[Story] Virtue of Silence

One of the ways that I like to flesh out my characters is to write little short stories about portions of their lives. There isn’t much plot to this as I’m using it as a way to get a feel for Solus and how I want to treat him for one of my novels: “The Iron Queen”.

The screams of excitement and joy ricocheted through the cobblestone streets which ran between picturesque stucco homes. Each yard was unique in decoration and opulence while maintaining a formality almost subdued in nature. 

Solus Haestus’ head jerked up from The Tennants of Temperance as four boys shot passed the low, iron rote gate. One of them slowed and stuck his head over the entrance. 

“Solus. You’re reading at a time like this?” 

The twelve year old boy felt a bit ashamed for a moment about the heavy volume on his lap but he gave a resigned shrug towards his schoolyard friend. 

“Father wants me to finish this.”

The gate creaked open and there was a moment of panic that made him swallow rapidly. His father was in the other part of the house preparing his sermon for the town center the next day. 

“Tenants of Temperance? You planning on becoming a Priest to the Virtue of Temperance?”

There was a bit of wry sarcasm in his voice but it did not matter. Solus nodded his head.

“Since Apet chose to become a soldier against Father’s wishes, I’m the last chance that one of his children to follow in his footsteps. I mean, the book is interesting.”

The last part of his words rang hollow in his mouth but he was resigned to the fact he was destined to be a priest. The Enclave of Temperance wasn’t a bad place and his father seemed to enjoy the work, spreading the tenets of caution and moderation to the working class of the capital. 

“So you don’t want to come play red horse with the others? Faith will be there. Her dad let her come play with us.”

There was a slight bit of hopefulness in his friend’s voice and an attempt at bribery with dangling his school crush in front of him. 

“I’ve got to finish this. Father wants me to finish a small piece on moderation in the conduct of business for tomorrow.”

The freckled kid gave an exaggerated sigh and threw up his hands. “Fine. I’ll see you at school.”

Skipping out of the yard and leading the gaggle of kids that had returned to find him, Solus felt even more lonely in the now silent yard. Even the bird who was keeping him company had flown away at the intrusion. 

“I’m proud of you son.”

The voice to his right caused him to start and almost drop the treasure book to the dusty walkway. 

Solus’ father, a tall, willowy man with graying black hair smiled down on him. He had been standing in the doorway masked by the slats that allowed the breeze through. 

He sat down by his son and put his arm around his shoulder. “I’m proud of you for remembering your responsibilities. Most children would have took off at the moment their friends came.”

“But I wanted to. I don’t feel very proud about it.”

“Giving into temptation to abandon your responsibilities goes against the core of moderation.”

“Yes, sir.”

Silence reigned for a moment and Karus Haestus took the book from his son. He patted him on the back. 

“You’ve earned a reward. Go play. You can finish the piece after dinner.”

Throwing his arms around his father in a big hug, Solus released him and took off after his friends.

-end-

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3 Tricks to Justifiably Explain a Character’s Sudden Change in Personality

Sometimes, writers get the urge to do something radically different with a character. Perhaps a narrative arc requires it, or it could be as simple as wanting to inject new life into your story. When changing a character’s personality, do so in a manner fitting with the fictional world that you have already established. Consider drawing on the common events found in daily life to make a character’s shift in personality believable to your readers.

Loss

In both fiction and real life, the loss of a loved one brings about unforeseen changes. For children, whose personalities are not yet fully formed, the loss of a parent can, and often will, trigger profound changes. Older people may find their temperaments changing as they work their way through the stages of grief. Some never get to acceptance, and the resulting hurt and pain can turn some people’s personalities inside out. Keep in mind that individuals react to loss in different ways. Some become melancholy and brooding, but denial is also common. Thus, you may find a character turning into an extrovert in an attempt to deny their grief. Loss causes unpredictable reactions.

Injury

Injury is another event that may change a person. Even a fairly common car crash can cause personality and mood changes. A traumatic injury affects the body, but it may also affect the mind. Brain injuries are notorious for causing sudden and profound changes. Physical damage to one or more areas of the brain is but one cause. Even in the absence of physical trauma, side effects like depression are not unusual. Other changes may include self-absorption or a lack of impulse control.

Stress

A growing body of research suggests that on-going stress can have multiple effects on people, including personality changes. While we all have had an occasional stressful day, unrelenting stress affects moods and behavior. As with loss, sometimes attempts to come to grips with only the symptoms of stress can result in the underlying cause going unaddressed. Attempts to downplay irritability and depression may precipitate personality changes.

Some of these personality changes may seem undesirable because, in real life, they frequently are viewed as negative. Still, there is an upside; sudden personality changes may be jarring, but they are often just the signposts of a larger journey to a better place. When taking the long view of a character’s evolution, let personality changes chart a path of growth.

Want to record memories of a loved one’s earlier days? Hire a freelance writer to bring the stories to life!

How to Write Court Cases: Plea Bargains

When you are writing any story involving a court case, especially a criminal case, it is enhanced by including a drama between the prosecutor and defense attorney called plea bargaining. This is high stakes poker in the legal profession. It pits lawyer against lawyer, hiding and showing their hands to get the best deal they can.

What Is a Plea Bargain?

Less than 10% of criminal cases go to trial. The others are either dropped or negotiated. This process of negotiating, plea bargaining, is so prevalent—and controversial—in the judicial system, portraying it accurately and realistically is almost mandatory to a story’s credibility.

A plea deal is the outcome of a prosecutor and the defense attorney bargaining for a reduced charge or reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea and no trial. There are as many reasons for a defendant to plead guilty as there are defendants. Usually, the reasons for a prosecutor are more mundane. Dockets are overwhelmed, budgets are tight, and sometimes victims are ready for it to all be over.

The Timing of the Offer

The circumstances under which a lawyer offers a plea bargain may be determined by the perceived strength of the case and the most likely projected outcome. Negotiations usually take place after the evidence is collected and the theories of the case are developed. Maybe the evidence isn’t as strong as the prosecutor would like to ensure a conviction at trial. No reason to show that card yet, though. Overcharging for the actual crime committed is a tool to threaten the defendant and extract a guilty plea. Is this abuse? The defense lawyer would say so—if the truth was known. Convictions are notches in an ambitious prosecutor’s belt. Plea bargaining adds those notches more quickly. But hast leads to lazy investigations, wrongful convictions, and letting the real criminals remain free.

The Plea Is the Story

Describing the plea bargain can develop characters through showing not telling. Not all defense lawyers are altruistic defenders of the accused. Not all prosecutors see doing justice as anything more than eradicating vermin. Expedience then becomes the better part of discretion.

Including the plea bargain in the story’s writing with its ins and outs, its “what ifs” of possible trade-offs, exposes not only the personalities of the actors—it also tells the story.

Writing court cases may seem intimidating at first, especially plea bargains. However, if you are able to understand the ins and outs of the legal process, then you will be able to write a compelling story. Also, don’t be afraid to dive into the gritty details, even if things don’t seem so black-and-white afterward.

Looking for more advice on how to write legal documents? Check out: What to Know About Writing Trials

What to Know About Writing Trials

When writing crime dramas, or about laws and the court system in general, having a court trial can be a great way to build dramatic tension. In order to make the most of these scenes, though, it is important to know how trials work from the pretrial stage all the way through to what happens after the last fall of the judge’s gavel.

Before the Trial

There are two major stages before a case actually goes to trial. First is the pleading stage, in which the complaint is brought to a judge to be decided if the case is fit to go to trial. There are essentially four parts to this process, which are the:

• Filing Complaint. The plaintiff or offended party will file a complaint with the courts, stating the wrong that has been committed against them for review.

• Summons. The summons is a notification sent to the defendant notifying them of the plaintiff’s complaint against them. The defense generally has about 30 days to respond, or there may be a default judgment against them.

• Motion to Dismiss. This is where the defense responds to the plaintiff’s complaint and files a motion to dismiss the claim.

• Motion for Judgement. This is where both parties either settle the claim out of court, push for a judgment based on the evidence presented or the court decides to move the case towards trial.

These steps are more often seen in civil suits rather than criminal cases. From here, the trial moves towards the pretrial stage, which is more consistent between criminal and civil court trials. The pretrial stage consists mostly of investigation and discovery. This is when the plaintiff and defense teams perform their separate investigations in conjunction with law enforcement to gather their evidence. There may be motions made with the court to suppress certain key pieces of evidence, such as an identified party in a lineup, the defendant’s statements to the police, or items found through a search warrant. Pretrial discovery can be somewhat limited when it comes to criminal cases, and in some jurisdictions, the prosecution may allow the defense to review their file through a process called open file discovery. Many criminal trials are resolved long before the case ever reaches a jury. Plea bargains are, essentially, a reduction in a potential ruling or sentencing in exchange for a guilty plea. Depending on how strong a case the prosecution might have, a defendant’s lawyer may strongly recommend that his or her client take the plea deal.

The Court Case

The trial is the most well-known portion of a criminal hearing, as well as usually the most publicized. A trial consists of seven stages, which include the:

• Jury selection

• Opening statements

• Prosecution’s case

• Defense’s case

• Closing arguments

• Jury instructions

• Verdict

Throughout these seven steps, it’s important to note that the defense is not required to call any witnesses or conduct any cross-examinations. It’s entirely up to the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.

After the Verdict

After a plea or a guilty verdict, the judge will proceed to sentence the guilty party. The judge determines the sentencing based on the minimum and maximum guidelines outlined by set statutes and can only be guided or influenced by the prosecution at this point. For felony charges, sentencing can include upwards of one year in prison while misdemeanors have a maximum of a year jail time. There are non-prison sentencing options as well, such as fines and probationary periods. After the sentencing, the guilty party has the option to appeal his or her ruling thought the federal appeals process. The appealing party presents his or her case in writing, including evidence, documentation and his or her arguments for the appeal. This appeal is generally reviewed by three judges who come to a final decision on the matter. If you want a federal case appealed, find out how long they take, why they’re granted and the probability of it succeeding.

Court trials may seem complex at first, but once you understand the basic structure and order in which they work, it becomes much easier to understand the process and be able to include a court trial in your writing. While you don’t have to include each and every step leading up to the trial, add what is necessary to add crucial details and information.

Every author benefits from having their story reviewed. Read about how you can get yours reviewed here.

The Writer’s Guide to Avoiding Carpal Tunnel

For writers, carpal tunnel can, unfortunately, be a common reality. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is caused by compression of the median nerve as it passes through the front of the wrist. Over time, this compression can lead to constant numbness, burning or pain. Weak hand muscles can contribute to the condition, as can arthritis. If you’re a writer, here are some tips to help you make sure that you don’t fall victim to this inconvenient condition.

Carpal Tunnel: A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

Writers can spend hours at their keyboards, and many may find that they don’t do a good job of monitoring their posture, wrist position, or any pain they may be experiencing. CTS worsens with time, and without treatment, you can find yourself unable to perform the basic duties of your occupation as a writer. As soon as you notice pain or fatigue, break away from the keyboard for some simple stretches to reduce pressure on the median nerve.

Stretch Your Wrists and Arms Frequently

There are simple stretches you can do at your desk to lessen the risk of CTS. Performing a gentle wrist bend for five seconds, both up and down until you feel the stretch in your forearm, is a great way to give your wrist rest and provide a break for your brain.

Another easy exercise you can do from a seated position is to press your hands together in prayer position directly in front of your sternum. Lower your pressed palms until you feel the stretch in your wrist, and hold this for five seconds. You can also stand and press your palms flat on the table in front of you. Gently lean forward with your arms straight so that your shoulders extend to the ends of your fingertips or until you feel a stretch in your wrists.

Increase Your Hand Strength

People with weak hands are more prone to developing CTS. Simply stretching your fingers and then grasping them tight into a hard fist is a great way to strengthen your hands. Do this for one minute, then shake your hands out for another minute.

If you walk on the track for any part of your workout, try to carry a hand weight with you for a lap or two, then set it down and shake out your hands for a lap. As you do these exercises, make sure to take a stretch break to both ease tension in the wrist and loosen up the newly worked hand muscles.

Use a Timer

Writers like to get in the zone or lose themselves in the document they’re working on. Unfortunately, this can lead to several hours in a chair before you realize that you really should move your body and stretch your hands and wrists. Many cell phones have a clock feature that includes a timer. Set this timer to go off in an hour and put it across the room so that you have to get up and turn it off. If you’ve got wrist problems, taking a break is critical.

CTS impacts more than just your writing time. You may find that your hand hurts or goes numb. It may feel cold no matter how warm the rest of your body feels. Over time, you may lose gripping strength or start to have problems with dexterity. Take care of your wrists on a daily basis to reduce your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

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Elements of an Exciting Car Chase You Need for Your Book

What an exciting book! Surprised young woman reading a book while sitting at the library

Many of us read books, not knowing that the person who wrote the story often took a long period of time crafting even a single page. This is especially true when it comes to action scenes. Being able to convey the excitement of an action scene while still being able to tell the story can be harder than people think. This is most noticeable when an author chooses to insert a car chase into their book. The following list entails some of the things to keep in mind when writing such a scene. 

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3 Considerations for Sci-Fi Worldbuilding

In science fiction, the world that the story inhabits plays such an important role in the story that the imagined world becomes another character in the tale. How the characters live their lives is very much determined by how they interact with their make-believe world. While there are many elements that go into creating a world for a sci-fi story, here are three of the most important ones.

Figure Out the Basic Infrastructure

The infrastructure of the sci-fi world determines just about everything in the story. Elements, like currency, food supply chains, social classes, etc., provide critical elements against which the characters play and sometimes fight against. They’ll also change, depending on what kind of sci-fi you write. The infrastructure will be different in a steampunk novel than it will be in a space opera. In many cases, the way the characters interact with one another and each other is also determined by the infrastructure. Star Trek is a good example of this. While an away team does have the option to take a small craft down to a strange planet, most of the time, Picard and crew get beamed down via the transporter. Crew members order tea from the ship’s computer. They don’t really exchange money. You get the idea. The basic infrastructure determines how they move about their world.

Choose Your Tech

Star Trek offers a good segue into the technical aspects of science fiction. Like the infrastructure, the tech that the characters interact with plays a big role in how the story plays out. The story’s technology tells the reader what kinds of resources are available to the characters. For example, Trek-level technology creates different parameters for the characters than steampunk-level technology would. Perfect technology is fun to think about, but overdone. How about something a little closer to home, like self-driving cars that can still malfunction and cause crashes? How would the characters deal with that? What reverberations would this malfunctioning tech have on the trajectory of the story? Whatever tech you decide on, make sure that the characters interact with it directly. It shouldn’t just be a set-piece.

What Date Is It?

This element ties in with the two previous ones. Clearly, the date for a steampunk novel would be different than a Trek novel, and the effect would be different. For example, since steampunk exists largely in the 19th century, it has elements of science fiction, but it also has historical elements and even alternate timelines. With this genre, some of the world is already in place; you know what happened during the Victorian era because it’s part of history. Clearly, this historical parameter affects how the tech will work and does so in a vastly different way than it would if you set the story 400 years in the future. The date also affects what the characters will be familiar with and what they won’t. For example, unless it’s a story like The Time Machine, Victorian-era characters wouldn’t know about President Kennedy. However, the characters in a Trek story might.

Worldbuilding in science fiction takes plenty of thought and planning. Whatever parameters that the author sets for the characters in terms of infrastructure, technology and time periods have an effect on the story’s outcome. When creating these worlds, it’s best to think of the story’s characters interacting with another full-blown character because that’s really what this new world is: another character.
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How to Write Empathetic Characters Without Boring Your Audience

If you want to be a published author, you’ll need to find a way to make your characters realistic and convincing. This includes adding flaws, believable conflicts and plausible reactions. It also includes having empathy for your characters regardless of how different they may be from you.

Know What it Means to Really Be Empathetic

Empathy is defined as being able to read others accurately. People who possess this quality are capable of more than merely sympathizing. They tend to understand the motivations of others. These characters are usually highly intuitive.

The first thing you want to do with your characters is humanize them. This means giving them emotions such as courage, frustration, desperation, excitement, etc. You also need to remember that human emotion is not always blatant. If your character is terrified because her best friend is being rushed to the hospital, she won’t necessarily become hysterical while explaining her own motivations. People in shock tend to become unresponsive and somewhat frozen at first. They may then try to distract themselves with some insignificant and repetitive act. Often, tears only come slowly.

Add One Flaw That Gets in the Way (or More!)

Give your character a personal flaw. Maybe it’s something major such as an addiction or a narcissistic personality. On the other hand, it could be something minor such as being constantly disheveled.

It’s also possible to make flaws attractive. For example, have you ever known someone voluptuous who exuded confidence about his or her appearance in spite of being routinely put down for being overweight? You could instill that trait into one of your characters.

Make sure not to use the flaw as an afterthought, though — that’s a quick way to get weak or boring characterization. Instead, try starting with a flaw and building your character around it.

Make Your Characters Three-Dimensional

Minor characters may come and go rather suddenly without giving the audience a chance to know much of anything about them. You do not want to do this with your main characters. Flesh them out.

Place your protagonist in a conflict that demands growth. You don’t want to make the challenge too easy. After all, without change, there is no plot. You should put a major conflict at the forefront of your story. It will set the tone from the outset.

You won’t engage your audience unless you add depth and humanity to your characters. This means considering things like whether a character has a vocation, is religious or displays personal idiosyncrasies. In fiction writing, characters often seem to develop voices of their own. The strong ones tell you what they’d do in a given set of circumstances.

Need an outside perspective on your writing? See what I can do for you here!

Why I have Been Gone

In June of 2018, I suffered a mental collapse brought on me by stress and an undiagnosed mental health condition. It had caught me by surprise that I had gone from going along to massive mood swings, mild paranoia, and hyper-alertness. By August, my beautiful wife convinced me to go to the VA and speak with a mental health professional, and it turns out that I had Bipolar disorder. Since June, my life has completely changed.

What Happened

In 2010, I served eight months in Afghanistan and to put it mildly; it was packed full of stress, anxiety, and sheer terror at times. Since getting married and having children, I have always struggled with my temper.

June was a turning point for both good and bad. I had come home from work and collapsed in my chair and suffered a fit of sheer fury for no reason which slammed into a high manic state which scared me. Susanna, my sweet, long-suffering wife, talked me through it and told me with no uncertainty that I needed to speak with someone and recommended the Veterans Affairs. She thought it was the best choice as the visit would be free (due to me having a combat badge from the war) and they would be more understanding of the things that I experienced.

My doctor found that I was Bipolar and that what I thought was part of the PTSD was something entirely different and that I had to change a lot of my life around to consider this. That was why I disappeared; I needed to figure out how my online presence was going to be now that I know what’s going on and have the support to get through it.

Why Am I Saying All Of This?

Mental illness has been shoved in the corner far too long which has allowed horrible people to treat those with mental illness as second class citizens that should be locked away and forgotten. Because of people spending so many years refusing to talk about mental health, it has been regulated to the world of mystery, and when someone mentions it, others get uncomfortable.

I’m not going to do that. It’s a part of my life I now understand as best as I can, and it’s something I will talk to people about if they want to listen. If it makes someone else with a mental illness comfortable and to know that I can relate as much as feasible, then I feel that I have done something right.

If anyone watched my Twitter feed, they would have seen the gift I got for my wife as a thank you which turned out to be so much more. Susanna and I have liked the Teen Titans show, and I found that my favorite voice actor who voice Susanna’s favorite character Raven (this would be the wonderful Tara Strong). I discovered that Ms. Strong had a profile on Cameo and requested her to do a positive message from Raven.

What we got not only helped cheer my wife up but made me realize that other people understood. Ms. Strong could have done something basic, but the recording felt like she took the time to figure out what Raven would have really said.

So, besides making me realize that I’m not alone in supporting those with mental illness (and making sure I’m an ardent Tara follower), I knew that it was essential to speak out and that’s what I’m going to do.

What is the future?


I’m coming back. There are a lot of projects that have sat on the shelf for half a year, and it’s time for me to get them done. I have a few more novellas, adventures, and even a program coming out soon. There is also the new Star Traveler #4 book in the work!

Thank you for listening and make sure to look to those with illnesses and let them know they are safe and supported.

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