Miss deadlines

Have everything happen suddenly

(With thanks to Elmore Leonard)

Suddenly, the room went deathly quiet. Then, just as suddenly, the doctor spoke.
‘I’m suddenly not so sure about this,’ he said, suddenly. Just as he was saying this, he caught a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye. He span round just in time to see the sudden arrival of an unexpected figure. It was the soldier from the day before, suddenly limping in with blood on his hands. Suddenly, the doctor understood what had happened.
‘I feel suddenly... cold...’ the soldier suddenly whispered before suddenly collapsing. With quick, sudden movements of his expert but suddenly shaking hands, the doctor suddenly began to tend to the man’s wounds.
‘Nurse,’ he suddenly barked, ‘I need bandages and morphine. And make it sudden.’ Before he could suddenly save him, though, the soldier was suddenly dying in his arms. The doctor suddenly leaned in to hear his sudden last words.
‘Tell my wife...’ the soldier suddenly rasped, his breathing suddenly urgent and sudden. ‘Tell my wife... I suddenly... love her.’

Write with half an eye on the market

The Darknight Academy for witches, wizards, troubled vampires and tragically abused children was just waking up when the screaming started. Secret Agent Sam Glowingly sprang athletically from his bed and immediately reached for his pistol. He had been undercover for three weeks now and this was the first sign of trouble, unless you counted the theft of the Holy Grail the previous week, which he didn’t.
‘McSleet. Wake up,’ he hissed. His grizzled, cynical, alcoholic yet oddly sympathetic Scottish colleague mumbled an unintelligible curse at him and went back to sleep. Fine, thought Glowingly. He would just have to tackle this one alone, with only his gun and his mysterious otherworldly powers to help him. He knew he could do it. He had faced seemingly impossible odds before, like that time his wife had been forced to choose which of their two daughters to donate a kidney to, even though the girls were twins and one of them (but they weren't sure which one) had accidentally killed their younger brother in a shocking yet poetically haunting accident at the old lake.

Allow your day job to inform your prose style

(With thanks to Andrew Trumper)

1. All of a sudden, there was
     (a.) a resounding crash,
     (b.) the sound of breaking glass
     (c.) and then an eerie silence.
2. I glanced nervously at Mary.
3. ‘Did you hear that?’
     (a.) I said.
4. Mary [hereafter referred to as “the love interest”]
     (a.) nodded
     (b.) and whispered
          (i) ‘What was it?
          (ii) It sounded like a window;
          (iii) will you go and check?’
5. I listened to the silence [see 1.c, above] for a moment.
6. ‘I’ll be right back,’
     (a.) I said.

Take yourself too seriously

Graeme stared pensively into the blackness beyond the back door. In the shadowy night, he fancied he could sense the presence of countless ghosts, thousands upon thousands of memories given form in the darkness. Each of them represented a moment in someone’s life, a decision made, a path chosen, a whole alternative life lost forever to the void of the unknown. He pictured seven billion people walking the paths of the world, constantly and unknowingly shedding these potentialities like spectral snake-skins.
‘What price the path unwalked?’ he whispered to himself. ‘What cost the life unlived?’
‘What are you mumbling about?’ said Sandra from the other side of the kitchen. ‘Have you not taken the bin out yet?’

Make your similes very accurate

(With thanks to Marc Templin)

He sat across the table from me, grinning like an interlocutor. His smile was like a row of teeth between his fleshy lips. His fingers, steepled into a upwards triangle of fingers that resembled nothing so much as some steepled fingers, jutted into the air between us like some jutting fingers.
‘So,’ he said, his voice as low and calm as a low, calm voice, ‘do we have a deal?’
‘Um...’ I said, hesitating like a hesitant person. ‘I can’t really...’ The truth was, I was terrified. My stomach was turning over like the stomach of someone who is very nervous about a deal they are making which they aren’t sure they should be making and that uncertainty is causing them to feel a bit sick.

SCI-FI WEEK #5: Neglect to mention important details

The Mhal-Evol’Unt warbirds wheeled round to face Captain Dash Gallant’s small spacefighter. He could see the ion disruptor projection turrets glowing as they came online. He only had seconds before they fired. Fumblebot burbled a panicky stream of beeps. The ship’s ComSys panel crackled with static as the alien weapons began to warp the surrounding space.
‘Captain Gallant,’ came Colonel Daringman’s faint voice. ‘Report in. Are you there, Dash?’ Ignoring the Colonel’s urgent question, Dash narrowed his eyes at the warbirds and licked his lips.
‘Just a little closer,’ he muttered to himself. Fumblebot trilled a warning. The ship started to shake. ‘Closer...’ Dash whispered. Around him, alarms were blaring. He closed his eyes. ‘Here goes nothing,’ he said, flicking an innocuous-looking red switch above his head.
When he opened his eyes a few seconds later, the first thing he noticed was how empty the space in front of him was. Where there had been three Mhal-Evol’Unt warbirds, there was now nothing but a few glittering particles of spacedust.
‘Dash,’ said Colonel Daringman over the ComSys, ‘what the grakhl happened out there?’ Captain Gallant paused before answering.
‘I used the prototype Temporal Gluon Disruptor that Fumblebot fitted just before we left. Those Mhal-Evol’Unt dhuvfuts are probably in the heart of a dying star in the year five billion by now. I know you said it was dangerous, untested technology and I wasn’t to use it, but I didn’t have a lot of choice.’ For a few seconds, the ComSys panel was silent.
‘Dammit, Gallant,’ said Colonel Daringman eventually, ’that’s why you’re the best man we’ve got. But next time, check with me before you risk destroying the entire universe, okay?’
‘Yes sir,’ said Dash Gallant, grinning inside his helmet.

SCI-FI WEEK #4: Wear your influences on your sleeve

Captain Gallant wiped the sweat from his brow and grimly set his ship’s phase-guns to ‘kill.’
‘This is it, Fumblebot,’ he muttered to his loveable robot sidekick. Fumblebot replied with a series of whistles and beeps that were unintelligible to anyone else, but Dash Gallant seemed to understand.
‘That’s right, Fumble, old pal,’ he laughed. ‘It looks like we’ll be breaking the Star Corps Prime Instruction again. Still, better to be out here, where you can see your enemies clearly, than back at base, wondering who’s a Zyclon agent and who’s not.’
Just then, three Mhal-Evol’Unt warbirds dropped out of hyperwarp. Dash felt the adrenaline pumping through his body. He tried to breathe deeply, remembering what his mysterious Space-Zen master had taught him. Then, having attained a steely clarity, he was ready.
‘May the power be with us,’ he said.

SCI-FI WEEK #3: Give your characters evocative names

Colonel Braverly Daringman swung himself athletically into the command chair and engaged his neural-jack connection.
‘Lieutenant Trepidala,’ he barked. ‘Status report.’ The lieutenant tapped frantically at the screen in front of him.
‘Um,’ he stuttered. ‘It’s... the reading isn’t...’ Mars-born Nervosa Trepidala had been a lieutenant in the Star Corps for ten years, but had only recently been transferred to Fleet H, and with it, active service.
‘For Krajk’s sake!’ snapped Daringman impatiently. ‘Patch me through to the fighter wing.’ White noise filled Daringman’s ears. Then, through the roar, a faint voice.
‘This is Captain Dash Gallant reporting in. The perimeter has been breached. Repeat: Mhal-Evol’Unt forces have breached the perimeter.’
‘Then Krajk-Khul help us all,’ whispered Colonel Daringman.

SCI-FI WEEK #2: Explain everything

With the sound of the alarm ringing in his ears, Colonel Daringman leapt from his seat, taking full advantage of the reduced gravity environment of Fleet Ship H546-X, a 0.8G inertia field generated by the constant rotary movement of the ship’s internal shell which was separated from the blastproof exterior by an atom-thin layer of vacuum and electromagnetic repulsor fields, and ran down the corridor. He was in the aft section of the ship, where the living quarters were located, and it would take him several minutes to reach the command pod located at the ship’s fore (a location chosen for optimal visibility through the quantum-shielded plexipanels in the event of a failure of the ship’s short-range reconnaissance feedback systems).
‘Grakhl!’ he cursed, breathing heavily and tasting the now-familiar tang of the ship’s recycled and subtly ionised air, which was composed primarily of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen, but also contained trace amounts of argon in order to prevent malfunctions of the infinitesimally small nanobots which also swarmed in its invisible flow.

SCI-FI WEEK #1: Replace real-life items with fictional alternatives

Lifting his vibro-fork to his mouth, Colonel Daringman watched the exquisite spectacle of planet-rise through the plexi-viewport. He took a bite of his lightly marinated nutribeef simsteak.
‘Needs more NaCl-based SupaFlav flavour enhancer,’ he muttered to himself. The meal had been prepared to his exacting standards by the ship’s Cyber Hospitality Electro-Famulus, but there was always room for improvements to the AI’s food preparation algorithms. He made a subconscious neural-jack-formatted mental note to update the C.H.E.F. unit’s programming.
Just then, the A.A.A. (Audio Alert Alarm) began emitting the high-pitched ringing noise known as “spidiffling.”
‘Zakradav grakhl!’ swore the Colonel.

Have your characters see themselves in mirrors

Joe Stockley gave himself a wry grin as he passed the full-length mirror in the hallway. He was a striking figure, well clear of six foot in height and made to seem even taller by the exquisitely tailored morning suit he had thrown on effortlessly yet perfectly that morning. His eyes twinkled with the playful intelligence of cynical wisdom which informed his every action. The grin he gave himself was one of quiet recognition rather than vanity, for self-regard was a vice he had studiously avoided in his quest for perfection.
Meanwhile, Joe’s wife Angelica waited for him patiently at their regular restaurant table, idly turning a highly-polished spoon over and over in her hands. As the light flashed off it, she caught a glimpse of her own face, breathtakingly beautiful even with the distorted reflection the curved surface of the spoon offered her. Her deep brown eyes shone with the light of compassion which had emanated from her for as long as anyone could remember, bathing all who met her in the glow of her kindness and love. With the slightest motion of her hand, she summoned a waiter.
Antonio, who had been admiring Angelica from a discreet distance, did his best to glide effortlessly as he approached the table. Looking up, he met his customer’s eyes and was about to speak when he saw himself reflected in their soft radiance. He was in his late thirties, athletic in build and outwardly self-assured. The slight creases around his eyes betrayed a lifetime of both tears and laughter. Reflected in them, he could faintly make out the darkened window of the restaurant, which in turn reflected an image of himself standing at the table holding his notepad and highly polished pen. In fact, so highly polished was the pen...

Rely on paralipsis to avoid difficult subjects

As a biographer, my role is not to justify every decision made by the man who is the subject of my work. Please do not misunderstand – it is my intention that this biography be a complete and accurate account of the great man’s life, but I see no need to reopen old wounds in the process.
For this reason, I shall not be mentioning, even in passing, the allegations of financial wrongdoing, perjury, fraud, bribery, coercion or blackmail which have been the subject of so much baseless speculation over the last few years. Nor will you find within these pages any references to organised crime, let alone the particular Mafia figures to whom my subject has no proven links. Additionally, in the chapters concerning his perfectly innocent family holiday in Eastern Europe, I will make no mention of either his first wife or her mysterious absence from the return flight. Finally, at no point in this book will I be using the word “treason”, either literally or in a metaphorical sense. This is for legal reasons which I will also not be discussing.
I hope this clears up any confusion – happy reading!

Embrace anachronism

‘Prithee, sir, dost thou feel okay?’ the servant-boy enquired gently.
‘Contrariwise,’ replied Lord Featherston. ‘I am beset by a fever most perplexing, the sensation of which is like to being zapped by lasers.’
‘Lasers?’ enquired the page.
‘Aye,’ said the gentleman. ‘Lasers as might be found on a Martian spaceship, should such a thing be present.’ He let out a pained sigh. ‘But what is to be done? The only physician in these parts of any repute is all of a day’s ride away, and the NHS drop-in centre near the supermarket is shut also.’
‘Alas, it is so,’ confirmed the servant, preparing the digital thermometer. ‘Mayhap a bleeding would calm this fever.’
’That may be the case,’ sighed Lord Featherston. ‘Would that we had a bleeding cup, fresh leeches or broadband access to WebMD.’