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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Being a Better Writer: Cliffhangers

Afternoon readers! I hope your weekend was exemplary! Mine was actually pretty rough: I twisted my lower back again and got a vertebrae out of position. It’s … not  comfortable, especially as it aggravated a muscle imbalance in my pelvis (which was due to one knee being weaker than the other) and made all those muscles go berserk … Long story short, there was a period on Friday, before I found an exercise video that made these muscles release, where even moving could make me gasp in pain.

Yay! More material for another book!

Anyway, it definitely disrupted my weekend. I spent my days lying on the floor, trying to keep my back as straight as possible to try and even things up. Thanks to a massage therapist, the muscles in my back and pelvis have mostly relaxed, but the vertebrae is still out of position, so I’ve got an appointment with a chiropractor …

Anyway, point being I almost cancelled today’s Being a Better Writer so that I could catch up on things … but that wouldn’t really be fair. Besides, I’ve got some good topics coming up, and really want to get to them. So, without any further talk, let’s get to today’s topic: the cliffhanger.

Cliffhangers are a pretty classic bit of storytelling, as well as pretty self-explanatory. At least, as a concept. A cliffhanger is when you end a chapter or a story with a character hanging from a cliff in some fashion. Not a literal cliff (at least, not always), but in a sense that the protagonist is under an imminent or some sort of danger. And at the most basic, that’s pretty much all you need to know: End a chapter or a story on a moment where your characters are in peril. This ratchets up the tension, and keeps your reader wanting to turn the next page. But is that all there is to it? Well … no. Because like anything else in writing, there are good and bad ways to do this, and other elements such as pacing to take into consideration.

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Being a Better Writer: The Convenient Romantic Subplot

Welcome back, readers! It’s Monday, and you know what that means! Time for Being a Better Writer!

But first, a slight aside. Dave Freer (you may have read something of his) wrote this little blurb that caught my eye from my morning feed on the Mad Genius Club (their name, not mine) about large books. More accurately, on books that dive past the “normal” length of 40,000 to 100,000 words. I found it interesting, both because well, the “normal” length for me is hovering around 325K per story, and because Freer is writing this as someone who doesn’t write such long books and is putting forth his thoughts on both why he doesn’t and where they may fit with readers and the industry.

I found it interesting, especially as it does point out how much of an outlier I am with the breadth and scope of what I do. Those of you who are fans of my work, take a look at his thoughts and see what you think. If you’re so inclined, if you think he nailed something or was way off, leave a comment!

Okay, news aside. Let’s talk writing stuff. Now, today’s topic isn’t a requested one. In fact, it’s not even on my Topic List. No, this is one that came to mind as I was sitting reading through another book last night (a short story collection, in this case, but I hit the library recently, so I’ve been mowing through a literal stack of books). I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately—more than the norm—and naturally, I was noticing a lot of trends as I read through. One of the most common, which I’m sure many of you readers, movie-watchers, and the like also notice, is the sometimes dreaded romantic subplot.

Naturally, I started thinking about it. Why we use it. Why it’s become so blasted common and cliche, and yet still sticks around despite that. Why so many feel the need to stick a romantic subplot into an otherwise good story (this, by the way, is often called a romantic plot tumor when it doesn’t belong). Why so many dislike it, and yet it constantly shows up, again and again. Personally, I felt it was worth talking about. Because I guarantee you, a number of readers of this site have sat down to write out their story, and almost immediately thrown a romance subplot in without even knowing why.

Now, I do want to make a caveat here: I am not talking about the romance genre. I’m talking about romantic subplots. You know, a side plot to the main story. Not a story where the romance is the story, but a story where the romance is something happening alongside the main story, but not the crux of the plot. The protagonist has a journey, a foe to face, a mountain to climb, an alien planet to explore .. whatever. And along the way they fall for someone.

All right, with that catch explained, let’s talk about romantic subplots.

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