Monday, January 27, 2014

On the Pros and Cons of Fanfiction for Writers

The Pros and Cons of Fanfiction for Writers


I don't write fanfiction. If I'd had access to the internet at a certain age, I most definitely would have, but the fact remains that I discovered fanfiction at around 20. By that stage I had already muddled through about five first drafts of my first original story, and then four sequels, and then two other original works.

The mere idea of using someone else's character's terrifies me. I don't know them. Not like I know my own. I could probably give it a go, but honestly, I feel like I should leave it up to those who are already good at it.

I do, however, read a lot of fanfiction. Namely because I find the dynamics between characters within interesting. There is some excellent fanfiction out there. I've read fanfiction that I enjoyed more than published and paid for stories. In fact, there was about an 8 month period in which I read nothing but fanfiction.

Why? Because I knew exactly what I was getting into. Twists related to the plot and the worldbuilding, not the characters. I read primarily for the characters. Your plot could be amazingballs and spectacular and be shooting rainbows out of it's third eye and if I did not connect with your characters? I would stop reading. On the opposite side of the coin, I've been known to ignore gaping-size-of-the-pacific-ocean plot holes if I like the characters in something. All is forgivable if I'm in love with your characters. Except the worst of prose. Or racism and sexism. That tends to send me running.

So what are the pros and cons of fanfiction for writers? Obviously, this is only my opinion, but it's something I've thought about a lot, especially as there are writers who make the transition to original fiction, some who don't, and some who just want some good old fashioned respect from the rest of the world. Fanficition does tend to get waved off as teenage girl crap (which is an issue in and of itself - who the hell made "teenage girl" synonymous with "no cultural or story relevance"?)


  • The Sandbox Argument
Fanfic gives a writer a place to experiment. She/he can focus on one aspect of their writing without having to worry about others. They can fiddle with language, with sexualities, with different narrative POVs. I've seen a bit of second person in short fiction, but more of it in fanfic. And some of it is horrible, but a lot of it isn't.
  • Community
 You meet people in fanfic. People beta your work because they love the characters and the worlds you're writing about as much as you do. You get cheerleaders and find other people who finally get you, you meet people who have the same crazy ideas you do, you rework each other's pieces, mix things together, translate works you've loved into your own language, create audio versions of work you've loved... It just goes on and on. It's a nice place to be. Also, instantaneous feedback. There's no 20 drafts before you let someone see it, then only letting certain people see it, then waiting six weeks for a publisher to get back to you to say they didn't like it.
  • Fun
This is inherently connected to the topic above. Fanfic is done for the love of it. It's fun. It's something you do to unwind and relax. If people don't like your work, they tend to just not comment or kudos, most of the feedback is positive, because this isn't a space for line by line critiques. It's a space for figuring things out and having fun with characters that you love.
  • Narratives outside the male, white and middle aged
This is one of the big reasons it took me so long to get back to reading original fiction again. For all the shortcomings that fanfiction can have, it does tend to be rather inclusive. Here you get queer narratives, the narratives of young teenagers, the narratives of women with kids, the narrative of their kids - it's a welcoming space. You want your two main characters to pair off, despite the fact they are of the same sex? Go ahead! Want to have a minor character rise up and be the hero? Go ahead! The world is your sandbox.


  • Less set-up required
 This is partially what makes fanfic so useful as a sandbox - you don't have to worry so much about introducing your worldbuilding and characters. Everyone knows your characters already. Exposition is not the issue it is in original fiction.

On the other hand, this also means you don't get much chance to practise weaving exposition into narrative. You also don't get much chance to world-build or create original characters. Like anything, these things take practise to do Fanfic skips this set-up and exposition for the large part.
  •  Back-scratching
As mentioned before, fanfic is done out of appreciation for the original material. People write because they enjoy themselves, because they find it a way to wind down, because they wish to contribute to the community.

As such, there's not much in the way of constructive criticism. If a person doesn't like a work, or how it's written, they tend to just click on or not comment. No-one wants to be the wet blanket. (And by constructive critique I mean a line by line - this sentence didn't work for me because of a, b or c reason sort of thing). This is partially made up for behind the scenes with beta readers and the like, but not everyone has a good beta reader.
  • Bad reactions to cannon events
Like any community, fanfic can be a bit... disturbing sometimes. Witness the death threats to the actress playing Mary Morstan in Sherlock because she would "get in the way" of the major pairing in fanfic, John/Sherlock. Witness how Uhura is often sidelined and made a horrid person in some Spock/Kirk fanfics. GinnyBashing is a tag on A03. The Internet exploded when they realised that Tauriel was included in the second Hobbit movie. Then there's showing porn that you've written/created from edited together vids to the actors involved (linkage here to the esteemed Rachel Acks tumblr ). Although to be fair, members of the media have been known to do the same, and this hardly accounts for all of fanficerdom. Most fanfic'ers don't do this stuff. But there is a visable presence that does act out in the oddest ways. Like anywhere I suppose.

So yeah. Fanfic can be awesome, it can be difficult, it can be a useful place to learn, it can be overly hand-holding, it can be a way to express yourself when you don't fall into the dominant narrative space. If I ever do decide to write it, I will be joining a cohort of people who write primarily for fun, and that's not necessarily a bad thing

1) Sourced from: Attributed to: Bradley Strong 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Curse of the Juniper Tree - Flash Fiction Challenge

The Curse of the Juniper Tree

My mother was so delighted when she held me, that she died.

I know right? What a load of crock. But my father used to tell it that way. He used to say that she'd cut her finger on a knife while eating an apple under the Juniper tree, seen her blood on the snow, and had known that she would have a child with red blood lips.

And so it came to be. A squalling son, with red blood lips, and his mother bleeding out of post-partum haemorrhage.

He buried her under that tree. My step mother used to guilt me with that tale. I figured it was because she worried about my sister - our family was one of tradition, and as the first son, I could get everything while she got nothing.

I think I was nine when she killed me? She convinced Marlinchen, my sister, that she was responsible, then made my body into black pudding, and fed it to my father. Marli gathered up my bones and laid them beneath that tree.  I don't remember much after that. When I woke up amongst the ashes of my old house, my father stood across from me, my little sister's hand clutched in his. A gold chain lay around his neck, and a new pair of red shoes graced the soles of Marlo. I'd apparently turned into a bird, lured my family out of the house with gifts. The gold chain had been for my father, the red shoes for Marli. My step-mother had received a millstone on the head as her gift.

Why I was phoenix-born and my mother wasn't? No idea. My father had some issues after that. Tried to revisit the pain of eating his only son's body on my sister more than once. I packed her up and left. Even after I'd used my only chance at rebirth, I still had the ability to be heal myself - work wasn't hard to find.


And then our father's corpse appeared under that Juniper Tree.

We were in our early 20s.  Marli had just finished her degree and I was working as a detective in a small town out of Harling.

Marli heard first, and she was crying when she called me.

"David? David, can you hear me?"

She had nightmares about talking to me and not having me answer sometimes. Our parents have a lot to answer for, let me tell you.

"Yeah, I'm here Marli. What's up?"

"It's papa." Still, even now, she called him that. I'd stopped long ago. "He'd dead."

Alright. Not exactly a shocking development, given the way his liver had been packing it in after his last bout of alcoholism...

"Someone killed him under the Juniper tree." She didn't have to say what Juniper Tree it was. We both knew. "They can't move the body."



My hometown managed to push on after the scandal of what happened when my step-mother killed me. Some lucky bastard had even had the nous to make a tourist attraction of it. A little fence around the millstone that I'd dropped on my step-mother's head as a bird, a couple of plaques at the places I'd apparently stopped as a bird to sing my ghastly little death song.

Anyway, my father's body was there, posed against the tree, the gold chain I'd given him still around his neck. Marli had long burned the shoes I'd used to tempt her out of the house. She said she didn't blame me for what happened,  but she still burnt them.

As I said, I don't really remember it. Except in my nightmares. And I'm not a very nice person in my nightmares.

By the look of it, someone had strangled him with it. A detective stood a metre from his body - female, brown skin, cute upturned nose -  and she glared at me as I walked up. Around us all was quiet, the snow falling, shadows reaching through the air

"I'm half of a mind to arrest you here and now." She said, pointing at the flash of gold. "You gave that to him, didn't you?"

"Yes, but I haven't seen him since I moved away with my sister."

I stepped around her, and came up against a glowing barrier. Shit. Paranormal influence.

"Well, I see why you think I did it."

 Silence. I waited for a moment. Still nothing. I looked to the top of the tree. No bird there, no rebirth for my father.

A hand gripped my shoulder, and calm stole over me. Peace. Quiet. Frozen.

The cop - not a cop, definitely not a cop - leaned forwards, breath brushing at my ear.

"You ever wonder why you had three things to lure her out with? Ever wonder why you just didn't wait for her to come out and drop the stone on her then?"

I had actually, but it wasn't something that had occupied my mind after we'd left my father - I'd had a teenager to raise.

"Well it should have."

 I tried to turn, but couldn't. A hand gripped my chin tight. My neck crawled - it felt as if she could snap it at any moment.

"Three things, my child." Her tone was calm, controlled, insistent. "Not two to lure and one to kill. Three people were party to your death, three things to right that balance. A millstone," my face was jerked around to the site of my step-mother's death, "A necklace," now I was wrenched around to look at my father's corspe. "And two shoes."

"She burned them." Triumph. There, she wouldn't have Marli.

"Yes, she did. Smart girl, that imposer. But still. Ash has a way of just getting everywhere, doesn't it."

Marli. I had to get back to...

"Child. Why don't you listen to your dreams? They deserve it. They should have looked after you. Listen to what your dreams tell you."

Nightmares, they were nightmares. Why should I listen to...

"Because mother says so."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Effect of POV on Narrative - Manipulating the Reader and What they Know for Greatest Effect

The Effect of POV on Narrative - Manipulating the Reader and What they Know for Greatest Effect

This is the second topic in my exploration of narrative. The introductory post and the other posts I've written on the topic can be found here: Narration vs Dialogue and Action - Where it Fits in the Tool Box

Now. POV (or 'point of view' for those not familiar with the lingo), impacts on narrative style significantly. What is described is inherently influenced by who describes something. Description and exposition that is done well pulls it's weight.  And that, in my opinion, is the most important thing when talking about narrative description and exposition: that your narrative does more than one thing.

So your reader should be able to learn something about your characters from how they filter the world. If you POV is 1st person (I, me, we), then you're going to be quite heavily filtering all your descriptions through the character. No two first person characters should walk into the room and focus on the same things, or describe them in the same way.

If, for example, you have a character from a desert country (character A), and a character from a country that is temperate, and has no issue with water conservation (character B), and you have them walk into a room with a dripping tap. Maybe they'll both notice. More likely, however, character B will focus on what is important to them in the room - the open windows if they're cold, or the way the room looks like it's going to cost less than 30 dollars a night to sleep in. Character A will focus on the dripping tap. It might not be their primary focus, but if they're from a place where you can't water their lawns, and water sometimes has to be trucked in? It's going to annoy them, dripping away in the back of their mind until they finally crack and turn it off.

So our character's backgrounds influence how they see things. So too do their goals and ambitions. If Character A has just brought the place and intends to let it out, he'll be focusing on the scuffed carpet, checking if the windows close, thinking about re-doing the plumbing because surely the tenant wants taps that actually turn off. Say character B has said he's coming along to look at renting the place, but he's actually trying to get off the streets while the police seek him out. He'll notice the open windows, assess them as both an exit and entry point. He'll notice the table, which might just be solid enough to hide behind. He'll flinch when the Character A's phone goes off, both because he's easily startled, but he also may notice that there's a siren in the background of the song. He'll be looking towards the door, listening to every car as it passes by outside. Waiting, just waiting, for one to slow down and stop.

The realtor (Character A) will also be waiting for one to slow down and stop, but he'll be listening out for new tenants, thinking about how he can rent this place to them. He might be eyeing up those who come in the house, more/or less (it could go either way) inclined to rent to someone from the same low class background as himself. He may be proud of this place, running his hands over the furniture, rapping his knuckles on the wooden kitchen bench because no place he'd ever lived had furniture made off wood - too expensive.

Notice these descriptions, and how they perform double duty. We can also see something else in this scene - the potential for conflict. Character A wants to rent the place out, make a respectable profit. Character B couldn't give a damn about profit, or the possible damage done to the place - he just wants to get away from the police.

They are not going to have the same goals if an off duty policeman walks in the door.

Close third POV (he, she, they, but staying mainly in the thoughts of the characters, a-la most of Harry Potter) operates under the same sort of boundaries, but with the ability to draw back from the effects of character POV on narrative. Close third can contain more than one POV (as can first, but it's less frequently done), and can give different perspectives within that same room.

Close third can also use a narrator. As can third POV (mostly the same as close third, but much less in the head of the character, and much more a narrator saying what's going on in the character's head than the reader hearing it directly.) A narrator is itself, another character. Whether it's an actual character (like Death in "The Book Thief"), or whether it is just the writer telling the story, it too will focus on certain characters, and thoughts, depending upon what the narrator feels is important. In our above scene, it might focus more on the possible tension between the two men, and describe the approaching off-duty policeman. In doing so, the narration is not just describing things, it's ramping up tension. Given what we know of these characters, the introduction of this third element invests us in the story. We, as readers, can guess what might happen when Character B discovers that the other prospective tenant is an off duty cop. It's probably not going to be pretty.

Omniscient works in largely the same way - it's an all-seeing narrator telling and showing us the characters thoughts as they see fit. The same rules apply - description and attention should only be given when the description matters, when it tells us something else about the characters, the story, or prospective conflicts. Every narrative description should do double, sometimes triple duty.

Narrative exposition is the same. It shouldn't be there unless it has to be there. The back-story of Character A, regarding his lower class background, matters only if it influences how he acts when the off duty cop walks into the room. The fact that Character B has a sister that he stole medication for only matters if you want the readers to feel sorry for him.

As writers, we exist not just to tell the story, but to involve the reader. We want to manipulate their sympathies, their direction of thought, what they notice. This allows us to set things up, to surprise, to engage. Narrative can be really good at doing this - don't waste words on just describing things, or giving exposition. Describe things that matter. Give exposition only when it is relevant to what is about to happen. We are situating the reader, drawing them in, and making them connect. Whatever POV you use to do this will influence that.

Happy Writing,


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge - More Than One Way to be Trapped.

Flash Fiction Challenge 18-01-2014

In which an android learns to let go of the man who created him. And there is more than one meaning to the word trapped.

Of the three parts columns to choose from I chose- Who: Android, Where: Virtual reality (although I also stole deep space station because only a bit of this happens in the virtual reality), and What: Trapped! (in more than one sense of the word). I hope you enjoy :)

Once upon a time, there were issues with androids. They could be snatched up by any random hacker with enough skill, turned against their masters. For a while, a cycle developed: the technology was shit, so the androids were dangerous, so no-body wanted to invest, so the technology remained shit.

I was perhaps the first not-shit one.

A child, David, built me - lonely, held apart from his peers by both his intellect and his acidity. I believe, before my living memory serves me, that he used me to indulge his sexual awakening. Part of that was an inability to deal with others, and part of that was fear. My research shows that being gay at any point in time does come easily, and his mother’s position in the military and his father’s duties on the diplomatic council did not leave much room for experimentation. We were isolated, on a station in deep space, where they’d sent him to live while they built their careers. He was already different.

“Hiding in my workshop though?” He’d say. “That’s totally normal.” He would laugh. “That workshop became my own closet.”

I am not a good judge of masculine beauty. Perhaps because he wished to distance himself from his past, and actions that he now considers vile and wrong, he wrote into me a preference for the female sex. It works out that way most of the time, although I must admit, he was still selfish even then. He did not think about who I would spend my time and life with, if not him. I am not exactly made for attracting a human mate. Even if I did find some decades to share my experiences and my bed with - I am not made to die.

No. David granted me life, consciousness, and immortality. But he was only 17 at the time, so the parameters by which I was created reflect the morals of a 17 year old boy.

I have broken some of those parameters, with his help. I find myself not wanting to break the one regarding my heterosexuality. Maybe it will change in and of itself - it is supposed to be a fluid thing for mankind.

Then again, I am not a man.


I think it was the week after quarter-year when David met Rowan at one of his parent’s parties on planet. He was an older man - a man involved in the politics of creating a translator designed to translate the tongue of the Kamiin to Standard. There are both literal was of translating, in which the meaning is not always assigned correctly to phrases, and more fluid ways of translating. Rowan was involved in working out where the final position lay.

It was not an easy job. He was not a dumb man. Which made me suspicious when he approached David.

David, or course, was David. Nervous, anxious not be seen as flirting with someone, and awkward in all respects. I suspected he was not a virgin - one particularly memorable homecoming from a night out almost certainly confirms that - but he was a virgin in areas of relationship certainly. I was not much better, but I had made friends outside his acquaintance over my five years of existence. I had listened and advised on much. I had maintained a brief relationship with a Harkian girl, before she had to return to her planet.

I have undoubtedly had less sex than David across his life, but my relationship with Ka’lika was solid. It was as deep as any six month relationship can be.

My point being that David is not really one to let people in, but when he does, he lets them hold his heart in his hands. Rowan pushed on past his acidness. He managed to argue with David without seeming either a dick, or paternalistic. I think he even managed to flirt.

Afterward, he approached me.

I was standing on the balcony, looking out at the waves. There was a port to my side, but I do not like the world of virtual reality (VR). I can access it, pilot it - it recognizes me as human - but the anonymity of the space means that I am open to verbal and physical attach without repercussion.

The virtual reality recognizes me as human, but those that occupy it do not.

“Hey.” He leaned on the balcony besides me, wrists loose and hanging. His stance was wide despite this - still ready to move if he needed to. Good.

Silence. Nothing but the smell of the sea and the occasional grit of the sand that was flung up at us by the wind.

I remained silent. If he wished me onside, he would have to speak.

“Look,” he ran a hand through his hair. “Will I create issues if I go after him?”

I frowned, and turned my head to him. “Issues?”

“Yeah, with his parents. I don't’ know how everyone else is blind, but that kid is so far in the closet it’s not funny.”

“How do you know that I know?”

“You’re acting like an overprotecting parent in there.” My mouth was open, to deliver a comeback to another line, but it snapped shut, my teeth grinding together. Parent. I’d never had someone say that.

Probably true though. In everything including the Freudian sense. I wondered if Rowan had guessed that too.

“What do you wish me to say?” Behind us, the politicians and military personal swarmed. They moved to their own beat, searching out connection and opportunity. The smell of alcohol and perfume was almost vomit inducing. “You’re a diplomat. You know how this sort of thing works.”

“No I don’t actually, I’m out. The Kamiin don’t really care about sex - it’s more about finding an appropriate match, one to fight and hold the fort with.”

“Warrior culture.”

“Sort of. It’s not always the female in the pair who gets given the ‘holding the fort’ role. So not quite the stereotype you have in mind.”

Silence. David was standing in front of his parents, his whole body ridged, but in the careful way that only showed to those who knew him. His mother chattered on, his father interrupting at point to wrap his arm around her waist, lean in, and verbosely argue the point.

I had yet to decide it this closeness too was an act, but not matter.

“I think,” I picked over the words carefully, “that if you do have his best interests at heart, you will give him time. He is not in a position where he can deal with the shit that will come with it.” To Rowan’s credit, he only twitched at the swear word. Most stare at the swearing android like the second coming. “At the moment … he has only admitted it to himself these past years, never mind anyone else except a dark hand in an alley.”

Cruel, perhaps, and Rowan flinched at my words. He would have to be able to deal with it though. Part of the shit that would come with an actual relationship was… well, the actual relationship, and David… David created a sex doll because he couldn’t figure out it’s sexuality, and then gave it life in an effort of reconciliation.

I’m lucky he didn’t make me his savant.

And that was the end of the conversation. We exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then Rowan left. We heard nothing of him in the coming weeks. I continued to grow my tree of intergalactic friends, gathering information and exchanging pleasantries, and David went back to his workshop.


He spent a lot of time in there. So much so, that I became concerned for his well being. On the second day of his self inflicted punishment - for what else could it be, to lock yourself in a room and not feed yourself - I opened up my palm, the section beneath my thumb sliding away, and connected with the locking mechanism. A half minute, maybe two, and I had the door open.

David’s workshop is a reflection of himself - neat at first glance, with everything tucked away in it’s proper place, but chaos when you happen to look closer. David himself was at the far end, by the full pane windows, strapped into a chair, his chip glowing and activated on his forehead. The port in the wall next to him was also glowing.

Okay, so he was involved in something in VR. It was still not good for a blood and flesh human to go without eating.

I reached for the control’s besides his head, and used the hand mechanism to connect. A couple of seconds, and the port flashed, and then died.

David did not wake.

I frowned, and tapped him on the forehead. His hair had grown this past month, as had his beard, to a stubble. There was no indication that he had washed either, now that I had a good look at him. He was thinner too, which was quite the thing, as David verged on waif-like normally.

I tapped his forehead again, the chip this time. It was still glowing, still activated. For a second, I thought I saw David’s eye’s flicker, then nothing.

Alright then. I would just have to go in and talk to him

I flicked the port back on, and sat down besides it. I did not need quite the mental preparation that humans need for this, so the descent into the half dream state of the virtual network was quick.

This particular port though, was surrounded by a wall. I tapped at it with my mind, grabbed at the code flying through the air, and rewrote it so as to unlock the barrier.

The code rearranged itself, and the barrier remained stubbornly locked.

I tried again, and again, getting fast and faster. The VR programming should not have been able to defeat my speed. My mind is made for processing code.

Still, nothing.

I could sense a consciousness beyond the wall. David.


I dragged myself up back into my corporal form, and fell forwards, skin hot and clammy, my hands shaking. Nonononono.

Suicide by VR is nothing new. If you stay down there long enough, you just disperse into the landscape, becoming nothing more than the surrounding code. There is nothing to rescue, only a body to place on life support until the family can decide what to do with it.

But it takes a week for a mind to get to that stage. By that time, most are normally found, and disconnected. It was supposed to be impossible to stay connected to the VR without a port.

Then again, it was supposed to be impossible to create a sentient being too.

I went back in again. As much as I loathed it, I had to try. Again and again the code rearranged itself. I came back to the world three hours later, with nothing to show apart from a sore stomach, and a headache.

I would not get him out that way. How then? How to argue with someone you can’t talk with? He would be able to sense me from in there, but he’d created that barrier to defeat me - he’d obviously come to his decision. How to…


I flashed back to that night. To David’s awkwardness, and more than that, his eagerness. Rowan.

No. I did not want to hand him over. I had protected him for six long years. He was only 23. There was no way Rowan could be everything for him that I couldn’t

A trained negotiator, a man who lived in on a planet where the nature of the relationship was more important than those in it. A man who had asked how his actions would affect David.

I activated my communicator.

“Hello, Rowan Vakinda speaking.”

I opened my mouth, and let my boy go.

“It’s Donness. It’s about David.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wound Care 101 for Characters

Blood Loss and Wound Care for Characters: 

As with most things, there is pretty much a sliding scale for wound severity. It stretches from "put some antiseptic on it and slap a bandaid/bandage on," to "okay, you're not going to die from blood loss, but a doctor, so stitches and an antibiotic would be handy", to "you need a surgeon to look at that yesterday."

Here's a pretty line to demonstate:

The way you look after/treat wounds therefore varies accordingly.

Before I start though, a few things that just need to be said. I am in my last year of an Emergency Health Degree, and hopefully will be gainfully employeed as a paramedic sometime next year. For those in countries where paramedics doesn't need a degree, think of it as the equivalent of a nursing degree, just specalised in pre-hospital care rather than long term patient care. I am not a doctor, or qualified in any way shape or form yet, so most of what I talk about you could probably find in a variety of textbooks. Think of me a filter. This way you don't have to read all the textbooks.

And it goes without saying that the only people that this advice should be used on are imaginary characters. This is not any type of real medical advice - if you need that, you should be seeing your GP or someone else in the flesh.

That being said, here we go. This post will focus on cuts and bleeding wounds. I might do another one on specific wounds (head wound, eye injuries, ect) later.

Given the sliding scale, there are some pretty universal treatment under pinnings.

  • Pressure
For any wound that doesn't involve surgery, this is the be all and end all. A lack of pressure = a lack of clot = bleeding. For all wounds that to involve surgery, there will be pressure applied to visual holes and tears until surgery is viable. 
  • Saline soaked dressings
There's some research onto why these work, but the general consensus is that they work well. One of the explanation behind it is that  saline (0.9%) dressing is isotonic, and thus does not the damage done to exposed tissue. The idea is that if you have an open wound, or an evisceration, or an eyeball pop out, you want to keep the tissue from drying out, and you want to prevent further damage via contact with the dressing you use to apply pressure. So gauze, soaked in 0.9% isotonic saline is preferable. You can but it from the supermarket, people use it to clean their contacts. You are using this saline soaked gauze either to protect the tissue from drying out, or as "saline packaging" - so your essentially applying pressure to an open wound in the least damaging way possible. A dry bandage goes over the top of all this.
  • Managing Blood loss
There are several ways to manage blood loss. One of those ways, as mentioned, is applying pressure and stopping the bleeding. If, however, the bleeding cannot be stopped, or there is too much blood lost, other measure are generally taken.

Basically, the body needs a certain amount of volume in it's blood vessels to keep all the good stuff circulating. If that volume drops too low, your heart won't be able to speed up enough to correct for it, and you won't be able to breath in enough oxygen to pack into what little volume you have left going around your blood vessels.

This loss of the "good stuff" (oxygen, nutrients ect) leads to debilitation and death if left long enough. So thus the volume lost should be replaced. Or you can "load" a patient up pre-emptively if you think they're going to loose a lot of blood.

There are several liquids used to do this. The one's I'm familiar with are isotonic saline and blood. Regardless, the principals are basically the same: If there is not enough volume of liquid in a person's veins to move all the "good stuff" around, you replace that volume via an IV drip. Thus you increase that volume, then "good stuff" can move where it needs to go, and everyone's happy.

Well, not entirely. Fluid replacement is contentious. Everyone agrees it should happen, but when it's not blood you're using to replace the blood you've just lost, there are all sorts of argument about how much fluid should go in and when it should start to go in. Internal injuries are also difficult, because internal bleeds release blood into the body cavities - if you can't stop the bleed, than all your fluid replacement isn't going to do much, as whatever you put in will end up coming out through that same internal bleed that you can't do anything about.

And at the end of the day, anything that's not blood only really buys you enough time to get to the surgeon. Depending on the injury, sometimes blood can only buy you enough time to get to a surgeon.

So, some guidelines. Here's our scale again:

Let's call this side "Injury A"                              This "Injury B"                                And this "Injury C"

If your character has injury A, your main issues are going to be pressure, pain relief, and infection control. Whether or not you use saline soaked gauze depends on whether the injury counts as an "open wound." So you look at whether there's exposed tissue, and go from there. Pharmacy meds should do for pain relief, and topical infection control (antiseptic creams ect), should work. You should clean the wound with a dribble of water - no taps, as that will just damage the wound, dry it, put antiseptic cream on it, and then bandage as appropriate.

Injury B generally means the wound is big enough that you've lost a fair amount of blood, may need stitches, and topical antiseptic will probably do more harm then good. You don't want to damage any exposed tissue, so don't go putting creams on it. Wash it, saline packaging (so gauze soaked in saline as the dressing), pressure, and get to the doctor for for stitches, possibly an oral antiseptic if it's needed. Your character may or may not need some form of fluid replacement or transfusion.

Anything between Injury B and C is probably going to start affecting your character's conscious state. They may become woozy, there may be amnesia issues, and they may loose consciousness. As discussed before, loosing consciousness for period over 5-10 minutes is bad, loosing consciousness for over half an hour starts to imply long term disability as a result. This Injury needs all that Injury C needed, except you've got to worry a lot more about fluid replacement or blood transfusions. The patient is also probably going to need surgery, within the next hour.

So yes, I hope that helps. To define - anything over about 750ml of blood loss is significant, more than 1.5 litres and you're looking at a loss of consciousness. It doesn't take much blood loss to upset everything.

If anything in this doesn't make sense, feel free to comment. Feel free to ask questions too. I might not be able to provide all the answers, but I have access to people at university and on placement who might.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Snowbound Wire (Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge)

Snowbound Wire (Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge)

It's Midsummer's Eve, and as darkness falls, the stars are moving.

Zan struggles with his bonds, cursing the brat just metres away who is busy drawing symbols on stones with his blood and tossing them into the fire. Around them gum trees stand watch like white ghosts. Zan’s backpack lays on the other side of the fire. God, he wants his herbs and his equipment. Anything to stop this lunacy.

The boy’s chanting stops. A hesitation in the fire’s crackle, and then the stones crack, magic wafting up into the air to move the stars. Zan can feel their convulsions in his blood, and he kicks up the dust and dirt as he struggles. The ropes burn his wrist, the coarse material stinging the raw skin. The heat gathers around them, oppressive - the pressure of a humid day before a storm breaks. The vibrations reach a climax, and the sky flashes grey.


It snows. At first the man-child pays it no heed, but as the snow piles up and threatens his fire, he scowls, and orders it away. It should work. It's worked for him before. His power is sacrosanct.

But the snow does not stop falling. And when he goes to stand, the stone he threw into the fire a moment ago burns cold, and the magic floods out to pin him to the ground.


Zan wakes cold. More than cold - freezing beyond all measure. It reminds him of the time he fell into the ice river and was rushed to hospital, the paramedics dripping warm saline into his veins. He could use some of that warmth now.

The fire is banking, the brat nowhere to be seen. Snow lies a good 10cm on the ground. His skin isn’t used to this kind of cold, isn’t used to the wet that comes with snow, and it's screaming at him to find warmth.

Fuck, why couldn’t the brat have just taken the old fashioned traditional path to magical stardom? Who the hell had the ego or the negligence to go mucking around with the weather of all things.

He struggles to his feet, first curling his knees into his chest, then rocking from side to side until he manages to swing over to kneel. It is not a dignified kneel - face mashed to the ground, chocking and suffocating on the snow.

Nothing. The fire still burns, but it is spluttering. No sign of the brat. Just a good metre of snow and…

No. What is that?

It takes another five minutes to wriggle into standing, and a bit more than that to dispel the dizziness. Being on the ground for a good hour does wonders for lowering one’s blood pressure.

A thin line in the snow. A wire? Red hot too, melting the snow around it.

The fire flares, and the shadows draw back a moment, dips, valleys and mounds appearing in the snow around the campsite. One such mound looks suspiciously like a young 20-something brat .

“Yeah.” Zan plants his legs wide, gaze flickering from the grey sky, to the wire, to the covered form of the brat. “This is why we don’t muck around with this shit.”


The wire isn’t just hot - it’s burning the air around it. Zan twitches towards his backpack , and then spins back. Herbs and incantations will probably just make whatever is going on angry. Again, ten years of education is preferable in dealing with this stuff.

“Couldn’t you have been mucking around with insect?” He mutters, walking around the other side of the mound. “That I could have managed.”

He has to get the kid out of here though. Anyone else he would have given up as lost, but it’s a pretty sure bet that the wire is the kid's doing. It runs right from his summoning fire to the mound of snow, and it’s glowing red. Blood magic. And the brat had been using blood.

Okay, what do I have? Bound hands, the kid’s rocks, his herbs and scales. A pestle and mortar.

“So nothing worthwhile then.” He eyes the sky, shuddering as snow slides down the back of his shirt. Given the circumstances, it’s hard not to think of it as anything other than death trickling cold down his spine. He’s heard that weather magic can often be reasoned with, but…

“What the hell do I say?” He wants to pull at his hair, but the brat's knots are good.

The snow is encroaching on the the wire. The brat’s power will only last so long before it abandons him to the magic he wrought.

“Alright, negotiation it is.”

Zan steps up to the fire, the pain in his wrists largely forgotten. The flame flares as he draws close, it’s colours stained red now. The slightly dull red of blood. Zan licks his lips.

“I’m not entirely sure how to go about this,” he admits, shrugging. “I do insects and ecology, not…” he stares up at the sky. The cold is biting deep now, and his hands are shaking. “You’re a lot more than I’m used to. So I know you’re not impressed with humanity at the moment, but… well, he’s just a brat. He doesn’t know better.”

Nothing. It doesn’t seem impressed.

“If you can let him up, like you let me up,” and he’s not fooling himself about why he woke up, “they I can get him to reverse it.”

No reaction. The air above the wire is calm now, the snow that’s falling is gradually creeping up on it.

Fuck, what does he have to use. There must be something. Something that he’s missed…

Ah. He has a summoning fire, the brat’s blood already in said fire, and blood on his own wrists. That’s what he was missing before. Blood.

“Look.” He steals himself against the pain. Master-apprentice bonds don’t come easy. “I can guarantee it.”

He shoves his bloody wrists forward into the fire

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Why I Choose to Study to be a Paramedic, and Wouldn't Necessarily Give it up For Full Time Writing

This is kinda self indulgent, but if you were ever wondering why I chose paramedics, feel free to read:

It took a bit for me to figure out what I wanted to do in life. I knew from the start that while it would be nice to write 24/7, it was unrealistic. Not just because of the whole "You'll never make any money off it" thing, but because... well, I was well aware of my age, and experience level, and I was experience hungry. I wanted to travel the world, live in different cultures, meet different people.

So I did. I managed to wrangle a scholarship to go to Japan on exchange. I learnt a lot. I paid for my second exchange trip to china. That was more of a disappointment, but again I learnt things. I went on to go into medicine. I learnt things, namely what I didn't want to do with my life.

So by the time I found paramedics, and it fit, I was more than ready to settle into a career and get it started. Which is why I'm still at university, only now starting the third year of a course while most other people are onto their first job about now.

But... Paramedics fits. And one thing it's not short on is experiences.

So I think, while writing full time would be nice, I'd bore of it eventually. Paramedics suits in that although the hours are... not fun, the people are great, the job is structured and interesting, and all that sleep deprivation comes with an extra two weeks holidays. So I may have to work every public holiday a year and cram 48 hours work over four days, but I will get six weeks of paid leave.

There's downtime too, which means I can study and improve myself within the profession, or just read. It's one of those jobs where you're either terribly busy, average, or nothing happens until half an hour before you're meant to go home.

I like working in the community, I like meeting new people, and I like the competence of the job. I like that I will have seen and experience more than most people my age would have.

But most of all, I like how it feeds into everything else I do. As people, we write to explore the world. I fully expect the first traumatic event I come across will be written down in a locked file somewhere on my laptop, for my eyes only. Records are probably useful too, given that writing = reflection = self-improvement.

But fiction, itself, is in a exploration of themes and truth. Every book has a point, whether the author intended it or not (honestly, sometimes readers can create their own point without the writer's say so). So for me, being both a paramedic and a writer goes hand in hand because I get the great honour of witnessing the most terrifying moments in people's lives, and trying to make those moments less terrifying. I also get to see how society treats those it thinks aren't up to standard (ambulance cover is free here under a certain wage threshold. As such we get lots of calls that aren't necessarily emergencies, but do need to be seen to.)  All that has to be processed somewhere.

Enjoy all,


Details in Narrative - Anchoring the Reader, Painting Chekhov's Gun Bright Red, and Sentence Rhythm

Okay. Detail.

I've read some very good stories today. One was exceptionally short - a retelling of sleeping beauty, but with an entirely different and satisfying ending. It clocked in at under 1000 words, but contained an exceptional amount of detail.

Note: It told an entire story in under 1000 words. The details that it picked were vitally important. They lent themselves to the mood, what the character noticed, and showed us how the in-story world structured itself. It showed us what was important to the characters. It lent a rhythm and cadence to the story. It also showed us what was important plot wise.

And that's probably the three most important jobs of detail in narrative: To situate and anchor the reader, to give rhythm to your paragraphs, and to tell us when to pay attention.

Firstly, on anchoring the reader:

The easiest way to explain and think about this is to compare two genres. Lets go... contemporary romance and fantasy. Say both books have Character A walking into a room and Character B waiting in the room to talk to them. You have a myriad number of things to describe, lots of narration to provide. So how much detail do you include?

Given that we're talking specifically about anchoring the reader? The fantasy is probably going to include more detail than the contemp romance. In the fantasy, I would focus on the things in the room that tell the POV character who this stranger is, maybe focus on the things that he's either wearing that can tell us about his status, how these two relate, ect.

But more than that, I can describe things to add to world-building. When my character leans up against a desk and notes with surprise that it's made of wood -because wood is generally spelled into uselessness by the woodland fae, and thus mighty expensive - that's interesting because it shows you a bit about the world, and about how the character relates to it. She hasn't treated this expensive thing in a blasé manner, so she probably can't afford it. Which means they're meeting in the room of someone wealthy, and that this conversation is probably related to those of wealth.

Note, I don't do much more in that example other than describe the table through the POV of the character, and her surprise at it being there. This piece of  narrative description isn't just describing something, it's giving insight into character, the social structures of the world, the fact that this world has a magic system, and also hints at the involvement of others in this conversation about to come up. It's not just describing something - you're making those words work for you.

In the contemp romance, the details would focus more on the characters, and how they relate to the room. Whether Character B seems comfortable in the space, whether his clothes suggest something about status, or where he's been in the last five minutes. The descriptions may focus on the things the Character A finds attractive about him, or how he uses the objects in the room.

We know what a room looks like in our world. (This is presuming this contemp romance is based in a western country.) It doesn't need describing or explaining because it doesn't add anything to the story other than a detailed description. Most readers do fine with a basic description to figure out where they are and what's going on. Detail is used to try and negate that confusion and to situation the reader in the characters and the world you're creating.

This leads nicely onto my next point : detail tells the reader what is important in the scene.

Say you've just started a book. There's a basic description of a street, and then the author spends a paragraph describing an old, beaten up car; the way it's out of place, the way it hasn't moved for days, the fact that is has a myriad of scratches in the paint down the left side.

As a reader, I'm placing my bets on that car being important in some way, shape or form. I am now focused on the car. If done well, the author may have even built up some anticipation about the car.

Be aware that you are doing this when you write detailed descriptions. You are literally circling Chekov's gun on the mantle piece with red texter and tossing glitter over it. A detailed description is almost a promise to the reader.

And lastly rhythm. 

Sentences, paragraphs, and chapters have a rhythm. I'll talk in one of my later posts about macro level pacing, but let's concentrate on the sentence level rhythm for the moment.

Narrative draws the inner eye of the reader. As you add detail, you're making the reader focus on what you're describing, making them slow down before you move them onto the next point. If you're descriptions are sparse of detail, the reader is going to move from one thing to the next in quick succession: bang, bang, bang. Detail, or lack of it, is something you can manipulate in a sentence to slow down or speed up the rhythm of a paragraph.

I hope that gives you some insight you haven't had before. Enjoy all,


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Narration vs Dialogue and Action - Where it Fits in the Toolbox

The other day, I went searching for some blog posts on narrative. I'd found some very useful ones on plot previusly, and although I like to make things up as I go along, I do like my stories to have some sort of structure to refine. So I read a lot about plot and use it in my revisions.

But when I googled narrative, most of the more popular articles were about cutting it out all together.

This... confuses me, because you have to describe things. Nobody needs 20 pages of sunset descriptions, but we're not writing a script here either. This is not talking heads, it's a book. Part of the best thing about fiction is how it can get into people's heads - it's one up it has on other narrative forms. The Book Thief comes out in cinema's soon, and I have no idea what they're going to do with it, because the more important parts of that book happen in narrative and the thoughts of the characters and the narrator, which is Death.

So I'm left with the same issue as before - I know narrative is important, but how to write good narrative is something I'm still trying to figure out. There's several ideas that I plan to explore. Firstly, what narrative is good for vs what dialouge and action are good for. That's this post. Then, in consecutive order

But why do we need narrative anyway? It's just describing things, isn't it? Well, maybe. But narrative breaks up large chunks of dialoug, helps to anchor the reader to the story, and gives the brain something to follow. Narrative also works very well as a form of exposition - how you describe a world and a story ties into how the character sees that world. It shows us details we wouldn't be able to see otherwise - thoughts and consequences and information that can't be shown in a visual medium. I've mentioned previously that sometimes you need to tell, rather than show, because there's only so much information that can be gathered from watching someone do something. Narrative gives us a window into the unseen. As such it should not be overused, because overused, it becomes condescending - you're taking the hand of the reader and telling them how to think and feel about a situation.

But it is, in itself important, and it is purely unique to prose. And while movies and plays can do many many things, one of the things that fiction is best at, is looking into the unseen.

Enjoy All,


Friday, January 03, 2014

10 things Books and Movies tend to get Wrong about Injury

Okay. Before we start, here's a brief bit of background - I am a student paramedic in Australia. Two things to concentrate on there: Student, and Paramedic. This information should be in no-way used to diagnose, treat, or presume anything about any injury, illness or infirmity. Go to your doctor. That's what they spend the 10 years at university for - I'm only there for the length of a bachelor's degree.

That being said, here at 10 things that annoy me beyond all measure when I'm reading a book or watching a movie regarding injury:

10. Other signs and symptoms (or breathing, nausea, dizziness)

Possibly the easiest to forgive - people tend to focus in on the most obvious symptoms when describing pain. The fact of the matter is that pain produces a response in the human body, which often includes an increased breath rate, panic, and then dizziness and nausea as part of the panic.  However, every patient reacts differently, so not everyone displays these signs and symptoms. Just be aware that if someone is in enough pain to have difficulty breathing, there is a high possibility they will hyperventilate and make themselves dizzy and nauseous. Take care of the pain, and you take care of all the other issues.

9. Recovery Time

A broken bone is going to take a good 6 weeks to recover from, a stab wound or a significant bleed at least a month, maybe two. And even after the initial recovery time has passed, it will again take a fair amount of time in rehab for that person to come back to full strength and capability. The body is capable of amazing things, but be aware that tackling someone to the ground after being stabbed, while possible, is not going to have a good outcome for the person who was stabbed in the first place.

8. Wound care (Pressure, pressure, pressure)

Bleeding isn't that difficult to treat. Honestly, you need to place pressure on that wound until one of two things happen - the blood clots and  the person stops bleeding, or you reach a surgeon who can either stitch the wound together, or who can go and place the pressure on the wound him/herself inside an internal cavity.

That being said - a few basic principles:
  • Sterile, wet dressings. Preferably saline soaked gauze. You would use this over a simple crepe bandage because they're easier to deal with long term - fibres don't get stuck in the wound, the saline soaked gauze is easier to lift away, and you want to keep any exposed tissue moist, and prevent it from drying out
    • You can get saline from the chemist. It's used for washing contact lenses.
  • Pressure. Do not let up on the pressure. If the blood bleeds through the bandages, don't lift the initial dressing off, place another one on top. Change that one if the blood keeps flowing - the initial bandage will probably be involved in the clot that is forming, and the last thing you want to do is to lift that away.
  • Gently does it. Don't wash an open wound by chucking it under a tap. Again, saline soaked dressings, passed gently over the skin until the wound is clean, are your friends. 

 7) CPR

The number of times I have seen someone die in a TV show, and no one starts CPR boggles the mind. Some cardiac arrests are harder to get back then others. A cardiac arrest due to trauma does not have a good chance of recovery. But a cardiac arrest due to trauma that receives no CPR has much less chance of recovery.

The only time I would consider letting someone go without CPR would be if I had a decision to make about time and resources. More than one patient, the probability of a new patient very soon, danger to my own well-being. Most book and movie characters don't have these pressures. Start the CPR. 

6) Infection

If your characters have a sizable wound, and they've got it open to the world, and no access to antibiotics, expect infection. That's what killed most people before antibiotics, if your characters don't have access to a doctor of a pharmacy, it will cause issues. 

5) Panic and Anxiety

I have yet to meet a patient in clear mind who is not at least a little bit anxious. A good number of patients I've seen on placement have been more than a little bit anxious, a good chunk of them have been panicky. This response is part of the response to danger and pain - your heart rate, blood pressure and breath rate have sky rocketed to meet a threat, and your body is in adrenaline overload. Pain works very well as a natural stimulant.  Stimulation tends to induce fear and anxiety.

4) Pain

And on that - pain can be ignored, but it can only be ignored for so long.  It lingers, it aches. It interferes with your ability to do stuff. There are many many things which are more painful then they look - someone jumping from a window is going to have issues with the shock of the impact travelling up their legs. At the other end of things, there are some things which aren't as painful as they look - broken bones, for example. If you put proper tension on a broken femur, you can normally get the pain down to a manageable level. Same goes for splinting - there aren't many pain receptors in bone, it's the tearing of the covering of the bone and the damage to the surrounding issue that creates the damage. If you keep that breakage still, the pain will drop.
Okay, now we're moving onto by far the things that annoy me most. They are, strangely enough, interrelated.

3) Concussion

A concussion is a bruising of the brain. Nerve cells do not grow back, a concussion is not a good thing. It might not effect your character immediately, but it will come into play down the track, especially if there's more than one concussion involved. 

2) Loosing Consciousness

There are so many books and movies that use a loss of consciousness as a plot device. The character gets knocked out, and they're moved to a different location, and then we wake up and go on with everything.

It. Does. Not. Work. That. Way.

A loss of Consciousness (LOC) - happens because the brain is lacking in oxygen. Part of it is hypoxic - there are many reasons this can happen, but the ultimate point is that no oxygen = brain in shut down = brain damage. While a LOC of under five minutes is maybe something to observe and keep an eye on, an LOC of half an hour? Yeah, no, that's pretty damn serious. We're talking brain damage territory, stroke and disability territory.  In Australia there's a campaign going on about "One Punch Kills." Media has given the impression that a person can be knocked unconscious in a fight and then get up from that.

No. If a person is unconscious for 10 minutes? The patient is off to a trauma centre. Maybe even get the chopper called in.

Loosing consciousness is a big deal. Don't use it as a easy plot device.


1) Blood loss

This one also annoys me. Blood loss is not something to play around with. There's a flow chart here. It's a bit complicated, but basically it's describing what happens when there's not proper delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells and proper removal of waste from cells:

 Image accessed from :  (1)

Take note of the last one: Destruction, dysfunction and cell death.

Funnily enough, blood brings oxygen and metabolites to the cells. It also takes away waste products. So a lack of blood sets this flow chart into motion. A lack of blood = inadequate perfusion.

Honestly, I'd start to worry about the health of a person once we got past loosing about 750ml of blood. Once a person has lost enough blood to become lethargic or loose consciousness, we're in "blood transfusion plus surgery soon or they'll die" territoy.

The body just can't replace that much blood is such a short time. People don't faint from blood loss and then come back to perfect health all by themselves.

So yes, I hope that helps someone out there. Again, take note of the "student" part of the description I gave before I started this. All this is correct to the best of my knowledge, but in the scheme of things there are plenty of people who have seen a lot more than me, so use this as a jumping off point to research, rather than your only port of call.

Enjoy All,


1) For referancing purposes, it appears this image was itself based on a information from Alexander, M.F., Fawcett, J.N., Runciman, P.J. (2004) Nursing Practice. Hospital and Home. The Adult.(2nd edition). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone