Being a Better Writer: Show Versus Tell

This post was originally written and posted May 26th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Hoo boy. What have I done?

I sat down to look at today’s blog topic, thought to myself “I should do something quick and easy since it’s Memorial Day,” and promptly my brain started buzzing on this topic.

Great job brain. Fortunately, this shouldn’t take long.

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Being a Better Writer: Ideas and Education

Welcome back, everyone! I hope you had a productive weekend. I know I did. I did some more editing on Beyond the Borderlands (who’s excited for chapter 18?) and, at long last, finished up reading Ancillary Justice and put together my thoughts on it.

So, quick news bit. July is almost over, so we’re coming up on another Patreon reward for supporters. This coming August will be an excerpt from one of the “short” stories in Unusual Events (which is almost ready for alpha). Anyway, if you’re a Patreon supporter, you’re going to get another sneak look at one of those stories! Once the last story in Unusual Events is done, I’ll be going full-time editing on it and Colony, getting both of those ready for a release at last.

And that’s the news. Now … to your regularly scheduled posting!

So, you get a lot of questions as an author. It seems that once you mention you write and sell books that many people have questions to ask of you, and a lot of these questions start to blend together—or at least you start to see the inherent similarity in all of them.

Anyway, one of the more common questions that I find myself being asked on a regular basis is “Where do you get your ideas?” And today, I kind of wanted to talk about that. Because in truth, ideas just don’t come from nowhere. I don’t sit and do nothing while waiting for inspiration to strike. I have to be actively hunting for new ideas and concepts. And if you’re going to be a writer, you’ll need to do so as well. Today, I want to talk about education.

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Ancillary Justice – “Being Literary” is Not a Free Pass for Being Poor

I fell asleep in the first forty pages of Ancillary Justice. It was not a good sign.

Now, to stave off the defenders who will undoubtedly make a case of “the best defense is a good offense,” I don’t fall asleep during books often. I’m no stranger to the great works of Science-Fiction (Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc), nor more standard and traditional classics (getting a degree in English will do that to you). So it was not as if I was not prepared to step outside and try something new. In fact, I was reading Ancillary Justice partly for those reasons. Ancillary, for those who have not heard, became in 2014 the first book to win a number of awards for “Best Sci-Fi Novel,” including the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the BSFA Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Locus Award.

Yes, this book had a lot of backing.

But there was also a lot of disagreement. I saw Ancillary being brought up by critics of the Hugo Awards during this last year as a criticism that indeed something was wrong with the awards. This only made me want to read Ancillary more, and with the amount of awards it had won, I figured that whatever criticisms were being leveled at it were probably blown out of proportion.

I was wrong. After picking up my copy from the library and spending the next few weeks reading through it, I’m astounded that this was given any awards at all. Ancillary Justice is plagued with problems, many of them so up front and egregious that any halfway competent editor should have caught them immediately. Having finished Ancillary, I can’t help but wonder if its victory over so many awards was handed out in the same manner that seems to drive the Oscars these days: that of “Well, I didn’t watch it (read, in this case), but I heard it was really cool and I like the concept, so I’m voting for it.”

Simply put, Ancillary Justice should not have won any of those awards. Not with this level of poor writing.

And that’s what I want to talk about: The poor writing. Because in reading, I thought to myself “Surely I can’t be the only one who’s noticed these problems. Someone else had to have noticed them!” And it turned out I was right. A quick search of the internet proved that they were common complaints with the book, because they are in fact, crippling, weakening problems. But in almost every case, a vocal defender showed up to rebuttal the criticism, dropping a line that looked almost exactly like this one:

You just don’t get it. This is a literary book. You just don’t understand literary works.

Without fail, that was there. Criticism of Ancillary‘s many flaws? “Oh, you just don’t understand literary works.”

Well, I do. And to all those who would try and use that poor argument? I’d throw it right back at you. You don’t understand literary works. And do you know why?

Because literary is not an excuse for poor writing. Good writing is good writing. “Literary” has nothing to do with it (though claiming otherwise certainly highlights a problem with the current Sci-Fi establishment if they actually believe this excuse).

So, if good writing is good writing, and being “literary” is not a magical, get-out-of-jail-free card, then what is wrong with Ancillary Justice?

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Being a Better Writer: Inspiration

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

A few weeks ago, I made the rare, conscious decision to stop reading a book. This wasn’t a case of “I don’t find this interesting,” where I set the book down one day and then don’t pick it back up because it wasn’t holding my interest. No, this was something different. This was a conscious choice, a distinct mental observation that I no longer wanted to read it. It wasn’t because the writing was poor. It was actually pretty good. And it wasn’t because the story was dull, because it certainly wasn’t.

It was because of what the book inspired.

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Hugo Awards Voting Deadline Coming Up Fast—The Hugos Need YOU!

If you’re voting or planning to vote in the Hugo Awards this year, be aware that the deadline is coming up soon. End of July soon, so if you haven’t submitted your ballots yet, be sure to get on that.

And remember: What is important is that you vote for what you see as the best works of the year. Not what someone else’s blog said you should vote for; that’s been the problem with the Hugos thus far that part of the controversy hinges on. Read it yourself, and vote on it yourself. Ignore the shouted accusations of “neo-nazi” or “sexist” being thrown out at the ones who don’t vote with the “in crowd” and just vote. For whatever you read and thought was the greatest.

I’ve already seen a blog from one newcomer to the Hugo Awards chronicling their experiences reading and voting for the Hugo Awards thus far. Add your voice to the mix (for the vote, blogging is optional)! The Hugo Awards, despite trying to represent the entirety of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, represent a near microscopic slice of the fanbase, one so small as to put the entire collective within the margin of error of a fraction of the whole (for the math, see this post). They’ve needed fresh eyes for a long time. They’ve needed fresh readers. Fresh voters. They’ve needed people who will nominate works, read the nominees, and then cast their vote.

In ten days the voting for the Hugo this year will be done and over. If you can, make sure your vote is part of it.

And if not? If you’re new to this and—like many, many others—had no idea that as a fan of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, you’re allowed to have a voice in what is the best of Sci-Fi/Fantasy? There’s next year. The 2016 Hugo Awards. Make a note on your calendar, leave a message on your phone … give yourself a reminder so that next year, when once again the Hugo Awards rise from their slumber and ask “What’s the greatest this year in Science-Fiction and Fantasy?” you come with an answer.

Being a Better Writer: Crafting an Army of Foes

Welcome back, readers! It was a long and busy weekend, and as much fun as it was I’m glad to be back to work, fingers to keyboard once more.

Still, it was a fun weekend. CMP Con was a fun way to spend a day, and the panel on writing and fanfiction I moderated for was an absolute blast. You get a couple of writers and authors together in a single group and let them start discussing writing, and fun debate and deliberation are going to happen (though we did, for once and all, clear up the question of music links in stories—a unified “Yes, that’s fine”). We had a great turnout, great questions from the audience, and a good time was had by all. I was told there will be a youtube video of the panel going up at some point in the future, so it may be possible for those of you who were unable to attend to see some of the action, but that one is out of my hands. As of this morning, at least, nothing is up yet, but I’ll check occasionally through the week.

Outside of the panel, the rest of the con was good fun. There was a pretty impressive turnout, too (local papers reported a turnout of about 800 on the first day; for a smaller con of this nature it was a pretty good turnout), and it showed. The con venue was packed with vendors (some of whom I couldn’t resist spending money at), and there were a number of other fun panels to go to.

All in all, it was good fun. Seriously, cons are a great way to spend some time with other fans.

In any case, most of you didn’t come here to hear about another fun con. You came here today for one thing, and one thing only: a writing guide post! And luckily for you, I’m delivering.

So, this week’s topic? It actually comes from a reader, who wrote into me this weekend with a question about worldbuilding. XxEpsilomxX wanted to know if I had any advice on “… the correct way to make your own list of enemies that your main protagonist, and even maybe main antagonist or characters will end up fighting?”

As it turns out, I do. So this week, we’re going to look into my process once again, but this time at what goes into the creation of the myriad of foes that my characters face. How do I set about creation of—not a villain, which we’ve discussed before—but the army of foes that can sometimes come along with the villain?

In other words, how to create an army of mooks?

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Being a Better Writer: Showing Character Through Dialog

This post was originally written and posted May 12th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Welcome back! Apologies for the delay!

So, to start off this week’s writing guide, I have a question for all of you. What’s the difference between these two sentences?

“No thanks,” he said.


“No, thanks,” he said.

At first glance, any editor can tell you what the problem is. The first sentence is grammatically incorrect, while the second is grammatically correct.

Except therein lies our problem. Because while the second is grammatically correct, contextually, it’s incorrect.

Oh, boy … see the conundrum here?

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A Summary of the Week

Content has been light this week. I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’ve been preoccupied with trying to finish up a few of the stories for Unusual Events, and getting ready for a con this weekend I’ll be paneling at.

Yep, convention time! I love ’em. Cons are so much fun! Though I mainly go for the panels (either attending or—like tomorrow—being on them). Or just talking writing and sci-fi/fantasy with people.

But that’s been the reason for my psuedo-silence over the last week. I’ve just been busy. Managed to hit 52,000 words written this month yesterday, for instance. Well on track to try for yet another month of 100,000 words written.

You might be thinking “that’s a lot of words!” And yes, you’d be right. But considering that Unusual Events is sitting at (adds up all the shorts) about 100,000 words right now …

Well, it’s a roundabout way of saying “Hey, here’s why I’ve been quiet.” Plus, con this weekend. I’m actually the moderator on a panel there too, so some of my free time is coming up with panel questions and doing some research on the rest of the panelists so we’ve got good material.

I’ll still have a “From the Archives” guide post for tomorrow though. No worries.

And I have some interesting stuff in the future. After hearing so much about it, I snagged a copy of Ancillary Justice from my local library to see what everyone (and by this everyone, I mean literary awards) was talking about, and why no one (and by this, I mean ordinary readers) seemed to be talking about it. I’ll be finishing that sometime in the next week and dropping my thoughts on it. Ordinarily I don’t do reviews like this, but as Ancillary has become a bit of a lightning rod for some of the Hugo award controversy (having won four major “Best Book of 2014” awards at one go), it’s built itself up as a book that is the absolute peak of writing, and therefore deserves a look. I’ll get that too you sometime this coming week.

Anyway, I’ve got a con to plan for and some more writing to do. Going to try and finish another short—okay, novelette or novella—for Unusual Events today. So … work beckons!

Some preliminary thoughts on the new KU rules

More thoughts on a the Kindle Unlimited switch.

Mad Genius Club

We are now approximately half a month into the new KU/KOLL payout program and I thought I would spend some time this morning going through my numbers so far this month and compare them with last month’s borrows. So, before we go any further, please quit laughing. I know anything to do with math is far from my strong suit. Besides, I haven’t had nearly enough coffee to tell me not to do something like this so early in the morning. But, after reading yet another article about a group of authors whining because the new program will put them out of business — and without them waiting around to see how the program pays out at the end of the month — I decided to see if the preliminary figures support my initial thoughts on the program.

I’ll admit, when I started hearing about the change to the rules…

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