Being a Better Writer: Flanderization

Hello readers! First things first, apologies for the lateness of this post! I am still recovering a bit from that con-crud, it would seem, and slept far, far later than I expected to. Right through my alarm, right through everything.

On the plus side, I feel better today than I did yesterday, and yesterday I felt a lot better than the day before. So I’m definitely kicking it out at long last. I hope (meanwhile, deep within me a lone cold virus tapes its knuckles, chews a strand of DNA, and says ’round two” lol).

So, let’s dive into things shall we? First, before we get to today’s post a quick reminder that Kamchatka, episode 1 of Fireteam Freelance, did indeed drop on Saturday, as hoped. Fireteam Freelance is an episodic side series to Colony and Jungle, taking place on Earth and starting during the ending of Colony. Head on over to the Fireteam Freelance page to start reading, but be warned that as a side story, Fireteam may spoil some elements of Colony and Jungle you’d be better of discovering there!

70081760_568294170598543_7425837595373862912_oSecondly, a quick reminder that A Dragon and Her Girl, the second LTUE benefits anthology, is out! Containing twenty stories of heroines and dragons, including yours truly’s A Game of Stakes (in which a woman hires a dragon to find her a husband), A Dragon and Her Girl is not one to miss. Early reviews that have dropped definitely agree!

In fact, I’m even going to drop a link to it right here. Just click that cover over on your left there, and you’ll go right there on Amazon. Available in digital and paperback. Though sadly, signed copies will be hard to find now that LTUE is over. There’s always next year, however!

So then, that’s the news out of the way, let’s talk about today’s topic of choice: Flanderization.

Yeah, it’s a fun word. But you may not have heard of it before. because it’s one that’s growing in popularity. In fact, the word is entirely modern, the term that makes up the first half of it being sourced from the name of Homer Simpsons’ neighbor Ned Flanders. Characters on The Simpsons, which first aired in 1990.

Which makes the term even younger, as the process the character Ned Flanders underwent to coin the phrase didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of several seasons.

In other words, this makes flanderization a uniquely modern term, clearly younger than even I am. In fact, a quick good wasn’t even enough to know when this term first appeared. Maybe no one’s done any research on it? Grad students, take note, this could be your big break for a fresh paper on language! Track this one down!

Okay, so the term flanderization is younger than thirty years at the very least (and, this is just guessing, but I’d put it probably around twenty-two or twenty-four, as that was the “golden era” of The Simpsons, making it the most likely time for the term to have cropped up). But what does it mean? And how’d it get that bizarre but memorable name?

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Being a Better Writer: Character Flaws

Hello readers! Welcome back to Unusual Things and Being a Better Writer! I trust you all had a fairly good weekend?

Mine was nice. Got more done on Fireteam Freelance, including finishing another character interview and getting about halfway through a third. Plotting for the main arc is starting to come together. Once the interviews are done, I believe I’ll have enough planned out to start the first chapter! Which means it’ll show up on the site some time after that … So get ready folks. While I’m not close enough to it yet to want to drop a release date for certain, I’d guess that you’ll all see the first chapter of Fireteam Freelance before LTUE!

Also don’t forget that LTUE is coming! We’re just sixteen days out from one of the best Fantasy and Science-Fiction writing conventions of all time! In fact, this week I’m making a run to my local print shop to get a few things printed up for it (not books, but closely related)! If you’re looking at that acronym in puzzlement, check out the full write-up I did on LTUE and the panels I’ll be at this year, then go check out the official site to secure your registration or find more panels to be at!

70081760_568294170598543_7425837595373862912_oAlso, in that vein, don’t forget that A Dragon and Her Girl, LTUE’s second benefit anthology, launches February 13th and is now available for pre-order! Again, there’s a write-up on the site about it you can go check out if you missed it. Featuring twenty stories from accomplished authors old and new about dragons, heroines, and everything in-between, A Dragon and Her Girl is absolutely something to grab if you’re a fan of any of that! Additionally, proceeds from sales of A Dragon and Her Girl are used to keep attendance prices at LTUE low, specifically the $5 student ticket. So by purchasing a copy you’re helping keep the student admission price to LTUE affordable and cheap! Click on the image to the right and go right to the pre-order page on Amazon!

Okay! That was a lot of news, but hey, there’s a lot coming up in the next few weeks. I all honesty, I probably could have talked about some other stuff as well. But … I’d rather get into this week’s BaBW post! So, let’s talk about character flaws.

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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.

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Being a Better Writer: Detail Versus Audience

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you know what that means! And if you didn’t, well … Check that title above!

That’s right, it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer! Now that the Jungle launch is past us—an event I’m sure some of you are tired of hearing about, but only because you haven’t read it yet—life can settle back down to normal. Until the next launch at least.

But seriously, guys, Jungle is out. There’s no good reason not to have picked up a copy yet! Unless you haven’t read Colony, in which case you’re really behind and what are you waiting for?

Also, don’t forget that the call is open currently for additional Being a Better Writer topics! If there’s something you’ve wanted to hear about that BaBW hasn’t covered, go leave a comment and you might see it covered in the future!

Okay, that’s the news out of the way. Let’s talk writing.

Today’s topic comes from a forum post I saw online. Specifically, from a forum dedicated to talking about Sci-Fi books. A new, would be writer hopped into the forum and asked what seemed like a pretty simple question, which I’ll paraphrase here:

When writing about technology in my Sci-Fi novel, like spaceships, is it important that readers get all the details of how it works and why? Or should I just offer a little bit of info, or almost none, and move on?

You readers want to take a stab at what answers this poor individual got? I’d almost bet that answers here would, statistically, line up with with those given on the forum.

See, this forum was Reddit. So anyone could either upvote or downvote answers that they felt were right or wrong (I mean, in theory it’s “upvote posts that contribute, and downvote ones that don’t” but everyone turns it into a vote anyway). Would you like to guess what the top two answers were?

They were “Yes, give us the details about the ship and tech so we know about it” and “No, we don’t need that detail! Just tell us there’s a ship and move on, we don’t need anything else.”

Uh-oh.

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Being a Better Writer: Small Windows of Character

Life, The Universe, and Everything is this week!

Yeah, that’s an opening of excitement. I love attending LTUE (which if you’ve somehow missed or not heard of, is a Fantasy/Science-Fiction convention that focuses foremost on authors and writers; check out their site here). Tomorrow I’ll throw my schedule up here on the site, ie what panels I’m interested in attending, where I’ll be, etc, but no mistake, if you spot me and want to say “Hello!” do so! I love attending this convention not just to both learn and pass on knowledge, but also to run into people and chat about books, writing, games … the works!

Okay, I’ll stop disrupting today’s Being a Better Writer post now. Well, save for one small detail:

My entire lexicon (as in, all of my books) will be on sale during LTUE. Starting a day beforehand—this Wednesday—and running through the weekend. This will be a great chance to catch up on any you’ve missed, let friends who might want a copy of one know,  share a link on Facebook (hint, hint), etc. It’s the LTUE sale!

And, like I said, it’s only through the weekend, starting one day before LTUE does (so that you’ve got a day beforehand if you really don’t want to be distracted during the con).

With that, all LTUE news is over for this post (tomorrow is another story). I hope to see you there! And yes, tomorrow I’ll give you some helpful identification in tomorrow’s post plus a picture if you’re looking to say hello.

Now, news out of the way, let’s talk about today’s BaBW topic. Which is … well, a bit of an interesting one. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about characters, or specifically, what makes them unique and have depth to a reader.

Which is, to be fair, nothing new. But today I wanted to talk about a specific aspect of giving our characters depth and how we approach it, because as I’ve been thinking upon it, I think that this is a delicate area that many authors accidentally overstep or underutilize for one reason or another.

With that, I’m starting to worry that I’m getting a little too nebulous here, so let’s just dive into it. Today, I want to talk about character quirks and how we use them.

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Being a Better Writer: Scale, Scope, and Ideas

Welcome back readers. How was your weekend? Was it good?

Mine was. A Game of Stakes is going into Beta Reading this week thanks to my Saturday, so it’s one step closer to being done! I’m going to try and polish the Alpha off today, which was going to be yesterday, but  … Well, I had a work shift. And for the moment, Being a Better Writer takes precedence. Sorry for the delay, however.

Also, one other bit of cool news. I’m not sure about the internet etiquette for this scenario, so hopefully I don’t mess it up, but I’ve started getting hits from Wikipedia? Why? Being a Better Writer is being used as a source reference!

Again, not sure of the etiquette here. I only just noticed because I started seeing referral links from Wikipedia but … hey, cool! One further notch in “look how far I’ve come!”

Sands, maybe someday I’ll have a Wikipedia page dedicated to it or something. I’d not thought about that angle until this moment. Kind of an awesome thought.

I’d best get to work on building a future where that can happen, then! So, with news out of the way, let’s talk about ideas and scale.

This one is … an interesting topic. One that was brought about, as many of my topics are, by reading. In this case, it was reading two Science Fiction books, unrelated outside of genre, back-to-back and looking deeply at why I enjoyed one so much more than the other. After thinking about it for a time and letting my mind run across a large number of different traits and possible reasons, it was reading a third book that finally made things click in my head. And when it clicked, it clicked.

It has to do with scale and scope, plus ideas, and how those are brought about in your story.

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Being a Better Writer: Character Matters

So, last week I was browsing the web (one of my favorite pastimes for finding interesting details and acquiring knowledge) when I came across a very … shall we say, interesting post. It was on a book forum, where someone was, if I recall the context correctly, talking about a specific Sci-Fi book they tried to read. A recent award winner, again if I recall correctly, from one of those snooty ‘literary’ awards. Anyway, they mentioned that they’d tried reading it, but had given up because, as they explained, all the characters fell flat. Or rather, were flat, simply mouthpieces to explain the story’s science. They had no other character or uniqueness other than a name. They were just there as, well, robots, to drive the science forward. Other than that, they were simply flat caricatures. As a result, the reader had given up on the book, because there was no character to revolve around.

Now, this post jumped out at me for two reasons. The first, but not the foremost, was that it lined up with a news article I recall reading a few years ago about in which a major publisher, faced with the falling sales of their Sci-Fi and Fantasy, conducted a nationwide survey of their former readers (no idea how they pulled that off, but they have to have some metric for it) asking why their former readers had abandoned them. The answer? That too many of their books just didn’t have good characters anymore, or worse, had characters that were just ideological mouthpieces for the science/social angle of the book. Without strong, compelling, or real characters, their readers had abandoned them.

The second reason that this post jumped out at me was the response to it. This was on a forum that is … Well, let’s just say they’re the kind of readers that the current publishers want to have in greater number. The response was immediate and, shockingly, angry. We’re talking caps and exclamation marks about how dare this reader put down a book because the characters weren’t good. Because—and understand I’m summarizing a number of posts here—characters aren’t important. They’re just mouthpieces to present the science. You’re not supposed to care about them. Or find them interesting. If you do, that’s a bonusnot a requirement. Blah blah blah, you read the book for the message, not for the characters, who cares if they’re shallow, etc etc etc.

Reading over this led me to this post. Where I’m going to say something flat-out.

That stance? That characters don’t matter? It’s wrong. From start to finish. This isn’t even a matter of opinion. That’s why the survey sprang to mind. That survey said that people do care about characters, that people are invested in how characters act and why. And do you know why?

Because they are! Great characters make stories come to life! They sell stories. Not science or social messages. Those can be pandered anyone in a deadpan monotone and still find their audience of those already subscribed to the idea. But a story? That takes characters.

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