Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services

thoughts on reading, writing, and editing

A Bit of Amusement

Over at The Toast:  Every Irish Novel Ever.

It’s a hoot.  Even the comments are hilarious.  (Which is a rarity, and a thing to be celebrated when it occurs, given that the comments section of most web pages could serve as an argument for the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity.)

It reminds me of my younger son’s summation of his course in The Modern Irish Novel (which would have been more accurately titled Irish Novels Not Written by James Joyce):  “Life in twentieth-century Ireland sucked.”

When you’re done, go on to read the pages for, variously, Every French, Russian, and Canadian Novel Ever.

A Useful Tool

Someday, you’re going to be writing a story where you really, honestly need to know the time of sunrise, sunset, or twilight on a particular day in a particular place.

Maybe you’re writing historical fiction, and need to know whether your characters are going to have enough light left in the day to do whatever it is you want them to do.

Maybe you’re writing fantasy or horror, and need to know when your creepy-crawlies can emerge from their coffins or lairs or shadowy pits and go forth to rule the night.

If so, then the U.S. Naval Observatory has a web page for you.

The web page speaks of “civil twilight,” defined as:

the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities.

This is the kind of twilight you’ll probably be concerned with.  There are two other, more specialized, twilights – nautical twilight is when “the illumination level is such that the horizon is still visible even on a Moonless night, allowing mariners to take reliable star sights for navigational purposes” and astronomical twilight is when “the center of the Sun is geometrically 18 degrees below the horizon.”  But unless your protagonist is a navigator or an astronomer – in which case you’ve got more research ahead of you than a quick web page check is going to handle — you probably won’t need either of those.

In the meantime, think good thoughts about the U. S. Navy, figuring these things out so writers don’t have to.

It’s That Time of Year Again

Yes . . . it’s my sporadically-recurring post in which I wave my hands and point to the “Editorial and Critique Services” bit of this blog’s title, and to the About and Editorial Services links on this page.  (Click on either one; the content is about the same either way.  The salient details certainly are.)

Short version:  One of the ways I keep the electricity and the internet running around this place is with freelance editorial and critique work.  If you’ve got a short story or a novel that you’d like to spruce up for submission or for self-publication, or that you’d like to make better for some other reason (including the learning experience), then I’m available to help you out.

My base rates:  $1500 for a standard 80,000-100,000 word novel; $100 for a short story or the first chapter/first 5000 words of a novel.  Rates for odd lengths – novellas, extra-long novels – are negotiable.  Also, if you go for the first-chapter deal on a novel, and then decide you want the whole enchilada, you get $100 off on the novel fee.

Another Simple Recipe for the Tired, Distracted, or Deadline-Beset

For years I didn’t have a crockpot, because all my previous encounters with the technology had been in the early days, before the invention of the removable stoneware crock, and doing cleanup on a piece of kitchen gear that couldn’t be fully immersed in water pretty much negated all of the time and labor saved on the prep and cooking end.

Then one day I looked around in the kitchen department of the local hardware store and saw that things had changed since I was an impecunious grad student, and I was, as they say, enlightened.

This particular recipe is about as mindless as they come, which is a blessing on those occasions when you’ve got a cold, or a deadline, or just a bad case of too much of the daily grind:

Chicken with Onions


  • 4 large onions, sliced thin
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you like)
  • 4 to 6 split chicken breasts, either bone-in or boneless
  • hot cooked rice (or orzo pasta, or whatever starchy substrate you prefer)


  • Put the sliced onions in the bottom of the crockpot.
  • Lay the chicken breasts on top of the onions.
  • Add the garlic, lemon juice, and cayenne.
  • Cook 4 to 6 hours on low.
  • Serve over rice or orzo or whatever you prefer


Peeve of the Day

Because it’s hot and humid this evening – great weather for feeling peevish.

Today’s peeve, writers and gentlethings, is that pair of not-quite homonyms, flout and flaunt.  Not only do they sound sort of alike, the definitional territories they occupy are close enough together that it’s no wonder they’re often confused.  (That’s not going to spare you my peevishness, though.  Nobody promised you this writing thing was going to be easy.)

To flout something is to recklessly disregard something, or to openly disobey or act against it:  Maisie chose to flout convention and run off to Paris with Duke Roderick in his private zeppelin.

To flaunt something is to display it in an ostentatious or deliberately provocative manner:  The gossip-mongers were quite put out when Maisie returned two weeks later flaunting an engagement ring with a diamond the size of a cut-glass doorknob.

Got the difference now?


Plot Device Obsolescence, Continued

I’ve written before about how technological change has made some plot devices obsolete; and also about how social and cultural change have done the same.  Today’s blog entry is about another example of the second kind of obsolescence:  the changing fortunes of Forbidden Love.

Forbidden love has been a reliable plot engine at least since the day when Paris looked at Helen across King Menelaus’s dining-room and started a ten-year war.  That much, at any rate, has stayed the same – but what counts as “forbidden” keeps shifting, and an observant writer needs to keep an eye on the trends.

It used to be that writers could add the plot-energy of forbidden love to their stories with a simple “Alas!  Your/My parents would refuse their permission for us to wed!”  That particular old reliable (and the related “Our countries/religions/ethnic groups frown upon our love!”) has fueled countless tragedies and probably an equal number of romantic adventures, but the passage of time has deprived it of a lot of its juice.  Impatient modern readers are likely to say to the characters, “For heaven’s sake, you’re both over twenty-one; just go ahead and marry him/her already!  Your parents will get over it.  And if they don’t, you can always leave town.”

A similar fate has overtaken “Alas!  If only one of us were not already married!”, along with all its lesser included tropes, such as the mad wife in the attic.  So long as divorce was both difficult to obtain and a source of scandal, the lovers’ predicament could generate everything from romantic angst (the classic Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere love triangle, for example, and all its fictional cousins) to murder (The Postman Always Rings Twice.)  Once again, a modern reader is going to wonder why the characters are making such a fuss over something that can be settled with a couple of visits to a good lawyer.

These days, not even “Would that we could acknowledge our love – but alas! we are of the same gender!” can be counted on to provide one’s plot with a forbidden love.  And a damned good thing, too; an increase in social justice and general human happiness is worth losing the occasional plot device.

But social and cultural plot devices, like matter, are neither created nor destroyed; they just change form.  My own candidate for the next likely source of forbidden-love plot energy is the workplace:   “Alas!  Would that we could acknowledge our love, but if we did so, one of us would either have to quit or request a transfer!”

It’s not quite as juicy as some of the oldies, but throw in a “Both of us are mission-critical personnel!” or “The only current job openings in my specialty are in Kuala Lumpur!” and maybe we’re getting somewhere.

A Couple of Good Things

The first is a link to an IndieGoGo fundraiser for Hadley Rille Books, a small press specializing in speculative fiction and prioritizing “new voices from women and other historically marginalized points of view” since 2005. They’re raising funds for the expansion necessary to stay competitive in today’s commercial environment.

Rewards at various levels include e-books, hardcover novels, and e-book bundles, manuscript critiques and full-manuscripts edits, tuckerization in a novel by a Hadley Rille author, and more.

The second is a link to the on-line archives of Florilegium, the journal of the Canadian Society of Medievalists/Société canadienne des médiévistes, who now have the complete run of their back issues, dating from 1979 onwards, available in digital form.  Writers of fantasy and historical fiction set in actual or pseudo-medieval societies would probably have a good time prowling through the articles available.

As usual, the internet is full of wondrous things.  Go forth and enjoy.

A term from the sf/fantasy community, referring to the inclusion of a person, or the use of the person’s name, in a novel or story, usually as a complimentary in-joke. Opportunities for tuckerization are often offered as prizes in benefit auctions and the like. The term derives from the name of sf writer Wilson Tucker, who pioneered the practice.


It’s Here!

The weather is hot and sticky (well, for values of “hot and sticky” that obtain in northern New Hampshire, which means that folks in places like Arizona and Texas would think it pleasantly cool), but we’re happy anyway, because today is the day that our short story, “The Devil in the Details,” is up at Tor.com.


Scum and Villainy

Writing effective bad guys can be tricky.  You want them to be three-dimensional, not flat, and you want them to be worthy opponents for your protagonist, but you don’t want to go overboard and give them so many extra coolness points that they end up stealing the show.  If that happens, you might as well give up and give them the novel.  Relabel them as a “rogue” or “antihero” and pretend that you meant to do it that way all along.  The only thing harder than adding coolness points to a character who doesn’t have enough of them is removing them from a character who has too many.

But here are a few things you can try if (as is more common) your problem is a villain who’s not interesting enough:

Give them virtues to go along with their vices.  If they’re ruthless and ambitious, make them brave and capable.  If they’re dishonest, make them intelligent, or amusing, or kind to homeless people and stray animals.  Real people are never only one thing, and your characters shouldn’t be, either.

Give them actual goals that they’re striving to achieve – not just “I want to rule the world/make lots of money,” but specific stuff like, “I want to rule the world because once I’m in charge of all of it there won’t be any reason for countries to fight each other any more” or “I want to make enough money to go back home to West Nowheresville and buy up the whole town and ruin all the people who made my high school years a living hell.”

Grant them the valid points in their arguments.  Even in debates where one side is clearly Right and the other is clearly Wrong, the party of Wrong is still likely to have a couple of good arguments in their favor.  Let your bad guys score those one or two measly points before your good guy brings out the steamroller of righteousness and flattens them like smashed pennies.

(Science fiction, I’m looking at you.  As a genre, you have a long history of making all your conservatives sound like wild-eyed militaristic loons, or all your liberals sound like fuzzy-minded ineffectual do-gooders, depending upon the bias of the author.  Please stop.)

Resist the urge to make your bad guys even more villainous by sticking extra and unrelated bad qualities onto them like artificial warts.  Especially resist the urge to do this with whatever the criminal or moral bad thing of the moment happens to be.  If your bad guys are attempting to take over a perfectly adequate and functioning government, for example, don’t give them a sideline in clubbing baby seals just because everybody knows that clubbing baby seals is bad.

And, finally, remember that – with the memorable exception of Shakespeare’s Iago and Richard III – most villains don’t think of themselves as villains, and don’t wake up in the morning saying, “Now, what villainous thing am I going to do today?”

Look! A Link!

My spouse and co-author, James D. Macdonald, has some new posts up over at his blog:

One on the start, a hundred years and two days ago, of the Great War, as they called it during the twenty years or so before it became unpleasantly clear that they were going to have to do it all over again, only louder and longer and with more atrocities.

One with a Smashwords coupon code for a free short story by the two of us.

A brief note on Yog’s Law.

And all you need to know about the plot of Great Expectations, in three stanzas.

Go.  Enjoy.

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