Being a Better Writer: Keeping Details in Line

Afternoon readers!

It’ll be a short one today (in addition to being late). Why? Christmas season at my part-time. We’re doing lots of holiday parties and the like, and we’re doing them every day. Which means … late nights, lots of them, flipping rooms. On the one hand, extra cash and hours … on the other, extra hours that are late. You know, 4 AM late.

Tired? Why yes I am now that you mention it.

Long story short, it means I’m a bit tired, and so got up later than normal. Today’s post will also be a bit shorter than normal.

But that doesn’t make it by any means a topic that’s less important. In fact, today’s topic is a basic one that is absolutely vital but can still be overlooked, as I’ll demonstrate here in a moment. Today, I want to talk about keeping details in line with one another. Or in other words …

Continuity.

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Being a Better Writer: Self-Deceiving Characters

Hello readers! How was your weekend? Get any good reading in? I did. Working my way through Jack Campbell’s second Lost Fleet series, which has been good fun. Spoilers, but he has an interesting approach to alien life.

Anyway, there’s not much in the way of news (outside of the Beta Call for A Game of Stakes having gone out a couple of days ago, so check your inboxes) so we’re going to jump right to today’s topic. Which, by the way, is a companion piece to a Being a Better Writer post a month or so back on Ambiguous stories and characters.

See, over the course of that post it became clear that there was one aspect which needed its own time set aside. Sure, we can have a plot, events, or characters that is ambiguous or deceptive to the reader, and even to other characters through lack of information, the wrong information, or even the wrong position (all of which, if memory serves, came up in that other post), but what about a character who is ambiguous about things because they themselves refuse to acknowledge them. As in, well, the title today: A character that deliberately deceives themselves?

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Being a Better Writer: The Convenient Romantic Subplot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Being a Better Writer: Red Herrings

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you know what that means. But first, some news.

For starters, Shadow of an Empire continues to do well both in sales and in reviews. It’s a Fantasy-Western, so it doesn’t quite appeal to everyone, but those who have picked it up have loved it, and it’s sitting nicely on Amazon with a 4.7 Star rating out of 5. It’s success has also given a bit of a boost to Colony as well, which has matched its sales almost one for one this month. Even better, Shadow of an Empire‘s footprint continues to grow! This is one that I think will end up very fondly remembered.

Second bit of news? Oh, nothing much … just 18,000 words of fiction written between Friday and Saturday! That’s right, the next writing project has begun, and once I put my fingers to the keyboard, it was like a dam had burst inside my head. Writing again, after so many months of editing; how I missed it!

Point being, while this pace probably isn’t sustainable (I still have the part-time because I have to worry about rent or bills that my royalties don’t fully cover yet), it is moving along quite rapidly now that I can finally work on it. A month or two, and I could be done, if that pace keeps up!

And in other news … actually, there isn’t any other news. I’m ready to get to today’s post now. And then onto working on Hunter/Hunted!

Right, so, red herrings. If you’ve missed the two posts prior to this one, on Chekhov’s Guns and Chekhov’s Armory, this post is definitely one that builds off of those two. With those, we discussed … well, Chekhov’s Guns and their usage. The whole idea that if you present the audience with a “gun” that’s hung on the mantle, they expect (and a good author will deliver) that at some point it will come down and be “fired.”

Really quick, this doesn’t have to be a literal “gun.” It’s a metaphor. Read the last two Being a Better Writer posts if you’re out of the loop.

But building off of that, this week I want to talk about the inverse of the Chekhov’s Gun (well, sort of). We’re going to talk about the “Red Herring.”

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Being a Better Writer: Chekhov’s Armory

Welcome back readers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer! This week, I’m picking up right where I left off from last week’s discussion on Chekhov’s Guns, and moving on to another type of … Well, I guess we could call it a foreshadowing tool? Preparatory Plot Device set-up? Honestly, I’m not certain there’s an official name for this kind of thing past “Chekhov’s Armory,” but foreshadowing tool does work, though in the short term.

But that’s me getting distracted by terms, which few of us are here for. We’re here for Chekhov’s Armory, which I’m going to point out right now, Anton Chekhov did not invent. Rather, it’s simply the name that has become attached to the concept given its growth out of Chekhov’s Gun.

But again, getting sidetracked. So let’s dive right in. What is Chekhov’s Armory?

Well, to answer that question, I’m actually going to show you a youtube video. Hopefully you’re at a location where you can watch it, because this is one of those cases where showing you what something is and then talking about it will be far more effective than simply trying to explain it first. The video in question? The famous “Flying Wing Fight” from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you haven’t seen this film, rectify this ASAPRaiders is one of the most famous films in cinema, and it’s not hard to see why once you’ve seen it.

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Being a Better Writer: Currency

Welcome to Monday, readers! And to another installment of Being a Better Writer! Where today, we’re going to talk about something worldbuilding related: Money!

Now, those of you who’ve been following things since I announced that Shadow of an Empire would release on June 1st (and you can pre-order it now!) may have caught on that BaBW posts since then have been kind of tied into something to do with Shadow. Which makes things easier on me at the moment, to be sure. But those of you who have may be wondering how currency as a topic ties into Shadow. Well, outside of “Hey ho, I can’t wait until Shadow of an Empire launches and I start making a return on it!” Which, to be perfectly fair, is a 100% reasonable reaction from a content creator. We like to be able to afford rent.

But that aside (Order Shadow of an Empire!), how does currency tie into Shadow? Well, to be perfectly frank, it doesn’t … in any more or less capacity than it would tie into any other book taking place in its own little world.

Let’s step back for a minute. Say you’re writing a … oh, let’s go with the Fantasy genre. So you’re writing a fantasy story, and you’ve got your group of characters out on the road for an adventure or whatever. They come across an inn and stop for the night, expecting to buy dinner and a few rooms. Now, quick pause here: how are they going to pay, and with what?

Well, if your character were having a fantasy adventure in the United States, it’d be with US currency. If they were journeying in the Indrim Empire, they’d need to shell out some Imperial Marks, hard metal coins minted by the empire, or sign a bank writ of sale. If they were in Sheerwater, they’d use reeds—basically metal straws of varying values and make. And if they were at the Leaky Cauldron of Harry Potter fame, they’d need to produce knuts, sickles, and galleons.

The reason I bring this up is because currency is one of those facets of basic life that most take for granted, so much so that it often seems to slip beneath the cracks in a lot of basic worldbuilding (nod your head here if you’ve ever read a book or played a game that’s defaulted to simplified gold, silver, and copper “pieces” without even a name or mention of mint). A lot of novels and worlds simply … skip, I think would be the best term … this aspect of worldbuilding. They go with the aforementioned copper, silver, and gold pieces, because … well, to be perfectly frank, that’s usually the system they know, the one that they’re most familiar with next to whatever they use each day.

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Being a Better Writer: Subverting Tropes

Something you’ll often hear when picking up reviews or word-of-mouth for new books that happen to be particularly praiseworthy is that something is “fresh” or “clever.” Maybe that it “does something new with the genre” or that it’s managed to put a “new twist on old ideas.”

Of course, if you’ve hung around authors, particularly a group of young ones, you may have also heard this phrase repeated: Nothing new under the sun. A common enough colloquial, especially if someone new enters a well-established writing group and claims to have written something “new.” Older members will often toss this phrase back at them, sometimes as a dismissal, sometimes as a warning of “Be ready, it may not be as new as you think.”

Notice a disparity here? If there’s “nothing new under the sun” then how do new books get praise such as “new to the genre,” “fresh,” etc, etc? Well, let’s make something clear: Those reviews aren’t lying (well, not outside sometimes well-intentioned misinformation). They’re not misrepresenting something.

Don’t worry, this all ties in to the topic at hand.

See, the crux of it really comes in that last bit I gave from common reviews up in that first paragraph. This idea of a “new twist on old ideas.” Which is why I (and, in my experience, many other authors) don’t quite fully agree with the “nothing new under the sun” sentiment. Because sure, if you strip an idea down to the bare-core, suddenly it sounds like almost any other idea. Boy without parents learns he possesses a rare power and with the aid of a mentor must do battle against evil. Is that Harry Potter? Or is that Star Wars? Or is it any other of hundreds of very different stories out there starring a boy who has a rare power and fights evil. Crud, open up the floodgates there and replace “boy” with “protagonist” and now we have every story under that umbrella as well that has a female protagonist. And suddenly such a blanket statement applies to, well, a good portion of all stories ever written.

Which is why when experienced authors utter the phrase “nothing new under the sun*” there’s always that little asterisk at the end. Because these authors know that it’s a generalist statement used with a large caveat attached. Taking it literally is much like saying that both Boeing and General Dynamics make jet aircraft, therefor both make the same product … when one makes passenger and cargo jet airliners, while the other makes the deadly F-16. Yes, both are jet aircraft … but both are so different from one another you could only that they are the same by boiling the debate down to the most basic of points (such as “This is an aircraft, yes/no,” at which point you’ve lost almost all understanding of the two in the first place).

Okay, I promised this had to do with writing (and the topic at hand), so … how?

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