Being a Better Writer: Leaving Unanswered Questions

Hello readers! We’re back with another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! And we’ve got an interesting topic to cover today. One that can be a little contentious depending on your audience.

But first, a little bit of news. Or rather, a bit making sure you didn’t miss the news. Last week had a decent amount of it. A summation on Wednesday, and then a post of its own on Friday concerning book pricing that’s definitely worth a look.

But I do have two more newsworthy items for all of you readers before we dive into today’s topic. One a question which I hope to receive responses to. A two-parter. How happy are you with Patreon being available, and would any of you relish having a Ko-Fi available to donate to instead?

I ask because it has been brought to my attention that some people prefer Ko-Fi donations rather than Patreon’s monthly service, and it’s been one of those things that occasionally I’ve been asked to think about. So now I am. What I’m asking in turn is do any of you wish to use it? There’s little point in me having a Ko-Fi to donate to if no one wishes to donate to it.

Last, but not least, the Starforge Alpha 2 Call will go up Wednesday. That’s right, the time has come! It is expected that this draft will be shorter than the Alpha 1, so under 500,000 words rather than over. If you’ve been excitedly waiting for the Alpha 2, then hit up the post on Wednesday, because it’s about to arrive!

And that’s it. Please leave responses about Ko-Fi (or any comments on the Patreon) in the comments below. With that, let’s talk about today’s topic.

As I said above, this topic can be a bit of a contentious one, and that’s something that in my time I’ve noticed seems largely dependent on audience. Some audiences do not like having lingering, unanswered questions left in any narrative. Some readers are fine not getting every puzzle or every single thing answered concretely, or are willing to extrapolate (in the positive).

So let’s talk about this topic for a bit and how it might change what you decide to write. Hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: The Bechdel Test and Real Gender Equality

Oh readers, it is so good to be back!

Seriously, in the last week, I have biked every single day, several miles at minimum. It’s been ninety degrees out most of the time, which has been absolutely glorious to feel. I have access to the internet once again, have caught up on Obi Wan Kenobi (which I’ve enjoyed, especially the most recent episode), and have been hard at work editing on Starforge.

A bit more on that last one. In this last week I’ve edited over 160,000 words worth of work. Once this pass is through, I’ll start a second, quicker pass that will tie in with a few rewrites of sections that need work, and those chapters will be put up on the Alpha 2 Master Chapter List.

In other words, expect an Alpha call for the second Alpha Read next week. That’s right. It’s here. I’ve gotten comments and e-mails from a few of you expressing how interested you are in the second Alpha Read. Well, now’s the time to sharpen your … reading glasses? Okay, that fell apart on me, but you get the idea. Prepare. Alpha 2 is about to begin, and the call will go out next week.

The aim is still to get Starforge out before Christmas. Ideally, a November release date like Colony and Jungle both had would work, but if things call for delays, well … To paraphrase Miyamoto, a delayed book is eventually a good book, but a bad book is a bad book forever.

That said, I’m still pushing hard to get it out by November. Somewhere between the Alpha 2 and the Beta 1, I also plan on cranking out the cover. I’m going to have to learn some new tricks in the software I use, but I’ve got most of it figured out. Either way, that means we’ll likely see a cover preview as early as … August? September? I’ll keep that window wide just in case.

Man, editing 500,000 word titans is a lot of work. After this it’ll be a relief to work on some shorter projects once more.

In any case, that’s the news, so with all that said, let’s get talking about this week’s topic. This is going to be a bit of a contentious one, I think, at least at first. Largely based off of the title. And I won’t pull a punch here: I’m going to be criticizing the Bechdel Test. I hope that if you’re one of those ardent defenders of the Bechdel Test, you’ll stick around and hear me out. As anyone who’s read one of my books will attest, I’m not some crazy misogynist that hates female characters. In fact, you could very easily note that my books easily pass the Bechdel Test.

But there’s a word there that’s part of the problem: Easily. This is where a lot of the criticism of the Bechdel Test comes from, and why we’re talking about it today. And my criticism and breakdown of it is not going to be, I would guess, what some of the ardent defenders of it expect.

But for all that, we’re going to need to hit the jump. So click that, and let’s get talking about the Bechdel Test.

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Being a Better Writer: Organic Fight Scenes

Welcome back readers! And, with a little hope, welcome back me!

Yeah, that’s right, this is still a post written well in advance (over a month, now) due to the uncertain nature of the length of my trip. Odds are it’s been done for some time by now, but just in case, I’m writing this post and adding it to the queue as a precaution. I’m probably back, but like I noted in last week’s post, such things are uncertain. I am indeed back! I’m certainly not a fortuneteller prognosticating the future here.

Anyway, as always, today is another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer, and today we’re going to tackle a reader requested topic from our last Topic Call. A reader wanted to know how they could make their fights and battles feel organic rather than scripted. And well … let me tell you, my brain immediately went two directions with this one. See, I’ve done posts on fights before, from the small-scale to the large, so in one respect I’ve probably touched on a lot of this topic before. But from another angle … not so much. Though I’m not certain that the request aimed toward that second angle, it was what immediately seized my focus and attention.

Naturally, we’re going to talk about both. We’ll tackle the second angle first, because it’s a more foundational element that needs to come first. And then we’ll move from there to a discussion of the more common advice for writing a fight scene.

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about what makes a fight scene organic.

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Being a Better Writer: Making the Mundane Engaging

Greetings readers! Welcome to another Monday in which I am not present. I’m writing to you from the past, using perhaps the best-known means of time-travel, so that you can have this post on a day when I am very likely still busy and away in Alaska.

Maybe not. We’re reaching the part of the scheduling now where I may in fact have returned, but also may not have. I’ve become quantum!

Those of you that know how awful and interpretation that is may begin plotting my death now.

Anyway, regardless of my current limbo, let’s talk about writing. There’s no news I can talk about, since I’m in the past, so we’re just going to dive write in and talk about today’s topic: the mundane made awesome.

The idea for this post came to me on a rewatch of the new Dune movie (which is utterly fantastic). There’s a moment in the flick (minor spoilers) where the Duke and his entourage go out on a flight to actually watch a spice-harvesting operation take place (and if you don’t know what this is, definitely consider reading the book, seeing the film, or both). But here’s what struck me about this scene: it could very realistically be a documentary of some kind.

In fact, it almost is. The characters circle the spice harvester while a character explains to both them and the audience how the process works, what the job is like, what the crew is doing or watching out for, etc.

In other words, it’s very much the picture of exposition, and fairly mundane exposition at that. In our world, it would very closely be the equivalent of explaining how a dump truck works on a construction site. Which is about the most mundane thing ever, right?

Save that on this rewatch, I realized how invested everyone in the room was in this scene. I sat back, looked at the crowd, and all of them were hanging on every word coming out of the exposition character’s mouth.

There’s a reason for that. Despite this being the equivalent, at least taken flatly, of watching a documentary explain how a dump truck works, there is a reason no one in the room was bored, but instead fascinated by this explanation of, in-universe, something that was largely ordinary.

The story had made the mundane engaging. Taken something everyday and bland, and presented it in a way that was fascinating to learn about.

So let’s talk about how they did it. And then, of course, how you can do the same in your own writing.

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Being a Better Writer: You Want Content? Write It!

Welcome back readers! It’s another Monday, and that means as always another Being a Better Writer post for you to dig into!

Me? I’m currently out of the office, up in Alaska if all went according to plan. Completely off-grid most of the time and hopefully not soaking wet just as often (fingers crossed, but it’s Southeast Alaska, so I’m not holding my breath, save to come up for air when the rain gets really bad).

Today’s post is a one that’s been on my mind for some time now, owing to a wind band of articles, comments, and general sentiment I’ve run into around the internet over the last few years that has, in recent times, only increased in frequency. Unfortunately, I think this increase is to the detriment of writing everywhere, as the increase means this phenomenon is only becoming more accepted over time.

Why? Well … let’s take a quick look at what this phenomenon is. The first time I truly realized how widespread it had become was when I encountered a whole article dedicated to the practice on a book site. And I don’t mean in “raise the flag of warning” kind of way. This post was the problem.

What was it? An editorial piece from one of the site’s members about how much they “loved” The Lord of the Rings … save for one “tiny” problem. I won’t go into detail on what the “problem” was, because it ultimately doesn’t matter. It was all in their head. The real problem was that their post straight out demanded that the Tolkien Estate rewrite and “update” the books to bring them in line with what this reader demanded. To “fix” them, as this reader explained it, so that it would fill their content desires better.

Again, I’m not going to specify what the demanded change was. You can make your own guesses, but I found the entire thing ridiculous. This article demanded that those in charge of The Lord of the Rings change and rewrite the classic to suit their demands, as they were a ‘paying customer’ and therefore was, it would see, ‘owed’ the product they demanded.

Unfortunately, as the years have gone by, I’ve seen this attitude appearing more and more across the web, from posts to reviews to even comments on forums and places like Discord. More and more often I see people posting comments like “Well, I want to read this story about this so this creator needs to stop creating what they like and create what I like. Art is for the public, and I’m the public!”

Some go further. The OP-ED I had recently about “banning things just because you don’t like them?” That sort of “let’s force censorship on anything we don’t like” mentality often overlaps with this sense of entitled demand that a creator owes these individuals what they want simply by existing, and if they don’t deliver it? Well … then they need to be punished. Whether that’s attacking them with a twitter mob, smearing their work with negative reviews or ratings, or some other form of attack.

And this kind of behavior is wrong. Full stop.

Which brings us to today’s Being a Better Writer post, which is in a way a rebuttal to all these very self-aggrandizing, entitled folks. Which starts, and basically ends, with this:

You want content? You write it.

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Being a Better Writer: Music to Write To

Welcome back readers!

Yeah, I know. That introduction has been said hundreds of times with Being a Better Writer … but that doesn’t make it any less true. Besides, I don’t have much else to say. While I’m writing this at my desk it’s in advance, because when this post goes up I’ll be out and away, so even if there were news to be had, I wouldn’t be able to comment about it.

Anyway, while I’m out and about, this post can still go on. So enough with my ramblings! Let’s talk writing. Or more specifically, music and writing.

I’ll admit, this is kind of an odd post, though it’s been one of the more requested topics I used to get back in the day. I just … didn’t quite know what to make of it, and there were always more important, immediately applicable posts to talk about.

However … recently I was thinking back on some of those old, odder requests and thought “You know, I could cover that. It’d be a bit strange, but I think I know what I could do for it.”

So today, we’re going to talk about a very odd writing subject: Music. Not writing about it, but what to write to. Because like a lot of other things with writing, it’s not quite as straightforward as it at first appears.

And then? Well then, we’re going to have some fun. So hit the jump, and let’s talk music,

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Being a Better Writer: Considerations for a Villain Protagonist

Welcome back readers!

By now, unless something has gone desperately wrong, I’m well away from my desk, and this post was actually written back in April! So you’re getting this via the scheduler (which is also why some external links like Patreon or the Facebook page won’t have it until later). Me? I’m presumably experiencing salt air and endless rain. Because, you know, Southeast Alaska.

There’s a reason I live in a sunny location now, but it is nice to visit home every once in a while. I just need to make sure I return from there in a timely manner and have a few months to dry out.

So, what are we talking about today? Well, this post is a sort-of follow-up to our post a few weeks back about how to deliver an effective villain. A reader hit up the Topic Call post active around the same time asking after a villain protagonist.

See, as par for the course when discussing terms that are easily conflated, that prior post (as well as a few others) had discussed the differences between a villain and an antagonist, noting that they are not the same thing (and if you’re wondering how or why, hit that link up there, because this is a very important distinction to get right). Same with a hero and a protagonist: They’re not the same thing. They can overlap, but they’re two different roles that aren’t exclusively linked.

And today, we’re demonstrating that link by talking about one of the rarer combinations out there: a villain protagonist.

That’s right. When the villain is your primary character that the story revolves around.

Now, while I did say these are rarer, that’s not the same as nigh-impossible to find. Sands, I linked a video clip in our discussion on effective villains from Megamind, which is indeed a movie about a villain protagonist. There exists a Star Wars comic series that’s all about Darth Vader and has him as the protagonist killing jedi and wreaking havoc. There are even video games that explicitly put the player in the shoes of a villain protagonist.

So this isn’t rare on the level of say, naturally occurring nuclear reactors, but if you were to do a breakdown of all stories out there, villain protags would definitely be on a small end of that list. Especially if you took into consideration all the stories that claim to be about a villain, but really aren’t, and just paint them as the victim of a misunderstanding or the hero of another story (once again, as noted in our post on villains a few weeks ago, a villain by definition chooses evil actions, so a misunderstanding, accident, or “I’m really the hero” don’t count unless they truly are a villain, something most shy away from).

Then again, it’s not hard to see why most stories are reluctant to embrace a villainous protagonist: It’s hard to get a reader to root for a character doing morally repulsive things. AKA, the bread and butter of a villain.

Which again, isn’t to say that it can’t be done. Megamind for instance, paints its villain protagonist as perpetuating evil … but out of the belief that someone has to fill that narrative, and he might as well engage it if he’ll take blame for it anyway. He still openly admits he’s a villain and does immoral things … but at the same time is a very good example of “evil has standards” since he deliberately goes out of his way to keep bystanders from being harmed and the like. For the most part.

However, Megamind is comedic, and also follows its villain protagonist having a change of heart over the course of the film, switching from villain to hero. And again, he’s a villain with standards. So while he’s still “evil” the film is able to use laughter to mask some of the more despicable acts (like another villain-themed film released around the same time) and of course, he does end up good in the end.

But what about a darker villain? What about someone without those same standards against say, killing innocent bystanders? How can we get a reader to follow along with a character when they’re well, not good? When they’d rather kick the dog rather than pet it, or maybe just flat out incinerate it, listening to it howl in pain?

How can we make a villain protagonist work?

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Being a Better Writer: Do You Need a Kickstarter?

You know, in a way I feel a bit sad that this post is going to be scheduled, and I’ll be “away” when it goes up, because this is a post that I would like to see the reader responses to. There’s no getting around the fact that with a somewhat topical subject like this, however, sooner is better, and so I don’t want to delay this installment of Being a Better Writer to a later time.

Really quick, before that, though, reminder that today is the last day to get a copy of Colony for free! Hit the books page and head on over to Amazon before midnight arrives!

Got it? Good! On with the post! I am going to preamble this a bit: I’ve never run a Kickstarter, even when I’ve had plenty of well-meaning advice from folks to do so. And even with the topical bit of news regarding the recent surge of books on Kickstarter, which we’re going to talk about … I still don’t have plans to run one.

So then, some of you may be asking, what qualifies me to talk about whether or not you need a Kickstarter? Well, not having run one is not the same as “I’ve looked into it, watched it, and seen how it operates, and made a decision based on both observed Kickstarters and conversations with those that have run successful and unsuccessful projects there.”

This is one of those rare BaBW posts that hits on writing related stuff, in this case marketing.

Now, some of you might be a little perplexed by that statement. “Marketing?” you may be saying. “Kickstarter isn’t marketing. It’s selling the book before it’s out!”

Well … sort of. But not really. And ultimately, success of failure with a Kickstarter comes down to one thing above all others: Advertising. Which is marketing.

Alright, let’s step back before we get in too deep and ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the most basic part of this whole conversation: What is Kickstarter and why are so many in the book sphere talking about it right now?

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Being a Better Writer: What is an Antagonist?

Welcome back readers, and a big welcome to the first topic from Topic List #20! Being a Better Writer sure has come a long way since 2013, when it was largely (and effectively) the equivalent of message-board posts responding to fan messages asking writing questions, hasn’t it? Maybe in August of 2023 I should do a ten-year special of some kind. Thankfully, I’ve got a year to think about it. But that does sound like fun.

Ten years of Being a Better Writer in 2023. Sands and Storms, that’s a lot of content. Of course, it didn’t start being weekly. Originally it was just a response to a message asking for writing advice. But the one response inspired more people to send in their writing questions and then before long I was getting a few messages a week, and I started making a list, and the posts started to become regular …

That was nine years ago, and things have definitely changed. The initial “boom” of writing questions died down, though I still get the occasional request through Discord these days or on on the Topic Call posts. Being a Better Writer migrated off of its origin point and onto this site, which also became the main hub for my books and other materials. At the urging of a number of fans, I finally opened a Patreon that, to this day, helps keep the site entirely advertisement free—no pop-ups or intrusive ads over the text here! Being a Better Writer has been sourced, quoted, and cited everywhere from Wikipedia to major education systems, collegiate and public.

It’s come a long way.

Sorry, just sort of got nostalgic there with the whole start of Topic List #20. Side note, readers, but this is another Being a Better Writer post prepped and scheduled in advance, as I’m gearing up for a trip in May. Which … let me check my calendar … I haven’t departed on yet, I think, but hey, I’m getting this ready to go now.

Anyway, let’s talk about today’s topic, and step away from the reminiscing. Today’s topic is one most of you will likely recognize from a few weeks ago, when we talked about villains and how to make them deliver on their premise.

Well, one thing that came up over the course of that discussion was a small segment on the difference between a villain and an antagonist. The reason for that segment being that a lot of people—even critics—tend to use both terms interchangably. It’s not at all uncommon to see a review, for instance, refer to the villain of a piece as the “antagonist” or vice-versa.

But there’s a real problem with using these two terms interchangeably: They’re not the same thing. A villain is not automatically an antagonist, nor is an antagonist automatically a villain. As stated in the villain discussion, it’s like the old logic statement: Some villains are antagonists, and some antagonists are villains, but not all villains are antagonists, and not all antagonists are villains.

Worse, using them interchangeably like this is actually kind of harmful, as it blurs the lines for those who may not realize that there’s a very clear difference between the two identities. For a comparison, imagine a car magazine reviewing a new vehicle, but clearly treating rally cars as identical to rock-crawling cars, simply because both can traverse rough unpaved roads. Yes, both can, but they’re also very different kinds of cars.

Villains and antagonists are the same way: They have similar positions in a story sometimes, and can even overlap into the same character, making a villain antagonist. But they are not the same, and not understanding that can lead to confusion both in the writing and in the explaining of the story.

Look, if you take one thing away from this post, let it be this: An antagonist is not a villain. There is no requirement that an antagonist be villainous at all. They are separate character roles that can be combined into one, but don’t have to be.

You ready to break this down in depth? Then hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: The Importance of Experimentation

Hello readers, and welcome back for another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Confession time: This post was actually written early, as will be the next few week’s worth of Being a Better Writer posts, as I am going to be out of town for a few weeks in May. I’m getting a head start, in other words.

So, with little to no knowledge of the news that will be occurring at the time of post outside of “Hey, I’m planning on being away, Alpha Readers on Starforge get a blissful few weeks to rush ahead of me” there’s not too much reason to say anything other than “Let’s talk writing!”

So let’s talk writing! And the importance of experimenting. Hit that jump!

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