Being a Better Writer: The Problem With Proper Nouns in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Hello writers, and welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer, where today we’re going to discuss something that’s actually quite topical! So topical, in fact, that this discussion wasn’t even on Topic List #20. Instead, it was prompted over this last week by some real-life work and discussion.

It’s also a topic that is going to directly reference via-link someone else’s writings on the subject. But with that, I feel we need to move into an explanation directly.

See, the genesis of this post comes from my editing on Starforge. This titan of a book is now in the Beta phase, which means looking for typos, misspelled words, misplaced quotation marks, and all that jazz. However, it also means going through and ensuring proper capitalization of proper nouns. At which point, I ran into a bit of a conundrum. Said conundrum led me to Google, which in turn pointed me to this post from 2009 concerning a similar issue in Fantasy writing—though note that it does address Science Fiction as well.

Anyway, what is this conundrum? Well, before we dive into it directly, I have a sort of pop quiz for you. You can do it in your head, but if you’re really determined you can bring out a pen and pencil and do the classic grade-school exercise. It’ll only take a moment either way, but here we go. Correctly capitalize the following sentence:

The terran vehicle rolled up the hill, backed by dozens of terran marines.

That’s it. Got it? Placed those capital letters where they belong? Okay, check out the answers after the break.

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Being a Better Writer: A Long-Term Relationship – Part Two

Welcome back writers. We’re back with another Being a Better Writer post on exactly that topic, and aside from a small news blurb to stick in front of it, we’re going to get right down to things!

So, what’s the news? Two smaller items. First: I have a sore throat and a bit of a head cold. So this post might have a few more typos that slip by than normal, and for that I apologize. A chance of small typos is better than no post, I think.

Second, those of you who have replied or posted regarding the Starforge Beta Call may have noticed that there have not been e-mails sent out in response with the Beta Chapter List. This is because polishing of the last few chapters took a little more time than I anticipated. That said, everything I saw over the weekend says that the additional smoothing has been well worth the effort, and I can do the final checks and start putting out the Beta chapters now. Apologies for the delay, but with a finale like this, getting everything to land just right is important.

Which, in a way, does feed into today’s Being a Better Writer post. I said last week that most probably would be surprised by the topic, and expect something a bit more in the vein of today’s post, and noted that we would indeed get to that. Well, here we are. We have arrived at that point. Where last week we talked about writing a long-term relationship and showing it to the reader, this week we’re going to be discussing your long-term relationship with writing, as a hobby or as a career, and what that means for, well, everything.

So hit that jump, and let’s talk writing.

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Being a Better Writer: A Long-Term Relationship – Part One

Welcome back writers! Yes, we’re back after last week’s Labor Day holiday, and ready to talk about writing. With a rather curious topic that ended up on our list after an online discussion from a writing forum triggered an observation across a number of stories. Today’s topic might be a little odd, but it is one that’s worth investigating because it is one where often writers can go off the rails.

But first, prior Beta Readers watch your inboxes today! The call is going out! Those who have left comments, you will contacted directly shortly thereafter. Starforge is coming closer!

Oh, which does lead to one other bit of news: Previews! And not just chapter previews and excerpts, though there will be those. In the coming months, we’ll be doing some lore dives into the setting after the events of Jungle. For example, we might take a look at a few other colony worlds. Or have a short spot on HL1 skinsuit armor. So look for those in the coming weeks!

Now, with that taken care of, let’s talk about writing. Specifically, today we’re talking about writing characters. I know some of you might have taken the title today as your long-term relationship with writing (and maybe we’ll put that on the list for what’s ahead), but that isn’t what we’ll be covering today.

No, today I want to talk about writing characters in a long-term relationship. As stated above, this topic was inspired by a writing forum I was lurking on, and while I don’t recall the exact conversation that shuttled me in this direction, what resulted was a sitting back and a contemplation on the variety of stories I’ve read over the years that have either built-up or introduced characters in a long-term relationship.

Or rather, the number of stories that don’t sell it. Don’t get me wrong, there are stories I’ve read that do this quite well. But for every story I read that does know how to sell this, I’d have to say I’ve read a counterpart that does not know how to sell this. Where the only way any “long-term” relationship exists in any capacity is in the narration or the characters telling the audience that it does. There’s nothing to show it. The characters themselves don’t even act like it.

So, today we’re going to talk about showing long-term relationships with characters. We’re going to talk about where a lot of these stories go wrong, but also why, and what mistakes the author is making that cause these characters’ stories of love or companionship fall flat. And, naturally, we’re going to talk about how to turn that around, and deliver characters that don’t just say they’re together, but truly sell it. And we’ll even talk a little bit about how you can use this as a narrative tool.

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about long-term relationships.

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Being a Better Writer: A Villain Protagonist Ending

Welcome back writers! Monday is here, I’ve recovered from my cold, and that means it’s time to drop another installment of writing goodness on its scheduled day, rather than later in the week. This week, we’re going to be addressing a follow-up to a post from earlier this year in which we talked about giving our story a villain protagonist. In that post we talked about a number of things that change for your story if you’re writing from the prospective of a villain (not just an antagonist) but there was one thing that didn’t come up during that discussion: An ending. And yes, it won’t quite be like your typical story ending.

So today, we’re going to talk about that. But first, some quick news reminders from the weekend (which did have their own post, so if you want more detail, go here). The biggest of these is the reminder that the cover for Starforge will be revealed September 1st, 2022, which is this week. So far you’ve had a teaser of what the cover for this juggernaut of a Sci-Fi novel will look like, but starting September 1st, you’ll all get to see it. And hey, there’s a 4K background version too, ready to grace your desktop. So be here September first for your first look at the cover that’ll be in your hands come November!

Second quick reminder: 10,000 in ten years. If you missed last Friday’s news post, in the nine-and-a-half years since I published my first book (One Drink) back in 2013, I have sold almost 9,000 copies across my lexicon. With my ten year anniversary of writing coming up in February 2023, the goal is to clear the last 1,000 sales before that date, meaning “10,000 copies sold in ten years!” There’s more about the specifics in last Friday’s post, so go check that out if you’re curious, but the goal stands as the most important part. 10,000 in ten years, baby! That’s the goal!

Anyway, that’s all the news I want to tackle at this particular moment, so let’s get down to business and talk shop. Or rather, villain protagonists, and how you might handle leading their story to an end. Because as we discussed with our prior post on villains, you can’t handle a story in exactly the same manner as you would with a heroic protagonist. A villain is a villain, and that means convention goes right out the window. A villain doesn’t bring peace to the land (well, not the way a hero would), or “save the day,” at least conventionally. See, a villain protagonist ending is usually the ending most stories we tell do their best to avoid.

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about writing and ending where good doesn’t win … or at least reaches a compromise.

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Being a Better Writer: Improving Your Writing Output

Hello writers! So, full confession time: I’m not quite at 100% yet. In fact, I might even try for a nap after this post is over. We’ll see how I feel.

But I’ve got to be good enough to deliver today’s Being a Better Writer post! After all, I promised it!

Now, a quick bit of news prior to jumping into writing stuff: We are now just as day before one week away from the Starforge cover reveal! Though I’ve lost a few days to this blasted cold, Rest assured that Starforge is coming, and you’ll see the cover soon enough! If you missed the initial announcement, September 1st is the date you’re looking for!

Okay, with that news out of the way, let’s dive into writing. Today’s topic isn’t actually from the list, because in light of my current status as less-than-100%, I didn’t want to tackle one of the remaining items on the list because they’re fairly complicated concepts that both readily lend themselves to large posts and will likely require more brainpower than I was confident I could deliver for a sustained time.

But this writing topic, plucked from a run through the various feeds I check each morning? This one is straightforward, relatively simple, and easy to cover. If you’re a bit let down by this week’s BaBW covering something so basic, I would remind that remembering the basics is the best way to keep our writing output consistent in its quality and production.

So today we’re discussing a fairly simple but also common question often heard from new writers: How do I improve my writing output?

Hit the jump, and let’s get started.

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Being a Better Writer: Campfire Conversations and Giving Characters Heart

Welcome back writers! It’s a new day, a new week, and a new chance to write something!

Me, I’m looking forward to finishing another short, currently titled Strange Catch, about a young teen in the Axtara universe (but on the other side of the continent) who finds himself in the company of a seafolk with a most unusual request …

It’s got some work to go. I’m discovery-writing this one, so already I’ve built in a few plot elements that I’ll need to go back and weave into the start of the tapestry for everything to make sense. But hey, I’m having fun and with some hammering I’m pretty certain it’ll make a nice addition to More Unusual Events. How about any of your writing? Any of you get anything special written this weekend? That short you’ve been dreaming about for months, perhaps?

There’s never a better time to start than today. Just saying.

Now, before we get down to business with today’s Being a Better Writer post, let’s go over other upcoming news, as I’ve got a few items on the docket. First up, Starforge progress! I know a lot of you have been waiting for news on this one, and I’m delivering today. Two bits of Starforge news.

The first? The Alpha 2 is going quite well. There are small things here and there to clean up, but it seems that the outlook thus far from those readers that have finished this juggernaut has been pretty positive. With that in mind, unless the Alpha Readers still working their way through find something huge, I can with high accuracy predict that the next phase of Starforge will be be Beta! Woooo! Getting closer and closer to that November release!

Second bit of Starforge news: The cover is complete. Yes, you read that properly. Which means that there will soon be a cover reveal so you can all finally see what you’ll be getting your hands on (and first-time readers will see) this fall when Starforge releases.

Look for a news post with the date soon!


Now, with that news out of the way, there’s one last thing I wish to talk about: Sales. No, not the deep discounts kind. I want to talk about sales numbers.

See, last weekend someone asked me about total sales numbers, wondering how many copies of a book I’d sold. So I sat down with my records and started going over the numbers. Lifetime sales of each book, adding them up and adding them to the total.

Readers, to date I have sold over 8000 books. In fact, the number is only a few hundred shy of being an internet meme! And just over a thousand copies shy of 10,000 books sold.

That’s a lot of books! And it’s only a beginning. With Starforge coming, and a new Jacob Rocke novel plus an Axtara sequel on the horizon, I think that there’s a chance that things could pass 10,000 this year. Maybe. If I’m lucky.

Still, that’s a monumental number. Maybe someday that’ll be the number of books I move in one year instead of ten (assuming I hit 10,000 by year’s end), but for now? Most people are lucky to ever sell a hundred books. Eight thousand is a large number of titles moved.

Oh, and just for the Axtara fans out there: While it everyone’s favorite banking dragon has moved more copies than Jungle, she’s still far behind Colony. About a thousand copies behind! Though she still sells pretty well.

Anyway, I’m considering ways to see about driving 10,000 sales before the year’s end, as 2023 will mark the ten year anniversary of One Drink unveiling itself to the world. It would be nice to have 10,000 sales to have shown for my first ten years worth of work!


Right right, we’ve talked enough about the news. Let’s actually get down to business and talk about writing. Today I want to talk about something that I touched on in a previous post, but only as an example before getting back on track.

Today? I want to talk about this concept in full. It’s something that can be a bit of a contentious topic across both writers and audience alike, but it’s also something that for many means the difference between a good book and a merely okay one.

I want to talk about what I call “campfire conversations,” and how they give characters, especially secondary ones, heart.

Hit the jump, and let’s dive into this (somewhat) contentious topic.

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Being a Better Writer: Crafting Good Goals For Protagonists and Antagonists Alike

Welcome readers, to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope that you all had a pleasant weekend, and that today’s post kicks off a glorious start to an even better week than the last. Especially where your writing is concerned!

So today’s post should be a little shorter. News-wise there’s very little I didn’t cover in last Friday’s news post, so if you’ve read that you’re all caught up. We’re inching closer to an official cover reveal for Starforge, but I don’t have an actual date yet. One other bit of news that has come to my attention over the course of the weekend will come out a bit later, but I’ll hint now that it’s good news and involves book sales numbers, which I am nearing a serious milestone for.

So yeah, most of the news that’s directly relevant was talked about on Friday. If you saw that, you’re caught up. If not, go give it a look and then come back here for a discussion on crafting good goals for protagonists and antagonists alike.

I admit, this may seem like a bit of a strange topic for some of you. Why should we talk about protagonist or antagonist goals. Aren’t those pretty simple? After all, it’s just what your character wants, right? How hard can that be?

Well … you got me. You’re right. Most of the time, this is pretty simple and/or straightforward. But for one, we talk about simple and straightforward things all the time on here. Secondly, it isn’t always simple or straightforward, and sometimes thinking about our characters’ goals a little more deeply than “They are at Position A and want to be at Position B” can free up our story in surprising ways.

So, hit the jump, and let’s talk about looking at (and crafting) good character goals.

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Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding – What To Share and What To Keep

Hello readers and writers! Welcome back after yet another weekend! Who’s geared up and ready to write! There’s a whole new week ahead of us, and who knows what stories might flow from our fingertips as we enter a new week and a new month!

I’m right there with you. Last Friday I wrapped up the last changes and edits to the Alpha 1 edition of Starforge, which means the Alpha 2 crew now has access to the entire length of the second Alpha. And they’re making good time too! At the current pace, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them finished it this weekend!

This has several meanings. For starters, it means that I’m currently bereft of editing for a brief moment, so I can work on other projects, such as the Starforge cover (ooooh yeah), short story writing, or getting more prep work done on the next Jacob Rocke book—perhaps even a few chapters written.

But it also means that Starforge is edging closer to the Beta reading, as based on the feedback from this Alpha, we’re close if not there. Maybe I’m wrong—I’ll wait until the second Alpha Reader crew has passed final judgement before making that call, but right now it does look positive. If things maintain their current course, though, the first Beta read could arrive this month!

Which would have other implications as well. See, once Starforge is officially out of Alpha, and there aren’t any additional structural changes in the pipeline, I can start dropping some real preview chapters on everyone. Previews, sneak peaks of characters and new tools at the trio’s fingertips. Sands, I could even start sending out early previews of the novel to select readers to start building hype.

Get ready folks, because Starforge is coming! The grand finale of the UNSEC Space trilogy is almost here!

All right, with that said, let’s step away from the news and over to the subject of today’s post, which is once again worldbuilding!

Not without reason. If I recall correctly from our last topic call, today’s subject is indeed one of the reader requested topics we were asked to cover. Which … I get it. Worldbuilding remains a tough sea to navigate for many writers young and even experienced. We’ve spoken before of the challenges and even pitfalls of worldbuilding on the site, from starting guides to more involved deep dives.

And yet, there’s still more to cover. Worldbuilding, it would seem, is a topic almost as deep and varied as the resultant subject can be.

Which brings us, more directly, to today’s specific request. Which asked us to discuss how to know what should be shared and what should be held while writing a novel. Because not everything that a writer comes up with during worldbuilding has a place showing up in the narrative. In fact, for many worldbuilders, a majority of what you write out for worldbuilding won’t show up directly in the novel proper—though note that I use the term “directly” there, as figuring out the backstory of how the Magistrate of Evans in your story committed grand fraud, which is why everyone in your story now is suspicious of public officers is going to cast a shadow of influence over the whole work. We just likely won’t get the history-style writeup on it that you set aside in your worldbuilding.

Okay, enough preamble. Hit the jump, and let’s talk about what to hold back and what to show.

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Being a Better Writer: How Do We Get Our Readers to Care?

Hello and welcome back readers! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! Mine was jam-packed with events, but pretty solid as a result (though packed). And there were some real booms on the Starforge Alpha 2 as well, with one reader clearing nearly a quarter of the book in a single sitting! Related to that, it’s a good thing I’m almost done with the final chapters for this Alpha, or I’d have people catching up to me!

Ultimately what this means for most of you is that Starforge continues to inch closer with each mighty step of its heavy tread. And yes, it’s still pretty heavy despite the trimming and the cuts. This will definitely be the biggest book I’ve released once it’s published. And it’ll probably stay the biggest for a long time. I don’t see myself outdoing this one anytime soon.

But enough about Starforge, let’s talk about today’s writing topic. This is going to be a familiar one to some, as it is a bit of a recurring theme across writing. In fact, I’m pretty sure (but not going to do a search for it) that we’ve devoted a post to this very topic at least once or twice, and definitely spoken about it dozens of times in other topics.

But it still remains a hot topic among authors and writers of all ages. And with good reason, as getting readers and audiences to care about characters can be quite difficult. Empathy is an acquired skill, and asking a reader to exercise that empathy with a character bound between a few pages? Well, that’s an art. A carefully developed, practiced art, and one that many would-be writers dive headfirst into without any understanding of perspective, leading to a creation that doesn’t hit the way they’d hoped it would.

So, let’s spend today talking about getting our readers to care when we present our characters, their setting, and the events that they will go through. Let’s talk about how we can avoid melodrama (and maybe what that is) and instead give our readers real, actual empathy for the characters we’ve built.

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Being a Better Writer: Ancient Jobs and Ancient Life

Welcome back readers.

Things feel a little subdued this morning. That’s because the writing world lost a legend this weekend. Eric Flint passed away on Sunday.

If you aren’t familiar with Eric Flint, he’s been around since … Well, from my perspective, forever. I was seeing books with his name on them when I was a child at the grocery story paperback section. He wrote a phenomenal amount of alternative history, to the point that at least in the circles I’ve hung out in, he was one of the two names that came up whenever anyone spoke about alternate history.

The writing community has grown a little smaller with this news. There is a GoFundMe raising funds for a memorial service.

What scattered new I have is practically unremarkable by comparison, so that’s all I think needs to be said for today’s news segment.

However, today’s topic? It was chosen as a sort of tribute to Eric Flint and his contributions to the literary world. A deviation from what was planned, but I think there’d be no better topic for today than to look at the genre that Flint loved to write and talk about it for a bit.

Well, one aspect of it, at least. We won’t be talking alternative history specifically, but we will be talking about a narrow slice of it. A slice that’s been sitting on Topic List #20 for some time now, waiting for its moment.

Today, we’re going to talk about ancient jobs and ancient life. Stick around, because it’s not what you think.

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