Being a Better Writer: The Problem With Proper Nouns in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Hello writers, and welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer, where today we’re going to discuss something that’s actually quite topical! So topical, in fact, that this discussion wasn’t even on Topic List #20. Instead, it was prompted over this last week by some real-life work and discussion.

It’s also a topic that is going to directly reference via-link someone else’s writings on the subject. But with that, I feel we need to move into an explanation directly.

See, the genesis of this post comes from my editing on Starforge. This titan of a book is now in the Beta phase, which means looking for typos, misspelled words, misplaced quotation marks, and all that jazz. However, it also means going through and ensuring proper capitalization of proper nouns. At which point, I ran into a bit of a conundrum. Said conundrum led me to Google, which in turn pointed me to this post from 2009 concerning a similar issue in Fantasy writing—though note that it does address Science Fiction as well.

Anyway, what is this conundrum? Well, before we dive into it directly, I have a sort of pop quiz for you. You can do it in your head, but if you’re really determined you can bring out a pen and pencil and do the classic grade-school exercise. It’ll only take a moment either way, but here we go. Correctly capitalize the following sentence:

The terran vehicle rolled up the hill, backed by dozens of terran marines.

That’s it. Got it? Placed those capital letters where they belong? Okay, check out the answers after the break.

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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.

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Being a Better Writer: Traditions and Games

Hello readers! Welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer, coming to you all on the first day of November, just ahead of the Mariah Carey storm.

You know the one I’m talking about. It nears, even now. Some have already fallen prey to it.

But let us speak of things other than earworms. This weekend I started getting pictures on social media sites and services from folks. Pictures of what you might ask? Why, massive two-pound tomes that had arrived for them in the mail! That’s right, paperback copies of Shadow of an Empire have started ending up in folks’ hands! And they look nice! Here, take a look at one picture I had in my inbox this morning:

That looks great, doesn’t it? Overall, the response to Shadow of an Empire finally being in paperback (you can get your copy here, hint hint) seems pretty positive!

Which is good, as book sales last month were, short of a brief spike in Japan, in a bit of a slump. Not just for me either: It says something when sales slip by over 80% but the sales ranking stays the same. October was flat-out a rough month across the board for booksellers in general, it would seem. Fall, pre-holidays, does seem to get hit like this, so perhaps it’s just tracking as normal but with a bit of a boost from the supply chain issues as well as general economic issues plaguing us from decades of bad decisions (and you can read more about that here).

Either way, Shadow of an Empire‘s paperback release was the second bright spot in a month that was otherwise very dull sales-wise, and not just for me. With luck, now that we’re out of October and into November and the upcoming holiday season is nearing (that Shadow of an Empire paperback makes a great Christmas gift, by the way) book sales will trend back upwards.

As far as other news before we dip into today’s topic, last week saw another short story preview go up on Patreon for supporters, so if you’re a Patreon Supporter (Thank you!) go check out The Last Light! It’s … interesting. I don’t want to say much more on that.

Also, what’s happening now that Shadow of an Empire is available in dead-tree? What’s the plan now? Well, I’ve got a little bit more writing to do on that Stranded project, and maybe one or two more short stories, but nothing that’s probably going to take more than the first week or two of November. After that? It’s time to start the pre-Alpha for Starforge.

So yes, Starforge work is coming soon. Who’s ready to see how the UNSEC Space trilogy ends?

With that rhetorical question dangling overhead and filling your minds, let us turn our attention at last to today’s BaBW topic. Which is, I realize, possibly a bit of a curious one, and some of you certainly might have glanced at the title and wondered “Now what does that have to do with writing?”

Quite a bit as it turns out. Hit the jump, and let’s talk traditions and games.

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Being a Better Writer: The Post Labor Day Grab Bag

Welcome back readers! To both of us, actually! I am back at my desk again this Monday, returned from Alaska (which you might have noticed if you saw this post).

So then, what’s today’s Being a Better Writer about? Well … It’s a collection, actually. Long story short, this is my first Monday back, and last Monday, which had a post, shouldn’t have. Yeah, it was Labor Day, one of the few holidays I’ve regularly taken on the site. Except that this time I didn’t, as I was absent, and I hadn’t checked ahead with my scheduler to note that it was a holiday.

Now, normally I’d take today completely off to compensate, but I’m not doing that either, because while I was gone and had a bunch of BaBW posts going up via scheduling, they didn’t get nearly as many eyeballs as they normally would have.

Why? Well because I couldn’t schedule the promotions that take place on a lot of other sites for these posts. So those of you that relied on the site feed to see each new post saw it. Those of you that relied on other site feeds to see each new one, well … You didn’t. I can see the numbers, so I know that.

Thing is, all those posts are still there. And now that I’m back, I can put each of them out in those other places for you to peruse.

Which is what we’re going to do today. While I catch up with a few things and get stuff on my end running smoothly once more for next week, this week I’m going to be delivering a summary of everything that went up on remote last week, so that those using other feeds finally get their due.

So enjoy, and hit the jump to see what posts you might have missed!

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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!

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Being a Better Writer: The Security of a Home

Welcome back readers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer! This week … Well, this week we’re talking about a very different sort of topic, as you may have gathered from the title. It’s one that was inspired by this most recent Life, The Universe, and Everything writer’s convention (which again, if you’ve not attended or at the least watched the uploads from their panels, definitely reconsider if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of writing). Anyway, this topic came up in passing at LTUE and it stuck in my mind, even inspired me to take a look back at some of my own work to see exactly how it used the “psychology” of it in the story.

Now, before we dive fully right in, a little bit of news, as usual. Both Axtara – Banking and Finance and Jungle picked up some new 5-star reviews this weekend, which was nice, and sales are starting to shift upwards once again. As I said last time I talked about news, I’m tested a few new advertising approaches, so gratifyingly they seem to be working. Whether or not they pay for themselves is another question, but getting knowledge of my titles out there is a priority.

In other news, last Saturday saw the upload of part three of A Trial for a Dragon to Patreon as a reward for those supporting the site. For those of you that aren’t yet supporting, Trial stars the older brother of Axtara (yes, that Axtara), Ryax, as he attempts the trials necessary to be recognized as a wizard. Of course, nothing is ever easy, and Ryax soon finds that there’s quite more to being a wizard than simply knowing one’s magic. The fourth and final part will be dropping soon, so supporters take note!

After that, well, I’ve been looking at other material to drop on Patreon, so there will be more rewards in the future. For now though, look forward to the last bit of Trial and what happens when a dragon attempts to become a wizard!

All right, that’s the news. Now let’s talk about homes.

I realize that this is a really weird topic, but it’s one that suddenly clicked with me despite the brief discussion it got at LTUE. Or rather, two discussions. It came up more than once, and both pieces sort of merged together in my head, and well …

Okay look, there’s only one way to dive into a topic like this one. We’re going to start with an example. Hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: Building a World From Scratch – Part 3

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer! This week, as with last week, we’re still following in the path set before, and we’re talking about worldbuilding. More specifically, we’re going to be talking about the next step in crafting a world from scratch.

Now, if you’ve not been following BaBW up to this point, it is recommended that you have read parts one and two of this series already, since with part three today we’re following a the path set by those two pieces to its natural conclusion. So if you’re a newcomer, or just discovered this series for the first time, I would recommend reading those over before diving in. In other words, while this post is going to still be helpful for worldbuilding alone, I’d recommend reading the other two to gather the whole picture if you haven’t.

So, if you have read the two prior parts (or just like to live dangerously, and who am I to judge?), then let’s go ahead and dive in. In week one, we talked about finding our central ideas and figuring out how to “frame” the world around them. In part two we talked about taking the pieces that surrounded that world and shaping them to fit our central concepts—as well as the surrounding pieces—so that everything fits together to create a living, breathing world.

So what will we be talking about this week? Well, now that you’ve got a complete, living picture built around your central concepts, it’s time for the final step: Letting that world come to life.

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Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding from Maslow’s Hierarchy

Hello readers and welcome back! I hope you all had a spectacular weekend full of fun things. If you were a Patreon Supporter of the site, I did do a bit to help with that (Chapter 10 of Sunset: Stranded went up for supporters, so check that out if you’ve been following that story). If not, well, I hope you had a pretty good weekend anyway.

Now, before I dive into today’s Being a Better Writer post, there is a bit of news I want to point out. This post is the last topic from Topic List #16. That’s right, once this post is done, the final item on the checklist can be crossed off, and the list itself crumpled up and moved to the cylindrical tube of removal beside my desk.

Now, this is a decently big occasion. I only go through a few of these lists a year (each one has about twenty or so topics on it). Each one is a milestone of how many Being a Better Writer posts have passed since I started keeping track of the lists (which was a few years ago).

But they are also significant for another reason: Because you get to contribute to them. If you swung by the site over the weekend, you might have noticed the Topic Call for Being a Better Writer post. Well, if there’s ever been a writing topic you’d like to see covered on this site that hasn’t sprung up yet (or it’s been so long we’re due to strike again) now is the time to make your request heard!

There have already been some awesome topic requests from readers to add to Topic List #17. This next list we’re going to see posts on “rule breaking,” geography, and executing slow tension among others. But there’s still plenty of room on the list to see your area of interest appear! So go ahead and jump on over to the comments section of the topic call and leave your request!

All right, that’s all I want to talk about news-wise, so with that said (and you left a topic request, right?) let’s get down to the meat and potatoes of today’s post.

This one is not a request. In fact, it’s actually fully inspired by a panel I was on during this year’s Life, The Universe, and Everything convention. Before the panel, actually, while doing some background reading for it in preparation, I jotted this topic down as one to talk about with Being a Better Writer. And since the panel didn’t actually spend too much time on what I’m going to talk about today, it should still be fresh for those of you who attended LTUE. Double win, in that case.

Anyway, enough background. Let’s dive into today’s post. Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Clothing and Fashion

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and that mean’s it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer!

Of course, it’s not just an ordinary Monday. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday in the US honoring the life and accomplishments of, well, Martin Luther King Jr (Surprise! This one is names correctly!).

If you don’t know who Martin Luther King Jr. is, then today is a good day to perhaps carry out a Google and learn a little bit about him! In the meantime, however, and before I get to this week’s news and then the post itself, I’ll share this quote from him, one that feels especially relevant after the last few weeks:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

If you’ve never read that quote before, nor anything else Martin Luther King Jr. said during his life, then I’d say today would be a good day to do a quick Google and some reading! Enjoy!

And now, the news! With the most relevant question on many readers’ minds being “What’s the status of Axtara – Banking and Finance?” Well, I’ve got good news, and I’ve got good news!

Good news #1 is that Axtara is doing pretty well. Even almost a month after release, it’s still sitting in the top 25 on the new release tracker for its category on Amazon. It’s also picked up a number of reviews and ratings, all of them in the positive. From what’s come in so far, the meaning is clear: You guys love Axtara! Let’s take a look at some excerpts from the reader reviews so far:

I just finished reading the the book a bit ago and I loved it. The story is enjoyable and wraps up well (it does leave it open for a sequel too, and I hope that there is one – or more – eventually). The characters are also likeable, and the story being from the perspective of a dragon – Axtera – is interesting … I enjoyed it quite a bit and if you think the description looks interesting then you should definitely give it a shot as I think it delivers well on the premise.

An enjoyable read! I’ll give a try on kindle unlimited to most any book with a dragon as the protagonist, but I quite liked this one enough to leave a good review. I was particularly interested in the entrepreneurial elements as Axtara works to establish her bank. Axtara’s focus on reaching break-even point shows the author did their research here, and the business side seems well grounded and interesting.

 I came away fully satisfied from having read a story so well-crafted, and I hope to see more!

A lovely and enjoyable story that I will be buying as a hard copy as soon as it’s available!

So yeah, the verdict is in: Axtara is a hit! I hope those of you that are still reading it are finding it every bit as enjoyable as you’d hoped, and that your reviews will find their way to the world soon!

Now, what about something that even the last review quote touches on: The hard copy. Is it still coming? I know I haven’t offered an update in a week or so (again, blame the computer failure I suffered). Well, I’ve got good news people!

It’s almost done. The manuscript has been uploaded, and the hard copy cover is almost done. All that’s left is for someone who knows more about GIMP than I to do some smoothing on the image, and for me to acquire and zip through a proof! And once that’s done … Axtara – Banking and Finance will be available in paperback!

Okay, so what are we looking at, detail-wise? Well, the price is likely going to be, as of right now, $11.99, and weigh in at a little over three hundred pages. If that price seems high, well … that is literally as low as I can go before the print costs are such that I’d lose money on every copy sold, at which point the Print services just say “no, you can’t do that.” Not a great deal for me, either. So yeah, it’s very likely going to be $11.99 for the time being. But hey, at least there’s digital for those of you saving pennies.

However, I can say this: Axtara will almost certainly be available in print before the end of the month! I’ll be sure to let you all know!

Now, I do have one other bit of news before we hop to today’s Being a Better Writer topic: Price drops! That’s right, the promised price drops in the wake of a new release have finally come for Shadow of an Empire and Jungle! Shadow of an Empire has now reached its final tail-price of $3.99, while Jungle has seen its first price-drop to $5.99. So if you’re a tail reader, your day has come for Shadow of an Empire! Click that books tab at the top and go for it!

All right! That’s the news, said and done. So let’s talk about today’s writing topic, which is a bit of an odd one. Clothing and fashion, after all, is something a lot of young writers barely consider, save occasionally from the lens of “how cool can I make them look” (a process which for some reason for many seems to involve robbing an outlet store for a few hundred belts and zippers)? So why devote a BaBW post to the topic?

Well, it’s because as I’ve said before, a lot of bringing a world to life is in the fine details. And clothing, and what we wear, is definitely one of those details. Let’s take a look.

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Being a Better Writer: Traditions and Worldbuilding

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you know what that means! More Being a Better Writer! But as is the norm, I do have some news for all of you to go through first.

So we’re going to start with the more fun update: Axtara! Just like the Saturday before last, two days ago saw the posting of another preview from Axtara – Banking and Finance which you can find and read here! This time it’s an excerpt from chapter 2. That won’t be all the Axtara news you see or hear this week, because the final cover is scheduled to be delivered this week, at which point not only will you guys finally get to see it in all its glory, but Axtara itself will be able to go up for pre-order! At last! So yeah, get ready for a week of Axtara, ending in what will probably be a third and final preview as we all count down to an official release date.

Second bit of news to talk about is that this will be the last new Being a Better Writer article for the duration of Christmas and the end of the year. That’s right, once today is past, Being a Better Writer will be going on break until the New Year, 2021, arrives! At least two weeks, but I might go for three if I really feel the need to unwind. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop working on Starforge. No, that’ll still see a lot of work. In addition, unlike previous years, this also doesn’t mean there won’t be a dearth of content during this time. Not only will there be the pre-Christmas release of Axtara – Banking and Finance to keep me busy (along with everything that entails) but there will still be Being a Better Writer articles on each Monday. They’ll just be Classic Being a Better Writer articles. That’s right, I’m going to dig through and pull out some of the most popular BaBW articles of the past few years and feature them for the holiday season. That way the site won’t see a dearth for one of its more popular features during the season.

All right, that’s it for news. So now, here we go with the final new BaBW post of the year. Which was, if I’m honest, a bit of a tough choice. I spent a little bit of time sitting there looking at the list (#16 for those of you keeping track) and asking which topic suited the finale for the year the best. But after a bit of back and forth, I settled on a topic that felt both seasonal and not at the same time: Tradition.

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