Being a Better Writer: Keeping Characters From Being One-Note

Welcome back writers! It’s Monday already, and that means that we’re once again back with another installment of Being a Better Writer. A little late, and I do apologize for that. But there is a lot going on at the moment. That’s right, before we dive into today’s writing topic, I do have some news to reveal and discuss.

First up, today I can officially reveal that A Power in Ink, one of the shorts I wrote last year, has been accepted for the upcoming LTUE Benefit Anthology Troubadours and Space Princesses! Now, this is the collection for 2024, so you won’t be able to get it for a bit of time yet, but it’s on its way!

Second bit of news, also pertaining to a release, but an even bigger and more urgent one—which I left as the second bit of news because most of you likely already know. But here it is again: Starforge is releasing November 29th. That’s right, the third and final installment in the UNSEC Space Trilogy is arriving at last, six years after Colony made its grand debut. And you won’t want to miss it. You can check out more news about that at this link and get some specific details about Starforge, read some excerpts from the first review, go right to the books tab and pre-order a copy, or find some previews (including the latest) at this tag.

Again, Starforge releases November 29th! So get those pre-orders ready!

Now, third bit of news we need to talk about. Once Starforge releases, most of my books will be going up in price. I’ve spoken about this before, but the short of it is that my prices have not changed in almost ten years and no longer reflect the current value of the dollar.

If you’re alarmed, don’t be. The prices will simply be reaching equilibrium with what price point direction I chose when I started publishing back in 2013. Tail-prices will be maintained. There will be a future post about this in the coming weeks explaining the details, but the gist of it is that everything is still going back to the price of a paperback in 1994. It’s just that that is ten years more than it was when I last set my prices.

There’s a second meaning to this, however: If you’re looking to grab something, now is the time. Prices will see a bit of a bump once Starforge is out. A dollar or so for most titles, but it’s still a bump.

All right. One last bit of news, and then we can dive into today’s—quite late—Being a Better Writing post. And this last bit of news is a bit of a downer, actually. But I’ve been having problems with my right wrist and arm. I think it has to do with all the repetitive work of editing on Starforge causing the muscles in my shoulder to tighten and cause a cascading effect down into my forearm, hand, and wrist—and this is the hand and wrist I nearly lost in that workplace accident a few years back, so it has a pre-existing set of scars to amplify that—but the truth is I don’t know and won’t know until I see a doctor. I’m letting all of you know on the chance that it impacts my writing in the weeks ahead. For now, I’m just doing Copy-Edit work on Starforge before release, which is work done with an ebook reader in my hand and moving around taking notes, so that’s all right, but it’s still something I need to keep an eye on. With luck, it’s just an out of position shoulder and getting it taken care of will result in the rest of the arm feeling fine again, but I’m giving a heads-up anyway just in case things take a turn.

Okay. That’s everything. A lot happened over the last week, didn’t it? But we’re all caught up. So, let’s hit the jump, and let’s talk about keeping characters from being one-note.

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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: 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: The Chosen One

Greetings and salutations, readers! We’re back with another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Which by now is so regular it’s almost not worth making the fanfare over, but hey, if there’s one positive thing I can bring to the world on a Monday, it’s at least being upbeat with how my posts start out. You know, aside from the inevitable beneficial knowledge all these posts provide.

So, what are we talking about today? Chosen ones, actually, a topic I felt was fitting for today’s dual status as a holiday (if you’re reading this post another day, February 14th was Valentine’s Day), if in an amusing way.

But, really quick, before I get into that, I do have some news to share. Well, more of a reminder. This week is LTUE! That’s right, Life, The Universe, and Everything, the Fantasy and Sci-Fi writing convention, is happening Thursday through Saturday, 17-19th. I really hope you can make it, because it is always a blast.

Speaking of which, if you can make it (and I really hope you can), here’s a quick list and breakdown of what panels I’ll be on this year!

Thursday:

  • 3 PM – A Space Opera Starter Kit
  • 4 PM – No Mirrors: Character Description in First Person
  • 7 PM – My Genre Wish List

Friday:

  • 7 PM – Book Signing!

Saturday:

  • 5 PM – Science Fiction Faux Pas
  • 7 PM – Fanfiction: Having Fun

Of course, I’ll be around during the rest of the con as well, attending other panels, chatting, and of course signing books. Oh, and handing out some awesome bookmarks! Take a look at this:

I know it’s not the best picture, but that on the left? That is a full stack of awesome Axtara bookmarks which I’ll be giving out at the con. They’re pretty cute, and double-sided, the front saying “Banking shouldn’t be a drag …” and the back offering “Bank with Axtara – Banking and Finance Instead!” Yup, like those bank ads you’d see.

I feel Axtara would approve.

Okay, and with that, that’s all the news we’re going to talk about today. No more LTUE or Axtara talk. Let’s talk instead about that giant title above. Let’s talk about “The Chosen One” trope.

I actually picked this topic largely because I’ve heard it discussed in multiple places recently as a very negative thing. Sort of a—and by sort of I mean this is almost a direct quote—”all chosen one stories are bad” concept.

I’m not joking. I’ve seen a lot of “unrest” over the concept lately, from people automatically attacking any story they assume has a “chosen one” in it, to even declaring it a lone conceit of “European” or even “white” stories—something that’s laughable if you know anything about mythology from, oh, any culture out there in the world.

But this negativity, often aggressive and dismissive, is why I wanted to talk about the trope. Because here’s the thing: It’s an ancient trope. You can find examples of it in the mythology of every culture across the world. It is, in writing terms, as old, if not older, than dirt. The idea of a “chosen one,” be they small or large, has been with mankind since stories were first told.

So then … what’s with the sudden animosity toward it?

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Being a Better Writer: Showing Small Character Details

Hello readers! And welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer! A unique installment. For several reasons, in fact! And yes, it has to do with why there was only one post last week on the site.

But first, just a forewarning that today’s post is the last installment of BaBW for the year. Why? Because it’s almost Christmas! And I need my holiday break! There will be a few other posts, but BaBW and other usual content will be on hiatus until the new year.

The second thing that makes today’s post unusual is that it is being written via my phone. Why? Well, it has to do with the lack of a second post last week. See … I threw my back out.

Badly. So badly I couldn’t even crawl. Yeah. It was misery. I got it fixed up today, but one of the doctor’s requests was a twofold “Don’t spend your day sitting” and “get a new office chair” (the old one being a very likely culprit for my problems).

So a new post didn’t happen. And since today’s is “away from keyboard” it means that I am attempting to write this with my phone. And at the mercy of autocorrect.

But if that’s what it takes … Regardless, this post might be home to a few errors more than expected, as well as shorter than is customary. But I’m doing my best here.

So, hit the jump, and let’s get started.

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Being a Better Writer: The Empty Swear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Being a Better Writer: Tears Are Not Weak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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