Writer Advice: Intros and Such (Non-Fic)

Tail end of the semester has started (one week until finals here) and I’ve been focusing my writing time on some fiction/world pieces rather than blog stuff, so I thought I’d take a quick break from story posting to put up some advice.  A lot of the advice I give regarding writing, particularly non-fiction, comes from things I’ve seen crop up often over the last 13 years of teaching and tutoring.

Introductions & Theses

One of the most difficult things for a lot of writers, especially new ones, to do is introductions.

 Each introduction, in a formal non-fiction essay, needs to have three things:

1) Something to get the reader’s attention.

2) A brief outline of the major claims.

3) The thesis.

 There are many ways to get the reader’s attention from telling a joke or an anecdote to inserting a surprising statistic or a rhetorical question. Sometimes the thesis itself gets the reader’s attention.

 Outlining the claims is relatively easy, just a one sentence list (for shorter works) of the main points.

 The thesis can be the really difficult part.

 A thesis is also known as a hypothesis or theory. It is the overarching idea and argument of the paper. Alternatively, we can think of the thesis as the roof of the house—the roof covers the house and is supported by the claims (walls) which are, in turn, supported by the evidence (foundation). A thesis is always a sentence and always answers a question. It is, in effect, a theoretical answer that the writer will attempt to prove with claims and evidence.

 The simplest way to produce a thesis, in my experience, is to figure out what question you’re asking as a writer/researcher. Without the core question, developing a thesis becomes very difficult. With the question in mind, creating a thesis becomes infinitely easier.

 A couple analogies that I use for introductions follow:

 1) Think of the introduction as a movie trailer or TV preview. The two minute version of the movie is designed to get the reader interested, but not give away so much that they refuse to pay for a ticket.

 2) As a researcher, you have 10 articles that you found. Each article is 20 pages long. So, as a writer, ask yourself: would you rather read 200 pages to determine if the articles are useful or would you rather read 10 paragraphs? I’m guessing most people would prefer 10 paragraphs. So the introduction should provide enough information for a casual reader to decide whether the essay should go in the “Useful”, “Not Useful”, or “Maybe” piles of their research.

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Which was fine. After all, combined they had at least twenty years of experience with the magic, at near master levels. Not counting Gavin, of course. He was both the youngest and a non-magic specialist, despite his apparent high magic schooling.


It occurred to Tobias that the younger man still hadn’t said where he was trained. He’d only said what he had trained in.

That little mystery still nagged at his mind, apparently.

What he’d studied . . .

Oh, very nice. If that could work, it would kill two proverbial birds with one stone.

The camp returned to visual focus as Tobias quickly sought Oifa.

He spotted her in animated conversation with the two Coven witches a few yards away. In his peripheral vision, Tobias absently noted the others putting together some food for lunch.

Conscious of the young witches, he called, “Master Salovich, could I float an idea by you when you get the chance?”

Tobias mulled over his thought, probing for weaknesses and fleshing it out, as he waited. After a few minutes, when Oifa joined him, he thought he’d looked at every angle. But, he was no theorist and wasn’t well versed in each component.

“What can I help you with, Tobias?”


“What about it?”

“We plan on cryptomancy and lithomancy, so neither can be the buffer.”

“Correct. I fear my alchemy’s no good in this case either, from what Shannon’s explained of the plan.”

Tobias nodded, his brow furrowing, “That’s what I’d thought as well. Perhaps with are-design and lab . . . but never mind.”

“Sorcery, then.”

“I’d thought of that. Considered it. But, we do have another option. A potentially very elegant and efficient option,” Tobias paused to collect his thoughts. “Could blood magic be used to both enhance the power and serve as a buffer?”

Oifa stared into the fire for a time as the business of lunch carried on around the pair. The clatter of plates and scents of a cold meal barely registered on Tobias’s subconscious. He leaned ever so slightly toward his colleague, anticipating a flaw he’d failed to spot.

“In theory,” Oifa finally breathed, “I believe it could be done. But, it would take some careful spellwork and, obviously, a blood mage. Using that magic for more than raw power is always somewhat risky, it isn’t really taught much, I think.”

Tobias sighed, “I’ll leave you to discuss the details with Gavin, then. I plan on weaving in these three sigils,” he sketched a few symbols from two tongues on a scrap of paper, “Check with Shannon regarding the gems. If we can, I’d like to get five placed before nightfall.”

At Oifa’s nod, his own excitement grew. They would be doing something, an original thing in fact. And it should get them out of the woods and back home. After a couple days gathering data, of course.

As soon as the meal was over and cleaned, Tobias was bent over the table in his tent. He very carefully and cautiously painted sigils on Shannon’s prototype. His brush’s hairs barely reached into the double digits, his hands steady from over a decade of training. One of his old teachers had made students write sigils in the most trying circumstances they could imagine, to replicate field conditions. They’d all cursed the old bastard then, Tobias recalled, but thanked him today.

Shannon sat at the other end, adhering her gems and drawing out the appropriate magic, or whatever she did for that art. So far as he knew, Gavin was outside practicing what Oifa’d taught him. Oifa and the witches were out procuring small animals for Gavin. He had said something about needing sources, not wanting to link himself to the devices by using his own blood. Sensible, actually, if aggravating in the time lost.

Fortunately, execution of the plan proved both simple and elegant, relatively speaking.

A few minutes before sunset, Tobias and Shannon placed and activated the fifth containment spike. After a couple moments to ensure it was active and seemed to be working, they started toward the camp with Alyce accompanying them under sorcerously conjured lights.

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Tobias stared into the low fire, watching the flames’ hypnotic dance and occasional swirls of smoke. For a time, he reflected on the universal fascination with fire.

“We plan on natural and dimensional,” he decided, “Have you brought up our idea?”

Shannon shook her head, then proceeded to walk Oifa through her prototype. Tobias watched and listened in despite knowing most of the plan. The details were somewhat interesting and he’d have to consider how her magic would interact with his.

When the description ended, Oifa stared at the device for a few seconds. Then she said, “How will you account for Fairaday’s Law?”


Mixing two high magics generally meant that one would overpower the other. They had to be carefully balanced, often with a buffer.

“Honestly, hadn’t thought that far,” he said, “I’m still figuring the runes, sigils, whatever. Reinforcing protection’s easy, connecting that to land, dimensions . . . is obscure at best. I’m not even certain a strong sigil exists for that.”

Oifa nodded, “I’ve heard adaptation can . . .”

“Adapting is possible, new sigils that work are rare anymore, so we have to adapt some. But, adapting is tricky and often weakens the effect. The question’s whether adapting one or finding an obscure symbol is more dangerous.”

The trio lapsed into silence, each considering their own concerns. Or so Tobias assumed. He knew at least that’s what he was doing. This was not the sort of research that he intended to do. Sitting in a library or some dig somewhere poring over ancient texts or artifacts to decipher sigils or learn lost ones, that was research. This was not the sort of field work he’d trained for. the pressure of the time limit and the possible effects of failure, for two things, were beyond what he’d expected on signing with the Tower.

His reverie was interrupted by Gavin and Cierra returning.

The other sorcerer paused at the wards as the witch passed through. Tobias watched their guardian flip open a clip knife while Cierra spoke to the others. He saw Gavin prick his left thumb and stow the knife, then press the thumb to the middle of Tobias’s sigil. He muttered something before Tobias felt a surge of power flow into the wards. Gavin held that position for a full minute before joining the others.

He sat by Tobias.

“The wards’re reinforced, and tied to me. I’ll know whatever happens to them.”

“Hidden depths.”

“Did a couple years of blood magic, seemed like a good idea. Haven’t had much call to use it since,” Gavin shrugged.

“Anything odd out there?”

“Looks like they said. Nothing I could see, but I’m no specialist.”

“Signs of other watchers?”

“No other Coven, I think. Or Rovers. But, both know the territory and I didn’t have much time to look.”

Tobias watched the other four talk while he and Gavin spoke. He outlined their containment ideas, including the Fairaday snag.

“I’m not much for the theory stuff,” Gavin said with another shrug, “but if there’s anything I can do to help out, I’m game. Looks like it’ll be dull here otherwise.”

Tobias nodded, his eyes focused on something in the middle distance, “Thanks. I’m mostly talking to think. Sometimes hearing the problem again helps.” He drifted off, Gavin out of this mind, muttering, “Fairaday buffer” repeatedly to himself. If he said it enough time, some solution would come to mind.

It would have to be sorcery.

Adding gem or word magic would upset the balance. Alchemy could buffer, but in this application, he couldn’t see a practical way to introduce it. Maybe Oifa could, but assuming not, that left sorcery.

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Oifa stepped in before Gavin could reply.

“Pairs.  Alyce can escort me.  Cierra with Master Marker, and the others in camp.  Compromise?  Perhaps the camp wards can be strengthened, if our hosts acquiesce?”

“Agreed,” both men said at once, Tobias adding, “Let’s get started then.  Sooner we figure this out, the sooner we can go home.”

As most of the group filed off into the woods, after cleaning up, Tobias ducked into his tent to retrieve his bag.  He nodded to Shannon, then toward the perimeter.

“How’re your sorcery wards?”

He got a rueful smile, “Better than this witchcraft.”

“I’ll get some runes up, you take the sorcery?  Save the stone for more important things?”

As he removed a small pot of paint and a brush from his pack, Tobias saw her draw a short wand.  It expanded into a tall staff of dark wood capped with silver on both ends.  the wood appeared to be many pieced twisted together, the top cap was some fanciful design that held a few gemstones.

She planted the butt of the staff in the ground near the camp’s center.  While she closed her eyes and held the staff with both hands, Tobias moved to the trees on the perimeter.

He felt the energy flowing through the staff into and through the ground with a sixth sense possessed by all mages.

Moments later, Tobias was absorbed in drawing a complex sigil on the nearest tree.  His vision narrowed to the six inch square area as he concentrated on getting the symbol just right.  Six other trees followed, each bearing a series of three symbols.  He’d prefer ten, but there weren’t enough conveniently placed trees to make a solid circle.  But, it should do well enough, reinforced by Shannon and the witches’ spells.

Nearly two hours later, he found his fellow instructor sitting by the fire, her staff leaning against her shoulder.

When he joined her, Shannon said, “I’ve been thinking about containment.  Some general protection stones, if combined with appropriate runes?”

“I’ll check.  Maybe a time or space sigil, none come to mind off-hand immediately, but there should be something.  Thoughts on how they’ll interact?”

“I hadn’t gotten that far,” Shannon shrugged, “I thought adhering the stones with sorcery, with the runes drawn on the stones themselves?”

Tobias nodded, “Logical.  Sounds feasible.  The ‘glue’ spell shouldn’t interfere with either magic.”

“I’ll put together a couple samples while you study.”

Both retired to their tents, leaving the fire banked but easily restored.

Tobias assumed Shannon would be mostly sorting stones.

He quickly sorted through the handful of books he’d brought along.  The Saxon, he knew well.  There were no obvious runes there, although sigel, the sun rune, or eþel, the homeland rune, could potentially be forced or cajoled into use for time or land-space.  The proto-Germanic jera, year, would be better for time, but he’d found the proto-Germanics difficult to use.  Perhaps because they were theoretical roots that had not existed as such.

Finding two books, Tobias took a seat in the front part of the tent.  The chair had nothing on his Tower study, but its plain wood frame and canvas served their purpose.  It was a comfortable enough place to skim through Germanic rune lore and study a more general text on sigils that he hoped might have something more specific to their desired meanings, if in a system he had less familiarity with.  That was always tricky, since each symbol always had multiple meanings and uses, all tied to the culture.  Not understanding the culture had led many cryptomancers to unintended effects and consequences with rune spells.

He emerged a couple hours later with a plan in mind.

At some point while he’d been inside, Oifa and Alyce had returned.  The younger woman seemed to be studying the new wards while the elder sat with Shannon, looking over some small items.

Tobias saw, as he drew closer, that they were stacks of gemstones, about two inches in height.  They should be good for setting up his part of the devices, he decided.

Once he sat, Oifa said, “Good.  I can report once then.  I ran a couple tests, fairly standard sorcery in the theory world.  The results weren’t the most solid I’ve ever seen, but I believe the effect’s natural and not temporal.”

“So . . .?”

“It was not created by anyone,” Oifa clarified, “And I suspect it’s the sign of another world or plane that’s encroaching on ours.  There’s some literature that suggests it’s possible, though I haven’t heard of it happening recently,” she raised a hand to forestall questions, “But, I’m no expert on that branch of theory.  Master Tiorano might be better, but I think he went on leave this year.”

“No chance of contact him?” Shannon asked, though she clearly knew the answer.

“I doubt it, he was going on a dig in . . . Thailand, I think, on a remote island off the coast.”

Apologies 2

Sorry for the lack of updates, folks.  A bit bummed here, to say the least.

But, that’s sorta what happens when your President-elect names an anti-Semitic white supremacist as his chief strategist and names a Secretary of Education who wants to use the department to punish any school he considers to be ideologically lacking.  Not to mention the fact that it’s becoming increasingly clear that he a) didn’t actually want the job, just the ego boost and b) has no clue what he’s gotten himself into.

Anyway, I’ll try to get back to updates today or tomortow.


First, I’m sorry for this as I try not to do political posts here.

Second, to the world: On behalf of the U.S., I’m sorry for the stupid thing we just did.

Third, to the UK: I’m sorry, the Colonies are reclaiming the World’s Dumbest Vote award.  Pres. Donnie beats out a non-binding Brexit vote, I’m afraid.