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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Op-Ed: Fixing One Small Part of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

And with that title, I already feel the eyes of the internet upon me. Which is kind of the point. I wouldn’t be posting this otherwise.

Plus, it’s my website. I can post what I want. So there (despite a few internet commentators who have actually posted, in pure seriousness, the XKCD strip about “being shown the door” regarding content on my own website, without any trace of irony or acknowledgement of the ridiculousness of their demands).

Enough navel-gazing. This editorial is about The Last Jedi, specifically about what went wrong with one small part of it, and how it could have been fixed.

Because let’s be honest: There was a lot wrong with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It definitely wasn’t Star Wars Holiday Special levels of bad, but at the same time … Well, let’s just say there were a lot of Star Wars fans out there who had thought that they’d never seen anything in the series that could possibly perform worse than the prequels.

Yeah, talking about something that didn’t work in The Last Jedi is easier than shooting fish in a barrel. Suffice it to say, its creators pretty much set the bar about as low as it could possibly be set without reaching Holiday Special levels. I remember seeing Facebook and Twitter posts from people I knew, dedicated fans, talking about how they’d gone back and seen it a second time, hoping they’d missed something critical the first time around.

Yeah, you’ve probably seen some measure of this controversy. Personally? It’s not at all without merit. The Last Jedi kind of came across as a film that didn’t understand what Star Wars was about past the visual element. And sure, we got some great scenes—the battle with Snoke’s Praetorian Guard is a six-minute slug-fest that is absolutely one of the more fantastic Star Wars fights—but we also got some stuff that really dropped hard.

One of these, which I want to talk about today, is Finn’s butchered character arc. Actually, butchered isn’t the proper term. More … grossly mishandled character arc.

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Advent Faces a New Foe: The Forces of Indrim Join X-Com!

And here I thought bandits were bad. Oh well.

 

It’s that time again. With Shadow of an Empire on the horizon (eight days out, actually; have you pre-ordered your copy yet?), it would only make sense that the stars would get their own chance to shine in X-Com 2 at last!

That’s right, if you own X-Com 2 (or its expansion, War of the Chosen), you can now experience the thrill of having Adjudicator Salitore Amazd and Imperial Inquisitor Meelo Karn clean alien house alongside the rest of your crack squad! What could be better?

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Shadow of an Empire Releases in Two Weeks!

Shadow of an Empire

I mean, do I really need to say anything else? It’s almost here! Two weeks from today, you’ll finally be able to get your hands on this sweeping Fantasy-Western adventure! If you haven’t pre-ordered your copy yet so that you can have it in your hands for the first weekend of June, click the cover there to get cracking!

In the meantime, look forward to some related events coming up next week! In addition to the usual Being a Better Writer post, you’ll get the unveiling another X-Com 2 character pack! Starring—Who else?—Salitore Amazd and Meelo Karn from Shadow of an Empire. Fun side note, these two were actually the first custom characters I made in X-Com 2. I’ve had them in my roster for a long time … and now it’s your turn.

Next week will also see me doing an AMA on Reddit! That’s right, Friday, May 25th, at 1 PM Mountain Time, I’ll be doing a Reddit AMA for several hours to promote—naturally—Shadow and just answer any wild questions you guys might have about writing, Shadow, my other books, or really anything else.

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