Being a Better Writer: Knowing When to Borrow and How

Welcome back readers!

Yeah, I know. It’s Tuesday. I had a work shift on Monday. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. But, as always, that doesn’t mean that the post won’t be made soon!

So, diving right into things: knowing when to borrow and how.

This is a tricky question. Well, or it isn’t. There are some people who worry about whether or not they’re borrowing or copying too much … and then there are those that just shamelessly go for it.

If you’re one of the latter, this post is not for you. If you’re one of the former, well, I have talked about topics before that have spoken somewhat about this. Worrying about copying, duplicating, etc, is a common fear for a lot of young writers, and sands, even longstanding ones. Remember Is It Original or Is it Copying? Well … yeah, that article was written for a good reason.

But today’s topic is different enough that when I saw the request, I felt it did warrant its own post. See, the request wasn’t about how to avoid copying something, it was how to borrow something that worked from another work and use it for yourself without crossing that line.

And the answer? Carefully.

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Being a Better Writer: Writing an Anti-Hero

Well, it’s Wednesday! And here I am with the promised Being a Better Writer post! Plus, as you can likely guess, I survived the MRI of my knee! Now I’m just waiting for the doctor to give me a call and let me know what’s up.

In other, closer to BaBW-related news, however, there are changes coming! I won’t specify anything right now (I’d rather tease), but I will say that the first of them is that Colony finally has advertising! That’s right! Not just word of mouth or what I have here on Unusual ThingsColony is now getting broadcast by Amazon’s Ad service. Which … is actually a lot different from what it was when I first took the time to look at it way back when. It’s changed quite a bit. Anyway, that’s just the tip of the iceberg on some exciting new developments coming. Check back soon, and you’re sure to see some of them!

Oh, and Shadow of an Empire is close to beta. That is all I’ll give away for now, but if you’d like to get a sneak-peek, keep your eyes posted on this site in the coming weeks. Or you can support over on Patreon for an early look at the first seven chapters of the Alpha Reader copy!

Right, enough news! Let’s talk business. Specifically the business of the last topic from Topic List Ten! And a request topic:

How to write an anti-hero.

Now, we’ve talked about anti-heroes on here before, and in fact if you have not read that post I’m going to stop you right here and make a very strongly worded “request” that you go read it. Sands, even read it before writing this post, not only to refresh my memory on anti-heroes but to check up against what I’ve written before on the topic. And this post will be written with the full assumption that you have read said post immediately before reading this one, because it provides a lot of background context on anti-heroes that I’m going to be assuming you’re already aware of in order to tackle today’s topic without spending several thousand extra words on it that I’ve already written.

So, let’s get down to business. You’re going to write an anti-hero. Or, at least, you want to. How do you go about this?

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Being a Better Writer: Good Subversions

Welcome back, readers, to another Being a Better Writer post!

Okay, so it’s not that surprising. After all, these things have been dropping like clockwork each Monday for almost five years now, so any surprise at this point either means you’re new or really poor at picking up on patterns. But in any case, it’s Unusual Things‘ … well, thing!

Anyway, I got all relevant news out of the way last week with the last news post, and there’s nothing new that’s worth bringing up at this time, so let’s just dive in to today’s topic shall we? And, oh yes, this is a request topic (clearing out the last of Topic List Ten, so get ready to suggest new topics), one that’s been a long time coming!

So, today we’re going to talk about writing good subversions. Which, almost immediately, means that our first question is going to be “What is a subversion?”

Well, it’s both simple and more complicated than it seems at the same time. But a subversion is when the story sets up an expected path, event, trope, etc, and then when the moment arrives to bring that same event/trope/story element to its expected conclusion … something happens to turn everything the reader expected about said element on its head. It’s called a subversion because when you subvert something, you undermine the established “traditional” narrative, or disrupt it. In other words, you—the author—have become a subversive element to an established trope, event, etc.

Let’s talk examples, and pick one of the more famous ones: The classic fantasy damsel in distress. We’ll start with an even more common story-arc in this formula, that of the princess being kidnapped by a dragon, and a heroic knight sent out to rescue her in return for her hand in marriage. That’s the classic setup echoed across fairy-tale and folklore for the longest time.

Now? Let’s subvert it! Sat we follow this story, it’s novella length, from the knight’s perspective as he travels across the land, in pursuit of this dragon and hunting for its lair. Then, after a time and some arduous travels, he arrives to find … That the princess doesn’t want to be rescued, thank you very much. She’s best friends with the dragon, been pen pals for years, and her dragon friend wasn’t kidnapping her but saving her from … Oh, an abusive parentage, or an arranged marriage of political convenience that the knight was specifically not told about (so that the king can conveniently backstab him later). The princess isn’t being poorly treated, but in fact is living well and finding her true calling as a baker …

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Being a Better Writer: Overpowered and Beyond Characters

So, this topic is an interesting one. In a way, it’s sort of the inverse of a prior Being a Better Writer post on Overpowered and Underpowered characters. Or perhaps an extension of that same post. I’ll let you be the judge, though both probably work depending on what part of that post stood out to you.

In any case, today’s topic comes via a request from a reader, who was wondering how one could write characters that were bonafide reality warpers, like the imfamous Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation, without breaking their story. A valid question, considering that such characters are typically powerful enough to solve a story’s problems with a snap of their fingers … or at the very least usually a similarly light level of exertion. How can one have a story while still playing around with a character that’s capable of solving everything with a flick of their near-omnipotent wrist? How do you have any sort of tension with a character like that around?

Well, the answer is at once both simpler and more complex than you might expect. The first, because there are some pretty common workarounds to the “problem” a reality-warper character presents for your narrative. And complicated because, well, while the solution sounds simple, pulling it off poorly leaves the reader with a bad taste in their mouth. A case of “simple solution, tough execution” if you will.

We’ll start with the simple bit: Give them limits. Yes, reality-warpers and nigh-omnipotent beings. Limits. It may seem like a contradiction, but if you recall the post on overpowered and underpowered characters linked at the beginning of this blog, having characters with limits, and then exploring how that character overcomes them, create some of the best narrative experiences.

Now, I can already see some of you younger readers shaking your head and saying “Limits? But an all-powerful character can’t have limits. That’s the point!”

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Being a Better Writer: Getting in the Zone

Welcome back, all, to another Monday! I’ve got to type fast with this post, as I’ve got another shift at my part-time today. This time, it’s in the afternoon rather than the morning, however, so as long as I keep my fingers moving, you’re getting a Monday post! Really quick, however, before I get started: some quick news updates!

Jungle is currently sitting at about 190,000 words (check the “Current Projects” page) and is over 50% done! The only part that saddens me about this is how long it has taken me—now I fully see the effect of working part time and trying to write a book: I just don’t have the same amount of time. I’ve been cutting back personal time, however, and gotten my monthly goals back on a somewhat reduced track … but it still sucks, because I’d really like to finish up Jungle and get started on the editing for Shadow of an Empire so that I can get that out by the end of the year. Granted, I could just stop writing massive epics … but what’s the fun in that?

Discord Day Care, meanwhile, is almost ready to go up. I’m going through the last stages of Beta right now, giving it the final polishing touches. That just leaves me with a cover to find, and to get it all uploaded and ready to post. The publishing schedule for the story, I have decided, will follow the timeline of the story itself. Each chapter will be published as it occurs in the story, in real-time. The only thing that won’t match up will be the dates. I debated back and forth about the best way to do this, but concluded that for Day Care, a publishing schedule like this one should work best. So be excited, it’s almost here at last!

Just a bit more, I promise, then we’ll dive into this week’s topic. First, last month’s Patreon supporter post was a pretty in-depth look back on the origins of my first book, One Drink. It’s something I’ve meant to do for a while now, and yes, for those of you supporting me on Patreon, you can expect in-depth retrospectives on each of my other works to make their way to you as time moves on. Those of you who are not Patreon supporters, it’s only a $1-pledge to become one, and you’ll get access to some behind-the-scenes stuff and previews. Plus, you get the satisfaction that your dollar helps support content like Being a Better Writer!

Now, last, I swear, and then we’ll be on topic: The Rolling Sale. No defined date on this one yet. I’m still working out some details. But the general idea is that it will be a month-long or so event, starting with One Drink and stretching up to Colony. The general idea will be that the first title in the chain will go on sale, alongside an announcement of tiers for the next sale. The more copies go out, the deeper the discount on the next book in the chain. Ditto for when the sale shifts to that title. Kind of a “the more people take advantage of this, the better it gets for everyone” angle.

Right, that’s all the news. Now on to today’s topic: getting in the zone.

So I’m fairly certain that some of you may be scratching your head over this title … and that’s partially my fault. After all, there are a lot of “zones” authors tend to get into when writing. There’s getting in the character’s heads. There’s getting into the world so it feels like we’re living and breathing it. And there’s even just hitting our stride and typing out endless chains of smooth sentences that come together to build the perfect paragraph. Technically, there are a lot of zones in writing.

But today, I’ve going to talk about the most general ones. This is, actually, a requested topic from a reader who wanted a bit of advice on this matter. I don’t recall their exact, word-for-word question, but it went a little something like this: When you sit down in the morning and get ready to write, how do you get yourself into the mindset to write? How do you clear your head? How do you pull yourself away from the rest of the world and immerse yourself in whatever fantastical world you’re putting together?

And … the truth is, this time, that there’s actually a magic bullet.

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So … Now What?

First things first: In case you missed it—which I’ve tried my hardest to prevent—Colony is now available for pre-order and will release on November 11th!  It’s here, it’s ready to be read, and it is awesome.

Which, since Colony has been the end-all-be-all of my last few months, begs the question: What now? After all, Colony is done, it’s coming out … so now what? What’s next?

That’s right, it’s time for a general roadmap post. Because my work isn’t stopping now that Colony is done. No, I took a few days to relax and celebrate the completion of another book, but I can’t rest on my laurels, no matter how tempting that may sound. I need to set some goals, and them keep working towards them.

Of course, some goals work better when those around you know that you’re working towards them. Which is part of the reason for this post. It’s a nice little bit of motivation in the back of my head if I know that my audience has already been told “I’m working on this.”

But that little extra motivational boost isn’t the only reason. I also want you guys to know what’s coming down the pipe! What you can look forward to. The last thing I want is for one of my long-time readers to know that Colony is about to come out but have nothing else to set in their mind to look forward to.

Hence this post. The roadmap. What I’m up to, and what’s coming in the next few weeks and then months.

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Being a Better Writer: Story Bibles and Other Forms of Story Organization

Well, after a wild weekend consisting of both roller coasters and more viewers in a day to the site than I normally see in six months, I’m back! To those of you who are regular readers, hello again, and to any of you who are new, I hope you like what you see and stick around!

Right, down to business, or brass tacks, or whatever other work-based colloquialism you might be able to think of. Today I’m tackling another reader request topic, but before I do, I’ve started to notice a trend with these. Lately, a lot of the requested topics have been—How to put this?—mostly on one side of the writing spectrum. Dealing with structural topics, such as organization, motivation, or the like, rather than close-in topics like characters, tropes, or plots.

I’m not complaining. It’s just that I’ve noticed the trend, hence I’m not going to be using requested topics all the time as I’d like to keep BaBW from focusing solely on one aspect of writing like that. As important as things like motivation, goals, and other bits “surrounding” the act of writing can be, I don’t want to write solely about them for a long period of time because there are readers out there who want to hear about characters, pacing, tropes, and other fun topics that you’ll run into in the act of writing. So in the future I’m going to try to make sure to balance that a little better, as I feel that lately a lot of the topics I’ve discussed have been that “infrastructure,” for lack of a better word, surrounding writing that doesn’t as commonly prove to be an issue with writers.

That said, this week’s topic probably rests somewhere in the middle between those two points. Story bibles, along with other forms of story organization, are a particularly common tool in the toolbox of most writers, even among those that are primarily the “write-as-you-go,” pantsing sort. No matter what someone is working on, there’s usually a point where it can’t hurt to have a little bit of a reminder sitting there to help them keep track of what they’re working towards. Or to have something to serve as reference material.

Now, this is actually trickier to write about than most would probably expect (and certainly moreso than I expect the reader who requested this topic guessed), and not because of how tired I am (pretty tired) but more because this is one of those topics where so much of it boils down to both individual preference between authors and the story itself, changing from project to project. For example, while I usually create a story bible for most of my works, there have been times when I have not. The forth-coming Colony, for instance, despite being a juggernaut of a book and universe, never had a story bible. No, the most I ever wrote up for it was a few lines about one of the main characters back when I was starting out, and a simple checklist timeline of “This needs to happen by the end of the book.” And Colony is one of my longer epics to date.

But it didn’t need a story bible. Though to be fair, it was also a book where I wanted to see how I did pantsing a story, so not having one was deliberate (Knowledge gained from this experiment? It took me twice as long to write Colony—six months—as it did the similar-length story Beyond the Borderlands I wrote right after it which had a full story bible).

My point is that there’s no “right” way for me or anyone else to follow here. There’s no set “proper method” for doing a story bible. There’s no right way to do an outline. At the end of the day, whatever assists you in getting your story written is what you want, and that can be anything from a large, complex story bible to a simple checklist of events you want your story to wind its way across.

No, in this case, the only thing that could be said to be “correct” is that the outline, checklist, bible, or whatever else you create does its job in helping you formulate and write your story. As long as it does that, its good. That’s all it needs to do!

Right, now, that all said, there are undoubtedly a few readers out there who are looking for a few pointers on where to start, so let’s go a bit past the name. Let’s look at story bibles, but also a few other other frameworks of organization and planning that various authors make use of.

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