Being a Better Writer: A Villain Protagonist Ending

Welcome back writers! Monday is here, I’ve recovered from my cold, and that means it’s time to drop another installment of writing goodness on its scheduled day, rather than later in the week. This week, we’re going to be addressing a follow-up to a post from earlier this year in which we talked about giving our story a villain protagonist. In that post we talked about a number of things that change for your story if you’re writing from the prospective of a villain (not just an antagonist) but there was one thing that didn’t come up during that discussion: An ending. And yes, it won’t quite be like your typical story ending.

So today, we’re going to talk about that. But first, some quick news reminders from the weekend (which did have their own post, so if you want more detail, go here). The biggest of these is the reminder that the cover for Starforge will be revealed September 1st, 2022, which is this week. So far you’ve had a teaser of what the cover for this juggernaut of a Sci-Fi novel will look like, but starting September 1st, you’ll all get to see it. And hey, there’s a 4K background version too, ready to grace your desktop. So be here September first for your first look at the cover that’ll be in your hands come November!

Second quick reminder: 10,000 in ten years. If you missed last Friday’s news post, in the nine-and-a-half years since I published my first book (One Drink) back in 2013, I have sold almost 9,000 copies across my lexicon. With my ten year anniversary of writing coming up in February 2023, the goal is to clear the last 1,000 sales before that date, meaning “10,000 copies sold in ten years!” There’s more about the specifics in last Friday’s post, so go check that out if you’re curious, but the goal stands as the most important part. 10,000 in ten years, baby! That’s the goal!

Anyway, that’s all the news I want to tackle at this particular moment, so let’s get down to business and talk shop. Or rather, villain protagonists, and how you might handle leading their story to an end. Because as we discussed with our prior post on villains, you can’t handle a story in exactly the same manner as you would with a heroic protagonist. A villain is a villain, and that means convention goes right out the window. A villain doesn’t bring peace to the land (well, not the way a hero would), or “save the day,” at least conventionally. See, a villain protagonist ending is usually the ending most stories we tell do their best to avoid.

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about writing and ending where good doesn’t win … or at least reaches a compromise.

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Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding – What To Share and What To Keep

Hello readers and writers! Welcome back after yet another weekend! Who’s geared up and ready to write! There’s a whole new week ahead of us, and who knows what stories might flow from our fingertips as we enter a new week and a new month!

I’m right there with you. Last Friday I wrapped up the last changes and edits to the Alpha 1 edition of Starforge, which means the Alpha 2 crew now has access to the entire length of the second Alpha. And they’re making good time too! At the current pace, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them finished it this weekend!

This has several meanings. For starters, it means that I’m currently bereft of editing for a brief moment, so I can work on other projects, such as the Starforge cover (ooooh yeah), short story writing, or getting more prep work done on the next Jacob Rocke book—perhaps even a few chapters written.

But it also means that Starforge is edging closer to the Beta reading, as based on the feedback from this Alpha, we’re close if not there. Maybe I’m wrong—I’ll wait until the second Alpha Reader crew has passed final judgement before making that call, but right now it does look positive. If things maintain their current course, though, the first Beta read could arrive this month!

Which would have other implications as well. See, once Starforge is officially out of Alpha, and there aren’t any additional structural changes in the pipeline, I can start dropping some real preview chapters on everyone. Previews, sneak peaks of characters and new tools at the trio’s fingertips. Sands, I could even start sending out early previews of the novel to select readers to start building hype.

Get ready folks, because Starforge is coming! The grand finale of the UNSEC Space trilogy is almost here!

All right, with that said, let’s step away from the news and over to the subject of today’s post, which is once again worldbuilding!

Not without reason. If I recall correctly from our last topic call, today’s subject is indeed one of the reader requested topics we were asked to cover. Which … I get it. Worldbuilding remains a tough sea to navigate for many writers young and even experienced. We’ve spoken before of the challenges and even pitfalls of worldbuilding on the site, from starting guides to more involved deep dives.

And yet, there’s still more to cover. Worldbuilding, it would seem, is a topic almost as deep and varied as the resultant subject can be.

Which brings us, more directly, to today’s specific request. Which asked us to discuss how to know what should be shared and what should be held while writing a novel. Because not everything that a writer comes up with during worldbuilding has a place showing up in the narrative. In fact, for many worldbuilders, a majority of what you write out for worldbuilding won’t show up directly in the novel proper—though note that I use the term “directly” there, as figuring out the backstory of how the Magistrate of Evans in your story committed grand fraud, which is why everyone in your story now is suspicious of public officers is going to cast a shadow of influence over the whole work. We just likely won’t get the history-style writeup on it that you set aside in your worldbuilding.

Okay, enough preamble. Hit the jump, and let’s talk about what to hold back and what to show.

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Being a Better Writer: How Do We Get Our Readers to Care?

Hello and welcome back readers! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! Mine was jam-packed with events, but pretty solid as a result (though packed). And there were some real booms on the Starforge Alpha 2 as well, with one reader clearing nearly a quarter of the book in a single sitting! Related to that, it’s a good thing I’m almost done with the final chapters for this Alpha, or I’d have people catching up to me!

Ultimately what this means for most of you is that Starforge continues to inch closer with each mighty step of its heavy tread. And yes, it’s still pretty heavy despite the trimming and the cuts. This will definitely be the biggest book I’ve released once it’s published. And it’ll probably stay the biggest for a long time. I don’t see myself outdoing this one anytime soon.

But enough about Starforge, let’s talk about today’s writing topic. This is going to be a familiar one to some, as it is a bit of a recurring theme across writing. In fact, I’m pretty sure (but not going to do a search for it) that we’ve devoted a post to this very topic at least once or twice, and definitely spoken about it dozens of times in other topics.

But it still remains a hot topic among authors and writers of all ages. And with good reason, as getting readers and audiences to care about characters can be quite difficult. Empathy is an acquired skill, and asking a reader to exercise that empathy with a character bound between a few pages? Well, that’s an art. A carefully developed, practiced art, and one that many would-be writers dive headfirst into without any understanding of perspective, leading to a creation that doesn’t hit the way they’d hoped it would.

So, let’s spend today talking about getting our readers to care when we present our characters, their setting, and the events that they will go through. Let’s talk about how we can avoid melodrama (and maybe what that is) and instead give our readers real, actual empathy for the characters we’ve built.

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Being a Better Writer: Making the Mundane Engaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Being a Better Writer: 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: Setting Up for a Sequel

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you regulars know what that means!

Though I’ll admit this post is a little late. However, those of you familiar with the more obscure areas of US Tax law will likely understand now that I’ve invoked the existence of that system. Yes, today was the day I needed to make sure that my taxes were sent in (they weren’t quarterlies because of fishing money). Those of you who have dealt with the IRS or who do your own taxes understand.

So, that’s why the post is a little late. But better late than never!

Now, I do have one more nice bit of news before we get rolling today. Don’t worry, it’s short and sweet. Colony picked up a few new ratings this weekend (all 5-star) along with this glowing review:

That’s a lot of exclamation points! Thank you for the review, new reader, and may you enjoy the rest of my library!

Okay, with that said and done, let’s wrap up the month of February with one more Being a Better Writer post! Hit the jump, and let’s talk about sequels.

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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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Being a Better Writer: Having an Online Presence

Good afternoon, readers! Welcome back on to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got an interesting topic to discuss today, which will probably go by pretty quick (that’s okay, it’s a holiday) but before we do, it’s time for a little news. Emphasis on little, so you can read through it without getting too bogged down.

First up, Shadow of an Empire‘s print proof will be in my hands this week. Yes, you read that right. I am excited to be holding it at last. I don’t anticipate many issues between the proof and the final copy either, since Shadow of an Empire, unlike Axtara, has been out digitally for a few years already and seen a few cleanings already. With the paperback release it’s going to be checking it to make sure that the formatting is good and nothing unexpected happened. After which paperback sales can be approved!

Speaking of which, based on the poll I put up last week (Side note: the WordPress base poll tool isn’t very good, as I have to vote to see the results) has been overwhelmingly in favor of the option I wanted to go with: Expanded distribution. Which means that yes, Shadow of an Empire will be available to libraries, bookstores, and the like. However, since most of those places want their cut, it does mean the book is going to cost a bit more.

$21.99 in total, to be precise. Before some of you blanch, this is for a 600+ page trade-sized paperback (same size, in height, as Axtara). By comparison, the non-trade paperback for Dune (releasing because the movie is coming out) which is a smaller, cheaper to manufacture paperback, is 500 pages and sells for $17.99. The math does work out: This is just a big book.

Which amuses me personally, because a few friends who’ve heard about this have already dropped the comment of “But isn’t Shadow of an Empire one of your shorter books?” To which I have to say “Well, yes?” It’s more in the middle, really. But Colony and Jungle are certainly larger, plus Starforge

Anyway, that’s the update on Shadow of an Empire: The print proof will be in my hands this week, with paperback sales opening shortly thereafter.

One final question before we dive into today’s topic, though: Axtara does well as a paperback, but how would you readers feel about a hardcover release?

Right, I promised short news, so that’s it. Instead let us turn our minds to the act of writing. Well, sort of. Today’s topic is one of the rare BaBW topics that’s less on the “nuts-and-bolts” side of things and more on the side of authorial things that don’t quite involve sitting down at a keyboard to work out your latest story. That said however, today’s topic is incredibly valuable. Quite simply put, if you ignore today’s topic, you’re unlikely to ever see more than a few book sales without someone else doing it for you. It’s that critical.

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Being a Better Writer: “Alien” Aliens and the Conflict of Drive

Hello again readers from across the datanet! Well, some parts of it. Today I woke up to the frantic news announcements that Facebook and all its associated services, from Instagram to WhatsApp, are down. Completely and totally. Very likely not permanently, but as of writing this, it’s gone from the web. You can’t even access it.

You know I’m just going to say it: It’s a good break for people. I usually log on each morning to see if I have any notifications from my family, but I don’t miss not having it this morning. If it were gone for good, well that’d be a different story since I keep a bunch of photos on there and I do use it to keep up with family members since I can’t get any of them to use Discord.

But that’s all I’ll say on it. It’s down, so you’re probably not going to be linking here from there today unless things come back up. No ads on Facebook today! Which almost made me switch topics, I’ll admit, but I’ve wanted to talk about today’s Being a Better Writer topic for some time now. And having Facebook and some of the primary social media sites be down for the other topic would be slightly less than ideal, despite making me thing about it. So that post will have to wait.

So then, what about today’s post? Most of you have read the title, so where is this coming from? Why this topic? Well, hit the jump, and let’s get talking.

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Being a Better Writer: Too Much Purple in Your Prose?

Well, this post topic comes at a topical time. Or maybe I picked it because of what I’ve been reading lately. Hard to say.

Hello readers, and welcome back! I realize that intro needs a little explanation, and so you’ll get one! See, I’ve recently started reading this book. Recently as in “just a few days ago.” It was a book I won’t name (per the usual, if I’m going to use a book as a negative example of something, I don’t name it unless it’s so famous the creator won’t care or it’s really bad), but it was a loan from my sister. No idea where she acquired it, but she passed it to me with an ominous exchange of ‘I read this and I wanted to know what you think?’ followed by ‘Was it good?’ and a retort of ‘It was interesting. I want to know what you think.’

Now I’ll admit that I’m about eighty pages in and I am curious to see where the story is going, though as a YA book it’s already showing some signs of slipping into a more “standard” trope story. But it’s not terrible. But it definitely is … interesting.

One of the reasons I say this is because the book has a real love of overly purple prose. In fact, as I was reading it last night I realized there was a pattern to it: Almost anything that was going to be described wasn’t just going to be described in very flowery, over-the-top terms and language (I’ll bet I could find “eyes like cursed amethyst” somewhere in this book). No no, it was going to be described using such no less than three times. Introduced, or even meeting again a male character? Get ready for three sentences—a whole paragraph—about how his eyes are burning like simmering, shifting coals, his posture like a howling wolf with a firebrand on his tail, etc etc. You get the idea.

I actually laughed when I noticed that it really was a “rule of three” thing going on with all the prose and descriptions. Even if it’s just a sudden cut for a quick, single-word description of something, there will be three of them in a row. All equally verbose and over-the-top.

But … it does raise a question. I haven’t stopped reading the book yet, so is it too much? For that matter, what about in the books that we write? When is there too much purple in our prose?

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