Classic Being a Better Writer: Most Popular Edition

Merry Christmas, writers! This week’s Being a Better Writer is not a new installment, but rather a revisit of some old classics. Since, you know, it’s Christmas and I am most definitely on my break. Which after getting Starforge out on time, I’m going to enjoy.

Now, before I dive into things, I do want to stress that Starforge has just come out. If you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for that Sci-Fi loving reader you know, you can grab that first book in the trilogy for a pretty low price. You can get the whole trilogy for that matter, if you just click this link.

Anyway, that’s all the shilling I’ll do today. Promise. The rest of this post is about writing! Though some of you may find it a bit familiar, since it will be a selection of classic posts.

But maybe not. If you’re new, or missed a week, perhaps this will be the first time you’ve ever seen these posts! For this year’s holiday vacation installment of Being a Better Writer, I thought I’d peer back through time and see what the most popular BaBW post of each year was.

That’s right. We’re going to gaze into the past and see what the most read Being a Better Writer post was out of several years across the site’s seven-year history! So sit back, grab yourself a cup of hot chocolate, put on your fuzzy reindeer slippers, and let’s take a look together at some classic blasts from the past! Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Crafting a Better Sequel by Using Portal 2 as a Guide

Welcome back, writers! And readers!

I know, I know. I all but vanished after Starforge launched last week. Which, by the way, if you missed it, is finally here, and it is glorious. But after a Reddit AMA and the launch of the book itself, I pretty much disappeared, which was kind of weird, right?

Well, the answer to the why is “I got sick.” Somewhere between working all the extra hours I did to get Starforge out on time and the array of colds and coughs going around right now, I got whammied with a particularly vengeful cold that knocked me out for the entirety of last week. But at least it gave me a chance to catch up on the sleep debt I’d built up during the lead-in to the Starforge launch.

Speaking of which, however, how’s Starforge doing? Well, while it’s still too early to roll out any definitive numbers, just the performance of the first few days suggests that Starforge is very likely my strongest book launch of all time.

Better yet, it’s not slowing down. Sales have continued to roll in over the last week. Constant sales of Starforge and the rest of the trilogy, as well as Kindle Unlimited reads. So much so that a single day over this last weekend accrued more sales than two whole weeks would have earlier this year.

It’s also already pulling in the Five-Star reader responses, which is telling in two ways. First, that it does indeed serve as a fitting and colossal finale to the trilogy as a whole, but also that someone was sucked in hard enough that they finished its entire half a million word length in just a few days from the launch.

Sands and Storms, guys. It was a lot of work, but it looks like it’s paid off. Starforge is the finale you were all waiting for.

If you haven’t checked out the trilogy yet, I highly advise doing so. If you’re a fan of big, grand, colossal-concept Science-Fiction, you owe it to yourself to check the UNSEC Space Trilogy out.


Now then, other quick bits of news before we move into today’s Being a Better Writer. First up: The upcoming price point adjustment. This was slated to happen around Starforge‘s launch, and it still is. But I figured being sick gave everyone a bit of an extra breather. Long story short, I haven’t adjusted the price points of my books in almost ten years (February 2013 to be exact). So one of my projects this upcoming week is a full price adjustment for most of the books in my library.

I will note that I’m still going to be basing my books on the same 1994-inspired values that my prices—with adjustment for inflation—reflected prior to this point, as explained in the original The Price We Pay post on book prices. There will be an updated “Price we Pay” post coming in conjunction with the adjustment, as well as an addendum link to the original post guiding curious readers toward the new price comparison chart.

If you’d rather grab stuff before the adjustment, then this week is your week to do so. I’m aiming to get the new prices out Thursday or Friday, so consider that your cutoff line. Though Starforge will remain the same price, since it’s brand new and already reflects the new price point.


Now, last but not least, what else is coming? Before we launch into today’s Being a Better Writer topic, what’s on the horizon now that Starforge, juggernaut of juggernauts, is out?

Well, I plan to start work on two new novels today, actually. Okay, I’m already working on a new one. It is, at long last, a new Jacob Rocke book. That’s right, a new Unusuals novel! Now, I definitely won’t be able to get it out by the tenth anniversary of the first Jacob Rocke book (as well as my first book overall), but I will likely be able to get it out fairly quickly. No name yet, but if you were one of those readers who loved One Drink and Dead Silver and wanted to see more of the Unusuals setting and Rocke’s adventures, that’s the next book I’ll be working on. I’m still hammering out some of the basic details, but the gist of the story is already starting to take shape.

After that draft gets hammered out, I’ll let it rest while sitting down to work on—and for some of you this will come with an “AT LAST!” proclamation—the next Axtara book, tentatively titled Magic and Mayhem. We’re far from done with either the setting or the titular banking dragoness herself, so look forward to more of that in the future. Speaking of the setting, there was also that short novel I pumped out around September-October set in the same universe about a young fisherman and mermaid that also could be polished up and rewritten …

So yes, suffice it to say that in the wake of Starforge—and as big a book as it was, the wake is pretty colossal—I’ve got plenty to tide me over and work on leading into 2023. Oh, there’s also all those short stories I wrote up over the last year, plus there’s LTUE in 2023, which I just got my schedule for …

Suffice it to say, the future looks bright. Starforge and the rest of the trilogy are tearing up my charts, Axtara just continues to sore and pop up in more bookstores with every passing week, and I’ve got plenty of book projects slated for the coming year. Starforge may be out … but we’re far from done. There’s a lot of adventure coming folks. So though we may be saying farewell to Jake, Anna, and Sweets, there are plenty of friends new and old on their way.


And with that, let’s finally get down to today’s Being a Better Writer topic and start talking about sequels. I know a number of you are likely a little perplexed upon seeing today’s title. After all, Portal 2 is a video game (and if you didn’t know that and are now joining the ranks of the perplexed, bear with me). What could a video game have to offer writers teaching about story?

Well, you’d be surprised. A lot of video games have been no slouch in the storytelling department for decades now, and both Portal titles are no exception. While the story may be presented in a manner that’s different from a book owing to the audio-visual nature of the medium, that doesn’t change the fact that it can be a great story.

But we’re not just talking about Portal 2 today because of how many awards it won (and rightfully so, I’ll add). We’re talking about Portal 2 because despite being in a different medium, it does lay down a very identifiable pattern to follow if you want to create a sequel that exceeds the first in every way.

We’ve talked about the problem with sequels before on this site. Numerous times, in fact, sometimes as the focus of a whole post, other times as a discussion point. But each time it’s been a point of note that what a lot of sequels get wrong about crafting a sequel is “Just do the first story again, maybe with more.” What “more” is varies quite a bit. For movies it usually means more guest celebrity appearances, or explosions. With games it can often mean the same but with new levels slapped in it (usually from the cutting floor of the first title). With books it often means getting the gang back together for another go, sometimes even relearning the exact same lessons as last time.

These are all weak sequels, but they persist because of a common issue, that being that the original concept, be it game, movie, or book, was never written with a follow-up in mind. So when the market says “give us more” the usual response is for the creators to repackage what they already saw success with and shove it out again.

Enter “Round 2: The Sequel.” This is why you’ll read sequel books where characters learn the same lessons again, or regress from their accomplishments and growth in the first book. Or find that the big bad they fought so hard against was—Surprise!—secretly the minion of an ever bigger bad who’s really similar to the last one …

You get the idea. Sequels tend to be really difficult territory for a lot of creators. Writers among them. Time and time again I’ve seen a young writer create a story that is a bit of a hit for them, and react by immediately making a follow-up that is just really the same story as the first, but again.

Portal 2, however, didn’t make that mistake. Instead Portal 2 is widely regarded as one of the greatest sequels of all time. How? Why? And what lessons can we take from it that will make our own sequels stand out against the originals instead of just being a token “Here we go again?” journey?

Hit the jump, and let’s talk about it.

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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: The Importance of Experimentation

Hello readers, and welcome back for another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Confession time: This post was actually written early, as will be the next few week’s worth of Being a Better Writer posts, as I am going to be out of town for a few weeks in May. I’m getting a head start, in other words.

So, with little to no knowledge of the news that will be occurring at the time of post outside of “Hey, I’m planning on being away, Alpha Readers on Starforge get a blissful few weeks to rush ahead of me” there’s not too much reason to say anything other than “Let’s talk writing!”

So let’s talk writing! And the importance of experimenting. Hit that jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Runaway Characters and Script

Hello readers! Welcome back! It’s another Monday, and bigger still another month! It’s officially April! So, let’s drop some updates before we get into the meat of things. Starting with some real news about Starforge.


Alpha Reading continues, slowly but surely. The furthest reader is about halfway through now (I did mention this is a 500,000 words book, didn’t I?) and the rest of the Alphas trailing somewhere near or far behind. Right now, since I’m hot on the heels of the lead for edits, I’m thinking of starting a second edit pass back on the early chapters, specifically with regards to a phew larger rather than smaller overhauls (like on chapter three, which needs some serious “sanding” on those rough edges).

The pace, though, says this one might take a while. I’d like to get it out this November, but currently the Alpha’s have had access to Starforge since early-to-mid February and we’re now in April with the leader among them only halfway through. Big. Book. At the current pace then, the slowest of the current Alpha Readers will finish it around … August. Which is a little too late for getting a second Alpha batch in, followed by at least two Beta passes and a copy edit if it’s going to be out by November. That would leave three months for a second Alpha pass, two Beta passes, etc.

I may have to do what I’ve done before and leave a few Alpha Readers behind, especially as there are already waiting people for the second Alpha Read (plus the Beta). Schedule is a requirement, and I simply can’t wait until 2023 or 2024 to get Starforge out.

On the plus side, those who have been Alpha Reading have really been enjoying it as the story has taken off (though again, not without areas that are getting fixed, changed, tweaked, etc). I’m enjoying the feedback and seeing the reactions of readers as they journey through the finale of this trilogy!

I really would like to see this one released by November, and that means getting the first Alpha done by at least the start of May. Earlier if possible. If you’re a current Alpha Reader who hasn’t sat down at it yet, please take the time and dig in. As with Colony and Jungle, you’ll very likely find it hard to pull away (past a few problem areas you’ll already see comments about).


Now, news outside of Starforge: Topic List #19 is almost exhausted, so this week I’ll be posting a call for writing topics you’d like to see in future Being a Better Writer posts. I’ll also be planning a live Being a Better Writer for the coming weeks, where we do a live Q&A on the Discord for everyone to listen in on. And if I end up heading up to Alaska in a few weeks (more on that as it develops) for a short trip, once again I’ll be building a backlog of Being a Better Writer posts, along with other posts to keep the site delivering content while I’m “off the grid.” I’m fairly certain that’s going to happen, but the timing so far has been very loose.


In other news The Minstrel and the Marshal is ready for submission to Troubadours and Space Princesses, the next LTUE Anthology collection. As each author is allowed two submissions this year, I’m debating a smaller, goofier and more light-hearted second entry, though it needs a little more brainstorming.

Submissions do close at the end of the month, so if you’re curious about submitting, or would like to have a go at getting your name in print—for a good cause no less—then check out the submission guidelines here.


Really quick, since I did mention The Minstrel and the Marshal, I do want to talk about plans for upcoming writing projects (and other writing-related stuff). While Alpha Editing is going on I do tend to have some time to write on the side (how Minstrel and its predecessor were written) and there are a few more short story concepts for More Unusual Events that I could plot out. Past that, if I take some spare time to write, it’s definitely time for another Jacob Rocke adventure, and I have been slowly putting a new mystery together for him to solve!

After that gets written (sometime over this spring, likely while I’m letting Alpha/Beta Readers build up a headway) then the next project will be Axtara – Magic and Mayhem. Oh, and somewhere in there I should look at polishing up Fireteam Freelance.

And with all that said … let’s talk Being a Better Writer and put the news on hold, shall we? That was a bit of a news dump, so let’s swing to today’s topic and talk about what to do when your characters or your script start to run away with things. Hit that jump, and let’s talk writing!

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Being a Better Writer: Setting Up for a Sequel

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you regulars know what that means!

Though I’ll admit this post is a little late. However, those of you familiar with the more obscure areas of US Tax law will likely understand now that I’ve invoked the existence of that system. Yes, today was the day I needed to make sure that my taxes were sent in (they weren’t quarterlies because of fishing money). Those of you who have dealt with the IRS or who do your own taxes understand.

So, that’s why the post is a little late. But better late than never!

Now, I do have one more nice bit of news before we get rolling today. Don’t worry, it’s short and sweet. Colony picked up a few new ratings this weekend (all 5-star) along with this glowing review:

That’s a lot of exclamation points! Thank you for the review, new reader, and may you enjoy the rest of my library!

Okay, with that said and done, let’s wrap up the month of February with one more Being a Better Writer post! Hit the jump, and let’s talk about sequels.

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Being a Better Writer: Tabletop Conversations

Hello readers, and welcome back once again! If you’re here on this Monday afternoon by some prior plan, then you know what’s up. If not, then welcome to the site and our weekly Monday post of Being a Better Writer! This week we’re going with a bit of a more classic topic, though not without a bit of wordplay within the title.

But first, we’ve got news to talk about. Con news, to be specific! Life, The Univere, and Everything is coming February 17-19, 2022!

Those of you that know what LTUE is can rejoice now. Those who do not, or haven’t been on this site before and heard about the con, LTUE is a writing con. That means that the panelists are all authors and experts on specific topics, there to talk about writing in all its various aspects and forms. I’ve attended it for almost two decades now, first as a young student, now as a panelist, and it remains the best con I’ve been to for being all about writing. With hundreds of authors and panels talking about all sorts of writing topics, from the basic to the specific (there’s always a panel on how to write action scenes, for example, chaired by some of the better action writers in the business, but there are also panels like ‘garbage dumps through the ages’ taught by historians and authors who’d need to know that stuff) LTUE is a smorgasbord of expert writing advice.

It’s also cheap. Students, be they K-12 or collegiate, get in for $5. For the whole three days. That’s right. Five bucks. Non-students pay a bit more (usually around $75 for all three days), but that’s still an incredibly low price for three whole days of writing content. The panelists are all volunteer as well. This isn’t one of those “writing camps” taught by a few people with one book to their name who make the majority of their living telling others how they wrote that one book by being at that camp. These panelists are people taking time away from their normal day job of writing, editing, or being an expert on something in order to talk about the craft because they love it and want to help others.

If you’re somewhat versed in Fantasy and Sci-Fi you’ll recognize a few of these names too. This year’s Writing Guest of Honor is non other than Jody Lynne Nye, and if you check the “featured guests” page over on LTUE’s website, you’ll see quite a few other names you’ve likely heard of (or read). Checking the full schedule page will let you search all the attending panelists, and you may see a few more names on there you recognize!

Now, I’m going to link that schedule page once more, because that’s also how you can look at a full list of upcoming panels, and it’s time to start figuring out what panels you’d like to hit.

Even if you can’t come in person. Last year the entire LTUE experience was uploaded to Youtube as well as available to attend online. I’m not sure of the exact details around online attendance this year myself, since I’m going in person, but there are whole archives on YouTube of prior years’ panels. They usually end up online about six months later, but that’s better than nothing if you can’t make it.

UPDATE: I have been informed that there will not be as many recorded sessions this year due to some of the principle recording staff being unable to attend. The staff hope to record and post some sessions, but they will likely be few in number and take more time than usual if they’re uploaded.


Now, one more item of news before we dive into today’s topic. As in prior years, I will once again be attending LTUE this year as a panelist (most of you probably guessed that). It’s an absolute delight, and once again I’ve got a bevvy of fun panels to look forward to, including—

  • A Space Opera Starter Kit
  • Fanfiction: Having Fun
  • My Genre Wishlist
  • Science Fiction Faux Pas
  • No Mirrors: Character Description in First Person

I’d love to see you there! In addition, I’ll also be at the big book signing and moving around the con conversing and attending other panels.

But there’s one more little tidbit that I want to share that definitely belongs in the news section. Not only will I be at the book signing, but the LTUE book vendors will be carrying copies of Axtara – Banking and Finance and Shadow of an Empire!

That’s right! In prior years this hasn’t been a thing, because I’ve been solely a digital purveyor of products (despite attending the book signing anyway). But with a few of my titles now available in dead tree format, you’ll now be able to purchase them at the LTUE bookstore. I’ll be bringing a few extra copies as well to have on hand, but if you’ve been thinking of snagging a paperback for either of those two titles at last, LTUE will be your chance not only to do so, but to get it signed while you’re at it!

You know, unless they run out. They’ll have a decent stock of both, but the way they sell …

All right, that’s it for this Monday’s news. I know that was a lot, but hey, LTUE is a big deal, and only happens once a year. We’ll talk about it more in the future, but for now, let’s talk about “Tabletop Conversations.”

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Being a Better Writer: Tears Are Not Weak

Hello readers! Welcome to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope you all had a pretty good weekend, and that you’re ready for the week ahead.

Now, as usual before we get started we’ve got a small reminder to state: Christmas is coming! The holidays are here! And with everything that’s been going on, this year is definitely a year to order your Christmas gifts early.

I’m not just saying this because it’s “Cyber Monday.” I spent a good chunk of my Saturday ordering Christmas gifts (yes, before the Cyber Monday sales because I knew what I was ordering wasn’t likely to be discounted) and getting them on their way just so I’m not caught by surprise when something gets delayed. We’ve already got supply issues this year, combined with problems that the USPS has been facing. If you can, just start getting things now, and avoid the risk (and the rush).

To that, I will add a bit of a shameless plug and say that for the reader in your life, I do have a nice array of books to choose from over on the Books page. Axtara – Banking and Finance in particular is a perfect purchase for any lover of non-standard fantasy or dragons in your life. If they loved Dealing with Dragons, they’ll love Axtara. On the other hand if you know someone looking for a large, epic journey with a touch of wild west magic to it, Shadow of an Empire will keep them occupied for days.

And of course, if they’re Sci-Fi fans, you can gift them copies of Colony and Jungle, right to their device. On Christmas Eve, no less (yay for scheduling, right?).

Okay, enough shilling. We’re here to talk writing. But before we do—it’s related, I promise—a quick reminder that this is the first BaBW post from Topic List #19, and there is a topic call going on! Which means that if there’s a writing topic you want to hear about, then you can get it on the list! Just head on over to the Topic Call post and let us know what you want to hear about! Got a question? A topic you’d like explored? An area of difficulty you’re struggling with? Get a Being a Better Writer post on it!

Okay, that’s enough news and whatnot for the day. Let’s talk writing.

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Being a Better Writer: Making Characters “Pop”

Hello readers! How are you all this Monday morning? Or I suppose afternoon, as it’s about to be? Spry? Alert?

Hopefully that last one, because you’re about to read another Being a Better Writer post! Furthermore, it’s not a scheduled one!

That’s right baby, I’m back! Back from a fantastic Alaska experience, which I have chronicled with pictures and video here. Yes, you should be clicking that link if you have even the faintest interest in seeing whales, fish, Alaskan scenery, or videos of rain.

But I’m back now, and after a day “off” last week ( somehow I still managed to write about 17,000 words in a week I was supposed to be relaxing for) I’ve returned to tackle the topic list once more and bring you readers writing topics.

So, what are we talking about this week as I return to my regular duties? Well, I took a look at the list and spotted this little topic that I had jotted down as one I wanted to hit, and well, it popped out to me as much then as it does now. So today, we’re going to talk about making characters “pop.”

Of course, before we get into the how we’re going to have to define exactly what it means to have a character that “pops.” So hit the jump, and let’s get started. What is a character that “pops?”

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Being a Better Writer: She’s Just Herself, Flaws and All

Hello readers! Welcome back to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Hopefully it brightens up your day a little. In advance, I apologize for the lateness of this post. I’m sort of taking a slower day in the wake of getting Starforge done as well as pumping out a fic for a contest in a single go. A bit of a breather, really.

In fairness, I kind of needed it. This weekend I took care of multiple things that had been piling up for the last few months. Not major things, but small things that needed to be done but could be “put off” for another day. Home maintenance and the like. There was a bit of a backlog from finishing off the Starforge draft.

So, to do a quick news aside, now what? With Starforge‘s draft done, what’s going to happen next?

Well, I’m going to take a break from it for a while. Those of you that know the process expected this. I’m going to spend at least a month clearing my head, maybe more. Disconnecting from Starforge and working on other projects. Some short stories. The Shadow of an Empire paperback. A new Jacob Rocke story. The Axtara sequel. That sort of thing.

Then, once I’ve had some time to “detach,” I’ll head back into Starforge and start work on the pre-alpha.

So that’ll be what I’m up to for the next foreseeable future. Shorts, work on some new content for an old setting, and work on some new content for a fairly new setting.

Got it? Excellent! Now, on with Being a Better Writer!

So I’ll admit, this post’s title might have raised a few eyebrows. And well, that is deliberate. That’s how you get clicks, after all.

But it’s also a nod to the origins of the post, that being a discussion about a fandom’s love for a particular character while expressing disdain for another. Some of you may have already guessed at the identities involved, because this one has been a common … shall we say battle on the internet, a battle big enough that news outlets have gotten involved. Usually to their detriment.

Okay, I’ll drop a hint: It involves Star Wars.

Yup. And like that, most of you have guessed the origins of this particular debate. Basically, it boils down to Disney trying to make everyone love the protagonist of their new trilogy, Rey, by just about any means necessary. A large tactic in which was labeling anyone who didn’t like the character “sexist.” You know, they just hate “women characters.”

Nice, easy deflection of any criticism. But … it didn’t quite work with a lot of people because those same people that Disney was trying to deflect with accusations of sexism love the character of Ahsoka Tano. Who is … wait for it … also a woman.

Now, the point of this post isn’t to slam Disney’s Rey. Though it will make a few noted observations about what separates Rey from Ahsoka, because there are reasons why most fans of Star Wars like the one and don’t like the other. It has nothing to do with lightsabers, or with the “Poochie” factor (despite what Disney seems to think).

No, what it boils down to is simply something that holds true for all characters, regardless of gender, and yet seems to be forgotten from time to time.

Real characters have flaws. Furthermore, those flaws are acknowledged and part of their character.

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