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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Being a Better Writer: What to do While Waiting for Feedback

Welcome back readers! I hope you had an enjoyable weekend! It was (mostly) a quiet one for me, though I did have family over to make enchiladas on Sunday (so nice and hot) which was an absolute blast.

So, what’s new with the news real quick? Well, we had the sale last week, and that went pretty well. Hopefully those of you who wanted to fill out your collections took the chance! Other news? Well, the first draft of Starforge is almost at 100,000 words, and once the latest chapter is done, I’ll be taking a day or two to blitz through the Beta 1 of Axtara – Banking and Finance and get that one step closer to publication. As well as take care of a few other things … But I’ll hold on news about those bit and bobs until they arrive.

So then, that’s the news and—wait, I almost forgot something. This post? It’s the last topic from Topic List #15. I’ve noted for a few weeks now that we’re running up to the end of this list, and that one should make ready their topic suggestions for list #16. That post will drop Wednesday, so definitely be ready!

Okay, that’s it! No more news! It’s time to talk writing! Or rather, what to do when you’ve stopped writing for a brief moment. Because today, readers, we’re tackling a long-requested reader topic and talking about what too do while waiting for that fickle beast of fickle beasts.

Feedback.

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Being a Better Writer: Concluding a Subplot

Hey people! First off, apologies for being a bit late today. I stayed up late making sure the ad campaign for the Big 300 Sale had properly launched, slept late as a result, and then got sidetracked by a lot media news (Bethesda, if you’re curious).

So yes, this post is late. But for a good cause: The Big 300 Sale! Which I’ve mentioned twice now, so some of you are probably wondering “All right, what is that, and is it a sale like the name implies?”

The latter first then: Yes! It is a sale. The biggest one I’ve ever done. And that name?

Last week I hit a major milestone. I now have, across my books, more than 300 reviews and ratings in total. It’s a milestone I’ve been working towards for some time now and have finally achieved. Oh, and the other good part of that news?

My average review score is still 4.6 Stars out of 5. That’s right. Over 300 reviews on my work from readers and fans, and I’m still sitting at a 4.6-Star Average. On a 10-point scale that’s a score of 9.2.

That is a reputation I feel quite proud of.

Anyway, you can check out the sale on my Amazon page here. Everything is 50% off or more. To lay it out, this means—

One Drink is free. Dead Silver is $0.99. Shadow of an Empire is $2.99. Colony is $1.99, while the sequel Jungle is $3.99. And Unusual Events: A “Short” Story Collection is also $1.99.

So yeah, whole lot of value there. The sale runs through this Friday, so grab them while it’s hot!

All right, now that you’ve heard the news … Let’s talk writing. This week, we tackle the penultimate topic on Topic List #15 (so again, get those suggestions ready). Today, we’re going to talk about concluding subplots.

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Being a Better Writer: Using Food

A quick reminder to start keeping a list of your ideas for future Being a Better Writer articles! Topic List #15 is almost out of topics, which means there will soon be a topic call and a chance to make your requests for ideas and topics heard!

Got it? Good! Because today we’re diving right into our topic, which was inspired by a writing chat I hang out on. You ready? Today we’re talking about food.

Ah food. That subject that everyone has an opinion on. Food is as basic a part of the human lifestyle—or really any living lifestyle—that it’s ubiquitous to existence.

With that in mind, to kick this post off, I want you readers to try a little thought experiment for me. I want you to think of a memory of a favorite holiday. Got one in mind? Now analyze it: was food in that memory somewhere?

There’s a fairly high chance that it was. What kind of food may have varied, but some of you may have even been able to almost taste it as you imagined that holiday.

All right, now let’s try a second little experiment. Just read the following things and see what sort of thoughts pop up at the prompt. Ready? Go!

  • County Fair
  • Wedding
  • Shopping
  • Exercise
  • Business meeting
  • Birthday
  • Break

All right, made it through the list? Now, this may have been tempered a bit by the topic, but how many of you thought of foods associated with those events, activities, etc?

Sure, it might be something simple, like donuts at a business meeting (the 90s standard) or snacking on a break. It might be wedding cake or onion blooms at a county fair. But all of these activities, in one way or another, can, and most likely will, involve food!

However … if you were to look at those events in a book of some kind … how many might skip over the food altogether? More than a few, actually. And those books?

They’re missing out.

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Being a Better Writer: Outlines and Outlining

Welcome back readers! Ready for a lightning-fast news moment? My thoughts on Fireteam Freelance have been written and will automatically go up on Wednesday. If you’ve not left your thoughts on Fireteam Freelance now that the series is complete, you can do so here.

That’s it! Lightning news moment over! Let’s talk Being a Better Writer!

So today’s post has a bit of a slightly embarrassing story behind it. I hang out in a few writing spheres online, sometimes lurking, sometimes posting, and the other day a discussion got started about how to outline. Now, usually when a post like this starts and someone is digging for some detailed info I’ll mosey on over to the search bar here on the sight, type in the subject, and drop anywhere from one to three posts on the subject. Want detail? Here you go!

Except when I did that for outlines … I came back empty.

Yeah. There are posts discussing outlines here on the site, but they’re always an angle, like “don’t get bogged down doing outlines” or “Outline or pantsing?”

Nothing. At all. On just a basic outline.

Sands and storms, talk about an oversight. Because almost every writer uses an outline at some point. Hence the question that led to the discover in the first place. So today we’re going to talk about one of the most basic concepts of writing a story of any kind. We’re going to discuss the humble outline. And guess what?

It’s easier than you think.

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