Being a Better Writer: Big-Lipped Alligator Character Traits

Hello readers, and welcome to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got a really interesting topic for you today and we’re looking forward to diving right in! But really quick, before we do jump into today’s topic, there is a bit of news to cover.

First up, and most importantly, next week’s Being a Better Writer will once again be a Live Question and Answer session! That’s right, once again I will be taking questions from a live audience and answering them over on the Unusual Things Official Discord channel, The Makalay Camp. It will run for about an hour, starting at 5 PM MST, which would be 7 PM EST, and 4 PM for those on the west coast. Hopefully this time works best for those who’d like to listen in, at least in the US (in advance, I apologize to those living in places like India, but we really are put in a difficult spot there by the Earth being round).

But yes, next week’s Being a Better Writer will be live, at 5 PM MST. The day of, an invite will go up on the day’s BaBW post with a link to the official discord server, so that those of you who have not joined yet can get in and familiarize yourself with the server (which is small, and like the site, has grown as needs have demanded) before the Q&A session goes live.

So mark your calendars! Next week, October 25th, 2021, at 5 PM MST. Live Being a Better Writer Q&A session!

Got it? Good! Now, let’s get talking about today’s topic: The Big-Lipped Alligator Character Trait. I’ll admit with a name like that the initial response to seeing the title of the post likely fell into one of two camps. On the one side, you had the people who are familiar with the term “big-lipped alligator moment” and immediately wondered what that had to do with character traits attached on the end (as a true big-lipped alligator moment” is a scene, which we’ll discuss in a moment. The rest of you? “Big-lipped alligator what?”

So hit the jump, and let’s start answering those questions.

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Being a Better Writer: Tension and Slow Pacing

Hello readers! Welcome back!

So updates! I did manage to hit my quota last Friday despite being a little sick. And while I wouldn’t put it past that segment to need a little editing, overall it was a pretty kick-butt segment of [REDACTED] battling [REDACTED].

Am I one-hundred percent yet? Well … no. This sickness wasn’t much though. Just a sore throat and headache, both of which have mostly faded into a phenomenally active nose (thank you for boxed tissues, world) as my system kicks everything out. And I am still kind of tired … But I blame that on being overly rested from the weekend and not being able to fall asleep last night until around 5 AM (either way, please excuse any typos that made it through on this post, I’m working despite a funk).

Regardless of feeling a little ill-rested, this bout of whatever I caught is mostly over. Huzzah!

To further that plus side of things, this weekend saw some good sales. If they stay constant, I just might be on that good side of the knife-edge after all!

Now, some other quick news updates before I get to this week’s Being a Better Writer post. As of right now, next week’s Being a Better Writer is planned to be a Live Q&A over on the Unusual Things Discord (The Makalay Camp). That’s right, I’ll be donning the headset (sans camera this time) and answering questions about writing live from the audience.

As to what time this event will be on Monday, January 28th, leave comments below if you’re hoping for a specific time and I’ll see what I can do. Last time holding it at 6-7 PM Mountain Time worked pretty well, but I know for some people who follow the sight that’s something like 2 AM. Does having it at 12 noon Mountain Time work better?

Also related is that today is the last topic on Topic List #17. Which means there will be a topic call as soon as the Live Q&A is over! So start thinking both about questions you want to ask live, and writing topics you want to see a whole BaBW post devoted to!

As a side note before we get started, it’s staggering to me that I’ve made it through #17 of these lists since I started keeping track of the number, and that Being a Better Writer has been going now for over six years. In fact, it’s closer to something like eight. Being a Better Writer existed before Unusual Things, which is six years old. Every Monday, save holidays, for almost eight years.

Sands and storms, that’s a lot of content.

Anyway, just thinking on it and a little stunned. How about we talk writing and clean the last topic off of Topic List #17 so #18 can start coming together? Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Restating and Rewriting What the Audience Already Knows

Welcome back readers! To both you and to me! I have returned from my near two-week vacation feeling quite a bit better and ready to dive back into the world of writing once more, so let’s both get to it! Most of the recently relevant news was covered yesterday, so for now let’s just dive right into today’s topic!

This one’s another reader request, and it’s quite a good one because a lot of books, especially those that have mystery elements or storylines where characters are trying to piece things together, run headlong into it. Here, let me give you a quick example: Let’s consider a story with three primary characters, A, B, and C. A and B are in things from the beginning attempting to solve a murder, but C is a character that comes from a different approach/angle, and so doesn’t enter the mystery until about a third or halfway through the book.

At which point, character C asks A and B to catch them up on their side of the mystery. C has their own information to share, of course, but they need to know what A and B know and are working with first.

The question being … how do you present this? If the audience has been with A and B since the start of the book, then they should know all of the information C is asking to be presented. But now there’s a reason for them to summarize it once more … Does the author go for it? Do they gloss it over?

What are they supposed to do here?

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You’re asking “Surely this can’t be that difficult, right?” And well … most people think that. But truth be told, I’ve read a lot of books where the creator reached this point and … Let’s just say that the following pages were yet another slog of stuff that was already known and obvious.

I actually stopped reading one author who became really bad at this, so bad that every time their protagonist made a decision, the narration would recount everything in the book that had led to that decision thus far. Even if that decision came just pages after the last decision that did the same. By about halfway through the book, this constant “recap” of the story so far was totaling around a page or two each time.

The result was something that became frustratingly tedious to read, and made my eyes gloss over repeatedly. Not something any author wants to hear about their book, for sure.

But as we’ve outlined above, sometimes our narrative places us in a position where we need to in some way convey what came before. And in fairness, it’s not actually a bad idea to do this in a lot of story types. Sometimes the audience needs reminders of what has come before, refreshers to remind of the stakes or clues or what-have-you.

But where is the line? How can you retread information you’ve already given the audience without boring them, that they already know?

Buckle up, because there’s a lot to this one.

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Being a Better Writer: Descriptions and Character

Hello readers! Once again, we’re back with more Being a Better Writer! But first, how was your weekend?

Here on the site, things went pretty well. In fact, there was a surge of material posted here this weekend if you kept up with things. Friday saw the posting of a completely unexpected short story, Firstborn, which can now be found over at the writing sample page, while Saturday saw the once-again return of Fireteam Freelance with a new episode (number six), Mandatory Takeout. Meaning that the series is now halfway done!

And still completely free. Kind of like BaBW.

Anyway, if you missed either of those updates this weekend, you can still catch up at their respective pages (or you could just scroll down if you’re reading this post day of). With that said, let’s get into today’s post topic: Descriptions in writing.

Now, some of you may already be looking up at the title and wondering “what gives?” since the title had and extra bit in there, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that. For now, let’s just start with descriptions.

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Being a Better Writer: Going Vertical

I’m back! No longer diseased! Well, not fully. And still with a recovering knee injury, but those things take time, or so I’m told by the doctors. But I am well enough to write write write at last! My mind is clear! And so after a long, unwelcome delay, we’re finally getting back to a follow-up post I alluded to some time ago.

That’s right, remember that post I wrote on Horizontal and Vertical storytelling a few weeks back? Because today’s post was originally, before I came down with disease that made me cough my lungs into a bowl, going to be the follow-up. Lousy timing, but what it means for readers today is that I suggest going back and reading that first post if you don’t remember the details behind it. Because I’ll give a quick, one-sentence recap related to today’s topic at hand, but after that I’m diving right into the thick of things, so if you’re not caught up on what horizontal and vertical storytelling are, you’ll want to read that link up above first, and then come back for this post.

Right, the preamble is out of the way, so let’s dive into it. Let’s go vertical and give our stories some depth!

Now, what some of you are probably thinking at this point, or were even thinking after that post a few weeks ago, is why I wanted to do a post on exactly this topic. After all, explaining to someone what horizontal writing is and how to do it? That’s pretty straightforward, since almost every story we’ve even been exposed to growing up (especially Hollywood action-blockbuster style stories) are horizontal focused. Point A to point D. Action beat to action beat.

We’re familiar with this kind of approach, and it’s what most think of when discussing stories. Hit the point, move to the next point, then the next, and so on and so forth. While not technically correct to call it such, for many this is essentially how they think of storytelling. Again, it’s not correct, but for a layman it’s pretty accurate.

My point is, explaining horizontal storytelling to someone is fairly easy and straightforward because most people understand how to tell a horizontal story. It’s familiar and easy to grasp. Vertical storytelling, on the other hand, is something that a lot of people aren’t familiar with up front. It’s not nearly as often talked about, nor as often recognized, though it can be present in many entertainment items you may have enjoyed.

So, with that as our backing, how does one go about building a story that has vertical elements?

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Plot Problems

Hey hey! I’m almost back to full health, and it’s been far too long since a Classic Being a Better Writer post went up on the site!

New? Unsure what those words meant? Let me clarify! Being a Better Writer is a writing feature that’s been running for almost four years now, posting every Monday. These posts cover a wide, vast assortment of topics, from subplots to mystery to dialogue, all with the goal of helping writers young and old improve their craft.

Of course, with almost four years of weekly posts collected here, the simple act of an archive binge suddenly becomes quite daunting … hence the Classic posts. Classic posts collect a few older posts on a related topic and offer a brief look at them as well as a link to each for nice, easily accessibly bingeing.

This week? We’re looking at plot problems with larger narratives, and how you can catch them early or fix them! So dive in! Click those links! And if you like what you’re reading, don’t neglect that Patreon button on the side!


Playing Out Your Puzzle Pieces—
As a new writer, nothing is more daunting than looking at someone else’s book with all it’s intersecting plot threads and carefully doled out clues and thinking “How on earth do I do that?” To a new writer, it seems like an almost insurmountable task: There are all these different parts of the story, and all of it seems to be fitting together just so the guide to reader to figure things out or move along with the story at the same pace as the characters … And once you stand back and look at it, that’s quite a bit of work!

And, to be fair, the average English class that many are going to have gone through in their high-school years has very low odds of touching on this, which only compounds the problem. For new writers, it just seems like something that writers do, but no one is explaining how. Again, this is why I encourage taking creative writing classes if they’re available to you—they’ll teach this kind of stuff and more.


Character Versus Plot—
Effectively—and understand that I am for the purposes of today’s concept, grossly simplifying—every story out there, written, told, or seen, rides a sliding scale into one of two categories: They’re either a character-driven piece or a plot-driven piece. That’s it. These are your options, and understanding which your story is going to be, as well as more importantly, how to achieve this, will play a part in determining the success of your work.


Avoiding a Sagging Middle—
Well, let’s take a look at an old principle of storytelling, one that most, if not all of you, should be familiar with: The concept of rising action. We’ve spoken about this before, actually, when discussing pacing (twice, actually). But the core idea is that you want to give your readers and ebb and flow to the tension of the story. As time goes on, the tension rises, the reader gets sucked in, we have a climactic moment of some kind, and then the story eases off for a bit and lets the reader relax.


The Meandering Story—
All right, before we go any further, we need to clear something up by determining exactly what a meandering story is. It’s not a story that stars a lot of twist and turns, no. Rather, a meandering story is one that loses sight of its end goal.

Now, when I say this, I don’t mean that the characters lose sight of the end goal (or maybe don’t know what that goal is). No, that’s fine. Characters can lose sight of things all you want. That’s just part of the story.

Instead, what I’m talking about is a story where the plot has lost sight of the end of the story. It’s forgotten where it’s going, or is confused about its ultimate objective, but rather than stop and try and figure things out, it just keeps going, like an energizer bunny, despite the fact that it has no idea where it’s headed. It wanders from plot point to plot point, searching for some vague sense of purpose to drive itself forward. Or maybe it has an idea of where it wants to go (like “X needs to defeat Y”) but has no idea how to get to that point, and so bounces across every possible solution, one after another, until it finally clicks.

 

 

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Being a Better Writer: The Meandering Story

Today we’re tackling a topic directly. Head on. We’ll be discussing a problem I often see throughout literature, especially work from new writers or in the area of fanfiction (and both are probably bolstered by the fact that most television deliberately commits this act in order to pad out run-time).

Today, I want to talk about the meandering story: What it is, and how we can fix it. Because not only is it a problem that I see many young writers having a problem with, it’s also one that many of them don’t seem to know how to escape. The story meanders, and it wanders, and the writer, even if they see the hole they’re writing themselves into, doesn’t know how to get out of it. More often than not, it turns into a sort of “sand trap” for them, like a golfer, in which they swing and they swing, but the story just isn’t going anywhere.

And that won’t do.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into things, and take a look at how you can keep your story from getting bogged down in this same trap.

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