Being a Better Writer: A Long-Term Relationship – Part One

Welcome back writers! Yes, we’re back after last week’s Labor Day holiday, and ready to talk about writing. With a rather curious topic that ended up on our list after an online discussion from a writing forum triggered an observation across a number of stories. Today’s topic might be a little odd, but it is one that’s worth investigating because it is one where often writers can go off the rails.

But first, prior Beta Readers watch your inboxes today! The call is going out! Those who have left comments, you will contacted directly shortly thereafter. Starforge is coming closer!

Oh, which does lead to one other bit of news: Previews! And not just chapter previews and excerpts, though there will be those. In the coming months, we’ll be doing some lore dives into the setting after the events of Jungle. For example, we might take a look at a few other colony worlds. Or have a short spot on HL1 skinsuit armor. So look for those in the coming weeks!

Now, with that taken care of, let’s talk about writing. Specifically, today we’re talking about writing characters. I know some of you might have taken the title today as your long-term relationship with writing (and maybe we’ll put that on the list for what’s ahead), but that isn’t what we’ll be covering today.

No, today I want to talk about writing characters in a long-term relationship. As stated above, this topic was inspired by a writing forum I was lurking on, and while I don’t recall the exact conversation that shuttled me in this direction, what resulted was a sitting back and a contemplation on the variety of stories I’ve read over the years that have either built-up or introduced characters in a long-term relationship.

Or rather, the number of stories that don’t sell it. Don’t get me wrong, there are stories I’ve read that do this quite well. But for every story I read that does know how to sell this, I’d have to say I’ve read a counterpart that does not know how to sell this. Where the only way any “long-term” relationship exists in any capacity is in the narration or the characters telling the audience that it does. There’s nothing to show it. The characters themselves don’t even act like it.

So, today we’re going to talk about showing long-term relationships with characters. We’re going to talk about where a lot of these stories go wrong, but also why, and what mistakes the author is making that cause these characters’ stories of love or companionship fall flat. And, naturally, we’re going to talk about how to turn that around, and deliver characters that don’t just say they’re together, but truly sell it. And we’ll even talk a little bit about how you can use this as a narrative tool.

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about long-term relationships.

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Being a Better Writer: Crafting Good Goals For Protagonists and Antagonists Alike

Welcome readers, to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope that you all had a pleasant weekend, and that today’s post kicks off a glorious start to an even better week than the last. Especially where your writing is concerned!

So today’s post should be a little shorter. News-wise there’s very little I didn’t cover in last Friday’s news post, so if you’ve read that you’re all caught up. We’re inching closer to an official cover reveal for Starforge, but I don’t have an actual date yet. One other bit of news that has come to my attention over the course of the weekend will come out a bit later, but I’ll hint now that it’s good news and involves book sales numbers, which I am nearing a serious milestone for.

So yeah, most of the news that’s directly relevant was talked about on Friday. If you saw that, you’re caught up. If not, go give it a look and then come back here for a discussion on crafting good goals for protagonists and antagonists alike.

I admit, this may seem like a bit of a strange topic for some of you. Why should we talk about protagonist or antagonist goals. Aren’t those pretty simple? After all, it’s just what your character wants, right? How hard can that be?

Well … you got me. You’re right. Most of the time, this is pretty simple and/or straightforward. But for one, we talk about simple and straightforward things all the time on here. Secondly, it isn’t always simple or straightforward, and sometimes thinking about our characters’ goals a little more deeply than “They are at Position A and want to be at Position B” can free up our story in surprising ways.

So, hit the jump, and let’s talk about looking at (and crafting) good character goals.

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Being a Better Writer: Underpowered and Overpowered Antagonists

Welcome back readers! It’s a new week, and with it come new accomplishments and news (that’s a lot of new, I know)! Alpha Reading on Starforge continues to surge forward, with feedback coming in quick and clear. Right now, things are looking pretty good for the second pass, with the consensus being pretty positive so far. Alpha readers haven’t hit the heavy rewrite chapters yet, so we’ll see what happens when they arrive there, but so far the cleaning, polishing, and structural changes seem to have stuck!

In personal news, I was able to spend my Saturday at a local Scottish festival, which was pretty awesomely fun. My friends and I go every year if we can, and this year we were lucky enough to have lots of time and some cash budgeted away to spend on things. Which is why I’m writing this while listening to the album Marigold by The Fire. I listened to part of one set, bought the album, and then jammed out to their evening performance. Good fun, and another album to listen to while working!

Let’s see … I already spoke about new reviews for Colony, Jungle, and Axtara, so that’s no longer the new-new, and there isn’t really much going on writing-wise save the Starforge Alpha 2 (Alpha Readers, I am loving your feedback thus far; keep at it!) so I suppose all that’s left to do today is dive into our topic.

Which may feel a bit familiar to some of you. If you’ve been a long-time follower of the site, or browsed through the archives, you may recall this post from 2014 (wow) concerning Underpowered and Overpowered Characters.

Well, today’s post is a bit of reflection of that. See, that post (which is still worth a look, mind) was largely if not entirely concerned with protagonists, and on considering overpowered or underpowered protagonist characters. But this post? This is going to be a little different. Because this post is, in keeping with what’s almost become an unofficial “theme” of this year, about villains.

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Being a Better Writer: The Bechdel Test and Real Gender Equality

Oh readers, it is so good to be back!

Seriously, in the last week, I have biked every single day, several miles at minimum. It’s been ninety degrees out most of the time, which has been absolutely glorious to feel. I have access to the internet once again, have caught up on Obi Wan Kenobi (which I’ve enjoyed, especially the most recent episode), and have been hard at work editing on Starforge.

A bit more on that last one. In this last week I’ve edited over 160,000 words worth of work. Once this pass is through, I’ll start a second, quicker pass that will tie in with a few rewrites of sections that need work, and those chapters will be put up on the Alpha 2 Master Chapter List.

In other words, expect an Alpha call for the second Alpha Read next week. That’s right. It’s here. I’ve gotten comments and e-mails from a few of you expressing how interested you are in the second Alpha Read. Well, now’s the time to sharpen your … reading glasses? Okay, that fell apart on me, but you get the idea. Prepare. Alpha 2 is about to begin, and the call will go out next week.

The aim is still to get Starforge out before Christmas. Ideally, a November release date like Colony and Jungle both had would work, but if things call for delays, well … To paraphrase Miyamoto, a delayed book is eventually a good book, but a bad book is a bad book forever.

That said, I’m still pushing hard to get it out by November. Somewhere between the Alpha 2 and the Beta 1, I also plan on cranking out the cover. I’m going to have to learn some new tricks in the software I use, but I’ve got most of it figured out. Either way, that means we’ll likely see a cover preview as early as … August? September? I’ll keep that window wide just in case.

Man, editing 500,000 word titans is a lot of work. After this it’ll be a relief to work on some shorter projects once more.

In any case, that’s the news, so with all that said, let’s get talking about this week’s topic. This is going to be a bit of a contentious one, I think, at least at first. Largely based off of the title. And I won’t pull a punch here: I’m going to be criticizing the Bechdel Test. I hope that if you’re one of those ardent defenders of the Bechdel Test, you’ll stick around and hear me out. As anyone who’s read one of my books will attest, I’m not some crazy misogynist that hates female characters. In fact, you could very easily note that my books easily pass the Bechdel Test.

But there’s a word there that’s part of the problem: Easily. This is where a lot of the criticism of the Bechdel Test comes from, and why we’re talking about it today. And my criticism and breakdown of it is not going to be, I would guess, what some of the ardent defenders of it expect.

But for all that, we’re going to need to hit the jump. So click that, and let’s get talking about the Bechdel Test.

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Being a Better Writer: What is an Antagonist?

Welcome back readers, and a big welcome to the first topic from Topic List #20! Being a Better Writer sure has come a long way since 2013, when it was largely (and effectively) the equivalent of message-board posts responding to fan messages asking writing questions, hasn’t it? Maybe in August of 2023 I should do a ten-year special of some kind. Thankfully, I’ve got a year to think about it. But that does sound like fun.

Ten years of Being a Better Writer in 2023. Sands and Storms, that’s a lot of content. Of course, it didn’t start being weekly. Originally it was just a response to a message asking for writing advice. But the one response inspired more people to send in their writing questions and then before long I was getting a few messages a week, and I started making a list, and the posts started to become regular …

That was nine years ago, and things have definitely changed. The initial “boom” of writing questions died down, though I still get the occasional request through Discord these days or on on the Topic Call posts. Being a Better Writer migrated off of its origin point and onto this site, which also became the main hub for my books and other materials. At the urging of a number of fans, I finally opened a Patreon that, to this day, helps keep the site entirely advertisement free—no pop-ups or intrusive ads over the text here! Being a Better Writer has been sourced, quoted, and cited everywhere from Wikipedia to major education systems, collegiate and public.

It’s come a long way.

Sorry, just sort of got nostalgic there with the whole start of Topic List #20. Side note, readers, but this is another Being a Better Writer post prepped and scheduled in advance, as I’m gearing up for a trip in May. Which … let me check my calendar … I haven’t departed on yet, I think, but hey, I’m getting this ready to go now.

Anyway, let’s talk about today’s topic, and step away from the reminiscing. Today’s topic is one most of you will likely recognize from a few weeks ago, when we talked about villains and how to make them deliver on their premise.

Well, one thing that came up over the course of that discussion was a small segment on the difference between a villain and an antagonist. The reason for that segment being that a lot of people—even critics—tend to use both terms interchangably. It’s not at all uncommon to see a review, for instance, refer to the villain of a piece as the “antagonist” or vice-versa.

But there’s a real problem with using these two terms interchangeably: They’re not the same thing. A villain is not automatically an antagonist, nor is an antagonist automatically a villain. As stated in the villain discussion, it’s like the old logic statement: Some villains are antagonists, and some antagonists are villains, but not all villains are antagonists, and not all antagonists are villains.

Worse, using them interchangeably like this is actually kind of harmful, as it blurs the lines for those who may not realize that there’s a very clear difference between the two identities. For a comparison, imagine a car magazine reviewing a new vehicle, but clearly treating rally cars as identical to rock-crawling cars, simply because both can traverse rough unpaved roads. Yes, both can, but they’re also very different kinds of cars.

Villains and antagonists are the same way: They have similar positions in a story sometimes, and can even overlap into the same character, making a villain antagonist. But they are not the same, and not understanding that can lead to confusion both in the writing and in the explaining of the story.

Look, if you take one thing away from this post, let it be this: An antagonist is not a villain. There is no requirement that an antagonist be villainous at all. They are separate character roles that can be combined into one, but don’t have to be.

You ready to break this down in depth? Then hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: Delivering a Villain and Making Them Truly Scary

Hello readers, and welcome to another installment of Being a Better Writer. Today’s installment is one that I’ve been waiting on for a while, as it’s been near the very bottom of Topic List #19. In fact, it is the second to last post from this list! There’s only one more to go after this, and then Topic List #20.

Which is why if you’ve got a writing topic you want to see a future BaBW discuss, now is your chance to get it on the list! Hit up the Topic Call post and leave your suggestion in the comments there to get your interest covered by a future Being a Better Writer!

As for other news … I don’t believe there’s anything that I didn’t already post about in last week’s news update, so we can dive right into today’s post!

So this one has been on my mind for a while. Months, actually, since it was put on the list. I usually leave a little space for last-minute additions, and this was one of them that I grabbed after seeing a writing thread where a bunch of readers were discussing how the villains of a piece had fallen flat.

Now, as a quick aside, I do want to remind us all that there is a difference between an antagonist and a villain. Just as there is a difference between a hero and a protagonist. Someone that is acting in opposition to a protagonist is not automatically a villain. They are an antagonist. Merely being opposed to a primary character is not an automatic trait of villainy. In fact, even the definitions of these two terms note the difference. An antagonist is one who opposes the protagonist of a story and acts as an obstacle, but that is the limit. A villain on the other hand, is a character who’s evil motivations are integral to the plot.

And yes, the definition does include the term “evil” there. A villain may have ambiguous reasons (for example, Thanos), but there is no doubt that what they are doing is wrong in some awful fashion, and their aims are more than just being an obstacle to the protagonist.

In other words, it’s like the old logic puzzle or play we all encountered in grade-school: Some antagonists are villains, and some villains are antagonists, but not all antagonists are villains, and not all villains are antagonists.

If that was a little confusing, just look at it this way: A villain can exist in a story and not be an antagonist (in fact, there are plenty of stories where a villain exists, but doesn’t play against a protagonist, or may even assist them temporarily), and an antagonist can exist but not be a villain. The two terms are independent of one another.

Now, if we want to talk about antagonists and how to use them, perhaps we can put that on a future list. But now that we’ve noted the difference between the two, lets get back to our core focus today with villains, and how we make them scary. Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: How to Write a Rogue

Afternoon readers! Welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got a fun topic to discuss today, and I’m looking forward to talking about it, but as usual we’ve got the news to discuss.

First up, updates on my sickness status: The frog in my throat is clinging with the last of his webbed little fingers, but the eviction has gone through. The throat feels more normal with every passing day. Also, once again, it’s not COVID so bullet dodged.

Now more for the news most of you are interested in: Starforge editing proceeds at pace. I’m into the second quarter of the book now, and just barely behind some of the Alpha Readers. There’s definitely a few spots to sand and smooth, but the action and reveals seem pretty riveting so far. There will definitely be a second Alpha Reading to ensure that everything’s been touched up properly, however. I know a few of you were counting on it due to scheduling, and rest assured this wasn’t ever in doubt. Just reaffirming it for those of you that are waiting.

Second bit of news, tied to that, thanks to the Discord we’ve started to see some proliferation of links for places for fans to talk about Colony and the rest of the trilogy as well as recommend them to other people. Which means we’ve got posts like this showing up places! Slowly but surely, people are discovering the series thanks in part to fans talking about it! Which helps everyone involved, from readers to myself.

Oh, one last bit of unrelated news before we dive into today’s BaBW: The submission date for Troubadours and Space Princesses has been extended! Submissions now have an additional month to be worked on, with the new deadline being April 30th, 2022. So if you’ve already written your story, now you’ve got some extra time to put in the polish, and if you’ve haven’t written it, you’ve got more time to do so!

Me? I’ll be submitting The Minstrel and the Marshal once I’ve sent it through a few Alpha Readers.

All right, I think that’s everything worth discussing at the moment, so let’s go ahead and dive into today’s topic! Let’s talk about How to Write a Rogue.

This topic got put on the Topic List due to an IRL conversation I had a few weeks ago with someone who was brainstorming a very clever book idea (and honestly, if they ever write it, you’ll hear about it on this site because dang it’s a fun idea). While I won’t give you the details, I will say that involved some characters who were con artists of a sort, and while discussing their ideas and concepts, the creator said something that went a little like this:

“Of course, they have this requirement that makes them have to be committing the con, that way people know it’s okay.”

I stopped them right there, with a shake of my head and my hands, to point out that no, they didn’t want that. Why? Because they were writing a story about rogues. Loveable, goofy, rogues. And if they had a justifiable reason to be rogues, well they stop being rogues, and when we read con-artist stories, that’s who and what the audience is there for!

What followed was a quick and dirty discussion on roguish characters and their appearances in various mediums, as well as what makes them such “lovable scoundrels.” At which point I realized that this needed to be a topic discussed on Being a Better Writer, spun around, and added it to the list.

So hit the jump, and let’s talk about the character traits that go into crafting our own rogue of a character.

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Being a Better Writer: Using Shorts to Explore Character or Setting

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday once again! How’d that happen? The weekend seemed to flash by, but it’s probably partially as a result of me spending a good chunk of my Saturday working on The Minstrel and the Marshall. Which has been edited, trimmed, and revised in a few places … but I think I want to make one more change before I upload it today. A small one tweak before I let others get a look at it.

Still, it’s under the word requirement for Troubadours and Space Princesses now. Which, I remind all of you, only has open submissions for another twenty-four days! If you’d like to submit a story for the collection, check out the requirements and relevant information here!

All right, let’s cover some other relevant news. Starforge editing is hitting hard this week, so I’ll be blitzing through the opening quarter of the book and making changes. I’ll also once again be looking over and possibly retooling my Amazon advertising: For reasons unknown to me, views cratered after March 1st, and I’ve as yet been unable to figure out why, but it’s impacting my bottom line, so figuring it out is a bit vital.

Other than that … there’s not much worth sharing at the moment. Well, maybe one thing. Did you know this site has a Discord channel? It’s true. A channel with various rooms and even people! Now, the link isn’t public, because usually the only time it’s been open to invite people is for live Being a Better Writer Q&A sessions. Basically, like a forum, I’ve rolled it out slowly so that things are overwhelmed with spam or bots (there’s enough of that going on already on the site, hence requirements like emails on comments).

But there is a Discord, and there you can talk about books you’re reading (mine or others), writing, games you’re playing. You know, the usual forum/chatter stuff.

And today? I’m feeling like it’s time to crack the doors open a little. The link will be past the jump, just to put a slight block in the way of spam-bots, but if you’d like to join in, the link will be live for one week! It’s a larger crack than we’ve given the door before, and we’ll see how it goes.

I think that’s about it for news. With all that said, maybe we should talk some writing? Go ahead and hit that jump to find both the aforementioned link to the friendly little Discord, and to get looking at today’s topic.

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Being a Better Writer: Character Fridging

Welcome back readers! It’s another Monday and that means it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got an interesting (and surprisingly volatile) topic for you today, one that very likely may prove quite useful to you, but first, before we get that, two quick news reminders.

First: Life, The Universe, and Everything 2022 is next week! That’s right! It’s nearly here! February 17th-19th! The schedules are up, the panelists and guests are ready, and my last “to-do” item is to go pick up some new Colony and Axtara cards as well as some bookmarks to hand out! It’s almost here, and I hope to see you there! Again, the website is here, and you can look at the full panel schedule and see all the various topics before heading in yourself!

Second: This week emails will be going out to long-time Alpha Readers about the first Starforge Alpha Read. That’s right, it’s happening at last. So if you’re a prior Alpha Reader, keep an eye on your inbox for something with Starforge in the title. It’s coming!

Third: A loose apology, as I realize that this may force some of you to choose between LTUE shenanigans and Alpha Reading Starforge. Sometimes timing works out like that. But those of you who were unable to make it LTUE this year will have a fun alternative.

Okay, that’s the news, so let’s get moving onto today’s post and topic. Which is … Well, this is an interesting one.

“Character Fridging” is a trope I’ve heard of before (after all, if you’re going to write and write a lot, you’re going to hear of a lot of tropes), but it’s also one that’s taken on a fairly negative connotation in pop culture recently. In fact, the reason I put this trope on the list was because of two online locations I frequent using the term as a “dirty phrase” to describe why no one should ever read/watch particular shows. Someone would bring a new show or book up, and someone would immediately ask if it “fridged” anyone, and then go off on a small rant, everyone else digitally nodding, about how awful fridging was and how ‘no good story fridges a character.’

This of course, with a large spoonful of ‘only women can be fridged’ which should be the second bit that raises alarm bells about what was circulating here.

Now look, I’m not saying that there aren’t people that are wary of this trope without reason. Sands, it gets it’s modern name from an infamous scene in a comic series where the protagonist found his new girlfriend had been, literally, fridged.

The problem, however, and why I chose to do a post on the subject, is because the idea itself has become a monster that, like I was seeing in online circles, was less than helpful for anyone who might have been peeking in. Driven in part by the fact that a lot of these people talking so much about fridging didn’t really know what it was, and were keen to throw the term at anything that felt vaguely applicable and then condemn said work for its imagined “sin.”

So then, what is character fridging, actually? What’s it do? How did it become a thing? What’s the goal or purpose. Most importantly, how can we avoid or use it in our work … and should we?

You know the drill. Hit the jump, and let’s get talking.

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Being a Better Writer: Tabletop Conversations

Hello readers, and welcome back once again! If you’re here on this Monday afternoon by some prior plan, then you know what’s up. If not, then welcome to the site and our weekly Monday post of Being a Better Writer! This week we’re going with a bit of a more classic topic, though not without a bit of wordplay within the title.

But first, we’ve got news to talk about. Con news, to be specific! Life, The Univere, and Everything is coming February 17-19, 2022!

Those of you that know what LTUE is can rejoice now. Those who do not, or haven’t been on this site before and heard about the con, LTUE is a writing con. That means that the panelists are all authors and experts on specific topics, there to talk about writing in all its various aspects and forms. I’ve attended it for almost two decades now, first as a young student, now as a panelist, and it remains the best con I’ve been to for being all about writing. With hundreds of authors and panels talking about all sorts of writing topics, from the basic to the specific (there’s always a panel on how to write action scenes, for example, chaired by some of the better action writers in the business, but there are also panels like ‘garbage dumps through the ages’ taught by historians and authors who’d need to know that stuff) LTUE is a smorgasbord of expert writing advice.

It’s also cheap. Students, be they K-12 or collegiate, get in for $5. For the whole three days. That’s right. Five bucks. Non-students pay a bit more (usually around $75 for all three days), but that’s still an incredibly low price for three whole days of writing content. The panelists are all volunteer as well. This isn’t one of those “writing camps” taught by a few people with one book to their name who make the majority of their living telling others how they wrote that one book by being at that camp. These panelists are people taking time away from their normal day job of writing, editing, or being an expert on something in order to talk about the craft because they love it and want to help others.

If you’re somewhat versed in Fantasy and Sci-Fi you’ll recognize a few of these names too. This year’s Writing Guest of Honor is non other than Jody Lynne Nye, and if you check the “featured guests” page over on LTUE’s website, you’ll see quite a few other names you’ve likely heard of (or read). Checking the full schedule page will let you search all the attending panelists, and you may see a few more names on there you recognize!

Now, I’m going to link that schedule page once more, because that’s also how you can look at a full list of upcoming panels, and it’s time to start figuring out what panels you’d like to hit.

Even if you can’t come in person. Last year the entire LTUE experience was uploaded to Youtube as well as available to attend online. I’m not sure of the exact details around online attendance this year myself, since I’m going in person, but there are whole archives on YouTube of prior years’ panels. They usually end up online about six months later, but that’s better than nothing if you can’t make it.

UPDATE: I have been informed that there will not be as many recorded sessions this year due to some of the principle recording staff being unable to attend. The staff hope to record and post some sessions, but they will likely be few in number and take more time than usual if they’re uploaded.


Now, one more item of news before we dive into today’s topic. As in prior years, I will once again be attending LTUE this year as a panelist (most of you probably guessed that). It’s an absolute delight, and once again I’ve got a bevvy of fun panels to look forward to, including—

  • A Space Opera Starter Kit
  • Fanfiction: Having Fun
  • My Genre Wishlist
  • Science Fiction Faux Pas
  • No Mirrors: Character Description in First Person

I’d love to see you there! In addition, I’ll also be at the big book signing and moving around the con conversing and attending other panels.

But there’s one more little tidbit that I want to share that definitely belongs in the news section. Not only will I be at the book signing, but the LTUE book vendors will be carrying copies of Axtara – Banking and Finance and Shadow of an Empire!

That’s right! In prior years this hasn’t been a thing, because I’ve been solely a digital purveyor of products (despite attending the book signing anyway). But with a few of my titles now available in dead tree format, you’ll now be able to purchase them at the LTUE bookstore. I’ll be bringing a few extra copies as well to have on hand, but if you’ve been thinking of snagging a paperback for either of those two titles at last, LTUE will be your chance not only to do so, but to get it signed while you’re at it!

You know, unless they run out. They’ll have a decent stock of both, but the way they sell …

All right, that’s it for this Monday’s news. I know that was a lot, but hey, LTUE is a big deal, and only happens once a year. We’ll talk about it more in the future, but for now, let’s talk about “Tabletop Conversations.”

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