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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Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Show the Monster Last

Welcome back readers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice. This time, flu-free.

Okay, that may not make much sense if you missed last weeks post. Last week’s was a bit light because I was battling the flu, and it was all I could do to get a basic, simple post up and then go take a nap. Ah well. But it got done! And so, this week, we continue with the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice but now with cognitive abilities back at full strength!

Okay, so if you’ve just stumbled across Unusual Things, you might be wondering what this post is. So, a bit of quick background. Being a Better Writer is a weekly feature that’s fairly self-explanatory: Each week it takes a look at some facet of writing and talks about it, from character development to pacing to genre, with the goal of doing exactly what its title claims and helping those who read it improve their writing skill.

The Summer of Cliche Writing Advice, then, is a special summer feature this year talking about all those bits of easily repeated, cliche advice that seem to follow authors like moths around a light. Little bits of advice like “Show don’t tell” or “Nothing new under the sun,” those phrases that authors new and old hear constantly spouted by a well-meaning public.

But … here’s the thing. A lot of short, easy to recall phrases tend to be oversimplified versions of the originals, to the degree that quite often they’re not as nuanced as the originals, or in some cases have taken on entirely different meanings altogether in the process of being stripped down. Which means a lot of this advice directed at authors? Well, it’s befallen the same fate. Some of it is useful … and some of it can be useful or even flat out harmful, the original phrase so far removed from the short, easy to remember version that its meaning has gone a very wrong direction.

Hence, this series, where we take a look that these phrases and short bits of advice and see what really makes them tick. Are they useful? Good? Bad? What do the really mean?

So, with that in mind, let’s get to it and take a look at this week’s bit of cliche advice:

Show the monster last.

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Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Outline Everything!

Welcome back to another Monday installment of our summer special! That’s right, it’s Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! It’s not over yet! We’ve still got a few weeks (and cliche topics) left.

But first … We’ve got some news to talk about. I’ll keep it brief. First, Jungle is now in Beta. If you have been a prior Beta Reader, please check your e-mail inbox for an invitation and reply, as the sooner the Beta is complete, the sooner Jungle can at last come out!

Next, Patreon supporters can look forward to another chapter of Stranded this week. In addition, I’m going to be looking at some more normal content for Patreon as well, drafts and the like. And some previews for Jungle, with as close as we are.

In other news, my total of Goodreads reviews and ratings now equals 111. Yup, one hundred and eleven. Mostly significant because numbers like those only come once. But more ratings and reviews, on Goodreads or elsewhere (like Amazon) does help new readers find my works, which is always great!

Lastly, on the news front, after 3 weeks of silence, I heard from my old part-time job out of nowhere. With … shifts. A couple of them. Just out of the blue, show up for these will you? And … ehh. Apparently we’ve gone even wilder now, and it sounds like my boss has to get individual shifts and hours approved by the folks slicing everything to the bone? Frankly I’m surprised he hasn’t quit yet, but then he may be taking the same strategy I am with these hours: Use ’em while you get your new job. I’m going to keep up the part-time hunt so I can dump this place, because a few hours in just three weeks, with no knowledge of whether or not that will continue, is just abysmal (and shifts showing up a day before because “gotta approve!”) is just an abysmal and frankly telling work situation. Ultimately, it’s not going to pull me out of the ditch, but it’s a small bit of help.

Getting Jungle out will ease this issue quite a bit.

All right, that’s it for the news. Now, onto Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! We’ve been doing this all summer, but in case you’re new here and unfamiliar with the feature, the SoCWA (hey, that’s an interesting acronym) is a look into all the different kinds of cliche writing advice writers young and old encounter.

See, it doesn’t take long for any writer to find themselves being presented with “advice” from the world at large. At this point in my life, I’m firmly convinced if JRR Tolkien were to walk into a dinner or social event held today and introduce himself in conversation while happening to mention “… and I’ve written a few books” someone at that social event would immediately look at him and go “Well, don’t forget that there’s nothing new under the sun!”

You can’t get away from it. Young or old, new or experienced, if you’re a writer, you’re going to find these bits of cliche, easily repeated advice thrown at you constantly. Because it seems most people have heard them somewhere, and with as easy to remember as they are, they end up bouncing around inside their brain to get spat out later any time they encounter an author.

So this summer, BaBW has dedicated itself to an examination of these oft-repeated bits of “advice.” Each week, we look at a different common phrase and see if they really are useful, or if not, what we should be learning instead. So this week?

Outline Everything.

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