Maps—Managing Scope Creep #amwriting #worldbuilding

Scope creep (aka project creep, requirement creep, or kitchen sink syndrome) in project management refers to ongoing changes and continuous (or uncontrolled) growth of a project. This can occur at any point after the project commences.

Untitled.pngworldbuilding-maps-LIRF07052022In writing, this happens when the narrative keeps expanding, and expanding, and expanding … and what was canon in chapter 4 is contradicted in chapter 44. The story grows as we write it.

I love the name kitchen sink syndrome. It means we begin adding everything but the kitchen sink to the project—one of my fatal flaws. This becomes a problem when building science fiction and fantasy worlds because they emerge from our imaginations and grow and evolve with every new idea we have.

Scope creep is built into the early drafts. Readers remember the smallest details and use them to visualize the world they are reading about. They notice contradictions.

We fantasy and sci-fi authors can inadvertently build flaws into the geography as we lay the story down on paper and expand on scenes and interactions. This is why you need some idea of distances and how long it takes to travel using the common mode of transportation.

We don’t want to build contradictions into our narrative, but we all want a way to speed up the process of finishing the first draft. I find a small, hand-scribbled map is the best way to do this. I begin with the opening location.

Also, and this is important–when I get stuck and can’t think of what to write, creating a map helps jog things loose.

Much of my work takes place in the world of Neveyah. This alien environment is familiar to me because I based the plants and topography on the Pacific Northwest, where I live. Other than the Escarpment, the visible scar left behind by the Sundering of the Worlds, the plants and geography are directly pulled from Southern Puget Sound’s forested hills and the farmlands of Western Washington State.

Map of Neveyah, in the time of Aelfrid

Conversely, the Valley of Mal Evol is a reflection of the eastern half of our geographically divided state.

In 2008, when I first began writing in this world, I went to science to see how long it takes for an environment to recover from cataclysmic events. I took my information from the Channeled Scablands of Washington State, a two-hour drive from my home. This vast desert area is formed by the scars of a series of natural disasters occurring around 13,000 years ago.

From Wikipedia: The Cordilleran Ice Sheet dammed up Glacial Lake Missoula at the Purcell Trench Lobe. A series of floods occurring over the period of 18,000 to 13,000 years ago swept over the landscape when the ice dam broke. The eroded channels also show an anastomosing, or braided, appearance. [1]

But what if we’re writing a historical novel. No matter when or where your book is set, a certain amount of worldbuilding will be required. But even though your book may explore a real woman’s experiences, researched through newsreels, her diary, and the interviews you had with her just before her death at the age of 103, you are still writing a fantasy.

This is because, in reality, the world of any book exists only in three places: it begins in the author’s imagination, lands on the pages of the book, and then flows into the reader’s experience through the written word.

We can only view history through the stained glass of time. History, even recent events, assumes a mythical quality when we attempt to record it. Even a documentary movie that shows events filmed by the news camera may not be portrayed as it was truly experienced. The facts are filtered through the photographer’s eye and the historian’s pen.

Any story set in prehistorical times is a fantasy.

  • Historical eras are those where we have written records.
  • Any story set in a society without written records must be considered a fantasy. Although mythology, conjecture, and theorizing abound, few scientific facts exist until an archeological expedition can investigate any artifacts and ruins they left behind. And even then, there will be a certain literary license to the archaeologist’s conclusions.

If you are setting your novel in a real-world city as it currently exists, make good use of Google Earth. Bookmark it now, even if you live in that town, as the maps you will generate will help you stay on track.

proto_city_map_LIRF07052022If you are writing a tale set in a fantasy or sci-fi setting, you are creating that world.

The first map of my world of Neveyah series was scribbled with a pencil on graph paper. Over time it evolved into a full-color relief map of the world as it exists in my mind.

I love maps. My own maps start out in a rudimentary form, just a way to keep my story straight. I use pencil and graph paper at this stage because:

  • As the rough draft evolves, sometimes towns must be renamed.
  • They may have to be moved to more logical places.
  • Whole mountain ranges may have to be moved or reshaped so our characters encounter forests and savannas where they are supposed to be in the story.

What should go on a map? Truthfully, not a whole lot.

  • Where your people are.
  • Where the places they will go are in relation to their starting point (north, south, east, or west).
  • Where the story ends.

Yep, that’s it unless you want to draw maps—my hobby. All you need for now is the jumping-off point and the essential places. When the mighty heroine leaves home with her trusty sword or phaser, she will always know where she is. She won’t inadvertently transport an entire town from the north to the south of that mountain range.

Neveyahmap jpeg of original scanned doc

Original Map of Neveyah from 2008 ©Connie J. Jasperson

As your story evolves, you will add all the details as they occur to you and believe me—they will come. In the meantime, your map page will be ready and waiting for you to note the particulars. When you are spilling words, the details will emerge, and you will have towns, geological features, and names firmly in your mind.

What if you are only beginning to write your story? Why should you be worried about mapping it out now?

When traveling great distances, your characters may pass through villages on their way. Perhaps the environment will impede them, or better yet, create an obstacle that must be overcome. The map will grow and shrink as you add or delete places from it.

Suppose environmental or geographical obstacles are pertinent to the story. In that case, taking a moment to note their location on your map will be easy. This way, you won’t interrupt the momentum of your writing and won’t contradict yourself if your party must return the way they came.

If your work is sci-fi, consider making a map of where the action happens, even though no one will see it but you. It could be a pencil-drawn floor plan of a space station/ship or a line drawing of part of an alien world.  I drew the floorplan of the inn, Billy’s Revenge, for my reference as most of the novel Billy Ninefingers takes place there.

Billy's Revenge Floor plan ground floorYour map doesn’t have to be fancy. Use a pencil to easily update your map if something changes during revisions. You want to know:

  • Where your people are.
  • Where the places they will go are in relation to their starting point (north, south, east, or west)
  • Where the story ends
  • Names of places and their proper spelling

Maybe you feel you aren’t artistic but know you’ll want a nice map later. Your scribbled map will enable a map artist to provide you with a beautiful and accurate product. You will have a map that contains the information needed for readers to enjoy your book.

Credits and Attributions:

Map of Neveyah © 2012 Connie J. Jasperson all rights reserved.

Floorplan of Billy’s Revenge © Connie J. Jasperson all rights reserved.

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Channeled Scablands,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed June 4, 2023).


Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: Man in an Oriental Costume – Isaac de Jouderville

Man_in_an_Oriental_Costume_-_Isaac_de_JoudervilleArtist: Isaac de Jouderville  (1612–1645) Formerly attributed to Rembrandt (1606–1669)

Title: Man in an Oriental Costume

Description: English: Portrait shows Rembrandt’s father. The painting was identified by the BBC program Fake or Fortune? as a work looted by the Nazis and was reattributed to Isaac de Jouderville.

Date: 17th century before 1646

Medium: oil painting

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

Isaac de Jouderville’s painting Man in Oriental costume was featured in the fourth episode of the BBC TV programme, Fake or Fortune?. This painting was part of the stock of dealer’s Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer that was seized by the Nazis and sold in 1935. It resurfaced at a Cape Town auction house in 2010. It was then, and still is today, listed in the Lost Art Database run by the Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste in Magdeburg, Germany. It was subject to a long legal dispute as to whether the work was listed there legally. In February 2015 the Federal Administrative Court of Germany held that the Koordinierungsstelle did not have to delete it. [1]

Jouderville is known today for portraits and historical allegories.[1] Jouderville painted mainly Rembrandtesque heads or ‘tronies’. He was such a faithful follower of his master’s early work that several of his paintings were previously attributed to Rembrandt.[5]

If you are interested and have an hour to spare, here is the link to this exceptional story as told by Fiona Bruce and Phillip Mould. FAKE OR FORTUNE REMBRANDT SE1EO4 – YouTube

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Isaac de Jouderville (1612 in Leiden – 1645 in Amsterdam), was a Dutch Golden Age painter who was a pupil of Rembrandt.

De Jouderville was an orphan whose parents had come from Metz. He became a pupil of Rembrandt in November 1629 and traveled with him to Amsterdam in 1631. Documents concerning his apprenticeship drawn up by his guardians still exist.

He was back in Leiden to marry Maria le Febure (1619-1653) in 1636 and moved to Deventer in 1641. He lived in Deventer for a few years only; in 1643 he was back in Amsterdam, where he died young in 1645. His widow Maria married the glassmaker Pieter de Melder in 1648 and his daughter Mariecke, later married the painter Frederik de Moucheron.

After Maria le Febure died, her second husband claimed he was unable to support his wife’s three children by her first husband, along with his own two children, though he offered to raise Jacob Jouderville to the age of 18.[2] By that time De Melder was acting as art dealer, and the liquidation of his wife’s goods shows an interesting list of artists who were either owed money by her estate or who owed money to her estate. [1]

Credits and Attributions:

Image: Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Man in an Oriental Costume – Isaac de Jouderville.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, (accessed May 26, 2023).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Isaac de Jouderville,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 26, 2023).

Leave a comment

Filed under #FineArtFriday

Revisiting Syntax and Instinctive Grammar Rules #amwriting

Moving into our new apartment has eaten heavily into my writing time but after today, our work in the old house is done. But due to my time constraints, today we are revisiting a post from January 16th, on words and the way we use them. If you have already seen this post, thank you for stopping by! Next week we will talk about sci-fi and fantasy maps and discuss mapmaking.

Warping words and abusing the rules of grammar can be exhilarating, but no matter what our native language, some speech habits are ingrained in us. We want our written conversations to sound natural, so here are a few speech habits native speakers of English learn from birth:

Syntax is defined as the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language. English has certain standard rules of speech that are learned so early on in life that they are instinctual.

Words-And-How-We-Use-ThemNo matter the level of our education or the dialect we speak, we use these rules and don’t realize we are doing so.

Several years ago, I found three delightful quotes on these rules from linguist Steven Pinkereditor Stan Carey, and Tim Dowling, a journalist for The Guardian.

The Jolly Green Giant rule:

The rule is that multiple adjectives are always ranked accordingly: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose. Unlike many laws of grammar or syntax, this one is virtually inviolable, even in informal speech. You simply can’t say My Greek Fat Big Wedding, or leather walking brown boots. And yet until last week, I had no idea such a rule existed. Tim Dowling, for The Guardian, 13 September 2016. [1]

My editor often finds and points out words whose order must be rearranged to sound natural. Some sentences seem clumsy when she reads them because when I first wrote that section, I was going too fast and put my words in the wrong order.

I didn’t notice it during the revision process. Some hokey phrasing goes unnoticed by me through upwards of six revisions.

Why do we overlook typos and errors in our work? tells us:

… the more familiar our brains are with the content in print, the less we are able to focus on details. It’s how our brains are designed to work. We often cannot see our own writing mistakes. (Susan Kruger Winter, CEO & Founder of SOAR Learning, Inc. Why We Can’t See Our Own (Writing) Mistakes, 22 July 2018) [2]

It happens because, in the first draft, I am madly getting the words out of my head. My ability to use a pen or run the keyboard can’t keep up with the stream of words falling from my mind.

  • (Wrong) My red large Cadillac is fun to drive.
  • (Right) My large red Cadillacis fun to drive.

Actually, my small blue KIA Soul is fun to drive. (Grandma’s imaginary red Ferrari would be a lot more fun, but no one would be safe on the road.)

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021Muddled phrasings often slip by when I revise my work because my mind sees the words as if they were in the correct order. This is the writer’s curse—the internal editor knows what should be there, and the eye skips over what we actually wrote.

This ability to see our work as if it were finished is a necessary aspect of creativity. We have an image of what it should look like and know what needs to be done to shape it that way. However, after so many hours of laboring on a manuscript, our brains can trick us into seeing what we intended to write, overlooking the flaws.

When I first began writing, I had a naïve belief in the perfection of my work. I was soon shown differently, and (once I grew a thicker skin) I found a good editor.

In every language, native speakers automatically order their words in specific ways. In English, we order them this way:

  1. opinion,
  2. size,
  3. age,
  4. shape,
  5. color,
  6. origin,
  7. material,
  8. purpose

Stephen’s dark blue wool jacket was left behind.

Another rule I love is the Mishmash rule:

“Reduplication” is when a word or part of a word is repeated, sometimes modified, and added to make a longer term, such as aye-aye, mishmash, and hotchpotch. This process can mark plurality or intensify meaning, and it can be used for effect or to generate new words. The added part may be invented or it may be an existing word whose form and sense are a suitable fit. (Stan Carey, A hotchpotch of reduplication, MacMillan Dictionary Blog 2012.) [3]

mish-mash-ruleI adore mishmash words. They’re poetic and musical and roll off the tongue with a satisfying rhythm. Sadly, while I regularly bore my grandchildren with them, I hardly ever get to write them. Mishmash. Hip-hop.

The Hip-Hop rule:

Have you ever wondered why we say fiddle-faddle and not faddle-fiddle? Why is it ping-pong and pitter-patter rather than pong-ping and patter-pitter? Why dribs and drabs rather than vice versa? Why can’t a kitchen be span and spic? Whence riff-raff, mishmash, flim-flam, chit-chat, tit for tat, knick-knack, zig-zag, sing-song, ding-dong, King Kong, criss-cross, shilly-shally, seesaw, hee-haw, flip-flop, hippity-hop, tick-tock, tic-tac-toe, eeny-meeny-miney-moe, bric-a-brac, clickey-clack, hickory-dickory-dock, kit and kaboodle, and bibbity-bobbity-boo? The answer is that the vowels for which the tongue is high and in the front always come before the vowels for which the tongue is low and in the back. (Pinker, The Language Instinct, 1994:167) [4]

Verbs are power words. The order in which we place them affects how readers see our work. Sometimes we frontload our sentences with fluff: In any situation, Charlotte runs toward danger.

Moving the action to the beginning of the sentence and losing a few words makes it stronger. Nouns followed by verbs make active prose: Charlotte runs toward danger, never away.

First drafts are the place where we might write something like: Running toward danger, Charlotte was happy. This kind of awkwardness says what we mean but does it poorly. It might slip through many revisions because the internal editor rearranges them correctly, and we don’t see it as written.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543“Ing” words are a terrible temptation to those of us raised on Tolkien. He was writing a century ago, but that style of lush prose has fallen out of fashion. We open the gate to all sorts of verbal mayhem when we lead off with an “ing” word at the front of a sentence.

So, you now have a mishmash of words and a bunch of rules that native speakers of English use without consciously thinking about it. Wonky word order is one more thing to watch for when revising our manuscript.

But it’s easier to notice strange syntax when we are reading another author’s work.


[1] Tim Dowling, Order force: the old grammar rule we all obey without realizing, © The Guardian 2016, (accessed 13 January 2023).

[2] Susan Kruger Winter, CEO & Founder of SOAR Learning, Inc. Why We Can’t See Our Own (Writing) Mistakes, 22 July 2018 (accessed 13 January 2023).

[3] Stan Carey, A hotchpotch of reduplication, MacMillan Dictionary Blog 2012 © Macmillan Publishers Limited 2009-2023. (accessed 13 January 2023).

[4] Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct, Pinker, Steven. 1994. The Language Instinct. New York: HarperPerennial.


Filed under writing

Book Review:  The Hunter’s Apprentice: A Keltin Moore Adventure by Lindsay Schopfer

Today I am reviewing The Hunter’s Apprentice: A Keltin Moore Adventure by Lindsay Schopfer. As my longtime friends will tell you, I never review a book I didn’t honestly like.

magicI have been following the adventures of Keltin Moore and his friends since the first novel, The Beast Hunter: A Keltin Moore Adventure came out. It is a compelling series, and I have become quite fond of one particular character, Jaylocke.

But First, the Blurb:

Can the beast hunter’s apprentice prove his worth?

Professional monster hunter Keltin Moore has worked hard to teach his trade to Jaylocke, his good friend and apprentice. But the time for teaching is over when Jaylocke receives word that the woman of his dreams may marry someone else if he cannot prove to his people that he has mastered his trade.

Together, master and apprentice must assemble their friends and travel the fabled Salt Road to the annual Gathering of the Weycliff wayfarers. But there’s more than a simple test of skill awaiting them among the mysterious, nomadic people. Bitter rivalries and titanic beasts will put Keltin’s talents as hunter, teacher, and friend to the test as Jaylocke struggles to prepare for the most important trial of his life.

This is the fourth installment of the award-winning Adventures of Keltin Moore, a series of steampunk-flavored fantasy novels. If you love compelling characters, fantastic creatures, and intense action then you will love these stories!


My Review:

BookCover FinalBeasts and weaponry abound in this installment of Keltin Moore’s adventures. The story opens with Keltin trying to keep his fledgling business afloat and pay the bill it incurs. It details the journey of his apprentice, Jaylocke. Jaylocke is a Weycliffe Wayfarer, a young man seeking to regain his status within his clan, by participating in a ritual called the Proving.

Elaine Destov, one of my favorite characters, is Keltin’s romantic interest. She becomes his office manager.

Jaylocke’s storyline shows his growth into true Weycliffe adulthood. I like that Schopfer did not take the apprentice’s story in an expected direction. The character arcs of both Keltin and Jaylocke are fully developed, and the conclusion of this novel thoughtful and realistic.

Each of the sentient races have personalities and societies that are unique. Prejudice, racial discrimination, the way the different peoples interact with each other when living in another race’s community is shown with compassion.

One aspect of Schopfer’s writing that appeals to me is his ability to show the world his characters inhabit by having them interact with it as a matter of course – it just is, and it’s all they know.

All in all, if you like action adventure with an old west flair, I highly recommend this installment in the Beast Hunter series.


Lindsay SchopferLindsay Schopfer is the award-winning author of The Adventures of Keltin Moore, a series of steampunk-flavored fantasy novels about a professional monster hunter. He also wrote the sci-fi survivalist novel Lost Under Two Moons and the fantasy short story collection Magic, Mystery and Mirth. Lindsay’s workshops and seminars on the craft of writing have been featured in a variety of Cons and writing conferences across the Pacific Northwest  and beyond.

Lindsay’s Social Media Links

Author Website:

Amazon Author Page:






Filed under Book Reviews, writing

#FineArtFriday: John Constable – Helmingham Dell

John_Constable_-_Helmingham_Dell_-_WGA5193Artist: John Constable (1776–1837)

Title: Helmingham Dell

Genre: landscape art

Date: first half of 19th century

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: height: 103 cm (40.5 in); width: 129 cm (50.7 in)

Collection: Louvre Museum

Current location: Department of Paintings of the Louvre

What I love about this image:

For those of us who write fantasy set in low-tech worlds, this is a view of how people bridged a creek for thousands of years, using the materials at hand. The scene is beautiful, cool and serene. One can hear the quiet murmur of the brook, the calls of different birds, and the chatter of squirrels arguing over their territories.

But at night, the silence is broken by the occasional hoot of an owl, and the rustle of underbrush as the small nocturnal creatures go about their business. A fox might wander through the dell, looking for a meal.

The amazing sky can be seen through the leaves and branches. John Constable gives us a lovely day, a moment of serenity to enjoy across the centuries.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

John Constable RA , 11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) was an English landscape painter in the Romantic tradition. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for revolutionising the genre of landscape painting with his pictures of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home – now known as “Constable Country” – which he invested with an intensity of affection. “I should paint my own places best”, he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, “painting is but another word for feeling”.

Constable’s most famous paintings include Wivenhoe Park (1816), Dedham Vale (1821) and The Hay Wain (1821). Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, he was never financially successful. He became a member of the establishment after he was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts at the age of 52. His work was embraced in France, where he sold more than in his native England and inspired the Barbizon school. [1]

Credits and Attributions:

Image: Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:John Constable – Helmingham Dell – WGA5193.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, (accessed May 25, 2023).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “John Constable,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 25, 2023).

Leave a comment

Filed under #FineArtFriday

Guest post: Five Things I Learned While Writing The Adventures of Keltin Moore by Lindsay Schopfer

As my regular readers know, my husband and I are in the process of moving from our home of eighteen years to an apartment, and time is short. So, while I am neck deep in paring down my possessions, sci-fi and fantasy author, Lindsay Schopfer, has kindly agreed to help me out today. I’ve attended several seminars presented by him, and think you’ll enjoy this post. I really like his work and am looking forward to the launch of the third book in his Beast Hunter series, which happens on Friday.

Take it away, Lindsay!

BookCover FinalIt’s been over ten years since I first started writing my series about the adventures of a professional monster hunter. With the release of The Hunter’s Apprentice as the fourth installment in the series, I thought I’d take a little time to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned while writing these stories over the last decade.

An Appreciation for Steampunk

When I first started writing Keltin’s adventures, I struggled to find a suitable name for the genre I was working in. Despite the stories’ fanciful monsters and subtle magic system, there was something in the technology and aesthetic of the world that suggested something a little different from a standard epic fantasy environment. After some searching, I stumbled on steampunk as a genre and a community and quickly embraced them both. That being said, I’ll admit that my stories are more rural than most of the Victorian, urban settings found in typical steampunk fiction, which is why I’ve taken to calling my stories steampunk-flavored fantasy. Regardless, I am still immensely grateful to have discovered the world of steampunk, and I will always be grateful to have been adopted into this creative and friendly community.

How to Pan for Gold

In book two of the series, Keltin and his friends go Into the North to protect prospectors from all sorts of monsters during a Yukon-inspired gold rush. In an effort to add an air of authenticity to the book, I decided to talk with an experienced gold panner and practice the art of prospecting a little bit. While I may not have struck it rich, I was inspired by the experience and the thrill of seeing that flash of gold amongst the silt.

The History and Mechanics of Firearms

the beast hunterOne of my most treasured experiences in writing The Adventures of Keltin Moore has been meeting the fantastic subject experts in the course of my research. I already mentioned panning for gold, but there have been so many more generous, enthusiastic people I’ve spoken to on subjects ranging from big game hunters to horse-pulled wagons. In particular, I feel blessed to have known Gordon and Nancy Frye. The Fryes are a fantastic wealth of historical information, particularly regarding the development and implementation of firearms over the centuries. If you ever read something in my stories and thought that something involving guns was particularly cool, you can probably thank the Fryes for contributing to it!

How to be an Author

The Keltin Moore Online Serial came out before I’d even published my first novel, and I’ve been working on Keltin’s adventures ever since. Over the course of writing this series, I’ve learned how to craft, revise, format, publish, and market my books. I’ve learned how to work with cover artists, how to price my books, and how to pitch them at book dealer events. The Adventures of Keltin Moore have been the vehicle that have carried me through the majority of my career as an independent author thus far, and for that, I am deeply indebted to these stories.

How to Keep Having Fun While Writing

The inspiration for Keltin Moore came as a quirky little idea, and the stories were more for my benefit than anyone else’s, especially at first. Despite a long publication history and a growing community of amazing fans, Keltin’s stories have remained very personal to me. Years ago, I gave myself permission to write stories that I enjoyed, and I’ve held myself to that commitment ever since. I write my stories for myself first, focusing on characters, plots, and settings that inspire, uplift, and entertain me. The Adventures of Keltin Moore do all of that for me and more, and I’m so grateful that so many fans feel the same way.


If you’d like to begin your own adventures with Keltin, be sure to start where it all began with The Beast Hunter: A Keltin Moore Adventure.

Lindsay SchopferLindsay Schopfer is the award-winning author of The Adventures of Keltin Moore, a series of steampunk-flavored  fantasy novels about a professional monster hunter. He also wrote the sci-fi survivalist novel Lost Under Two Moons and the fantasy short story collection Magic, Mystery and Mirth. Lindsay’s workshops and seminars on the craft of writing have been featured in a variety of Cons and writing conferences across the Pacific Northwest  and beyond.

Lindsay’s Social Media Links

Author Website:

Amazon Author Page:






Filed under writing

My Writing Life – packing up and moving on #amwriting

We who write must also live in the real world. Sometimes things go smoothly, other times not. Let me just say that moving to a new place has really shown me what hoarders my hubby and I are. You can acquire a large pile of cheap Chinese junk if you stay in one place for eighteen years.

MyWritingLife2021BThe movers came on Friday to take what furniture we could gracefully fit into the new apartment. They loaded the van far more quickly than I thought they would. The main hiccup in that day came in the form of the elevator in our building. We are in building C but must go in through the main lobby in building B, take the elevator to our floor, and cross to our building via the sky bridge. It’s a long trek.

Worst of all, the elevator for building C is across the hall from our door.

Now the real work begins. We must finish emptying the house, so we will travel back and forth for the next week and a half.

On Saturday, we began the necessary repairs to the house. Our repairman is a lovely man named Brian. He replaced the fanlight on the back porch. He also mended and repainted the front steps.

We sort through the debris of our lives, pick what we know we have room for, and I stuff the car. Greg does as much as he can, and we are exhausted by the day’s end.

Hydrangea_cropped_July_11_2017_copyright_cjjasperson_2017 copyOver the next week, we have to donate as much as possible to be reused, and the rest will be hauled away by the junk removal company. They will not only take the junk but also clean the garage floor. (!!!)

After that, the house cleaners will do their best to make our old place look good.

The sprinkler repair people will also be out that day.

Finally, the carpet cleaners will attempt to make the fitted carpet we never wanted in the first place look passable.

At some point, I will have to shop for food, as we do need to eat. My new kitchen is functional, but I must pare down what was already pared down to keep it that way.

On June 1st, the house will officially be for sale.

Worst of all, we had an unusually early heatwave, with temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties and high humidity. (30 or so, Celsius.) Even with my hot pink beach wagon, making two or three trips to empty the car is exhausting. It began cool down to normal temps on Sunday, and fingers crossed, we hope the weather will stay that way.

Once the elevator in my building is repaired, that will be less of a problem. It will happen as soon as the company can get the parts.

BackYardMay202020On the good side, it is easy to write here. I have been writing bits and bobs here and there on old unfinished manuscripts between bursts of unpacking, writing whenever I sit down to rest my back. It keeps me from fidgeting.

This next week is crammed full of things we must do, but we are getting it done, one piece at a time.

In the meantime, have a great week, and may your words flow freely.


Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: In Flanders’ Fields, by John McCrae #MemorialDay (revisited)

Here in the US, we are celebrating Memorial Day. Originally known as Decoration Day, it’s a federal holiday dedicated to honoring those who died while serving in the US military. It used to be observed on May 30 regardless of the day of the week but in 1970 it was moved to the last Monday in May.

The beautiful image of poppies that graces this post is by Tijl Vercaemer from Gent, Flanders and was found on Wikimedia commons. The beauty and serenity of the poppies, rising from the fields where such terrible conflict once happened, is a fitting accompaniment for the poem, In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae, the text of which follows the picture.

From Wikipedia:  “In Flanders Fields” is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it. In Flanders Fields was first published on December 8 of that year in the London-based magazine Punch.

In Flanders Fields and Other Poems, a 1919 collection of McCrae’s works, contains two versions of the poem: a printed text as below and a handwritten copy where the first line ends with “grow” instead of “blow.” (…)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

While bed-ridden and recovering in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Vancouver, Washington, after World War II, my father had little to do but read or crochet. To keep busy, he and the other recovering soldiers in his ward made endless numbers of Remembrance Poppies to commemorate fallen American soldiers. Dad always wore his poppy on his left lapel, as it was close to his heart.

Memorial Day is more than just the official launch of Summer here in the US, more than just an Indy car race. Families have always cared for their family graves, but it became a designated day after the American Civil War in 1868, established  as “Decoration Day.” It was a specific time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Every family had soldiers who served and gave their lives in the never-ending wars, as we do today.

Officially, Memorial Day is a 3-day holiday weekend. Banks are closed on Monday, and the US Postal Service is also closed. The American flag is traditionally set at half-staff until noon to honor all those whose lives have been given in the service of our country. At noon, it is raised to the top of the staff, signifying that we, as a nation, will rise again.

My paternal grandmother never failed to keep our family’s graves neat and tidy, bringing flowers every week for my uncle, who had died while serving in the Korean War. As she got older, this tradition aggravated my father, who just wanted to listen to the Indianapolis 500 car race on the radio. He couldn’t bear dwelling on the loss of his brother, or the friends he had lost in France in WWII.

But he took her to the cemetery, anyway.

After each great and terrible war of the last two centuries, the hope was always that we had fought a “war to end all wars.” World War I, also known as The Great War, was spoken of in literature as just that: a war to end all wars.

With each conflict we still hope, but we are less able to believe it, today less than ever.

Sources and Attributions

In Flanders Fields, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, PD|75 years

John McCrae died of pneumonia January 28, 1918, near the end of the Great War. In Flanders’ Fields is a staple poem for Memorial Day services.

Wikipedia contributors. “In Flanders Fields.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 May. 2018. Web. 24 May. 2018

Poppies Field in Flanders, image By Tijl Vercaemer from Gent, Flanders #Belgium. File:Poppies Field in Flanders.jpg. (2018, January 13). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 15:55, May 24, 2018.

Leave a comment

Filed under #FineArtFriday, #FlashFictionFriday, Poetry

Layers of Depth: the uneven distribution of information

Plot points and conflicts are driven by the characters who have critical knowledge. The fact that some characters are working with limited information creates tension.

WritingCraftSeries_depth-through-conversationIn literary terms, this uneven distribution of knowledge is called asymmetric information. We see this all the time in the corporate world.

  • One party in a business transaction has more or superior information compared to another.
  • That inequality of information gives them an edge against the competition.

In a story, as in real life, a monopoly of information creates a crisis. An idle conversation will bore your reader to tears, so only discuss things that advance the plot. A conversation scene should be driven by the fact that one person has knowledge the others need.

The reader must get answers simultaneously as the characters, gradually over the length of a novel.

When I am writing a scene, I ask my characters three things:

The first question I ask is: “What is the core of the problem?” In the case of one story that was begun several years ago and never taken beyond the first draft stage, the core of the problem is Jared, my main character. The story is set in the World of Neveyah, and one of the canon tropes of stories set in that world is that all mages are trained by and work for the Temple of Aeos.

The_Pyramid_Conflict_Tension_PacingJared is hilarious, charming, naïve, a bit cocky, and completely unaware that he’s an arrogant jackass. He is a young man who is exceptionally good at everything and is happy to tell you about it. Jared has no clue that his boasting holds him back, as no one wants to work with him.

This boy is both the protagonist and the antagonist of this story.

The second question I ask is: “What do the characters want most?” Jared is a mage, and as such, he is a member of the Clergy of Aeos. He wants to be just like his childhood hero, or better. Jared needs approval and admiration to bolster his sense of self-worth. Everything he does is an effort to be seen as worthy.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the Temple of Aeos have plenty of heroes on hand and just want a mage who can be relied upon to get a job done well and with no fanfare.

The third question I ask my characters is this: “What are they willing to do to get it?” Jared has boasted many times that he will meet and overcome any obstacle, no matter how difficult the path to success is.

His mentors like him, but despair of his ever succeeding as a mage. They devise a simple (and on the surface) heroic seeming quest tailored to improve his attitude. They layer it with dirty and disgusting obstacles that he hasn’t planned for. Jared meets and works his way through these roadblocks one by one. His mentors ensure that when he does “rescue the kid,” he gets their message quite clearly. This is where the asymmetric information comes into play. Jared’s innocent assumptions make for a wonderfully wicked plot arc.

How will Jared’s story end? It ends in a satisfying mess with all the acclaim the young hero could ask for—along with a large serving of humble pie. But nothing can keep Jared down for long—he takes that embarrassment and embraces it with his own personal flair.

Epic Fails meme2When I started writing this story, I had the core conflict: Jared’s misguided desire to be important. I had the surface quest: rescuing the kidnapped kid. I had the true quest: Jared learning to laugh at himself and developing a little humility.

I had all the pieces and the completed first draft, but other projects had more priority. Then the pandemic hit, and this story was shelved.

Now, with all the hustle and bustle of moving to a new home, I need something short and sweet to work on for relaxation, and I came across Jared’s story. It needs serious revisions, but it’s one of my favorite Neveyah stories, as it is not dark as they usually are. Jared’s tale of woe is full of gallows humor, detailing the deeds of a hero who becomes a man.


Filed under writing

Layers of Depth: getting a grip on narrative time

Narrative time and calendar time are separate entities. They are team members working on the same project but with different tasks. Point of view and narrative time work together to create an author’s voice.

calendarCalendar time is a layer of world-building. It sets the story in a particular era and shows the passage of time.

Narrative time is the grammatical placement of the story’s time frame in the past or the present, i.e., present tense (we go) or past tense (we went).

Narrative time works with point of view to shape the reader’s perception of a scene’s atmosphere and ambiance.

Once the reader passes the first page or two of a novel, a reader becomes used to the way the author has chosen to deliver the story. Narrative time and point of view fade into the background, becoming a subtle layer that goes unnoticed on a conscious level.

How does narrative time relate to “past” or “present” tense?

In grammartense is a word referencing time. Tenses are usually shown by how we use the forms of verbs, particularly in their conjugation patterns. The main tenses found in most languages include the pastpresent, and future.

We create depth by combining narrative time with two closely related components of a story:

  • Narrative point of view (or the perspective) is a personal or impersonal “lens” through which a story is communicated.
  • Narrative voice, or how a story is communicated, is an author’s fingerprint. Narrative voice or style arises from the words we choose and how we combine them. It is formed by our deeply held beliefs and attitudes. We may or may not consciously intend to do it, but our convictions emerge in our writing, shaping character and plot arcs.

The way that narrative tense affects a reader’s perception of the characters is subtle, an undercurrent that goes unnoticed after the first few paragraphs. It shapes the reader’s view of events on a subliminal level.

Every story is different and requires us to use a unique narrative time. Tense conveys information about time. It relates the time of an event (when) to another time (now or then). The tense you choose indicates the event’s location in time.

Verb ConjugationConsider the following sentences: “I eat,” “I am eating,” “I have eaten,” and “I have been eating.”

All are in the present tense, indicated by the present-tense verb of each sentence (eatam, and have).

Yet, they are different because each conveys slightly different information (or points of view) about how the action pertains to the present moment.

I regularly “think aloud” in writing the first draft. When writing by the seat of my pants, passive phrasings find their way into the raw narrative. I think of these words as traffic signals for when I begin revisions.  a shorthand that helps me write the story before I lose my train of thought.

  • In the rewrite, we look for the code words (passive phrasing) that tell us what the scene should be rewritten to show.

Many writers avoid the third person omniscient mode because it takes more work to make the prose active. But some stories work best in that mode.

Which sentence feels stronger, more pressing? Each sentence says the same thing, but we get a different story when we change the narrative tense, point of view, and verb choice.

  • He was hot and thirsty. (Third-person omniscient, past tense, passive phrasing.)
  • Henry trudged forward, his lips dry and cracked, yearning for a drop of water. (Third-person omniscient, past tense, active phrasing.)
  • struggle toward the oasis with dry, cracked lips and parched tongue. (First-person present tense, Active phrasing.)
  • You stagger toward the oasis, dizzy with thirst. (Second-person, present tense, active phrasing.)

The way we show this moment in time for these thirsty characters is important. If we write a sentence that says a character is hot and thirsty, we leave nothing to the reader’s imagination. The reader is on the outside, looking in. When we write that experience of thirst using active phrasing, no matter what narrative tense we write in, it changes everything.

Sometimes the only way I can get into a character’s head is to write them in the first-person present tense. This is because the narrative time I am trying to convey is the now of that story. (This happens to me most often when writing short stories.)

In traditional first-person POV, the protagonist is the narrator. We must remember that no one ever has complete knowledge of anything, so the first-person narrator cannot be omnipotent.

transitive verb damon suede quoteEvery story is unique; some work best in the past tense, while others must be set in the present.

WARNING: When we begin writing a story using a narrative time unfamiliar to us, we may have trouble with drifting tense and wandering narrative points of view.

Drifting narrative tense and wandering POV are insidious. Either or both can occur if you habitually write using one mode but switch to another. For this reason, I must be vigilant when I begin in the first-person present tense but then switch to close third person.

For this reason, when you begin revisions, it’s crucial to look at your verb forms to ensure your narrative time doesn’t inadvertently drift between past and present.

So, where does voice come into it?

The way you habitually phrase sentences, how you construct paragraphs, the words you choose, and the narrative time you prefer to write in is your voice.

Summer is nearly upon us here in the Pacific Northwest. Packing and moving is going better than I thought it would. Time for writing is hit and miss this week, but by the second week of June, we will be settled in our new digs, and writing will be back on track. Life is good!


Filed under writing