Being a Better Writer: Where to Start with Building Worlds

Welcome BACK readers! Sands and storms it has been a while, hasn’t it? But once again, Being a Better Writer is back and returning to its regular schedule.

Just in time too. The break was nice, but it was starting to be strange not to have these coming out every Monday. Legitimately weird. So I’m glad to be back at it at last. That, and I’m pretty sure a number of you were really starting to miss them as well.

But, convention must be adhered to. So before we dive in to today’s topic, let’s talk about some news.

First and foremost: Starforge is in Pre-Alpha. That’s right! The finale to the UNSEC Space trilogy is going through the early editing phase before Alpha readers get to see it. I’ve got a notepad with notes I’m jotting down, changes are being made, and I’m having a good time reading through and experiencing a story that to date I’d only seen during the writing process.

Does that mean Alpha Readers should be sitting up and getting ready? Well … no. Not yet. After a week I’m only about a fifth of the way through this enormous titan of a tome. So it’s going to be a few more weeks yet, plus I don’t know how much of it I might end up rewriting prior to the Alpha.

That said, the Alpha could drop as early as February, and with this book’s big status (the biggest, and most anticipated, release I will have to date) I’m determined to make sure that at launch it’s as polished as I can make it. This means if you want to Alpha Read, I want you to Alpha Read. If you want to Beta Read, I want you to Beta Read. Sands, I am even going to be looking for people that haven’t read the first two books to at least read the opening chapters of Starforge to see if they can follow along and put together what’s both happening and has happened enough to be able to keep up with the book (at least, until they decide to go back and read the first two, hopefully).

But yes, Starforge is coming. Line by line, page by page, it is coming. And this book is a ride. If a trilogy is a three-act structure, this is the climax where everything rarely stops blowing up.

So get ready. But not just for that. Because in just over a month, Life, The Universe, and Everything happens! That’s right, it’s time for LTUE once again! And once again, I will be there and paneling and signing books.

If you’ve never been to an LTUE before, it’s a fantastic experience. LTUE is a convention, but an unusual one in that it’s entirely about the act and art of writing. The panelists are authors, editors, publishers, and other book-related creative folks, all there to talk about Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing. How to do it, what works, what will benefit it, everything! It’s an absolute blast, and if you’re at all interested in the art of writing (or just in meeting a bunch of your favorite authors), this is the con to go to.

So far, the plan is for LTUE 2022 to be live and in person (though the venue does have health and safety requirements). If lockdowns emerge, then it will be online like during 2021, but we’re all hoping that we’re able to meet in person once more. Regardless, as I understand it there are plans to stream this year’s LTUE online using a similar setup to 2021, so those of you that are a vast distance away can still participate!

So, Starforge is coming, as is LTUE 2022! Got it? Good! Now, let’s hit the jump and dive into today’s topic, which is a bit of an interesting one: where do we start when we’re setting out to worldbuild?

Hit the jump, and let’s get building!

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Being a Better Writer: Traditions and Games

Hello readers! Welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer, coming to you all on the first day of November, just ahead of the Mariah Carey storm.

You know the one I’m talking about. It nears, even now. Some have already fallen prey to it.

But let us speak of things other than earworms. This weekend I started getting pictures on social media sites and services from folks. Pictures of what you might ask? Why, massive two-pound tomes that had arrived for them in the mail! That’s right, paperback copies of Shadow of an Empire have started ending up in folks’ hands! And they look nice! Here, take a look at one picture I had in my inbox this morning:

That looks great, doesn’t it? Overall, the response to Shadow of an Empire finally being in paperback (you can get your copy here, hint hint) seems pretty positive!

Which is good, as book sales last month were, short of a brief spike in Japan, in a bit of a slump. Not just for me either: It says something when sales slip by over 80% but the sales ranking stays the same. October was flat-out a rough month across the board for booksellers in general, it would seem. Fall, pre-holidays, does seem to get hit like this, so perhaps it’s just tracking as normal but with a bit of a boost from the supply chain issues as well as general economic issues plaguing us from decades of bad decisions (and you can read more about that here).

Either way, Shadow of an Empire‘s paperback release was the second bright spot in a month that was otherwise very dull sales-wise, and not just for me. With luck, now that we’re out of October and into November and the upcoming holiday season is nearing (that Shadow of an Empire paperback makes a great Christmas gift, by the way) book sales will trend back upwards.

As far as other news before we dip into today’s topic, last week saw another short story preview go up on Patreon for supporters, so if you’re a Patreon Supporter (Thank you!) go check out The Last Light! It’s … interesting. I don’t want to say much more on that.

Also, what’s happening now that Shadow of an Empire is available in dead-tree? What’s the plan now? Well, I’ve got a little bit more writing to do on that Stranded project, and maybe one or two more short stories, but nothing that’s probably going to take more than the first week or two of November. After that? It’s time to start the pre-Alpha for Starforge.

So yes, Starforge work is coming soon. Who’s ready to see how the UNSEC Space trilogy ends?

With that rhetorical question dangling overhead and filling your minds, let us turn our attention at last to today’s BaBW topic. Which is, I realize, possibly a bit of a curious one, and some of you certainly might have glanced at the title and wondered “Now what does that have to do with writing?”

Quite a bit as it turns out. Hit the jump, and let’s talk traditions and games.

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Being a Better Writer: “Alien” Aliens and the Conflict of Drive

Hello again readers from across the datanet! Well, some parts of it. Today I woke up to the frantic news announcements that Facebook and all its associated services, from Instagram to WhatsApp, are down. Completely and totally. Very likely not permanently, but as of writing this, it’s gone from the web. You can’t even access it.

You know I’m just going to say it: It’s a good break for people. I usually log on each morning to see if I have any notifications from my family, but I don’t miss not having it this morning. If it were gone for good, well that’d be a different story since I keep a bunch of photos on there and I do use it to keep up with family members since I can’t get any of them to use Discord.

But that’s all I’ll say on it. It’s down, so you’re probably not going to be linking here from there today unless things come back up. No ads on Facebook today! Which almost made me switch topics, I’ll admit, but I’ve wanted to talk about today’s Being a Better Writer topic for some time now. And having Facebook and some of the primary social media sites be down for the other topic would be slightly less than ideal, despite making me thing about it. So that post will have to wait.

So then, what about today’s post? Most of you have read the title, so where is this coming from? Why this topic? Well, hit the jump, and let’s get talking.

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Being a Better Writer: Including a Range of Culture

Welcome back readers! Potentially to me as well!

Yes, this post was written weeks ago, to make up for the fact that I am in Alaska for a fishing job right now. I might be back, but it’s unlikely. At least from my perspective in the past.

Anyway, with that being said I have no idea what the news will be, and even if I’m back I’ll still be letting these go up as scheduled, so there’s little else to talk about aside from diving into our post today! So let’s get to it!

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Being a Better Writer: Knowing What to Research … and How

Hello readers, and welcome back after another weekend (and week)! How are things going on your side of the keyboard? Well, I hope?

Things here have been a mix of quiet and busy, the kind that kept me from making any extra posts last week, mostly because they would have been small, short affairs barely worth a post, but also because I was happily consumed with working on the final part of Starforge. It’s coming along, readers, and will be done, I would expect, in another month or so! So yeah, that kind of excitement kept me from doing much on the site last week.

Speaking of the site, there will be a live Q&A Being a Better Writer in the coming weeks. I got a few responses back concerning timing and the like, and the time that seemed most functional for everyone was 6 PM Mountain time, weekend or weekday (excepting a few days on the weekday part). I’ll have more on this soon, but due to the next item of news, it’ll be a bit.

Next item of news is: I’m taking a vacation! Well, what I hope is a vacation. I’ll be visiting my parents and sibling (the ones with a nephew and niece) back where I grew up for about a week. The idea is to have some fun with my nephew and niece while relaxing for a bit. Which quite a few people have told me I desperately need. The relaxing bit, I mean.

Posts will continue as normal. I’ll be doing a couple of Being a Better Writer posts in advance and putting them on a schedule. So keep checking back for more each Monday! It won’t stop!

Two other bits of news before I take off. The first is that Axtara – Banking and Finance continues to be my best seller right now, and has eclipsed Jungle in its total review count. Different audiences in part, but still, that’s pretty good!

And if you loved Axtara and wanted more from that setting, the fourth and final part of A Trial for a Dragon will be live on Patreon for supporters this Saturday. If you’re not a supporter, you can be for as little as a dollar a month!

All right, that’s the news! Like I said, lots of little stuff, stuff that I probably could have made a small post for, but … Starforge people. Starforge!

So with that, let’s get talking about today’s Being a Better Writer topic, which comes to us from a reader request in response to a common statement of mine. If you’ve been a reader of Being a Better Writer for any amount of time, you’ll know that one aspect of writing I constantly circle back to is always do the research. Because, unfortunately, this is a step that a shockingly large amount of writers (and editors) skip. Yes, even among the trad pubs (in fact, they’re actually worse at in these days in my reading experience).

So, this reader acknowledged that. Doing the research was important. But what they wanted to know was how did they do the research, or even how could they know where to start? And, as I thought about it, I realized that this was just as important a topic to cover at some point and added it to the list. Because this reader was right: it doesn’t matter how willing you are to do the research if you have no idea how to do it, what to look for, or even that you need to look!

So hit that jump, and let’s talk about not just the importance of research, but how to research, how to know what to research, and even how to know that you need to research something.

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Being a Better Writer: Building a World From Scratch – Part 3

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer! This week, as with last week, we’re still following in the path set before, and we’re talking about worldbuilding. More specifically, we’re going to be talking about the next step in crafting a world from scratch.

Now, if you’ve not been following BaBW up to this point, it is recommended that you have read parts one and two of this series already, since with part three today we’re following a the path set by those two pieces to its natural conclusion. So if you’re a newcomer, or just discovered this series for the first time, I would recommend reading those over before diving in. In other words, while this post is going to still be helpful for worldbuilding alone, I’d recommend reading the other two to gather the whole picture if you haven’t.

So, if you have read the two prior parts (or just like to live dangerously, and who am I to judge?), then let’s go ahead and dive in. In week one, we talked about finding our central ideas and figuring out how to “frame” the world around them. In part two we talked about taking the pieces that surrounded that world and shaping them to fit our central concepts—as well as the surrounding pieces—so that everything fits together to create a living, breathing world.

So what will we be talking about this week? Well, now that you’ve got a complete, living picture built around your central concepts, it’s time for the final step: Letting that world come to life.

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Being a Better Writer: Building a World From Scratch – Part 2

Welcome back readers, to another episode of Being a Better Writer! An unusual episode (fitting here at Unusual Things) too, and for more than one reason. The first being that we don’t often do multi-part BaBW episodes. Only occasionally. And today is one of those occasions, so I hope that you’ve already looked at Part 1 last week, or this piece will be a bit like starting a book a third of the way in. You can do it, but it’s not recommended.

But that’s only the first thing that makes this post unusual. The second is that I’m actually writing this on my Saturday, as opposed to the day of posting. Why? Well because for you readers, today, April 19th is my birthday! Number 35! And so I’m taking the day off (or as much of it as I can, anyway). I haven’t celebrated my birthday in a few years, hence I’m writing this a few days before in order to do so.

Now, for those of you thinking “Hey, I hope you have a good birthday!” thank you, and I hope so too! But if you’d like to help it along a little, I do have a little birthday gift you could deliver me.

Share my stuff somewhere. Gift purchase a book and send it to a friend who likes to read. Recommend someone Axtara, or Shadow of an Empire. Post a public review on Facebook, Reddit, or your social media platform of choice. Sands, toss a recommendation to your favorite book reviewer.

Make my gift this year word of mouth. Believe me, I would really appreciate it.

All right, so that’s the news for the day. Sort of. So let’s dive into Part 2 of our worldbuilding from scratch post and get talking about where we go from last week.

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Being a Better Writer: Building a World From Scratch – Part 1

Welcome back readers! It’s another glorious Monday, and I’m back with another installment of Being a Better Writer!

What makes it glorious? Outside of there being a new installment for BaBW, well, today marked the delivery of two new five-star reviews for Axtara – Banking and Finance, plus a contact from a new fan who loved it and is hoping for more!

In addition, it is finally spring where I live. Shorts weather! Biking weather! Said bike is at the shop, already getting worked on. I’m ready for sun and sweat!

But all in all, that’s a good start to any week.

So, my week is already off to a good start, so now let us switch the focus over to you, reader, and to what you’re here for to help your week have a strong start. That’s right, we’re just going to dive into today’s Being a Better Writer.

But first, really quick, I’m going to thank the support of all the Patreons who make posts like this possible. Thanks to these supporters, Being a Better Writer exists. Without them, it wouldn’t. Be grateful for the support of the following folks:

Frenetic, Pajo, Anonymous Potato, Taylor, Jack of a Few Trades, Alamis, Seirsan, Grand General Luna, Miller, Hoopy McGee, Brown, Lightwind, Thomas, 22ndTemplar, and Piiec!

Without them, BaBW couldn’t continue to exist! You have them to thank for topics like today’s being possible.

Speaking of which, what are we talking about today? Well, today’s topic is a big one. A really big one, by reader request. Today, we’re going to talk about building a world from scratch.

Or rather, we’re going to talk about step one in that process, because worldbuilding is a complicated, deep endeavor (and one that can run away with you if you’re not careful, but more on that another time). So today, we’re starting at the beginning—literally.

It’s time to try our hand at being a merciful (or not) creator. Hit the jump, and let’s talk about building worlds.

Wait. Not yet. There’s one thing I want to say first: Today’s advice is, wholly, more for planners. That doesn’t mean pantsers (those who write as they go) won’t find useful insight here, but let’s be honest: they’re a lot less likely to sit down and sketch out a world beforehand.

Okay, now we can go. Hit that jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding from Maslow’s Hierarchy

Hello readers and welcome back! I hope you all had a spectacular weekend full of fun things. If you were a Patreon Supporter of the site, I did do a bit to help with that (Chapter 10 of Sunset: Stranded went up for supporters, so check that out if you’ve been following that story). If not, well, I hope you had a pretty good weekend anyway.

Now, before I dive into today’s Being a Better Writer post, there is a bit of news I want to point out. This post is the last topic from Topic List #16. That’s right, once this post is done, the final item on the checklist can be crossed off, and the list itself crumpled up and moved to the cylindrical tube of removal beside my desk.

Now, this is a decently big occasion. I only go through a few of these lists a year (each one has about twenty or so topics on it). Each one is a milestone of how many Being a Better Writer posts have passed since I started keeping track of the lists (which was a few years ago).

But they are also significant for another reason: Because you get to contribute to them. If you swung by the site over the weekend, you might have noticed the Topic Call for Being a Better Writer post. Well, if there’s ever been a writing topic you’d like to see covered on this site that hasn’t sprung up yet (or it’s been so long we’re due to strike again) now is the time to make your request heard!

There have already been some awesome topic requests from readers to add to Topic List #17. This next list we’re going to see posts on “rule breaking,” geography, and executing slow tension among others. But there’s still plenty of room on the list to see your area of interest appear! So go ahead and jump on over to the comments section of the topic call and leave your request!

All right, that’s all I want to talk about news-wise, so with that said (and you left a topic request, right?) let’s get down to the meat and potatoes of today’s post.

This one is not a request. In fact, it’s actually fully inspired by a panel I was on during this year’s Life, The Universe, and Everything convention. Before the panel, actually, while doing some background reading for it in preparation, I jotted this topic down as one to talk about with Being a Better Writer. And since the panel didn’t actually spend too much time on what I’m going to talk about today, it should still be fresh for those of you who attended LTUE. Double win, in that case.

Anyway, enough background. Let’s dive into today’s post. Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Getting Religion Right

Hello readers! Welcome back to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope that all of you had an enjoyable weekend!

Mine was a bit of a mixed bag. Loved the new episode of Wandavision, but also spent more time determining some of my PC issues (the power supply is looking more and more like one culprit). I’ve got some replacement hand-me-down parts coming so we’ll see if that introduces some stability.

Oh, and here’s a real mystery for all of you out there. Axtara (fantastic book if you haven’t read it yet), a book about and starring a dragon, does not come up on Amazon’s selection of fantasy books involving dragons. At all. For reasons I’ve yet to find an explanation for.

No joke. I spent some time today looking at Axtara‘s keywords. Yup, dragon is in there. Genre? It’s in the right slot. But for some reason, if you go to Amazon’s selection of fantasy books (kindle and otherwise) involving dragons … Axtara is curiously absent.

The amused author part of me wants to joke that it’s some form of speciesism, that clearly Axtara is “not a dragon book” because the “dragon” in question isn’t being ridden (in either sense of the word, judging by some of those covers) or mauling people to death as a mindless beast, and therefore isn’t eligible.

The less-amused author in me is both annoyed and alarmed, because this means that people looking for books specifically about dragons on Amazon won’t find Axtara in their search or genre results, and that’s definitely negatively impactful to me. I’ve messed with some genre indicators and I hope that this fixes it. Next step will be an e-mail to Amazon directly, because what the what, if there ever was a book that was more suited for the “dragon” category, I haven’t found it.

While I’m on this tangent (and before we get to today’s post), is anyone else overly tired of dragon-rider books? Especially the ones where the mount is sapient and intelligence, but is basically treated like a horse that can talk? That’s one rut I’d rather see fantasy climb out of. Or, for all the talk of avoiding “problem issues” in fantasy, I’m surprised “keeping sapients in stables as mounts” hasn’t drawn more ire from readers. I guess the idea of equal rights only matters if they’re humanoid? At least Temeraire wasn’t afraid to tackle this, but most other generic dragon-rider fiction just kind of ignores it … and I’m getting too off-topic. That’s my mystery from the weekend.

So, let’s talk about today’s hammer of a topic: Getting Religion Right. And I’m pretty certain that already some people are going to have issues simply based on that title alone, because some folks get ready for a fight anytime the words “religion” and “right” are in a sentence together without the word “not” or something similar.

But whatever. We can’t shy away from this topic, and it’s an important one. Which is going to come with a hefty lead-in. So we may as well hit the jump and get started. Get to it.

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