Cressets

The cresset or fire basket was a lighting apparatus of the Middle Ages, used in Europe. In its most simple form it was a fire in a basket, the basket being metal or pottery, that was carried around like a torch. It was reusable and refuelable, advantages over torches, and simple to make. Larger versions functioned as streetlights, but these weren’t streetlights as we consider streetlights now.

The street light as we think of them in the usage we’re familiar with came about with gas. Cressets were much simpler and cruder. While a single human could tend a number of gas streetlights, a cresset tender had to haul wood shavings and blocks up the pole and feed them to the flame. Ladders were often just rungs stuck to the side of the pole or carved.

Poles were used of any height that a ladder could reach so probably taller than a human or at least lifted above human head high, but not too difficult to access. Atop these poles metal or pottery baskets stood, perforated on all sides except the bottom so light could escape. Sappy, resinous wood and dry were used together, the sappy wood providing a liquid fuel not totally unlike wax. The dry wood burned somewhat like a wick. A tender would collect shavings or scraps of both and dump the fuel into the cresset from time to time. Hanging cressets operated functionally the same way. The baskets were simply put on chains, and those hung from the pole either itself or via a crossbar.

Cressets as carried lighting structures hung from chains on poles, but the poles were man portable instead of being emplaced. They were used as late as the eighteenth century because for all their crudeness, they worked well and had few pieces to break. Cressets were the bicycles of early lighting. Coal cressets remained in use into the nineteenth century and the fire-devil is still used today.

Voice

People who tell you never to use the passive voice are wrong.

There are uses to the passive voice and several problems. Starting with the advantages, the first and most important one is that it helps the writer control the subject.

A) Bob had been murdered.

B) Someone had murdered Bob.

The first has Bob as the subject. Bob’s widow or his mother probably aren’t thinking about the murderer. Likewise, if A or B is a narrative sentence and the murderer is unknown, putting the murderer as the subject of the sentence is both unnecessary and redundant. The verb murder implies a murderer, and the word someone contains the least information possible. So by saying ‘Someone had murdered Bob’ the author has accomplished redundancy and uselessness together in one sentence. There was no redeeming value in brevity either.

That’s the second point of use in the passive voice. Sometimes it allows for greater brevity.

C) Alice was adopted.

D) Alice’s parents had adopted her.

You don’t need the parents because if someone gets adopted, it’s implicit that they were adopted by their parents. That’s how adoption works.

Furthermore, if the narrative is about Alice and the consequences she faces as being adopted, C makes her the subject as in A above. D meanwhile moves the focus to the parents. If the narrative is about the parents, good. Use D. If the narrative is about Alice and her adoption isn’t the focus, but rather the effects that adoption had on her, use C.

The passive voice also allows for focus on the attribute the action having been done and not the action itself. Suppose you’ve got a supernatural mystery, and murdered victims can’t move on until they find out who did it. Murdered Bob is going to be affected by the murder for the rest of the book, or at least his arc. The murder itself may be over and done quickly. If Alice is a young child, the aspect of being adopted is huge to her worldview. She’s different from her siblings. Her parents might love her different. She might not really be in the family. These matters are huge, and if those matters are the crux of Alice’s narrative, they matter. If Alice was adopted before she can remember and has never met her biological parents, the adoption itself might rarely enter her mind. Her status as one who is adopted, not a real kid but an adopted one (I’ve heard this used like this), may affect her worldview and identity in fundamental ways.

In character, it is sometimes used to escape responsibility.

E) I hurt Jane’s feelings.

But in passive voice, the I can be removed.

F) Jane’s feelings were hurt.

If the speaker doesn’t want to take responsibility for hurting Jane’s feelings, the passive voice is a good way to say that because it takes the speaker out of the sentence.

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The disadvantages of the passive voice are a lack of intensity and that it’s usually more wordy to convey the same information.

G) The tree had been knocked down by lightning.

H) Lightning knocked the tree down.

G is a boring sentence. It lacks immediacy and tension. H is an action. If the lightning storm is going on in the narrative, the author probably wants the reader to care about said lightning storm, and therefore the more interesting sentence is H.

Likewise for the same information conveyed, the passive voice usually requires more words.

I) Jane shot Beth with the gun.

J) Beth had been shot by Jane with the gun.

I is clearly shorter and conveys exactly the same information. If the action is meant to be important, I has more impact. If the action is not meant to be important, I gets the information out there faster so the narrative can move on to something that is important.

Most of a narrative isn’t shocking detail or character description/exposition but rather plot. Events are occurring or characters are talking and thinking. In those cases the narrative is usually served by making the flow quick and snappy, getting to the exciting bits and making getting there as interesting as possible. Thus most of the time the active voice is a better choice. But a lot of people say never use the passive voice, and this is wrong. If there was never an excuse to use the passive voice, it wouldn’t exist.

There’s another set of uses in instructions and general nonfiction that flows from the subject discretion of the first point.

Step 1: Turn the knob to the left.

Step 2: The knob should be fully turned to the left.

By keeping the sentence structure and the subjects/objects unchanged a reader doing a complex task may find reading the instructions easier. This comes up a lot in product manuals, but it’s not really connected to writing fiction.

Status

I’m looking at writing competitions.

I had a plot for Herostratus, but it was just nihilism. There’s enough of that. We don’t need more.

Discord isn’t bad, but I’m not sure what the point of it is.

Oh, according to Jetpack LC has 56 lifetime views. It has 283 subscribers. Something’s a little fishy.

Amazon KDP

To enroll in the Kindle Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited the book needs to be a part of Kindle Select. This means Amazon has exclusive digital distribution rights. You cannot enroll in KDP Select if more than 10% of the book is available digitally anywhere.

KDP is just Kindle Direct Publishing, and that is just the term for Amazon’s publishing arm. It’s basically self-publishing as the author is responsible for editing, cover, layout, etc, but Amazon does distribution and point-of-sale. KDP does not require exclusivity.

I’m not sure if I want to use that service (KDP Select). I like putting my stuff online for free, but that doesn’t pay the rent. Can’t cash checks against exposure and frankly, I’m not getting a whole lot of exposure. I’m not sure what to do.

Highland/Lowland trade

The resource differential between the lowlands city-states and the highlands of the Doon subcontinent drove economic development in both.

Geologically, the lowlands of Treveriane were mostly sedementary rock. Prevailing easterlies blew nutrients and plant matter to the fields, but the soil was largely devoid metals. Those same winds caused frequently flooding, and the tectonic instability that made Treveriane sink caused frequent earthquakes. The lowlands were thus a poor source of metals.

Meanwhile the highlands were rich in iron, nickel, and tin, and devoid of air. Agriculture was challenging, often impossible. The mountains broke up the wind, and much of the highalands were impromptu deserts, poorly watered. Often the best land was above the treeline.

The driving exchange is then food for iron. In years past it was food for tin and food for bronze. The lowlands have furthermore developed coking furnaces and foundries, but find that moving coal, including coke, is difficult to do up and down a cliff. The amount of iron that needs to be moved to create one unit of steel is significantly less than the amount of coal needed for the same. Now much of the flow of metal is iron down the hill, as it’s called, and food up it.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

There’s this thought experiment in game theory called the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Wikipedia has a good write-up here. There’s a lot of argument about what a wise person would do, not knowing what the other person will do, and I often consider it while playing Diplomacy.

Game Theory doesn’t seem to address the fact that you can only betray your partner once. Then they will always betray you, and that’s the worst outcome. Often it is worth it to take a risk now so you don’t guarantee failure later.

That’s why I like playing series Diplomacy and not just one-offs. There’s a world of difference between a single game and a seven game series with the same people. They’ll remember a betrayal or a compromise. A lot of people in politics are blind to the notion that they’ll have to deal with these people in a few years and a few dacades.

More Flat Earth

In reality Flat Earthers usually aren’t grounded in whether or not the Earth is flat. They’re grounded in one of two points: the government is lying to them or the government/science people think they’re stupid.

If the government is lying to them, they just disbelieve everything the government says. Republicans did this under Obama, and Democrats are doing it under Trump. It’s the same kind of passion, only even more extreme. The Flat Earthers are just against whatever the government says, and NASA does say the Earth is round. Therefore, the Earth is Flat, QED. It’s not a cosmological theory; it’s a social theory. “Those people are lying!”

The other one is that science people called them stupid, so they just don’t believe anything. People do this all the time. If you tell someone smoking is stupid, the smokers will keep smoking just to show you. This is why people roll coal. A lot of people think sciency types told them they’re stupid, so they just refuse to agree on principle. This also happens a lot with vaccinations and GMOs. Like FE, they sorta feel right if you don’t explore the notion much. Again, social theory not physical.

You can argue physics and explore physics. You can’t argue that someone shouldn’t distrust the government or be insulted by physicists who call them stupid.

Anyway, imagine you have a boat and you go to the Pacific Northwest. You can sail fifty miles out to sea and see the mountains near Puget Sound. But you can’t go thousands of miles out to sea and see them. You should be able to if the Earth was flat. What’s more, again, when sailing east towards Puget Sound, the mountains will appear to rise. IF the Earth was flat, they’d just sort of appear out of darkness. This is not the case. They rise.

Geography of Treveriane

The Doonish plateau is a tectonic subcontinent moving south and subducting the great flatland plate that makes up Treveriane. To the north is the endless Fhysay, comprising more than half of the northern hemisphere. The Doonish plate moves at roughly two inches a year and is already piled on top of the Treveriane plate. Given the plateau’s youth and comparatively high-speed, it holds a distinct ecosystem. Life from the lowlands and deserts of the west and east, and south respectively have difficulty moving up, keeping the highlands ecologically separate. Average plateau elevation is between six and fifteen thousand feet above sea level, and the highest peak that has been measured is nearly twenty. The Palm, a midrange peak, has neighbors at least six thousand feet taller, and newcomers report breathing on the Palm is moderately difficult. Altitude sickness is known to be fatal. Generally the Doon’s highest plateaus are to the south of the central area, but the taller peaks are evenly distributed on the interior.

The subcontinent is defined by escarpments to the west, forming the walls separating the highlands from the lowlands. It is in these escarpments the canyon city of Ashirak crouches. Here the Treveriane plate is steadily sinking into the sea. The Bay of Dylath-Leen is a young sea, less than a millenia old, and deepening. Dylath-Leen itself is an old inland city that the sea has come for. Already it has become a port, and built on both plates, part of it sinks while other parts rise. The tallest peak on the escarpment is Rherm, which stands approximately ten thousand feet above the lowlands.

To the east the Doonish plate meets the great depression of the Karas. The center of the Karas depression is far below sea level, and the Doonish plate is climbing on top. It does not extend as far east as the Treveriane, and the rising floor of the Karas meets the eastern sides of the Fhysay in high cliffs. Without carefully examining rock layers and sedimentation, the distinction between Doon and Treveriane is difficult to see. The goblin-filled Typhanf Mountains that make up the barrier between the Karas and the Fhysay are a thin range elongated over thousands of miles. The peaks are far shorter than the mighty Doons but steeper. Made of softer rock, they are eroding faster and the canyons between them are deep, filled with the great trees on the south but bare on the north. The great Jymlin and Ghosthearts do not endure bitter winters well.

Directly south of the highlands are the flatlands of the Horned-Lords. Most terrain here is flat and blasted by heat. The prevailing winds run east to west, and therefore dump most of the moisture on the Arsae. The Arsae crests are famous for scavenging lower rain clouds from the sky. Thus little rain gets to the middle of Treveriane, a broad mix of equatorial grasslands and deserts. Rivers define ecological characteristics, but the rivers of the flatlands are notoriously changeable. Within a decade one can move tens of miles and deserts bloom while grasslands fall to gray dirt. The geographical oddity of the Gunerae hills which manacle the Gunnen River to a course and give it its name rise near the middle. Directly south of the Doon lies Wilno and the equally inexplicable Leng Plateau that rises as high as the Doon, separated from the subcontinent by roughly forty miles and completely distinct geology.

Far to the southeast of Wilno and the Doon plateau lie the elvish cities. Their forests follow the coast as it sweeps south and finally west, crossing the equator and catching the southern equatorial westerlies. The far southern coast is mostly smaller scrub and pine, existing between prevailing winds. The Knifehead deserts meet the Krassich ocean south of the Languid. Farther east lies the Emerald Ocean and Korgan. Meanwhile the Treveriane coast begins to sweep north as it continues west, passed the Spur of Tems and the Spike before cutting due north. There, in the Ungale Ngalnek, is the hottest of the flatlands. Tropical storms in the Korgan tend to move east to west, but upon passing the Spur and Spike, sometimes shank hard right, hooking around to smash the Ungale coast. This land is thus desert known to receive torrential downpours and unimaginable flooding. Rainstorms dropping more than three feet of rain within a few days are not uncommon.

K.R.I.S. – First Impact by Herrick Erickson 2/2

Herrick reached out to me on tapas.io after he started two series. The first, A Scholar’s Journey, is complete. It’s available at Patreon here. I don’t have a book or ebook link. The second is KRIS – First Impact which is still ongoing. I offered some advice about dialogue, and he said he would like it for First Impact.

Anyone who reads and subscribes to my material may get a chapter’s worth of extensive C&C. I hope this is useful and productive.

Chapter 1 consists of three total conversations, the first I addressed yesterday. The second one is the most important, and the third should be the most exciting.

Preliminarily, I’d put the description of Dane between the guards talking and his holo message with Hale. Otherwise it’s a bit far from where it becomes useful, and I had a scroll a few times to recall who was talking. Likewise, the quote at the very beginning which introduces Hale was an odd place to introduce characters. I also thought Haley and Kaylee were the same person, and Hale, Kaylee, and Haley are very close names. Maybe switch that up a bit so they’re not so phonetically similar?

Also preliminarily, grammar and syntax: “They Killed Kaylee!” Killed shouldn’t be capitalized. Dialogue, specifically direct quotes, usually takes its own paragraph. Don’t stuff description and dialogue in the same paragraph, especially not if they’re on dissimilar ideas. Later: “Kaylee,” he gasped. “No!” he yelled <- is redundant and repetitive. Remove the 'he yelled.' The mantra Dane repeats to himself should not have the same punctuation as a direct quote, because it becomes unclear if it's being said out loud. There's no speech attribution, but it's got the double quote marks of a direct quote.

But what is said here works much better. Hale's internal conflict is visible and accessible. The words themselves do a good job of displaying his anguish, and I'd rely on the strength there instead of explicitly stating it later. Hale also has a good description. I can pin that name and face to an identity. I'd put Dane's big No closer to Hale saying they killed her, because as is there's a pause and Hale's moved on to other topics before Dane let's loose. Again, I would condense that paragraph (the one where Kaylee is killed and Aiden disappears) into one idea. Right now Hale talks about some problems and goes into his 'I need you' Dane bit. Those are distinct ideas. Let Dane react to Kaylee dying and have his freakout.

Also, names so far are Hale, Haley, Kaylee, Dane, and Aiden. Syntex breaks the streak, but those are too many names too close together.

Dane escapes with hacker help, and then we finally get the description of the guards. But this is long after the guards are introduced. They shoot him, and the narrative goes back to that attempted de-escalation. The officer says don't shoot the prisoner, and now the stakes of Dane's escape are lowered. I assume you're going to raise them next chapter, but again, you've got to set your hooks in the first chapter. Very challenging to maintain excitement. Also, Dane says that was a "fatal mistake" right after the officer says don't kill the prisoner. So Dane's the killer, but he's also got the nannites, so he comes across as the unstoppable bad guy trying to kill the good guys. The whole thing is very jumbled.

In general, the dialogue needs to be simplified. The first few paragraphs of Hale speaking have multiple speech attributions and statements and descriptions in a single paragraph, and that is difficult to read. Descriptions of people should be close to those people talking. The flow needs to follow ideas. Again, going back to Hale's BIG REVEAL, Kaylee is dead, presumably Hale is deeply upset about that too. But he rushes past it. Hale needs to react to what he says and Dane needs to react too.

That came across as being far more negative than I meant. My objective here is to help you improve, and I focused on what should be improved. But I'd like to point out a few things that worked well.

Hale saying come to me is perfect. It sets up the immediate plot and an immediate bit of direction. The next few chapters have a clear idea, and as a reader, I know what's going on and I know why.

Syntex opening the cell is fine. Gets things moving, develops the bit of help Dane needs to get working, and now the actiony stuff can take place without a series of 'how did he get out of the cell' questions. That's good, and establishes Syntex for later. It's good to have characters in the wings for later use.

Hale's internal conflict, anger at Dane for abandoning him and presumably Kaley/Halee, is good. Got some characterization there, and the conflict makes it interesting. Dane's aside that he can't pilot a shuttle is also perfect. Adds danger.

The setting is cool. I like the idea of orbital prisons, so I'm interested in seeing the details of where this thing is, who runes it, the cool technobabble and futuretech within. That's a good hook to drag your readers along.

I think you have some potential here. Good luck, and I hope this helps.