Being a Better Writer: Where to Start with Building Worlds

Welcome BACK readers! Sands and storms it has been a while, hasn’t it? But once again, Being a Better Writer is back and returning to its regular schedule.

Just in time too. The break was nice, but it was starting to be strange not to have these coming out every Monday. Legitimately weird. So I’m glad to be back at it at last. That, and I’m pretty sure a number of you were really starting to miss them as well.

But, convention must be adhered to. So before we dive in to today’s topic, let’s talk about some news.

First and foremost: Starforge is in Pre-Alpha. That’s right! The finale to the UNSEC Space trilogy is going through the early editing phase before Alpha readers get to see it. I’ve got a notepad with notes I’m jotting down, changes are being made, and I’m having a good time reading through and experiencing a story that to date I’d only seen during the writing process.

Does that mean Alpha Readers should be sitting up and getting ready? Well … no. Not yet. After a week I’m only about a fifth of the way through this enormous titan of a tome. So it’s going to be a few more weeks yet, plus I don’t know how much of it I might end up rewriting prior to the Alpha.

That said, the Alpha could drop as early as February, and with this book’s big status (the biggest, and most anticipated, release I will have to date) I’m determined to make sure that at launch it’s as polished as I can make it. This means if you want to Alpha Read, I want you to Alpha Read. If you want to Beta Read, I want you to Beta Read. Sands, I am even going to be looking for people that haven’t read the first two books to at least read the opening chapters of Starforge to see if they can follow along and put together what’s both happening and has happened enough to be able to keep up with the book (at least, until they decide to go back and read the first two, hopefully).

But yes, Starforge is coming. Line by line, page by page, it is coming. And this book is a ride. If a trilogy is a three-act structure, this is the climax where everything rarely stops blowing up.

So get ready. But not just for that. Because in just over a month, Life, The Universe, and Everything happens! That’s right, it’s time for LTUE once again! And once again, I will be there and paneling and signing books.

If you’ve never been to an LTUE before, it’s a fantastic experience. LTUE is a convention, but an unusual one in that it’s entirely about the act and art of writing. The panelists are authors, editors, publishers, and other book-related creative folks, all there to talk about Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing. How to do it, what works, what will benefit it, everything! It’s an absolute blast, and if you’re at all interested in the art of writing (or just in meeting a bunch of your favorite authors), this is the con to go to.

So far, the plan is for LTUE 2022 to be live and in person (though the venue does have health and safety requirements). If lockdowns emerge, then it will be online like during 2021, but we’re all hoping that we’re able to meet in person once more. Regardless, as I understand it there are plans to stream this year’s LTUE online using a similar setup to 2021, so those of you that are a vast distance away can still participate!

So, Starforge is coming, as is LTUE 2022! Got it? Good! Now, let’s hit the jump and dive into today’s topic, which is a bit of an interesting one: where do we start when we’re setting out to worldbuild?

Hit the jump, and let’s get building!

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Being a Better Writer: “Alien” Aliens and the Conflict of Drive

Hello again readers from across the datanet! Well, some parts of it. Today I woke up to the frantic news announcements that Facebook and all its associated services, from Instagram to WhatsApp, are down. Completely and totally. Very likely not permanently, but as of writing this, it’s gone from the web. You can’t even access it.

You know I’m just going to say it: It’s a good break for people. I usually log on each morning to see if I have any notifications from my family, but I don’t miss not having it this morning. If it were gone for good, well that’d be a different story since I keep a bunch of photos on there and I do use it to keep up with family members since I can’t get any of them to use Discord.

But that’s all I’ll say on it. It’s down, so you’re probably not going to be linking here from there today unless things come back up. No ads on Facebook today! Which almost made me switch topics, I’ll admit, but I’ve wanted to talk about today’s Being a Better Writer topic for some time now. And having Facebook and some of the primary social media sites be down for the other topic would be slightly less than ideal, despite making me thing about it. So that post will have to wait.

So then, what about today’s post? Most of you have read the title, so where is this coming from? Why this topic? Well, hit the jump, and let’s get talking.

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Being a Better Writer: Diversifying Your Writing

Welcome back readers! Yes, I decided to bump Monday’s usual Being a Better Writer post to Tuesday on account of Monday being the federal holiday in a number of places, including where I was. That, and it was a bit nice to have a break day.

And you know what? We’re going to dive right in. There’s not much to note news-wise save the sale being over (and a successful sale it was too!) so instead we’re just going to get right to the meat of things today, and as well it’s Tuesday, which is a day that already allows me a bit less time than normal to write with (and what I have today I really want to dive into Starforge with).

So, today’s topic is from Topic List #18, and it’s a reader-requested topic! Today, we’re going to talk about diversifying your writing.

And right away, I need to clarify something. In the context of the original question, and what we’ll be talking about today, this post will be about widening your writing range through genres and experimentation. Not on widening the range of characters, culture, or ethnicities on display in your writing. That’s another topic (which is, it should be noted, also on Topic List #18 and therefore coming).

That said, if you were expecting the latter and are unhappy that the former is the immediate topic, I would encourage you to read on anyway. Today’s topic is useful for all levels of writers, and there may yet be something you glean from it.

So hit the jump, and let’s talk about diversifying your writing.

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Being a Better Writer: Setting a Tone for Your Work

Welcome back readers, to another Monday! You know, I try to make these openings as chipper and cheerful as I can when writing because hey, it’s Monday, and most people need that at the start of another workweek. So hey, I hope this chipper opening tone works for some of you!

Newswise, it was a pretty quiet weekend. quiet to the degree that I’m reasonably certain there’s not much to post here that wasn’t already covered with last Friday’s news summary. Save that it was a scorcher of a weekend here. I don’t know what the weather was like for most of you, but it was in the low-nineties here. It gets hotter than that in the summers here, but it climbing to that temperature so quickly in the summer was both refreshing and scorching.

On the plus side, there was a summer thunderstorm on Friday evening that I got to watch with my sister while eating dinner post a nice bike ride, so that was nice. Always down for watching some summer thunder! Plus, my area needs the rain they bring.

Okay, so enough yapping about my weekend. We’ve got writing to talk about! This week we’re tackling yet another reader question, this time concerning tone. To be specific, how you set a tone for your story, if you even should, and how changing that tone partway through can affect your story/audience.

So, if any of that sounded intriguing to you as a writer, then buckle up and hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Science-Fiction

Hello readers! Welcome back! I trust you had a good weekend?

I certainly did! Shadow of an Empire picked up another Five-Star review, which while not being a title that fits with the genre today’s post is about, is certainly something that I’m happy about regardless. The reviewer in question stated that they found Shadow of an Empire while looking for fantasy books that had deeply developed hard magic systems, and to that end they were incredibly impressed (and thoroughly enjoyed) just how deeply the magic was laced through the world, characters, society, and setting.

They also expressed sadness that there was only one title to date in the series (well, they probably don’t know about the short in Unusual Things, or weren’t counting it because it was, after all, a short). And to that I say “I have plans.” But I need to finish up Starforge and the UNSEC Space Saga first.

Okay, news done. Let’s get down to details with today’s (admittedly) broad topic of a post: Science-Fiction. First of all, what do I mean titling a post with such a broad, generic term?

Well, as long-time readers of the site may recall, I’ve done genre posts before. Such as the post on Westerns, or the one on Mysteries. And doing a genre post on Science-Fiction has been on my list for a while because, well … There’s a lot of disagreement out there about what Science-Fiction is.

Yeah. Again, what is the internet but a location for people to argue over whose lack of knowledge is greater? Even outside of the internet though, the subject of “What is Sci-Fi” in the last decade has become a topic of much debate. And I don’t mean “debate” in the terms of “Let’s sit down and have a calm discussion” either. More often than not the “debates” over what Science-Fiction “truly is” devolve into people speaking or shouting past one another … or threats and disparaging comments made about the parentage or life of anyone who disagrees.

In other words, if you’ve heard of how the internet, from Twitter to conventions, has become a “battleground for Science-Fiction and Fantasy” in the last decade, the argument over what Science-Fiction is most assuredly plays a part in that debate.

So why talk about it then? Well, because I happen to believe that one entire side of that argument is wrong. At which point I’ll forewarn that this means I’ve “entered the debate” and taken a side that could see all kinds of disparaging things thrown at me or said about me. But it’s not just that one side is wrong, but that the debate has become so fierce that there are a lot of people out there that legitimately don’t know what Science-Fiction is anymore. The term has become empty, or misused. The term has been diluted and at odds with itself through its various definitions.

Which in turn has led to no small amount of confusion among both readers and writers alike. It’s hard to go a few days anymore without seeing a discussion of Science-Fiction online where someone doesn’t bring up a book only to have someone else say “Well, that might be a nice book, but it’s not Science-Fiction and therefore not germane to this discussion.” Or bring up something that they’re working on writing, only to have someone post “I’m sorry, but that’s not Science-Fiction. If you want it to be Science-Fiction you’ll need to dump these elements and do this.

Of course, by hopping into this “debate” there is some risk, in a small way, that I’m simply contributing to what the webcomic XKCD as the “standards” problem. But I’ll try not to, as after all, Science-Fiction has been around for centuries, and a fixed definition for decades now (newcomers trying to change it notwithstanding). So with all this said, let’s dive in, starting with the answer to the following question: what is Science-Fiction?

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Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Don’t Be Boring

Welcome readers, to the fifth installment of Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! That’s right, this is entry number five! For some of you, you know what that means, but there may be some newcomers here (as this summer series has pulled in a number of new readers) saying “Hey, what is this?”

It’s pretty straightforward, really. One thing you’ll notice as an author or even just as a fresh writer starting out is that once you openly declare yourself as such, advice just comes out of the woodwork. Everyone and their dog (and possibly their cat) just starts tossing advice at you that they heard … somewhere. Most of them probably couldn’t say where, or they’ll ascribe it to someone famous they’re fairly certain wrote a book. But they heard it, and they’ve been told it’s good advice, and when they hear that someone is planning on writing, well … they share it. They share all of it.

In other words, authors new and experienced often face a deluge of writing advice in the form of short, easily remembered phrases. Phrases that can quickly be read and repeated at a moment’s notice. Phrases that sound pretty helpful.

But are they really? That’s the real question here, and what Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is all about. Are these short, simply sayings worth repeating? Are they useful to a new writer, or even an experienced one? Or are they the equivalent of a passer-by telling a mechanic to “check the brake pads” while they work on a transmission problem?

Each week, we look at a different cliche saying that writers hear constantly or see repeated online. We break it down, examine it, and see if it’s really worth listening to, acknowledging, and passing on … or if it’s something that does more harm than good, something that sounds good, but really isn’t helpful.

With that said, let’s get to it! And this week, we’ve got a classic to look over. This week, we discuss …

Don’t be boring.

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Genre VS Literary and the Cult of Twitter

Hey readers! Got an interesting one for you today. Sort of a call-back, almost, to last week’s post on “pulp” not being a stand-in for “fun.” Once again, brought up by an online discussion I saw in a reading sphere.

Oh, and the cover image there will make sense. Just bear with me for a bit.

This is a discussion that I suspect many of you have heard repeatedly if you’ve hung out in certain reading spheres, but a poster had dropped in to ask what the difference was between “genre” and “literary” as he’d seen both used often. They also pointed out that genre seemed to be used as a derogatory term, while literary was used as a form of praise, and wanted to know what they could do as a new reader to identify these “literary” books so they could get the best experience.

That poor soul, right? Okay look, I’ll level with all of you readers here: The division between them is largely nothing. Nothing but pretentiousness on the part of the reader or, in some cases, the author. We’ll get more into this here in a little bit, and along with a really neat example that just kind of shows exactly how foolish the whole debate is, but up front, and in reality … “Literary” is 99.9% hindsight. Those books that are written up-front as “literary works” tend to be overblown masses of text because the author went in with the goal of producing some overblown level of “literary prose.”

Wow, listen to those lighters being held up to torches. I call it like it is folks. Also, I know who’s lighting those torches: The same people that get uppity and snooty about “literary” versus “genre.” Because they hold what some of the people in the resultant discussion did, that only “literary” is worth reading, and that it’s “different” from everything else in a way that makes it superior.

How? Well, let’s start with the definition that was offered by these defenders of “literary” virtue. They explained to this poor poster that “genre” was a story that was just focused on cookie-cutter elements. As they put it, it was fiction that was heavily dependent specific narrative devices, had a niche market, and would not be of interest outside that market because of those narrative devices. It was further declared that genre boiled down to driven by plot and formula according to stereotype.

Meanwhile, they explained that “literary” works were those that ascended beyond cliche and genre to tackle interesting topics, explore new things, and be enticing to those readers outside of genre.

Bleh.

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No, Pulp Doesn’t Mean “Fun”

So, I ran across this interesting discussion the other day on a book forum. I’ll give you the cliffnotes version, but essentially, a few people were discussing their reading habits and all started talking about reading for fun versus reading to be … a literary snob? Okay, let’s be honest here, it was kind of a conceited discussion, but there were some assertions made there that really rubbed me wrong, the focal point (and, naturally, the one heading this post) being the idea that “pulp” meant “fun.” And only fun.

No joke, sadly. This was a whole discussion about how occasionally they would read these “pulp” novels that were fun, and ‘Oh, by the way did you read X novel? I thought it would be literary, but it was pretty fun, so definitely pulp.’

Yeah, if your brain skipped a beat on that last line, join the club. But, in truth, there are whole swaths of readers who think this way. A book that is fun, a book that is enjoyed … is “pulp.” Cheap. Disposable. With no redeeming value aside from the “fun” to be had when the pages are turned.

Meanwhile, anything not “pulp,” ie not fun to read is “literary” and of value. Because pain is good, I guess. You’re not really learning if you’re not suffering.

Look, I’ll be blunt. Just because the US education system seems to believe that doesn’t mean that it’s true. And pulp? Pulp does not mean “fun.” If you really think that, you might need to reexamine what you’re reading. But you should definitely reexamine how you think of books.

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Being a Better Writer: Epics

We’ve got a one-word title today readers. Buckle up!

No news. Not today. No, we’re going to dive right in. Today’s topic actually was one of several inspired by my attending of Life, The Universe, and Everything this year, as I met with a number of young, aspiring authors who declared an interest in writing an Epic of their own. Even if, some admitted, they weren’t quite sure what an Epic was, or what went into a book that made it an “Epic” while other books were just “adventures.”

Today’s topic went right to the list the moment I returned home that evening. Because I love Epics, and would enjoy seeing more of them out there. And … there really isn’t that much about them out there.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty on the classic Epics, like The Odyssey or The Illiad. There are whole college course dedicated to those works that you can peruse online.

But those aren’t modern Epics. They’re not generally what someone means today when they tell you that they read this great book, and mention the genre as being Epic Fantasy. No, the modern Epic is something a little different. And … not that oft defined, though talked about frequently enough. Which in turn can lead to confusion or difficulty for a lot of young authors who know the genre that they would like to write towards … but aren’t quite sure what that genre entails.

They’re like those young authors I found at LTUE. They know what they like, and what they want to do. They can name books that they’re fairly certain are Epics … but they’re not one hundred percent certain what makes one book an Epic and the other simply an adventure.

So, let’s dive into it. What makes an Epic an Epic? And how can you prepare to write one?

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Being a Better Writer: What to Cut?

Wait? Could it be? Is this a new post? A new Being a Better Writer post, back on its Monday schedule?

It is! Your eyes do not deceive you! I am writing!

Now, granted, this post will still probably be a little shorter than normal. My wrist is still a good ways from being normal. But hey, who cares? I’m back!

So, really quick, some one-sentence updates/recaps in case you’ve missed them before we get onto the post. First, if you’re a Patreon Supporter, check out the newest supporter reward, because it’s a short story! Second, if you’re Alpha reading Hunter/Hunted be sure you’re leaving comments so I can track the progress! Third, if you want to be an Alpha Reader on Hunter/Hunted let me know, as the sooner the Alphas get through the sooner Beta can start! And fourth, if you have suggestions for future BaBW post topics, post them so I can see about adding them to the list!

Right! News is done! So, let’s talk about editing. Because yes, that’s what we’re looking at today. Specifically, one of the most difficult parts of editing: knowing what to cut.

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