Being a Better Writer: Underpowered and Overpowered Characters

This post was originally written and posted August 4th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still in Alaska. This post has been uploaded ahead of time.

Hello, everyone, new and old! Welcome back—or to, if this is your first—my weekly Monday writing guide post! I’ve got a great topic today, one that comes by request, and I’m eager to get down to it.

Today’s topic stems from a question that I’ve been asked by several followers on different occasions, making it one of the more common concerns that I hear. The wording and approach usually varies, but the end result always boils down to something like this: how can I keep my characters from becoming overpowered?

The short answer: We don’t. There’s no such thing.

I can hear the comments being composed from here, through time. Let me clarify.

A better answer would be: That isn’t the right question. Because you see, it’s not hard for most writers to keep their characters from being overpowered. Unless they’re green enough that it seems completely logical to them to give the main character expert-level skills at archery, swordsmanship, guns, gun repair, vehicle repair, vehicle piloting, magic, kung-fu (including the ancient form no one knows but the hero), lockpicking, skydiving, scuba diving, and romance, they won’t. That’s rookie level writing. Unless you’re Clive Cussler, but he gets a pass for making it a success anyway.

The real question that they want to ask, I feel, is this: how do I create a character with enough skills and talent to overcome what I place in his path without giving them too many skills and talents?

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Being a Better Writer: Hard and Soft Openings

This post was originally written and posted July 28th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

So, a few weeks ago I talked about writing an opening chapter. It wasn’t a bad blog post, but as some pointed out, it was purely about structure and structure alone. There was nothing covering any of the other bits and pieces that went into an opening chapter.

This was, admittedly, a failure on my part. One that today I mean to rectify. So, once again I’m going to talk about openings, but this time from another perspective. I’m going to talk about the type of opening you choose to have for your work.

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Emergency Trip

As you may have noticed, there was no Being a Better Writer post today. That is because as consequence of my troubles last week, this week I am heading to Alaska to take a job on a commercial fishing boat for a few weeks (shrimp season, for those curious), during which time I will be off the grid. I’m going to set up some “From the Archives” posts so that the blog doesn’t stay silent, but it will be quieter than normal once the season starts proper until I’m done.

See you again soon!

Being a Better Writer: Being a Better Reader

This post was originally written and posted July 24th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

So, being a better reader.

As we might guess from the title, this topic doesn’t just have to apply to writers. Being a better reader is something that most of us just take for granted, or hold to a flat, level interpretation—that interpretation being what our elementary-school educators would have called it: additional reading comprehension, moving up the grade levels, etc.

But learning to be a better reader in the context I wish to talk about isn’t about comprehension of words or whether the book you’re reading has chapters. And it isn’t in the context of looking for themes and using various classes of criticism, either—though such things are certainly helpful. No, what I’m referring to is the kind of reader that works with what they are reading and learns to approach the book from the author’s own angle.

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Thank You

Thank you. Completely.

I’m amazed at the amount of help and support that’s been sent out to me today. Seriously, thank you, all of you, for your help.

My life is still rocking, but with the support I’ve received today I’ve managed to start climbing back to my feet. It’s going to be a bit of a journey yet—I’m weighing my options at the moment, trying to figure out what the next step is going to be—but at the moment, I’ve been given a small respite, and I’m going to make the most of it.

I’ll make another post when I’m no completely discombobulated from stress and lack of sleep, but for now, again, thank you.

I Need Help

Today was going to be a very different post. But unfortunately, life delivered me a very dangerous blow this week.

Some of you probably know that I’ve been financially stretched thin over the last few months. If you didn’t, well, I have been. Am. My primary diet for a while has been rice and beans, because 25 lbs of rice and beans is really, really cheap. I’ve been living on a razor’s edge, though … and this week it cut me.

My insurance company is the culprit. They screwed up, and rather than take my usual monthly $96 insurance charge out of my bank account, they took $270. They’ve admitted to the mistake … but in typical fashion, they will not return the money to me, but rather apply it to future bills.

That, combined with the utility payments I’d already sent out, ruined my bank account. It zero’d a few hours ago.

As in $0.00. Zilch. Nada. My credit card took the remainder (which in turn hits me with a fee and slashes my credit rating).

I am officially, completely, busted. This on top of my long-time residence being sold, which means I need to find a new place to live—and cough up advance rent and a deposit for October, or I’ll be living out of my car. It goes without saying that all writing will stop when that happens.

Anyway, I’m going to do what I can to try and salvage this disaster, but the dice have already rolled snake eyes. Odd jobs, more jobs, borrowing money from family … but in the end, this hits me hard, and I’ll probably be feeling the effects for years to come unless some sort of miracle falls into my lap.

I’m not going to beg for money or donations. I’m not going to do that. But I am going to ask something of you, my followers. Not donations. Help.

Some of you have been readers of my work from long before this site. Some of you are new. A lot of you like what I do. You like what I write. You like what I’ve created.

And so I’m asking you now, with all that in mind, please don’t let it end there. Please look over my published books and consider giving one of them a shot. If you haven’t bought and tried one yet, please consider it. If you already have, then please help me out and leave an honest review of it on Amazon. If you really enjoyed it, and want to see more, please tell other people about it so they can find it. Share a link on facebook, on twitter, or on a blog.

These books aren’t bad. They’re sitting at 4.4 and 4.9 stars each after two years and a year, respectively. The lowest reviews? 3 3-star reviews. 3-star is average. The covers aren’t great, but the story inside of each of them is.

Please, take a look at them. If you’ve read them and haven’t left a review, please do, and if you could be inclined to be so helpful, recommend them. Facebook, twitter, e-mail. Whatever tools you have.

But please, if you can, do. I need the help. And I really want to be able to keep writing.

Being a Better Writer: Creative? Or Copy?

So a few months ago I picked up a fantasy book from the library. Pretty good book, actually; it kept me gripped well enough and had me staying up into the early hours of the morning to see how it panned out. But there was something interesting about it that I felt applied to today’s topic.

You see, after a while, the book started to feel … familiar. It was, as I said, fantasy, about a young boy whose home village was razed by dragons. His family was killed and the village ruined, leaving him the only survivor. A day later, a bunch of men showed up to strip the village remains bare, and, in the process they grabbed him and sold him into slavery.

From there the book followed a fairly traditional path. His early childhood in some underground mines. His eventual escape. His learning the ways of the world while on the lamb, falling into just enough money that he could hire a man to train him in the art of the sword and survival. Because this boy—now a young man—had a goal. Revenge. On those that sold him into slavery and the dragons that had wrecked his home.

And the whole time I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but feel that something about it was familiar. And I’m not referring to the classic trope bit of “young man adventures into the world” either. No, that was pretty general. This felt even more familiar than that. Like I’d read the story before. But I still couldn’t figure out exactly why.

It wasn’t until this young man made contact with a long-thought-lost trade route and returned to the capital city of the nation with an absolutely massive fortune, buying an old palace to wow the citizenry with as part of his revenge scheme, that it finally clicked. I was reading The Count of Monte Cristo. Fantasy edition.

I finished the book. The realization didn’t make me enjoy it any less. In fact, once I saw what was going on I actually enjoyed it a little more. Once I saw the initial inspiration (or at least, the classic that it was spinning into part of its cloth) I had quite a bit of fun comparing the two as well as seeing how the universe the author had made necessitated certain changes and guessing what those changes would be.

But at the end of the day, it’s undeniable that what I had read was basically a fantasy version of The Count of Monte Cristo, complete with dragons and magic, rather than Napoleon.

So, why tell this story? Because I think it illustrates an important facet of today’s topic. Which brings us right to the matter at hand. Was this book creativity in action? Or was it just a copy?

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Being a Better Writer: That Opening Chapter

This post was originally written and posted June 30th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

So this weekend I discovered my legal theory on what constitutes an explosive of reasonable size is a lot shakier than I thought. Also, that brick walls aren’t nearly as sturdy as you’d think when you’re dealing with homemade fireworks.

Untrue, actually. None of what you just read up above actually happened. At least, not in that particular order, or to that extreme. But, it was a bit of an interesting opening, wasn’t it?

Good, because today, that’s what we’re going to talk about: Giving your work a strong opening chapter. Because let’s face it: Every story starts. Your challenge as a writer is to start things off in a way that not only grabs your reader’s attention and interest (you want them to keep reading, after all), but also gives them a good idea of what to expect in the chapters ahead.

As I thought about this topic (quite a few of you have asked me about it), I realized that at least, for me, the subject was fairly simple. Not because the act of creating the first chapter isn’t difficult, but because over the years I’ve built a pretty solid guideline for what an opening chapter should include, a guideline that starts right where at the beginning and then expands through the chapter, guiding my writing process. So today, I’m going to explain that process that I go through, what each of the steps are, and how they come together in then to build a cohesive first chapter that gets your reader right into the story and keeps them reading.

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Casual Readers Not Welcome

Some of you might remember a post I made a few months back, during the lead-in to the whole Hugo Awards Fiasco, that asked the question “Am I a fan of Science-Fiction and Fantasy?

Well, to my surprise this morning, I have an answer.

According to George R.R. Martin, I am not. You probably aren’t either. Instead, you are a “casual.”

At least on the one hand, we can all nod and applaud for consistency. Martin’s comments about people not being “true” Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans was what prompted my first post on the topic, but now, in a comment saved by Dawn Witzke over on her blog, we have a very direct statement addressing Mr. Martin’s exact thoughts on the nature of things:

You’re making the same mistake that many of the Puppies did — assuming that more voters would make the award more relevant.

If it were only the number of voters that mattered, the People’s Choice Award would be more important than the Oscars. It’s not. The Academy voters are fewer in number, but they bring more expertise to the decision. Same’s true of worldcon fans. These are people who live and breath SF and fantasy, for whom “fandom is a way of life,” not casual readers.

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Labor Day Sale!

It’s Labor Day! Which means that there won’t be a Being a Better Writer post today. I’m taking the day off (well, kinda) and enjoying a well-deserved, one-day vacation.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to offer you! No, in fact, I have something excellent! A Labor Day sale … Which I’ll admit, you probably already knew, because you saw that header and clicked on it, and well, anyway, let’s cut to the chase: Books are on sale! If you’ve been waiting, thinking about picking either one up while you wait for Unusual Events to arrive, today would be the day to do it!

One Drink CoverOne Drink  $0.99!

Jacob Rocke, spook, finds himself wrapped up in a deadly mystery when a client hires him to solve a strange case: Why a ghostly wolf has attacked her husband. It seems simple enough, but in the world of the Unusual … things aren’t always what they seem. Even something as simple as a haunting.

An Unusual novella. 100 pages.

Dead SilverDead Silver $2.99!

When shaman Hawke Decroux gets a call from his old friend Jacob Rocke, things sound pretty simple. Take a vacation from the animal control business for a few days, head out to Silver Dreams, New Mexico, and try to catch a couple of chupacabras bothering the local’s animals. Except when he arrives, Rocke has vanished, and no one seems to know where to find him. Worse, the chupacabra attacks are growing disturbingly violent, hunting larger and larger prey. Something is rotten in Silver Dreams, and alone, armed only with his staff, his powers, and his wits, it’s up to Hawke to find out what.

Before the whole town slips into a nightmare from which it might never wake up.

An Unusual novel. 451 pages.

You can acquire either of them separately at their individual pages by clicking the covers or titles above, or you can find both of them at my author page on, which you can also follow to get updates on upcoming books and releases!

Happy reading!