Being a Better Writer: Outlines and Outlining

Welcome back readers! Ready for a lightning-fast news moment? My thoughts on Fireteam Freelance have been written and will automatically go up on Wednesday. If you’ve not left your thoughts on Fireteam Freelance now that the series is complete, you can do so here.

That’s it! Lightning news moment over! Let’s talk Being a Better Writer!

So today’s post has a bit of a slightly embarrassing story behind it. I hang out in a few writing spheres online, sometimes lurking, sometimes posting, and the other day a discussion got started about how to outline. Now, usually when a post like this starts and someone is digging for some detailed info I’ll mosey on over to the search bar here on the sight, type in the subject, and drop anywhere from one to three posts on the subject. Want detail? Here you go!

Except when I did that for outlines … I came back empty.

Yeah. There are posts discussing outlines here on the site, but they’re always an angle, like “don’t get bogged down doing outlines” or “Outline or pantsing?”

Nothing. At all. On just a basic outline.

Sands and storms, talk about an oversight. Because almost every writer uses an outline at some point. Hence the question that led to the discover in the first place. So today we’re going to talk about one of the most basic concepts of writing a story of any kind. We’re going to discuss the humble outline. And guess what?

It’s easier than you think.

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Being a Better Writer: Don’t Force It

Hello readers! Who’s ready for a busy week?

Why ask? Because it most definitely is going to be a busy one. For starters, Axtara – Banking and Finance completed the Alpha 1 this weekend! Which means it’s time for Alpha 2!

Yes, it’s getting a second Alpha. Not a long one. The reason is that some changes were made to the plot, small but impactful ones, and I need fresh eyes in order to assess how well the changes functioned in their goal. So this week there will be another Alpha call for the Alpha 2. I just need a few readers who want to blast through this thing in a few days (it’s not long) and comment so I can assess the changes and how they held up.

Once Alpha 2 is complete, I can determine whether or not Axtara requires a third alpha read or if it can be sent to Beta 1. Note that this wasn’t because there was some massive plot whole. There were a few narrative changes made to … well if I say it here, I contaminate any Alpha 2 Readers. This is all in the pursuit of making Axtara the best story it can be.

Some more news before we get down to today’s topic. As many of you have already noticed, Fireteam Freelance ended on Saturday. The last episode entry (Recombinant) went up, bringing the whole thing to a close. Well, as close to a close as a side story in the UNSEC Space setting could, anyway. But it is over and done.

Which means that in addition to the Alpha 2 call for Axtara, this week is also going to see two reaction posts. One from you readers, in which I’ll post a few of the comments left on episodes of Freelance over its posting time and then encourage you readers to leave final thoughts on the series as a whole (or specific sections, if so inclined) and then later this week, at the end, I’ll post my own thoughts on the series and my experience with it.

Yeah, it’s gonna be a busy week. Meanwhile, Starforge continues to roll forward, I am two reviews shy of 300 total (and still sitting at a 4.6 out of 5 average!) … and there’s probably some other stuff that I’m forgetting to mention.

But that’s more than enough news about what’s coming this week. Let’s get down to business talking about this week’s Being a Better Writer topic. Which is … probably not what you expected. The title being, after all, Don’t Force It, could mean a number of different things. So what’s this all about?

Well, let me put it another way and summarize the thrust of today’s topic: don’t be so committed to an idea or concept that the rest of your story suffers for it.

Perplexed? Don’t be. Hit that jump and let’s get talking about this.

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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: 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’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Stuck? Just Kill a Character!

Welcome back readers, to another entry in Being a Better Writer! Where we are still locked in the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! That’s right, it isn’t over yet!

Though it almost is. In fact, this is the second to last week. Next week’s entry will be the last entry into this summer’s special feature. That’s right, summer will be over (technically it ran a little long) and fall firmly upon us, so it’ll be time for the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice to end at last.

But honestly? This was a lot of fun. It was kind of refreshing to pick a single topic like this and focus on it for a while. In fact, I’ve already got another idea for a future feature later this year.

I’m also curious what you readers have made of this sort of thing. A larger, longer feature on a topic rather than each week covering a different topic as it comes. Would more feature like this be something you’d be interested in or not? Or do you prefer a new topic every week? Leave a comment and let me know!

So, with that said, let’s dive into today’s bit of cliche advice! In case you’re new here and this is the first post in the series you’ve encountered, the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is all about looking at those bits of easily repeated, quickly remembered bites of advice that every author is deluged with constantly by the general public. But as with a lot of commonly repeated and retold sayings, often we have to ask if they’re really that useful, or just something that sounds nice and is quick and easy to say.

See, in the process of being stripped down into something that’s easy for anyone to remember, words have to be trimmed out. Cut for length. Or brevity. Sometimes words get changed for others that flow better in a short sentence. However, with all of this happening, you lose context and can even lose or completely change meaning.

So this series takes a look at these short, easily-(and oft)-repeated phrases and examines whether or not they’re really worth it. Do they teach anything useful? Are they helpful at all, or are they missing pieces that were lost for that brevity? Should we be saying them at all?

And our saying for this week? Stuck? Just kill a character!

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Being a Better Writer: The Mysterious Character

Emergency update: Got my right arm smashed at work Saturday night. Seven stitches. All is recovering well, but can’t type well and am restricted from hand use until at least Wednesday. Further updates will come when I can give them.

 

Welcome back readers! Today’s post was written in advance since I’ve got a shift at my part-time this morning (when I would normally be writing the post). So I’m sacrificing my Saturday—or chunks of it anyway—to bring you this post!

With that said, there’s not much news out there to bring up save the slow climb of the reviews and ratings left on my books. The end-goal by year’s end is 400 ratings and reviews between Amazon and Goodreads, and as of writing this everything is sitting at 193! Only seven more to go to the halfway mark, and it’s only February!

That is literally the only news I have for you all this Monday. Or at least it was at the time of writing. Only future-me knows for sure. But since I lack the capacity for time-travel on that scale, let’s dive right into today’s topic: the mysterious character.

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Being a Better Writer: Garbage

Welcome back readers to another Monday entry of Being a Better Writer! I’ve just got one bit of news to talk about, and then we can cut right to the chase and talk about garbage.

That news? Life, The Universe, and Everything is NEXT WEEK! That is right! LTUE is literally around the corner of the weekend, this February 14th-16th. Will you be there? I sure will be, and I can’t wait! Hope to see you there!

Now, back to the the topic at hand. I’ll wager a number of you are pretty curious about what I’m referring to with a title like that. Garbage books? Garbage story? Garbage plots? Garbage tropes?

Nope. None of the above. Instead, I want to talk about something else. Worldbuilding garbage. That’s right, today is a worldbuilding post, that lovely topic of sitting down to draft and create worlds. But again, when I say worldbuilding garbage, a number of you may be thinking in less concrete terms than I actually am.

No, today I’m being absolutely straight. No metaphor or comparison here. I’m talking about actual garbage. Refuse, trash, debris, etc etc etc.

What does your world do with it?

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Being a Better Writer: Character Development, Worldbuilding, or Empty Fluff?

Hey readers! Welcome back to Being a Better Writer, the regular Monday feature where we talk about writing ins and outs!

Most of you knew that, but I have to assume there are some new folks popping in for each post. Because there are, according to the stats I see. So, welcome newcomers, and welcome returning readers. Since I wrote up a good-sized news post last week, there’s nothing that keeps me from diving right into this, so let’s do that.

So … Character Development, Worldbuilding, or Empty Fluff? Where am I going with that? Well, this post topic comes from a few sources, but there’s a core cause of it that spawned this topic on the list. There’s a book out there that I read, along with many others that … well, let’s just say that its “character development” is left a little lacking. This post actually was conceived when I stumbled across someone talking about the book online who posted an entire topic about the book’s “character development” asking how it was character development because it just felt like a bunch of constant, rambling scenes that really didn’t contribute anything except maybe some worldbuilding, but after that just endlessly repeated.

And, since this is the internet, a huge debate ensued, with some attempting to defend the book, while others agreed that yes, it was just empty fluff that the author seemed to think was character development. Those who defended it assured folks that the author had done it and it involved the protagonist, so anything involving the protagonist meant that automatically, it was character development. Also, being the internet, a consensus was not reached.

In turn, that made me pick up my pen and jot down another topic on the list, because if you’re going to write a book, you definitely don’t want to get character development and worldbuilding mixed up. Worse, you don’t want either of them replaced with empty fluff.

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Being a Better Writer: Ambiguous Stories

Today’s topic is going to be a bit of a vague one, I’m afraid. At least initially.

No, that wasn’t a deliberate play on words (okay, maybe a little), but more as a starting admission of my own limited experience with this topic.  Which makes it sound like I’m admitting a lack of knowledge on it. Which isn’t true. It’s just that I (and my posts) tend to have come at this topic with a different approach than what has been asked after for this one.

What am I talking about? Well, the request for this was “Ambiguous characters and plots” IE characters and stories that are “vague” about what’s actually going on. An ambiguous character, for example, is a character where the reader is unsure of their motivations or objectives, or even facts about the character themselves. Likewise, an ambiguous story is one where the reader is unsure about what’s really happening, even as the story is being told, such as a story told by an untrustworthy or unstable narrator being ambiguous because we don’t know for certain if events happened the way that they’ve claimed, or if the narrator is “fictionalizing” their own account.

There can exist a certain bit of charm to these types of stories and characters (which is both why they’re written and why they’ve been asked after as a topic here). A story in which events or even the characters are ambiguous, when written well, can be exciting and teasing at the same time, constantly keeping the reader guessing and striving to put the clues together on their own to separate fact from fiction to discover the real story.

At the same time however, that’s written well. A poorly written ambiguous story or character, by contrast, will confuse and irritate its audience, often to the point that many of them will put the book down and find something else to read.

The trick, then, is being the former and not the latter. But in truth … it’s really hard to be the former. And unfortunately easy to be the latter. Because ambiguity is more than just cutting out certain details so that the audience doesn’t know what’s going on. Sure, you’ll end up with an ambiguous story … but one that’s also a mess of cut content at best, a disaster of confusing elements at the worst. No, crafting an ambiguous story (or an ambiguous character) involves careful cutting and replacing in such a way as to keep things balanced on the edge of a knife.

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