Being a Better Writer: Describing Your Character without Infodumps

Hello readers, and welcome back after an—at least here—unexpectedly chilly weekend! I hope you stayed warm and toasty! Here the temperature dropped down into the freezing range, which means my writing habits have officially shifted from shorts and t-shirts to hoodies and socks. Or some combination thereof.

News? Nope, I haven’t got any that I can think of not covered in that last news post I made. Other than the usual pre-election griping of “Why does heavy political activity get in the way of people reading and buying books?”

Seriously, I do not understand this one. Does an election have the same effect on the video game industry? Does Netflix see less streaming during an election cycle? Or is it just books that get hit by this strange oddity?

And furthermore, why? Stress overload? Do people associate reading with political activism? Or to the contrary, as a form of anti-politicking? Or does it stem from a general anti-intellectualism bent in the United States, where a common rebuttal in political disagreements is sometimes sadly “Yeah, well you read to much?”

I wish I were kidding about that last one.

Ah well, at this point we’ve moved into me musing on questions for which I have no answers. Let’s just leave it that I firmly believe that if you’re thinking about voting for someone, reading about them and their policies is a good start. And that I’m still perplexed as to why elections impact book sales so strongly in a negative manner.

Anyway … let’s move on, shall we? Today’s topic is … Well, I’d say it’s one of the hardest things for authors of all experience levels to get a handle on. The book I started last night, for example, quite literally runs into a problem with our topic in the opening chapters.

In fact, a lot of books do. And short stories. And everything in between. Because in some odd way, describing our characters—in a smooth, worked in way that seems natural—seems to be one of the hardest challenges many authors face.

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Character Voice Consistent

Welcome back readers! I hope you all had a decently uplifting weekend? I spent mine largely asleep, fighting off a bug that thankfully did not show a large amount of signs of being Covid (but kept me indoors anyways because I was asleep and hey, just in case). In any case, I hope your weekends were a bit more lively and/or successful.

Now, after a week’s break, I’m sure some of you were wondering what sort of topic we’d be covering upon returning once more. Well, today you find out that answer. Combing over the new list (which is, admittedly, still being built) for a topic today, the one I’ve chosen is … Well, you can see the title a bit.

I’m sure some of you are wondering why I picked this topic, and, well … It has to do with something I saw someone else speaking out over the last few weeks. It was a few weeks ago, but I ran into an online discussion where character voice consistency (and a lack of it) were being discussed at length. Then again just this last weekend during the LTUE Mini-con (Did you attend? How was it?) the topic came up again, this time in a small discussion about editing and this being something to watch for.

So yeah, when I looked down at the list again this morning, this seemed like a solid topic to choose for the first reappearance after such a lengthy, one-week break.

Enough background. Let’s get down to it. Let’s talk about keeping our characters’ voices consistent.

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Being a Better Writer: Tools VS Actions

Welcome back readers? I trust you all had a pretty enjoyable weekend? Especially with the newest episode of Fireteam Freelance having released on Saturday?

No official word from me at this time whether or not we’ll see episode five this Saturday, but there will be something (either another interview or an interlude). But until then we’ve got a whole week of content to to think about, of which the most important is today’s Being a Better Writer post.

After all, it is on of the site’s primary features. So without further ado, let’s dive into today’s topic. Which is a bit of an interesting one.

See, today’s topic was inspired by someone in a writing chat room asking for thoughts and opinions on a character sheet they’d assembled for their story, and a trend I noticed with it. A trend that then combined with a more common complaint I’d seen online in the last few weeks and discussed on book sites.

We’ll start with the trend. There were several discussions I’d seen in the last few weeks across writing sites and discussions about so-called “gamification” of characters. Or, to put it another way, writing characters whose abilities felt like they were out of a video game.

I realize this is a bit vague and that’s because there’s not an official term for what these people were discussing (and ultimately complaining about). But what it boiled down to over paragraphs of discussion was … Well, I personally wouldn’t call it gamification, though I see why those complaining about it would. And it does fit. Me, I’d call it “animefication.”

If you’re familiar with anime at all, you’ll know why here in a moment. What readers were complaining of was written work where characters had “attacks” or “skills” that were both names and deployed often in solution of the protagonists/antagonists pursuits.

In other words, they’d be reading a story, and the protagonist would helpfully inform readers that he had a “magical ability named ‘Light Whip’ that would do X” and then any time X came up, they would proclaim “Light Whip!” and use it.

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Being a Better Writer: Bravery

Hello readers! I hope you’re all staying away from groups and doing your part to counter Covid-19 as best you can. Washing your hands, etc. If you are, good! If not, pick up the slack! The better we can do at slowing the spread the better off everyone will be.

Anyway, with that said, let’s get into today’s Being a Better Writer topic: Bravery. Yes, I know that’s a bit of a weird one, but I decided to go with brevity in the the title and expand on it here. Plus, I felt like it was a topic that might ease a few minds outside of the sphere of writing as well. I may be wrong, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

What I want to talk about today isn’t just the concept of bravery, but how to write a brave character.

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Being a Better Writer: Flanderization

Hello readers! First things first, apologies for the lateness of this post! I am still recovering a bit from that con-crud, it would seem, and slept far, far later than I expected to. Right through my alarm, right through everything.

On the plus side, I feel better today than I did yesterday, and yesterday I felt a lot better than the day before. So I’m definitely kicking it out at long last. I hope (meanwhile, deep within me a lone cold virus tapes its knuckles, chews a strand of DNA, and says ’round two” lol).

So, let’s dive into things shall we? First, before we get to today’s post a quick reminder that Kamchatka, episode 1 of Fireteam Freelance, did indeed drop on Saturday, as hoped. Fireteam Freelance is an episodic side series to Colony and Jungle, taking place on Earth and starting during the ending of Colony. Head on over to the Fireteam Freelance page to start reading, but be warned that as a side story, Fireteam may spoil some elements of Colony and Jungle you’d be better of discovering there!

70081760_568294170598543_7425837595373862912_oSecondly, a quick reminder that A Dragon and Her Girl, the second LTUE benefits anthology, is out! Containing twenty stories of heroines and dragons, including yours truly’s A Game of Stakes (in which a woman hires a dragon to find her a husband), A Dragon and Her Girl is not one to miss. Early reviews that have dropped definitely agree!

In fact, I’m even going to drop a link to it right here. Just click that cover over on your left there, and you’ll go right there on Amazon. Available in digital and paperback. Though sadly, signed copies will be hard to find now that LTUE is over. There’s always next year, however!

So then, that’s the news out of the way, let’s talk about today’s topic of choice: Flanderization.

Yeah, it’s a fun word. But you may not have heard of it before. because it’s one that’s growing in popularity. In fact, the word is entirely modern, the term that makes up the first half of it being sourced from the name of Homer Simpsons’ neighbor Ned Flanders. Characters on The Simpsons, which first aired in 1990.

Which makes the term even younger, as the process the character Ned Flanders underwent to coin the phrase didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of several seasons.

In other words, this makes flanderization a uniquely modern term, clearly younger than even I am. In fact, a quick good wasn’t even enough to know when this term first appeared. Maybe no one’s done any research on it? Grad students, take note, this could be your big break for a fresh paper on language! Track this one down!

Okay, so the term flanderization is younger than thirty years at the very least (and, this is just guessing, but I’d put it probably around twenty-two or twenty-four, as that was the “golden era” of The Simpsons, making it the most likely time for the term to have cropped up). But what does it mean? And how’d it get that bizarre but memorable name?

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Being a Better Writer: Character Flaws

Hello readers! Welcome back to Unusual Things and Being a Better Writer! I trust you all had a fairly good weekend?

Mine was nice. Got more done on Fireteam Freelance, including finishing another character interview and getting about halfway through a third. Plotting for the main arc is starting to come together. Once the interviews are done, I believe I’ll have enough planned out to start the first chapter! Which means it’ll show up on the site some time after that … So get ready folks. While I’m not close enough to it yet to want to drop a release date for certain, I’d guess that you’ll all see the first chapter of Fireteam Freelance before LTUE!

Also don’t forget that LTUE is coming! We’re just sixteen days out from one of the best Fantasy and Science-Fiction writing conventions of all time! In fact, this week I’m making a run to my local print shop to get a few things printed up for it (not books, but closely related)! If you’re looking at that acronym in puzzlement, check out the full write-up I did on LTUE and the panels I’ll be at this year, then go check out the official site to secure your registration or find more panels to be at!

70081760_568294170598543_7425837595373862912_oAlso, in that vein, don’t forget that A Dragon and Her Girl, LTUE’s second benefit anthology, launches February 13th and is now available for pre-order! Again, there’s a write-up on the site about it you can go check out if you missed it. Featuring twenty stories from accomplished authors old and new about dragons, heroines, and everything in-between, A Dragon and Her Girl is absolutely something to grab if you’re a fan of any of that! Additionally, proceeds from sales of A Dragon and Her Girl are used to keep attendance prices at LTUE low, specifically the $5 student ticket. So by purchasing a copy you’re helping keep the student admission price to LTUE affordable and cheap! Click on the image to the right and go right to the pre-order page on Amazon!

Okay! That was a lot of news, but hey, there’s a lot coming up in the next few weeks. I all honesty, I probably could have talked about some other stuff as well. But … I’d rather get into this week’s BaBW post! So, let’s talk about character flaws.

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Being a Better Writer: Avoiding One-Note Character Pitfalls

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and you all know what that means!

Also, brief news, just a refresher, but LTUE, the writing con to beat all writing cons, is coming! Be there if you can!

But, before we get started, I need to issue a warning. No, not a news warning, but a warning about today’s post. Why? Because some people are going to find it controversial. Or, if they stop in the first few moments and don’t go past the opening, perhaps even “offensive.” Largely because they didn’t bother to read further and will be upset with the opening example, real as it may be. But I promise there’s a purpose and a point to it, though it will touch on an area of writing these days that will immediately make hackles rise. So just push through it, all right? It’ll make sense.

Okay, so to start with on today’s topic, I’m going to give you a character bio. Now, this character bio is real, a composite of several dozen real character bios across the web from various sources. But with one detail flipped. Which, as soon as you read it, you’ll likely pick up on. In fact, these bios (and the stories that resulted) were what prompted this post. Ready? Here we go. Again, this is a composite bio, built out of real bios, with one thing flipped, and once you see it, you’ll get it.

NAME: Bjorn the Mighty
Age: 37
About: Bjorn the Mighty prefers sex with women.

Okay, do I even need to ask? It’s pretty obvious what’s wrong with that bio. It consists of nothing more than who this character wants to have sex with, a name, and an age. There is literally nothing else save the inference from the “the mighty” part of their name.

If you’d like to know what I flipped from the real bios this is based on, it’s … Well, it’s which sex Bjorn likes to have sex with. And I can hear torches and pitchforks coming out from here, folks, hold up, hold up. Put the axes down. Stop revving the engines.

The point isn’t that someone “isn’t allowed” to flip that so that it says “Bjorn the mighty prefers with men.” The point is that too many authors as of late have fallen into a trap of letting that be the only point to the character’s character.

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Being a Better Writer: Gestures, Paralinguistics, and Dialogue

Welcome, readers, to the year 2020, and a new series of Being a Better Writer! We’re back at last, ready to tackle all new topics of writing every Monday. So kick back and get ready to talk writing!

If you’re new, well you’ve probably figured it out by now, but Being a Better Writer is a weekly series here on Unusual Things, several years running now, that’s all about writing in its various aspects. We’ve discussed everything from romance subplots to character motivations to common writing cliches.

So, what topic have I chosen to kick off the new year? One I’d imagine many people haven’t thought a lot on. I myself, actually, hadn’t consciously given it much thought until an incident about a month ago got me pondering on it. See, a little over a month ago now, as the holiday season was really winding up, I got talking with someone that had just finished one of my books, and they’d offered their thoughts and opinions. One thing that they pointed out was that the exposition offered by the characters felt, for lack of a better word, thicker than other books. It would cover plot, yes, and needed elements, but would do so in a way that was longer than other books by other authors.

But at the same time, while this threw them off, it wasn’t bad, and they couldn’t say why. For that matter, neither could I, and I puzzled over it for almost a week. Because they weren’t the first reader to note this. More than once it’s been pointed out to me that many readers feel my characters’ moments of dialogue and exposition are larger than other comparable books … but don’t feel drawn out. In other words, they make take twice as many words to say what another book would do in half the amount … but it doesn’t feel like it unless one sits back and looks at the whole.

This puzzled me, as it wasn’t the first time an observation in this vein has been made about my work. I say puzzling because for the majority of readers it wasn’t bad. No one felt that there were “extra” or even unnecessary words or phrases in there, despite the overall length being larger by comparison. Put before a critical editor, they’d hem and haw … but in the end conclude that they didn’t want to cut anything.

See? Puzzling. And so I spent a good week during the holidays pondering on this odd occurrence. What was I doing differently with my writing that made my dialogue and exposition longer … but not filler?

Then, I watched a Youtube video from content creator Tom Scott, and it clicked. I knew what it was that I was doing differently, and why people would note that the exposition was “thicker” but wouldn’t want to cut anything.

It had to do with my characters. Or rather, how I developed and made them come alive to the audience through use of paralinguistics.

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Being a Better Writer: Voice VS Grammar

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and that means Being a Better Writer! So, our topic for today? We’re going to start off with a little quiz. Nothing complicated, just pick answer A or answer B.

The setup? Picture a man sitting alone in a train car. He’s alone in his berth, the other three seats unoccupied. He keeps glancing out the window. His leg is bouncing up and down in a rapid rhythm. His clothes are wrinkled, unkempt. He looks as though he may have missed his last shower. His fingers keep beating a nervous, staccato beat against the arm of his seat.

The door is open, and he jerks his eyes to it as a trolley stops in front of it. The man behind the trolley politely asks if the occupant would like anything.

The man in the berth opens his mouth and says—

Option A) “No, thanks.”

Option B) “No thanks.”

So, which option is correct?

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Being a Better Writer: Character Voice

Hey readers! Welcome back!

I know. It’s been a slow week from your perspective. The last major post here was another Being a Better Writer post last Monday. I said nothing else all week.

It’s because I was keeping busy. I’ve thrown myself headlong into Jungle edits, currently on  chapter … 37? Of 42. I think. Not important. The vital detail is that I edited something like 120,000 words last week. This week will see every single chapter up for the current group of Alpha Readers.

Oh, Hunter/Hunted beta calls will go out this week, too. I gotta finish up some of these plates so I can stop juggling them. And then pick up more.

This week there will be more than just Being a Better Writer, so check back. Got some thoughts on things here and there, as usual. But that’s for later.

For now, I want to talk about character voice.

Character voice is one of those unique elements that can make or break your story. Imagine, if you would for a moment, that you’ve gone to see an animated movie. The particular film doesn’t matter. Picture a favorite. You pull out the Blu-ray, walk into the theater, whatever, sit down, and the first character comes up and speaks. There’s their voice. Cool. Whatever.

Then the second character opens their mouth to respond … and it’s the same voice. The same VA, clearly the same person who did the first voice. And they do the third voice. And the fourth. And the fifth.

No changes. No switches to pitch or inflection, or any of the standard talents voice actors use when fulfilling multiple roles. Just the same voice for every character.

I’d imagine a viewer would find that both difficult to keep track of and outright annoying, wouldn’t you?

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