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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Being a Better Writer: The Strong Female Protagonist

Welcome back readers, to another Monday edition of Being a Better Writer! Today is … well, I’m sure you can see from the title that it’s going to be an auspicious post. Today’s topic is a rather popular one right now. In fact, I could easily say that it’s a current issue in a lot of story circles. For varying reasons depending on how you talk to.

But thankfully, I don’t plan on getting into any of the more social-political angles of this topic, because I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in one thing only with these posts: how to write, and write well.

Which—okay,  maybe a tiny bit into social-politics—is why this post has been requested and hotly anticipated by a lot of readers. Because right now there’s a whole—well, I’d call it rediscovery, really—of the strong female protagonist. But with that rediscovery comes a whole new crowd trying to figure out what a strong female protagonist is for the first time. And with a lot of different voices out there, it can become very easy for their to come with a healthy dollop of “confusion” as people try to determine exactly what “strong,” “female,” and “protagonist” mean in the same sentence.

And, if I’m honest, some of this confusion comes from the very root of the sentence “strong female protagonist” and its particular phrasing.

I can hear some of you sparking torches from here. Relax. You’ll see what I mean in a moment. Hit the jump and let’s get started.

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Being a Better Writer: Too Unique?

Hello readers!

First of all, I want to thank all of you for being patient with this week’s Being a Better Writer post and allowing me to move it to today. My mother was in town, and it’s been … two years, I believe, since I was able to see here last. Thanks to your patience and understanding, I was able to spend Monday and a good portion of my Tuesday with her.

So thank you, again. Living so far apart I don’t get many chances to see her, so it was wonderful to have a day to catch up.

I have a second bit of good news as well! I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday for my wrist, and it was pronounced almost fully recovered, but recovered enough to no longer have work restrictions. I have one more physical therapy appointment, and they want me to keep up the exercises for another month or after that, and effectively until the final checkup in May, but …

I’m good!

I also caught a filling that had cracked and fallen out within a week at the dentist’s, so I’m getting that fixed without much issue.

Right, so there’s lot’s of good news from me. Hope things are going well for all you readers. But with that said, let’s dive into today’s topic!

So, what do I mean by naming this post Too Unique? Well, I want to talk about something today that can make or break a book’s characters.

In fact, it’s on my mind because the last book I finished? Broken. In part because each of its nine or so characters was this. They were too unique.

Again, I’m using that term, but not explaining. So let’s get down to business. What do I mean by “too unique?”

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Being a Better Writer: Chemistry

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, which means it’s time for Being a Better Writer! But first, some quick news. Really quick. Then today’s topic.

Prior Alpha readers, look for an Alpha invite in your e-mail box today! For something short; the Halo novel pitch! That’s right, I’ll be sending out Alpha read e-mails for that today. Just for three chapters, since it’s a pitch.

Meanwhile, the Hunter/Hunted Alpha is about two-thirds of the way done. Then Beta! The next project for me? Getting Jungle into Alpha, and then writing Axtara: Banking and Finance, followed by Fireteam Freelance.

That’s the news. So, chemistry …

It was my worst topic in school. No joke. It took … I want to say the fifth time someone explained the periodic table to me for me to get it. Chemistry in the science portions of my education was always a struggle.

Thankfully, when we start talking about chemistry in a book setting, it often takes on a different meaning. Unless you’re writing a chemistry book. Or a character that’s a chemist.

See in stories something you’ll hear a lot, discussed everywhere from movies reviews to games, is chemistry between the characters. If you’ve ever read a review, or talked about a film you enjoyed (or didn’t) you’ve probably heard someone comment on the characters, saying something like “Oh yeah, those two really did have chemistry.” Or maybe, if it wasn’t good something like “those two had no chemistry.”

Sure, you’ve heard it. But what does it mean?

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