Being a Better Writer: Fleshing Out Stories and Characters

Welcome back readers! First of all, I apologize for the lateness of the hour with this post. These are supposed to be up in the morning, and it’s something I’ve slipped on further and further over the last few months. One my goals over the coming month is to get that schedule back on track.

Secondly, I am indeed able to report that the same day I posted last week about Stranded (Friday’s post) I did indeed finish off the story. Which means that today I can start going over Alpha Reader feedback, doing some spit and polish, and so forth. I still think it’s a dud, but I’m glad to be done with it all the same and the stuff that I wanted to practice at with it did turn out all right, I think, so it wasn’t a loss.

What does this also mean, however? It means that the Pre-Alpha for Starforge will start this week! That’s right, I’m going to begin poring over Starforge‘s draft at long last and start making nips, tucks, and other fixes and improvements before passing the story on to the Alpha Readers.

Which yes, Alpha Readers, means the book you’ve been clamoring for these last few months is almost in your hands. Be ready, because the last book in the UNSEC Space trilogy is about to arrive at last! Just in time for Christmas!

The rest of you waiting for the epic conclusion to what began in Colony and continued in Jungle will just have to wait a little longer, I’m afraid. The book isn’t going to be out for purchase this year. Next year though …

The only thing I can’t do yet is give you all an estimate as to the full release date. Starforge is massive, about 80,000 words larger than Jungle (which was already a monster), so editing is going to take some time. And as the ultimate peak of the trilogy, I want to make sure it’s shining and brilliant when you all get your hands on it. So, as of right now, no release date outside of “next year” and a confirmation that pre-Alpha work is starting this week.

And that’s the news! A decent chunk of it this time around I would say! Plenty to muse on and get excited over.

But for now? Let’s get talking about writing! This week, we’re talking about fleshing out characters and stories. Which almost sounds a little grotesque if we stop and think about it for a moment, but rest assured it is, like many other things in writing, only a somewhat gross or grim saying.

Boy, we really have a lot of those, don’t we? Ah well, good thing we’re writers! Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: The Empty Swear

Welcome back readers to another Monday! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving weekend? Was it full of free time and food? I certainly hope it was. That is, after all, kind of the goal of Thanksgiving. Of course, some of you might have foregone some of the free time in favor of a little weekend shopping (though to judge from panicked news reports about how millennials are killing Black Friday that may indeed be “some” of you). If you did, I hope you found what you were hunting for!

Now really quick, let’s go onto news. I’m going to be a bit frank with this one, so it might surprise a few of you but … That side project I’ve been working on where I’ve been doing some experimental writing? Well, there’s a reason I do experimental stuff like that on side projects.

Because frankly, what’s resulted is not that great.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, it does some stuff really well, and I’m almost done with it. I plan to finish it, as close to its ending as I already was. But looking at the early reactions of some of the Alpha Readers, this one is a giant swing and a miss. There might be some people it appeals to, but they’re not in my usual editing crowd, and the average fan of my work will probably slide off it as well.

In fairness, that’s why I experiment on little side-projects like this before attempting to tackle something similar in a book. And based on the feedback I’ve gotten, I see where this dropped for a lot of people. Meaning that when I do try to move on with some of the techniques and ideas approached here in a published work, it’ll take the feedback and reactions into account and (hopefully) make it a lot more palatable.

On the downside, this one’s probably going to be a flop of a writing project. The last time I had one of those, it was The Phoenix (which I still haven’t managed to rework in a satisfying manner). Now, this doesn’t mean Stranded is dead. Nor does it make it wasted time—after all, I got to try some new things and see how they did or didn’t work. And along with the shorts I’ve worked on this summer and fall, it was a good break to clear my head before diving into the editing on Starforge.

But it’s definitely not my best work. What it tries is just not appealing enough, at least to the early Alpha Readers. Not all experiments are winners. And in fairness, it may find an entirely different audience … but I’m not going to gamble on that and call the work a win.

I’ll finish it this week (it’s right in the end), go through the feedback on the early chapters (before all the Alpha Readers just kind of sighed and stepped back) and see what’s worth salvaging. But then?

People, it’s time for Starforge. While Stranded was an experiment, and always had a high risk of missing the mark, Starforge was not and does not. The early feedback I’ve got for it so far is very, very positive.

The UNSEC Trilogy is ending on a bang people. And it’s about to be my job to fine-tune this ending chorus of explosions until it’s a rising crescendo of detonations that keep the readers shocked and enthralled on every single page … or quivering in anticipation of the next big bang.

So ending the news today, in summation: Stranded is almost done and by all signs a whiff, while Pre-Alpha editing on Starforge is going to start shortly.

Now then, with all that said, let’s talk about writing, shall we? Hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: Tears Are Not Weak

Hello readers! Welcome to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope you all had a pretty good weekend, and that you’re ready for the week ahead.

Now, as usual before we get started we’ve got a small reminder to state: Christmas is coming! The holidays are here! And with everything that’s been going on, this year is definitely a year to order your Christmas gifts early.

I’m not just saying this because it’s “Cyber Monday.” I spent a good chunk of my Saturday ordering Christmas gifts (yes, before the Cyber Monday sales because I knew what I was ordering wasn’t likely to be discounted) and getting them on their way just so I’m not caught by surprise when something gets delayed. We’ve already got supply issues this year, combined with problems that the USPS has been facing. If you can, just start getting things now, and avoid the risk (and the rush).

To that, I will add a bit of a shameless plug and say that for the reader in your life, I do have a nice array of books to choose from over on the Books page. Axtara – Banking and Finance in particular is a perfect purchase for any lover of non-standard fantasy or dragons in your life. If they loved Dealing with Dragons, they’ll love Axtara. On the other hand if you know someone looking for a large, epic journey with a touch of wild west magic to it, Shadow of an Empire will keep them occupied for days.

And of course, if they’re Sci-Fi fans, you can gift them copies of Colony and Jungle, right to their device. On Christmas Eve, no less (yay for scheduling, right?).

Okay, enough shilling. We’re here to talk writing. But before we do—it’s related, I promise—a quick reminder that this is the first BaBW post from Topic List #19, and there is a topic call going on! Which means that if there’s a writing topic you want to hear about, then you can get it on the list! Just head on over to the Topic Call post and let us know what you want to hear about! Got a question? A topic you’d like explored? An area of difficulty you’re struggling with? Get a Being a Better Writer post on it!

Okay, that’s enough news and whatnot for the day. Let’s talk writing.

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Being a Better Writer: Enough Is Enough, It’s Time to Release

Welcome back readers, to another Monday! Apologies for the lateness of today’s post; I was up late last night desperately trying to secure a Series X console before the hands of scalpers.

I was not successful. Though a bunch of people did get them, not all of them scalpers. The demand on this thing is through the roof … though given that Xbox “surprised” everyone by launching Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer today, it can hardly be that surprising. Have any of you given it a shot yet?

Yeah, I’m really tempted to make today a “half-day” with my quota and try it out myself. Halo was a formative game from my college years, and I’d still count myself as a fan. The campaign (what I’m really interested in) still doesn’t come out until December 8th, but the multiplayer being out today and being free? Well, there’s not much to lose from trying it save time, right?

Anyway, let me move away from the non-writing things and back towards what we’re all here for: Writing! Starting with another 5-star rating left on Axtara over the weekend. She’s got wings, that’s for sure. With luck, her holiday sales will be strong as well. She is an ideal stocking-stuffer though.

All right, all right, let’s get down to today’s topic. Which, I will note, is the last topic of Topic List #18. That’s right, this week will mark another topic call post for list #19. I’ve already got a few topics written down for the list, but as always, reader request topics are encouraged.

Which is a nice segue back to today’s topic, because it is indeed a reader request (sent through Discord, no less). A reader contacted me asking after today’s discussion. Which most of you have probably guessed from the title, but I’ll state it here all the same. Their question was ‘How do you know something’s ready for release? How do you know when it’s time?”

Hit the jump, and let’s talk about it.

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Being a Better Writer: The Mary Sue

You know, it’s almost impressive it took this long for a direct post on this topic to come up.

I mean it! While the topic has come up before in other posts and been discussed in amounts ranging from referential to a few paragraphs, in all the years Being a Better Writer has been running, we’ve never tackled the topic in a post of its own. Somehow, it just never came up or was requested in an in-depth fashion.

But then I had a conversation that got me thinking on Mary-Sue characters once more. Specifically, a conversation that held a bit of a debate over what a Mary Sue was, with various folks offering different opinions. Most of which were quite accurate, but there were a few offered that were also a little far from what a Mary Sue was, which led to further discussion over the definition.

At which point, as some people held that a Mary Sue was just “a character they didn’t like” I checked the archives here and realized “Well dang, I’ve never actually written a post on this topic” and put it on the list, once and for all.

Which brings us to today, and the pertinent questions that come as a result of such a straightforward topic: What is a Mary Sue? Where did the term come from? How does it show up in writing. And, of course, the most important question of all for BaBW: how does can we put this knowledge to use in our writing?

Hit the jump, and let’s talk about Mary Sues.

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Being a Better Writer: Traditions and Games

Hello readers! Welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer, coming to you all on the first day of November, just ahead of the Mariah Carey storm.

You know the one I’m talking about. It nears, even now. Some have already fallen prey to it.

But let us speak of things other than earworms. This weekend I started getting pictures on social media sites and services from folks. Pictures of what you might ask? Why, massive two-pound tomes that had arrived for them in the mail! That’s right, paperback copies of Shadow of an Empire have started ending up in folks’ hands! And they look nice! Here, take a look at one picture I had in my inbox this morning:

That looks great, doesn’t it? Overall, the response to Shadow of an Empire finally being in paperback (you can get your copy here, hint hint) seems pretty positive!

Which is good, as book sales last month were, short of a brief spike in Japan, in a bit of a slump. Not just for me either: It says something when sales slip by over 80% but the sales ranking stays the same. October was flat-out a rough month across the board for booksellers in general, it would seem. Fall, pre-holidays, does seem to get hit like this, so perhaps it’s just tracking as normal but with a bit of a boost from the supply chain issues as well as general economic issues plaguing us from decades of bad decisions (and you can read more about that here).

Either way, Shadow of an Empire‘s paperback release was the second bright spot in a month that was otherwise very dull sales-wise, and not just for me. With luck, now that we’re out of October and into November and the upcoming holiday season is nearing (that Shadow of an Empire paperback makes a great Christmas gift, by the way) book sales will trend back upwards.

As far as other news before we dip into today’s topic, last week saw another short story preview go up on Patreon for supporters, so if you’re a Patreon Supporter (Thank you!) go check out The Last Light! It’s … interesting. I don’t want to say much more on that.

Also, what’s happening now that Shadow of an Empire is available in dead-tree? What’s the plan now? Well, I’ve got a little bit more writing to do on that Stranded project, and maybe one or two more short stories, but nothing that’s probably going to take more than the first week or two of November. After that? It’s time to start the pre-Alpha for Starforge.

So yes, Starforge work is coming soon. Who’s ready to see how the UNSEC Space trilogy ends?

With that rhetorical question dangling overhead and filling your minds, let us turn our attention at last to today’s BaBW topic. Which is, I realize, possibly a bit of a curious one, and some of you certainly might have glanced at the title and wondered “Now what does that have to do with writing?”

Quite a bit as it turns out. Hit the jump, and let’s talk traditions and games.

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Being a Better Writer: Live Q&A Tonight!

Hello readers!

If you’re looking for a new Being a Better Writer post today, you’re not going to find it. Oh, I’ll share a link to a classic post in a moment, but right now? Today there will not be a new installment of Being a Better Writer in written form.

That’s because today’s BaBW installment will be, as stated last week, a live question and answer section over on the Unusual Things Discord channel! That’s right, tonight at 5 PM MST I will don my headset and begin streaming live answers to questions asked from the audience. Usually these last about an hour to an hour-and-a-half depending on audience interaction, but they’re great fun (as many in the audience can attest). Questions are usually related to writing and publishing (because after all, that is the mainstay of this site) but branch out into questions about upcoming works and the like quite frequently.

So, if you’ve got a question that you’d like answered, come to the Q&A tonight! Use Google to make sure you’ve got the right time for your time zone, then join the Discord channel (using the link below the jump; today only) and enjoy!

Now, if you can’t make it, still would like your Monday morning/afternoon dose of Being a Better Writer, or just would like something to read while you wait for 5 PM my time to roll around, well I do have a classic post for you to peruse. While you wait, enjoy Being a Better Writer: Playing Out Your Puzzle Pieces.

But while that loads, be sure to hit the jump, and I’ll see you at 5 PM tonight for the live Q&A.

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Being a Better Writer: Big-Lipped Alligator Character Traits

Hello readers, and welcome to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got a really interesting topic for you today and we’re looking forward to diving right in! But really quick, before we do jump into today’s topic, there is a bit of news to cover.

First up, and most importantly, next week’s Being a Better Writer will once again be a Live Question and Answer session! That’s right, once again I will be taking questions from a live audience and answering them over on the Unusual Things Official Discord channel, The Makalay Camp. It will run for about an hour, starting at 5 PM MST, which would be 7 PM EST, and 4 PM for those on the west coast. Hopefully this time works best for those who’d like to listen in, at least in the US (in advance, I apologize to those living in places like India, but we really are put in a difficult spot there by the Earth being round).

But yes, next week’s Being a Better Writer will be live, at 5 PM MST. The day of, an invite will go up on the day’s BaBW post with a link to the official discord server, so that those of you who have not joined yet can get in and familiarize yourself with the server (which is small, and like the site, has grown as needs have demanded) before the Q&A session goes live.

So mark your calendars! Next week, October 25th, 2021, at 5 PM MST. Live Being a Better Writer Q&A session!

Got it? Good! Now, let’s get talking about today’s topic: The Big-Lipped Alligator Character Trait. I’ll admit with a name like that the initial response to seeing the title of the post likely fell into one of two camps. On the one side, you had the people who are familiar with the term “big-lipped alligator moment” and immediately wondered what that had to do with character traits attached on the end (as a true big-lipped alligator moment” is a scene, which we’ll discuss in a moment. The rest of you? “Big-lipped alligator what?”

So hit the jump, and let’s start answering those questions.

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Being a Better Writer: Having an Online Presence

Good afternoon, readers! Welcome back on to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got an interesting topic to discuss today, which will probably go by pretty quick (that’s okay, it’s a holiday) but before we do, it’s time for a little news. Emphasis on little, so you can read through it without getting too bogged down.

First up, Shadow of an Empire‘s print proof will be in my hands this week. Yes, you read that right. I am excited to be holding it at last. I don’t anticipate many issues between the proof and the final copy either, since Shadow of an Empire, unlike Axtara, has been out digitally for a few years already and seen a few cleanings already. With the paperback release it’s going to be checking it to make sure that the formatting is good and nothing unexpected happened. After which paperback sales can be approved!

Speaking of which, based on the poll I put up last week (Side note: the WordPress base poll tool isn’t very good, as I have to vote to see the results) has been overwhelmingly in favor of the option I wanted to go with: Expanded distribution. Which means that yes, Shadow of an Empire will be available to libraries, bookstores, and the like. However, since most of those places want their cut, it does mean the book is going to cost a bit more.

$21.99 in total, to be precise. Before some of you blanch, this is for a 600+ page trade-sized paperback (same size, in height, as Axtara). By comparison, the non-trade paperback for Dune (releasing because the movie is coming out) which is a smaller, cheaper to manufacture paperback, is 500 pages and sells for $17.99. The math does work out: This is just a big book.

Which amuses me personally, because a few friends who’ve heard about this have already dropped the comment of “But isn’t Shadow of an Empire one of your shorter books?” To which I have to say “Well, yes?” It’s more in the middle, really. But Colony and Jungle are certainly larger, plus Starforge

Anyway, that’s the update on Shadow of an Empire: The print proof will be in my hands this week, with paperback sales opening shortly thereafter.

One final question before we dive into today’s topic, though: Axtara does well as a paperback, but how would you readers feel about a hardcover release?

Right, I promised short news, so that’s it. Instead let us turn our minds to the act of writing. Well, sort of. Today’s topic is one of the rare BaBW topics that’s less on the “nuts-and-bolts” side of things and more on the side of authorial things that don’t quite involve sitting down at a keyboard to work out your latest story. That said however, today’s topic is incredibly valuable. Quite simply put, if you ignore today’s topic, you’re unlikely to ever see more than a few book sales without someone else doing it for you. It’s that critical.

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Being a Better Writer: “Alien” Aliens and the Conflict of Drive

Hello again readers from across the datanet! Well, some parts of it. Today I woke up to the frantic news announcements that Facebook and all its associated services, from Instagram to WhatsApp, are down. Completely and totally. Very likely not permanently, but as of writing this, it’s gone from the web. You can’t even access it.

You know I’m just going to say it: It’s a good break for people. I usually log on each morning to see if I have any notifications from my family, but I don’t miss not having it this morning. If it were gone for good, well that’d be a different story since I keep a bunch of photos on there and I do use it to keep up with family members since I can’t get any of them to use Discord.

But that’s all I’ll say on it. It’s down, so you’re probably not going to be linking here from there today unless things come back up. No ads on Facebook today! Which almost made me switch topics, I’ll admit, but I’ve wanted to talk about today’s Being a Better Writer topic for some time now. And having Facebook and some of the primary social media sites be down for the other topic would be slightly less than ideal, despite making me thing about it. So that post will have to wait.

So then, what about today’s post? Most of you have read the title, so where is this coming from? Why this topic? Well, hit the jump, and let’s get talking.

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