Being a Better Writer: Handling Stress

Welcome back readers! To the first Being a Better Writer post of 2021! Which … almost didn’t happen today. And not just because of the computer (which I’ll update you all on in a moment). No, because of the other event that happened last Wednesday in the US. You know, the big one where a bunch of rioters stormed the US capital in an attempt to forcefully change the election results.

Yeah. That one. There will be a post about that. But just in case any of you were wondering, I’m firmly among the opposition to what those people did. It was outright rebellion. And I would have said something on it immediately, save that my computer was down, and incapable of making a post of the length this topic deserved. I almost wanted to push Being a Better Writer back a week and use today to talk about it, but … One way you beat individuals like that is by proving that they ended up having less of an impact than they wanted. So I’ll talk about them later this week (assuming my computer holds up), but for today? BaBW is still on!

Now, about that computer. Yes, I’m at my keyboard again. And while it’s not 100%, it’s functional enough for me to finish the print requirements for Axtara – Banking and Finance.

So what happened? Well, it was a two-fold strike. The first hit was that … Well, let me explain the parts first. For those of you not in the know, everything on a computer goes through a central processing unit, or CPU. It’s like the engine of a car, only more so. You can’t push a computer along if a CPU goes out. CPU’s generate a lot of heat in operation, so there is a cooling apparatus set on top of them, and a thermal paste between the two that helps conduct the heat into the cooling system.

Well, problem #1 was that my thermal paste had largely dried out over the last few years of living in a desert. And as a result, it wasn’t transmitting heat evenly or well. So when the computer went under a sudden load, such as with a hefty game … the CPU could trip the warning heat sensors and the computer would shut down out of safety (don’t want a valuable CPU melting, which will happen otherwise). Until the heat cooled, it wouldn’t restart.

So that was problem #1. Cleaning off the old concrete-like dried thermal paste and replacing it with new, fresh stuff fixed that problem. A complete diagnostic scan of the CPU showed that no damage had been done, thankfully (yay safeguards). But then there was issue #2, and the other problem: my secondary hard drive was failing.

Explanation: Computers can have a number of internal drives to store information and move it around. I have three. My primary, and boot drive, only for windows. A secondary that was cannibalized from older builds that held my music and various things, and a third that is much larger I acquired a few years ago.

That second drive? Around 15 years old. Most drives last 5-10. And Windows was using it as a page file (basically spare ram), meaning any time there was a lot of data being moved around, Windows would read and write on the drive. Plus, my listening to music … the drive was wearing out and going bad. And SATA (the tech used to access the drive) panics when it encounters bad sectors.

Basically? The moment a bad sector came along with the computer accessing that drive, down the system went down hard.

So is it fixed? Well … mostly. As I have another drive, I can rip the old one out. However, Windows may have put some vital files on there, so doing so may cause me to need to repair my copy of Windows, which is always dicey. So before that happens, I’m going to get the print copy of Axtara proofed since right now I can do that. In the meantime (and how I’ve avoided the problem), I had Windows do a checkdisk on the bad drive, and it’s identified the currently bad sectors and won’t touch them. Won’t stop new ones from occurring, but I’ve also moved everything that was using that drive off of it and onto the other larger one. For now, this will have to do, and I won’t be letting this computer do any heavy lifting until I get that drive removed and things smoothed out (no gaming on this PC for a while, which is killer).

So, that’s where things stand right now. I’d like to replace the dead drive with an equal sized SSD, but that’s not explicitly needed and budget right now is tight, as one might guess. But the computer is up and running, and I checked to make sure that everything was backed up (and nothing book-related was on the old drive anyway, just so you know).

All right, so that’s the news. Today, once this is done, I’ll be sizing the cover for the print proof of Axtara. Exciting stuff!

Anyway, with that all said … let’s talk about today’s topic, shall we? Which I felt was extremely topical given the last week. I’ll start with a question: any of you want to guess how much sleep I lost last week trying to figure out the source of my computer problems so I could get back to work?

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Character Development and Character Growth

Hello readers! I’m still on break here, so here’s a classic Being a Better Writer post for all of you to sink your teeth into! And an old-school one too! But first, some news!

First of all, today is the last day for the Christmas Sale! That’s right, the savings on my lexicon of books expire at midnight tonight! So hop on over to my full bookshelf before then and grab what you can! You can get both Colony and Jungle right now for the combined total of $5. Yeah. Five bucks for over 3000 pages of Five-Star Science Fiction.

Speaking of Five-Star fiction, reviews and ratings are starting to roll in for my latest release, Axtara – Banking and Finance! Unsurprisingly, it’s sitting pretty with six Five-Star reviews. That’s one for every day it’s been out! If you haven’t yet grabbed a copy of this cozy, heartwarming YA Fantasy adventure, then I recommend doing so at this link!

All right, you got all that? Links clicked? Sales taken advantage of? Excellent! Well then, let’s talk about characters and how they develop and grow. This post is an oldie (six years old, to be exact) but it’s a good one. So let’s dive right in!

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Classic Being a Better Writer: The Ellipses and the Em-dash, Odd Forms of Punctuation

Hello readers! Welcome to this week’s Being a Better Writer! If this post looks a little familiar to you, well that’s likely because you’ve seen it before! That’s right, I’m on vacation for Christmas (barring that there’s no way I’ll be taking a break tomorrow when Axtara – Banking and Finance releases) so for the next few weeks we’ll be seeing some older, classic Being a Better Writer posts showing up some of you may have missed. This week? Well, this post on ellipses and the em-dash isn’t too old (about a year and a half) … but it was a fun post that came with a neat follow-up and some odd tidbits of knowledge.

Now, before we dive into it, I do want to remind you all that Axtara – Banking and Finance releases tomorrow, and is available for pre-order now. In fact, you can order it (if you’re in the US) just by clicking the cover to the left there, or by searching for “Axtara Banking and Finance” on whatever Amazon you use if international. Axtara is a charming Young Adult Fantasy novel about a young dragon setting out to open her own bank and … Well, I won’t spoil anything past that, but come on. That premise is solid enough as is.

As I said, it comes out tomorrow, and it’s $4.99. Pre-orders and day one sales help it earn momentum and find new eyeballs, so grab it when it you can. It also, I would note, is a fantastic Christmas gift if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for the reader in your life. Especially if they at all enjoy YA Fantasy or female protagonists.

So, go ahead and order that! Then come back here and get ready to read about the ellipses. That form of punctuation that you see used a lot, but many teachers never discuss. They’ll talk all about a period, or a comma, or a question mark …

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Merry Christmas, readers!

Being a Better Writer: Traditions and Worldbuilding

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you know what that means! More Being a Better Writer! But as is the norm, I do have some news for all of you to go through first.

So we’re going to start with the more fun update: Axtara! Just like the Saturday before last, two days ago saw the posting of another preview from Axtara – Banking and Finance which you can find and read here! This time it’s an excerpt from chapter 2. That won’t be all the Axtara news you see or hear this week, because the final cover is scheduled to be delivered this week, at which point not only will you guys finally get to see it in all its glory, but Axtara itself will be able to go up for pre-order! At last! So yeah, get ready for a week of Axtara, ending in what will probably be a third and final preview as we all count down to an official release date.

Second bit of news to talk about is that this will be the last new Being a Better Writer article for the duration of Christmas and the end of the year. That’s right, once today is past, Being a Better Writer will be going on break until the New Year, 2021, arrives! At least two weeks, but I might go for three if I really feel the need to unwind. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop working on Starforge. No, that’ll still see a lot of work. In addition, unlike previous years, this also doesn’t mean there won’t be a dearth of content during this time. Not only will there be the pre-Christmas release of Axtara – Banking and Finance to keep me busy (along with everything that entails) but there will still be Being a Better Writer articles on each Monday. They’ll just be Classic Being a Better Writer articles. That’s right, I’m going to dig through and pull out some of the most popular BaBW articles of the past few years and feature them for the holiday season. That way the site won’t see a dearth for one of its more popular features during the season.

All right, that’s it for news. So now, here we go with the final new BaBW post of the year. Which was, if I’m honest, a bit of a tough choice. I spent a little bit of time sitting there looking at the list (#16 for those of you keeping track) and asking which topic suited the finale for the year the best. But after a bit of back and forth, I settled on a topic that felt both seasonal and not at the same time: Tradition.

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Being a Better Writer: “The Simpsons Did It”

Hello readers! Before we get rolling with today’s Being a Better Writer post, there’s two bits of news you should know about!

First, there’s a preview of Axtara – Banking and Finance here on the site! Those of you who don’t frequent the place during the weekends will have missed this, so here’s the quick recap: My next book, a YA Fantasy titled Axtara – Banking and Finance is now slated to release before Christmas. It’s been ready to go for a while, but the cover is at long last in development and on its way! And with the release so close, it’s time to let everyone get an early look at it so they know what they’re looking forward to.

Basically, here’s a link to this weekend’s post that’s an excerpt from the first chapter. Go meet Axtara!

Now, item two on the list: A reminder of my Books page and Christmas. It’s been a rough year for a lot of us, I know. And with Christmas approaching, a lot of you are likely thinking about gifts and looking at a terrifyingly tight budget. Why not give the gift of a book? Send your friends on a trip to Pisces or Indrim!

Basically, as you shop for Christmas this year, I’d like to point out that yes, you can gift my books, they’re an absolute bargain, and doing so is a Christmas gift to me as well. Sands, you can buy one or two for yourself while you’re at it. If you’re one of those folks that’s been reading Being a Better Writer for years but never gone any further, well, Christmas is the perfect season to give a little back. Plus, it isn’t as though you’re risking much: You’re talking about books below ten dollars that are, in most cases, almost or over a thousand pages long, with over a hundred reviews over the last couple of years leaving them at a 5-Star average.

So yeah, as you think about Christmas this year, I’m going to shamelessly plug my own work and point out that it’s ridiculously well-priced for what you get. Got a reader of Sci-Fi or Fantasy in your friend circle? Give them the gift of one of the best books they’re read this year. Or get yourself a new adventure you won’t forget.

The books page is here! So go take a look!

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Being a Better Writer: Selling Emotion in a Written Medium

Hello readers! Welcome back after the (for many) Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend! A bit of an odd one given the pandemic issues sweeping the country at the moment, but a Holiday Weekend all the same. Like many, I stayed home, making a Thanksgiving meal for one—by which I mean I’ll be eating leftovers for a while now—and then got all my Christmas shopping done in a single, several hour stint of buying on Friday. It’s a bit easier when you’ve had some gifts in mind for a while.

Anyway, it was a pretty nice weekend past that. Got a bit further in The Pinch, which I’ll be talking a little bit about when I’m done, and also tore through Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which I can absolutely recommend as a worthy successor to the first title, Ori and the Blind Forest. Very evocative story-telling, to the point that yes, just like with the first game I teared up a little. Moon Studios is really good at getting that Pixar-like empathy with the audience going, all without dialogue.

Which actually ties in to what I wanted to talk about today, actually! Because yes, both Ori titles do a fantastic job of selling emotion, in a way that’s very reminiscent of the opening to Pixar’s Up (yes, that opening), and selling emotion like that is what we’re talking about today. So hit that jump, and let’s get started!

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Being a Better Writer: Holidays

Hey there readers! How were your weekends? Healthy, I hope. I spent all of mine inside working on Starforge, Axtara, or recuperating. My Covid-19 test came back negative, but that just meant whatever I did have likely wasn’t Covid. It was still something, so I skipped church on Sunday (doing the smart thing) and gradually felt better as the weekend moved on.

Either way, due to that, I really don’t have much in the way of news to report or talk about from this weekend, so there’s not much for me to do here but dive into this week’s topic. Which, as you might have noticed, is a little … seasonal.

Yeah, I’ll admit this wasn’t on the list. Rather I thought of it over the weekend and once the bug was in my head, couldn’t shake the idea because it was, I felt, a good one that deserved talking about. Not a game changer, probably, but one of those “little details” that can take a story from a nine to a ten.

Yes, we’re still talking about writing. When I say “Holidays” I do so in the sense of a recognized celebration date, not a vacation from things. Those of you waiting for that kind of post are looking at the wrong job.

I kid. Mostly. A writer is almost never truly on a vacation. Our work tends to be … consuming.

Anyway, with that clarification out of the way, let’s talk about holidays.

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Being a Better Writer: Doing Good Research

Hello again readers! I hope you’re well and healthy. Me? A little funky. Really tired. No other symptoms that—to my knowledge—line up with Covid-19, but I’m considering if I feel funky tomorrow calling and scheduling a test anyway, just to be on the save side. And if it isn’t going to bankrupt my bank account.

Anyway, I hope none of you feel funky, but are staying in feeling healthy and hale. Watch that pandemic people! Do your part to fight the menace and stay home.


And with that, I’m going to dive right into today’s topic. Which, if you’re a long-time reader of Being a Better Writer, is one of the more common recurring topics. It wouldn’t be, except that time and time again so many authors, editors, and publishers get it wrong, or don’t even bother to try getting it right.

Note: This may be short. I feel funky.

For example, some of you may recall a hilarious error earlier this year when a historical novel released to the world from a major publisher … only for readers to quickly notice that a segment on dying cloth had some very interesting ingredients listed. Such as “keese’s wing” or “Lizalfos tail.”

If you’re not familiar with those odd-sounding items, it’s because they’re not real, and certainly didn’t exist back in ancient Greece or Persia or whatever either. They’re ingredients from the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild video game, which had just come out when the author was writing the book. So when they Googled “Making X color dye” one of the most popular results at the moment was a guide for making the dye in Breath of the Wild using these fantasy ingredients.

Now, you’d think that someone would have noticed the video game screenshots, or maybe the address of the webpage, maybe checked the credentials of the site offering this information, but no. None of that was done. Instead this “historical” novel passed by a pack of Trad pub editors and readers with not a single person questioning “Keese’s wing” or any of the other ingredients as appearing in a dye, nor the very simple, video-game methods by which said dye was prepared (combine in pot, apply).

End result? A lot of embarrassment for the publisher and the author when they had to admit that they hadn’t checked things as closely as they should have. And the rest of the “historical novel” was suddenly under suspicion, because if the author couldn’t be bothered to check if the dying process wasn’t from a video game, what else in the novel hadn’t been properly researched? Were bandits going to set upon travelers with the warcry “Never should have come here?”

Thing is, this isn’t an isolated incident. This kind of thing happens all the time. It would seem that most Trad pubs are interested in getting a book out as quickly as possible over doing, say, actual editing and checking things for accuracy, even in Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

“Accuracy?” you might say. “In Sci-Fi and Fantasy?” Yes, actually, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, while being fantastic, still subscribe to certain rules. If you’re writing Sci-Fi, for example, you’ll want to run the numbers on your science, and make certain that they actually make sense.

For example, a recent Sci-Fi release from a major publisher featured an astonishingly glaring oversight when it came time for the author to describe the muzzle velocity of their new weapons. They described—get ready for this one—a railgun autocannon on an atmospheric fighter that fired rounds at .1c. That is, for those of you who don’t use “c” often enough, ten percent the speed of light (“c” being the speed of light).

In atmosphere.

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Being a Better Writer: The Art of Scene Transitions

Or: Yet Another Way to Manage Pacing.

Welcome back readers! How are things going with you? Well and healthy I hope? Washing your hands? Using a mask? Doing your part?

I hope so. Globally, it’s still a pandemic, and we shouldn’t forget that.

Anyway, I’ve got no other news, so let’s just jump into today’s topic, which is another reader request, and talk about scene transitions.

Now, I’m going to kind of do a two-fer here, because I might as well. I’m going to talk about both in-chapter transitions, the kind of thing where you get that little asterisk or line divider like so—

* * *


—and then jump into the new action elsewhere, as well as ending chapter transitions today. Because, well, both are kind of similar.

But we’ll start with in-chapter transitions, just as soon as we hit a transition of our own …

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Being a Better Writer: Why Stories Need Conflict

Hello readers! Before we dive into today’s (somewhat delayed) Being a Better Writer post, I have an urgent PSA for all of you residing in the United States.

Go VOTE. Election day is November 3rd, 2020—which should be a national holiday, and the fact that it isn’t tells us a lot about what the government thinks about our involvement in matters. Look up all your candidates. Study them. Learn about them. Don’t just watch their ads and a three second clip of the “News” and decide you’re good. Do some digging. Read about tbe results of their policies and approached. If you’re religious, pray for some guidance. Whatever means available to you, make use of them to learn about the candidates running for all the various positions you’ll be voting on, and then go out and vote.

Yes, I know this year has made it a mess. Voter suppression has been pretty flagrant and open, as has complete ignorance of the current pandemic sweeping the nation. Keep that in mind when you vote too, or rather when you’re looking at candidates. If you’re in one of those counties where for “safety reasons” five polling places were reduced to one, consider who made that decision, how safe it really is, and whether or not you want someone with the governmental mindset of UNSEC in office again.

All right. PSA over. But it was an important one. And it’s probably going to be scrutinized by the ad-checkers, or even demonized by a few people who take issue with it.

Whatever. Go. Vote. Don’t let anyone stop you. Unless, you know, you’re not registered, in which case you should regretfully acknowledge that you didn’t prep for this one. But on the bright side, you’ll most likely have four years to correct that mistake.

Now, with that PSA said, let’s move onto today’s BaBW post! Which is an interesting one! Today’s topic was posed by a reader after they encountered a post on a writing forum where the OP (original poster, for those of you not familiar with internet parlance) argued that stories did not need conflict to be stories, and in fact (IIRC) that whole genres such as ‘slice of life’ shouldn’t have them. The reader posted here asking if that was or wasn’t possible (suspecting, again if I recall correctly, that it wasn’t) and asking me to do a bit on it.

Well, reader, here you are! And let me clear this up immediately, and with a declarative statement:

A story without a conflict is not a story, but merely a series of words laying out a disconnected summary, lacking events.

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