Being a Better Writer: Different Types of Fantasy

Happy Monday writers! How was everyone’s weekend?

Mine was pretty good. Spent quite a bit of time working on the tabletop campaign I’m running this year, since it’s a revision of the tabletop system I used for my Gears of War campaign a few years ago, bur refined and improved in multiple areas. Of course, building a tabletop system from scratch—or even rebuilding one—is a ton of work, so it’s not unexpected that my time this weekend was taken up in a good portion by it. I foresee this being the case for the next few months, easily.

But that’s not all that’s coming up, either! We’re nearly through January, and that means that we’re day by day coming closer to LTUE 2023! Look for a post about that on its own soon, but the gist of it for now if you’re out of the loop is that LTUE (or Life, The Universe, and Everything) is a writing convention given by those who do write and create Sci-Fi and Fantasy for those who want to do so. That means panels on aspects of writing are given by authors who have written those topics. You can check out the guest list of just a few of the guests of honor here, but that should give you an idea of the kind of folks that show up at LTUE each year.

February 2023, three days, this year the 16th through the 18th. Be there! And while you’re at it, swing by a few of the panels I’ll be on.

That said, if you’re unable to make it this year, at least you’ll always have Being a Better Writer to fall back on. So, without any further ado, let’s just jump into today’s topic. Which … is a bit of a departure from our usual writing topics.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It still very much relates to writing. But what we’re going to talk about today is more of a foundational element, while at the same time not being set in stone at all.

Let me explain: The past few weeks we’ve had a post or two where we’ve talked quite a bit about audience and knowing what sort of audience you’re writing for. Today we’re going to talk about something that a lot of audiences use as a guide for finding material that they like and enjoy.

Yes, today we’re talking about genre. But specifically one type of genre and it’s subgenres. Today, we’re going to talk about different types of common Fantasy and what goes into them.

Now, I’m going to stress something before we start. None of these subgenres is a cut-and-dry. It’s possible for stories to blend them, or start in one subgenre and transition to another. Often, when we say “This book belongs in this subgenre” what we really mean is that the primary attributes of the story that caught our attention were most identifiable with that specific subgenre, though it may have had heavy elements from others.

In other words, what we’re talking about today can run the gauntlet from very straightforward to incredibly nebulous and may be so precariously balanced that it might be hard to tell what subgenre a book is.

But that’s not why we’re talking about it. We’re not talking about the subgenres of Fantasy so that you can try and lock in other Fantasy books you’ve read. No. That’s not the goal here.

The goal here is so that when you think “Hey, I want to write a Fantasy story” but are unsure of what type of Fantasy story that should be, you can look at the various subgenres and what elements identify them, in order to help narrow down what sort of story you want to tell by the elements you may want or not want to include.

In other words, what we’re looking at here today should be considered a set of guidelines, not rules, that can be helpful to you to set a tone or basic feel for what you want to write.

Note really quick that we’re not discussing all the various subgenres out there. The more precise one gets, the more these can multiply, but the less there is different between them. We’re just going to discuss the big ones.

A second note (I know) in that not everyone is going to agree with these definitions. Sands, in pulling up a list of common Fantasy subgenres, I opened two pages that almost completely disagreed about what made a common subgenre. So yeah, while some are agreed upon, some are not. You can still use them

You ready? Then hit that jump, and let’s talk about different types of Fantasy.

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Being a Better Writer: Realism, Storytelling, and Suspension of Disbelief

Welcome back writers! It’s another Monday, and that means it’s time for another Being a Better Writer post! There’s not much news to discuss, or really any since everything immediately relevant was discussed in last Thursday’s post about what occurred last year and what’s coming down the pipeline right now, so rather than spend any text on that, today we’ll just dive right in! With a brief aside to say that if you are curious about what’s happened and what’s on the way, check out that post.

Anyway, today’s topic is, fittingly enough for the new year, a Reader Request! The last one on Topic List #21. Which I will add is getting a bit empty these days. We’ll be looking at #22 soon enough!

But anyway, today’s topic was requested with what I see as darn good reason, because it’s actually part of an almost endless debate that circles online communities and critics alike. In fact, it’s such a common debate that to start us off today, I’m actually going to request that you read this Schlock Mercenary strip, which will open in a new tab. Don’t worry, it’s digestible without context.

Once you’ve done that, don’t get sucked into the archive (at least, not right now), but come back, hit the jump, and let’s talk about it.

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Being a Better Writer: Balancing Beats and Exposition

Welcome back, writers, to the final Being a Better Writer installment of 2022!

I know, right? It really doesn’t feel like we should have come this far already, but … here we are. 2022 is drawing to a close in less than three weeks. As to why that would make this post the last of 2022, I still need my Christmas Vacation, which is usually around two weeks this time of year. Which means that, to my surprise, when I looked at the calendar today to check my schedule, I realized that if I wanted my customary vacation, this was going to have to be the last BaBW post of 2022.

Now, this doesn’t mean all the posts will vanish for a while. There’s always a Christmas post. And there are usually a few other posts scattered in there about the usual odds and ends. Plus my vacation won’t officially start until next week. So this week I’ll continue to chug along on that latest Jacob Rocke book, plus keep up with the usual (or is it “unusual” right now?) stuff.

Anyway, if you find yourself hungering for Being a Better Writer while I’m on my Christmas break, you can always browse a selection of the site’s classic posts! At this point, pretty much typing any writing question into the site’s search bar will bring you a BaBW post that touches on the topic. Nine years of Monday updates (since August of 2013) will do that.


All right, so that’s the Christmas break discussed, but we’ve got a few other items of important business to tackle before we get down to nuts and bolt’s with today’s post. The largest of which is pretty easy to guess: How’s Starforge doing?

The answer is pretty awesome: It’s doing great. The whole trilogy is. Now that another week has passed it’s pretty clear that this is definitely one of my strongest, if not the strongest, launches ever. Starforge is tearing it up on page reads and purchases, along with both the first two books in the trilogy. I’m not certain if anyone’s managed to finish it yet, since it is such a titan (you could fit six large paperbacks inside this juggernaut), but from what I’m hearing and seeing everyone’s loving the journey.

Although if you have finished it, do please consider leaving a rating or a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you read and rate books. Ratings help new folks who haven’t heard about the series via word of mouth if they want to pick it up!

Now, related to this news item, and honestly the other big news item of the weekend, is a little snippet about Colony, the first book in the trilogy. It is a quarterfinalist in the Self-Published Sci-Fi Contest! The reviewers had some pretty nice things to say about it as well. Now it moves ahead to the next phase of the annual contest: culling for the finals!

We’ll see if it makes it. I hope it does. Regardless, it was pretty nice to see out of nowhere a bunch of nice words lavished on Colony about how much it was worth reading.


Okay, one last bit of news. I promise. And it’s short. If you haven’t seen it already, be sure you don’t miss last Friday’s post on the Ten Year Price Update. This weekend most of the price changes on a number of my books went through, but there are still a few that haven’t been completely updated (for boring technical reasons, quite honestly), but will in the coming weeks. The new prices are now up, the chart explains them in full, and if you’re curious about any of them you can hit that link to the above post.

Got it? Okay, good. It’s time to talk about today’s topic. Which, I will note, is a request topic! That’s right, we’re finally getting around to it! And I can very easily see why it is a request topic: because it’s a hard one!

If you hadn’t gathered the full nature of today’s topic from the title—and no shame there, don’t worry—the request for this post posited how one could properly balance their story beats with their exposition. This is a completely understandable topic to have concern about.

That said, it’s also a difficult skill to properly pull off in any book. How difficult? I’ve read award-winning titles that have swept notable awards from “important” organizations that have flummoxed their exposition and their story beats. This is something that writers of all experience levels struggle with.

It’s also something that you are not going to be getting perfectly the first time around. Or the second. Or the third. You can work on it, you can improve it, but the odds are that this is going to be one of the things your early editing folks look for. In fact, this is one of the things that the Alpha Reading looks for during that stage of editing. And wouldn’t you know it, I know for a fact that authors that sell tens of millions of books still have folks going through their manuscripts looking for exactly today’s topic and helping the author refine things.

My point being that this is a lifelong struggle for every author, and very much a part of the job that every author and writer, from the newest noob to the most decorated of wordsmiths has to pay close attention to.

I realize that may be upsetting to some of you, including perhaps the individual that requested this topic, but it shouldn’t be. Learning how to balance your exposition with your story beats—or better yet, carefully interweave them—is akin to learning exactly how much traction a race car’s tires have on each spot of pavement during a complicated, winding course. In other words it isn’t something you learn about and then forget, but something that will be important to keep in mind with every twist and turn of your book.

Okay, so with all this said, let’s hit the jump and start talking about the how as opposed to anything else. You ready? You know what to do.

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Being a Better Writer: What Makes a Fantasy?

Hello writers!

You know, if I’m honest it feels like it’s been more than a week since the last Being a Better Writer. That’s probably because I had numerous days last week where I was up well past midnight on account of editing Starforge. One week kind of stretched into two.

But, the good news, as many of you saw Saturday, is that Starforge will be going into Copy-Edit this week. Which also means that yes, pre-orders will be opening at last.

This also means that the long-promised pricing adjustment for the rest of my books is on its way, so if you’re looking to grab anything before the prices go up to reflect the last ten years, do so now. Though again, the whole point of this pricing adjustment is to bring the prices in line with inflation-adjusted prices based on paperback prices from 1994. There’s gonna have to be a new post about this to update the old The Price We Pay article.

Anyway, lots to come in the next few weeks. You know, including Starforge itself at long last. You’re all finally going to be able to get it! So keep watching this space.

But right now? Let’s talk about today’s Being a Better Writer topic.

Tackling discussion of a whole genre has always been a dicey proposition, not that we haven’t done it before. BaBW has discussed Science-Fiction, Westerns, and Mystery in posts prior, and each of those is a pretty broad genre all said and done. Especially Science-Fiction, which is both broad and controversial these days (some of the arguments I’ve seen over what is or isn’t Sci-Fi online …).

Fantasy is just as broad a genre, really, though many don’t think of it as such. Which is in part why we’re going to be talking about it today.

So hit the jump, and let’s talk about what makes something a Fantasy. I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t magic.

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Being a Better Writer: Reading VS Hearing

Welcome back writers! It’s Monday, and you know what that means. That, or this is your first time stumbling across this corner of the web and are just in awe or suspicion of what you’ve found. Maybe both.

Well, if you’re a writer or looking to do some writing, let me reassure you. This is Being a Better Writer, and you are in the right place.

Now, a quick aside before we dive into today’s promised topic, which is a … contentious one, to say the least. If you’ve not been on the site over the weekend, then you might have missed out on Saturday’s Starforge preview, which gave everyone their first look at what’s become of Annalyne Neres since the end of Jungle, plus her first steps in the finale of the UNSEC Space Trilogy. Action-packed steps, of course.

In related news, Starforge is getting closer to release with each passing day, but also now closer to a pre-order date. The Copy-Edit is nearing, and once the novel is in that phase, the pre-orders can go live. I’ll keep you all up to date on that as things progress.

Now, one more bit of spooky news before we head into today’s topic. Because it is the Halloween season, Dead Silver will be on sale starting tonight at midnight, and will remain on sale through October 31st. You can click that link there or find the book via the Books tab, but keep that in mind if you’ve not read it. It’s a perfect little spooky mystery for the Halloween weekend, so if you’re reading this after midnight, October 24th, do yourself a favor and snag a copy! It’s spooky good fun, and an enjoyable read.

All right, that’s all the news and whatnot taken care of. Now lets get down to business and talk about todays—as I warned—contentious topic.

This one I think is going to puzzle some, while being a revelation others. It’s one of those aspects of writing and publishing books that you really have to be immersed in some part of the production or output of to be aware of, but again as previously stated it’s also something that brings with it no small amount of controversy, especially among certain circles and with regards to both writing and editing a book.

You ready? Then hit the jump. Let’s talk about reading versus hearing.

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The “Ikea of Games” and Why Axtara is Such a Success

Hey writers! Got a short post for you today. Yesterday, after I wrapped up Being a Better Writer and started on some chores I had to take care of, I finally put on a video that had been sitting in my watch-later queue for quite some time and was immediately struck by the lessons in the video that apply to writing.

Specifically, this video explains why Axtara has been such a success, flying so far so quickly. As some of you might have gathered, sales numbers have been on my mind lately, as I’m pushing to reach that “10,000 total sales in ten years” number after finding out how close I was about a month ago.

Anyway, before I pontificate too much further, I’m going to link embed this video and encourage any of you writers who are looking at or wondering about your own sales numbers to take a look. This talk was given at the 2017 Game Developers Conference, or GDC, and so while it’s talking about lessons one can take towards game development from Ikea, it actually applies incredibly well toward writing and selling books. Give it a watch below the break.

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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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