Being a Better Writer: The Static Character

Sorry for the lateness of today’s post, readers. It wasn’t because I had work, or because I was indisposed by some sudden surprise event or something. No it was simply because I was tired and decided to catch up on sleep. And catch up I did. I slept … crud, I’m not even sure, but it was more than eight hours by a long shot. I’ll probably do the same tomorrow.

Anyway, we’re actually venturing off the list this week with today’s post. For two reasons. The first is that there’s only one topic left on Topic List XI. The second is that this post was inspired by a book I read last week that left a strong impression on me for the exact problem we’ll be talking about today (which means I also won’t be naming the book, since it’s otherwise fairly good, and that’s my usual approach as to not turn readers off from it).

So then what is this problem? Well, you’ve seen the title. So what am I talking about when I say “The Static Character?”

Well, really quickly, let’s get out of the way what it isn’t, at least how we’re speaking of it today. Because a “static character” description can be used as a catch-all phrase for a character that doesn’t do much or doesn’t contribute, and this can include speaking of the events of the story. Different reviewers will use the phrase interchangeably for similar concepts all the time, but that’s usually what it boils down to: A character that does little and doesn’t move.

But there’s another aspect that the term can refer to, and that’s the one that I want to talk about today. The character that does stuff, is involved in the story … but never changes or shifts as a character.

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Being a Better Writer: Imagery and Metaphor

Reaching the end of Topic List XI folks! Only a few more to go! But before we go diving into today’s Being a Better Writer post, a few bits of news to take care of.

So, the weekend sale and the dearth of sales before it. According to a comment left on the original post, I’m not the only author who saw a sudden drop around that time, so Unusual Events’ involvement may have been a coincidence, the drop being something larger sweeping through the book world. School year starting? Something else? I don’t know. But it appears it wasn’t just me that felt it.

Thankfully, the weekend sale seems to have done pretty well, with Colony and Shadow of an Empire selling a good number of copies. Hopefully the momentum gained carries on through now that the sale is over and keeps it back at what it was before things took a swift downward dive, but if nothing else there was a weekend of good sales numbers that hopefully leaves some happy readers craving more.

So, that’s the news so … Oh wait, there’s one more thing. Someone did ask my opinion on the Fantastic Beasts Nagini “controversy” and if I was going to do a post on it. A full post? For something so ridiculous? No. But I can address it in a paragraph or two.

The gist of it? The newest trailer for Fantastic Beasts 2 revealed that Nagini, the pet snake of the big bad in the original Harry Potter series, may in fact be a Naga, and is a character in the new Fantastic Beasts film. Well, almost immediately after this reveal, the film (and Rowling) came under attack for casting an Asian actress as the character, saying that it was accusing all Asians of being reptiles, etc etc. The usual stupid, easily-offended-but-completely-uneducated-social-justice-virtue-signal stuff.

Rowling’s response was to politely point out that Naga are a southern Asia mythology, hailing from that culture, so in addition to the actress’ talent at the role, it was an accurate choice given the myths, legends, and source of Naga. Now, with sane, rational people who aren’t just looking to jump on the latest bandwagon of “look what makes me so woke” things would have stopped there. But they didn’t. Instead the attacks immediately changed to a variety of secondary “social justice” standbys: Cultural appropriation, Nagini was Voldemort’s pet so clearly this is saying all women are pets to men, etc etc etc.

The lack of logic is truly staggering. It’s perpetually-offended folks wanting to be perpetually offended and doing everything they can to try and take some sort of imaginary “moral high ground” to shame everyone else and gain a measure of power over them. Look at that initial chain of “How dare you have an Asian actress portray this mythological creature” to “That creature’s from that part of the world? Then how dare you ‘appropriate’ that myth!”

It’s a strange “game” these morons want everyone else to give them.

Right, that said, let’s get on to today’s BaBW post and talk a little bit about imagery and metaphor.

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Being a Better Writer: Ambiguous Stories

Today’s topic is going to be a bit of a vague one, I’m afraid. At least initially.

No, that wasn’t a deliberate play on words (okay, maybe a little), but more as a starting admission of my own limited experience with this topic.  Which makes it sound like I’m admitting a lack of knowledge on it. Which isn’t true. It’s just that I (and my posts) tend to have come at this topic with a different approach than what has been asked after for this one.

What am I talking about? Well, the request for this was “Ambiguous characters and plots” IE characters and stories that are “vague” about what’s actually going on. An ambiguous character, for example, is a character where the reader is unsure of their motivations or objectives, or even facts about the character themselves. Likewise, an ambiguous story is one where the reader is unsure about what’s really happening, even as the story is being told, such as a story told by an untrustworthy or unstable narrator being ambiguous because we don’t know for certain if events happened the way that they’ve claimed, or if the narrator is “fictionalizing” their own account.

There can exist a certain bit of charm to these types of stories and characters (which is both why they’re written and why they’ve been asked after as a topic here). A story in which events or even the characters are ambiguous, when written well, can be exciting and teasing at the same time, constantly keeping the reader guessing and striving to put the clues together on their own to separate fact from fiction to discover the real story.

At the same time however, that’s written well. A poorly written ambiguous story or character, by contrast, will confuse and irritate its audience, often to the point that many of them will put the book down and find something else to read.

The trick, then, is being the former and not the latter. But in truth … it’s really hard to be the former. And unfortunately easy to be the latter. Because ambiguity is more than just cutting out certain details so that the audience doesn’t know what’s going on. Sure, you’ll end up with an ambiguous story … but one that’s also a mess of cut content at best, a disaster of confusing elements at the worst. No, crafting an ambiguous story (or an ambiguous character) involves careful cutting and replacing in such a way as to keep things balanced on the edge of a knife.

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Being a Better Writer: How Smart Do They Have to Be, Anyway?

Hello, readers! I hope you’ve all had a pretty good weekend and are back and ready to talk about writing, because we’ve got an interesting topic here today. Which is a request topic, but in a broader sense than the original seeker intended.

There’s not much in the way of news, so lets just dive in! The originator of this question wanted to know: How could one write a story with a smart protagonist but an unintelligent antagonist? Was it even possible?

To which I’d respond “Of course it is!” Pretty much every kid-focused comedy ever made seems to angle in this direction, whether it’s the original Little Rascals (I mean the original black-and-white shorts) or something like Home Alone. You have a reasonably smart child protagonist, and the fairly unintelligent adult antagonist(s). More adult-oriented (age, people) also move in this direction. How many films are there, after all, about a well-meaning, intelligent individual being worked over by a less-than-intelligent boss working up the nerve to strike out in revenge? Plenty. I can think of a few off the top of my head. Books too (I feel I should swing that in since, you know, writing).

Now, here’s the kicker. Are any of those stories less-than-serviceable for having an antagonist who isn’t as bright? No. Of course not. In fact, just because those antagonists aren’t as intelligent as the protagonist doesn’t mean that they can’t prove a ruthless and effective force.

How? Well, that’s what we’re going to dive into today. So buckle up, because here we go.

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Being a Better Writer: Serving an Idea

Welcome back readers! Sorry for the lateness of the post. There almost wasn’t one this week. Between a work shift today and a family wedding last week (not my own; I’d talk about that) the last few days have been extremely busy, and more than once I’ve been tempted to just skip a week and get caught up with Hunter/HuntedBut then I was talking with someone online this morning about the differences between a couple of different Sci-Fi books with regard to how they approached their stories, and, well, here we are!

So, those of you who are long-time readers of this site may find this post slightly familiar. To be fair, in near five years doing this, I’m frankly amazed that I’ve managed to keep from retreading topics as many times as I have. But even with that, there’s something to be said for coming back at a topic from a new angle and with a different approach or perspective. So read on. Either it’ll be new to you, or it’ll be a different approach that you hadn’t run across before.

So, what are we going to talk about today? Priority of ideas and concepts. More specifically, how you present those ideas, the core concepts of your story, in your story, and how that ends up affecting everything else. Or rather, if it helps, how important those ideas are to the story in its most basic form.

Confused? Don’t be. Or hopefully, you won’t be in a moment. But this does take some explaining.

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Being a Better Writer: The Convenient Romantic Subplot

Welcome back, readers! It’s Monday, and you know what that means! Time for Being a Better Writer!

But first, a slight aside. Dave Freer (you may have read something of his) wrote this little blurb that caught my eye from my morning feed on the Mad Genius Club (their name, not mine) about large books. More accurately, on books that dive past the “normal” length of 40,000 to 100,000 words. I found it interesting, both because well, the “normal” length for me is hovering around 325K per story, and because Freer is writing this as someone who doesn’t write such long books and is putting forth his thoughts on both why he doesn’t and where they may fit with readers and the industry.

I found it interesting, especially as it does point out how much of an outlier I am with the breadth and scope of what I do. Those of you who are fans of my work, take a look at his thoughts and see what you think. If you’re so inclined, if you think he nailed something or was way off, leave a comment!

Okay, news aside. Let’s talk writing stuff. Now, today’s topic isn’t a requested one. In fact, it’s not even on my Topic List. No, this is one that came to mind as I was sitting reading through another book last night (a short story collection, in this case, but I hit the library recently, so I’ve been mowing through a literal stack of books). I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately—more than the norm—and naturally, I was noticing a lot of trends as I read through. One of the most common, which I’m sure many of you readers, movie-watchers, and the like also notice, is the sometimes dreaded romantic subplot.

Naturally, I started thinking about it. Why we use it. Why it’s become so blasted common and cliche, and yet still sticks around despite that. Why so many feel the need to stick a romantic subplot into an otherwise good story (this, by the way, is often called a romantic plot tumor when it doesn’t belong). Why so many dislike it, and yet it constantly shows up, again and again. Personally, I felt it was worth talking about. Because I guarantee you, a number of readers of this site have sat down to write out their story, and almost immediately thrown a romance subplot in without even knowing why.

Now, I do want to make a caveat here: I am not talking about the romance genre. I’m talking about romantic subplots. You know, a side plot to the main story. Not a story where the romance is the story, but a story where the romance is something happening alongside the main story, but not the crux of the plot. The protagonist has a journey, a foe to face, a mountain to climb, an alien planet to explore .. whatever. And along the way they fall for someone.

All right, with that catch explained, let’s talk about romantic subplots.

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Being a Better Writer: Writing Exercises for Viewpoints

Welcome back, readers! And welcome to Tuesday! As you probably guessed, I had work shift yesterday, and as low as hours have been lately, there was no way I wasn’t taking it.

Just gotta make it to the end of August. The end of August.

Anyway, you guys aren’t here to hear about how close to the edge a writer’s life is. You’re here to hear about how it can be you at the edge!

I’m only sort of joking. Anyway, you’re here today for Being a Better Writer, and today we’ve got another request topic to tackle. Which, if you’ve glanced at the title above, you already know of: writing exercises.

Okay. I’ll give you all a minute to think on that one, and then I’m going to change the game. And again, if you saw the title, you’ve already guessed how that’s going to change.

I won’t be offering a comprehensive breakdown of dozens of writing exercises. Because, honestly, it’s easy to find writing exercises. Just type “good writing exercises” into Google and you’re bound to find hundreds. My offering, in that respect, of retreading the same ground? Not so useful.

However … that doesn’t mean I have nothing to offer. I’m not going to retread a bunch of exercises you’ll find elsewhere, but I will go over some of the exercises I did in college, as a young writer in creative writing classes, and discuss what made them stand out and why I still remember them today.

Sure, it’ll be a bit unconventional for a BaBW post, but I’m allowed to do that. It’s my site, and I answer to me. So, looking back, here are several challenges and exercises that helped me improve at my craft: what they were, what they each entailed, and how they helped me get better.

Let’s rock.

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