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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Being a Better Writer: Clothing and Fashion

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and that mean’s it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer!

Of course, it’s not just an ordinary Monday. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday in the US honoring the life and accomplishments of, well, Martin Luther King Jr (Surprise! This one is names correctly!).

If you don’t know who Martin Luther King Jr. is, then today is a good day to perhaps carry out a Google and learn a little bit about him! In the meantime, however, and before I get to this week’s news and then the post itself, I’ll share this quote from him, one that feels especially relevant after the last few weeks:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

If you’ve never read that quote before, nor anything else Martin Luther King Jr. said during his life, then I’d say today would be a good day to do a quick Google and some reading! Enjoy!

And now, the news! With the most relevant question on many readers’ minds being “What’s the status of Axtara – Banking and Finance?” Well, I’ve got good news, and I’ve got good news!

Good news #1 is that Axtara is doing pretty well. Even almost a month after release, it’s still sitting in the top 25 on the new release tracker for its category on Amazon. It’s also picked up a number of reviews and ratings, all of them in the positive. From what’s come in so far, the meaning is clear: You guys love Axtara! Let’s take a look at some excerpts from the reader reviews so far:

I just finished reading the the book a bit ago and I loved it. The story is enjoyable and wraps up well (it does leave it open for a sequel too, and I hope that there is one – or more – eventually). The characters are also likeable, and the story being from the perspective of a dragon – Axtera – is interesting … I enjoyed it quite a bit and if you think the description looks interesting then you should definitely give it a shot as I think it delivers well on the premise.

An enjoyable read! I’ll give a try on kindle unlimited to most any book with a dragon as the protagonist, but I quite liked this one enough to leave a good review. I was particularly interested in the entrepreneurial elements as Axtara works to establish her bank. Axtara’s focus on reaching break-even point shows the author did their research here, and the business side seems well grounded and interesting.

 I came away fully satisfied from having read a story so well-crafted, and I hope to see more!

A lovely and enjoyable story that I will be buying as a hard copy as soon as it’s available!

So yeah, the verdict is in: Axtara is a hit! I hope those of you that are still reading it are finding it every bit as enjoyable as you’d hoped, and that your reviews will find their way to the world soon!

Now, what about something that even the last review quote touches on: The hard copy. Is it still coming? I know I haven’t offered an update in a week or so (again, blame the computer failure I suffered). Well, I’ve got good news people!

It’s almost done. The manuscript has been uploaded, and the hard copy cover is almost done. All that’s left is for someone who knows more about GIMP than I to do some smoothing on the image, and for me to acquire and zip through a proof! And once that’s done … Axtara – Banking and Finance will be available in paperback!

Okay, so what are we looking at, detail-wise? Well, the price is likely going to be, as of right now, $11.99, and weigh in at a little over three hundred pages. If that price seems high, well … that is literally as low as I can go before the print costs are such that I’d lose money on every copy sold, at which point the Print services just say “no, you can’t do that.” Not a great deal for me, either. So yeah, it’s very likely going to be $11.99 for the time being. But hey, at least there’s digital for those of you saving pennies.

However, I can say this: Axtara will almost certainly be available in print before the end of the month! I’ll be sure to let you all know!

Now, I do have one other bit of news before we hop to today’s Being a Better Writer topic: Price drops! That’s right, the promised price drops in the wake of a new release have finally come for Shadow of an Empire and Jungle! Shadow of an Empire has now reached its final tail-price of $3.99, while Jungle has seen its first price-drop to $5.99. So if you’re a tail reader, your day has come for Shadow of an Empire! Click that books tab at the top and go for it!

All right! That’s the news, said and done. So let’s talk about today’s writing topic, which is a bit of an odd one. Clothing and fashion, after all, is something a lot of young writers barely consider, save occasionally from the lens of “how cool can I make them look” (a process which for some reason for many seems to involve robbing an outlet store for a few hundred belts and zippers)? So why devote a BaBW post to the topic?

Well, it’s because as I’ve said before, a lot of bringing a world to life is in the fine details. And clothing, and what we wear, is definitely one of those details. Let’s take a look.

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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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