Being a Better Writer: Campfire Conversations and Giving Characters Heart

Welcome back writers! It’s a new day, a new week, and a new chance to write something!

Me, I’m looking forward to finishing another short, currently titled Strange Catch, about a young teen in the Axtara universe (but on the other side of the continent) who finds himself in the company of a seafolk with a most unusual request …

It’s got some work to go. I’m discovery-writing this one, so already I’ve built in a few plot elements that I’ll need to go back and weave into the start of the tapestry for everything to make sense. But hey, I’m having fun and with some hammering I’m pretty certain it’ll make a nice addition to More Unusual Events. How about any of your writing? Any of you get anything special written this weekend? That short you’ve been dreaming about for months, perhaps?

There’s never a better time to start than today. Just saying.

Now, before we get down to business with today’s Being a Better Writer post, let’s go over other upcoming news, as I’ve got a few items on the docket. First up, Starforge progress! I know a lot of you have been waiting for news on this one, and I’m delivering today. Two bits of Starforge news.

The first? The Alpha 2 is going quite well. There are small things here and there to clean up, but it seems that the outlook thus far from those readers that have finished this juggernaut has been pretty positive. With that in mind, unless the Alpha Readers still working their way through find something huge, I can with high accuracy predict that the next phase of Starforge will be be Beta! Woooo! Getting closer and closer to that November release!

Second bit of Starforge news: The cover is complete. Yes, you read that properly. Which means that there will soon be a cover reveal so you can all finally see what you’ll be getting your hands on (and first-time readers will see) this fall when Starforge releases.

Look for a news post with the date soon!


Now, with that news out of the way, there’s one last thing I wish to talk about: Sales. No, not the deep discounts kind. I want to talk about sales numbers.

See, last weekend someone asked me about total sales numbers, wondering how many copies of a book I’d sold. So I sat down with my records and started going over the numbers. Lifetime sales of each book, adding them up and adding them to the total.

Readers, to date I have sold over 8000 books. In fact, the number is only a few hundred shy of being an internet meme! And just over a thousand copies shy of 10,000 books sold.

That’s a lot of books! And it’s only a beginning. With Starforge coming, and a new Jacob Rocke novel plus an Axtara sequel on the horizon, I think that there’s a chance that things could pass 10,000 this year. Maybe. If I’m lucky.

Still, that’s a monumental number. Maybe someday that’ll be the number of books I move in one year instead of ten (assuming I hit 10,000 by year’s end), but for now? Most people are lucky to ever sell a hundred books. Eight thousand is a large number of titles moved.

Oh, and just for the Axtara fans out there: While it everyone’s favorite banking dragon has moved more copies than Jungle, she’s still far behind Colony. About a thousand copies behind! Though she still sells pretty well.

Anyway, I’m considering ways to see about driving 10,000 sales before the year’s end, as 2023 will mark the ten year anniversary of One Drink unveiling itself to the world. It would be nice to have 10,000 sales to have shown for my first ten years worth of work!


Right right, we’ve talked enough about the news. Let’s actually get down to business and talk about writing. Today I want to talk about something that I touched on in a previous post, but only as an example before getting back on track.

Today? I want to talk about this concept in full. It’s something that can be a bit of a contentious topic across both writers and audience alike, but it’s also something that for many means the difference between a good book and a merely okay one.

I want to talk about what I call “campfire conversations,” and how they give characters, especially secondary ones, heart.

Hit the jump, and let’s dive into this (somewhat) contentious topic.

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Being a Better Writer: Underpowered and Overpowered Antagonists

Welcome back readers! It’s a new week, and with it come new accomplishments and news (that’s a lot of new, I know)! Alpha Reading on Starforge continues to surge forward, with feedback coming in quick and clear. Right now, things are looking pretty good for the second pass, with the consensus being pretty positive so far. Alpha readers haven’t hit the heavy rewrite chapters yet, so we’ll see what happens when they arrive there, but so far the cleaning, polishing, and structural changes seem to have stuck!

In personal news, I was able to spend my Saturday at a local Scottish festival, which was pretty awesomely fun. My friends and I go every year if we can, and this year we were lucky enough to have lots of time and some cash budgeted away to spend on things. Which is why I’m writing this while listening to the album Marigold by The Fire. I listened to part of one set, bought the album, and then jammed out to their evening performance. Good fun, and another album to listen to while working!

Let’s see … I already spoke about new reviews for Colony, Jungle, and Axtara, so that’s no longer the new-new, and there isn’t really much going on writing-wise save the Starforge Alpha 2 (Alpha Readers, I am loving your feedback thus far; keep at it!) so I suppose all that’s left to do today is dive into our topic.

Which may feel a bit familiar to some of you. If you’ve been a long-time follower of the site, or browsed through the archives, you may recall this post from 2014 (wow) concerning Underpowered and Overpowered Characters.

Well, today’s post is a bit of reflection of that. See, that post (which is still worth a look, mind) was largely if not entirely concerned with protagonists, and on considering overpowered or underpowered protagonist characters. But this post? This is going to be a little different. Because this post is, in keeping with what’s almost become an unofficial “theme” of this year, about villains.

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Being a Better Writer: The Bechdel Test and Real Gender Equality

Oh readers, it is so good to be back!

Seriously, in the last week, I have biked every single day, several miles at minimum. It’s been ninety degrees out most of the time, which has been absolutely glorious to feel. I have access to the internet once again, have caught up on Obi Wan Kenobi (which I’ve enjoyed, especially the most recent episode), and have been hard at work editing on Starforge.

A bit more on that last one. In this last week I’ve edited over 160,000 words worth of work. Once this pass is through, I’ll start a second, quicker pass that will tie in with a few rewrites of sections that need work, and those chapters will be put up on the Alpha 2 Master Chapter List.

In other words, expect an Alpha call for the second Alpha Read next week. That’s right. It’s here. I’ve gotten comments and e-mails from a few of you expressing how interested you are in the second Alpha Read. Well, now’s the time to sharpen your … reading glasses? Okay, that fell apart on me, but you get the idea. Prepare. Alpha 2 is about to begin, and the call will go out next week.

The aim is still to get Starforge out before Christmas. Ideally, a November release date like Colony and Jungle both had would work, but if things call for delays, well … To paraphrase Miyamoto, a delayed book is eventually a good book, but a bad book is a bad book forever.

That said, I’m still pushing hard to get it out by November. Somewhere between the Alpha 2 and the Beta 1, I also plan on cranking out the cover. I’m going to have to learn some new tricks in the software I use, but I’ve got most of it figured out. Either way, that means we’ll likely see a cover preview as early as … August? September? I’ll keep that window wide just in case.

Man, editing 500,000 word titans is a lot of work. After this it’ll be a relief to work on some shorter projects once more.

In any case, that’s the news, so with all that said, let’s get talking about this week’s topic. This is going to be a bit of a contentious one, I think, at least at first. Largely based off of the title. And I won’t pull a punch here: I’m going to be criticizing the Bechdel Test. I hope that if you’re one of those ardent defenders of the Bechdel Test, you’ll stick around and hear me out. As anyone who’s read one of my books will attest, I’m not some crazy misogynist that hates female characters. In fact, you could very easily note that my books easily pass the Bechdel Test.

But there’s a word there that’s part of the problem: Easily. This is where a lot of the criticism of the Bechdel Test comes from, and why we’re talking about it today. And my criticism and breakdown of it is not going to be, I would guess, what some of the ardent defenders of it expect.

But for all that, we’re going to need to hit the jump. So click that, and let’s get talking about the Bechdel Test.

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Being a Better Writer: Embracing Conflict in All its Forms

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and another Being a Better Writer article is upon us! Though first, I do have two bits of news. Don’t worry, they’re both short.

First up, Being a Better Writer has opened another topic call, and that means it’s time for you to submit your ideas for writing topics you’d like to see BeBW cover! We always open up the Topic List to suggestions when we start building another one, and inevitably we get some great suggestions from readers, so if there’s a topic you’d like to hear about, let it be known on the topic call post! Make a comment!

Our second bit of news? I may do a post on this later, but I saw Sonic the Hedgehog 2 over the weekend. Remember how I blasted the new Halo show for making all the obvious terrible choices with a video game adaptation? Well, Sonic 2 is the opposite of that. In fact, my one sentence review of the movie would have to be “Everything Halo does wrong Sonic 2 does right.” I had an absolute blast, laughed myself silly, and grinned until my face hurt. Granted, I grew up playing the Genesis Sonic titles relentlessly (to the degree that some bugs, exploits, and secrets on the web I actually discovered and authored), so I love the series. But either way, I had a blast watching this film, and if you even somewhat enjoyed the first one I’d say it’s a sure bet you’ll have a lot of fun with the second. And they’ve already green-lit the third as well as a live-action show that tells Knuckles’ story so I am 100% on board here.

Okay, I did say the news was short and sweet. Delivered on! So, what are we talking about today when it comes to writing?

Well, this is a topic we’ve discussed before in vary degrees, but it came up once again during a conversation I saw online the other day, in which someone offered their opinion about a book, but said opinion raised a few eyebrows. Not because “Hey, your opinion bad” but more because their opinion was a bit, shall we say, odd.

Effectively, they’d left their thoughts on a book but were somewhat critical of it for not having any “traditional” action scenes, so to speak, stating that they weren’t sure who would be interested in a book that didn’t have any traditional battles or fight scenes, or why there would be anyone who would prefer anything that wasn’t guns, magic, action, etc. Basically, though the book had conflict, they believed that because it wasn’t violent conflict, the book therefore had low appeal because who wouldn’t want violent, action-filled conflict. They then backed that statement by declaring that this made it a “less mature” version of something else they liked.

Again, all because it lacked action and violence with its conflict, instead focusing on social conflict and bloodless battles of voice and opinion.

The issue here is … They’re wrong. And I’ll openly say that. Just because a book doesn’t have violent conflict in a physical sense does not mean that a story doesn’t have conflict, nor that the majority of people don’t want to read it.

In fact, statistically, the most embraced conflict in books is not violence, I would argue, but emotional conflict. My support for that statement? Romance books. They’re about 33% of book industry total sales or so, depending on who you ask and whether you count non-fiction, and the largest genre overall.

And Romance books? They’re not full of guns, bullets, sword fights, and the action-adventure peril. They’re full of a very different kind of action. And not the obvious joke, either. Most romance books are about social conflict rather than “How many dudes can this dude kill?” There might be a single action scene a climax, like a sword duel (yes yes, laugh) between two rival love interests or something, but overall, the point of the book is not to deliver death-defying action and peril.

Don’t get me wrong, those books do exist, even in romance. Spy thrillers and the like do mix Romance with deadly peril. But it’s far from every romance book.

Which means this internet poster’s stance is just completely off-base. Their issue was that they were thinking of “conflict” as required by any story to be action or violence, rather than any of the other forms conflict can take.

So hit that jump, and today let’s talk about other forms of conflict that can feature in your stories, and how these are still valid forms of conflict!

Because your story doesn’t have to have a gun fight or a sword duel in it to have “conflict.” Conflict is a wide range, and your story can pick and choose from all across that spectrum for the story you want to tell. Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Using Shorts to Explore Character or Setting

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday once again! How’d that happen? The weekend seemed to flash by, but it’s probably partially as a result of me spending a good chunk of my Saturday working on The Minstrel and the Marshall. Which has been edited, trimmed, and revised in a few places … but I think I want to make one more change before I upload it today. A small one tweak before I let others get a look at it.

Still, it’s under the word requirement for Troubadours and Space Princesses now. Which, I remind all of you, only has open submissions for another twenty-four days! If you’d like to submit a story for the collection, check out the requirements and relevant information here!

All right, let’s cover some other relevant news. Starforge editing is hitting hard this week, so I’ll be blitzing through the opening quarter of the book and making changes. I’ll also once again be looking over and possibly retooling my Amazon advertising: For reasons unknown to me, views cratered after March 1st, and I’ve as yet been unable to figure out why, but it’s impacting my bottom line, so figuring it out is a bit vital.

Other than that … there’s not much worth sharing at the moment. Well, maybe one thing. Did you know this site has a Discord channel? It’s true. A channel with various rooms and even people! Now, the link isn’t public, because usually the only time it’s been open to invite people is for live Being a Better Writer Q&A sessions. Basically, like a forum, I’ve rolled it out slowly so that things are overwhelmed with spam or bots (there’s enough of that going on already on the site, hence requirements like emails on comments).

But there is a Discord, and there you can talk about books you’re reading (mine or others), writing, games you’re playing. You know, the usual forum/chatter stuff.

And today? I’m feeling like it’s time to crack the doors open a little. The link will be past the jump, just to put a slight block in the way of spam-bots, but if you’d like to join in, the link will be live for one week! It’s a larger crack than we’ve given the door before, and we’ll see how it goes.

I think that’s about it for news. With all that said, maybe we should talk some writing? Go ahead and hit that jump to find both the aforementioned link to the friendly little Discord, and to get looking at today’s topic.

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Being a Better Writer: Setting Up for a Sequel

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you regulars know what that means!

Though I’ll admit this post is a little late. However, those of you familiar with the more obscure areas of US Tax law will likely understand now that I’ve invoked the existence of that system. Yes, today was the day I needed to make sure that my taxes were sent in (they weren’t quarterlies because of fishing money). Those of you who have dealt with the IRS or who do your own taxes understand.

So, that’s why the post is a little late. But better late than never!

Now, I do have one more nice bit of news before we get rolling today. Don’t worry, it’s short and sweet. Colony picked up a few new ratings this weekend (all 5-star) along with this glowing review:

That’s a lot of exclamation points! Thank you for the review, new reader, and may you enjoy the rest of my library!

Okay, with that said and done, let’s wrap up the month of February with one more Being a Better Writer post! Hit the jump, and let’s talk about sequels.

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Being a Better Writer: The Chosen One

Greetings and salutations, readers! We’re back with another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Which by now is so regular it’s almost not worth making the fanfare over, but hey, if there’s one positive thing I can bring to the world on a Monday, it’s at least being upbeat with how my posts start out. You know, aside from the inevitable beneficial knowledge all these posts provide.

So, what are we talking about today? Chosen ones, actually, a topic I felt was fitting for today’s dual status as a holiday (if you’re reading this post another day, February 14th was Valentine’s Day), if in an amusing way.

But, really quick, before I get into that, I do have some news to share. Well, more of a reminder. This week is LTUE! That’s right, Life, The Universe, and Everything, the Fantasy and Sci-Fi writing convention, is happening Thursday through Saturday, 17-19th. I really hope you can make it, because it is always a blast.

Speaking of which, if you can make it (and I really hope you can), here’s a quick list and breakdown of what panels I’ll be on this year!

Thursday:

  • 3 PM – A Space Opera Starter Kit
  • 4 PM – No Mirrors: Character Description in First Person
  • 7 PM – My Genre Wish List

Friday:

  • 7 PM – Book Signing!

Saturday:

  • 5 PM – Science Fiction Faux Pas
  • 7 PM – Fanfiction: Having Fun

Of course, I’ll be around during the rest of the con as well, attending other panels, chatting, and of course signing books. Oh, and handing out some awesome bookmarks! Take a look at this:

I know it’s not the best picture, but that on the left? That is a full stack of awesome Axtara bookmarks which I’ll be giving out at the con. They’re pretty cute, and double-sided, the front saying “Banking shouldn’t be a drag …” and the back offering “Bank with Axtara – Banking and Finance Instead!” Yup, like those bank ads you’d see.

I feel Axtara would approve.

Okay, and with that, that’s all the news we’re going to talk about today. No more LTUE or Axtara talk. Let’s talk instead about that giant title above. Let’s talk about “The Chosen One” trope.

I actually picked this topic largely because I’ve heard it discussed in multiple places recently as a very negative thing. Sort of a—and by sort of I mean this is almost a direct quote—”all chosen one stories are bad” concept.

I’m not joking. I’ve seen a lot of “unrest” over the concept lately, from people automatically attacking any story they assume has a “chosen one” in it, to even declaring it a lone conceit of “European” or even “white” stories—something that’s laughable if you know anything about mythology from, oh, any culture out there in the world.

But this negativity, often aggressive and dismissive, is why I wanted to talk about the trope. Because here’s the thing: It’s an ancient trope. You can find examples of it in the mythology of every culture across the world. It is, in writing terms, as old, if not older, than dirt. The idea of a “chosen one,” be they small or large, has been with mankind since stories were first told.

So then … what’s with the sudden animosity toward it?

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Being a Better Writer: Tabletop Conversations

Hello readers, and welcome back once again! If you’re here on this Monday afternoon by some prior plan, then you know what’s up. If not, then welcome to the site and our weekly Monday post of Being a Better Writer! This week we’re going with a bit of a more classic topic, though not without a bit of wordplay within the title.

But first, we’ve got news to talk about. Con news, to be specific! Life, The Univere, and Everything is coming February 17-19, 2022!

Those of you that know what LTUE is can rejoice now. Those who do not, or haven’t been on this site before and heard about the con, LTUE is a writing con. That means that the panelists are all authors and experts on specific topics, there to talk about writing in all its various aspects and forms. I’ve attended it for almost two decades now, first as a young student, now as a panelist, and it remains the best con I’ve been to for being all about writing. With hundreds of authors and panels talking about all sorts of writing topics, from the basic to the specific (there’s always a panel on how to write action scenes, for example, chaired by some of the better action writers in the business, but there are also panels like ‘garbage dumps through the ages’ taught by historians and authors who’d need to know that stuff) LTUE is a smorgasbord of expert writing advice.

It’s also cheap. Students, be they K-12 or collegiate, get in for $5. For the whole three days. That’s right. Five bucks. Non-students pay a bit more (usually around $75 for all three days), but that’s still an incredibly low price for three whole days of writing content. The panelists are all volunteer as well. This isn’t one of those “writing camps” taught by a few people with one book to their name who make the majority of their living telling others how they wrote that one book by being at that camp. These panelists are people taking time away from their normal day job of writing, editing, or being an expert on something in order to talk about the craft because they love it and want to help others.

If you’re somewhat versed in Fantasy and Sci-Fi you’ll recognize a few of these names too. This year’s Writing Guest of Honor is non other than Jody Lynne Nye, and if you check the “featured guests” page over on LTUE’s website, you’ll see quite a few other names you’ve likely heard of (or read). Checking the full schedule page will let you search all the attending panelists, and you may see a few more names on there you recognize!

Now, I’m going to link that schedule page once more, because that’s also how you can look at a full list of upcoming panels, and it’s time to start figuring out what panels you’d like to hit.

Even if you can’t come in person. Last year the entire LTUE experience was uploaded to Youtube as well as available to attend online. I’m not sure of the exact details around online attendance this year myself, since I’m going in person, but there are whole archives on YouTube of prior years’ panels. They usually end up online about six months later, but that’s better than nothing if you can’t make it.

UPDATE: I have been informed that there will not be as many recorded sessions this year due to some of the principle recording staff being unable to attend. The staff hope to record and post some sessions, but they will likely be few in number and take more time than usual if they’re uploaded.


Now, one more item of news before we dive into today’s topic. As in prior years, I will once again be attending LTUE this year as a panelist (most of you probably guessed that). It’s an absolute delight, and once again I’ve got a bevvy of fun panels to look forward to, including—

  • A Space Opera Starter Kit
  • Fanfiction: Having Fun
  • My Genre Wishlist
  • Science Fiction Faux Pas
  • No Mirrors: Character Description in First Person

I’d love to see you there! In addition, I’ll also be at the big book signing and moving around the con conversing and attending other panels.

But there’s one more little tidbit that I want to share that definitely belongs in the news section. Not only will I be at the book signing, but the LTUE book vendors will be carrying copies of Axtara – Banking and Finance and Shadow of an Empire!

That’s right! In prior years this hasn’t been a thing, because I’ve been solely a digital purveyor of products (despite attending the book signing anyway). But with a few of my titles now available in dead tree format, you’ll now be able to purchase them at the LTUE bookstore. I’ll be bringing a few extra copies as well to have on hand, but if you’ve been thinking of snagging a paperback for either of those two titles at last, LTUE will be your chance not only to do so, but to get it signed while you’re at it!

You know, unless they run out. They’ll have a decent stock of both, but the way they sell …

All right, that’s it for this Monday’s news. I know that was a lot, but hey, LTUE is a big deal, and only happens once a year. We’ll talk about it more in the future, but for now, let’s talk about “Tabletop Conversations.”

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Where Stranded Went Wrong … and Right

Well, I figured I’d better do something to have more content this week than Being a Better Writer, and I wasn’t feeling another OP-ED today since I’d rather finish another writing project, so how about we talk about that other writing project for a moment?

I mentioned Stranded earlier this week and mentioned that it was a bit of a flop. This is true: It doesn’t seem to be resonating with Alpha Readers the way my other works have. More to the point, a number of them find it either A) boring or B) not to their liking.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to finish it. Experimental as it is (and it’s an experiment that seems to have bombed), I’m only a few thousand words from the end as of today. And even though it appears to not be what my audience is interested in, there’s still chance that it’ll find a home with a different audience, though I consider that a low chance at this time.

But I’m not disappointed with it. The whole point of an experimental piece is to learn, and I’ve definitely had some moment of that with this one. I took on Stranded with the goal of stretching my writing capabilities to some new areas, and I hold that I managed to do that, despite that it didn’t quite aim for my audience.

So … what did go wrong, and what went right? Even though the story isn’t finished, and all I’ve got is some Alpha Reader feedback, so maybe it’s a little early to say for certain, well … I’ve still been thinking on it as I wrap the story up.

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Being a Better Writer: The Mary Sue

You know, it’s almost impressive it took this long for a direct post on this topic to come up.

I mean it! While the topic has come up before in other posts and been discussed in amounts ranging from referential to a few paragraphs, in all the years Being a Better Writer has been running, we’ve never tackled the topic in a post of its own. Somehow, it just never came up or was requested in an in-depth fashion.

But then I had a conversation that got me thinking on Mary-Sue characters once more. Specifically, a conversation that held a bit of a debate over what a Mary Sue was, with various folks offering different opinions. Most of which were quite accurate, but there were a few offered that were also a little far from what a Mary Sue was, which led to further discussion over the definition.

At which point, as some people held that a Mary Sue was just “a character they didn’t like” I checked the archives here and realized “Well dang, I’ve never actually written a post on this topic” and put it on the list, once and for all.

Which brings us to today, and the pertinent questions that come as a result of such a straightforward topic: What is a Mary Sue? Where did the term come from? How does it show up in writing. And, of course, the most important question of all for BaBW: how does can we put this knowledge to use in our writing?

Hit the jump, and let’s talk about Mary Sues.

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