April 30, 2022 / 1 Comment

State of Things…

Hey. Interesting week, huh?

First off, many thanks to all of you for your patience. Probably looks dumb as hell, guy who’s got his dream job complaining about being burned out. But the truth is, even a dream job is still a job. And I think for all of us, trying to do your job for the past two years has just been brutal. And it all finally caught up with me. I guess the one big difference is I’m in the very fortunate position of just being able to throw my hands up and say “I’m done” for a week or three.

And it’s helped immensely. I feel rested for the first time in months (almost since before Halloween, really). The new book is back on track. I even think I’ve got a handle on how to deal with the disconnect between my new word processing program (say hello, LibreOffice Writer) and the blog site here. Yes, you may have noticed some odd formatting over the past half-dozen or so posts.

So again, thanks to all of you for your patience.

Anyway… I know I promised to talk about languages next time I put up something new, but I figured it’s probably worth mentioning that big potential shift coming up in the internet. You know. That guy. The one with so much money he literally doesn’t know what to do with it, so he just keeps making questionable choices and never suffering any repercussions. Will things go forward? Will they collapse? Will he get bored and sort of wander off like he’s done for so many other loudly proclaimed offers and deals?

Who knows.

No, seriously. I think there’s good reason to be worried if a guy like that ended up in charge of a major worldwide communication system. He has an extreme “rich white man/ never dealt with a real problem in my life” view of the world. I also think… well, like I mentioned above, he does have a real follow-through problem. I’d say it’s 50-50 at best that this sale even happens. Seriously.

It’s an odd bit of synchronicity that just as I’m coming back from a break on this particular platform, as my fellow youths like to say, and there’s a potential upset at the other big one I spend a lot of time at. Makes you think, as my fellow olds often say. About social media and the role it plays in our lives and our careers.

For a few months now I’ve been looking at this site (which is still here on Blogspot, fer cripes sake) and thinking I should really migrate it over to my website and have everything contained there. One thing this past week’s highlighted is how fragile things can be on the internet. One buyout, one new executive who doesn’t like that balance sheet, and everything can change in minutes. Like, actual minutes.

I also know one reason I’ve been dragging my feet on doing it is because I’ll lose all the links in these posts. Bam, all that interconnectedness and easy reference gone. I could rebuild it, but it’d take time. A lot of time. And I am, y’know, working on other things…

All that said, I’m probably going to stay on Twitter for the foreseeable future. We’ll have to see how it goes there over the next few months. If you’re so interested, there’s also Instagram, which is mostly toys and cats, yeah, but some book stuff too. With all this going on, I set up an account on Counter.Social just because a few folks I know were over there and I figured it might not be a bad thing to claim my name there, so to speak. And someone reminded me I had a Mastodon account I hadn’t used in a while, so I’ve dusted that off and made sure the engine still runs. If you’re on any of these sites, please come find me and listen to my daily prattling. If nothing else, you’ll know when this site gets updated.

And please do keep an eye out here. I’ve got a few cool things planned out for the month of May. I think they’re cool, anyway. That foreign language post, talkin’ about three act structure a bit, and maybe a rambly birthday post or two, as I’ve done once or thrice in the past.

So we’ve all got that to look forward to.

Until then, go write.

February 24, 2022 / 1 Comment

Fear of the Unknown

I know, I know. I’ve been really bad about this lately. As some of you may be aware, it’s been a wild month for me. New book comes out next week, so I’ve been doing tons of promo stuff, some interviews, scheduling other promo stuff and interviews, and also—when I can—trying to work on my new book. The one everyone’s going to be asking about week after next.

Oh, and I also spent some time going up on the roof (twice!) trying to fix a tarp. That ate up a fair amount of time.

Also, random fun fact– this is post #750 here on the ranty writing blog. Yay to all of us for sticking with it this long. Hopefully you’ve gotten something out of all these random rants and musings.


Also-also… holy crap this has been a stressful week. We’ve been dealing with some horrible stuff here in the states and as of last night a large chunk of Eastern Europe kind of spiraled into.. well, hell. So I completely get it if you’re not up to this right now. It might help get your mind off things, but it also might feel kind of frivolous, both me writing this and you reading it, and stress you out even more. I know why I’m here, but seriously– if you need a minute to not look at a screen, to just close your eyes and listen to music or something… go for it. Take ten, take a few deep breath, put your favorite song on repeat. Take care of yourself, okay? You can’t do anything if you’re a wreck, so do what you need to keep yourself together.


I wanted to talk to you real quick about that unknown thing. You know the one I’m talking about. Yeah, that.

And fair warning, this is one of those posts inspired by a Saturday geekery movie.

So, hey, I was watching a Saturday geekery movie a few weekends back, and the actors, director, and even the writer didn’t know what the monsters were. From a production point of view, anyway. Y’see, it was pretty clear the movie was done very cheap and on the fly, without much of a script. It’s my educated guess that they just shot the movie and figured “well, when we’re in post we’ll see what the special effects house has for cheap models and CGI in some kind of monster then.”

The problem, of course was… well, they’re filming now. And the actors need to look at that spot on the driveway and pretend there’s something there. But they can’t say anything definitive because nobody knows what it’s going to be. Maybe dinosaurs. Maybe giant insects. Maybe dragons. Who knows. Again, we’ll figure it out later, right? For now, just… be vague. Act confused.

Which they did. A lot. And it got thin really fast. Because while it was unknown to them, filming the movie, the monsters were very clear and visible to us watching the finished movie. So nobody’s reactions made any sense, because nobody knew what they were reacting to. What it was doing, how big it was, nothing. People were looking past monsters, above monsters, at one point kind of uncomfortably at a monster’s crotch.

Plus, nobody’s dialogue made any sense because it was all about “those things” rather than what those things were. I mean… that’s a dinosaur. No question. Even if it’s secretly a giant robot or an alien, it looks exactly like a dinosaur and it’s kind of silly for nobody to say that. If anything, it makes the characters look really stupid.

Perhaps even more jarring, nobody ever talked about whythese things were there. I mean, if you and I went outside and almost got killed by a dinosaur/giant spider/dragon and ran back inside (slamming the door behind us), it makes sense we’d be yelling “WTF was that?!?!” But after things calmed down a bit and we had time to talk… wouldn’t we wonder how there’s a dinosaur in the driveway? Maybe question where these giant spiders came from? That’d seem kind of natural, right?


But the characters couldn’t have these conversations because nobody actually knew what was in the driveway. A bat-winged demon with a spiked tail and a killbot with missile pods on its shoulders would spark two very different discussions. But we don’t know what it’s going to be, sooooooo… the characters need to talk about something else. And not the giant monsters outside. Maybe about how she hates her job. Or why they wish they hadn’t argued with their girlfriend this morning. Maybe a little monologue about faith or humanity’s basic nature.

Anyway, have you figured out how this applies to writing in general?

It’s pretty common in fiction to have “unknown” elements. The faceless enemy. The mysterious figure. The unseen monster. Things that leave our characters confused and maybe angry and trying to figure out what the heck’s going on.

But… at some point they’re going to find out what that unknown element actually is. Either that, or we need to have a serious talk about it’s aggressively unknown state. And once it’s known, everything still has to make sense. The way Phoebe reacted in chapter four. Dot’s vague statements in chapter eight. How Wakko was killed in chapter fifteen. All of that’s going to line up and make sense with the now-known element, right? And, yeah, even if I want to keep things unknown to my readers (and maybe my characters, too) for the whole story, I still need to know what this unknown element is.

Y’see, Timmy, the world I’m creating needs rules. because my readers are going to sense if I’m just sort of winging it and saying “anything goes.” Doesn’t matter if it’s sci-fi or supernatural or ancient elder evil from the dawn of time—my story comes with an unwritten promise that all this makes sense. I’m not cheating you, there really is a logic to this. I might not directly tell it to you, but you should still feel it and see its affect on things.

So, yeah, I can use the unknown. But at the least, I need to know which unknown I’m using. because believe me… they’ll know.


Next time…

Crap, like I said above, there’s a lot happening between now and then. The Broken Room comes out next Tuesday, and if you’d like to pick up a copy in your preferred format, that’d be super cool. If you’re so interested, I’m also doing signings Wednesday at Mysterious Galaxy and Saturday at Dark Delicacies. You could pre-order from either of them, wherever you are, and get a personally-defaced copy shipped to your doorway. If you order from Mysterious Galaxy, you can watch me babble about the book online in real time.

Anyway, next time, I’d like to talk about making stuff up.

Until then, go write.

And seriously. Take ten. Take a few deep breaths. Drink some water. Listen to some music.

February 1, 2022 / 1 Comment

Who’s Driving This Thing

Wow, talk about running late. All of January with no posts. Sorry about that. Start of the year and I’m already struggling for stuff to talk about.

Well, that’s not true. There’s a lot of stuff I’d like to blather on about, but I sometimes worry that I’m not really up to the task. There’ve actually been a few topics I’ve set aside when I realized I couldn’t quite articulate the ideas I wanted to get across. I don’t want to try to explain something, do a poor job one way or another, and actually make things worse for anybody. “I’m not sure if he was serious about that whole ‘mellonballer’ thing but what the hell, I’ll try anything if it gets my foot in the door.”

Another way to look at it is I’m worried the decisions I make here might have a negative effect on you out there. I mean, the goal is to have an effect, yeah, but hopefully not one that has you tossing your laptop or burning your idea notebook. I’m hoping this’ll be an overall encouraging, educational place, and my actions will help you out.

And this, if you didn’t guess, is my clumsy lead-in to this week’s topic.

I’ve talked several times here about the idea of plot and story and how the two bounce off each other. Really simply put, plot is what happens outside my character, story is what happens inside my character. Plot forces my characters to make decisions and adapt. Story is that growth and change, and how it leads them to make different decisions and take different actions. Which then, in turn, affects how the plot progresses. Makes sense?

Personally, I think this is really helpful to have in mind when people start arguing about plot-driven vs. story-driven narratives (I’m using narrative here to avoid the confusion of using story vs.story). If I’m not having this back and forth—if plot isn’t driving story which is driving plot which is driving story—then what is making things happen?


Consider what we usually think of as “character-driven” narratives. If there’s isn’t some outside influence forcing them to adapt and change… way are they changing? Truth is, without outside pressure most of us tend to just sort of stay the course. We need a little nudge or maybe a hard shove to get us out of our ruts, and it’s not really possible to shove yourself. Sure people make random decisions sometimes, but if somebody in my narrative does something wildly out of character… well, I mean it’s clear that decision didn’t come from inside the character, right? So if they decide to change without any sort of outside influence—without a plot—where are the decisions coming from?

Well, they’re coming from the writer. I mean, yeah, the narrative always comes from the writer. But in this case it’s coming directly from them without bothering to guide that motivation through a plot.

Another point worth mentioning—an all-too-typical thing in character driven narratives is when what little plot there is comes to a dead crashing halt for twenty or thirty pages so someone can reminisce and/or lament about… well, something that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. And they can do this because there’s no actual outside stimulus, nothing urging them into some sort of action. Yeah, the bank’s foreclosing on the farm, the tractor broke down, the dog’s gone missing, mom has cancer, but let me tell you about that time Lizzie Metcalfe invited me to the school dance and I turned her down. Y’know… that’s always gnawed at me. Especially right now, with all of this going on. I mean, isn’t life just one big school dance when you really think about it…?

No? Okay, well, never mind…

When the plot bends or twists to shape itself around my character, it doesn’t feel like anything outside of my character has any real agency, does it? Yeah, my protagonist should have agency, but so should my antagonist. And the bank manager and the waiter and the maitre’d. They’re not there just to give my protagonist more dramatic meat to chew. All of them should be acting or reacting like real people would, not in a way that just lets the character continue working through whatever issues or problems they’re dealing with (or not dealing with) at their own pace.

So we need a plot. We need forces outside of our character, things affecting them and driving them to change. Often at a pace or in a way they don’t like.
And this brings us to the flipside, the so-called plot-driven story. Which is kind of silly because, again, pretty much every good story is going to have a plot, and that plot will lead to changes in the story. Like we’ve been saying.

Plot driven stories are all exterior. We don’t really get to know the characters or their inner needs. Everyone tends to respond to things in very basic, shallow ways. Good people do good things, bad people do bad things, cowardly people do cowardly things, and yes, Benedict McTraitorson did stab our hero in the back. We see a lot of stereotypes (or archetypes, if you prefer) in these kind of stories, not fleshed out past a few obligatory descriptions (“No, she’s different because she’s got
red hair and wears hikingboots…”)


I think another big clue for a plot-driven story is that people rarely have any real choices. The ongoing, dynamic plot gives the illusion of choices being made, but really the characters are just sort of getting carried along for the ride. If people are shooting wildly in my direction and I run away… I mean, this isn’t me really choosing to do anything. It’s an automatic reaction for 99.9% of all people. Yeah, sure, we can argue about what constitutes a choice in the same way some people might nitpick about what counts as action, but at the end of the day we want to believe characters are actually having some effect on the world around them.

One other, slightly less common thing… I’ve noticed plot driven stories often (not always, but often) have hyper-capable characters. They have a flawless plan and even if it somehow goes south they’re so well-trained and prepared they’ll figure something out on the fly. Because they never fail and nothing rattles them in any way, they don’t have to make any hard choices (see above) or suffer any sort of repercussions. Which means they never have to grow or change as characters. Again, nothing interior, all exterior.

Is this helpful? Hopefully most of you see why it’s kind of important I have both plot and story in my narrative. And this is the kind of stuff of stuff I want to keep in mind while I’m writing (or maybe outlining) my story. Has this introspective monologue brought things to a halt? Are events making my character grow or change in any way? If we don’t have both of these things going on

Think of it this way. Plot and Story are playing an exhibition game of ping-pong. They’re knocking the ball back and forth and back and forth. How Plot serves is going to shape how Story returns, and that return is going to effect how Plot hits the ball back, and so on, and so forth. If one of them stops doing anything (or just walks away altogether) the game’s going to get boring really fast. Oh, sure, watching Story bounce the ball on his paddle might be interesting for a minute or two, maybe watching them swat it against the far wall like a racquetball. But ultimately we showed up to watch these two play against each other, not, well… play with themselves.

Although here’s another name for that which also fits well here.

Next time, I’d like to talk about how long this takes.

The writing, not the playing with yourself bit.


Oh, also, shamelessly, we’re exactly four weeks out from the release of The Broken Room. If you want to preorder it from your favorite local bookstore I’d greatly appreciate it. Preorders mean you get the book as quickly as possible while also telling the publisher they made a good choice picking up said author’s books. So if you can… well, I’d appreciate it.

And next time, how long this takes.

Until then, go write.



November 23, 2021 / 1 Comment

Black Friday XIV — Santa Takes Manhattan

I know I said I wasn’t going to post much this month, but late November is when I do all my books o’ the year posts. Plus, it struck me it might not be a bad thing to do my annual Black Friday offer a little early, what with DeJoy stil in office and all that…

So, what’s the Black Friday offer about, ask all the folks who never click links?

It’s about how being poor at the holidays completely, absolutely sucks.

As some of you know, I’d saved up a little film-industry money before I became a full-time writer. Even so, two or three random-but-normal problems—a sick cat, car repairs, a pay cut at the magazine I wrote for—and wham I was poor. I mean… nothing. Below the poverty line, credit cards maxed out, every paycheck stretched until it was less than gauze.

The phone got shut off. No internet. My partner and I didn’t turn the heat on for three winters in a row. We stole toilet paper from the library. Pretty much everything we ate came from the 99 Cent Store. I was working on an article and frikkin’ Shane Black offered to meet up to talk over coffee and I had to turn him down because I couldn’t afford the gas to get me across the city to where he was. Hell, I didn’t have enough money to buy a coffee. We went through three years of feeling constantly sick with despair, just waiting for the inevitable bill or emergency that’d destroy us.

On a normal day, being poor’s a constant, gut-churning feeling of tension.  Of being painfully aware of what you don’thave and what you can’t do. There are some messed up folks who love to bellow about “nanny states” and “entitlements” but the simple truth is that the vast majority of poor people don’t abuse the system. They’re way too busy just trying to survive with their home, their health, and maybe just a shred of dignity.

This deep-in-your-gut feeling’s even worse at the holidays. So much of the holidays is about giving, and when you’re poor you just… you’ve got nothing to give. It doesn’t matter how much you care about that person, it doesn’t matter how much you want to just feel normal and give them something—anything—to express that.  It doesn’t matter because you’ve got nothing.

And again… you can feel people judging you over it.  At every party or gathering or dinner.  You get judged for being trapped and powerless. Hell, even if they’re not judging you, you end up judging yourself, and it just becomes this endless cycle of guilt and resentment and desperation. I hope that none of you reading this are there right now, feeling helpless and sick with despair. Because like I said before, it seriously sucks to be in that position

But if this is where you’re at right now—maybe I can help.

If you can’t afford gifts for your friends or family, shoot me a note at ye olde PeterClines101@yahoo.com. I’ve got a little over a dozen books here that I’ll autograph to whoever you want and mail out to you. Or to someone else, if you need it shipped. Most of these are paperbacks of Paradox Bound, but there’s a few Ex-Purgatory and Ex-Isle, too. Think I might even have a few audiobook sets (those big cases of CDs) of different things. If audiobooks would work better, just say so. You can request a specific book, but I can’t promise anything—it’s just what I’ve got saved up here. I can even gift wrap if you need it (I’m fantastic at wrapping presents, really). 

I’ll send them out to whoever needs them for as long as the books last. Or probably until the 15th, just to make sure you get them on time and have something to give.

So if you need some help this season, please just ask

Again, this is for those of you who need some help getting gifts for others. The people who are pulling unemployment, cutting back on everything, and feeling trapped because they can’t afford gifts.  It’s not so you can recommend someone who might like a free book. You could do that for them, too—go get them a book. They’ll love you for it.

On a related note… whenever I do this folks offer to chip in and help out. I’m good, but I’m willing to bet there’s a toy bank or a gift bank or a food bank or some kind of program within ten or fifteen miles of you right now. You could help out with that. You can go be fantastic people all on your own. You don’t need me.

Finally, I’m also doing this on the honor system, so if you’re just trying to score a  free autographed book… well, I can’t stop you. But let’s be clear—if you do this, you suck. You’re a deplorable person who’s taking a moment of peace and relief away from someone who really needs it this holiday season. Don’t act all surprised when karma kicks you hard in the ass over New Year’s.

Anyway, Happy Holidays. Let me know if I can help out