Using the Pieces I Have to Assemble a Book

I tend toward long stories that require time to produce. Because of the long turn around when writing such stories, progress on enhancing my writing craft skills was slow.

As I finished a draft of a 600,000-word story (which I broke into five 120,000-word books), I reached a point of understanding the writing craft that made me rethink everything I had been trying to accomplish. I needed to write shorter stories that would allow me to practice the finer details of craft that had finally clicked for me.

I began writing short stories — well, stories as short as I could make them. This allowed me to repeatedly practice in less time than long form stories allowed all the skills needed to write stories.

The stories came in at 8,100 words, 7,200 words, 18,700 words, and 50,600 words. Then I felt the need for a story that would lead into the stories I had already written. It came in at 18,800 words. I submitted the stories to various markets as I wrote them, but I have not yet made a sale.

After reviewing this collection of stories, which are related and explore the origins of a world and characters I plan for a future long-form story, I decided I can use them to create an anthology. This would give me a book I could publish that would be 103,400 words (plus or minus what editing does to the word count).

I’m now editing that collection and having a fine time doing it. I’ll see where this path leads me.

Don’t Self-Reject

Don’t self-reject. Let the professionals do that for you.

I keep repeating to myself: If I don’t submit, I’ll never sell a story. I share this advice with others as well. I’m not saying submit crap — it needs to be your best work — but don’t let the fear of rejection stop you. Even the most successful writers receive rejections. It’s a part of the job.

I finished final edits on my newest novella, so now it’s time to submit it. I don’t expect it to be accepted, though (keeping my expectations under control is one of my coping mechanisms). I’m not convinced I write anything anyone wants; however, I have received rejections with personalized comments that indicated some of my stories have been close.

My stories may be too normal. They’re not odd, experimental, or mind blowing. Many of the stories published by the various markets don’t appeal to me and I don’t write those kinds of stories; all though, occasionally I am pleasantly pleased with what is published. I write what I like to read, stories that make me feel good, stories that give me catharsis.

I’m hoping for a good outcome with this submission, but I’m also preparing to submit the story to the next available market on my submission plan. That is my job.

I’ll do my job and let the professionals to theirs.

High level view of the pages of my newest novella.
Pages of My Newest Novella

The Road Not Taken

As I worked on my current writing project, I wrote the line “Patrick realized he had chosen the wrong path for his life.” I then described the path he took and the path that in hindsight he wishes he had taken.

This reminded me of the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. I often think about the poem and ponder how I came to be where I am today, what roads I took, what roads were the wrong roads, and where would I be if I had followed those other roads. Now, as I work on a second draft of the story, that theme pulls at me and cries out for more attention.

The story already had a theme about doing the right thing but not necessarily knowing what the right thing was until too late in the process. This new theme blends with the original theme in the sense that a choice was made and then later events called the choice into question.

The road most people’s lives take is the result of random opportunity and desperate grasping for any job so they can simply survive another day. In my life, though, there were a few moments when two roads diverged and I had to choose. Did I choose wisely? I often doubt I did. Regardless, I have to accept where I ended up.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

TED-Ed animation of the poem.
TED-Ed analysis of the poem and its interpretations.

Narrative Conflict Type

I tend to write stories that use a narrative conflict type of Person versus Self where the main character is struggling with their own prejudices, doubts, or flaws. This creates an opportunity for the type of character change arc that most appeals to me.

My current project still has that conflict as the main character struggles with his purpose. He had thought himself to be doing the right thing with his life, but came to believe he’s living a lie. Just as he is ready to quit and move beyond the lie, disaster strikes, a disaster that causes him to rethink whether or not he really was living a lie.

As I worked on the story, I came to realize that another character was responsible for triggering his doubts, a character who was actively working to undercut him. This brought into the story the Person versus Person conflict type, a conflict type I have little experience with because of being so drawn to Person versus Self.

I’m a couple of chapters away from finishing the first draft of this story. I look forward in the second draft of expanding the Person versus Person conflict. It makes the story stronger.

Writing with Craft versus Chaos

One of the often repeated prescriptive pieces of writing advice is to not think as you write. Simply churn out words and worry about the results later. After all, the first draft is supposed to be messy. The rewrite is for fixing it.

I can’t work that way. It’s too chaotic.

It’s not that I don’t do what the advice is actually promoting: Let your imagination run free without limits placed on it by rational thoughts. (That idea is based on the outdated concept that the right-brain is creative and inventive, which you use to write your draft, and the left-brain is critical and logical, which you use when editing. In reality, a person’s abilities are strongest when both halves of the brain work together.)

In my writing process, I do the creative activities before I begin writing. I brainstorm and from that I create mind maps and outlines that guide me through the story. When I begin writing, I know the story and apply writing craft skills the moment I begin putting the story into words. This greatly reduces rework caused by having to rewrite because the first draft was such a mess.

That’s not to say I don’t apply creativity as I use craft skills to write. Knowing the overall story does not mean knowing the details. Discovering the details as I write is one of the addictive aspects of writing — every new discovery causes a rush — but I always know where I’m going with the story.

An example is my current project. When I began, all I knew was that at the midpoint, the human paladin and dragon paladin have a great battle, a battle that leads to the Paladins’ Peace at the end of the story. Beyond that, I had no story ideas. With the don’t think approach, I would simply have started writing and hoped that something would materialize, something probably incoherent that would have require a lot of rework to fix. Instead, I invested time in brainstorming, mind mapping, and outlining based on sound story structure principles. Once I had the story designed, I began writing.

Marvelous things have materialized as I’ve created the details, but the story’s structure has not changed. I’m pleased with the orderly progress I’m making. I would not have been pleased if what I created was a mess.

We each must find our own method that creates the results we seek. It works for some people to write as if they had just walked out the front door and will discover what the day brings. For me, forethought works best. I make plans before I walk out the front door.

Interviewing Characters

I always know an assortment of details about my characters, but I have not in the habit of actually interviewing them. As I worked through my current project, I discovered when I answered K.M. Weiland’s Question of the Day on Twitter I learned facts about my characters I had not considered. Those facts helped me improve my presentation of those characters. That has prompted me to enhance my writing process by doing more character interviews.

Following are examples of questions that improved my story.

What are some of your protagonist’s idiosyncrasies?

Patrick’s friend had given him a chess piece, a knight, on his ninth birthday because all he ever talked about was becoming a dragon-slayer knight. Carved from fine marble, the piece had always been shiny and silky, but it was even more so now after years of him fidgeting with it, spinning it in his fingers, and rubbing his thumb on it when he sank into deep thought as he strategized.

What makes your protagonist laugh?

Patrick tends to be impassive, stoic, disciplined, and affects an austere manner. However, he’s not above enjoying satire, parody, hyperbole, and irony even at inappropriate moments. When his friend says she has nightmares, he tells her his warhorse’s name is Knight-Mare. He has to apologize because she thought he was mocking her.

What is the worst thing your protagonist has ever done?

In all the years Patrick had been a dragon-slayer knight, he had fought many dragons, wounded several, and drove them away from the human lands, but he had never killed a dragon. But when he fights his most recent dragon, and severely wounds her, almost mortally, he realizes what he does is wrong. The worst thing he had ever done was become who he is.

My Favorite 2020 Reads

Among my favorite reads during 2020 (not necessarily published in 2020) are the following books.

  • Dragonslayer (Wings of Fire: Legends #2) by Tui T. Sutherland
  • Spark by Sarah Beth Durst (this was a re-read after having read it in 2019 because I really liked the book)
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Cities: The First 6,000 Years by Monica L. Smith
  • Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA by Neil Shubin
  • Don’t Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth About Language by David Shariatmadari
Book covers for Dragonslayer, Spark, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Three-Body Problem, Cities, Some Assembly Required, and Don't Believe a Word.
Book covers for Dragonslayer, Spark, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Three-Body Problem, Cities, Some Assembly Required, and Don’t Believe a Word.

Dragon Ornaments

Dragon Ornaments
by Lester D. Crawford


I love my Christmas gift: dragon ornaments that can be brought to life by speaking a spell. I selected the most fearsome looking ornament to try.

The instructions said a perfect accent must speak the spell or the spell will fade. I gave it my best.

The ornament came to life as a huge, fire breathing dragon that roared, opened its jaws, and lunged for me. As its jaws closed, the spell faded returning the dragon to being an ornament.

I’ll practice my accent while changing my pants and then try again, this time selecting the most benign looking ornament.

This is my 100-word Christmas story for 2020.

Stories submitted by other writers are here: Advent Ghosts 2020: The Stories.

Years ago, I was inspired to attempt writing a 100-word Christmas story by Loren Eaton of the I Saw Lightning Fall blog. I tend toward long stories, so a 100-word story seemed like something I might not be able to do. I began typing, finished the story, and had exactly 100-words. I was surprised I did it first try. (Read it here. Click 100-word Christmas Stories to see all of them. Some are better than others, but they were all fun to write.) Now, every year, I write a 100-word Christmas story. It’s always fun.

Next Story Includes Chiastic Story Structure

I’m progressing on my writing craft skill building. My Alpha Readers are reviewing my most recent story and I’m beginning another story.

The theme, story structure, character change arc, DREAM Tool (which stands for Denial, Resistance, Exploration, Acceptance, and Manifestation and is involved in relationship building between characters), MICE Quotient (which means Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event and has to do with nesting the various story types), and the chiastic structure are designed, and the starting outline has been generated.

I’m currently reading Writing Your Story’s Theme: The Writer’s Guide to Plotting Stories That Matter (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 9) by K.M. Weiland. Weiland’s discussion on theme has helped me focus my story, which will make the story better.

On her web site , Weiland posted a series of articles about Chiastic Story Structure, which is something I had not heard of. When I looked at my outline I discovered it had Chiastic Story Structure. Now that I’m aware of it, I made a few tweaks to tighten the structure, which will make the story better.

Now, it’s time to write.

Image of three page outline of the new story that is not large enough to read because it contains spoilers.
Outline (not intended to be large enough to read)