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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Being a Better Writer: Delivering a Villain and Making Them Truly Scary

Hello readers, and welcome to another installment of Being a Better Writer. Today’s installment is one that I’ve been waiting on for a while, as it’s been near the very bottom of Topic List #19. In fact, it is the second to last post from this list! There’s only one more to go after this, and then Topic List #20.

Which is why if you’ve got a writing topic you want to see a future BaBW discuss, now is your chance to get it on the list! Hit up the Topic Call post and leave your suggestion in the comments there to get your interest covered by a future Being a Better Writer!

As for other news … I don’t believe there’s anything that I didn’t already post about in last week’s news update, so we can dive right into today’s post!

So this one has been on my mind for a while. Months, actually, since it was put on the list. I usually leave a little space for last-minute additions, and this was one of them that I grabbed after seeing a writing thread where a bunch of readers were discussing how the villains of a piece had fallen flat.

Now, as a quick aside, I do want to remind us all that there is a difference between an antagonist and a villain. Just as there is a difference between a hero and a protagonist. Someone that is acting in opposition to a protagonist is not automatically a villain. They are an antagonist. Merely being opposed to a primary character is not an automatic trait of villainy. In fact, even the definitions of these two terms note the difference. An antagonist is one who opposes the protagonist of a story and acts as an obstacle, but that is the limit. A villain on the other hand, is a character who’s evil motivations are integral to the plot.

And yes, the definition does include the term “evil” there. A villain may have ambiguous reasons (for example, Thanos), but there is no doubt that what they are doing is wrong in some awful fashion, and their aims are more than just being an obstacle to the protagonist.

In other words, it’s like the old logic puzzle or play we all encountered in grade-school: Some antagonists are villains, and some villains are antagonists, but not all antagonists are villains, and not all villains are antagonists.

If that was a little confusing, just look at it this way: A villain can exist in a story and not be an antagonist (in fact, there are plenty of stories where a villain exists, but doesn’t play against a protagonist, or may even assist them temporarily), and an antagonist can exist but not be a villain. The two terms are independent of one another.

Now, if we want to talk about antagonists and how to use them, perhaps we can put that on a future list. But now that we’ve noted the difference between the two, lets get back to our core focus today with villains, and how we make them scary. Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Embracing Conflict in All its Forms

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and another Being a Better Writer article is upon us! Though first, I do have two bits of news. Don’t worry, they’re both short.

First up, Being a Better Writer has opened another topic call, and that means it’s time for you to submit your ideas for writing topics you’d like to see BeBW cover! We always open up the Topic List to suggestions when we start building another one, and inevitably we get some great suggestions from readers, so if there’s a topic you’d like to hear about, let it be known on the topic call post! Make a comment!

Our second bit of news? I may do a post on this later, but I saw Sonic the Hedgehog 2 over the weekend. Remember how I blasted the new Halo show for making all the obvious terrible choices with a video game adaptation? Well, Sonic 2 is the opposite of that. In fact, my one sentence review of the movie would have to be “Everything Halo does wrong Sonic 2 does right.” I had an absolute blast, laughed myself silly, and grinned until my face hurt. Granted, I grew up playing the Genesis Sonic titles relentlessly (to the degree that some bugs, exploits, and secrets on the web I actually discovered and authored), so I love the series. But either way, I had a blast watching this film, and if you even somewhat enjoyed the first one I’d say it’s a sure bet you’ll have a lot of fun with the second. And they’ve already green-lit the third as well as a live-action show that tells Knuckles’ story so I am 100% on board here.

Okay, I did say the news was short and sweet. Delivered on! So, what are we talking about today when it comes to writing?

Well, this is a topic we’ve discussed before in vary degrees, but it came up once again during a conversation I saw online the other day, in which someone offered their opinion about a book, but said opinion raised a few eyebrows. Not because “Hey, your opinion bad” but more because their opinion was a bit, shall we say, odd.

Effectively, they’d left their thoughts on a book but were somewhat critical of it for not having any “traditional” action scenes, so to speak, stating that they weren’t sure who would be interested in a book that didn’t have any traditional battles or fight scenes, or why there would be anyone who would prefer anything that wasn’t guns, magic, action, etc. Basically, though the book had conflict, they believed that because it wasn’t violent conflict, the book therefore had low appeal because who wouldn’t want violent, action-filled conflict. They then backed that statement by declaring that this made it a “less mature” version of something else they liked.

Again, all because it lacked action and violence with its conflict, instead focusing on social conflict and bloodless battles of voice and opinion.

The issue here is … They’re wrong. And I’ll openly say that. Just because a book doesn’t have violent conflict in a physical sense does not mean that a story doesn’t have conflict, nor that the majority of people don’t want to read it.

In fact, statistically, the most embraced conflict in books is not violence, I would argue, but emotional conflict. My support for that statement? Romance books. They’re about 33% of book industry total sales or so, depending on who you ask and whether you count non-fiction, and the largest genre overall.

And Romance books? They’re not full of guns, bullets, sword fights, and the action-adventure peril. They’re full of a very different kind of action. And not the obvious joke, either. Most romance books are about social conflict rather than “How many dudes can this dude kill?” There might be a single action scene a climax, like a sword duel (yes yes, laugh) between two rival love interests or something, but overall, the point of the book is not to deliver death-defying action and peril.

Don’t get me wrong, those books do exist, even in romance. Spy thrillers and the like do mix Romance with deadly peril. But it’s far from every romance book.

Which means this internet poster’s stance is just completely off-base. Their issue was that they were thinking of “conflict” as required by any story to be action or violence, rather than any of the other forms conflict can take.

So hit that jump, and today let’s talk about other forms of conflict that can feature in your stories, and how these are still valid forms of conflict!

Because your story doesn’t have to have a gun fight or a sword duel in it to have “conflict.” Conflict is a wide range, and your story can pick and choose from all across that spectrum for the story you want to tell. Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Runaway Characters and Script

Hello readers! Welcome back! It’s another Monday, and bigger still another month! It’s officially April! So, let’s drop some updates before we get into the meat of things. Starting with some real news about Starforge.


Alpha Reading continues, slowly but surely. The furthest reader is about halfway through now (I did mention this is a 500,000 words book, didn’t I?) and the rest of the Alphas trailing somewhere near or far behind. Right now, since I’m hot on the heels of the lead for edits, I’m thinking of starting a second edit pass back on the early chapters, specifically with regards to a phew larger rather than smaller overhauls (like on chapter three, which needs some serious “sanding” on those rough edges).

The pace, though, says this one might take a while. I’d like to get it out this November, but currently the Alpha’s have had access to Starforge since early-to-mid February and we’re now in April with the leader among them only halfway through. Big. Book. At the current pace then, the slowest of the current Alpha Readers will finish it around … August. Which is a little too late for getting a second Alpha batch in, followed by at least two Beta passes and a copy edit if it’s going to be out by November. That would leave three months for a second Alpha pass, two Beta passes, etc.

I may have to do what I’ve done before and leave a few Alpha Readers behind, especially as there are already waiting people for the second Alpha Read (plus the Beta). Schedule is a requirement, and I simply can’t wait until 2023 or 2024 to get Starforge out.

On the plus side, those who have been Alpha Reading have really been enjoying it as the story has taken off (though again, not without areas that are getting fixed, changed, tweaked, etc). I’m enjoying the feedback and seeing the reactions of readers as they journey through the finale of this trilogy!

I really would like to see this one released by November, and that means getting the first Alpha done by at least the start of May. Earlier if possible. If you’re a current Alpha Reader who hasn’t sat down at it yet, please take the time and dig in. As with Colony and Jungle, you’ll very likely find it hard to pull away (past a few problem areas you’ll already see comments about).


Now, news outside of Starforge: Topic List #19 is almost exhausted, so this week I’ll be posting a call for writing topics you’d like to see in future Being a Better Writer posts. I’ll also be planning a live Being a Better Writer for the coming weeks, where we do a live Q&A on the Discord for everyone to listen in on. And if I end up heading up to Alaska in a few weeks (more on that as it develops) for a short trip, once again I’ll be building a backlog of Being a Better Writer posts, along with other posts to keep the site delivering content while I’m “off the grid.” I’m fairly certain that’s going to happen, but the timing so far has been very loose.


In other news The Minstrel and the Marshal is ready for submission to Troubadours and Space Princesses, the next LTUE Anthology collection. As each author is allowed two submissions this year, I’m debating a smaller, goofier and more light-hearted second entry, though it needs a little more brainstorming.

Submissions do close at the end of the month, so if you’re curious about submitting, or would like to have a go at getting your name in print—for a good cause no less—then check out the submission guidelines here.


Really quick, since I did mention The Minstrel and the Marshal, I do want to talk about plans for upcoming writing projects (and other writing-related stuff). While Alpha Editing is going on I do tend to have some time to write on the side (how Minstrel and its predecessor were written) and there are a few more short story concepts for More Unusual Events that I could plot out. Past that, if I take some spare time to write, it’s definitely time for another Jacob Rocke adventure, and I have been slowly putting a new mystery together for him to solve!

After that gets written (sometime over this spring, likely while I’m letting Alpha/Beta Readers build up a headway) then the next project will be Axtara – Magic and Mayhem. Oh, and somewhere in there I should look at polishing up Fireteam Freelance.

And with all that said … let’s talk Being a Better Writer and put the news on hold, shall we? That was a bit of a news dump, so let’s swing to today’s topic and talk about what to do when your characters or your script start to run away with things. Hit that jump, and let’s talk writing!

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Being a Better Writer: Good Ideas and Avoiding the Bad Execution

Welcome back readers, to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! How were your weekends? Relaxed and enjoyable, I hope? Mine turned out pretty good, despite an illness dominating the days leading into it. Work continued, even during parts of said illness, on Starforge. This book is going to be a blast, folks!

Aside from that, there isn’t much news to discuss, so I think I’m just going to dive right into today’s topic, which is … a bit of an interesting one.

Let’s start with some background information, shall we? Before on the site—many times, actually—we’ve talked about the writing concept that there are no bad ideas, just bad executions. That any set of two ideas, no matter how odd-sounding, can be made into a pretty awesome story if one puts in the work. A common example of this being true that has been trotted out time and time again is the excellent Fantasy series The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher, which was written on a dare/challenge over exactly such a topic to combine The Lost Roman Legion with Pokémon and create from it a good story. A challenge that Butcher delivered on, as The Codex Alera is a thrilling series that stretched for five books and was a fantastic read (in my opinion, still his best).

There are other works that have come from similar challenges, of course. The point is, this is a common saying had among writing circles: There are no bad ideas, only bad executions, and even an idea that sounds really dumb could be a really good story.

Could be. Once again this topic came up last week when I published my critique post of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order‘s lackluster combat system, noting that it felt like a disparate element that had been shoved into a setting and scenario where it didn’t fit. On the site Discord, where discussion had been bouncing back and forth for days on the topic, someone asked if this was an example of maybe not every idea working with every other idea, since in my post I’d noted that sometimes two things went together like orange juice and toothpaste.

That question, then, prompted this post. Was Fallen Order a bad idea, or merely a bad execution, and what separates the two? Intrigued, I immediately wrote today’s topic down on the topic list and resolved to immediately tackle it as a BaBW post. Well, once I’d sat and thought about it.

Because in answer to that query, I’d argue that Fallen Order is an example of bad execution (something I did note in the post). Good concept, but too committed to two ideas that didn’t exactly work well together (and then the actual execution widened that rift).

But this started a little cascade in my brain. We’ve talked here again and again about how there are no bad ideas, just bad executions. But have we ever talked about how to keep those ideas from becoming a “bad execution?” Or have we been throwing the advice out there and then just sort of letting readers (and young writers) bumble their way through without any additional guidance?

Today’s post then, is to rectifty that omission. Today, we’re going to talk about what happens when you bring two ideas together, and what will need to be done in order to assure that any two ideas, no matter how disparate, can come together with a “good execution.”

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

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Being a Better Writer: How to Write a Rogue

Afternoon readers! Welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got a fun topic to discuss today, and I’m looking forward to talking about it, but as usual we’ve got the news to discuss.

First up, updates on my sickness status: The frog in my throat is clinging with the last of his webbed little fingers, but the eviction has gone through. The throat feels more normal with every passing day. Also, once again, it’s not COVID so bullet dodged.

Now more for the news most of you are interested in: Starforge editing proceeds at pace. I’m into the second quarter of the book now, and just barely behind some of the Alpha Readers. There’s definitely a few spots to sand and smooth, but the action and reveals seem pretty riveting so far. There will definitely be a second Alpha Reading to ensure that everything’s been touched up properly, however. I know a few of you were counting on it due to scheduling, and rest assured this wasn’t ever in doubt. Just reaffirming it for those of you that are waiting.

Second bit of news, tied to that, thanks to the Discord we’ve started to see some proliferation of links for places for fans to talk about Colony and the rest of the trilogy as well as recommend them to other people. Which means we’ve got posts like this showing up places! Slowly but surely, people are discovering the series thanks in part to fans talking about it! Which helps everyone involved, from readers to myself.

Oh, one last bit of unrelated news before we dive into today’s BaBW: The submission date for Troubadours and Space Princesses has been extended! Submissions now have an additional month to be worked on, with the new deadline being April 30th, 2022. So if you’ve already written your story, now you’ve got some extra time to put in the polish, and if you’ve haven’t written it, you’ve got more time to do so!

Me? I’ll be submitting The Minstrel and the Marshal once I’ve sent it through a few Alpha Readers.

All right, I think that’s everything worth discussing at the moment, so let’s go ahead and dive into today’s topic! Let’s talk about How to Write a Rogue.

This topic got put on the Topic List due to an IRL conversation I had a few weeks ago with someone who was brainstorming a very clever book idea (and honestly, if they ever write it, you’ll hear about it on this site because dang it’s a fun idea). While I won’t give you the details, I will say that involved some characters who were con artists of a sort, and while discussing their ideas and concepts, the creator said something that went a little like this:

“Of course, they have this requirement that makes them have to be committing the con, that way people know it’s okay.”

I stopped them right there, with a shake of my head and my hands, to point out that no, they didn’t want that. Why? Because they were writing a story about rogues. Loveable, goofy, rogues. And if they had a justifiable reason to be rogues, well they stop being rogues, and when we read con-artist stories, that’s who and what the audience is there for!

What followed was a quick and dirty discussion on roguish characters and their appearances in various mediums, as well as what makes them such “lovable scoundrels.” At which point I realized that this needed to be a topic discussed on Being a Better Writer, spun around, and added it to the list.

So hit the jump, and let’s talk about the character traits that go into crafting our own rogue of a character.

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Being a Better Writer: The Importance of Taking the Occasional Break

Morning readers! Well, actually, afternoon. Today’s post is later and a bit shorter. Because … I’ve had a frog in my throat since Friday evening, and while I’m doing pretty well to kick it out, that also means doing what I can to kick it out, and so today after arising and doing my usual morning … I was tired enough that I said “forget it, naptime” and crashed in my living room for another couple of hours.

The good news is that alone left me feeling a lot better. Sleep is powerful when you’re ill. And a frog in the throat isn’t anything deeply worrisome, but it is annoying, and left on its own it can get a lot worse, so I’m doing what I can to kick it out. I can hit midrange notes now (I was restricted to nothing but low tones Saturday evening and Sunday) so bit by bit I’m getting better.

I almost made today a sick day, but let’s be honest, if I was aware enough to read a book while Factorio finished my rocket yesterday, I’m aware enough to do a quick short post for Monday. That, and once I had looked down the list, there was a topic that was definitely worth posting about for today.

But really quickly, before we get into that, I do have some good news from the weekend: Colony picked up a fairly lengthy review on Goodreads! They loved the book, referring to it as an “underdog” that people had clearly slept on, and hoped more people would give it a chance.

Especially nice as the last “review” someone posted to goodreads admitted that they actually hadn’t read it, and just rated it based on what appeared to be some skimming of the first half and the synopsis. Yeah, real professional there.

Anyway, if you want to check out the newest review Colony has picked up, you can check it out here. And yes, the discord channel was amused that the reviewer did get a few early-story details wrong (like the team being hired by SoulComp, not the UN) but it is a huge book with a lot to keep track of, and they still liked it so … whatever!

Speaking of which, if you’d like to join the official Unusual Things Discord Server, The Makalay Camp, you can! Just hit that link there and say hello!

With that all said, let’s talk about today’s topic. Let’s talk about the importance of the occasional break.

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