First Lines

I know we’ve all heard at one point or another, that opening lines or paragraphs are crucial to the success of a story. Awhile back, I was chatting with some creative friends and the topic of terrible opening lines came up. Off the top of my head, I invented the following sentence.

Shivering in sodden furs, Koragh peered out of the cave as hurried clouds shed fetid streams.

I was surprised when several people responded favorably to it. After some thought, I put it in the first line of a new story and let it grow. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised at the short story that came from what I thought was terrible. Here’s the first couple of paragraphs:

“Shivering in sodden furs, Koragh peered out of the cave as hurried clouds shed fetid streams.”
Officer Mark Droves tossed the paperback over the seat. “Damn! I can write better than this crap.”
Officer Todd Davis almost choked on his cheeseburger before replying. “Well, why don’t you? Hell, you been braggin’ about knowing how to write ever since I’ve known you. So far, all I’ve seen have been a couple of pretty good short stories, and several hundred arresting officer reports.”

Let us segue to about a year ago. I was in the middle of editing a series of urban fantasy novellas and short stories. The goal was to create a single, cohesive novel with a few recurring characters. That horrible opening line was incorporated into a new urban fantasy novel. Since then, Shifter Shadows has turned into a one hundred and twelve thousand word tale that starts in early prehistory and ends in the near future.

With that bit of background, here’s a list of opening lines from some of my tales.

  • Shivering in sodden furs, Koragh peered out of the cave as hurried clouds shed fetid streams. – Shifter Shadows (urban fantasy)
  • A blacktop ribbon disappeared into the distance between rows of waist-high corn while a distant rumble grew louder and coalesced into a lime-green sports car. – Multiplarity (science fiction)
  • He stared at the bleak landscape and muttered to himself. “Dust. Nothing but dust. I hate dust.” – Multiplarity (science fiction)
  • Damn! It felt great to be alive! – Shibari Sails (modern pirate adventure)
  • Only a slight breeze ruffled the warm waters of the lagoon as the galleon swung free, seaweed and barnacles crusting her anchor chain, broken mizzen still waiting to be repaired. – Tinkerzdamn (fantasy)
  • This Monday was different. The moment her mother hugged her and tried to leave, Inara clutched the young woman’s leg and begged her not to go. –Shadows and Shades (paranormal romance)

What do you think? Do they entice you to read the rest? 


The Trouble with Names

Sooner or later, most writers run into a problem finding names for their characters. If one is writing a short story, two to four names are usually needed. A novel generally requires many more and, if the writer is creating series, then a hundred or more may be required. George R. R. Martin, creator of A Song of Fire and Ice, which inspires the HBO series, Game of Thrones, is reputed to have a four-drawer filing cabinet full of character profiles for more than six hundred named characters in his epic series.

With that in mind, I count myself lucky to have only needed a few dozen for each of my series. Even so, tracking them has become a challenge.

The trouble with names comes from two problems. In the first place, the writer needs to come up with new names on a regular basis. The new names should not sound too much like other names used in the same story to avoid confusion. As an example, Don, Dan, and Den, sound way too much alike to share the same paragraph, much less the same book. The same applies to Don, John, Ron, Tom. I’m sure any aspiring author can think of dozens of both male and female examples.

One solution that I’m sure has occurred to many of us is to Tuckerize the book. That means to use the names of family, friends, coworkers, allies, and enemies to fill the gap. This has its dangers as well as its rewards. Background on this can be found here:

A more common solution is to search baby name websites for the perfect one. Don’t be afraid to mix-and-match names from various ethnic backgrounds.

Currently, I’m working on the last book in a trilogy of science fiction novels. There are characters from several ethnic groups and the last book even requires alien names. Since I’m dealing with some primitive aliens, I took a page from human history. If one looks far enough back into the mists of time, all surnames have evolved from a trade or skill. All the Smiths, for example can trace their linage back to one or more metal workers. I chose a handful of basic sounds to denote different skills within their tribal structure, then added other sounds to denote the individual. The first alien the humans meet is called CheeYok. In their language, Yok denotes a hunter, while Chee is his given name.

The second problem with names is keeping track of all of them. Even in the same novel, it is way too easy for an author to get lost while telling the tale and confuse character names.

There are both Open Source and Commercial programs to help track all the bits and pieces of creative work. Here are a couple of popular ones:

Scrivener is an industry standard.

Celtx is an excellent Open Source program used by scriptwriters, comic artists and novelists.

On the other hand, I’ve found simple works best. My solution is to use my favorite word processor, LibreOffice Writer, to create two files for every novel. One file is the actual work in progress, while the other contains a list of character names and profiles, in order of their appearance, an outline of major plot points, and a list of URLs that have provided research data. When the first draft is finished, I send both the first draft and the notes to my editor.

I hope this is helpful and, as always, I’d love to hear what works for you.

Good luck and keep writing!

The Inner Workings


Let me preface this by mentioning I’n a bit of a history nerd. When I started to write a short dieselpunk story a few years ago, I knew the overall background for my tale. I also knew I needed a realistic setting.

The first step was to create a sub-folder under the folder I have my Work-In-Progress and call it research.


A central part of the tale takes place on the coast of south east Australia. Here are some of the steps my research led me over the next few months.

  1. I started with Google Earth and carefully examined the current cities, seaports, and terrain of SE Australia.
  2. I chose an area from the city of Albany, up to Waychinicup National Park, and Bald Island.
  3. My characters needed a fictional community so I had them develop it on the shore of Two Peoples Bay. That was the easy part.
  4. Next, came research on the history of that area from the turn of the 19th century up until WWII. This part of the project turned into more than 26 pages of URLs, notes, and dozens of photographs in my research folder.
  5. Beside humans, my tale also features a dozen or so machines as characters. Two of these are fictional, but based on existing devices. The rest actually existed in that timeframe. Here’s a partial list:
  • Zeppelins – High technology airships between the two world wars.
  • Schnellboot – German coastal warcraft, similar to the US PT boats.
  • Cloud Dancer – Littoral Combat Ship with a trimaran steel hull, two seaplane catapults, and heavily weaponed.
  • Cloud Singer – A huge and well-armed airship
  • Kingfisher seaplanes – Use a lot during WWII
  1. The next item was a detailed timeline of the events. At this point, I planned to cover two generations of the families involved. I didn’t want my readers to be confused by any logic bombs. This was actually a two part process. In the first part, I created a timeline of real events, along with quotes from historicaly figures that would play background roles in the story.
  2. A list of Australian mineral resources was added to my research notes.
  3. A page of notes on the Aboriginal peoples of Australia prior to and during WWII.
  4. Notes on the Indian Empire (British Raj) at the turn of the century.

Captiva Press

The first short story was released in both ebook and print format by Captiva Press as “Crazy Taylor”. I immediately realized there needed to be a sequel. Unfortunately, Captiva Press closed shop due to family and health issues, a few months later. “Crazy Taylor is not available at this time.

Airship Legacy

Crazy Taylor languished on the shelf while I was writing other tales over the next couple of years.

When I decided to setup this website, I worked with an editor to rewrite some of my previous works. A few of them had been previously published and a few have never seen the light of day before.

One day, I reread a gothic horror short tale I had written as a halloween project more than seven years ago. It dawned on me that it was actually the first chapter of a much longer steampunk tale. As soon as I started working on that, I realized it was the steampunk preguel to Crazy Taylor. The die had been cast and I got to work.

The dieselpunk short story has grown into a crossover work-in-progress of more than eighty thousand words. The new title is Airship Legacy and I expect it will be published third quarter of 2015.

The images below are part of my research notes. At this point, I’m looking for some beta readers for Airship Legacy. Drop me a line if you would like a preview.

These images are the original cover for Crazy Taylor, a promotional postcard showing the Cloud Dancer, and my original design for the Cloud Singer littoral warship.