Being a Better Writer: Tension and Slow Pacing

Hello readers! Welcome back!

So updates! I did manage to hit my quota last Friday despite being a little sick. And while I wouldn’t put it past that segment to need a little editing, overall it was a pretty kick-butt segment of [REDACTED] battling [REDACTED].

Am I one-hundred percent yet? Well … no. This sickness wasn’t much though. Just a sore throat and headache, both of which have mostly faded into a phenomenally active nose (thank you for boxed tissues, world) as my system kicks everything out. And I am still kind of tired … But I blame that on being overly rested from the weekend and not being able to fall asleep last night until around 5 AM (either way, please excuse any typos that made it through on this post, I’m working despite a funk).

Regardless of feeling a little ill-rested, this bout of whatever I caught is mostly over. Huzzah!

To further that plus side of things, this weekend saw some good sales. If they stay constant, I just might be on that good side of the knife-edge after all!

Now, some other quick news updates before I get to this week’s Being a Better Writer post. As of right now, next week’s Being a Better Writer is planned to be a Live Q&A over on the Unusual Things Discord (The Makalay Camp). That’s right, I’ll be donning the headset (sans camera this time) and answering questions about writing live from the audience.

As to what time this event will be on Monday, January 28th, leave comments below if you’re hoping for a specific time and I’ll see what I can do. Last time holding it at 6-7 PM Mountain Time worked pretty well, but I know for some people who follow the sight that’s something like 2 AM. Does having it at 12 noon Mountain Time work better?

Also related is that today is the last topic on Topic List #17. Which means there will be a topic call as soon as the Live Q&A is over! So start thinking both about questions you want to ask live, and writing topics you want to see a whole BaBW post devoted to!

As a side note before we get started, it’s staggering to me that I’ve made it through #17 of these lists since I started keeping track of the number, and that Being a Better Writer has been going now for over six years. In fact, it’s closer to something like eight. Being a Better Writer existed before Unusual Things, which is six years old. Every Monday, save holidays, for almost eight years.

Sands and storms, that’s a lot of content.

Anyway, just thinking on it and a little stunned. How about we talk writing and clean the last topic off of Topic List #17 so #18 can start coming together? Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: The Rubber Duck

Now Harry, you must know all about Muggles. Tell me, what exactly is the function of a rubber duck?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Film

Hello readers, and welcome back! It’s the start of another week, and that means we’ve got more Being a Better Writer to discuss as well as another week full of writing to look forward to! And coming off of a pretty good weekend as well! Good for me because I picked up several new 5-star reviews on both Colony and Axtara … and on a note unrelated to writing because E3 was this weekend and I finally got to see one game that I’m excited for the release of this year: Halo Infinite. I’m not going to geek about the game here, other than to say I’m excited, but I’m also a little relieved that there’s nothing else coming out anytime soon I’m interested. My backlog needs clearing (or I could always play another game of Stellaris … No wonder that backlog doesn’t empty quickly).

Anyway, hopefully those of you who followed E3 found something to be excited about, but for now let’s switch gears and talk writing. You know, that thing a lot of you are here for! So then, let’s begin, and begin by restating the question at the top of this post: what is the function of the rubber duck?

The answer is … well, surprisingly mundane, but it’s one of those mundane answers that can be incredibly useful. In fact, some authors swear by the rubber duck as a writing tool, finding it almost impossible to write well without one.

Which I realize to those of you who are not familiar with this usage, sounds amusing. Some of you may be picturing an author staring at their keyboard, writing away while watched by a well-worn yellow waterfowl, muttering under their breath “I can’t do it without you, Mr. Squeakers.

And well, here’s the fun part. Those of you who may be thinking that aren’t entirely wrong. So, hit the jump, and let’s seek the answer to the question that haunted Arthur Weasley for much of his life. What is the function of a rubber duck?

And what does it have to with writing?

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Being a Better Writer: Setting a Tone for Your Work

Welcome back readers, to another Monday! You know, I try to make these openings as chipper and cheerful as I can when writing because hey, it’s Monday, and most people need that at the start of another workweek. So hey, I hope this chipper opening tone works for some of you!

Newswise, it was a pretty quiet weekend. quiet to the degree that I’m reasonably certain there’s not much to post here that wasn’t already covered with last Friday’s news summary. Save that it was a scorcher of a weekend here. I don’t know what the weather was like for most of you, but it was in the low-nineties here. It gets hotter than that in the summers here, but it climbing to that temperature so quickly in the summer was both refreshing and scorching.

On the plus side, there was a summer thunderstorm on Friday evening that I got to watch with my sister while eating dinner post a nice bike ride, so that was nice. Always down for watching some summer thunder! Plus, my area needs the rain they bring.

Okay, so enough yapping about my weekend. We’ve got writing to talk about! This week we’re tackling yet another reader question, this time concerning tone. To be specific, how you set a tone for your story, if you even should, and how changing that tone partway through can affect your story/audience.

So, if any of that sounded intriguing to you as a writer, then buckle up and hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Restating and Rewriting What the Audience Already Knows

Welcome back readers! To both you and to me! I have returned from my near two-week vacation feeling quite a bit better and ready to dive back into the world of writing once more, so let’s both get to it! Most of the recently relevant news was covered yesterday, so for now let’s just dive right into today’s topic!

This one’s another reader request, and it’s quite a good one because a lot of books, especially those that have mystery elements or storylines where characters are trying to piece things together, run headlong into it. Here, let me give you a quick example: Let’s consider a story with three primary characters, A, B, and C. A and B are in things from the beginning attempting to solve a murder, but C is a character that comes from a different approach/angle, and so doesn’t enter the mystery until about a third or halfway through the book.

At which point, character C asks A and B to catch them up on their side of the mystery. C has their own information to share, of course, but they need to know what A and B know and are working with first.

The question being … how do you present this? If the audience has been with A and B since the start of the book, then they should know all of the information C is asking to be presented. But now there’s a reason for them to summarize it once more … Does the author go for it? Do they gloss it over?

What are they supposed to do here?

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You’re asking “Surely this can’t be that difficult, right?” And well … most people think that. But truth be told, I’ve read a lot of books where the creator reached this point and … Let’s just say that the following pages were yet another slog of stuff that was already known and obvious.

I actually stopped reading one author who became really bad at this, so bad that every time their protagonist made a decision, the narration would recount everything in the book that had led to that decision thus far. Even if that decision came just pages after the last decision that did the same. By about halfway through the book, this constant “recap” of the story so far was totaling around a page or two each time.

The result was something that became frustratingly tedious to read, and made my eyes gloss over repeatedly. Not something any author wants to hear about their book, for sure.

But as we’ve outlined above, sometimes our narrative places us in a position where we need to in some way convey what came before. And in fairness, it’s not actually a bad idea to do this in a lot of story types. Sometimes the audience needs reminders of what has come before, refreshers to remind of the stakes or clues or what-have-you.

But where is the line? How can you retread information you’ve already given the audience without boring them, that they already know?

Buckle up, because there’s a lot to this one.

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic

Hello readers! I’m theoretically still out of town/traveling this week on vacation, so I thought we’d take a look at an old classic of a post, both because it remains a solid one and because I didn’t want to have to write too many Being a Better Writer posts before my vacation while still working on Starforge!

So without further ado, let’s take a look at a classic post discussing Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic! Enjoy, and I’ll see you all next week!


This post was bound to happen. Sanderson’s Three Laws have been a frequently requested topic since the very beginning of this blog, and it’s a staple of a lot of writing education these days (especially fantasy), so I knew there would come a day when I had to write about it. Of course, I wanted to ease into the topic first, which I did two weeks ago when I wrote a post about creating magic systems. During that post, I referenced the Three Laws, saying I’d talk about them later. You see, before I got into talking about the Three Laws, which are more about how to use magic in a story, I did want to dedicate some time to the subject of creating magic first, so that there would be a basis for Sanderson’s Laws to dig into.

Now, with that post behind us, the time has come to look at Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic.

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Being a Better Writer: Making Info-Dumping Natural (And Not a Dump)

Welcome back readers to another installment of Being a Better Writer! Today’s installment is somewhat unusual in that it was written days before the actual posting. Why? Because if all has gone as planned, today I am off on my way to Alaska to visit family, taking my first travel vacation (and my first trip to where I grew up) in about half a decade.

Yikes. When I say it like that, it does sound like I need a break. Here’s hoping it is a relaxing one and I get some peace of mind from it.

Anyway, that means no news with this post, because it was written a while ago (and it would all be out of date). So sit back, relax (like I’m supposed to be doing) and get ready to talk about writing. While I, if all has again gone to plan, will be traveling through the air or spending my night at an airport. Or something like that.

So let’s talk about infodumping for a moment. Infodumping is one of those things that worries a lot of writers both young and old—and with good reason! Anyone that’s picked up more than a few books in the last year can probably recall a moment where the story might have slowed down and turning into a page or two of just … information. About the world, about the setting, about the characters … but it was just information that hit the audience with the force and subtlety of a firehose.

This is the infamous infodump. A moment when the author sits back and says “Well, the readers need to know about this” and just dumps it all on them in solid paragraphs of informational text. Or worse, does this for information that the audience doesn’t need to know, but the author really wants to talk about (you’ll see this more with “author fillibusters” or “soapboxing“).

But the result is roughly the same in the end: Solid paragraphs of pure information, something usually akin more to a work of non-fiction than fiction, and a wall for the audience (barring the few who would naturally read this sort of thing anyway). Infodumping remains a cardinal sin in the writing world as a result, a giant speed bump to any reader that comes across it. It messes with pacing, such as one book I can recall where the author interrupted a plot-critical meeting to give a page-and-a-half long aside on the origins of a phrase one of the people in the meeting had used … and then cut right back to the meeting, in the middle of the previous sentence they’d cut off in, and somehow thought this wouldn’t be an issue.

Their editor also apparently thought so, which was why this title did this multiple times, and each time the information that was actually presented was superfluous to what was actually going on and purely unneeded. Like I said above, some authors just really want to talk about things they came up with for the setting, and well … yeah. Imagine watching a movie where every time things really got moving, the director would pause the film and talk about some behind the scenes stuff. Not as a bonus feature, but as the film you went to see in theaters.

Annoying? Yes. This, and other forms of infodumping are like kryptonite to readers. They sap the reader’s will to, well, read. But this introduces a conundrum for a lot of young writers because well … How can you get a reader invested in a world and knowing what’s going on if you don’t inform them of what the world is like? Or the characters’ backgrounds? Or anything else that’s relevant to the plot?

So hit the jump, folks, because today we’re going to talk about the right and wrong ways to infodump. Or rather, how to avoid the wrong of infodumping while still informing our readers of what they need to know.

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Being a Better Writer: Knowing What to Research … and How

Hello readers, and welcome back after another weekend (and week)! How are things going on your side of the keyboard? Well, I hope?

Things here have been a mix of quiet and busy, the kind that kept me from making any extra posts last week, mostly because they would have been small, short affairs barely worth a post, but also because I was happily consumed with working on the final part of Starforge. It’s coming along, readers, and will be done, I would expect, in another month or so! So yeah, that kind of excitement kept me from doing much on the site last week.

Speaking of the site, there will be a live Q&A Being a Better Writer in the coming weeks. I got a few responses back concerning timing and the like, and the time that seemed most functional for everyone was 6 PM Mountain time, weekend or weekday (excepting a few days on the weekday part). I’ll have more on this soon, but due to the next item of news, it’ll be a bit.

Next item of news is: I’m taking a vacation! Well, what I hope is a vacation. I’ll be visiting my parents and sibling (the ones with a nephew and niece) back where I grew up for about a week. The idea is to have some fun with my nephew and niece while relaxing for a bit. Which quite a few people have told me I desperately need. The relaxing bit, I mean.

Posts will continue as normal. I’ll be doing a couple of Being a Better Writer posts in advance and putting them on a schedule. So keep checking back for more each Monday! It won’t stop!

Two other bits of news before I take off. The first is that Axtara – Banking and Finance continues to be my best seller right now, and has eclipsed Jungle in its total review count. Different audiences in part, but still, that’s pretty good!

And if you loved Axtara and wanted more from that setting, the fourth and final part of A Trial for a Dragon will be live on Patreon for supporters this Saturday. If you’re not a supporter, you can be for as little as a dollar a month!

All right, that’s the news! Like I said, lots of little stuff, stuff that I probably could have made a small post for, but … Starforge people. Starforge!

So with that, let’s get talking about today’s Being a Better Writer topic, which comes to us from a reader request in response to a common statement of mine. If you’ve been a reader of Being a Better Writer for any amount of time, you’ll know that one aspect of writing I constantly circle back to is always do the research. Because, unfortunately, this is a step that a shockingly large amount of writers (and editors) skip. Yes, even among the trad pubs (in fact, they’re actually worse at in these days in my reading experience).

So, this reader acknowledged that. Doing the research was important. But what they wanted to know was how did they do the research, or even how could they know where to start? And, as I thought about it, I realized that this was just as important a topic to cover at some point and added it to the list. Because this reader was right: it doesn’t matter how willing you are to do the research if you have no idea how to do it, what to look for, or even that you need to look!

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about not just the importance of research, but how to research, how to know what to research, and even how to know that you need to research something.

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Being a Better Writer: The Security of a Home

Welcome back readers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer! This week … Well, this week we’re talking about a very different sort of topic, as you may have gathered from the title. It’s one that was inspired by this most recent Life, The Universe, and Everything writer’s convention (which again, if you’ve not attended or at the least watched the uploads from their panels, definitely reconsider if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of writing). Anyway, this topic came up in passing at LTUE and it stuck in my mind, even inspired me to take a look back at some of my own work to see exactly how it used the “psychology” of it in the story.

Now, before we dive fully right in, a little bit of news, as usual. Both Axtara – Banking and Finance and Jungle picked up some new 5-star reviews this weekend, which was nice, and sales are starting to shift upwards once again. As I said last time I talked about news, I’m tested a few new advertising approaches, so gratifyingly they seem to be working. Whether or not they pay for themselves is another question, but getting knowledge of my titles out there is a priority.

In other news, last Saturday saw the upload of part three of A Trial for a Dragon to Patreon as a reward for those supporting the site. For those of you that aren’t yet supporting, Trial stars the older brother of Axtara (yes, that Axtara), Ryax, as he attempts the trials necessary to be recognized as a wizard. Of course, nothing is ever easy, and Ryax soon finds that there’s quite more to being a wizard than simply knowing one’s magic. The fourth and final part will be dropping soon, so supporters take note!

After that, well, I’ve been looking at other material to drop on Patreon, so there will be more rewards in the future. For now though, look forward to the last bit of Trial and what happens when a dragon attempts to become a wizard!

All right, that’s the news. Now let’s talk about homes.

I realize that this is a really weird topic, but it’s one that suddenly clicked with me despite the brief discussion it got at LTUE. Or rather, two discussions. It came up more than once, and both pieces sort of merged together in my head, and well …

Okay look, there’s only one way to dive into a topic like this one. We’re going to start with an example. Hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: Building a World From Scratch – Part 2

Welcome back readers, to another episode of Being a Better Writer! An unusual episode (fitting here at Unusual Things) too, and for more than one reason. The first being that we don’t often do multi-part BaBW episodes. Only occasionally. And today is one of those occasions, so I hope that you’ve already looked at Part 1 last week, or this piece will be a bit like starting a book a third of the way in. You can do it, but it’s not recommended.

But that’s only the first thing that makes this post unusual. The second is that I’m actually writing this on my Saturday, as opposed to the day of posting. Why? Well because for you readers, today, April 19th is my birthday! Number 35! And so I’m taking the day off (or as much of it as I can, anyway). I haven’t celebrated my birthday in a few years, hence I’m writing this a few days before in order to do so.

Now, for those of you thinking “Hey, I hope you have a good birthday!” thank you, and I hope so too! But if you’d like to help it along a little, I do have a little birthday gift you could deliver me.

Share my stuff somewhere. Gift purchase a book and send it to a friend who likes to read. Recommend someone Axtara, or Shadow of an Empire. Post a public review on Facebook, Reddit, or your social media platform of choice. Sands, toss a recommendation to your favorite book reviewer.

Make my gift this year word of mouth. Believe me, I would really appreciate it.

All right, so that’s the news for the day. Sort of. So let’s dive into Part 2 of our worldbuilding from scratch post and get talking about where we go from last week.

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Being a Better Writer: Building a World From Scratch – Part 1

Welcome back readers! It’s another glorious Monday, and I’m back with another installment of Being a Better Writer!

What makes it glorious? Outside of there being a new installment for BaBW, well, today marked the delivery of two new five-star reviews for Axtara – Banking and Finance, plus a contact from a new fan who loved it and is hoping for more!

In addition, it is finally spring where I live. Shorts weather! Biking weather! Said bike is at the shop, already getting worked on. I’m ready for sun and sweat!

But all in all, that’s a good start to any week.

So, my week is already off to a good start, so now let us switch the focus over to you, reader, and to what you’re here for to help your week have a strong start. That’s right, we’re just going to dive into today’s Being a Better Writer.

But first, really quick, I’m going to thank the support of all the Patreons who make posts like this possible. Thanks to these supporters, Being a Better Writer exists. Without them, it wouldn’t. Be grateful for the support of the following folks:

Frenetic, Pajo, Anonymous Potato, Taylor, Jack of a Few Trades, Alamis, Seirsan, Grand General Luna, Miller, Hoopy McGee, Brown, Lightwind, Thomas, 22ndTemplar, and Piiec!

Without them, BaBW couldn’t continue to exist! You have them to thank for topics like today’s being possible.

Speaking of which, what are we talking about today? Well, today’s topic is a big one. A really big one, by reader request. Today, we’re going to talk about building a world from scratch.

Or rather, we’re going to talk about step one in that process, because worldbuilding is a complicated, deep endeavor (and one that can run away with you if you’re not careful, but more on that another time). So today, we’re starting at the beginning—literally.

It’s time to try our hand at being a merciful (or not) creator. Hit the jump, and let’s talk about building worlds.

Wait. Not yet. There’s one thing I want to say first: Today’s advice is, wholly, more for planners. That doesn’t mean pantsers (those who write as they go) won’t find useful insight here, but let’s be honest: they’re a lot less likely to sit down and sketch out a world beforehand.

Okay, now we can go. Hit that jump!

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