Being a Better Writer: Tabletop Conversations

Hello readers, and welcome back once again! If you’re here on this Monday afternoon by some prior plan, then you know what’s up. If not, then welcome to the site and our weekly Monday post of Being a Better Writer! This week we’re going with a bit of a more classic topic, though not without a bit of wordplay within the title.

But first, we’ve got news to talk about. Con news, to be specific! Life, The Univere, and Everything is coming February 17-19, 2022!

Those of you that know what LTUE is can rejoice now. Those who do not, or haven’t been on this site before and heard about the con, LTUE is a writing con. That means that the panelists are all authors and experts on specific topics, there to talk about writing in all its various aspects and forms. I’ve attended it for almost two decades now, first as a young student, now as a panelist, and it remains the best con I’ve been to for being all about writing. With hundreds of authors and panels talking about all sorts of writing topics, from the basic to the specific (there’s always a panel on how to write action scenes, for example, chaired by some of the better action writers in the business, but there are also panels like ‘garbage dumps through the ages’ taught by historians and authors who’d need to know that stuff) LTUE is a smorgasbord of expert writing advice.

It’s also cheap. Students, be they K-12 or collegiate, get in for $5. For the whole three days. That’s right. Five bucks. Non-students pay a bit more (usually around $75 for all three days), but that’s still an incredibly low price for three whole days of writing content. The panelists are all volunteer as well. This isn’t one of those “writing camps” taught by a few people with one book to their name who make the majority of their living telling others how they wrote that one book by being at that camp. These panelists are people taking time away from their normal day job of writing, editing, or being an expert on something in order to talk about the craft because they love it and want to help others.

If you’re somewhat versed in Fantasy and Sci-Fi you’ll recognize a few of these names too. This year’s Writing Guest of Honor is non other than Jody Lynne Nye, and if you check the “featured guests” page over on LTUE’s website, you’ll see quite a few other names you’ve likely heard of (or read). Checking the full schedule page will let you search all the attending panelists, and you may see a few more names on there you recognize!

Now, I’m going to link that schedule page once more, because that’s also how you can look at a full list of upcoming panels, and it’s time to start figuring out what panels you’d like to hit.

Even if you can’t come in person. Last year the entire LTUE experience was uploaded to Youtube as well as available to attend online. I’m not sure of the exact details around online attendance this year myself, since I’m going in person, but there are whole archives on YouTube of prior years’ panels. They usually end up online about six months later, but that’s better than nothing if you can’t make it.

UPDATE: I have been informed that there will not be as many recorded sessions this year due to some of the principle recording staff being unable to attend. The staff hope to record and post some sessions, but they will likely be few in number and take more time than usual if they’re uploaded.


Now, one more item of news before we dive into today’s topic. As in prior years, I will once again be attending LTUE this year as a panelist (most of you probably guessed that). It’s an absolute delight, and once again I’ve got a bevvy of fun panels to look forward to, including—

  • A Space Opera Starter Kit
  • Fanfiction: Having Fun
  • My Genre Wishlist
  • Science Fiction Faux Pas
  • No Mirrors: Character Description in First Person

I’d love to see you there! In addition, I’ll also be at the big book signing and moving around the con conversing and attending other panels.

But there’s one more little tidbit that I want to share that definitely belongs in the news section. Not only will I be at the book signing, but the LTUE book vendors will be carrying copies of Axtara – Banking and Finance and Shadow of an Empire!

That’s right! In prior years this hasn’t been a thing, because I’ve been solely a digital purveyor of products (despite attending the book signing anyway). But with a few of my titles now available in dead tree format, you’ll now be able to purchase them at the LTUE bookstore. I’ll be bringing a few extra copies as well to have on hand, but if you’ve been thinking of snagging a paperback for either of those two titles at last, LTUE will be your chance not only to do so, but to get it signed while you’re at it!

You know, unless they run out. They’ll have a decent stock of both, but the way they sell …

All right, that’s it for this Monday’s news. I know that was a lot, but hey, LTUE is a big deal, and only happens once a year. We’ll talk about it more in the future, but for now, let’s talk about “Tabletop Conversations.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Too Much Purple in Your Prose?

Well, this post topic comes at a topical time. Or maybe I picked it because of what I’ve been reading lately. Hard to say.

Hello readers, and welcome back! I realize that intro needs a little explanation, and so you’ll get one! See, I’ve recently started reading this book. Recently as in “just a few days ago.” It was a book I won’t name (per the usual, if I’m going to use a book as a negative example of something, I don’t name it unless it’s so famous the creator won’t care or it’s really bad), but it was a loan from my sister. No idea where she acquired it, but she passed it to me with an ominous exchange of ‘I read this and I wanted to know what you think?’ followed by ‘Was it good?’ and a retort of ‘It was interesting. I want to know what you think.’

Now I’ll admit that I’m about eighty pages in and I am curious to see where the story is going, though as a YA book it’s already showing some signs of slipping into a more “standard” trope story. But it’s not terrible. But it definitely is … interesting.

One of the reasons I say this is because the book has a real love of overly purple prose. In fact, as I was reading it last night I realized there was a pattern to it: Almost anything that was going to be described wasn’t just going to be described in very flowery, over-the-top terms and language (I’ll bet I could find “eyes like cursed amethyst” somewhere in this book). No no, it was going to be described using such no less than three times. Introduced, or even meeting again a male character? Get ready for three sentences—a whole paragraph—about how his eyes are burning like simmering, shifting coals, his posture like a howling wolf with a firebrand on his tail, etc etc. You get the idea.

I actually laughed when I noticed that it really was a “rule of three” thing going on with all the prose and descriptions. Even if it’s just a sudden cut for a quick, single-word description of something, there will be three of them in a row. All equally verbose and over-the-top.

But … it does raise a question. I haven’t stopped reading the book yet, so is it too much? For that matter, what about in the books that we write? When is there too much purple in our prose?

Continue reading

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?”

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Including a Range of Culture

Welcome back readers! Potentially to me as well!

Yes, this post was written weeks ago, to make up for the fact that I am in Alaska for a fishing job right now. I might be back, but it’s unlikely. At least from my perspective in the past.

Anyway, with that being said I have no idea what the news will be, and even if I’m back I’ll still be letting these go up as scheduled, so there’s little else to talk about aside from diving into our post today! So let’s get to it!

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Making (and Keeping) Dialogue Unique

Hello again, readers! Welcome back to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope you all had an enjoyably decent or better weekend. I did. Saturday saw me spending several hours at work on the paperback edition for Shaodow of an Empire, which, as I reported in Saturday’s post, is now in the cover stage! Excitement!

That and I went to a Scottish festival and watched some caber-tossing, which is always fun to see.

Then this morning I heard of “BookTok” for the first time, which is apparently this (for now) grassroots part of TikTok where people review books, often (at least from the article I read) titles that aren’t immediately new or known (which was how one publisher found out about it: they saw massive sales for a book they were no longer promoting and discovered #BookTok had promoted it). Of course, it’s probably about to stop being grassroots, since according to the article I read now that the major publishers are aware they’re looking into how to “use” BookTok to their advantage, but it’s still neat. In the meantime, here’s hoping one of those BookTok reviewers decides to give a copy of Axtara – Banking and Finance a shot!

Anyway, let’s get down to business, shall we? Today, I want to talk about dialogue. That’s right, the stuff characters say and speak.

Specifically, I want to talk about—as the title of today’s post indicates—keeping it unique. Something that, if I’m honest, a lot of writers struggle with. Even published ones.

But … it’s not just the fault of the writers. Comically enough, this weekend I saw a post on a subreddit asking people what they wanted from their books, and the number-one result at the time I looked was “Good dialogue.”

Hmm … Some of you might be thinking close to what I did when I saw that post, which was “So I guess a lot of books fail at this?” And yes, that was certainly part of my thought process. But there was a second part to it as well, something that I’ve only learning in writing and releasing books on my own. But for it to make sense, we’re going to need a little background first.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: The Five Senses

Welcome back readers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got a pretty nifty topic ahead of us, but before we hit that, there’s some big news we’ve got to discuss. News which I’m sure many of you have already guessed at. It’ll get its own post tomorrow, as to not interfere with today’s BaBW (I’ve learned my lesson there), but it’s big enough news it needs it’s own spot heading today’s post (since today is the first I can get to it). So here goes.


Jungle is now available for Pre-order!

Jungle CoverYes, you read that right. Jungle, the massive sequel to Colony, is now open for pre-order in advance of its November 19th release date. If you’re the kind of person who absolutely must have the newest book the moment it comes out, or if you’d rather order it now so that you don’t have to worry about it later, well, you’re in luck! All you need to do is click this link right here or the cover image to the right there and you’ll be taken right to the pre-order page so you can place your order.

Jungle is the long-awaited (and at last almost here!) sequel to Colony, coming November 19th!


Okay, take a moment to recover from that bit of news. It’s big, I know. Once a year kind of news.

All right, heart-rate stabilizing, breathing returning to normal, pre-order made … Everything’s taken care of. So let’s talk writing!

Okay, I expect that some of you are looking at the title for this particular BaBW post and thinking something along the lines of “The five senses? He doesn’t mean those five senses, does he?”

And, well, yeah I do. The five you learn as a kid when you’re in a grade school, or from your parents, or maybe an older sibling (though the latter usually comes with either the wrong number, or a made up sense because older siblings messing with younger siblings is a time-honored tradition).

But yes, we’re talking about those five senses: Sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Specifically, we’re talking about using those in your writing. Why?

Well … I noticed something a few months ago (yeah, this topic’s from a while back) when I was both editing Jungle and reading through a book from my local library. Now, this happened long enough ago that I don’t remember exactly how the topic came up, but if I recall properly, it had to do with a comment an Alpha reader left on Jungle that served a sharp contrast to the book I was reading at the time. Sharp enough that I suddenly stopped and thought to myself “When was the last time anyone smelled anything in this book?” Meaning the book I was reading, not Jungle.

Believe it or not, this question stumped me. And I starting thinking even more heavily on the topic, running over the last few books I’d read in my head and thinking about, well, smells. The more I thought about it, the more odd the last few books I’d read felt to me. Why? Because it was as if scents didn’t exist in their world. In fact, I’m pretty sure one of them never once mentioned any smells at all.

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading