Tag Archives: writing tips

Before The Fan

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
2000 Words

“There’s too much trash in this city.”

Jacob leaned over the roof’s edge and peered into the alley below. “Mmhm. Desconci is considered fifth in the world for street refuse.” He wiggled his helmet and tightened the seal for the thousandth time that evening.

Gina counted her steps backward, five from the edge. She glanced at Jake with a scowl. “Don’t be an ass. And why are you even here today? Transfer get denied? Again?” Not waiting for an answer, she raced forward on her three cybernetic legs. The mid-foot seated on the building’s seam and snapped her into space.

Watching a bum burrowing in foil wrapping and trash, Jake glanced up in time to see his partner tiptoe into a perfect landing on the next roof. “Not denied, exactly. They just want to review that incident with the runaway train.” He jogged backwards, boots whirring as they switched their energy preset. Sprinting for the gap, he grimaced at the sudden velocity from his suit’s jump motors. The pressurized heel-plates sent him sprawling.

Mechanical hips cocked to one side, Gina was watching him as he cleared the four-lane gap. There was a smirk on her face as he tumbled into a rolling landing. “Do you actually have to roll, or is it supposed to be some kind of flair?”

“Definitely not flair. I just hate using air brakes. My suit always over-compensates. Like hitting a wall.” Walking to the next edge, he peered at a street crowded with traffic, people, and mobile shops. Transparent sections of the road flashed as trains sped beneath the world. He frowned. “If I do get the transfer, I will miss these views.”

“Just the views?” Gina tilted her head.

Jake pressed his lips together. They had been friends for years, but they hardly hung out anymore. Their lives had been on separate paths for longer than he wanted to admit. Their priorities had been changing. Beliefs too. Though, maybe their beliefs had never actually meshed. “I mean, I’ll miss you too. You’ve always been nearby, and it’ll suck not having that.”

Gina chuckled. The laugh was just a little off. A digital version—no matter how well synthesized—never seemed quite as rich as the analog. “I’ll miss you too, Jakey. And I’m sure that train incident won’t be an issue. You saved lives that day. Not many would’ve thought of the resistor replacements. Circuit components! Seriously. Nobody checks electrical that deep anymore.”

“Well, you were the one that slowed the car so I could—” Jake’s suit started beeping.

A message began playing across empty air from Gina’s projectors. She sighed at the fuzzy lights. “Shit, will have to get them to tweak the focus again.”

All units on alert. Two blocks within Rutherford Square. A hostile land dispute has been initiated.

The display closed with a wave of her hand.

Jake tapped the air for further queries. His own arm-display beeped as searches began filling the queue. “Huh. Land dispute. Ah! This guy actually has a valid claim. It’s been in Department for, oof, twelve years? No wonder he’s active disputing.”

“Do you see this?” Gina’s glowing eyes flickered in a way that usually indicated rapid information transfer. She snorted. “Valid claim or not, dispatch says he’s threatening to blow up a building! That ain’t justified.” She grimaced. “I don’t have the patience for these folks anymore. Starting to think people are the biggest bugs in our system.”

Jake sighed. “I mean, doesn’t it make sense for someone to get frustrated? With a system so broken?”

Gina grunted. “Hmf. Plenty of people get things done just fine with how things are organized.”

“Maybe,” muttered Jake. He shifted to the immediate purpose. “But anyway, we’re the closest unit! We can probably elevate this through Systems Channel and get his dispute settled properly. There’s bound to be an annulment or memorandum we can use to bypass some of the BS. That’ll probably settle this whole issue.”

“Really? You want to accept? He’s a violent protestor!” Gina rolled her eyes. “Again, you’re not even supposed to be here today.”

“Well, you don’t have to, I mean, I could go alo—”

“Oh, fine!” Gina’s posture stiffened. Her internal mechanisms whirred with the activation of additional circuits. Leaning forward, she dropped off the edge of the building. Slipping down the side of the building, her form zipped toward the street.

“Gina!” Saving his queries with a gesture, Jake did a quick double stomp that set his boots into a ticking frenzy of preparation. A curse slipped under his breath as he dashed headlong over the roof’s end. He aimed for the top of a car. They needed to talk about their approach. He still needed to contact Systems. Hoping there was still time, he queued up a message tagging the man’s property file for an emergency review.

Sailing through the air, he barely registered as his boots screeched like old rubber tires. He hit the vehicle with minimal impact; his air brakes redirected momentum forward and slowed him just enough. Jake spread his arms wide to balance, then disengaged his shoes with a wiggle of his big toe. With the driver’s help—they had slammed the brakes—he arced in a leap over several cars and hit the sidewalk sprinting. A man careened on a tricked-out electroBMX and avoided Jake with a quick wall-ride up a building. Others, distracted pedestrians and annoyed delivery drones, dodged out of the way.

But where they dodged Jake, those same pedestrians fled from the swathe-cutting knife that was Gina’s mechanical form. Nobody wanted to be in the way of a speeding Desconci Policy Enforcer. Gina’s grafted armor made her weigh as much as a small motorcycle, and she had several times the power. Diving out of the way was a sensible reaction.

Jake finally remembered to turn on his helmet’s sirens. They blared with his shoulders flashing as he trailed behind his partner’s vastly-more-nimble form. Annoyed with the busy sidewalk, she jumped and caught a light pole, then swung herself to the side of a nearby building. She started darting between poles to window ledges to bilboards. Her feet stopped touching the ground. Jake muttered into his mic, “You’d be pretty fucking great at Don’t Touch the Lava.”

They rounded an intersection that led straight into the contested square. It was full of advertisement boards, city park attractions, and instamake vending machines. No wonder the man’s claim had gone ignored. It was prime business space. Still, it was maybe half an acre. The city could do with the loss of at least one sales zone. He spoke into his mic, “Okay, seems like he’s just waiting for some kind of response. Let’s hold back a sec and see if Systems responds…”

Gina ignored him. With one final snap of cybernetic muscle, she twisted through the air and barreled into the man making the land protest. Undoubtedly, she was focused on the near-weapon he was wielding. It was a PulseHammer: an advanced jackhammer that could practically disintegrate a human body.

The man went flying. His left arm snapped at the elbow. Bone ripped through skin and cloth on his upper arm. Gina’s three legs pinned the protestor down by his three uninjured limbs, “You must remain silent and still. You have the privilege of being an offender of Policy 55E.10-Golf and hereby have given up any rights—those paid for or due by your citizenship grade and/or grades.”

The sudden violence made Jacob screech to a halt. He gaped as Gina hunched over the quaking citizen.

Growling, the violator kept writhing as if his arm hadn’t been broken. “Fuck you! I got papers from generations ago that I own this land! Screw your damned policy and the whole book under it!” A tiny spider-bot crawled out of the man’s chest pocket. He was wearing a one-piece flight-suit in a dark gray-blue cloth. The spider skittered down the man’s body and seated itself into a small output terminal at the stomach of his suit.

Gina’s eyes went wide and her third leg kicked at the spider-bot with precise urgency. She missed. The spider ducked into the suit’s connection-port too quickly. She blinked—probably snapping a photo—and then she turned to run. “Move! Go! We have to clear the area!”

Over their comms, Gina was reciting procedural tactic numbers and sub-notes.

Jake was still frozen to the spot from before. Their specialty was adjusting electro-mechanical policy issues, though they could settle any policy dispute in a pinch. They weren’t supposed to physically apprehend people. They weren’t supposed to attack anyone. Nobody did that anymore. Not when you could just foam a person and roll them to a de-escalation tank.

Gina was shouting at him, “Tactical Response Alpha! Condition B! Now, Jake!” A wailing siren sprang to life around them. The square’s advertising flickered and became warnings: Alert! Alert! Clear the area! There is danger of explosive force in this area!”

Shaking his head, Jake crouched and switched boot modes. That spider-bot looked familiar? Some sort of activator? A control unit that could attach anywhere. Then his suit gave a whirr, the boots went chunk, and he was suddenly vaulting through the air. The crisis sensors were moving him whether he meant to or not. Landing next to his partner, he crouched and gave a quizzical look. “What did you see? Why are we running? And why are you being so… aggressive?”

She gave him a look. It seemed to be a mix of confusion and anger. “Aggressive?” Her lip curled. “Just, stay down and watch out. I called in crowd control.”

That crowd control arrived on drone platforms within moments. They were all robots, though someone was usually managing the group. Several had the long-handled foam dispensers, and those were spraying as soon as their feet touched the ground. Some people always resisted leaving, even if there was actual danger nearby. Luckily, most of the square’s patrons were running to clear the area.

Raising his head over their cover, Jake spied the land-dispute man. There was a dull red glow coming from his chest. The control spider had disappeared; had it burrowed inside of the man? “Shit, I think it’s—” The man began screaming.

And then an explosion thumped into being. Gore and concrete thudded around them. At the core of the man’s now-pulped body, the spider-bot’s brain was still intact and still glowing. Rapid burst transmissions pinged through Jake’s communications shield. A litany of grievances were included in the transmission. Shrapnel embedded itself in the walls of buildings or on the exteriors of cars and the occasional bus.

Gina stood and helped Jake stand in one motion. She seemed unperturbed by the situation’s escalation of violence. Her face had transformed into the artificial mask that it was, no longer pretending to retain humanity. “So much for stopping the shit from hitting the fan. That manifesto is gonna be on the net for weeks.”

Jake twisted his helmet’s seal tight yet again. He did so wearily this time. Why was he at work after all. He could be waiting for the transfer decision. “Gina.”

She glanced back at him. She seemed primed. Shoulders thrown back. Leaning forward. “What?”

“Why? You…” He choked on his words. He felt betrayed. “Do you realize what you did? That wouldn’t have, maybe, I mean. We could’ve tried—”

“We could’ve tried what? To let him do that without us clearing the street? He wasn’t here to negotiate, Jake.”

He frowned. “You’re just assuming. We can’t just presume like that! You don’t have the right!”

“I see.” She rolled her eyes and turned away. “Buzz off, Jake. You’re leaving anyway.”

He clenched his fists. “Not just yet. For now? You’re still my partner. Don’t you see how outrageous this is? That man died!”

She spun on him. “He was going to kill as many people as he could! And you’re worried about him?” She scoffed. “Fuck you, man. Just go ahead and leave already!” Crouching for just a moment, she leapt clear over the roadway and sprang down the nearest alley.

Sighing. Jake rubbed his temple. “Fuck.”

Writer Tools: Accents in the Written Form

Accents: How and Where and Why?

Also: What’d they just say?

He growled, “Whar be th’ rules ‘n regulatin’ bawtey ‘at dah-sighds ‘oo wrahts like wut?”

“I’m, sorry. Eh, excuse me even, but what did you just say? You see, your accent is very thick.”

His voice rumbled, “Where be the rules and regulating body that decides who writes like what?” The words tumbled out and melted together, every sound soft and smooth like softened butter. He had an accent like a pirate mixed with a bucket of gravel.

“Oh yes! I see, er, hear what you mean now. Much better.”

So, when writing dialogue there seem to be a couple of schools of thought. There are those that want the words written visually as they sound, and there are those that would rather have things written for clarity. Both schools of thought seem eager to yell at the other that there’s is the One True Way.

Preferences aside, there can be reasons to partake in both of the practices. If you’re writing for a wider readership then it’s best to leave out the weird spellings. The stranger you write a word, the more effort it will take to read. Reading is a process of identifying words as symbols, not individual letters. Mixing up the order of a word will interrupt that natural process. However, sometimes you’re writing for a specific audience or have a very particular speech mannerism that is key to the story or character. That would be the primary case for adding complexity.

Overall you should consider the message you’re trying to convey. Is it really important to emphasize that character’s vocal patterns? If not, it’s probably best to keep away from non-standard spelling. One possible mix I’ve seen is the following:

“Hello my beauty, what ails you?” His words were a high-pitched lilt touched with a lisp. The words came out sounding much more like, “‘Ello mah byooteh, hut aisleth ya’?”

Much like a physical description, an occasional description of the vocal patterns may be enough to set the character. Providing an example of how you imagine the words to sound may help as well.

That said, a larger consensus seems to be that general audiences would prefer clear, well-written sentences over a phonetically spelled verbal mannerism. Write for yourself first, but keep your readers in mind. Understanding your audience preferences is a key part to any decision for creative work.


Writer Tools: Publishing Platforms


Note: Updated 20171025 to reflect JukePop’s closing

A platform can mean two things. Either it’s the big social stage you build to advertise your wares or its the more specific architecture built by someone else where you place your content. Everyone needs the social platform, that’s your interconnected network of people that will listen to you or at least nod and smile. Even if you go a traditional publishing route having that platform will help sell books.

As writers, authors, and creative individuals seek to share their work, they find themselves but a drop in a deluge of content. The internet is full of Stuff that isn’t sorted or arranged in any logical fashion. Sorting through the madness is not a feat any normal person could take on and is hardly possible for even great big companies. So far there isn’t an algorithm that can detect the special je ne sais quoi that makes a hit.

What has arisen in the place of such an algorithm are websites and listing services that allow you, the author, to place your work up in specific categories and sorted forms. Here are a couple of those sites with my take on their strengths and weaknesses:

Publishing Sites

– Amazon: They sell physical books and the digital, and allow an author to upload their work straight onto their site through the KDP platform. This is the direct route and your book will almost be instantly available through an Amazon Search. They do have a minimum price requirement and also provide a system called KDP Select that allows readers to browse your book for free if a Prime member. Keep note that KDP Select requires you to make your book exclusively available through Amazon. Getting multiple reviews is your best bet for getting noticed on Amazon, so asking friends and family can help. Amazon briefly dipped their feet into a serial format of publishing, but that program seems to have been scrapped.

– BookRix: The first of several content distributors in this list, BookRix is a place where you can upload your book in a .DOC / .DOCX / .RTF / .EPUB format and then the site will distribute it to other places. Once uploaded your document text may need some additional editing through their chapter / copy editor. Which sites you can distribute to will depend on the formatting of your book, the quality of your cover, and other small details that can be modified without too much effort. BookRix will attempt to push your book to BookRix, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, and other smaller content distributors. You’ll get 70% of the proceeds for any book sales you make. One important note is that BookRix will give you an ISBN for free, but they become the publisher of that book. This differs from other sites that either don’t give you an ISBN or give one and don’t become the publisher.

– Channillo: Concentrating solely on digital serial publishing, Channillo is unique in that it is a closed subscription model that requires users to pay to read. Writers must request to publish their works onto the site, and then they must update in a regular fashion to maintain their listing. Writers cannot read other writer content without subscribing themselves, so the community can feel a little closed as a result. However, authors get an incredible 80% of the subscription profits to those that follow their serials. Payouts don’t occur until you reach a payment threshold of $50.00, and authors can choose to donate their proceeds to a charity. This is still a relatively new site, and it has made steady progress since it’s initial debut in 2016.

– CreateSpace: Much the same as BookRix, except that CreateSpace is largely Amazon specific and will help you create a physical book along with eBook distribution. As an opt in, you can additionally provide your book to be displayed in libraries and academic institutions. Be prepared to submit everything in the .PDF format, including your cover image. They will also provide you with an ISBN, becoming the publisher. There is also a minimum price required to distribute through their system.

– Draft2Digital: Another large-scale distributor, Draft2Digital includes CreateSpace as one of the platforms you can select. Otherwise be prepared to format your book with proper headings and titles between chapters to allow it’s auto-generation to work. This generally requires that you use a document editor’s Heading auto-formatting to ensure appropriate breaks are made. D2D also publishes to ScribD, Tolino, and Page Foundry and will auto-assign an ISBN.

– FictionPress: Online only, and a well-established site for online fiction, Fiction Press was based around a community of fan fiction but it has long since expanded to include original works as well. The interface is very basic, but it’s functional and secure. The community is large, but somehow it seems far more close-knit than other large sites like WattPad. Some plusses of this particular site is that it provides some bulk upload capabilities for existing stories, but learning the process can take some trial and error for new users. As a plus to writers, FictionPress also includes the ability to ask around for BetaReaders and for that reason can foster a strong community of authorial improvement.

– JukePop: JukePop headed to a planned closing by November 15th, 2017. It concentrated solely on digital publishing through a serial format online or through an App. Authors could began publishing as soon as first chapters were ready and then started interacting with potential readers on a continual basis. Some authors used a weekly update schedule while others posted their work as soon as they completed a new chapter. JukePop provided publishing help and bonuses for those authors that maintained a place in their Top 30 listings that could help with costs and distribution. Additionally, the site had systems in place to allow readers to donate and authors to track statistics per chapter. JukePop was a good place to start social networking with authors and readers on top of providing near-instant feedback on a story. A key point here was that JukePop provided vetting for the stories to prevent just anything from getting through which provided decent quality control.

– Lulu: Also a large-scale distributor, Lulu allows you to upload your book in .DOC / .DOCX / .EPUB formatting and requires similar formatting to D2D with headings delineating chapters. After stepping through their creation process it will require that you choose whether to publish to Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Nook, Kindle, and whatever random publishing platforms it uses at that moment (not all are listed.) Included in its process is a basic cover editor. Also providing an ISBN, Lulu seems to specialize in connecting Authors with outside help for those that want help marketing, making covers, and other requirements to make the publishing process less self-intensive.

– Personal Website: Everyone seems to say a personal website is great for an author. It allows people to get examples of your work, allows them to see what kind of person you are, and may be a great place to host a blog or other information. This is all true and if you have the capability and time a website can be another nice extension of self. However, designing and maintaining such a website can be time intensive and there’s no guarantee that it will be seen. Most of the other platforms here have automatic audiences built in which almost negates the need for a personal site. That said, your own web space can fit your every requirement for customization if there’s a willingness. Plus, these days sites like WordPress or Tumblr can provide basic customization and free hosting for an easy method of putting your work online.

– Serial Teller: This is a site that is on the smaller scale, but that’s because it is run by a private individual with heavy-vetting. Potential authors can apply to have their stories hosted on the site, and then they can begin posting through a blog-like interface. The audience is potentially smaller for such a site, but authors can benefit from a more-focused audience with a similar feel to the serials already being hosted.

– SmashWords: There’s not much to say about SmashWords that hasn’t already been said about the other multiple-distribution points. SmashWords is extremely easy to use and has it’s own digital content sorting but is probably the ugliest site in terms of formatting and content exploration. Upload your document in one of its formats, upload the cover, and then you are free to distribute to all of the following sites: Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Amazon, Apple, Page Foundry, Baker & Taylor, txtr, Library Direct, Axis 360, OverDrive, Flipkart, Oyster, ScribD. SmashWords will provide an ISBN but does not list itself as the publisher, you maintain that title yourself.

– Tablo: An interesting platform that is something of a mix between JukePop and other distribution platforms. You can publish online to Tablo immediately, though here there is no vetting process or quality control. What you post is then available to be commented on by chapter or section and it’s easy to track how many views the work is getting whether through its site or App. Additionally you can publish online to Amazon and Apple if the book is ready in its current form. Tablo uses its online editor to do most of the writing, so pasting from an external document is required. Content can be separated into chapters and you can upload a custom book cover.

– TextNovel: With a focus on hyper-short content, TextNovel is a niche market that nevertheless can allow for direct online publishing of larger works as well. Whether on its site or App you can browse through stories based on genres and length, or just look at those that are recently updated. It has a very basic system for uploading and content management, and people can comment and vote on your work to rank it in listings. There are no external publishing capabilities so far, but it could be a useful place for alternate stories of a flashfiction fashion that add in to larger works.

– WattPad: Very similar to JukePop with a seemingly larger userbase, but there is no content vetting and the large userbase can make it harder to stand out. That potential userbase can be useful for garnering more views, and the chapters can be voted on and tracked per viewcount. The App for WattPad provides editing capabilities as well which can be useful for mobile fixes and on-the-go interaction with readers. WattPad also comes with an extensive forum / community capability and hosts site-wide contests to promote users.

– Others: Many of the above sites will distribute to other places like ScribD or FlipKart. These sites offer similar services and capabilities, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. I will add more as I use and research them more. Additionally, smaller publishing companies sometimes have websites that are specific to certain subjects are geographical locations. Those can be ways to break into publishing from a more unique or localized angle.

Listing Services

Though not publishers themselves, there are also serial and fiction listing services available around the web. The following sites provide a sort of web-fiction directory that can include any combination of the above publishing platforms:

– EpiGuide: A forum-based listing of web-based fiction, primarily serials, where users update listings or just talk about writing.

– Goodreads Web Fiction: A Goodreads-based community of people that have web serials, web fiction, or follow stories that are updated online.

– Muse’s Success: A wiki-based listing of web fiction and serials that is privately operated and maintained by the users.

– Reddit Web Fiction: A sub-Reddit that is dedicated to the discussion and sharing of web fiction and serials.

– Tuesday Serial: A weekly listing of active web fiction and serials. Users must submit their story updates weekly to be listed when the next update is published.

– Web Fiction Guide: One of the largest listings of web fiction and serials with a core community group and a voting-based and rating-based advertisement method of showcasing serials.

Bottom Line

All of these sites don’t guarantee any kind of success or that anyone will notice the work you provide. Many are flooded daily with more and more work from thousands of writers. Benefits between sites is largely based on what the creator needs or personal preference. Each of the sites lets the author keep their rights and allows you to remove the work at a later date if needed. The main potential negative to any of these is that it may limit your ability to publish traditionally; most traditional companies want to be sole source and don’t want work that’s previously or self-published.

That said, building a following and audience can certainly be attractive. Additionally, though not all of these sites have a direct commission or funding system, modern creators can use sites like Patreon to make any platform profitable. The key consideration must always be what the creator wants from their own creative process.