Being a Better Writer: Keeping Characters From Being One-Note

Welcome back writers! It’s Monday already, and that means that we’re once again back with another installment of Being a Better Writer. A little late, and I do apologize for that. But there is a lot going on at the moment. That’s right, before we dive into today’s writing topic, I do have some news to reveal and discuss.

First up, today I can officially reveal that A Power in Ink, one of the shorts I wrote last year, has been accepted for the upcoming LTUE Benefit Anthology Troubadours and Space Princesses! Now, this is the collection for 2024, so you won’t be able to get it for a bit of time yet, but it’s on its way!

Second bit of news, also pertaining to a release, but an even bigger and more urgent one—which I left as the second bit of news because most of you likely already know. But here it is again: Starforge is releasing November 29th. That’s right, the third and final installment in the UNSEC Space Trilogy is arriving at last, six years after Colony made its grand debut. And you won’t want to miss it. You can check out more news about that at this link and get some specific details about Starforge, read some excerpts from the first review, go right to the books tab and pre-order a copy, or find some previews (including the latest) at this tag.

Again, Starforge releases November 29th! So get those pre-orders ready!

Now, third bit of news we need to talk about. Once Starforge releases, most of my books will be going up in price. I’ve spoken about this before, but the short of it is that my prices have not changed in almost ten years and no longer reflect the current value of the dollar.

If you’re alarmed, don’t be. The prices will simply be reaching equilibrium with what price point direction I chose when I started publishing back in 2013. Tail-prices will be maintained. There will be a future post about this in the coming weeks explaining the details, but the gist of it is that everything is still going back to the price of a paperback in 1994. It’s just that that is ten years more than it was when I last set my prices.

There’s a second meaning to this, however: If you’re looking to grab something, now is the time. Prices will see a bit of a bump once Starforge is out. A dollar or so for most titles, but it’s still a bump.

All right. One last bit of news, and then we can dive into today’s—quite late—Being a Better Writing post. And this last bit of news is a bit of a downer, actually. But I’ve been having problems with my right wrist and arm. I think it has to do with all the repetitive work of editing on Starforge causing the muscles in my shoulder to tighten and cause a cascading effect down into my forearm, hand, and wrist—and this is the hand and wrist I nearly lost in that workplace accident a few years back, so it has a pre-existing set of scars to amplify that—but the truth is I don’t know and won’t know until I see a doctor. I’m letting all of you know on the chance that it impacts my writing in the weeks ahead. For now, I’m just doing Copy-Edit work on Starforge before release, which is work done with an ebook reader in my hand and moving around taking notes, so that’s all right, but it’s still something I need to keep an eye on. With luck, it’s just an out of position shoulder and getting it taken care of will result in the rest of the arm feeling fine again, but I’m giving a heads-up anyway just in case things take a turn.

Okay. That’s everything. A lot happened over the last week, didn’t it? But we’re all caught up. So, let’s hit the jump, and let’s talk about keeping characters from being one-note.

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Being a Better Writer: A Long-Term Relationship – Part One

Welcome back writers! Yes, we’re back after last week’s Labor Day holiday, and ready to talk about writing. With a rather curious topic that ended up on our list after an online discussion from a writing forum triggered an observation across a number of stories. Today’s topic might be a little odd, but it is one that’s worth investigating because it is one where often writers can go off the rails.

But first, prior Beta Readers watch your inboxes today! The call is going out! Those who have left comments, you will contacted directly shortly thereafter. Starforge is coming closer!

Oh, which does lead to one other bit of news: Previews! And not just chapter previews and excerpts, though there will be those. In the coming months, we’ll be doing some lore dives into the setting after the events of Jungle. For example, we might take a look at a few other colony worlds. Or have a short spot on HL1 skinsuit armor. So look for those in the coming weeks!

Now, with that taken care of, let’s talk about writing. Specifically, today we’re talking about writing characters. I know some of you might have taken the title today as your long-term relationship with writing (and maybe we’ll put that on the list for what’s ahead), but that isn’t what we’ll be covering today.

No, today I want to talk about writing characters in a long-term relationship. As stated above, this topic was inspired by a writing forum I was lurking on, and while I don’t recall the exact conversation that shuttled me in this direction, what resulted was a sitting back and a contemplation on the variety of stories I’ve read over the years that have either built-up or introduced characters in a long-term relationship.

Or rather, the number of stories that don’t sell it. Don’t get me wrong, there are stories I’ve read that do this quite well. But for every story I read that does know how to sell this, I’d have to say I’ve read a counterpart that does not know how to sell this. Where the only way any “long-term” relationship exists in any capacity is in the narration or the characters telling the audience that it does. There’s nothing to show it. The characters themselves don’t even act like it.

So, today we’re going to talk about showing long-term relationships with characters. We’re going to talk about where a lot of these stories go wrong, but also why, and what mistakes the author is making that cause these characters’ stories of love or companionship fall flat. And, naturally, we’re going to talk about how to turn that around, and deliver characters that don’t just say they’re together, but truly sell it. And we’ll even talk a little bit about how you can use this as a narrative tool.

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about long-term relationships.

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Being a Better Writer: Campfire Conversations and Giving Characters Heart

Welcome back writers! It’s a new day, a new week, and a new chance to write something!

Me, I’m looking forward to finishing another short, currently titled Strange Catch, about a young teen in the Axtara universe (but on the other side of the continent) who finds himself in the company of a seafolk with a most unusual request …

It’s got some work to go. I’m discovery-writing this one, so already I’ve built in a few plot elements that I’ll need to go back and weave into the start of the tapestry for everything to make sense. But hey, I’m having fun and with some hammering I’m pretty certain it’ll make a nice addition to More Unusual Events. How about any of your writing? Any of you get anything special written this weekend? That short you’ve been dreaming about for months, perhaps?

There’s never a better time to start than today. Just saying.

Now, before we get down to business with today’s Being a Better Writer post, let’s go over other upcoming news, as I’ve got a few items on the docket. First up, Starforge progress! I know a lot of you have been waiting for news on this one, and I’m delivering today. Two bits of Starforge news.

The first? The Alpha 2 is going quite well. There are small things here and there to clean up, but it seems that the outlook thus far from those readers that have finished this juggernaut has been pretty positive. With that in mind, unless the Alpha Readers still working their way through find something huge, I can with high accuracy predict that the next phase of Starforge will be be Beta! Woooo! Getting closer and closer to that November release!

Second bit of Starforge news: The cover is complete. Yes, you read that properly. Which means that there will soon be a cover reveal so you can all finally see what you’ll be getting your hands on (and first-time readers will see) this fall when Starforge releases.

Look for a news post with the date soon!


Now, with that news out of the way, there’s one last thing I wish to talk about: Sales. No, not the deep discounts kind. I want to talk about sales numbers.

See, last weekend someone asked me about total sales numbers, wondering how many copies of a book I’d sold. So I sat down with my records and started going over the numbers. Lifetime sales of each book, adding them up and adding them to the total.

Readers, to date I have sold over 8000 books. In fact, the number is only a few hundred shy of being an internet meme! And just over a thousand copies shy of 10,000 books sold.

That’s a lot of books! And it’s only a beginning. With Starforge coming, and a new Jacob Rocke novel plus an Axtara sequel on the horizon, I think that there’s a chance that things could pass 10,000 this year. Maybe. If I’m lucky.

Still, that’s a monumental number. Maybe someday that’ll be the number of books I move in one year instead of ten (assuming I hit 10,000 by year’s end), but for now? Most people are lucky to ever sell a hundred books. Eight thousand is a large number of titles moved.

Oh, and just for the Axtara fans out there: While it everyone’s favorite banking dragon has moved more copies than Jungle, she’s still far behind Colony. About a thousand copies behind! Though she still sells pretty well.

Anyway, I’m considering ways to see about driving 10,000 sales before the year’s end, as 2023 will mark the ten year anniversary of One Drink unveiling itself to the world. It would be nice to have 10,000 sales to have shown for my first ten years worth of work!


Right right, we’ve talked enough about the news. Let’s actually get down to business and talk about writing. Today I want to talk about something that I touched on in a previous post, but only as an example before getting back on track.

Today? I want to talk about this concept in full. It’s something that can be a bit of a contentious topic across both writers and audience alike, but it’s also something that for many means the difference between a good book and a merely okay one.

I want to talk about what I call “campfire conversations,” and how they give characters, especially secondary ones, heart.

Hit the jump, and let’s dive into this (somewhat) contentious topic.

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Being a Better Writer: Crafting Good Goals For Protagonists and Antagonists Alike

Welcome readers, to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope that you all had a pleasant weekend, and that today’s post kicks off a glorious start to an even better week than the last. Especially where your writing is concerned!

So today’s post should be a little shorter. News-wise there’s very little I didn’t cover in last Friday’s news post, so if you’ve read that you’re all caught up. We’re inching closer to an official cover reveal for Starforge, but I don’t have an actual date yet. One other bit of news that has come to my attention over the course of the weekend will come out a bit later, but I’ll hint now that it’s good news and involves book sales numbers, which I am nearing a serious milestone for.

So yeah, most of the news that’s directly relevant was talked about on Friday. If you saw that, you’re caught up. If not, go give it a look and then come back here for a discussion on crafting good goals for protagonists and antagonists alike.

I admit, this may seem like a bit of a strange topic for some of you. Why should we talk about protagonist or antagonist goals. Aren’t those pretty simple? After all, it’s just what your character wants, right? How hard can that be?

Well … you got me. You’re right. Most of the time, this is pretty simple and/or straightforward. But for one, we talk about simple and straightforward things all the time on here. Secondly, it isn’t always simple or straightforward, and sometimes thinking about our characters’ goals a little more deeply than “They are at Position A and want to be at Position B” can free up our story in surprising ways.

So, hit the jump, and let’s talk about looking at (and crafting) good character goals.

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Being a Better Writer: How Do We Get Our Readers to Care?

Hello and welcome back readers! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! Mine was jam-packed with events, but pretty solid as a result (though packed). And there were some real booms on the Starforge Alpha 2 as well, with one reader clearing nearly a quarter of the book in a single sitting! Related to that, it’s a good thing I’m almost done with the final chapters for this Alpha, or I’d have people catching up to me!

Ultimately what this means for most of you is that Starforge continues to inch closer with each mighty step of its heavy tread. And yes, it’s still pretty heavy despite the trimming and the cuts. This will definitely be the biggest book I’ve released once it’s published. And it’ll probably stay the biggest for a long time. I don’t see myself outdoing this one anytime soon.

But enough about Starforge, let’s talk about today’s writing topic. This is going to be a familiar one to some, as it is a bit of a recurring theme across writing. In fact, I’m pretty sure (but not going to do a search for it) that we’ve devoted a post to this very topic at least once or twice, and definitely spoken about it dozens of times in other topics.

But it still remains a hot topic among authors and writers of all ages. And with good reason, as getting readers and audiences to care about characters can be quite difficult. Empathy is an acquired skill, and asking a reader to exercise that empathy with a character bound between a few pages? Well, that’s an art. A carefully developed, practiced art, and one that many would-be writers dive headfirst into without any understanding of perspective, leading to a creation that doesn’t hit the way they’d hoped it would.

So, let’s spend today talking about getting our readers to care when we present our characters, their setting, and the events that they will go through. Let’s talk about how we can avoid melodrama (and maybe what that is) and instead give our readers real, actual empathy for the characters we’ve built.

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Being a Better Writer: Ancient Jobs and Ancient Life

Welcome back readers.

Things feel a little subdued this morning. That’s because the writing world lost a legend this weekend. Eric Flint passed away on Sunday.

If you aren’t familiar with Eric Flint, he’s been around since … Well, from my perspective, forever. I was seeing books with his name on them when I was a child at the grocery story paperback section. He wrote a phenomenal amount of alternative history, to the point that at least in the circles I’ve hung out in, he was one of the two names that came up whenever anyone spoke about alternate history.

The writing community has grown a little smaller with this news. There is a GoFundMe raising funds for a memorial service.

What scattered new I have is practically unremarkable by comparison, so that’s all I think needs to be said for today’s news segment.

However, today’s topic? It was chosen as a sort of tribute to Eric Flint and his contributions to the literary world. A deviation from what was planned, but I think there’d be no better topic for today than to look at the genre that Flint loved to write and talk about it for a bit.

Well, one aspect of it, at least. We won’t be talking alternative history specifically, but we will be talking about a narrow slice of it. A slice that’s been sitting on Topic List #20 for some time now, waiting for its moment.

Today, we’re going to talk about ancient jobs and ancient life. Stick around, because it’s not what you think.

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Being a Better Writer: Underpowered and Overpowered Antagonists

Welcome back readers! It’s a new week, and with it come new accomplishments and news (that’s a lot of new, I know)! Alpha Reading on Starforge continues to surge forward, with feedback coming in quick and clear. Right now, things are looking pretty good for the second pass, with the consensus being pretty positive so far. Alpha readers haven’t hit the heavy rewrite chapters yet, so we’ll see what happens when they arrive there, but so far the cleaning, polishing, and structural changes seem to have stuck!

In personal news, I was able to spend my Saturday at a local Scottish festival, which was pretty awesomely fun. My friends and I go every year if we can, and this year we were lucky enough to have lots of time and some cash budgeted away to spend on things. Which is why I’m writing this while listening to the album Marigold by The Fire. I listened to part of one set, bought the album, and then jammed out to their evening performance. Good fun, and another album to listen to while working!

Let’s see … I already spoke about new reviews for Colony, Jungle, and Axtara, so that’s no longer the new-new, and there isn’t really much going on writing-wise save the Starforge Alpha 2 (Alpha Readers, I am loving your feedback thus far; keep at it!) so I suppose all that’s left to do today is dive into our topic.

Which may feel a bit familiar to some of you. If you’ve been a long-time follower of the site, or browsed through the archives, you may recall this post from 2014 (wow) concerning Underpowered and Overpowered Characters.

Well, today’s post is a bit of reflection of that. See, that post (which is still worth a look, mind) was largely if not entirely concerned with protagonists, and on considering overpowered or underpowered protagonist characters. But this post? This is going to be a little different. Because this post is, in keeping with what’s almost become an unofficial “theme” of this year, about villains.

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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: Organic Fight Scenes

Welcome back readers! And, with a little hope, welcome back me!

Yeah, that’s right, this is still a post written well in advance (over a month, now) due to the uncertain nature of the length of my trip. Odds are it’s been done for some time by now, but just in case, I’m writing this post and adding it to the queue as a precaution. I’m probably back, but like I noted in last week’s post, such things are uncertain. I am indeed back! I’m certainly not a fortuneteller prognosticating the future here.

Anyway, as always, today is another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer, and today we’re going to tackle a reader requested topic from our last Topic Call. A reader wanted to know how they could make their fights and battles feel organic rather than scripted. And well … let me tell you, my brain immediately went two directions with this one. See, I’ve done posts on fights before, from the small-scale to the large, so in one respect I’ve probably touched on a lot of this topic before. But from another angle … not so much. Though I’m not certain that the request aimed toward that second angle, it was what immediately seized my focus and attention.

Naturally, we’re going to talk about both. We’ll tackle the second angle first, because it’s a more foundational element that needs to come first. And then we’ll move from there to a discussion of the more common advice for writing a fight scene.

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about what makes a fight scene organic.

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Being a Better Writer: Making the Mundane Engaging

Greetings readers! Welcome to another Monday in which I am not present. I’m writing to you from the past, using perhaps the best-known means of time-travel, so that you can have this post on a day when I am very likely still busy and away in Alaska.

Maybe not. We’re reaching the part of the scheduling now where I may in fact have returned, but also may not have. I’ve become quantum!

Those of you that know how awful and interpretation that is may begin plotting my death now.

Anyway, regardless of my current limbo, let’s talk about writing. There’s no news I can talk about, since I’m in the past, so we’re just going to dive write in and talk about today’s topic: the mundane made awesome.

The idea for this post came to me on a rewatch of the new Dune movie (which is utterly fantastic). There’s a moment in the flick (minor spoilers) where the Duke and his entourage go out on a flight to actually watch a spice-harvesting operation take place (and if you don’t know what this is, definitely consider reading the book, seeing the film, or both). But here’s what struck me about this scene: it could very realistically be a documentary of some kind.

In fact, it almost is. The characters circle the spice harvester while a character explains to both them and the audience how the process works, what the job is like, what the crew is doing or watching out for, etc.

In other words, it’s very much the picture of exposition, and fairly mundane exposition at that. In our world, it would very closely be the equivalent of explaining how a dump truck works on a construction site. Which is about the most mundane thing ever, right?

Save that on this rewatch, I realized how invested everyone in the room was in this scene. I sat back, looked at the crowd, and all of them were hanging on every word coming out of the exposition character’s mouth.

There’s a reason for that. Despite this being the equivalent, at least taken flatly, of watching a documentary explain how a dump truck works, there is a reason no one in the room was bored, but instead fascinated by this explanation of, in-universe, something that was largely ordinary.

The story had made the mundane engaging. Taken something everyday and bland, and presented it in a way that was fascinating to learn about.

So let’s talk about how they did it. And then, of course, how you can do the same in your own writing.

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