Being a Better Writer: Traditions and Worldbuilding

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you know what that means! More Being a Better Writer! But as is the norm, I do have some news for all of you to go through first.

So we’re going to start with the more fun update: Axtara! Just like the Saturday before last, two days ago saw the posting of another preview from Axtara – Banking and Finance which you can find and read here! This time it’s an excerpt from chapter 2. That won’t be all the Axtara news you see or hear this week, because the final cover is scheduled to be delivered this week, at which point not only will you guys finally get to see it in all its glory, but Axtara itself will be able to go up for pre-order! At last! So yeah, get ready for a week of Axtara, ending in what will probably be a third and final preview as we all count down to an official release date.

Second bit of news to talk about is that this will be the last new Being a Better Writer article for the duration of Christmas and the end of the year. That’s right, once today is past, Being a Better Writer will be going on break until the New Year, 2021, arrives! At least two weeks, but I might go for three if I really feel the need to unwind. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop working on Starforge. No, that’ll still see a lot of work. In addition, unlike previous years, this also doesn’t mean there won’t be a dearth of content during this time. Not only will there be the pre-Christmas release of Axtara – Banking and Finance to keep me busy (along with everything that entails) but there will still be Being a Better Writer articles on each Monday. They’ll just be Classic Being a Better Writer articles. That’s right, I’m going to dig through and pull out some of the most popular BaBW articles of the past few years and feature them for the holiday season. That way the site won’t see a dearth for one of its more popular features during the season.

All right, that’s it for news. So now, here we go with the final new BaBW post of the year. Which was, if I’m honest, a bit of a tough choice. I spent a little bit of time sitting there looking at the list (#16 for those of you keeping track) and asking which topic suited the finale for the year the best. But after a bit of back and forth, I settled on a topic that felt both seasonal and not at the same time: Tradition.

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Being a Better Writer: “The Simpsons Did It”

Hello readers! Before we get rolling with today’s Being a Better Writer post, there’s two bits of news you should know about!

First, there’s a preview of Axtara – Banking and Finance here on the site! Those of you who don’t frequent the place during the weekends will have missed this, so here’s the quick recap: My next book, a YA Fantasy titled Axtara – Banking and Finance is now slated to release before Christmas. It’s been ready to go for a while, but the cover is at long last in development and on its way! And with the release so close, it’s time to let everyone get an early look at it so they know what they’re looking forward to.

Basically, here’s a link to this weekend’s post that’s an excerpt from the first chapter. Go meet Axtara!

Now, item two on the list: A reminder of my Books page and Christmas. It’s been a rough year for a lot of us, I know. And with Christmas approaching, a lot of you are likely thinking about gifts and looking at a terrifyingly tight budget. Why not give the gift of a book? Send your friends on a trip to Pisces or Indrim!

Basically, as you shop for Christmas this year, I’d like to point out that yes, you can gift my books, they’re an absolute bargain, and doing so is a Christmas gift to me as well. Sands, you can buy one or two for yourself while you’re at it. If you’re one of those folks that’s been reading Being a Better Writer for years but never gone any further, well, Christmas is the perfect season to give a little back. Plus, it isn’t as though you’re risking much: You’re talking about books below ten dollars that are, in most cases, almost or over a thousand pages long, with over a hundred reviews over the last couple of years leaving them at a 5-Star average.

So yeah, as you think about Christmas this year, I’m going to shamelessly plug my own work and point out that it’s ridiculously well-priced for what you get. Got a reader of Sci-Fi or Fantasy in your friend circle? Give them the gift of one of the best books they’re read this year. Or get yourself a new adventure you won’t forget.

The books page is here! So go take a look!

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Being a Better Writer: Selling Emotion in a Written Medium

Hello readers! Welcome back after the (for many) Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend! A bit of an odd one given the pandemic issues sweeping the country at the moment, but a Holiday Weekend all the same. Like many, I stayed home, making a Thanksgiving meal for one—by which I mean I’ll be eating leftovers for a while now—and then got all my Christmas shopping done in a single, several hour stint of buying on Friday. It’s a bit easier when you’ve had some gifts in mind for a while.

Anyway, it was a pretty nice weekend past that. Got a bit further in The Pinch, which I’ll be talking a little bit about when I’m done, and also tore through Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which I can absolutely recommend as a worthy successor to the first title, Ori and the Blind Forest. Very evocative story-telling, to the point that yes, just like with the first game I teared up a little. Moon Studios is really good at getting that Pixar-like empathy with the audience going, all without dialogue.

Which actually ties in to what I wanted to talk about today, actually! Because yes, both Ori titles do a fantastic job of selling emotion, in a way that’s very reminiscent of the opening to Pixar’s Up (yes, that opening), and selling emotion like that is what we’re talking about today. So hit that jump, and let’s get started!

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Being a Better Writer: Holidays

Hey there readers! How were your weekends? Healthy, I hope. I spent all of mine inside working on Starforge, Axtara, or recuperating. My Covid-19 test came back negative, but that just meant whatever I did have likely wasn’t Covid. It was still something, so I skipped church on Sunday (doing the smart thing) and gradually felt better as the weekend moved on.

Either way, due to that, I really don’t have much in the way of news to report or talk about from this weekend, so there’s not much for me to do here but dive into this week’s topic. Which, as you might have noticed, is a little … seasonal.

Yeah, I’ll admit this wasn’t on the list. Rather I thought of it over the weekend and once the bug was in my head, couldn’t shake the idea because it was, I felt, a good one that deserved talking about. Not a game changer, probably, but one of those “little details” that can take a story from a nine to a ten.

Yes, we’re still talking about writing. When I say “Holidays” I do so in the sense of a recognized celebration date, not a vacation from things. Those of you waiting for that kind of post are looking at the wrong job.

I kid. Mostly. A writer is almost never truly on a vacation. Our work tends to be … consuming.

Anyway, with that clarification out of the way, let’s talk about holidays.

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Being a Better Writer: Doing Good Research

Hello again readers! I hope you’re well and healthy. Me? A little funky. Really tired. No other symptoms that—to my knowledge—line up with Covid-19, but I’m considering if I feel funky tomorrow calling and scheduling a test anyway, just to be on the save side. And if it isn’t going to bankrupt my bank account.

Anyway, I hope none of you feel funky, but are staying in feeling healthy and hale. Watch that pandemic people! Do your part to fight the menace and stay home.


And with that, I’m going to dive right into today’s topic. Which, if you’re a long-time reader of Being a Better Writer, is one of the more common recurring topics. It wouldn’t be, except that time and time again so many authors, editors, and publishers get it wrong, or don’t even bother to try getting it right.

Note: This may be short. I feel funky.

For example, some of you may recall a hilarious error earlier this year when a historical novel released to the world from a major publisher … only for readers to quickly notice that a segment on dying cloth had some very interesting ingredients listed. Such as “keese’s wing” or “Lizalfos tail.”

If you’re not familiar with those odd-sounding items, it’s because they’re not real, and certainly didn’t exist back in ancient Greece or Persia or whatever either. They’re ingredients from the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild video game, which had just come out when the author was writing the book. So when they Googled “Making X color dye” one of the most popular results at the moment was a guide for making the dye in Breath of the Wild using these fantasy ingredients.

Now, you’d think that someone would have noticed the video game screenshots, or maybe the address of the webpage, maybe checked the credentials of the site offering this information, but no. None of that was done. Instead this “historical” novel passed by a pack of Trad pub editors and readers with not a single person questioning “Keese’s wing” or any of the other ingredients as appearing in a dye, nor the very simple, video-game methods by which said dye was prepared (combine in pot, apply).

End result? A lot of embarrassment for the publisher and the author when they had to admit that they hadn’t checked things as closely as they should have. And the rest of the “historical novel” was suddenly under suspicion, because if the author couldn’t be bothered to check if the dying process wasn’t from a video game, what else in the novel hadn’t been properly researched? Were bandits going to set upon travelers with the warcry “Never should have come here?”

Thing is, this isn’t an isolated incident. This kind of thing happens all the time. It would seem that most Trad pubs are interested in getting a book out as quickly as possible over doing, say, actual editing and checking things for accuracy, even in Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

“Accuracy?” you might say. “In Sci-Fi and Fantasy?” Yes, actually, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, while being fantastic, still subscribe to certain rules. If you’re writing Sci-Fi, for example, you’ll want to run the numbers on your science, and make certain that they actually make sense.

For example, a recent Sci-Fi release from a major publisher featured an astonishingly glaring oversight when it came time for the author to describe the muzzle velocity of their new weapons. They described—get ready for this one—a railgun autocannon on an atmospheric fighter that fired rounds at .1c. That is, for those of you who don’t use “c” often enough, ten percent the speed of light (“c” being the speed of light).

In atmosphere.

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Being a Better Writer: The Art of Scene Transitions

Or: Yet Another Way to Manage Pacing.

Welcome back readers! How are things going with you? Well and healthy I hope? Washing your hands? Using a mask? Doing your part?

I hope so. Globally, it’s still a pandemic, and we shouldn’t forget that.

Anyway, I’ve got no other news, so let’s just jump into today’s topic, which is another reader request, and talk about scene transitions.

Now, I’m going to kind of do a two-fer here, because I might as well. I’m going to talk about both in-chapter transitions, the kind of thing where you get that little asterisk or line divider like so—

* * *


—and then jump into the new action elsewhere, as well as ending chapter transitions today. Because, well, both are kind of similar.

But we’ll start with in-chapter transitions, just as soon as we hit a transition of our own …

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Being a Better Writer: Why Stories Need Conflict

Hello readers! Before we dive into today’s (somewhat delayed) Being a Better Writer post, I have an urgent PSA for all of you residing in the United States.

Go VOTE. Election day is November 3rd, 2020—which should be a national holiday, and the fact that it isn’t tells us a lot about what the government thinks about our involvement in matters. Look up all your candidates. Study them. Learn about them. Don’t just watch their ads and a three second clip of the “News” and decide you’re good. Do some digging. Read about tbe results of their policies and approached. If you’re religious, pray for some guidance. Whatever means available to you, make use of them to learn about the candidates running for all the various positions you’ll be voting on, and then go out and vote.

Yes, I know this year has made it a mess. Voter suppression has been pretty flagrant and open, as has complete ignorance of the current pandemic sweeping the nation. Keep that in mind when you vote too, or rather when you’re looking at candidates. If you’re in one of those counties where for “safety reasons” five polling places were reduced to one, consider who made that decision, how safe it really is, and whether or not you want someone with the governmental mindset of UNSEC in office again.

All right. PSA over. But it was an important one. And it’s probably going to be scrutinized by the ad-checkers, or even demonized by a few people who take issue with it.

Whatever. Go. Vote. Don’t let anyone stop you. Unless, you know, you’re not registered, in which case you should regretfully acknowledge that you didn’t prep for this one. But on the bright side, you’ll most likely have four years to correct that mistake.

Now, with that PSA said, let’s move onto today’s BaBW post! Which is an interesting one! Today’s topic was posed by a reader after they encountered a post on a writing forum where the OP (original poster, for those of you not familiar with internet parlance) argued that stories did not need conflict to be stories, and in fact (IIRC) that whole genres such as ‘slice of life’ shouldn’t have them. The reader posted here asking if that was or wasn’t possible (suspecting, again if I recall correctly, that it wasn’t) and asking me to do a bit on it.

Well, reader, here you are! And let me clear this up immediately, and with a declarative statement:

A story without a conflict is not a story, but merely a series of words laying out a disconnected summary, lacking events.

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Being a Better Writer: Describing Your Character without Infodumps

Hello readers, and welcome back after an—at least here—unexpectedly chilly weekend! I hope you stayed warm and toasty! Here the temperature dropped down into the freezing range, which means my writing habits have officially shifted from shorts and t-shirts to hoodies and socks. Or some combination thereof.

News? Nope, I haven’t got any that I can think of not covered in that last news post I made. Other than the usual pre-election griping of “Why does heavy political activity get in the way of people reading and buying books?”

Seriously, I do not understand this one. Does an election have the same effect on the video game industry? Does Netflix see less streaming during an election cycle? Or is it just books that get hit by this strange oddity?

And furthermore, why? Stress overload? Do people associate reading with political activism? Or to the contrary, as a form of anti-politicking? Or does it stem from a general anti-intellectualism bent in the United States, where a common rebuttal in political disagreements is sometimes sadly “Yeah, well you read to much?”

I wish I were kidding about that last one.

Ah well, at this point we’ve moved into me musing on questions for which I have no answers. Let’s just leave it that I firmly believe that if you’re thinking about voting for someone, reading about them and their policies is a good start. And that I’m still perplexed as to why elections impact book sales so strongly in a negative manner.

Anyway … let’s move on, shall we? Today’s topic is … Well, I’d say it’s one of the hardest things for authors of all experience levels to get a handle on. The book I started last night, for example, quite literally runs into a problem with our topic in the opening chapters.

In fact, a lot of books do. And short stories. And everything in between. Because in some odd way, describing our characters—in a smooth, worked in way that seems natural—seems to be one of the hardest challenges many authors face.

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Being a Better Writer: The Expectation of Instant Success

I’ll lead with a fun fact: This post was originally going to be an OP-ED last week, until I was barely into writing it and already switching into “and here’s how this comes up in writing,” at which point I realized that this was becoming a Being a Better Writer post despite what I had originally presumed about it. So it shifted over to the Topic List, and today … Well, you can clear see.

All right, so we’re diving in without a preamble: What on Earth—or whatever world you happen to be reading this on—is this all about? Most of you reading the title are probably going to guess that it’s going to be addressing the creator, and be about “tempering expectations.” And it’s not. We’ll address that briefly, but instead this post is going to be coming from a slightly different direction: that of the public.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Let’s start at the beginning. Or rather, what the public often sees as the beginning: The publishing of the first book.

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Character Voice Consistent

Welcome back readers! I hope you all had a decently uplifting weekend? I spent mine largely asleep, fighting off a bug that thankfully did not show a large amount of signs of being Covid (but kept me indoors anyways because I was asleep and hey, just in case). In any case, I hope your weekends were a bit more lively and/or successful.

Now, after a week’s break, I’m sure some of you were wondering what sort of topic we’d be covering upon returning once more. Well, today you find out that answer. Combing over the new list (which is, admittedly, still being built) for a topic today, the one I’ve chosen is … Well, you can see the title a bit.

I’m sure some of you are wondering why I picked this topic, and, well … It has to do with something I saw someone else speaking out over the last few weeks. It was a few weeks ago, but I ran into an online discussion where character voice consistency (and a lack of it) were being discussed at length. Then again just this last weekend during the LTUE Mini-con (Did you attend? How was it?) the topic came up again, this time in a small discussion about editing and this being something to watch for.

So yeah, when I looked down at the list again this morning, this seemed like a solid topic to choose for the first reappearance after such a lengthy, one-week break.

Enough background. Let’s get down to it. Let’s talk about keeping our characters’ voices consistent.

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