Being a Better Writer: The Rubber Duck

Now Harry, you must know all about Muggles. Tell me, what exactly is the function of a rubber duck?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Film

Hello readers, and welcome back! It’s the start of another week, and that means we’ve got more Being a Better Writer to discuss as well as another week full of writing to look forward to! And coming off of a pretty good weekend as well! Good for me because I picked up several new 5-star reviews on both Colony and Axtara … and on a note unrelated to writing because E3 was this weekend and I finally got to see one game that I’m excited for the release of this year: Halo Infinite. I’m not going to geek about the game here, other than to say I’m excited, but I’m also a little relieved that there’s nothing else coming out anytime soon I’m interested. My backlog needs clearing (or I could always play another game of Stellaris … No wonder that backlog doesn’t empty quickly).

Anyway, hopefully those of you who followed E3 found something to be excited about, but for now let’s switch gears and talk writing. You know, that thing a lot of you are here for! So then, let’s begin, and begin by restating the question at the top of this post: what is the function of the rubber duck?

The answer is … well, surprisingly mundane, but it’s one of those mundane answers that can be incredibly useful. In fact, some authors swear by the rubber duck as a writing tool, finding it almost impossible to write well without one.

Which I realize to those of you who are not familiar with this usage, sounds amusing. Some of you may be picturing an author staring at their keyboard, writing away while watched by a well-worn yellow waterfowl, muttering under their breath “I can’t do it without you, Mr. Squeakers.

And well, here’s the fun part. Those of you who may be thinking that aren’t entirely wrong. So, hit the jump, and let’s seek the answer to the question that haunted Arthur Weasley for much of his life. What is the function of a rubber duck?

And what does it have to with writing?

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Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding from Maslow’s Hierarchy

Hello readers and welcome back! I hope you all had a spectacular weekend full of fun things. If you were a Patreon Supporter of the site, I did do a bit to help with that (Chapter 10 of Sunset: Stranded went up for supporters, so check that out if you’ve been following that story). If not, well, I hope you had a pretty good weekend anyway.

Now, before I dive into today’s Being a Better Writer post, there is a bit of news I want to point out. This post is the last topic from Topic List #16. That’s right, once this post is done, the final item on the checklist can be crossed off, and the list itself crumpled up and moved to the cylindrical tube of removal beside my desk.

Now, this is a decently big occasion. I only go through a few of these lists a year (each one has about twenty or so topics on it). Each one is a milestone of how many Being a Better Writer posts have passed since I started keeping track of the lists (which was a few years ago).

But they are also significant for another reason: Because you get to contribute to them. If you swung by the site over the weekend, you might have noticed the Topic Call for Being a Better Writer post. Well, if there’s ever been a writing topic you’d like to see covered on this site that hasn’t sprung up yet (or it’s been so long we’re due to strike again) now is the time to make your request heard!

There have already been some awesome topic requests from readers to add to Topic List #17. This next list we’re going to see posts on “rule breaking,” geography, and executing slow tension among others. But there’s still plenty of room on the list to see your area of interest appear! So go ahead and jump on over to the comments section of the topic call and leave your request!

All right, that’s all I want to talk about news-wise, so with that said (and you left a topic request, right?) let’s get down to the meat and potatoes of today’s post.

This one is not a request. In fact, it’s actually fully inspired by a panel I was on during this year’s Life, The Universe, and Everything convention. Before the panel, actually, while doing some background reading for it in preparation, I jotted this topic down as one to talk about with Being a Better Writer. And since the panel didn’t actually spend too much time on what I’m going to talk about today, it should still be fresh for those of you who attended LTUE. Double win, in that case.

Anyway, enough background. Let’s dive into today’s post. Hit the jump!

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Quarantine Chat: Colony – The Film (Or Show?)

colony-finalHello readers! As we settle into the second (or for some, third or fourth) week of pandemic quarantine, I figured it’d be nice to help ease the stress of things to talk about something amusing and entertaining, even if, at this time, only hypothetical:

What if … a studio bought the rights to make Colony a feature of some kind?

It’s a fun hypothetical because there’s a lot of different ways you could do it. Film. Series. Animated. Live action.

Which one would you want to see? Or better yet …


Who would be the actors? Who would you want to see playing Jake, Anna, and Sweets? Who do you think could fill the shoes of the trio?

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Being a Better Writer: Adding Meaning

Hey there readers!

Yes, once again this post is falling on a Tuesday. I’ve taken a larger than normal load of shifts during the Christmas rush to help keep myself afloat (and maybe afford a little advertising on the side), so my schedule has been in a bit more of a time crunch than usual.

Alctually, make that a lot more of a time crunch, since I’m still working on finishing Jungle. The bad news is that I’m still working on it despite all of last month. The good news, however, is that I’m on the last five chapters. No joke. The end is all plotted out, everything is wrapping itself up, characters are dying …

I mean … no one is dying. It’s all sunshine and happiness with micro-missile launching rifles! Oh, and yes, those are a thing. For when you absolutely know you’re going to be facing exosuits.

Right, enough beating around the bush, though. I’ve got a Being a Better Writer post to write! And you to read!

So, today’s topic is another request from Topic List X. It’s also a pretty good one. The question given was roughly ‘How does one go about adding meaning, such as theme or symbology, to their story?’

Like I said, that’s a good question. The thing is, I’ll bet my answer is going to shock them.

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Being a Better Writer: Characters with Handicaps

Welcome back readers, to Being a Better Writer! Tuesday edition, because … reasons. It happens.

Anyway, today I’ll be tackling a topic that’s been requested once or twice, but I never got around to addressing until today: How to write a character with a handicap, and write them well.

You ready for this? The short answer is … carefully and with care, but ultimately, like any other character.

But of course, that answer isn’t good enough. Not by a long shot. Though if it is, well … that wasn’t going to stop you from clicking away anyway. For the rest of us, however, let’s hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: Playing Out Your Puzzle Pieces

Welcome back, readers, to a Monday post that’s actually on a Monday! BaBW is back to its proper day once more! So, to commemorate the occasion, what’s today’s writing topic?

Puzzle pieces.

I can see the curious, questioning looks even from here in the past, so let me explain a little further.

One of the questions I get asked from readers—especially those who are about to make the transition to new writers—is how I’m able to fill my books with such complicated plots and keep everything moving at a steady pace at the same time.

This is a legitimate question. I want to stress that up front. As a new writer, nothing is more daunting than looking at someone else’s book with all it’s intersecting plot threads and carefully doled out clues and thinking “How on earth do I do that?” To a new writer, it seems like an almost insurmountable task: There are all these different parts of the story, and all of it seems to be fitting together just so the guide to reader to figure things out or move along with the story at the same pace as the characters … And once you stand back and look at it, that’s quite a bit of work!

And, to be fair, the average English class that many are going to have gone through in their high-school years has very low odds of touching on this, which only compounds the problem. For new writers, it just seems like something that writers do, but no one is explaining how. Again, this is why I encourage taking creative writing classes if they’re available to you—they’ll teach this kind of stuff and more.

But, that aside, point is, most young writers see a full, complex story and wonder how on earth an author was ever able to keep everything straight. Crud, some don’t. Read through a Sci-Fi book the other day (giving an author I’d read before another shot because the premise of the book was very unique, even if I’d been disappointed in an earlier work of theirs) where the author didn’t dole out their complex story well—at all. Here’s how it ending up playing out: You got the opening chapters, introducing the characters, and giving you roughly 80% of the information you needed to know for the conclusion of the story. Then, following that was most of the book, roughly two dozen chapters of the characters just making their way to the conclusion while talking but never really doing much for the story other than “We go from here to the their, this ending is stressful.” Near the end of that bit, which was most of the book and pretty dull, we got another 10%, and then the conclusion happened almost immediately, bringing with it the last 10%.

Do you see the problem? The book had a great premise and an interesting idea, but the author didn’t know how to dole the information out. The result was a massive dump of exposition at the beginning, and a small one at the end with the final bits the reader needed … and then everything in-between was just sort of  … there. It could have been summed up in two or three chapters rather than twenty.

Or the story could have doled out its puzzle pieces better, distributed them evenly across those intervening  chapters, and given them some purpose to the overall plot (as opposed to the “And we’re traveling … and we’re traveling … and we’re traveling …” that the story became). Something that would have given them impact on the story, rather than just being happenstance.

Right, so that’s the second time (not counting the title) that I’ve used that term, so it’s high time I explained what I mean when I write it.

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Being a Better Writer: Ideas and Education

Welcome back, everyone! I hope you had a productive weekend. I know I did. I did some more editing on Beyond the Borderlands (who’s excited for chapter 18?) and, at long last, finished up reading Ancillary Justice and put together my thoughts on it.

So, quick news bit. July is almost over, so we’re coming up on another Patreon reward for supporters. This coming August will be an excerpt from one of the “short” stories in Unusual Events (which is almost ready for alpha). Anyway, if you’re a Patreon supporter, you’re going to get another sneak look at one of those stories! Once the last story in Unusual Events is done, I’ll be going full-time editing on it and Colony, getting both of those ready for a release at last.

And that’s the news. Now … to your regularly scheduled posting!

So, you get a lot of questions as an author. It seems that once you mention you write and sell books that many people have questions to ask of you, and a lot of these questions start to blend together—or at least you start to see the inherent similarity in all of them.

Anyway, one of the more common questions that I find myself being asked on a regular basis is “Where do you get your ideas?” And today, I kind of wanted to talk about that. Because in truth, ideas just don’t come from nowhere. I don’t sit and do nothing while waiting for inspiration to strike. I have to be actively hunting for new ideas and concepts. And if you’re going to be a writer, you’ll need to do so as well. Today, I want to talk about education.

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