Being a Better Writer: Character Matters

So, last week I was browsing the web (one of my favorite pastimes for finding interesting details and acquiring knowledge) when I came across a very … shall we say, interesting post. It was on a book forum, where someone was, if I recall the context correctly, talking about a specific Sci-Fi book they tried to read. A recent award winner, again if I recall correctly, from one of those snooty ‘literary’ awards. Anyway, they mentioned that they’d tried reading it, but had given up because, as they explained, all the characters fell flat. Or rather, were flat, simply mouthpieces to explain the story’s science. They had no other character or uniqueness other than a name. They were just there as, well, robots, to drive the science forward. Other than that, they were simply flat caricatures. As a result, the reader had given up on the book, because there was no character to revolve around.

Now, this post jumped out at me for two reasons. The first, but not the foremost, was that it lined up with a news article I recall reading a few years ago about in which a major publisher, faced with the falling sales of their Sci-Fi and Fantasy, conducted a nationwide survey of their former readers (no idea how they pulled that off, but they have to have some metric for it) asking why their former readers had abandoned them. The answer? That too many of their books just didn’t have good characters anymore, or worse, had characters that were just ideological mouthpieces for the science/social angle of the book. Without strong, compelling, or real characters, their readers had abandoned them.

The second reason that this post jumped out at me was the response to it. This was on a forum that is … Well, let’s just say they’re the kind of readers that the current publishers want to have in greater number. The response was immediate and, shockingly, angry. We’re talking caps and exclamation marks about how dare this reader put down a book because the characters weren’t good. Because—and understand I’m summarizing a number of posts here—characters aren’t important. They’re just mouthpieces to present the science. You’re not supposed to care about them. Or find them interesting. If you do, that’s a bonusnot a requirement. Blah blah blah, you read the book for the message, not for the characters, who cares if they’re shallow, etc etc etc.

Reading over this led me to this post. Where I’m going to say something flat-out.

That stance? That characters don’t matter? It’s wrong. From start to finish. This isn’t even a matter of opinion. That’s why the survey sprang to mind. That survey said that people do care about characters, that people are invested in how characters act and why. And do you know why?

Because they are! Great characters make stories come to life! They sell stories. Not science or social messages. Those can be pandered anyone in a deadpan monotone and still find their audience of those already subscribed to the idea. But a story? That takes characters.

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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: Adding Meaning

Hey there readers!

Yes, once again this post is falling on a Tuesday. I’ve taken a larger than normal load of shifts during the Christmas rush to help keep myself afloat (and maybe afford a little advertising on the side), so my schedule has been in a bit more of a time crunch than usual.

Alctually, make that a lot more of a time crunch, since I’m still working on finishing Jungle. The bad news is that I’m still working on it despite all of last month. The good news, however, is that I’m on the last five chapters. No joke. The end is all plotted out, everything is wrapping itself up, characters are dying …

I mean … no one is dying. It’s all sunshine and happiness with micro-missile launching rifles! Oh, and yes, those are a thing. For when you absolutely know you’re going to be facing exosuits.

Right, enough beating around the bush, though. I’ve got a Being a Better Writer post to write! And you to read!

So, today’s topic is another request from Topic List X. It’s also a pretty good one. The question given was roughly ‘How does one go about adding meaning, such as theme or symbology, to their story?’

Like I said, that’s a good question. The thing is, I’ll bet my answer is going to shock them.

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Character Odds and Ends

New here? Confused by what a Classic Being a Better Writer post is? No worries!

Classic posts dig into a four-year archive of weekly BaBW articles to dig up a couple that are relevant to one another, forming a quick and easy to browse sampling of some of the site’s various writing articles.

Today? A few odds and ends, from character versus plot (and what that means) to language!

No beating around the bush here. Let’s get going!

Character Versus Plot—
We’ll start with the underlying concept behind these two options: All stories are driven by something. Now, when I say that a story is driven by something, I don’t mean the antagonist, or the inciting incident, or even the growth of the character. What I’m referring to by driven is the events or actions by which the story is pulled forward.

Bilbo leaving Frodo the ring, for example, is something that pulls the story forward. Harry receiving a letter from Hogwarts. Vin being noticed by Kelsier. A story is, in it’s purest, simplified form, a collection of events. But something inside the story must happen in order for these events to occur. Cause and effect.

What I’m discussing today is the method by which the story moves forward. Is it character-derived, or plot-derived?

Common Problems with Character Emotion—
More specifically, we’re going to look how writers handle giving their characters emotions, and where a lot of the common pitfalls occur.

So right from the start, I’m going to assume we’re all on the same page here. We wantour characters to have emotion. We want them to be well-rounded, well developed … real, in other words. We want characters who are complex, with multiple facets to their character who remind us of real people. We want a character who seems real. We do not want a flat character.

But the challenge is that writing such a character is quite difficult, and many authors fall into pitfalls along the way. And I’m not speaking of just novice writers out there either, plenty of long-term authors can still be guilty of making any number of these mistakes, falling into traps by either cutting corners or not realizing what they’ve done. And for it, their work suffers. Characters become “props” in a story, interchangeable parts that simply drop into scenes or events to fulfill a purpose.

If you’ve never considered how the language of different characters and scenes can affect your writing, well, it’s definitely worth thinking about.

But today, I’m going to talk about a different kind of language.

Foul language.

Some of you might not recognize the term (as it isn’t as widely used anymore), so I’ll get a little more specific. Swearing. Cursing. Derogatory words. Words and phrases that are generally considered impolite. The “F” word. D**n. Stuff like that. And yes, I’m censoring them for this blog. Family friendly.

You got that? All right. Are you ready for one of the biggest shocks of your life?

You shouldn’t be using them. At least, not nearly as often as you do.

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Being a Better Writer: Preaching to the Choir

Morning readers! Well, actually afternoon, and that’s my fault. Ever start reading a book late at night? Yeah, that’s something I shouldn’t do, and yet …

Well, anyway, let’s dive right into today’s topic shall we? It’s one that I’ve wanted to write about for a while, since it comes up a lot in the modern reading world, and quite frankly, it really shouldn’t. At least, not if the claims of the authors were remotely accurate.

What am I talking about? Why, I’m talking about preaching to the choir! Which I’m sure you know all about, so let me just skim over things so we can all get to talking about how right we are and how wrong everyon—

Ahem. Apologies, but we won’t be doing that at all. But that last little paragraph does serve to illustrate in a somewhat rough fashion exactly why this topic should be brought up, as it’s an exaggeration example—though not too far off the mark in many cases, sadly—of what preaching to the choir is, and offers a glimpse of why writing something in that fashion can wreck your story’s potential audience.

So without further ado, let’s dive into today’s Being a Better Writer, starting with an answer to the question that I’m sure is on some of your minds (and if not, we’re talking about it anyway to establish a baseline): what is preaching to the choir?

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Being a Better Writer: The Keystone

Welcome back readers! As you may have guessed from this posting date, I had another Monday shift at my part time, hence why you’re getting this today (I’m at the moment writing it up during the early evening of the 22nd, so you’re reading this in what would technically be the future). Nothing too unusual there.

So, let’s dive right into today’s topic, shall we? I really don’t feel like beating around the bush; but rather I’d prefer to just get down to it. Today’s topic comes from … well, it comes from a number of sources, actually. Listening to other authors talk about writing, certainly. Reading a few books and whatnot over the last few weeks. And just following various forums about writing online. Toss all those things into my head, and let simmer for a few hours, and this post and topic is what came from it.

First question: Are you familiar with what a keystone is? You might remember this from your history classes, particularly if they covered the Roman Empire. A keystone was, well, the key to constructing those awesome Roman arches ancient tourists would see everywhere in Rome. And modern tourist still can see in the same places, 3000 years later. You know the shape—the classic pillars with the half-circle on the top?

This design was the one of many things that took Rome to stardom and made them the most influential empire in the world (so influential that many today still underestimate exactly how much of our day-to-day society was shaped by them). It enabled Rome to build bigger, grander, more spacious structure than anyone that had come before them.

So yeah, kind of a big deal. But how did it work? And what does it have to do with writing?

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Being a Better Writer: The Heavy Hand of the Writer

So … I picked that title because it looked and read better than my other alternatives. One of which was “The Heavy Hand of Whatever” which really didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Another was the several knit-together topics that this post was to cover … which would leave you, readers, with a giant string to look at. Then the last was a giant string (______) in place of “the Writer.”

Oh, right, before I dive into things don’t forget: April 19th is a one day sale of all my works in honor of my birthday! That is one day away! Or possibly less … or maybe even in the past, depending on when you read this post. Hopefully you read it in time. Part of the goal I’m going for is for everyone who’s enjoyed one of my books to share their favorite somehow while the sale is on, so get ready! You can check this post for a quick reminder of all the sales. Got it? Good!

So, back to the mysterious topic at hand. This is one of those posts that was actually inspired by a book that I’m currently forcing my way through. Yes, forcing … It’s not a very good book. But, since what’s causing me to not enjoy it is an easily identifiable flaw, or rather a series of them … My mind immediately turned to this blog and started putting together a blog post. A blog post I knew would be written late, since I had work today, and I have family visiting tomorrow.

So … here’s the biggest problem with this book I’m trying to shove through (which, if you’re wondering where it came from, originated at my local library as my random pick of “Let’s try this”). Okay, second biggest problem next to its plot being ripped off pretty much wholesale from any generic book or film that has a Skynet plot. And this problem is … Crud, I barely know where to start. Technically, it’s a lot of problems all wrapped up under one giant umbrella, each one feeding off of one another to create a morass of issues. But at it’s core?

The book is extremely heavy-handed in it’s approach to, well, everything from the plot to the theme.

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