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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Being a Better Writer: Big-Lipped Alligator Character Traits

Hello readers, and welcome to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got a really interesting topic for you today and we’re looking forward to diving right in! But really quick, before we do jump into today’s topic, there is a bit of news to cover.

First up, and most importantly, next week’s Being a Better Writer will once again be a Live Question and Answer session! That’s right, once again I will be taking questions from a live audience and answering them over on the Unusual Things Official Discord channel, The Makalay Camp. It will run for about an hour, starting at 5 PM MST, which would be 7 PM EST, and 4 PM for those on the west coast. Hopefully this time works best for those who’d like to listen in, at least in the US (in advance, I apologize to those living in places like India, but we really are put in a difficult spot there by the Earth being round).

But yes, next week’s Being a Better Writer will be live, at 5 PM MST. The day of, an invite will go up on the day’s BaBW post with a link to the official discord server, so that those of you who have not joined yet can get in and familiarize yourself with the server (which is small, and like the site, has grown as needs have demanded) before the Q&A session goes live.

So mark your calendars! Next week, October 25th, 2021, at 5 PM MST. Live Being a Better Writer Q&A session!

Got it? Good! Now, let’s get talking about today’s topic: The Big-Lipped Alligator Character Trait. I’ll admit with a name like that the initial response to seeing the title of the post likely fell into one of two camps. On the one side, you had the people who are familiar with the term “big-lipped alligator moment” and immediately wondered what that had to do with character traits attached on the end (as a true big-lipped alligator moment” is a scene, which we’ll discuss in a moment. The rest of you? “Big-lipped alligator what?”

So hit the jump, and let’s start answering those questions.

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Being a Better Writer: Making Characters “Pop”

Hello readers! How are you all this Monday morning? Or I suppose afternoon, as it’s about to be? Spry? Alert?

Hopefully that last one, because you’re about to read another Being a Better Writer post! Furthermore, it’s not a scheduled one!

That’s right baby, I’m back! Back from a fantastic Alaska experience, which I have chronicled with pictures and video here. Yes, you should be clicking that link if you have even the faintest interest in seeing whales, fish, Alaskan scenery, or videos of rain.

But I’m back now, and after a day “off” last week ( somehow I still managed to write about 17,000 words in a week I was supposed to be relaxing for) I’ve returned to tackle the topic list once more and bring you readers writing topics.

So, what are we talking about this week as I return to my regular duties? Well, I took a look at the list and spotted this little topic that I had jotted down as one I wanted to hit, and well, it popped out to me as much then as it does now. So today, we’re going to talk about making characters “pop.”

Of course, before we get into the how we’re going to have to define exactly what it means to have a character that “pops.” So hit the jump, and let’s get started. What is a character that “pops?”

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Being a Better Writer: She’s Just Herself, Flaws and All

Hello readers! Welcome back to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Hopefully it brightens up your day a little. In advance, I apologize for the lateness of this post. I’m sort of taking a slower day in the wake of getting Starforge done as well as pumping out a fic for a contest in a single go. A bit of a breather, really.

In fairness, I kind of needed it. This weekend I took care of multiple things that had been piling up for the last few months. Not major things, but small things that needed to be done but could be “put off” for another day. Home maintenance and the like. There was a bit of a backlog from finishing off the Starforge draft.

So, to do a quick news aside, now what? With Starforge‘s draft done, what’s going to happen next?

Well, I’m going to take a break from it for a while. Those of you that know the process expected this. I’m going to spend at least a month clearing my head, maybe more. Disconnecting from Starforge and working on other projects. Some short stories. The Shadow of an Empire paperback. A new Jacob Rocke story. The Axtara sequel. That sort of thing.

Then, once I’ve had some time to “detach,” I’ll head back into Starforge and start work on the pre-alpha.

So that’ll be what I’m up to for the next foreseeable future. Shorts, work on some new content for an old setting, and work on some new content for a fairly new setting.

Got it? Excellent! Now, on with Being a Better Writer!

So I’ll admit, this post’s title might have raised a few eyebrows. And well, that is deliberate. That’s how you get clicks, after all.

But it’s also a nod to the origins of the post, that being a discussion about a fandom’s love for a particular character while expressing disdain for another. Some of you may have already guessed at the identities involved, because this one has been a common … shall we say battle on the internet, a battle big enough that news outlets have gotten involved. Usually to their detriment.

Okay, I’ll drop a hint: It involves Star Wars.

Yup. And like that, most of you have guessed the origins of this particular debate. Basically, it boils down to Disney trying to make everyone love the protagonist of their new trilogy, Rey, by just about any means necessary. A large tactic in which was labeling anyone who didn’t like the character “sexist.” You know, they just hate “women characters.”

Nice, easy deflection of any criticism. But … it didn’t quite work with a lot of people because those same people that Disney was trying to deflect with accusations of sexism love the character of Ahsoka Tano. Who is … wait for it … also a woman.

Now, the point of this post isn’t to slam Disney’s Rey. Though it will make a few noted observations about what separates Rey from Ahsoka, because there are reasons why most fans of Star Wars like the one and don’t like the other. It has nothing to do with lightsabers, or with the “Poochie” factor (despite what Disney seems to think).

No, what it boils down to is simply something that holds true for all characters, regardless of gender, and yet seems to be forgotten from time to time.

Real characters have flaws. Furthermore, those flaws are acknowledged and part of their character.

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Being a Better Writer: Getting Religion Right

Hello readers! Welcome back to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope that all of you had an enjoyable weekend!

Mine was a bit of a mixed bag. Loved the new episode of Wandavision, but also spent more time determining some of my PC issues (the power supply is looking more and more like one culprit). I’ve got some replacement hand-me-down parts coming so we’ll see if that introduces some stability.

Oh, and here’s a real mystery for all of you out there. Axtara (fantastic book if you haven’t read it yet), a book about and starring a dragon, does not come up on Amazon’s selection of fantasy books involving dragons. At all. For reasons I’ve yet to find an explanation for.

No joke. I spent some time today looking at Axtara‘s keywords. Yup, dragon is in there. Genre? It’s in the right slot. But for some reason, if you go to Amazon’s selection of fantasy books (kindle and otherwise) involving dragons … Axtara is curiously absent.

The amused author part of me wants to joke that it’s some form of speciesism, that clearly Axtara is “not a dragon book” because the “dragon” in question isn’t being ridden (in either sense of the word, judging by some of those covers) or mauling people to death as a mindless beast, and therefore isn’t eligible.

The less-amused author in me is both annoyed and alarmed, because this means that people looking for books specifically about dragons on Amazon won’t find Axtara in their search or genre results, and that’s definitely negatively impactful to me. I’ve messed with some genre indicators and I hope that this fixes it. Next step will be an e-mail to Amazon directly, because what the what, if there ever was a book that was more suited for the “dragon” category, I haven’t found it.

While I’m on this tangent (and before we get to today’s post), is anyone else overly tired of dragon-rider books? Especially the ones where the mount is sapient and intelligence, but is basically treated like a horse that can talk? That’s one rut I’d rather see fantasy climb out of. Or, for all the talk of avoiding “problem issues” in fantasy, I’m surprised “keeping sapients in stables as mounts” hasn’t drawn more ire from readers. I guess the idea of equal rights only matters if they’re humanoid? At least Temeraire wasn’t afraid to tackle this, but most other generic dragon-rider fiction just kind of ignores it … and I’m getting too off-topic. That’s my mystery from the weekend.

So, let’s talk about today’s hammer of a topic: Getting Religion Right. And I’m pretty certain that already some people are going to have issues simply based on that title alone, because some folks get ready for a fight anytime the words “religion” and “right” are in a sentence together without the word “not” or something similar.

But whatever. We can’t shy away from this topic, and it’s an important one. Which is going to come with a hefty lead-in. So we may as well hit the jump and get started. Get to it.

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