Being a Better Writer: Fleshing Out Stories and Characters

Welcome back readers! First of all, I apologize for the lateness of the hour with this post. These are supposed to be up in the morning, and it’s something I’ve slipped on further and further over the last few months. One my goals over the coming month is to get that schedule back on track.

Secondly, I am indeed able to report that the same day I posted last week about Stranded (Friday’s post) I did indeed finish off the story. Which means that today I can start going over Alpha Reader feedback, doing some spit and polish, and so forth. I still think it’s a dud, but I’m glad to be done with it all the same and the stuff that I wanted to practice at with it did turn out all right, I think, so it wasn’t a loss.

What does this also mean, however? It means that the Pre-Alpha for Starforge will start this week! That’s right, I’m going to begin poring over Starforge‘s draft at long last and start making nips, tucks, and other fixes and improvements before passing the story on to the Alpha Readers.

Which yes, Alpha Readers, means the book you’ve been clamoring for these last few months is almost in your hands. Be ready, because the last book in the UNSEC Space trilogy is about to arrive at last! Just in time for Christmas!

The rest of you waiting for the epic conclusion to what began in Colony and continued in Jungle will just have to wait a little longer, I’m afraid. The book isn’t going to be out for purchase this year. Next year though …

The only thing I can’t do yet is give you all an estimate as to the full release date. Starforge is massive, about 80,000 words larger than Jungle (which was already a monster), so editing is going to take some time. And as the ultimate peak of the trilogy, I want to make sure it’s shining and brilliant when you all get your hands on it. So, as of right now, no release date outside of “next year” and a confirmation that pre-Alpha work is starting this week.

And that’s the news! A decent chunk of it this time around I would say! Plenty to muse on and get excited over.

But for now? Let’s get talking about writing! This week, we’re talking about fleshing out characters and stories. Which almost sounds a little grotesque if we stop and think about it for a moment, but rest assured it is, like many other things in writing, only a somewhat gross or grim saying.

Boy, we really have a lot of those, don’t we? Ah well, good thing we’re writers! Hit the jump!

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Where Stranded Went Wrong … and Right

Well, I figured I’d better do something to have more content this week than Being a Better Writer, and I wasn’t feeling another OP-ED today since I’d rather finish another writing project, so how about we talk about that other writing project for a moment?

I mentioned Stranded earlier this week and mentioned that it was a bit of a flop. This is true: It doesn’t seem to be resonating with Alpha Readers the way my other works have. More to the point, a number of them find it either A) boring or B) not to their liking.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to finish it. Experimental as it is (and it’s an experiment that seems to have bombed), I’m only a few thousand words from the end as of today. And even though it appears to not be what my audience is interested in, there’s still chance that it’ll find a home with a different audience, though I consider that a low chance at this time.

But I’m not disappointed with it. The whole point of an experimental piece is to learn, and I’ve definitely had some moment of that with this one. I took on Stranded with the goal of stretching my writing capabilities to some new areas, and I hold that I managed to do that, despite that it didn’t quite aim for my audience.

So … what did go wrong, and what went right? Even though the story isn’t finished, and all I’ve got is some Alpha Reader feedback, so maybe it’s a little early to say for certain, well … I’ve still been thinking on it as I wrap the story up.

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Being a Better Writer: The Empty Swear

Welcome back readers to another Monday! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving weekend? Was it full of free time and food? I certainly hope it was. That is, after all, kind of the goal of Thanksgiving. Of course, some of you might have foregone some of the free time in favor of a little weekend shopping (though to judge from panicked news reports about how millennials are killing Black Friday that may indeed be “some” of you). If you did, I hope you found what you were hunting for!

Now really quick, let’s go onto news. I’m going to be a bit frank with this one, so it might surprise a few of you but … That side project I’ve been working on where I’ve been doing some experimental writing? Well, there’s a reason I do experimental stuff like that on side projects.

Because frankly, what’s resulted is not that great.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, it does some stuff really well, and I’m almost done with it. I plan to finish it, as close to its ending as I already was. But looking at the early reactions of some of the Alpha Readers, this one is a giant swing and a miss. There might be some people it appeals to, but they’re not in my usual editing crowd, and the average fan of my work will probably slide off it as well.

In fairness, that’s why I experiment on little side-projects like this before attempting to tackle something similar in a book. And based on the feedback I’ve gotten, I see where this dropped for a lot of people. Meaning that when I do try to move on with some of the techniques and ideas approached here in a published work, it’ll take the feedback and reactions into account and (hopefully) make it a lot more palatable.

On the downside, this one’s probably going to be a flop of a writing project. The last time I had one of those, it was The Phoenix (which I still haven’t managed to rework in a satisfying manner). Now, this doesn’t mean Stranded is dead. Nor does it make it wasted time—after all, I got to try some new things and see how they did or didn’t work. And along with the shorts I’ve worked on this summer and fall, it was a good break to clear my head before diving into the editing on Starforge.

But it’s definitely not my best work. What it tries is just not appealing enough, at least to the early Alpha Readers. Not all experiments are winners. And in fairness, it may find an entirely different audience … but I’m not going to gamble on that and call the work a win.

I’ll finish it this week (it’s right in the end), go through the feedback on the early chapters (before all the Alpha Readers just kind of sighed and stepped back) and see what’s worth salvaging. But then?

People, it’s time for Starforge. While Stranded was an experiment, and always had a high risk of missing the mark, Starforge was not and does not. The early feedback I’ve got for it so far is very, very positive.

The UNSEC Trilogy is ending on a bang people. And it’s about to be my job to fine-tune this ending chorus of explosions until it’s a rising crescendo of detonations that keep the readers shocked and enthralled on every single page … or quivering in anticipation of the next big bang.

So ending the news today, in summation: Stranded is almost done and by all signs a whiff, while Pre-Alpha editing on Starforge is going to start shortly.

Now then, with all that said, let’s talk about writing, shall we? Hit the jump.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello readers!

This post is going to be pretty short and to the point: Happy Thanksgiving! At least, if you’re in the US. If you’re in Canada, I believe you’ve already had your Thanksgiving, and if you’re in other countries, clearly you won’t be celebrating a US holiday, but the same sentiment applies: I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and hope that you’re able to find time to spend with friends and family, as well as with yourself.

Me? Well I’ll be finishing up my Stranded project, eating food, and enjoying some rare luxurious free time. I actually hit my monthly work quota on Monday, so I’m ahead of the curve by a substantial margin, leaving me plenty of time to kick back and enjoy some of these holiday days coming up.

Now, the big question is “Will there be a Being a Better Writer post on Monday after the holiday weekend?” The answer is “Yes.” Along with a quick reminder that there’s still time to request topics for upcoming posts over at the last Topic Call.

As far as other news goes, well … I’ll save that for Monday. Today is the day before Thanksgiving. If you’re preparing a Thanksgiving feast, best of luck to you, and are you making anything neat or special this year? Myself, I bought a ham. Because I really like ham, and I’m not the one making the turkey (which I almost bought anyway). Plus rolls, gotta mention the family roll recipe. With luck, I can spread the leftovers and whatnot out through next week!

So anyway, I hope you’re all able to have a wonderful weekend (Thanksgiving or not). We’re headed full speed into the holiday season (of which I’m a fan), and I hope the ride is smooth for all of you.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Oh, and you know what? In the tradition of being thankful for something, I’d like to add a little something to the end of this post that I’m thankful for: You! All of you! Thank you for your support, your encouragement, and your love of my work. It’s an absolute blessing and a joy that I’m able to write books for the world to love and make something at it, and I’m very thankful that I’m able to, and for all of you who have helped make it possible.

If you’ve got something you’re thankful for and wish to share it (or just want to talk about your planned Thanksgiving dinner), feel free to leave a comment below.

See you Monday, folks! And again, have a happy Thanksgiving.

Being a Better Writer: Tears Are Not Weak

Hello readers! Welcome to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope you all had a pretty good weekend, and that you’re ready for the week ahead.

Now, as usual before we get started we’ve got a small reminder to state: Christmas is coming! The holidays are here! And with everything that’s been going on, this year is definitely a year to order your Christmas gifts early.

I’m not just saying this because it’s “Cyber Monday.” I spent a good chunk of my Saturday ordering Christmas gifts (yes, before the Cyber Monday sales because I knew what I was ordering wasn’t likely to be discounted) and getting them on their way just so I’m not caught by surprise when something gets delayed. We’ve already got supply issues this year, combined with problems that the USPS has been facing. If you can, just start getting things now, and avoid the risk (and the rush).

To that, I will add a bit of a shameless plug and say that for the reader in your life, I do have a nice array of books to choose from over on the Books page. Axtara – Banking and Finance in particular is a perfect purchase for any lover of non-standard fantasy or dragons in your life. If they loved Dealing with Dragons, they’ll love Axtara. On the other hand if you know someone looking for a large, epic journey with a touch of wild west magic to it, Shadow of an Empire will keep them occupied for days.

And of course, if they’re Sci-Fi fans, you can gift them copies of Colony and Jungle, right to their device. On Christmas Eve, no less (yay for scheduling, right?).

Okay, enough shilling. We’re here to talk writing. But before we do—it’s related, I promise—a quick reminder that this is the first BaBW post from Topic List #19, and there is a topic call going on! Which means that if there’s a writing topic you want to hear about, then you can get it on the list! Just head on over to the Topic Call post and let us know what you want to hear about! Got a question? A topic you’d like explored? An area of difficulty you’re struggling with? Get a Being a Better Writer post on it!

Okay, that’s enough news and whatnot for the day. Let’s talk writing.

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You Might Want to Read … Bullshit Jobs

So this post isn’t quite a “Why You Should Read …” but at the same time, I did want to throw this book out for consideration.

You might have hear of it. Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber is the eventual path taken by an essay written in the early 2010s that you might have heard of. Specifically because it set the internet on fire for a time, prompting everyone from national news chains to CEOs and middle managers everywhere (unsurprisingly, given the context) to descend upon the small web-host that carried it, crashing it numerous times.

You can still read the original essay on that same site, in fact, and it’s reproduced in the opening chapter of the book. And it still argues the same thing: That many of the jobs embraced by modern America are, in fact (and understand I’m using the author’s terms here), bullshit. They’re pointless jobs that serve no real purpose, to the degree that if those “working” them were to secretly vanish, no one would notice.

Surprised? Well, the author actually posts several examples of people doing just that, including one “highly important” individual who, after the company attempted to give them an award for not missing a day in eight years of work, was discovered to have not even shown up at the building nor done any work in over six years, and in fact was out of the country on yet another vacation, collecting a paycheck for a pointless job with no other requirement than “make the people above you feel important.”

Which in short is the entire phenomenon the book examines. It doesn’t present a theory that these jobs exist: Rather it demonstrates that they do exist, are a staggeringly large part of the American working world, and then asks the question “Why?” Positing that a job might be pointless is fairly subjective. Proving that one is pointless is very doable. Bullshit Jobs points out that they do exist, and in large numbers, something acknowledged both by those working them and the companies employing those positions themselves. It then goes on to ask “Why?”

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It’s Time for Another Being a Better Writer Topic Call!

Hello readers! The time has come! Please insert a long, echoing cry of “has come!” there if you so choose.

Those of you that are long time readers of the site? You know what this is, and you can probably safely skip down to the comments section to get typing. But those of you that are more recent wanderers of the information superhighway that have come to rest at this humble rest stop might be wondering what the deal is with a post titled “Topic Call.” In which case, read on! And prepare!

See, Being a Better Writer has long been a feature of this site. In fact, it predates it, going back to when I was answering writing questions that were being written in to me from across the web by readers of my work that enjoyed it and realized I might have something to say about their own writing questions based on what they were seeing.

Well, they were right. What began as private messages on internet boards quickly ballooned and blossomed (because once word gets around that you not only reply to PMs with writing questions but with solid advice born from years of experience, you will be flooded with messages) to a weekly guide to improving one’s writing that has now run for—let me check a time-stamp—eight years.

Sands and Storms, that’s a lot of articles.

Anyway, in all that time, Being a Better Writer has never stopped responding to reader requests.

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Being a Better Writer: Enough Is Enough, It’s Time to Release

Welcome back readers, to another Monday! Apologies for the lateness of today’s post; I was up late last night desperately trying to secure a Series X console before the hands of scalpers.

I was not successful. Though a bunch of people did get them, not all of them scalpers. The demand on this thing is through the roof … though given that Xbox “surprised” everyone by launching Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer today, it can hardly be that surprising. Have any of you given it a shot yet?

Yeah, I’m really tempted to make today a “half-day” with my quota and try it out myself. Halo was a formative game from my college years, and I’d still count myself as a fan. The campaign (what I’m really interested in) still doesn’t come out until December 8th, but the multiplayer being out today and being free? Well, there’s not much to lose from trying it save time, right?

Anyway, let me move away from the non-writing things and back towards what we’re all here for: Writing! Starting with another 5-star rating left on Axtara over the weekend. She’s got wings, that’s for sure. With luck, her holiday sales will be strong as well. She is an ideal stocking-stuffer though.

All right, all right, let’s get down to today’s topic. Which, I will note, is the last topic of Topic List #18. That’s right, this week will mark another topic call post for list #19. I’ve already got a few topics written down for the list, but as always, reader request topics are encouraged.

Which is a nice segue back to today’s topic, because it is indeed a reader request (sent through Discord, no less). A reader contacted me asking after today’s discussion. Which most of you have probably guessed from the title, but I’ll state it here all the same. Their question was ‘How do you know something’s ready for release? How do you know when it’s time?”

Hit the jump, and let’s talk about it.

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Dune is a Stellar Adaptation of the Book

Yesterday, as part of Veteran’s Day (since a buddy had the day off) I went and saw the new Dune flick.

Here’s the short of it: This is hands down the best adaptation of Dune put to film by a long shot. While there were adaptational changes (there always are) they to me felt minor, while there were many scenes that were spot on to the book to the point of capturing exactly what I remembered most from it, while the other changes—at least personally—captured the spirit of things while fitting the adaptation to film a bit better.

Basically? I was enthralled from start to finish, and I am happy to say that the film exceeded my expectations. This film captured the visuals and setting of Dune and made it look like a place that could actually exist.

Now, it is a bit of a slow film. Go in expecting something more Lord of the Rings in scale and scope than Star Wars. This is a film that knows the audience is okay naval-gazing at a shot of shimmering, spice-laden Dunes for ten to fifteen seconds. This is a film that’s okay letting everyone watch ornithropters zip around for ten-fifteen seconds so that they can appropriately marvel at the world. This is a film that is okay using slow-mo to give the audience time to think about what has just happened so that you just don’t jump into the next scene without time to consider the ramifications of what went down.

I’m keeping this post short, partially because it’s Dune, so you likely already suspected you wanted to see it, or you already did see it. But yes, if you’re one of those people on the fence who loves the book and setting but held off because well … Dune doesn’t have the strongest track record with adaptations? This is the one you’ve been waiting for. This one gets it.

Side note before I wind down: Yes, this is Part One, something that all the marketing noticeably omitted. Rumor has it that the director even blindsided the studio with that one by being told to make a full-adaptation and then deciding on his own to split it into two and gambling that they would let him make the second half of the story.

I don’t know how true that is. But the movie is far better for it. If you know nothing about Dune but like epic movies with grand scope, then go see it. If you’ve been waiting for a good adaptation for forever … well, I’d say this is it.

And with that, I’ve got writing to do. Have a good weekend everyone, and I’ll see you Monday for another installment of Being a Better Writer.

Being a Better Writer: The Mary Sue

You know, it’s almost impressive it took this long for a direct post on this topic to come up.

I mean it! While the topic has come up before in other posts and been discussed in amounts ranging from referential to a few paragraphs, in all the years Being a Better Writer has been running, we’ve never tackled the topic in a post of its own. Somehow, it just never came up or was requested in an in-depth fashion.

But then I had a conversation that got me thinking on Mary-Sue characters once more. Specifically, a conversation that held a bit of a debate over what a Mary Sue was, with various folks offering different opinions. Most of which were quite accurate, but there were a few offered that were also a little far from what a Mary Sue was, which led to further discussion over the definition.

At which point, as some people held that a Mary Sue was just “a character they didn’t like” I checked the archives here and realized “Well dang, I’ve never actually written a post on this topic” and put it on the list, once and for all.

Which brings us to today, and the pertinent questions that come as a result of such a straightforward topic: What is a Mary Sue? Where did the term come from? How does it show up in writing. And, of course, the most important question of all for BaBW: how does can we put this knowledge to use in our writing?

Hit the jump, and let’s talk about Mary Sues.

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