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: Making Info-Dumping Natural (And Not a Dump)

Welcome back readers to another installment of Being a Better Writer! Today’s installment is somewhat unusual in that it was written days before the actual posting. Why? Because if all has gone as planned, today I am off on my way to Alaska to visit family, taking my first travel vacation (and my first trip to where I grew up) in about half a decade.

Yikes. When I say it like that, it does sound like I need a break. Here’s hoping it is a relaxing one and I get some peace of mind from it.

Anyway, that means no news with this post, because it was written a while ago (and it would all be out of date). So sit back, relax (like I’m supposed to be doing) and get ready to talk about writing. While I, if all has again gone to plan, will be traveling through the air or spending my night at an airport. Or something like that.

So let’s talk about infodumping for a moment. Infodumping is one of those things that worries a lot of writers both young and old—and with good reason! Anyone that’s picked up more than a few books in the last year can probably recall a moment where the story might have slowed down and turning into a page or two of just … information. About the world, about the setting, about the characters … but it was just information that hit the audience with the force and subtlety of a firehose.

This is the infamous infodump. A moment when the author sits back and says “Well, the readers need to know about this” and just dumps it all on them in solid paragraphs of informational text. Or worse, does this for information that the audience doesn’t need to know, but the author really wants to talk about (you’ll see this more with “author fillibusters” or “soapboxing“).

But the result is roughly the same in the end: Solid paragraphs of pure information, something usually akin more to a work of non-fiction than fiction, and a wall for the audience (barring the few who would naturally read this sort of thing anyway). Infodumping remains a cardinal sin in the writing world as a result, a giant speed bump to any reader that comes across it. It messes with pacing, such as one book I can recall where the author interrupted a plot-critical meeting to give a page-and-a-half long aside on the origins of a phrase one of the people in the meeting had used … and then cut right back to the meeting, in the middle of the previous sentence they’d cut off in, and somehow thought this wouldn’t be an issue.

Their editor also apparently thought so, which was why this title did this multiple times, and each time the information that was actually presented was superfluous to what was actually going on and purely unneeded. Like I said above, some authors just really want to talk about things they came up with for the setting, and well … yeah. Imagine watching a movie where every time things really got moving, the director would pause the film and talk about some behind the scenes stuff. Not as a bonus feature, but as the film you went to see in theaters.

Annoying? Yes. This, and other forms of infodumping are like kryptonite to readers. They sap the reader’s will to, well, read. But this introduces a conundrum for a lot of young writers because well … How can you get a reader invested in a world and knowing what’s going on if you don’t inform them of what the world is like? Or the characters’ backgrounds? Or anything else that’s relevant to the plot?

So hit the jump, folks, because today we’re going to talk about the right and wrong ways to infodump. Or rather, how to avoid the wrong of infodumping while still informing our readers of what they need to know.

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Being a Better Writer: The Non-Gender of “They”

Welcome back, readers! Were your weekends interesting for you? In a good way? I hope so. Mine went pretty well, myself. Got a little more done on Stranded, and then watched as a truly amazing amount of book sales (by my standard) rolled in for Axtara! I’m not sure if it was the acknowledgement that you can find it on store shelves in Germany or what, but this weekend Axtara shipped quite a few copies.

Which was good to go with the bad. For a minor life update, the place I’ve been renting for the last few years is being sold. This is … less than desirable. The state I live in has a reputation when it comes to realtors that’s even above and beyond that of a normal state for being unscrupulous and dirty. So for example, the last time a landlord tried to sell a place I was renting, their relator tried to get everyone in the house evicted because they wouldn’t show it for her. That’s right: She wanted those living there to do her job for her. She got extremely upset when they wouldn’t.

Side note: This tangent got a little long. I do recommend reading through it (as it concerns not just me), but if you’re here for Being a Better Writer, jump down to the next break, then come back and finish this.

This relator also didn’t care at all for things like state laws requiring 24-hour advance notice of showings. I woke up to people in my rented house … and not just in there, but going through my stuff. The agent actually encouraged the kids of the people she’d been showing the house to start playing with my Wii console.

So yes, I have a distrust of realtors already, and today our landlord called us out of the blue and said ‘Hey, someone’s coming over today, and I’ve been told that by contract they don’t have to honor the 24-hour state notice. My hands are tied. I’m trying to get them to postpone it, but I signed that contract.’

Yeah … My distrust grows. Worse, if they’re willing to violate that part of the contract, the chance of the common practice in this state of bullying residents out to sell the unit “clean” goes way up. Our contracts are year to year, and this year extend through July. But I have a worrying suspicion that like so many other happenings in this state, our realtor will attempt to bully us out ASAP regardless of contract, either by looking for any sort of loophole that can get us evicted, or just simply by claiming that the new owner isn’t bound by any pre-existing contracts (imagine how life would be if that worked).

Worst of all, even if we manage to hold that off, such activity does not tend to enthuse new owners for the current tenants, even if the tenants aren’t the ones violating all the laws.

Sands, that’s a lot of text. Sorry to dump that on you guys. Just … bleh. If things get “dicey” in the upcoming months, this would be your forewarning as to why.

But tenant protections in the United States are awful. Well, not awful, just … not enforced very well.

Oh, and before I get a million comments saying “document everything” I learned that the last time. You can bet that if this showing happens today, I will not only be on hand but with a phone to record everything.

Also, I understand that while my current situation might suck, I’ve got it a lot better than most people in the US right now. Evictions are a historical high, housing and rental corporations are consolidating at a terrifying rate, using their new monopoly powers over whole cities and even states to send rental rates through the roof or even just hold empty buildings for the property value. I read an interview near end-2020 with a real skag-licker of a housing CEO who was giddy with how many people he was kicking out around Christmas because it was making him several hundred million dollars. This same skag also bragged that he (his company) now owned over a third of all American rental units. Meanwhile, homelessness, already climbing every year since 2016 (prior to which it had been trending downward … huh) is set to pass already historic highs. As much as nearly nine percent of the entire United States is at high risk becoming homeless in the coming year thanks to the effects of Covid-19 and the actions (read: greed) of rental companies.

So yes, I know my situation, while not great, is far from the grimness shared by almost ten percent of the United States. My rent hasn’t doubled in the last year. I still have a unit to pay rent on. My utilities weren’t cut off as a “cost saving measure.” Or any of the other horrible questionably legal junk that plagued the lives of many people in the US last year who were merely trying to have the bare basics to survive.

My point being with all of this: My situation isn’t as grim as a lot of other people’s in this country, but that’s … really setting a low bar. Would that my situation was the worst of it, with a realtor ignoring state laws to try and push a sale. But unfortunately, for a lot of people in the US, especially some of those nine percent barely hanging on, their situation is far worse.

We as a nation really need to clean up our act. Because I’m certain that when the founding fathers (yeah, invoking that) set out to found a nation, objectives like “At least ten percent of them should be homeless” and “the majority of all housing should be controlled by one or two individuals,” if found at all in their goals, were only there as “never let this sort of tyranny happen again.”

Because, you know, numbers-wise it really does look a lot like serfdom, which they wanted to get away from.


Okay, we’re done talking about that for the moment (though please, do go back and read through it later if you didn’t now, as it’s something that needs to change for the better). Now it’s time to dive into Being a Better Writer and the first posted topic from list #17!

Which … actually isn’t one requested by a reader, because I populate these lists on my own too, and this one is one of those. It’ll also be a shorter one … but no less interesting. And it actually was inspired by a few personal encounters with it.

So to begin, I’ll start with a question: If a friend and I are discussing the sex of an unborn baby, and I use “they” to refer to said baby, and my friend uses “it,” is one of us using the wrong word?

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Being a Better Writer: Nailing the Last Third

Hello readers, and welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer! A little late today, as my morning ended up running a little long. But still here on Monday, so that’s what counts.

Not much in the way of news to talk about today that won’t be showing up in the Bi-weekly Update post later, so I’ll just settle for a singular note that there were some great reviews that rolled in this last week! Colony and Jungle each picked up a nice array of Five-Star reviews, and Axtara – Banking and Finance got some Five-Star love as well! If there’s anyone that doesn’t love that dragon yet, they haven’t shown themselves!

But we’re not here to talk about the news. We’re here to talk about writing! And today’s topic is one that may be a bit familiar to long-time readers of the site. We’ve discussed it before in a few ways, but it’s because it’s a topic that keeps coming back around, and never hurts for new explanation. Before, I’ve called it a keystone to making a story work—an assertion that isn’t wrong—but today, I think I’ll refer to it in a different fashion: sticking the landing.

Because no matter how the rest of the sky dive goes, if you don’t stick the landing … Well, let’s just say you’re going to leave an impression and let your imagination do the rest of the work as to what kind of impression that is.

Let’s talk sticking that landing and getting the last third of your novel right.

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Being a Better Writer: Setting Up a Reveal

Hello readers! Welcome back!

First, before we get down to today’s post, a bit of warning and disclaimer: I’m going to try and keep it a bit shorter today. The reason why is that I had a slight accident over the weekend which involved me tumbling, in most embarrassing fashion, over a set of handlebars.

“But wait,” some of you may be thinking, “weren’t you already suffering from cracked ribs?”

Yes. Yes I was. Which are now not quite as healed as they were a few days ago, and have now been joined by what certainly feels like some bruising, two sprained wrists, and some other injuries.

This has not been a fantastic summer for me, injury-wise. But the core component of a shorter post today is that I’m not sure how my sprained wrist enjoys the writing position. So I’ll try to keep this short.

But first, in other news a few of you certainly noticed that there was a new episode of Fireteam Freelance on Saturday! Surprise! Yeah, it’s not quite over yet. Black Site Bora was the big finale, but there were and are still some loose ends to tie up. Once that’s done I can do a big post about the whole experience and what I took away from it.

Now, without further ado, let’s talk about setting up a reveal.

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Being a Better Writer: Hard and Soft Hooks

Hello again readers! Once again, I must apologize somewhat for the lateness of this post. I found myself sleeping quite late once more. Personally, I’m speculating is has something to do with the healing of the ribs. Maybe it means they’re healing quickly.

Anyway, without diving into news about Starforge or Fireteam Freelance or Axtara, today we’re just going to dive right in and talk about story hooks. Hard and soft. If you don’t know what a hook is, then this is a post that you won’t want to miss. And if you know what hooks are, or even recall some time ago about six or so years back when I wrote about them before, it can’t hurt to get a refresher, right?

So let’s dive right in and talk about hooks.

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Plots and Subplots Straight

Hello readers! Welcome back after a pretty long weekend! At least it was a long one here. Was it for you? Short or long, I hope it was good!

I also hope you readers enjoyed the latest episode of Fireteam Freelance and all its upsets! If you missed it, episode 8 is free on the Fireteam Freelance page, along with all the other episodes so far! As the word count for the series total just passed 170,000, that means Freelance is the equivalent of a free 500 page series. Full of action, explosions, and, well, more action for those who enjoyed Colony and Jungle.

For those of you who have read Colony or Jungle and not Freelance, have read some of Freelance and not Colony or Jungle, or none of them, you should be aware that while in the same setting, Freelance is very much a different genre of Sci-Fi from Colony or Jungle. You know, just so you don’t expect nothing but hard action from Colony or Jungle, or the deeper characterization of Colony and Jungle from Freelance.

Anyway … Enough about that. Let’s get down to things and get some work done, shall we? Let’s talk about today’s Being a Better Writer topic. Which most of you have known for a week now, as I mentioned it at the tail end of last week’s post on weaving subplots and plots together.

Yeah, that’s right, we’re still discussing subplots and plot relations. First it was how to lengthen a story out without padding it, then it was weaving those subplots and plots together, and now at last we reach the final bit of this reader requested topic: Keeping it all straight. Or, in other words, methods for making sure things don’t get twisted up, left out, or worst of all, leaving gaping plot holes in your work.

So, let’s dive in and talk about how to keep all your subplots and the main plot straight.

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Being a Better Writer: Tying Subplots and Plot Together

Hello readers! Welcome back to Being a Better Writer once more, where we’re continuing in a similar vein to last week. If you recall, last week’s topic was on how to lengthen a story out without padding it, and one of the options that came up with regards to that topic was the concept of subplots. So why not keep a theme going and talk a little more about subplots this week?

Well, not about subplots in general, mind (we’ve covered that before) but about a specific aspect of subplots I’ve been questioned about before with young writers: How to tie them into a primary plot line. Or if that even needs to happen at all? Because after all, can’t you just have a B story with no connection?

Well yes. And no. As with most things in writing, the answer isn’t quite so simple (hence we have these posts). So let’s dive in and talk about subplots and how we tie them into everything else in our work.

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Being a Better Writer: Escalation

Welcome back readers! I trust you had an enjoyable weekend? For many of you given current conditions I imagine it wasn’t too different from the actual week.

So, a quick bit of news: A Trail for a Dragon is now in Alpha! That’s right, readers have been poring over it and offering feedback, suggestions, and more of the usual Alpha stuff. Plus enjoying it. From some of the comments, quite a bit! If you are an Alpha Reader but haven’t gotten to it yet, please do ASAP, as there’s a deadline on this story and it’s always better to beat those as cleanly as possible!

Second bit of news: Expect more Fireteam Freelance this weekend! We’ve got episode three almost ready for its big appearance, so if you’re a fan of Adah, Ursa, Anvil, and Owl, be sure to come back this weekend for their latest op!

Okay, that’s the news. Anything else that wasn’t brought up will get it’s own post later this week. So now let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this post so many of you came for, and let’s talk about escalation.

I’d wager that a few of you came this far simply on the curiosity of what I mean by the term escalation. So without much further ado, let’s get into that.

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping a Short Story Short

Hello readers! Welcome back after a spectacular Life, The Universe, and Everything writing convention! I hope you were able to attend, or if not, that you’ll be checking their youtube channel to see what’s posted as they upload panel recordings! The experience was incredible!

It was not without risks, however. Such as the dreaded “con crud” (aka you’ve just been exposed to around a dozen different colds and you’re low on sleep), so today’s post is going to be a little shorter than normal. No news, possibly some flat-brained typos, but I’m getting it done! So then, let’s talk about keeping your short story short.

This was a topic that actually came up in one of the LTUE panels I was on, in a roundabout way. An audience member asked about keeping short stories short stories, and said that they’d been told the best way to do it was to think of a short story as either the first or final chapter of a story. In other words, they explained, it either set up a beginning, or tied off an ending.

That’s actually a pretty good way to think of it, provided you’re thinking of a story where everything that can come before is capable of getting squeezed into that one chapter (though yes, that’s more important for a story that’s the “end” of something than the beginning, as one sets up and the other ties together).

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