This Sucks and is Terrible or is Fantastic and Slathered in Nutella – Writing in Arcs by Myke Cole

Look, I’m just a dumbass public servant. I’m so stupid that if you were to shut the lights off and walk out of the room, I’d just sit here in the dark, drooling. I don’t want to overstate the case. I’ve figured some things out. I know which end of the phone to talk into. I can successfully determine which hole to put food in frequently enough to fend off starvation. I know words like “obfuscate,” and “fey” and “reticulated.”


But I generally leave the running of the world to smarter folk. Years of institutional processing has taught me to salute things that flutter and carry out commands that are barked. So when the literati ominously intone the hallowed words “omne trium perfectum,” I don’t argue. I pull up my big-boy pants and write three books.

Because . . . you know. Just because.

I don’t know why things are better in threes. They just are. I don’t make the rules, folks, I am just the blunt instrument that ensures they are obeyed. Things are better in threes. Consider these two sentences:

“This sucks and this is terrible.”

Compared to:

“This is awesome and fantastic and slathered in Nutella.”

See? I know which one I like better.

Want to know another rule of writing? Arcs. Everything is constantly arcing. Characters, chapters, plot elements, hell, if you squint hard enough, you can even see a distinct bell curve to most of the letters. Consider the “o” or the “m.” Hmm? Hmm!?!? HMMMMM!??!??!?!

Dude. Arcs.

Series arc too. I always thought of the original Star Wars trilogy as the best example of this (I will not mention those other horrible films that Lucas made . . . Oh, crap. I just mentioned them, didn’t I. Damn it). Book 1 gives us the windup, book 2 plunges the good guys into the depths of hell and leaves plenty of things unresolved to bring readers back for . . .  BOOK 3, in which all i’s are dotted and all t’s crossed. Book 3 is the climax, the denouement, the Pièce de résistance.

th_b_Cole_BreachZoneBook 3 has to be the best of the lot.

Here’s the thing they don’t tell you when you get your WELCOME-TO-THE-WRITERS-CLUB-HERES-YOUR-BACKSTAGE-PASS-AND-KEYS-TO-THE-GOLD-PLATED-ROLLS-THAT-RUNS-ON-CHAMPAGNE package from your publisher: readers are vicious. Ahem . . . er . . . what I meant to say is, y’all have exacting tastes. You’re smart. You’re worldly. You don’t suffer fools gladly.

You give a debut author a tiny bit of a mulligan with the first book, but you expect improvement with every one that comes after. A writer can’t phone it in.

And that’s tough. Every book I write is like birthing a child. Some consider my book-a-year pace to be workmanlike, but it’s anything but for me. I outline obsessively, pour out a first draft, edit and edit and edit and solicit feedback and edit some more. I sometimes joke that I’m against fun. But the truth is I’m not really joking. Fun is a luxury afforded to people who aren’t saddled with the task of making each manuscript better than the last. I write or revise in every spare second of my life.

Because you demand it. Because you deserve it. Because you’ll eat me alive if I do anything less.

I’m frequently asked what it’s like to finally come to the 3rd and final installment in my trilogy (and it is a FINAL installment, mind you. This storyline is closed, folks).


But things that come in threes are perfect, so the saying goes. Lately, I find myself less obeying that like an order, and more clinging to it like a life raft (US Coast Guard inspected and approved, mind you).

I’ve done all I could to make this book, this series perfect. Because in the end, it’s not aphorisms that make it so.

Only work can do that.




As a security contractor, government civilian and military officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Counterterrorism to Cyber Warfare to Federal Law Enforcement. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Breach Zone, the final installment of Myke Cole’s Shadow OPS trilogy, publishes January 28, 2014 from Ace Books in the US and Headline Books in the UK.
Twitter: @MykeCole


  1. >>You give a debut author a tiny bit of a mulligan with the first book, but you expect improvement with every one that comes after. A writer can’t phone it in>>

    This is what I do in my reviews. I do bake that mulligan into a review. I’ve often been disappointed by sophomore efforts that don’t even live up to the debut, much less improve.

  2. Rob B says:

    I try to do the same, Paul. It is; however, especially rewarding as a reader to see the growth of a writer over the course of their subsequent books.

  3. An excellent perspective, Mike. As a new author myself, I’m a big believer in pushing myself with each book I release. And as anything one does and pours their heart into, things get better over time. At least, I hope they do.

    Thanks for this… and the Nutella and champagne.

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