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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Clothing and Fashion

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and that mean’s it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer!

Of course, it’s not just an ordinary Monday. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday in the US honoring the life and accomplishments of, well, Martin Luther King Jr (Surprise! This one is names correctly!).

If you don’t know who Martin Luther King Jr. is, then today is a good day to perhaps carry out a Google and learn a little bit about him! In the meantime, however, and before I get to this week’s news and then the post itself, I’ll share this quote from him, one that feels especially relevant after the last few weeks:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

If you’ve never read that quote before, nor anything else Martin Luther King Jr. said during his life, then I’d say today would be a good day to do a quick Google and some reading! Enjoy!

And now, the news! With the most relevant question on many readers’ minds being “What’s the status of Axtara – Banking and Finance?” Well, I’ve got good news, and I’ve got good news!

Good news #1 is that Axtara is doing pretty well. Even almost a month after release, it’s still sitting in the top 25 on the new release tracker for its category on Amazon. It’s also picked up a number of reviews and ratings, all of them in the positive. From what’s come in so far, the meaning is clear: You guys love Axtara! Let’s take a look at some excerpts from the reader reviews so far:

I just finished reading the the book a bit ago and I loved it. The story is enjoyable and wraps up well (it does leave it open for a sequel too, and I hope that there is one – or more – eventually). The characters are also likeable, and the story being from the perspective of a dragon – Axtera – is interesting … I enjoyed it quite a bit and if you think the description looks interesting then you should definitely give it a shot as I think it delivers well on the premise.

An enjoyable read! I’ll give a try on kindle unlimited to most any book with a dragon as the protagonist, but I quite liked this one enough to leave a good review. I was particularly interested in the entrepreneurial elements as Axtara works to establish her bank. Axtara’s focus on reaching break-even point shows the author did their research here, and the business side seems well grounded and interesting.

 I came away fully satisfied from having read a story so well-crafted, and I hope to see more!

A lovely and enjoyable story that I will be buying as a hard copy as soon as it’s available!

So yeah, the verdict is in: Axtara is a hit! I hope those of you that are still reading it are finding it every bit as enjoyable as you’d hoped, and that your reviews will find their way to the world soon!

Now, what about something that even the last review quote touches on: The hard copy. Is it still coming? I know I haven’t offered an update in a week or so (again, blame the computer failure I suffered). Well, I’ve got good news people!

It’s almost done. The manuscript has been uploaded, and the hard copy cover is almost done. All that’s left is for someone who knows more about GIMP than I to do some smoothing on the image, and for me to acquire and zip through a proof! And once that’s done … Axtara – Banking and Finance will be available in paperback!

Okay, so what are we looking at, detail-wise? Well, the price is likely going to be, as of right now, $11.99, and weigh in at a little over three hundred pages. If that price seems high, well … that is literally as low as I can go before the print costs are such that I’d lose money on every copy sold, at which point the Print services just say “no, you can’t do that.” Not a great deal for me, either. So yeah, it’s very likely going to be $11.99 for the time being. But hey, at least there’s digital for those of you saving pennies.

However, I can say this: Axtara will almost certainly be available in print before the end of the month! I’ll be sure to let you all know!

Now, I do have one other bit of news before we hop to today’s Being a Better Writer topic: Price drops! That’s right, the promised price drops in the wake of a new release have finally come for Shadow of an Empire and Jungle! Shadow of an Empire has now reached its final tail-price of $3.99, while Jungle has seen its first price-drop to $5.99. So if you’re a tail reader, your day has come for Shadow of an Empire! Click that books tab at the top and go for it!

All right! That’s the news, said and done. So let’s talk about today’s writing topic, which is a bit of an odd one. Clothing and fashion, after all, is something a lot of young writers barely consider, save occasionally from the lens of “how cool can I make them look” (a process which for some reason for many seems to involve robbing an outlet store for a few hundred belts and zippers)? So why devote a BaBW post to the topic?

Well, it’s because as I’ve said before, a lot of bringing a world to life is in the fine details. And clothing, and what we wear, is definitely one of those details. Let’s take a look.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Traditions and Worldbuilding

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you know what that means! More Being a Better Writer! But as is the norm, I do have some news for all of you to go through first.

So we’re going to start with the more fun update: Axtara! Just like the Saturday before last, two days ago saw the posting of another preview from Axtara – Banking and Finance which you can find and read here! This time it’s an excerpt from chapter 2. That won’t be all the Axtara news you see or hear this week, because the final cover is scheduled to be delivered this week, at which point not only will you guys finally get to see it in all its glory, but Axtara itself will be able to go up for pre-order! At last! So yeah, get ready for a week of Axtara, ending in what will probably be a third and final preview as we all count down to an official release date.

Second bit of news to talk about is that this will be the last new Being a Better Writer article for the duration of Christmas and the end of the year. That’s right, once today is past, Being a Better Writer will be going on break until the New Year, 2021, arrives! At least two weeks, but I might go for three if I really feel the need to unwind. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop working on Starforge. No, that’ll still see a lot of work. In addition, unlike previous years, this also doesn’t mean there won’t be a dearth of content during this time. Not only will there be the pre-Christmas release of Axtara – Banking and Finance to keep me busy (along with everything that entails) but there will still be Being a Better Writer articles on each Monday. They’ll just be Classic Being a Better Writer articles. That’s right, I’m going to dig through and pull out some of the most popular BaBW articles of the past few years and feature them for the holiday season. That way the site won’t see a dearth for one of its more popular features during the season.

All right, that’s it for news. So now, here we go with the final new BaBW post of the year. Which was, if I’m honest, a bit of a tough choice. I spent a little bit of time sitting there looking at the list (#16 for those of you keeping track) and asking which topic suited the finale for the year the best. But after a bit of back and forth, I settled on a topic that felt both seasonal and not at the same time: Tradition.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Holidays

Hey there readers! How were your weekends? Healthy, I hope. I spent all of mine inside working on Starforge, Axtara, or recuperating. My Covid-19 test came back negative, but that just meant whatever I did have likely wasn’t Covid. It was still something, so I skipped church on Sunday (doing the smart thing) and gradually felt better as the weekend moved on.

Either way, due to that, I really don’t have much in the way of news to report or talk about from this weekend, so there’s not much for me to do here but dive into this week’s topic. Which, as you might have noticed, is a little … seasonal.

Yeah, I’ll admit this wasn’t on the list. Rather I thought of it over the weekend and once the bug was in my head, couldn’t shake the idea because it was, I felt, a good one that deserved talking about. Not a game changer, probably, but one of those “little details” that can take a story from a nine to a ten.

Yes, we’re still talking about writing. When I say “Holidays” I do so in the sense of a recognized celebration date, not a vacation from things. Those of you waiting for that kind of post are looking at the wrong job.

I kid. Mostly. A writer is almost never truly on a vacation. Our work tends to be … consuming.

Anyway, with that clarification out of the way, let’s talk about holidays.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Using Food

A quick reminder to start keeping a list of your ideas for future Being a Better Writer articles! Topic List #15 is almost out of topics, which means there will soon be a topic call and a chance to make your requests for ideas and topics heard!

Got it? Good! Because today we’re diving right into our topic, which was inspired by a writing chat I hang out on. You ready? Today we’re talking about food.

Ah food. That subject that everyone has an opinion on. Food is as basic a part of the human lifestyle—or really any living lifestyle—that it’s ubiquitous to existence.

With that in mind, to kick this post off, I want you readers to try a little thought experiment for me. I want you to think of a memory of a favorite holiday. Got one in mind? Now analyze it: was food in that memory somewhere?

There’s a fairly high chance that it was. What kind of food may have varied, but some of you may have even been able to almost taste it as you imagined that holiday.

All right, now let’s try a second little experiment. Just read the following things and see what sort of thoughts pop up at the prompt. Ready? Go!

  • County Fair
  • Wedding
  • Shopping
  • Exercise
  • Business meeting
  • Birthday
  • Break

All right, made it through the list? Now, this may have been tempered a bit by the topic, but how many of you thought of foods associated with those events, activities, etc?

Sure, it might be something simple, like donuts at a business meeting (the 90s standard) or snacking on a break. It might be wedding cake or onion blooms at a county fair. But all of these activities, in one way or another, can, and most likely will, involve food!

However … if you were to look at those events in a book of some kind … how many might skip over the food altogether? More than a few, actually. And those books?

They’re missing out.

Continue reading