Being a Better Writer: Starting Romance

As you might have noticed if you’re one of those who waits on the morning of, today’s post is a little late. My apologies. I wasn’t quite as quick to arise this morning because I was catching up on sleep. And I was doing that because the injury I gave myself on Saturday didn’t let me sleep that well that same night. Turns out, cracked ribs can be quite the pain. Who knew, aside from those with cracked ribs.

On the plus side, I now have more injury experience I can use for my writing. Which I’ll probably be able to do even more of, since a cracked rib kind of kills some of my summer activity plans. Not all of them, but the last thing I want to do right now is go face-first down a water-slide.

Right, so enough prattle. Onto today’s topic of choice: Romance.

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Being a Better Writer: Flashbacks

This post was originally written and posted April 21st, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today’s post comes via a multitude of requests on the topic. Whether it’s been a discussion on pacing, foreshadowing, or other blogs I’ve posted over the last year, one thing that has come up and been a major source of discussion in the comments on several occasions is proper use of the flashback. Commentators have poised varying opinions, but many have asked for mine (especially as I have listed them among my “poor writing peeves,” and many of you have asked why). So today, we’re going to talk about proper use of the flashback.

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No Updates?

Yeah, normally I’d have another post here by now, but …

I hurt my wrist. I actually took all of yesterday off from writing, since writing was/is aggravating it. Tendinitis. It’s not conducive to good writing speeds.

Anyway, there will still be an archive post up tomorrow, but that’s why I’ve dropped off a bit. Lousy wrist. Get better already!

At least I can use the time to pour over Colony.

And Panic Ensues

A good look at the furor over Amazon’s new KU changes and why some people are upset.

Mad Genius Club

Eight days ago, Amazon announced a change to their Kindle Unlimited Program. For those who aren’t familiar with KU, it is a two-pronged program. For readers who pay $9.99 per month, you can borrow e-books enrolled in the KU program. This also includes a number of audio books as well. There is no time limit on when you have to return the books except you can only borrow 10 books at a time. If you are a voracious reader, KU can be a godsend for you because of the money you can save. As an author, KU is simply another method to help promote your books. Under the current rules, you get paid a share of the global fund put aside each month by Amazon, once 10% of your book or short story has been read. Simple so far, right?

Now, from the beginning, a number of authors have had…

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Being a Better Writer: Coming At Things Anew – Beating “Writer’s Block”

So, I learned something new this weekend. It turns out, if you overdo your carpal tunnel preventative exercises, you will prevent carpal tunnel … but you can also give yourself tendinitis.


Yeah, so my right arm is nice and comfy in an ace bandage while I type this. It shouldn’t get in the way of my writing too much, but let my tale be a cautionary one: you can be too preventative of carpal tunnel, apparently.

Anyway, today’s post is one that I’ve touched on before in several posts, but never dedicated a full article to. It’s a topic that comes up in every writing class, is raised at almost every basic writing panel, and even pops up online on just about every writing thread with startling regularity (sometimes often enough that the poster could probably have found the prior post on the topic on the same page had they bothered to look).

That question is: what do you do about writer’s block?

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Why I’m Waiting for Another Outpost 2

So earlier this week, I mentioned something that to some of you, probably came off as unusual (har-de-har-har, right?). I was talking about E3, and mentioned that my hopes for an Outpost 2 successor hadn’t been met. Now, I should mention that I didn’t expect any sort of successor to Outpost 2 to be announced—after all, the original game was never that popular, and the developer that produced it is long since gone. That’s why you can freely grab a copy of Outpost 2 and play it: it’s abandonware. Abandonware that, while fun, does display a game that’s rough around the edges.

But I’m still playing it from time to time, despite the sheer brutality and often random cruelty the game deposits on me. I’m not kidding about that difficulty, btw, this game sometimes feels like a roguelike in that it just decides to randomly crush you for no reason other than you finally got a break. I had one game where after several attempts to dodge a lava flow, I successfully relocated my base to a mineral rich area, started to fend off attackers from a rival colony … and then watched as everything I’d ever built was leveled by an earthquake. Should have built more disaster relief centers, I guess.

And yet, every so often I go back to it, for one simple, strange reason: there is nothing like it, nor has been, since the game was released.

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Being a Better Writer: Exploring Character Growth and Conflict

This post was originally written and posted April 14th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

So last week I did something drastic. I was working on the first draft of my new novel, Colony, which I was about 25,000 words into, and something about it just wasn’t sitting right with me. At first, I assumed I was just psyching myself out, after all, it wasn’t bad, and I pushed on, figuring I could always change it later. But later, when I was about 40,000 words in, I was talking with visiting family about some of the other stuff I’ve written (specifically, getting their reactions to the pre-edit draft of Dead Silver they’d just finished enjoying) and I realized what the problem with Colony was. The character growth was almost non-existent. What I had were two characters who had already done most of their growing before the story started, and the third character who would widen the dynamic wouldn’t show up for another 15-20,000 words or more.

In short, while it was a decent story, the characters were falling flat because there wasn’t much to them that wasn’t readily apparent, and what growth they had was strictly presented as having already occurred. I was counting on that to hold the readers interest for the first 40,000 words or so (in addition to the plot and whatnot). Arguably it wasn’t that bad overall, but I didn’t want to settle for merely okay.

So I erased all but the 5,000 word prologue, around 30,000 words (and a week or so) worth of work, and started over, this time jumping the characters back in time to before they met, removing all the growth and dynamic they had when the original story started so that they would have all that growth ahead of them. It was, in essence, a complete reboot. The original story wasn’t bad, but it lacked one side of the two-sided coin that makes up character growth and conflict.

Character growth and conflict is the topic of today’s post, which makes it all the more fortuitous that I just rebuilt the beginning of my novel for reasons related to this, because now I really get to think about where I went wrong and where I went right. One of the more obvious areas I went wrong is that I didn’t develop the characters enough in my own head or on paper first. But even if I had, there still would have been a missing angle.

Now, what you’re about to read is merely the way I look at character growth and conflict, and I can guarantee you that plenty of other authors see this in an entirely different way, or perhaps use entirely different phrases and terms entirely. This is because short of a few basics, there isn’t one “school” of character development that educates young writers on writing this, and as such we all kind of find our own way, building our own systems from the bones, zombified flesh of other writers suggestions, and our own trial-and-error. In other words, it’s pretty much like most other specific elements of writing: easy to conceptualize, hard to define and explain.

So, to begin with, I view character growth as having two distinct types. The first is the growth of the character to the reader, and the second is the growth of the character to themselves.

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Oh, E3. I remember the days when I’d count the days until your arrival, eagerly awaiting the leaked photos and dropped hints of what games I could see. And then a few years ago, I started getting less interested. E3 was becoming less about the fan and more about the shareholders. You started hearing the shows throwing out numbers like how many millions they would sell or what the anticipated pre-orders would be rather than how many missions would be in the game and how long the game would be. For a few years, E3 wasn’t quite as much about the fans.

Thankfully, it hasn’t taken long for things to change. And once more this year, I found myself excited for E3, looking forward to seeing a preview of the games I could dream of playing at some point.

And E3 delivered. Here’s what I’m excited about. And yes, expect lots of links.

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And Sci-Fi/Fantasy Gets Crazier


I mean … wow.

With all the excitement of E3 over the last week and my work on short stories, I haven’t really been following the Hugo Awards that closely. After all, most of what was being said had died down to a pretty standard echo chamber, to the point where checking out File 770 was starting to feel like loading the same page with the names on most of the articles transposed one posting down and the same comments from the day before. Honestly, I know that Mike Glyer is just trying to chronicle the whole thing, but at this point, its all become so samey that it’s not really doing anyone a service. It’s sort of like advertising for a product like Comcast. Everyone knows their product is trash, that they’re a terrible company, and that you can’t take anything they say in their advertising as true, but they keep saying it anyway.

File 770 feels like a lot of that right now. Insular makes a blog post with outlandish, unresearched claims. The next day someone else makes it with the same claims, even if the first claim has been completely disproven. They don’t care, and they’re not going to read anything that challenges what they want to believe. The end result is that reading File 770 feels a bit like standing in an echo chamber full of Comcast ads. And that comparison is actually relevant because of what happened sometime last week: an editor at Tor lost her head online and said some things she really probably shouldn’t have.

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Being a Better Writer: The Try/Fail Cycle and the Evolving Story

Sorry for the late post, guys. E3 stole some of my attention.

So, stop me if you’ve read this one before.

Hero enters the villain’s lair/stronghold/fortress/secret base/cave/space station. Hero immediately faces down a group of mooks.

Hero effortlessly defeats said mooks. Only to face down a trap. Hero also effortlessly defeats said trap—possibly before the trap can even spring. Hero continues forward, facing traps, mooks, plot twists, and minibosses, defeating each one in turn, without difficulty, before reaching the villain and the final confrontation. Hero emerges supreme and returns home victorious.

Now, I ask you … if you were reading that story, about how far into that “climactic” series of events would you get before coming to the conclusion that no matter what, the hero is going to emerge victorious every time? Granted, this was a pretty threadbare example, because I didn’t go into a lot of detail, but how many stories like that have we all read? A story where the hero goes into situation after situation, and by about halfway (or a quarter) into the book, we can already see exactly what’s going to happen because the hero always wins?

Now, I’m going to preface things with a caveat here: We know that the hero is going to win. Usually. 95% of the time, it’s a safe bet that the hero will emerge victorious in some fashion or another. But on the journey there? A hero who simply crushes all in their path doesn’t really make for an entertaining read because the reader always knows what is going to happen. If your hero fights mook after mook, takes down trap after trap, and comes out on top every time, well, even if your action is written in an incredibly well-done manner, you’re still going to start running into readers who just start skipping over things. Why?

Because they’ve gotten bored. Because the book becomes going to a sports match where the players and the audience already know who is going to win. It get predictable. The action loses its tension. A great fight simply becomes not so great because the reader already knows who is going to win: the hero.

Again, we accept that most of the time we assume this about the ending, but why would it matter during the story? The answer? Narrative tension.

Which is why today we’re going to talk about two things: the try/fail cycle, and the evolving story.

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