K.R.I.S. – First Impact by Herrick Erickson 1/2

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. He subbed Bloodharvest so here goes. I hope this is useful and productive.

C&C for Herrick
Your number one objective in writing is make the reader care. Through dialogue you have a few tools to do this.

The first is empathy. Your reader will follow a character’s emotions at least a little bit, and more or less depending on how the character is presented. (While there are exceptions, they usually involve odd situations or a lot of setup.) In an intro chapter like this, you want the reader to care about the story. As such always have the characters care. Never have them dismissive or apathetic about the plot, because the readers will empathize with the characters and thus not care about your story.

The beginning of your story gets exciting a few pages in with the introduction of Hale. The first part is just rounds. But since you’re using dialogue to introduce the setting (This is a great choice, btw), you need to make two guards making rounds interesting. This is another form of making the reader care, so you want to use more tricks.

The next trick is use the power of names. People attach memories and importance to names. I’m not talking about anything mystical; I’m talking about the fact that if someone knows someone else’s name or a character’s name, caring about that person or character is a little easier. The two guards need names and descriptions, and those names and descriptions need to be interesting, because we need to care about them enough to read about two guards making rounds.

Who are the guards? I need detail. The first should be name, the second rank (just because you invoke one calling another sir and in the military, that’s a rank thing). So Private Smith and Lieutenant Jones need nametags or something. Most uniforms have them. This also gives you an inroad to describing the guards. Keep it brief unless they’re going to be important characters, but we need a few details.

In terms of detail, specific is almost always better than general.

So Private Bob Smith’s khaki uniform needs to be excessively clean and pressed, his weapon, the newly issued assault rifle with Micron Optic and double-mags, should be slung in a single-point sling, and his head shaved to perfection. Lt Marian Jones needs to be ten kilograms overweight, rough-shaven, and his slacks and jacket have faded until they’re different colors. He’s unarmed except for a holstered gel-wand that hasn’t been drawn in so long it has lint stuck in it. Lt Jones clearly doesn’t own an iron, much less has used one on his uniform since mankind reached the stars.

Obviously I’m making all this up, but see how it’s fast, specific, and identifiable? Smith and Jones are now people. That description also sets up the discussion of weapons later. Call-back details like that reward the reader and encourage investment.

Now into the dialogue itself.

First, regarding point 1, never have another character tell the first one to relax or not care unless you want the reader to empathize with the second character who is about to emphatically care. Lt Jones needs to be telling Pvt Smith how deadly these killers are. He needs to be telling Smith to never let his guard down. Prisoner Dane might look innocent, but no one on this block is innocent. He is a seriously bad dude. It’s a damn shame they’re not allowed to shoot to kill. If Lt Jones had his way they wouldn’t shoot first and ask questions later, they’d shoot first and reload.

Secondly, don’t shift gears suddenly, especially not this early. The officer tells the newbie that Dane does nothing but workout and eat, but then says he’s dangerous. That’s a shift. Set it up so working out and eating is dangerous. Make mention of the nanites if you can. That’s a good detail, so use it. Likewise, later, the newbie mentions this is an orbital prison where no one has escaped in twenty years. Then he suddenly asks what’s the prisoner’s name. Massage that a little so it’s one thought.

Suggest: “But sir!”

“Didn’t I say don’t call me sir?” asked Lt Jones, looking away and above Smith’s head.

Pvt Smith was too excited to stop. “Sir, no one’s escaped from Orbital Prison 6 in twenty years. There’s no chance that prisoner—” Smith paused to look up the prisoner’s name in his datasheet. “—Dane could be the first!”

See how that’s one thought and it escalates? It drags the reader into caring. Notice also how Pvt Smith is the newbie learning about the setting, like us readers, and he cares, like you want us readers to do? Jones reiterates that he doesn’t like being called sir, the callback that reinforces investment, and is very speciifcally dismissive about only that, not the plot as a whole? The reader is rewarded and encouraged to care about the plot.

On the subject of escalation, it’s an old rule of thumb that the author should always be raising the stakes. It’s a good rule of thumb. Build, build, build. If your characters get more and more excited, they’ll drag the readers along too.

Look, as a reader I want to be excited. I want to care about your story. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t read it and I’d be writing VHDL for work. I’m not doing that. I want to be dragged away. Give me an excuse.

Speaking of, the orbital prison is a good detail. Support it. Add cool space-age details. Don’t wait until the next chapter, because you’ve got to hook your readers now. Throw some zero-g around, or make everything green. Add awesome. Have a window that overlooks the sun to demonstrate the space station isn’t even in orbit over a habitable world. Raise the stakes.

Part One

Maps – The Ungale

The Ungale Ngalnek

About the same age as before. It adjoins the map of the lowlands of Ashirak on the previous map’s southern edge, this map’s northern edge.

The Red Guard and Greater Ashirai Empire naming and forms of address

The Red Guard call themselves Swordsmen or Reds, with Swordsmen (always capitalized) being the more formal term. Reds is diminutive and used by Swordsmen addressing Swordsmen. It is also used externally, but generally as an affront. At the very least it’s considered rude.

The nomenclature of the Red Guard is complex. The enlisted order of rank is Junior Swordsman, File Leader Swordsman, and Senior Swordsman. Junior Swordsmen and File Leaders are addressed by the Ashirai word for Swordsmen, Ve, placed before their name as a prefix. Junior Swordsman Pittin would be referred to as Ve Pittin, and upon being promoted to File Leader, his form of address is officially unchanged. A Senior Swordsman is called Svir, as in Svir Garin. Swordsmen omit titles for lower or equal ranked enlisted when talking informally, so Svir Garin would address File Leader Pittin as Pittin, and two junior Swordsmen would address each other by their names alone. File Leader Pittin speaking with Junior Swordsman Aryst would call him, ‘Aryst’ while Aryst would address File Leader Pittin as ‘Ve Pittin’ (He doesn’t because they’re on name basis*). This promotion is called making the Ve. File Leaders may also be called Stones. Senior Swordsmen are called by Svir by others of the same rank as well, but the less formal Head is also used. So Ve Pittin could be called Stones, and Svir Garin could be called Head. These forms of address are most common when the speaker does not know the other’s name.

The First Svir of a legion is a separate rank higher than Svir, and there is no informal means of address. A First Svir is called First Svir. Since there’s only one per legion, the presumption is that the speaker knows the appropriate name. If the speaker doesn’t, the name of the Legion, First, Second, Third, etc. may be appended as in First Svir Second Legion, but this is rarely necessary. Each city in the Ashirai empire provides one legion, so First Svir almost always provides sufficient specificity.

Red Officers are called by their titles. All officers are nobility, and therefore use an independent and complex hierarchy. Since the ruler of the Ashirai Empire is currently the Baron of Dylath-Leen and intent on keeping that title due to political reasons, the normal chain is broken. Noble sons that did not inherit the family titles, ie most Red Officers, use military ranks. Roughly, low officers are War Marshals, Higher Officers are Field Marshals, and the highest are Generals. However the Baron of Baroon is an active Red officer as are the Lords of Van and Tyr. Of note is that the Baron of Baroon is not the ruler of Baroon, a city of Lords with a King, whereas Baron Dylath-Leen rules Dylath-Leen.

In the Ashirai Empire it is common for the ruler of a city to take the name of the city. Thus Baron Dylath-Leen is the proper form of address for the ruler of that city. The Ashirai Emperor himself DOES NOT call himself Emperor Ashirak because Baron Dylath-Leen won’t let him. Baron Dylath-Leen does this to keep the latter in his place.

There is another Red rank: Al, the Swordmaster. What exactly Al means is a matter of some dispute.

*A special but enlightening case is the matter of Pittin and Aryst being on name basis. Pittin briefly tried to make Aryst call him Ve Pittin, but Aryst got him drunk and won his rank in a game of dice. The rank in this case was Pittin’s physical rank, two steel orbs (ne stones) on a plate to be worn affixed to the red cloak collar that Red Guards wear as a uniform. Aryst could have shown the rank to the paymaster and requested Pittin’s salary. If he tendered the stones, he could have drawn both his and Pittin’s salary for a year. The paymaster would then have endeavored to find out which File Leader lost their rank, and if successful, Pittin would have been demoted to Junior Swordsman. Furthermore, Pittin would be blacklisted for later promotions. On Pittin waking up, Aryst put it to him plainly, and Pittin forswore ever making the Junior Swordsmen give him his Ve again in exchange for returning his stones. A year drawing two salaries is a lot of money.

The Barons of Ashirak

The City of Ashirak, seen in yesterday’s map, is a canyon city between the lowlands and the high. A long embankment facing the prevailing winds from over the ocean makes climbing to the Doon plateau tricky under most circumstances. The winding canyon of Ashirak is one of the easier ways up and down. Because the ravine is bent in three places, winter snowstorms coming off the Fhysay and over the Bay of Dylath-Leen cannot blast the road. There is some measure of protection. Beginning as a trade point and financed by one of the ancient wonders of Pallas, the Clockwork Locks, Ashirak grew to financial prominence and expanded into conquest.

By law the Emperor resided at Ashirak to keep an eye on the source of money. However no one is so rich they can’t waste their money, and roughly one hundred years before Varad came to the Red Guard, the Baron of Dylath-Leen took the throne in a power play. In order to keep the Red and White guards from getting involved, the Baron provided plausible deniability in the form of political cover. To wit, the baron did not take the mantle of emperor. The emperor remained at Ashirak. It was merely a baron in Dylath-Leen.

The Baron’s power came from controlling the ocean trade. Between Dylath-Leen and Ashirak are two roads, the old and new. The old ran through the mountains, but this rendered it vulnerable to mountain interference. Recently the Baron of Dylath-Leen built the New Road. Staying safely in the lowlands, this allows him to control what gets to Ashirak and effectively irrigate or parch the Emperor’s fields of trade.

In order to maintain treaties with the highlanders, the fiction of sovereignty of the Ashirai Emperors is maintained.

Amazon Author Page

I’ve set up an author page at Amazon, Matthew Miller. I’m not entirely sure what to put in there.

One of the reasons people post so much politics on Twitter, Facebook, etc. is that we have these platforms to spread our voices, but we don’t always have something to say. Let me pick on myself. I would like to tell people about writing, the worlds, the process, etc, but a lot of that honestly isn’t that interesting. It’s not even ‘you don’t want to know how the sausage is made’ but rather ‘I spent an hour figuring out how to move Helen into the same room as her siblings.’ This is the stuff I love. This means something to me, but you, as readers, probably aren’t that interested in my thought process, and you’re certainly not as interested as I am. Blocking out a scene can take days as an extreme but not infrequent case. Hours are typical. Especially if the scene isn’t otherwise clear, and I’ve gotten pushback on it. YOU don’t want to read six hours of me thinking about who’s in which chair.

I do want to keep the blog/social media going. And thus I’ve got to say something. So I jump to my B-line of thoughts, and most of that isn’t that interesting either. I just tweeted about beans and rice because I’m hungry. (Breaking news: Matt hungry). I could tweet about the gym or the weather. None of that sounds particularly intriguing.

So we drop to the C-line of thought: politics and global finance. If you want engagement, you need to put an emotion behind the post, but most of those C-line thoughts aren’t emotional. The stuff that really gets me going is the A and B lines, which is writing, eating, and the job. So it’s back to politics, and if you want to put an emotion in there, you find something to be outraged about or something to fanatically defend. Cynically, those are raging and virtue signalling.

I don’t have a solution. The Amazon page is pretty lean.

Working hard at Bedtime Stories. Too cold for motorcycling.

Bedtime Stories

I started writing Bedtime Stories because I was trapped in a cycle of morbid laziness. While I was at the Patent Office I was working on a few things, the only one that saw the light of day was probably Lanterns/Resistance, and the other stuff got buried. The reason for that is that everyone died. Everyone. I finally had one of those moments where I looked at myself and said, “Matt. Matt. Calm down, buddy.”

I wasn’t killing off all of these characters out of plot necessity or some idea that art is tragic. I was doing it out of laziness. Can’t think of a good ending for Bob? Knife in the back. Now we don’t need to resolve Bob’s character arc. Alice coming to a complex political quagmire? Strangulation. The political quagmire? Everyone dies. Problem solved.

For a while I struggled with fixing the issue. I had a few moderately murderless stories, but they started slipping as I backslid into massacre. So I put pen to paper about something I call Bedtime Stories, but then was just the Mara stories. No one dies. No one. No good guys get eaten, no bad guys get their comeuppance fatally. No one dies.

That super simple limiting bound made a world of problems for me and oddly set me free. Because no one died I could make a bunch of death jokes, and they weren’t morbid because everything was going to turn out okay. I was also limited by my refusal to delve into problems I had a habit of solving violently, which brought me to children. That was wonderful.

I write first person POV because I want to explore voice. Everything narrated should be narrated by a character. The author, me, physical Matt, either shouldn’t be in the story or is in the story, and if I don’t want Matt in the story, he needs to get out. The children provided a perfect bulwark for that. Mara and much later Elegy became speakers with their own voices, and Mara, small girl child, was a voice I could see and hear. Some Matt slips into everything, but she was almost immune.

No one dies. No one comes to a bad end. They’ll all probably wind up grounded, but that’s it. It’s fantastically liberating.

It’s also a huge problem, because now I have to come up with real endings for all of these people. Plot threads that don’t get cut need to be tied off.

PS: The other thing that got finished during this time period was the Kangaroo Graveyard. Ugh. That’s a topic for another time.

The Shutdown

After a few betrayals in a game of Risk or Diplomacy, a lot of players stop talking to each other. They decide that’s it. In both games, that usually leads to stalemates. In Risk there’s the chance someone will win via cards, but the game drops into this hours-long slog where nothing really happens as players horde cards. More often everyone goes to bed with the game unfinished than someone wins. In Diplomacy it turns into nothing but fighting, but since Diplomacy lends itself to stalemates, no one can win. Again, a stalemate happens.

Both parties in Washington have dug in. I don’t think there’s any communication going on. Trump won’t sign a budget until he gets his wall, and Pelosi won’t fund the wall. There’s no room for compromise there. Neither side is going to persuade the other to cross the trenches. Neither side is going to persuade the other voters. And with the furlough/back-pay bill passed, I think both sides are set up for a long war of attrition.

I don’t see an end to this any time soon. I hope I’m wrong. But in my experience with human interaction when the various factions resort to reiterating the rightness of their causes, there’s no more meaningful discussion. And nothing’s moving through Washington now.

The Flat Earth

I legitimately can’t figure out if @FlatEarthOrg is trolling or not.

Driving westbound from Kansas into Denver there’s a stretch of I-70 that is almost perfectly East-West. It’s also almost dead-aimed at Pike’s Peak. The road itself is a little north, so Pike’s Peak would be straight ahead and to the left, but there’s about 100 miles of straight where you can see the mountain.

Now eastern Colorado is just western Kansas in terrain. Almost perfectly flat with little hills with shallow sides. About a hundred miles away, around Burlington, CO, you come over this low hill and see Pike’s Peak. The crest of it stands above the brown horizon. The peak itself is dark blue against a dark blue sky. The peak is perfectly triangular. My phone is garbage, but I’ll get a shot when I get a new phone.

As you continue to drive west, the peak grows. It gets taller. What’s more, features appear. The shoulders of lower peaks, subordinate summits, and nearby mountains in the front range rise into the sky. They don’t come forward; they come up. By the time you get to Limon, I-70 shanks north to head towards Denver, and by then Pike’s Peak is alone and tall. You can see its white head and beard. Lesser summits are not only visible but distinguishable from the central prominance. It’s magnificent.

People, I moved to Colorado for the scenery. This stuff does it for me.

But Pike’s Peak clearly rises. As one drives in the opposite direction, the mountain sinks in the rear view mirror. It gets lower. It crouches, and the subordinate summits are lost first.

I’ve seen pictures of ships go over the horizon, and they do sink from the bottom up, but I find those pictures blurry and hard to see. There’s none of that in Pike’s Peak. Giant hill rises from behind the horizon, and it can’t do that if the Earth is flat.

Story idea

People have a button that locks them in the moment the button was pressed for the rest of their lives.

Twist: People spend so much time worrying about not missing the right time to hit the button, they stop living.

Scenario: People who have already hit the button are effectively walking dead, locked in happiness, and whatever is done to them now won’t affect the time they have left. The bodies that go on are soulless and treated as such.

Second twist: Bodies are still conscious.