Being a Better Writer: Keeping Description in Character

Welcome once again, writers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer. Alas, this is not “fresh” in the sense that it was written by my hand on this day, but once more from the past. I’m currently out of the office, and this post was prepared in advance. Which means there’s no real news but what was from several weeks ago.

Okay, well, there is a chance that I’ll be back next week, according to the schedule I’ve gotten my hands on. I hope that holds up, because I really want to be working on Axtara – Magic and Mayhem.

Anyway, that’s literally all there is news-wise: Just me hoping I’m back. So without further beating around the bush, let’s just dive into today’s topic!

Okay, I realize some of you might look at this and sort of go “Huh?” a little. But I think if we polled those making that response, we’d find two very different causes.

One would be, of course, people who saw the title and nodded, going “Yeah, that makes sense. I guess we’re talking about this today.” But the other half? They’d be the people who saw this title and went “What? What does that mean?”

This post has its roots in that sort of response. Long ago, when I was working on my third book (which actually released as my fourth, and was the fantastically received Sci-Fi adventure Colony, you should go read it) I was “quizzed” by someone who, for whatever reason, wanted me to “prove” that I was an author in an IRL (in real life) conversation. They waved their hand at the surroundings around us and declared ‘Well, prove it and describe this scene around us!’

Yeah, people really do this. People are weird. Anyway, I retorted with “As who?”

This question baffled them. Their response, which I don’t recall word for word, was ‘That doesn’t matter, a description is just a description! Just describe the scene!’

To which I tried to explain that depending on who was looking at said scene, the description would be different, as each person/character would notice and fixate on different things. To which this interrogator grew upset, arguing that this ‘made no sense’ and that it should just be a description of the scene, like what they personally saw, and I obviously was not an author and didn’t know what I was talking about. Offering several descriptions of the scene from the viewpoint of different characters just made them more unhappy, as they argued that each character was “wrong” for thinking of things a certain way or noticing/not paying attention to certain aspects of our surroundings.

It was … a frustrating experience, certainly. But at the same time, it was enlightening. To some, there is simply the viewpoint that their view is all there is and will ever be, and other viewpoints are just “wrong.”

Do I disagree with that? Most certainly. However, I have also read books for which this sort of viewpoint seems to hold true, books in which each character’s view of the world is identical to another. And I don’t mean “view of the world” in a sense of opinions or stances on ruling powers or ethics. I mean “view of the world” as in what they physically see. How they take in the setting around them, and what they will notice and act on first.

I’ve read books where if you took any moment of scenery and put it up against another from another character, there would be no way to tell one from the other. Not because the book used a narrator that had a voice of their own, but because the character’s viewpoints and personality were not reflected in the way they observed the world around them.

And that … I think that’s a misstep. So hit the jump, and let’s talk about how we can avoid making the same mistake.

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Ambiguous Stories

Welcome once again, writers! It’s Monday here on Unusual Things, and that means that once again, we’re delving into the world of writing with Being a Better Writer.

Classic edition today, looking back at prior posts that have tickled the noodles of thousands of writers young and old. Because I, you see, am not currently in my office. I’m somewhere out on the ocean, hopefully in a ship as opposed to a life raft, braving the wilds of Alaska. And since I was running short on time before my departure, I elected to make some of the posts that went up while I was away classic posts.

One of the reasons I ran short of time, by the way, was because I needed to complete my entry for Dog Save the King, which as of this posting will close in just a few short days. You can check out more info about that here, but there’s still time to send in your entry!

Now, on to today’s topic. Ambiguity is one of those subjects in writing that, sadly but fittingly, remains ambiguous for many. Hence why about five years back, one of our reader requested topics was on the subject of how to write an ambiguous story or plot. And Being a Better Writer delivered. Take a look at the brief excerpt, and then read the rest of the post by following the link! Happy Monday, folks!

Well, the request for this was “Ambiguous characters and plots” IE characters and stories that are “vague” about what’s actually going on. An ambiguous character, for example, is a character where the reader is unsure of their motivations or objectives, or even facts about the character themselves. Likewise, an ambiguous story is one where the reader is unsure about what’s really happening, even as the story is being told, such as a story told by an untrustworthy or unstable narrator being ambiguous because we don’t know for certain if events happened the way that they’ve claimed, or if the narrator is “fictionalizing” their own account.

There can exist a certain bit of charm to these types of stories and characters (which is both why they’re written and why they’ve been asked after as a topic here). A story in which events or even the characters are ambiguous, when written well, can be exciting and teasing at the same time, constantly keeping the reader guessing and striving to put the clues together on their own to separate fact from fiction to discover the real story.

At the same time however, that’s written well. A poorly written ambiguous story or character, by contrast, will confuse and irritate its audience, often to the point that many of them will put the book down and find something else to read.

The trick, then, is being the former and not the latter. But in truth … it’s really hard to be the former. And unfortunately easy to be the latter. Because ambiguity is more than just cutting out certain details so that the audience doesn’t know what’s going on. Sure, you’ll end up with an ambiguous story … but one that’s also a mess of cut content at best, a disaster of confusing elements at the worst. No, crafting an ambiguous story (or an ambiguous character) involves careful cutting and replacing in such a way as to keep things balanced on the edge of a knife.

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Being a Better Writer: Building Governments and Ruling Powers for Fiction

Once more we gather writers, for another installment of Being a Better Writer! And today’s topic is an interesting one, once again written in advance as I am out and off of the grid for the time being. Today’s post grew out of another potential topic, but felt better suited to the aim of Being a Better Writer as a whole, IE that of improving the writing capabilities of those who follow Being a Better Writer.

Now I get that upon looking at this title, some might immediately wonder “What does this have to do with writing?” Well, today we’re going to talk about worldbuilding, specifically, and address some common issues you may have noticed across fiction, as well as talk about the role of governments and rulers and how this can impact what you write.

Again, I know this seems odd, but bear with it for a bit. You might wind up surprised. Hit the jump, and let’s talk about … well, that giant title up above. Now hit the jump.

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Stuck at the Dock: An Update

Well, this is certainly a thing that has happened.

So folks, you may be wondering “Hey, what’s this? A post?” Yes indeedy. “Am I back?” Well … no. Sands, I’m typing this on a borrowed laptop, via a hastily-built guest account.

What’s going on, you may ask? Well, fishing is one of those markets that’s a bit of a commodity. Ergo, there’s some rapid supply and demand that goes into it. So we were getting all set up to head on out—and I mean that. The gear was loaded, we had out clothes aboard, the whole nine yards save bait, fuel, and ice. We called in to get our ice … and the guy on the other end goes “Oh, I don’t think you want to do that. A big fleet is out right now and the price has dropped. We called around, and he wasn’t kidding.

So we’re at dock. Just killing time waiting for the price to rebound. Which it eventually will, but it’s not likely it will before we head out for the second half of this trip (for shrimp).

The other wrench in this scenario is the travel time home doesn’t really make it worth it to leave and head back home. I’d be there for maybe a week at best before needing to turn right back around.

In other words, I’m stuck here through the five weeks either way.

Now, that isn’t to say I haven’t been busy. Those on the Discord will know that I’ve been working on planning bits and bobs for upcoming novels. Yesterday I spent an agonizing three straight hours doing pure finance and accounting equations for Axtara – Magic and Mayhem. Some of them, amusingly enough, I was 99% positive I’d done before for the first book, but … Even if I had saved those notes, they’re down in Utah at my apartment, not at my parent’s place in Alaska.

Point being, though, I am filling the little notebooks I brought along for brainstorming and worldbuilding purposes with page after page of notes for new novel projects. I’ve gotten a bunch of prep work done for Magic and Mayhem, the second Axtara book which will be my new project as soon as I return home, but I’ve gotten some work done on projects for after that book as well.

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling

Hello hello writers! It’s time for Being a Better Writer!

Except that I’m currently off-the-grid in the far off land of Alaska, probably out on the ocean as you read this. No signal. No connection to the datanet. Which means … there was no way to write this post the day of. It had to be in advance.

Okay, well, if you’ve spotted the “Classic” tag above, then you’ve noted in addition that I ran out of time trying to get enough Being a Better Writer posts ready for my time away, since I also needed to get another few projects done before I left as well. Such as writing my entry for Dog Save the King, which has submissions closing before I return! By the way, submissions to that are still open as of this post date, so if you’re thinking of checking that out, do so at this link.

But today, and on alternating weeks while I’m away, we’ll be looking back at a classic Being a Better Writer post. Which for this week happens to be Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling.

This is a topic that isn’t discussed that much outside of writing classrooms, which is probably why this post has seen a lot of Google hits over the years. If you’ve ever heard the terms bandied about, well today is your chance to find out what they mean and how they’re applied to the writing of fiction.

Now, I will note, as the original post did, that not everyone agrees on these terms. The original article notes that when I was doing research for it, I found a number of places that vehemently disagreed with or contradicted one another, usually over regards to which axis was which but sometimes going even further.

That said, even having different viewpoints on fiction can be helpful, so I’d say it’s worth pressing ahead and checking out this article, even if you have once before. A good refresher never hurt anyone.

So hit the jump, and let’s talk about Horizontal and Vertical storytelling.

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