An Exercise in Self-Critique 4

This is the fourth post in the series where I critique the beginnings of my own stories, written long ago, and try to make them better. Here are the previous posts:

The usual method is to look at the first 250 words and examine/edit that excerpt in detail. But today I’ll do something different. I want to talk about some of the material that I cut from Thinker Traitor Soldier Spectre, the Mass Effect fanfiction novel I finished last year, and explain why it never made it into the final version.

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Adrift (2012)

This is a very old version of chapter 1 of Thinker Traitor Soldier Spectre, the Mass Effect fanfiction novel I finished in 2019, posted here as part of An Exercise in Self-Critique 4. Compare it to the official final version here.


A bright morning in Har Triste on Palaven. He’s standing on the edge of a crater, ankle-deep in the rubble. Where the Subourus Plaza used to be. The buildings around still stand. At angles. Burnt and punctured, shattered windows and naked armature. He can’t remember which war he’s fighting in, but war it is. His planet is under attack, his people suffering. Yet as he looks up at two winding missile tails in the serene yellow sky, he only thinks, it’s beautiful.

Continue reading Adrift (2012)

A New Mass Effect Fic: The Precedent

Two years before Eden Prime, Saren enlists Nihlus’s help to get an old friend out of some serious trouble. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. How far will he go to ensure the success and secrecy of his misguided quest?

This is the story I timidly announced some time ago. I’ve been brewing the concept for it since 2013, but only dared try my hand with it now. Writing it was surprisingly smooth and easy (though it did take three months of daily work). It seems I’ve forgotten, again, what a joy it is to write new stories, compared to the struggle of continuing and/or salvaging the old. Despite the dark themes, The Precedent was a breath of fresh air.

Read it here, or on AO3.

Image: I was wrong by PaleCaesar

Sentence Length Colorizer for Microsoft Word

In the image above is a famous quote from Gary Provost’s “100 Ways to Improve Your Writing”. One of them is to avoid stacking sentences of the same length one after another, since that makes for boring reading. Coloring the text based on sentence length is a useful visual tool to help an author or an editor identify such potentially boring passages and revise them. I found several web-based tools that do this (here’s an example) but I don’t much like the mechanics of pasting my text into a browser, possibly many times, as I revise. There might also be some commercial products that offer this service, but I didn’t research that.

Instead, I made my own sentence length colorizer for Microsoft Word, and if you’d like, you can use it too!

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Rename Retcon

One of my shortest and probably least well-known stories, Directed, features an original asari character named Olte, in the role of young Saren’s biotics instructor. She also appears in Sound of Silence, where, after the blowout in Unnerved and Unnerving and before the catharsis in The Candidate, Saren, now adult and already in service of Sovereign, seeks her company and council. Lastly, she is mentioned a couple times in my latest & greatest work, Thinker Traitor Soldier Spectre. It’s not much screentime, relative to the volume of my Saren/Nihlus verse, but she steps in the spotlight in a couple of important stories I’ve been nurturing in my mind for years, just haven’t written yet.

Well, one of those stories is getting written now, and in it, Olte will go by a new name: Elethea. I’ve already retconned all her past appearances to reflect the change.

Why do I want to rename her, you ask? Because, last year, my good friend Gladius, who is not a fan of asari, pointed out that Olte sounds a lot like the German word Alte, which means old. While Elethea is, in fact, quite old, at least by the standards of the humans, turians, and other short-lived sentients of the Mass Effect setting (well within the matron phase, which is upwards of 350 years of age), old is not the association I have for her, and I don’t want my readers, German or not, to have it either.

So I looked for something similar, but with a different sound, and different connotations, and found the word Elete (Greek: Ηλετη, meaning either “Grinding” (aletos), or “Prayer” (litê)). As most asari names end with an “a” (and because it’s easier to pronounce), this evolved into Elethea. I can still imagine a contraction that might sound like her old name—and that’s good enough for me.

What’s the new story about, you want to know? Shockingly—it’s about love and betrayal. Working title: The Precedent; current word-count: circa 8000; ETA: unknown.