My friend Luke introduced me to Penny Arcade many years ago and it didn't click. I didn't have an X-Box and my Playstation 1 was gathering dust. I didn't get any of their jokes.

But one day in 2005 we're hanging out in his room and his screensaver is a composite of his favorite PA strips (at that time) and they were funny as hell! We went through the whole thing twice and laughed every time. So I started reading the strip regularly and have continued to do so for six years now. And of course, now I have an X-Box 360 that does not gather dust (thanks to Bioware and Valve) and I get more (but not all) of the jokes.

To continue the trend, I didn't key in on Penny Arcade TV right away. I figured it would be lame self-promotion. It turned out to be awesome self-promotion! Self-promotion has a bad stigma to it, but really this is how you want to promote your product. It's an exploration of character and voice and craft. It's funny and endearing and at the end you really wish you worked there too.

Stranger in a Strange Land

It's a fair bet most of your writer friends aren't your real-world friends. They're online. The internet has been a terrific tool for us to gather and discuss and be. You may have been trapped previously with those that said they wanted to write, but whose offerings amounted to nothing more than literary masturbation, taking their favorite D&D characters and expostulating their awesomeness in prose. (If you were lucky, it would at least be good prose. But how often are we that lucky?)

Now, we can find people with similar interests and similar talent to share our ideas and our fears. We can push one another to do better and help each other to succeed. This is all great. Thank you Internet for your participation in our growth as writers.

But at the end of the day, we're still writers in our own world. We do other things like read books and watch movies with friends who may have little to no writing talent or interest in exploring the craft. But they still have opinions. Everyone has opinions. And they share them. They share them with you.

I'll see a movie and someone will say how much they liked it and I pray that they don't ask me what I thought. Or, if they're going to ask me that question, they do so before they offer their own opinion so they can see quickly that I'm not just going to say I liked something because a bus blew up or some thing. I do not have a switch. I cannot turn off being a writer. I can dial it down. I can take it from an 11 to about an 8 or so, but in the end, the writing is important to me. Transformers 2: Rise of the Fallen is utter rubbish. I don't care if the point of the movie was to have big robots fight and blow shit up. You can make a movie with big robots fighting blowing shit up and still write it in such a fashion that when you walk into a building in Washington, you don't exit into an African desert!

I'm told I'm too negative. I don't think I'm negative. I think I'm critical. I challenge the art I am interested in to be the best it can be. My measure for that quality is based on my own understanding of writing, which, compared to the rest of my friends, is much higher (immodest or not, it's the truth and most of them would admit to that).

I did a podcast interview with Scott Wegener, the artist for Atomic Robo. This best explained what it's like being a creative person. When he looks at something, the first thing he looks at is the visual aspect. He's a comic book artist. He draws for a living. The visuals are important. Likewise, the first thing I look at is the writing. I can give a pass to average visuals because that's now what I do.

It can feel very isolating in those discussions, especially in a larger group, when people are giving a thumbs up and thumbs down based solely on a visceral reaction to the spectacle of the movie, and all you want to do is grab a red pen and mark up all the holes that to you seemed so glaring.

Don't worry. You're not alone. Your people, they're here on the internets.


Next time you're listening to an audio medium (such as the radio or a podcast), listen to how the person speaks rather than just what they're saying. Much like "he said" as a dialogue signifier, there are certain sounds that go along with actual words that our brain just ignores. The inhalation at the beginning of a word or the exhalation at the end are prime components.

When you translate all this to an audio file, it offers representation to these various elements of speech. A sound wave spikes from volume and different mouth formations (the plosive, P, throws a blast of air against the mic--it's the fastest way to spike your sound chain). In addition to the word, though, you see little squiggles before and after someone speaking. Now, little squiggles can represent a lot of things. It's a light sound, like noise in the background or the chair squeaking or your throat clearing. When a person isn't speaking, you want their audio wave to be flat otherwise it can distract from other speakers.

First-time podcasters often make the mistake of silencing the squiggles that appear before or after someone speaks, assuming that it makes for a clearer file. When you listen to it, however, it actually sounds worse. We expect to here someone inhale and exhale. Not only that, the vocal chords are still vibrating at the end, mixed in with the inhalation, and it can sound like someone has stopped speaking in the middle of the word even though the word is technically finished.

This is called clipping. If you listen to a sound file where all the inhalation and exhalation is removed, the speakers sound like robots. We've developed social cues to tell others when we're going to speak, and as a listener, when those cues are missing, it just sounds like a bunch of words being mashed together rather than a conversation. The more seasoned you are at podcasting, the more annoying clipping can be (nails down a chalkboard, really).

I bring this up because I started reading THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I don't know why. I was struck by an overwhelming need to receive a full request from the partial that's out there. I wanted to make sure the three chapters that I sent are the best they can be. So I popped open my nook (I have a copy of the manuscript on there) and began reading with full confidence that I had knocked things out of the park. I received great feedback from beta readers, and I felt that I had really improved things before sending it on. I revised, I reread, I gave everything the thumbs up.

But you can miss things when you incorporate changes from multiple sources. Things blend together and even though you reread it, your brain might fill in holes with stuff that isn't there any more. Or you may change something and then change it again, not realizing that the second change doesn't quite fit.

I found three instances where the scene is clipped. I chopped stuff that had been too long, but now without any content, the transition doesn't make sense. It's not horrible. You can continue reading, but it's not smooth. It's clipped. And because this reading was spurred by a powerful need to succeed, my reaction is equally powerful. Oh no!!!1 Fingers crossed that the overall worth of the work survives the clipping.

As for you, give it a try next time you listen to DJs on the radio. You'll hear them breathing. It's a transitional sound that our brain recognizes even if we don't realize it. Make sure you have something similar in your writing after you edit.

1 OH NO!!!