Flumbling Toward the Wild Air


verb \ fləm-bəl\

: To fly and stumble or stumble and fly. In no particular order

This EMU is sprouting his dragon wings and flumbling off to the evacuated territories. I go slowly, glow low, with many a look back. On my back are the cookie monster and big lady doubt, constant companions in my struggle to stay afloat. Behind me is a trail of smoke that shall fade to invisible but will forever be connected to those who have helped me fly.

In TALKER 25, I didn’t have an acknowledgments section, that place where you get to thank agents, editors, other authors, the men and women of the armed forces, and those people out there who taught you about the wild air and how to drink it…

Ultimately, it’s a chance to thank the community of people that have in some form or fashion helped you be part of a community.

Until EMU’s Debuts, I never really had a community. I have been a lone dragon my entire life, sometimes an outcast (hello, junior high & high school), sometimes a hermit (hello, everything after). Smaug laying low in my gloom cave with my invisible mates, Mr. Cookie and BLD.  I had never been to a writer’s conference, never interacted with critique groups, and other than some online interactions across the ether, had walled myself in. Built the stone thick and high to show my strength and hide my weakness.

But writers, they have a way of seeing through walls, of knowing what lies on the other side, because, well, they bleed in many of the same ways. More importantly, they know how to stem the bleeding, whether it be through empathy, insight, or just through sheer force of parallel perseverance.

And that’s what the writers here at ED have done. Viagra for the soul. Your heartstrings have helped tug my heartstrings onward, even when I’ve felt like slipping behind and putting my head in the ground. But we aren’t damn ostriches. We’re EMUs!

So I flumble onward, knowing that I’ve got you at my backs. Always there, squawking at our special frequency.

Thank you.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose. Thank You

Flumbling toward that wild air. Thank you!

How about a graph? (Note: when no convenient segue will fit, why not go for the non-sequitur?) My left brain insists that I include some statistical metrics in here to catalog my wobbly flight path from chick to dragon:

Revision Metrics

What does it all mean?!

So I did a basic search for certain helper words and adverbs and graphed them against word count to see how much they changed with edits. The variation was comparable to word count variation. What does this tell you? Don’t sweat the small stuff? That those rules about ‘justs’ and adverbs might be overblown? Not sure.

One thing that went against the trend was my use of curse words. Not sure what that means, either, but fuck, yeah!

(Note: when I first joined the EMU’s, that was one of my questions. Can I curse? I was told that I couldn’t go beyond pg-13. Well I finally shot my wad ;))

Lastly, I want to thank you, reader, because without you, well, this whole insane journey of seemingly quixotic flumbling would be ten powers of crazier. I know that many of you are writers, too, flumbling up, down, and around the mountain along heartstring pulleys, and I wanted to offer a bulleted writing guide I condensed from Robert McKee’s STORY as a token of my appreciation.


  • Seek truth
    • Below the surface, inside the character
    • Not directly observed (Joshua’s note: the visual truth vs. the emotional truth)
  • Turn every scene
    • Down -> up
    • Up -> down
    • Down -> farther down
  • Make climax absolute/irreversible
  • Know your world
    • Not knowing your world/characters invites cliché
  • Put characters under pressure (conflict)
    • This will let you SHOW their true nature (visual truth vs. emotional truth)
  • Never explain -> Dramatize (show don’t tell)
  • Draw idea from action, not reverse
    • Don’t write the action to conform to the idea, let the action organically generate truth.
  • Make your protagonist willful
    • They should have a conscious desire
      • Maybe give them a self-contradictory subconscious desire.
    • Make your protagonist empathetic (not necessarily sympathetic) – (Joshua’s note: G.R.R. Martin’s characters)
    • Make the world act differently than expected – realism/avoids cliché.
    • Act the role (reading dialog can do this, to some extent, but actually act out elements for authenticity)
    • Introduce coincidence early, then dramatize so it’s no longer a plot point, but a critical element.
    • Find visual expression for inner conflict (not dialog. Joshua’s note: limit introspection)


  • Lack progression
    • Causes bland/boring text
  • Employ false motivation
    • Causes bland/boring text (Joshua’s note: pisses off reader)
  • Have redundant characters
  • Use empty subtext
    • The more dialogue you write, the less effect it has.
  • Have holes
    • Plot or character
  • Write how somebody should act
    • Leads to cliché.
    • (Do): get inside, draw on your own emotion/experience.
  • Overstuff ideas
    • Leads to overcomplexity, holes, confusion, skepticism.
  • Proliferate characters
    • Minimizes effect/authenticity/importance
  • Multiply locations
    • The larger the world, the more diluted the writer’s knowledge, the more prone to cliché
  • Use coincidence beyond the mid-point of the story.
  • Overly specify motivations
    • Diminishes authenticity (we often don’t know our exact motivations, and we often don’t consider them in the moment)


  • To live life meaningfully is to be at perpetual risk.
  • Bit parts should be flat, but not dull.
    • Too interesting leads to false anticipation.
  • Melodrama is not a result of overexpression, but under-motivation.
  • Multiplication of acts invites cliché, reduces the impact of climaxes, and results in redundancy.
  • Repetition of experience reduces emotional impact
  • The choice between good/evil, right/wrong is no choice at all.
  • Dimension means contradiction.
    • Humans are by nature contradictory (Joshua’s note: emotions and/or conscious vs. subconscious desire).
      • Contradiction should be consistent (Joshua’s note: GRRM characters).
    • Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little.
    • 3-act design is the MINIMUM.
    • Meaning produces emotion.
    • Characterization = the sum of the observable (the person outside the mask).
    • Character = the person behind the mask.


  • Why is this scene in the story?
    • Show character & advance plot &…
  • Do the protag’s stakes change?
    • Down -> up
    • Up -> down
    • Down -> farther down
  • What is the risk?
    • The higher the value, the higher the risk (Joshua’s note: no death battles over the last chocolate chip cookie, unless that cookie saves the world).

Take risks. Live life meaningfully. Or, as Emerson put it, infinitely better: Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air’s salubrity.


JM AP Close_Straight

Joshua McCune is the author of the Talker 25 trilogy (Greenwillow). Dragons, war, romance (though not with  dragons – I don’t do bestiality). The first book is now available. For more info, visit www.joshua-mccune.com or www.kissing-dragons.com



Filed under Advice, Farewell, Writing

19 responses to “Flumbling Toward the Wild Air

  1. I’m adding flumble to my vocabulary. (Why did no one think this word up before?) And I am awarding you the Dragons That I Actually Believe Exist Somewhere medal.
    Thanks for running with this unruly Emu mob. You’ll be missed.


  2. Lindsey Lane

    I echo Mylisa: You’ll be missed, fo’ sho’.

    Meanwhile your writing rules rival Elmore Leonard’s. So you are on your way, man.

    The metrics make my head hurt.

    But your heart, oh how I love that heart. Keep growing it.


  3. annastan

    I’m so glad to see that all that loving community has allowed you to swear more freely. I plan to use “fumble” as a curse work, btw.


  4. annastan

    Ahh autocorrect strikes again! No, you can’t keep me from flumbling!


  5. Yep! Flumble must be in my vocabulary, too, because lots of flumbling goes on in this writing world.

    I’ll miss you on EMUs, Josh, but I don’t plan to ever miss one of your books. TALKER 25 hooked me for life!


  6. tamaraellissmith

    I kind of hate…a lot…that I am coming in as you are going out, Josh. But I like the idea of that trail of smoke, and I’ve loved the small bit of wisdom and heart I have been lucky enough to gather from you. I hope you come back here from time to time as you flumble out there in the wild air…


    • Joshua McCune

      It makes the tough task of saying goodbye a little easier knowing that ED is left in such good hands. The talent of this group has always boggled my mind and I’ve felt absolutely honored to have been a part of it.


  7. I’m blown away by all the metrics and the bulleted writing guide. Curse words, ftw. Soar like hell, Josh!


  8. Christine Hayes

    Josh, I will miss your wit and honesty and unfailing kindness. Thanks for making the EMU experience so unforgettable.


    • Joshua McCune

      Christine, it’s kindness of reciprocity. This group… it’s contagious in all the best ways. It helps you feel a little less small in the ocean, which has been wonderful for me… somebody who’s always tried to act not so small even when sometimes I feel like a lonely atom. Thank you for your insight, humility, and empathy… it’s helped me more than you realize…
      The EMUs are in such great hands!.


  9. Sometimes I’m a bit oblivious- I didn’t realize this was your swan- er, dragon song! Which looking it up, I realize isn’t quite correct as you’re not dying… 😉 Wishing you the best in life and writing! Sure I’ll see you ’round the webz sometimes.


  10. This is going down as one of my all-time favorite Emu posts… at the same time it goes down as one of my all-time least favorite Emu posts. In any case, it’s getting bookmarked! Josh, thanks for (always, and again) sharing such emotional depth as well as practical insight. You will be sorely missed!


  11. Josh, you’ll be missed. I’m bookmarking this post, because the bullet points are excellent – I especially like “Melodrama is not a result of overexpression, but under-motivation.” Yeah. Good stuff. I have a feeling you’re going to flumble into success after success. Congratulations on TALKER 25. I look forward to all of your writing endeavors to come.


  12. Joshua, I’m so bummed our Emu paths didn’t cross for a longer period of time but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you and your writing this past year. I’ve learned so much from your words here on the blog, behind-the-scenes, and in TALKER 25. Looking forward to following your future successes, as I’m confident there will be many!


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