!

Editing the first draft
Editing the first draft. That’s not me. I would be doing it directly on the computer!

Writing and Arrogance

Arrogance
Arrogance

Have you ever written a word and wondered if you spelled it right? You say to yourself, “That word looks weird!” But the spellchecker doesn’t underline the word. It must be right, mustn’t it? I typed “arrogance” above and it looked wrong, but it is right.

Anyway, that is an aside. As I’m taking a break from the GIMP and Blender, I decided to do some writing. I had an idea in mind, but when I started to write, another story decided it wanted to be written. I mean this seriously, though, obviously stories can’t actually decide anything. It just feels like that.

I had vaguely thought of submitting the story, when I had finished it, in a competition, but it got longer and longer and by the time I had tied up all the loose ends, it had exceeded the competition limit. Rats!

So, I took a copy of the story and set about shrinking it. That’s not too hard, in practise, but it does change the story. I got it down below the limit, but then I had doubts about whether or not it was good enough in the shrunken version. Or for that matter the full version.

Reducing the Size
Reducing the Size

So I asked my daughter.  I didn’t show her about the story, but I asked her questions like “How would you react if this happened….” At the end she said something which shocked me. She said something like “It has to be really different from <a TV series>, otherwise it is not worth writing.”

My story did have similarities to the TV series. Was it different enough to make it interesting? It’s a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears, to write a story. Now it appeared that, not only do I have to ask myself, “Is it good enough?”, but I also have to ask myself, “Is it too similar to anything else?” Ouch!

OK, I took that on board and I’ve parked the abbreviated version for a while, and I’m working on the slightly longer version. I’ll see if I can polish the shorter version until it glows like a pearl later maybe.

This is Weka
This is a Weka. He came up in a search for “short” and “long” for some reason.

So, around the time that I was revising the shorter version, I came across several web pages which categorised adverbs as bad. If a famous writer like Stephen King thinks that adverbs are bad, then they must be bad, right? Well, I invite you to go on a search for articles about adverbs and writing, and while they mostly stop short of demonising adverbs, the consensus is that it is best, and usually more descriptive, if you don’t use them.

OK, I’m convinced. Mostly. So I had a look at my stories and replaced or removed as many adverbs as I could find. That added a few dozen words to each version, so I still had work to do to get the short version down to the limit. Oh well.

This is where the arrogance comes in. (The word still looks weird!) I’ve never read any articles or tutorials on how to write stories. I always just sit down and write. I don’t have even so much as a skeleton of a plan, and indeed, my stories often end up in places that I hadn’t even thought about when I started. I have generally been thinking about the story for some time before I start. I usually have a character or characters in mind and one or two scenes (for want of a better word).

Wooden Dragon
Dragon without her rider

Maybe the lead character sits on her dinosaur at the top of the mountain pass and contemplates the view before she descends to the peace conference. Or the big battle. She and I will find out which it is as she follows her friends and comrades down into the valley.

So, I searched out a few articles on how to write a story. I’d expected them to all insist on a plan or a synopsis. A character list, a world for them to interact in, and a reason for them to interact. Days, weeks, maybe months before I would get to write a word.

Of course some do suggest that sort of thing, and sometimes they even suggest using spreadsheets! For the record, I’ve tried that, even before I read the articles, before I’d written much at all. It seemed logical. Get the ducks in a row and you can knock them off one by one.

It might work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. As my story grew, it deviated from my plan, and I didn’t go back and change it. Change it? I didn’t even look at it. But it did give me a start.

People on a Beach
People on a beach. (The logos imply that they are probably filming turtles)

OK, the Prince didn’t rescue the Princess from a dragon. No, the Prince rescued his Prince from a forced marriage to the Princess, who was pleased because she was über-friendly with the strapping female leader of the Guard. Only the Princess’ parents were miffed.

I might use this seed of a story sometime. But it started with the idea of someone rescuing someone from something, and I was already vaguely dissatisfied with standard boy saves girl and they fall in love thing. That’s just the Hero Syndrome. Boring. The above scenario still uses the syndrome, but it does give it a bit of a twist.

But anyway, he said, returning to the point, I discovered that the articles on how to write a story were full of useful advice, including in some cases, suggesting the avoidance of adverbs. Who knew? Well not me obviously.

Problem
Problem or Puzzle

The articles were full of good advice, techniques for pressing on when you are stuck, which is something that doesn’t happen to me. Many of them emphasise the trio of people, problem, and place.

What I mean by that is that almost every story needs characters. Oh, of course they needn’t be human. Almost every story needs a reason for the characters to interact, and they to have somewhere to interact.

Take the film “Lost in Space“. The ‘people’ were the Robinson family, together with the Robot and Doctor Zachary Smith. The ‘problem’ was that, because of Smith’s actions they had crash landed on an alien planet and couldn’t make it home. The ‘place’ was obviously the alien planet. Consideration of these three components no doubt helped the writers of the series. I’ll bear that in mind in future.

I’m going to read more of these “How to Write” web pages, to see what I can glean. It was arrogant of me to think that they had nothing to offer me. If I come across something that seems to me to be extra useful, I may write about later.

Alien landscape
Alien landscape

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. Just search for my name, Cliff Pratt. I mainly write fantasy fiction.