What I Learned From Clarion South

What I Learned From Clarion South

AKA: Jedi Writing Tricks – These aren’t the characters you’re looking for.

A Post-Clarion Summation By Aidan Doyle


Six of the best weeks of my life are now but a memory.
I knew I was in for a fun time, when within the first two weeks, the four people in my apartment had written stories covering the cardinal points of speculative fiction – zombies, pirates, ninjas and vampires.


Even ghosts and ninjas aren’t allowed to infodump.

Life in a post-apocalyptic village with no family and hallucinogenic teenagers is not always easy.

Constructing something from your dead girlfriend is not healthy.

If you’re in hell, word choices may not matter.

Sometimes you have to consider the savagely sleep deprived demographic of your audience.

Feigning eccentricities to avoid responsibility is not acceptable.

The value of focusing your monster.

One helmet doth not steampunk make.

Anything that licks the pope is not kosher.

Everything you need to know about writing can be found in Throw Momma From the Train.

People outside Clarion may have a different image in mind when they talk about “puppet governments”.

Convulsive beauty does not always involve jumping out from behind bushes.

Not everyone is thrilled about the idea of creating a monkpunk genre.

If you want to make a story scarier you should add more “n”s.

If you are horribly wounded, don’t explain everything.

If you hang a cow from the roof, it pulls the roof down.

Some people just read to have their happy buttons pushed.

If you’re going to submit a story written in Chinese characters, you should at least try to double-space it.

You should write your story’s emotional scenes in Assembler, not C++.

“Chaotic stupid” is a common character alignment for movie villains.

Running away to join the circus can be detrimental to your writing career.

Having a screen door on a spaceship may cause readers to doubt your world-building skills.

It’s difficult to learn astrophysics in one day.

Malaria can cure syphilis.

In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned.

You should always wash your fiction unless you want to be subjected to a Jungian analysis.

If you overload your prose, sometimes the sentence ship will sink.

Literary excellence can be achieved through superior horsepower.

Critiques delivered by sock puppet have added authority.

Sean is strong with the force, but “Evil” Sean has not yet turned to the dark side.

Margo likes it when you do nasty things to children.

Jack disapproves of the rectal insertion of incendiary particles.

If Trent ever gets his hands on a zombie girlfriend, he will do many Bad Things.

Jeff is very appreciative when he receives squid in the mail.

Mark likes his scavs lecherous.

Liz is an expert at throwing axes horizontally.

Lisa is not ideal babysitter material.

Brendan has developed a set of tools for not killing people.

Angie is a story slut.

Steve M has few reservations when it comes to using the bathroom facilities.

You should be very wary if Steve T invites you to go and see a Spiderman movie.

Steph has the most powerful heart of all.

Su Lynn is capable of delivering some of the most insightful critiques while looking extremely flustered.

Ben is a founding member of the Cogito Ergo Zombie telemarketing group.

Alex is fond of yum cha fairy orgies.

Angela has cornered the market on prime real estate in Wrongtown.

Tracy is going to be the mayor of New Wrongtown.

Amanda is overly fond of chopping, cutting, macerating and dissecting things.

Suzanne has arranged a deal with Taiwanese exporters to supply her with all the fairy wings she needs.

Mac likes stabbing people in the humpy.

If Brendan asks if he can have your fingernails, you should be very afraid.

You could be in for a surprise if you get stuck in an elevator with Lisa.

Even though I was on my best behaviour, people still thought I was an evil monkey trickster god.


Satan’s socialist aspirations, desert orcas, the Buddhist principles espoused by Groundhog Day, Schrodinger’s comma, sabretooth mermaids, zombie telepaths, The Zombie of the Opera, the miracle of zombie holidays, living with strange bearded men, the value of dead seahorses, monkey Hemingway, kung fu butterflies, frozen god sperm, unicorn glue factories, how to name superheroes, time-travelling zombie Nazi unicorns, how to dilute napalm, elf porn, departments of defenestration, Myers-Briggs personality tests, post-infinity stress disorder, SteamAss, how many monkeys it takes to write a horror story, Dungeons & Dragons character alignments & Wrongtown.


hard fantasy, fantasy opera, monkpunk, piratepunk, officepunk, numberpunk, uberpunk, goldpunk, tranniepunk


Short stories are about interesting characters in difficult situations.

Unless absolutely necessary, don’t change POV.

Start scenes as late as you can, and finish them as early as possible.

Most readers will respond better to a memorable character than a cool idea.

Avoid flashbacks unless absolutely necessary.

Show don’t tell (most of the time).

Be specific, rather than general.

Circular endings are a good way to end your story (where the ending inverts or echoes the opening).

You should know a lot more about your characters and setting than makes it onto the page.

Make sure you choose the right viewpoint character.  Are they active?  Do they act rather than just react?

Dream logic isn’t the same as story logic.  Stories have to make sense.

What is the point of change in your story?  Have you started your story there?

What is going to happen in the story after the ending?

If you are doing historical research, ensure you read primary sources (this may involve learning more than three extra languages).

Ensure your magic system is so detailed and baroque that even Jack is impressed.

Check with Su Lynn to see if anyone else has written a story with the same idea.


Find the focus of your story.  What is it about?

What is the purpose of each scene in your story?

What is the purpose of each character in your story?  How are they connected to other characters?

Remove elements that don’t enhance the focus of your story.

Add subtext that enhances the focus of the story.

“Argument” openings (that explain what your story is about) can usually be cut.

“Could, that, somehow, something, realise, suddenly” are your enemies and should be mercilessly purged.

Eliminate passive voice where possible.

Remove repetitive prose.

Remove repetitive prose.

Add 15% more time cops.

Add 20% more monkeys.

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