Being a Better Writer: How Do I “Do the Research?”

Welcome back, writers! Another Monday is here, bringing with it the start of a new month as well as—in my case, anyway—another load of snow.

Which is both unusual and not, where I live. From my time in Utah, I’ve grown to expect the “last gasp” of winter to be a snow flurry in the first weekend of April, and most of the time that’s exactly what happens, forming a striking interrupt in what would otherwise be the “first bike ride of spring” territory.

But that’s a flurry, one that never sticks to the ground. By comparison this year has broken all sorts of snow records across the state, and last night wasn’t a “chance of snow flurries” but a full “winter storm warning.” And while that just meant a few inches as of this morning, at least where I dwell, the fact remains that such is not a flurry, and winter’s grasp is proving exceptionally clingy this year.

None of this has that much to do with today’s topic, by the way. This is just preamble. Unless you’re searching for information and research about what it’s like in Utah today, to which I’d answer at least the northern half of the state is pretty wet.

But you’re probably not here for that. No, if you’re here on Unusual Things on a Monday, odds are you’re here for Being a Better Writer. Which, fortunate reader you, is the true purpose of this post. Monday delivers something to look forward to once again.

So, enough kidding around. There’s already a news post from last Friday if you’re wondering what else is going on around here, so you can go read that if you’re curious about what the latest projects are (or if you’re new, to see what’s going on and what the rest of the site is concerned with). Everyone else who’s read in, let’s talk about today’s topic: how to do the research.

See, a common axiom repeated again and again here on Unusual Things as well as at writing conventions and other workshops involved in the process of teaching writing is “Always do the research.” Sands, it comes up often enough that there’s a tag for it in the tag cloud here (“Research,” for the curious, which will also grace this post).

With as often as it comes up, however, it continues to do so. “Always do the research” has to be an axiom because there are, unfortunately, a wide array of folks who don’t do the research. Or do the research really poorly. And prior discussions of this topic have pointed out direct examples of books that have made it to print from traditional publishers that have had wide arrays of astounding errors, each with their own ramifications.

Side note: My personal favorite has to be a Sci-Fi machinegun that fired at .25c, as in the speed of light, without somehow creating a chain of fusion explosions the moment the bullet began to accelerate down the atmosphere, while the favorite of the news is a “historical fiction” novel from a few years back that managed to infamously confuse a Legend of Zelda videogame walkthrough for “historical fact,” resulting in a truly bizarre bit of “historical fiction” (yes, this made it past the editors of a major publishing house, which says a lot about how good the self-claimed “gatekeeping for quality” seal is at actually providing said quality). My least favorite was a short story fiction winner that based its entire setup on the idea that copper rusts like steel, then presented an “idealized” future of agrarian farmers and hunters that made it very clear the author had no idea how farming worked in the slightest and couldn’t even be bothered to do some basic research.

Okay, side-note over. Point is, “always do the research” is a truism regardless of what you’re writing about. I recall one of my first exposures to this coming from what was one of my first LTUE attendances, where a fairly famous Fantasy author gave a little example of how many fantasy books he’d read that had a tannery in the middle of a generic fantasy village, which was his “red flag” for “this writer did no research whatsoever.” Because tanneries stink, and you did not want them inside the village. At the least they’d be confined to an industrial sector downwind of everyone else who cared about the smell.

Point being, just because we’re writing about fiction doesn’t mean that our stories entirely disregard reality. In fact, actually, it’s quite the opposite. Contrary to what the common layman may think, writing fiction can actually be far more difficult than writing non-fiction. Writing non-fiction often simply means reciting facts, recording or transcribing them for the future. If Scientist Davi runs an experiment and it fails, that is what non-fiction records: Scientist Davi ran an experiment—here are the details from their notes—and it failed.

Fiction, on the other hand, is not merely regurgitating an occurrence. It means taking aspects of reality, from physics to biology to finance—everything related to what you’re writing about, in other words—and then understanding it to the degree that you can write about what would happen if you applied a small twist. It’s not only understanding that something exists, such as a tannery during medieval times, but understanding enough of how that tannery operates and what it did so that you can understand how and where it slots into its surroundings and the economy of the village … So that when you do something like have it operate via wizard, or perhaps be run by a group of paranoid gnomes standing three-high in a trench-coat, you’re able to work out how that would change said tannery.

In other words, non-fiction is often about regurgitating facts, while fiction is about understanding them to the degree that you can write a reasonable way for them to become different if you make that tiny tweak of fiction.

And look at that. We’re a thousand words in and still locked in the preamble. Point being, “always do the research” is a must-have mantra if you want to write good fiction. Fiction that understands the world enough to make that tiny tweak. Now, this doesn’t mean that it’ll stay true or even happen that way—after all, Crichton wrote Jurassic Park back in the late 80s and since then the science hasn’t given us dinosaurs like the book, much in the way Shelley’s Frankenstein didn’t give us corpses reanimated by lightning. But both at the time did do research into what science thought might be possible. Sure, we may find a dozen years later that orbits don’t exactly work like that, or what we thought was a planet was in fact, a misinterpreted signal. Doing the research does not future-proof our books into being non-fiction.

But it does ground them. And there are some things that will stay true, regardless of setting. For example, if you’re writing a book about a small fantasy village with a tech-level comparable to say, 200 AD Roman Empire, then one thing you’re going to want to do research on—even if just for something as benign as a character going to get a glass of water. Because procuring a cup of water in a 200 AD tech-level is not automatically akin to producing one today. To write about how your characters might live, you need to know how people in those places and situations lived. Why they made the building choices they made. The life choices they made. Career.

Not because you’re going to replicate it 100%, but because you need to understand what the affects of your little wrinkle will be. If you’ve introduced magic of some kind to this setting, you’ll need to think about what effects that will have on things. But in order to understand that, you need to understand what is being affected and how it functions. It’s akin to … making a shot it pool. Your goal in pool is to use one billiard ball to strike another and hopefully send it into the correct place, but in order to make that judgement, you need to look at the whole picture before the ball you strike enters it.

Okay, that is more than enough preamble. Let us now graduate into today’s topic. Let us move a bit further with this concept. Assuming an understanding of why the research is important is already known to you, this can create a further question that then becomes paramount, especially in a young writer’s mind: how do I do the research?

You know the drill. Hit the jump, and let’s talk about it.

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Being a Better Writer: Should You Read the “Pillars” of Sci-Fi/Fantasy?

Good afternoon readers! Yes, I know today’s post is a little late. Just a tad. And that’s for a reason. The same reason, in fact, it might be a bit rougher than normal: I’m ill today, but didn’t feel like skipping a week of Being a Better Writer. So my mind is a little muddled.

What am I muddled with? Sore throat, stuffy nose, and headache. Oh, and fatigue. Nothing serious. Just enough to make me feel all “blegh” and desire more sleep than normal. So today is not going to be a writing day. But I really didn’t want miss a Being a Better Writer installment, so I dug through Topic List #22 looking for a topic that hopefully wouldn’t take too much brainpower to write up and found one.

Really quick, and with no real smooth transition however, I do want to note the awesome amount of Five-Star reviews that dropped for a couple of books over the weekend. It was a small explosion, actually. One of them, for Starforge, had this to say:

Florschutz at his best … If you haven’t read Starforge–or the UNSEC trilogy as a whole–you owe it to yourself to rectify that injustice.

So yeah, feeling pretty good about that!

Anyway, it was a good weekend for reviews and in general, me coming down with my cold regardless. But, since my brain isn’t quite up to the ordinary task of weaving words together, let’s dive right into today’s topic and talk about whether or not you should read the pillars of Sci-Fi and Fantasy/

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Being a Better Writer: Nintendo’s Rule of Three

Welcome back, writers! It’s the first Being a Better Writer article post LTUE! So, in fact, maybe that should also be “Welcome, new writers,” because there may be a number of you checking out Unusual Things for the first time post-convention.

Now, if you are new and looking at that title wondering “What? I know Nintendo. That’s video games. What does that have to do with writing?” you’re probably one of a few. And it’s a fair question. But as prior followers of the site will attest, knowledge of writing and application can come from some very unique and unexpected sources. So there are often titles that may make one wonder “How on Earth could that have anything to do with writing?” that then go hard into the details and end up a pleasant—and educational—surprise.

So, don’t fret that you’ve arrived on the wrong site just because of the word “Nintendo” up above. You’re in the right place, and today we’re talking writing.

Well, as soon as we get through the usual allotment of site news. Most of it’s what you would expect: LTUE happened this last weekend, and it was an absolute blast. You can check out the write-ups for more details, but the short of it is that I had a great time, appeared on some fantastic panels, rubbed shoulders with some great folks and fellow writers, and sold out on Axtara before the third day had even hit noon.

Yeah, she’s really soaring. Shadow of an Empire paperbacks were selling as well, but in an inverse of last year, this time it was Axtara‘s turn to fly for the sky.

Anyway, LTUE is an awesome and fantastic experience that as always, I recommend wholeheartedly. I ran into several first-time attendees, and they were amazed and excited by the breadth and depth of knowledge on display at the con.

Okay, enough about LTUE. Some of you are probably tired of it or rolling your eyes. It’s awesome, this last weekend was great, and after a nice Sunday spent recharging via sleep and decompressing via some relaxation, I am so pumped to finish up this Jacob Rocke novel and get to work on Axtara – Magic and Mayhem.

But first. we’ve got today’s Being a Better Writer to discuss. So, without further ado, let’s get to it, and talk about Nintendo’s Rule of Three, and how you can apply it to your plotting to make a better story.

Weird, I know. But trust me. This is cool. Hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: How to Use a Writing Resource Like LTUE

Welcome back writers. I’d venture a guess that you’ll likely be able to guess what big event is going on this week simply by looking at today’s topic.

That’s right. LTUE, Life, The Universe, and Everything, which is the writing convention for writers, is happening this week. It’s a big deal. I’ve been readying myself for several weeks now, making sure that I’m prepared and ready to go when this Thursday rolls around. Which is going to be tricky, because my first panel begins at (shudder) nine in the morning. Which for me is in the range of “Okay, I’m awake, but what time is it?”

Never fear. I’ll be more alert than that. I’m adjusting my sleep schedule to ensure that I’ll be arriving well-rested and prepared to talk writing. If you’re going to be in attendance this year, then I do recommend swinging by the panels I’ll be on, as well as my other appearances. I’d love to say hello, and I’ll be dispensing nuggets of writing wisdom on request. You can see what panels I’ll be on at this link to last week’s news post.

Now, today won’t be the last time I talk about LTUE, as we’re obviously going to have the end-of-day write-ups that I share each year on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. But on Wednesday I’ll be posting my own highlights of the schedule, noting which panels I intend to attend or recommending those that might be useful for certain topics or concepts.

But today, we’re diving right in with a sort of special Being a Better Writer post, and we’re going to be talking directly about how to use a writing resource like LTUE.

See, there’s a lot that goes on at LTUE, but one thing that people sometimes forget when they’re in attendance is that first and foremost, LTUE is an educational con. Yes, it’s neat and fun to be able to meet some of our favorite authors and creators in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy space … but we’re not there just to meet them. And when they bring up that book that you really love or that scene that you thought was very cool, they’re not just brining it up because of that—though they definitely love it too. No, they’re bringing it up because they want to illustrate a point, or demonstrate something.

Yes, it’s easy to get distracted by “This is one of my favorite books, and I can ask the author about it when the panel opens up to questions!” But remember that the point of many of these panels—but not all—is to learn. For these authors and creators to pass on the knowledge won by hard sweat and tears. Or that they learned by attending LTUE long ago and have since adapted into their own understanding of writing.

So yes, today I want to talk about preparing for and attending a writing resource like LTUE. So that those of you who are attending get the most out of it that you can.

Don’t get me wrong: There isn’t really a “wrong” way to attend LTUE unless you completely decide against your own prior wishes to attend and learn nothing. One can attend just for fun. I just ask that if you do, realize that the majority who attend are there to learn and understand about writing as well as have fun. So they may ask questions about specific writing processes or situations they’ve been unable to solve in their own writing that you might not be as interested in if you’re there just to meet some authors you love. Just nod and let them ask: they’re there to learn.

And if you are as well—or if you’re going to be attending any similar convention—the you’re going to want to hit that jump. Because today, we’re talking about ways to get the most out of cons like LTUE, to grow your writing talents.

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Being a Better Writer: Cursed Problems in Story Writing

Welcome once again writers! Just as with each Monday before it, it is time for Being a Better Writer to make its mark on the world! And this week, we’ve got an interesting topic to discuss. One that you might have heard in a different context—and if so, you and I probably watch similar video channels.

Really quick, though, before we dive into things, a reminder that LTUE is next week! That’s right! February 16th-18th is just around the corner! I’ll have a more in-depth post on this later this week, but for now, just keep in mind that the day is fast approaching! By now, you should know what LTUE is, but if not, I’m just going to drop a link rather than bother explaining it, since I want to dive into today’s topic. Partially because I’ve got a lot to get done today, and getting right to the meat of Being a Better Writer will save me time. And because there’s not really much to chat about in terms of news. Writing progresses, and that is that!

So then, with our update delivered, let’s spring right back to where we were a paragraph ago and get talking about these cursed problems.

I chose to put this topic on the list because personally, I felt it was a fascinating way to look at potential problems with a creative work. Especially when applied to writing. See, in writing it’s generally held that there isn’t a “problem” that can’t be overcome by a skilled enough author. And … yes, this is pretty true. Usually however, when we think of “problems” of this nature, we’re thinking of common bits of bad advice, like “nothing new under the sun” or “there are bad ideas.”

But a few months ago, as I was watching a GDC video on “Cursed Problems with Game Design,” I realized that the video was alluding to something that also applied to writing. My mind started working on it, and I realized this was something that I wanted to spend a BaBW post on. It would be a little strange, a little different, and a little contrary to most common ideals of writing … But that’s exactly why I think it should be something that’s kept in mind when we’re working out what our next story should be.

Now, that is the first warning of today’s topic, and there might be a few more. Today’s writing topic is a bit more conceptual than some of our other writing discussions. Because here’s the thing about cursed problems, before we even define what they are: they’re something that can seem achievable with just a little tiny tweak, meaning that we’re right on the cusp of being able to solve them.

Except we aren’t. Figuring out, then, what a “cursed problem” is as compared to a problem we can solve with a little work, is part of the puzzle.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, we need to define what a “cursed problem” is. And for that, you’ll need to hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: PLS Explain Book

Or, recognizing disparate audience expectations.

Welcome once again writers, to another Monday, and therefore another installment of Being a Better Writer. This week we’ve got an interesting topic for all of you, one that doesn’t get talked about much even inside writing circles, but in my personal opinion should be acknowledged more. In addition, it’s a topic that like our last few seems to be gravitating toward audience, making our recent string of posts discussing such a bit of a trend.

Now, as usual, before we dive into things in earnest, there are a few small news tidbits that we need to talk about. The first is that either today or tomorrow will see a version 1.01 update for Starforge. A few attentive fans have caught a few typos that slipped past our editing team—not out of the ordinary, especially for a 500,000+ word book—that have now been fixed, and we’ll be pushing that fix out ASAP. Anyone who downloads the book to read after that fix goes out will get the tweaked version, while those of you that have already downloaded your copy via a storefront will just need to refresh it. It’s not a lot of fixes, however (about six or seven across the whole book), so that’s why it’s a 1.01 update. But it will be going out soon.

Second, we’re nearing the end of Topic List #21. Which means that in the coming weeks we’ll be hosting a topic call for new Being a Better Writer topics to discuss. So put your thinking caps on and starting thinking about what writing concepts you’d like to hear about that BaBW hasn’t discussed before, or perhaps needs to discuss in a new fashion.

I know, that’s daunting. At this point Being a Better Writer totals some four hundred or so posts. But the world of writing is vast, and we’ve tackled topics a second or even a third time before.

So, there’s a new topic call coming, so if you’ve got a topic you’d like us to cover, jot it down on a slip of paper, or make a note on your phone—whatever it takes so that you’re ready when the topic call arrives!

All right, there’s one more news item to discuss: Life, The Universe, And Everything.

Yes, that capitalized letter on the “and” is intentional. That’s because Life, The Universe, And Everything, or LTUE, is a writing con that is once again upon us!

That’s right, it’s nearly time for LTUE 2023! Once again hordes of writers and other Fantasy/Sci-Fi creators are gearing up to descend en masse to Provo, Utah for a convention that’s all about the creation of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, be that in writing, sculpture, comic, or film.

Seriously, LTUE is awesome. And not just because once again I’ll be paneling (though you should definitely attend those panels if you’re writing). This year the guest lists includes Phil Foglio and Nina Kiriki Hoffman, among others. It’s three days of book signings, panels by authors you know and love on every writing topic under the sun, and more.

Basically, if you like Being a Better Writer, you’ll love LTUE. Check out the site here, and I hope to see you there.

Oh, and if you’re a student of some kind, your entry fee is $5, the cost covered by the sales of LTUE’s excellent collection of anthology short story collections such as A Dragon and Her Girl. So definitely swing on by!

We’d love to see you there. Now, on with the post! And you know what? We’re not going to spend time on the preamble before the jump. So just go ahead and hit that link, and let’s dive into the post proper. See you on the other side!

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Being a Better Writer: Different Types of Fantasy

Happy Monday writers! How was everyone’s weekend?

Mine was pretty good. Spent quite a bit of time working on the tabletop campaign I’m running this year, since it’s a revision of the tabletop system I used for my Gears of War campaign a few years ago, bur refined and improved in multiple areas. Of course, building a tabletop system from scratch—or even rebuilding one—is a ton of work, so it’s not unexpected that my time this weekend was taken up in a good portion by it. I foresee this being the case for the next few months, easily.

But that’s not all that’s coming up, either! We’re nearly through January, and that means that we’re day by day coming closer to LTUE 2023! Look for a post about that on its own soon, but the gist of it for now if you’re out of the loop is that LTUE (or Life, The Universe, and Everything) is a writing convention given by those who do write and create Sci-Fi and Fantasy for those who want to do so. That means panels on aspects of writing are given by authors who have written those topics. You can check out the guest list of just a few of the guests of honor here, but that should give you an idea of the kind of folks that show up at LTUE each year.

February 2023, three days, this year the 16th through the 18th. Be there! And while you’re at it, swing by a few of the panels I’ll be on.

That said, if you’re unable to make it this year, at least you’ll always have Being a Better Writer to fall back on. So, without any further ado, let’s just jump into today’s topic. Which … is a bit of a departure from our usual writing topics.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It still very much relates to writing. But what we’re going to talk about today is more of a foundational element, while at the same time not being set in stone at all.

Let me explain: The past few weeks we’ve had a post or two where we’ve talked quite a bit about audience and knowing what sort of audience you’re writing for. Today we’re going to talk about something that a lot of audiences use as a guide for finding material that they like and enjoy.

Yes, today we’re talking about genre. But specifically one type of genre and it’s subgenres. Today, we’re going to talk about different types of common Fantasy and what goes into them.

Now, I’m going to stress something before we start. None of these subgenres is a cut-and-dry. It’s possible for stories to blend them, or start in one subgenre and transition to another. Often, when we say “This book belongs in this subgenre” what we really mean is that the primary attributes of the story that caught our attention were most identifiable with that specific subgenre, though it may have had heavy elements from others.

In other words, what we’re talking about today can run the gauntlet from very straightforward to incredibly nebulous and may be so precariously balanced that it might be hard to tell what subgenre a book is.

But that’s not why we’re talking about it. We’re not talking about the subgenres of Fantasy so that you can try and lock in other Fantasy books you’ve read. No. That’s not the goal here.

The goal here is so that when you think “Hey, I want to write a Fantasy story” but are unsure of what type of Fantasy story that should be, you can look at the various subgenres and what elements identify them, in order to help narrow down what sort of story you want to tell by the elements you may want or not want to include.

In other words, what we’re looking at here today should be considered a set of guidelines, not rules, that can be helpful to you to set a tone or basic feel for what you want to write.

Note really quick that we’re not discussing all the various subgenres out there. The more precise one gets, the more these can multiply, but the less there is different between them. We’re just going to discuss the big ones.

A second note (I know) in that not everyone is going to agree with these definitions. Sands, in pulling up a list of common Fantasy subgenres, I opened two pages that almost completely disagreed about what made a common subgenre. So yeah, while some are agreed upon, some are not. You can still use them

You ready? Then hit that jump, and let’s talk about different types of Fantasy.

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Being a Better Writer: Realism, Storytelling, and Suspension of Disbelief

Welcome back writers! It’s another Monday, and that means it’s time for another Being a Better Writer post! There’s not much news to discuss, or really any since everything immediately relevant was discussed in last Thursday’s post about what occurred last year and what’s coming down the pipeline right now, so rather than spend any text on that, today we’ll just dive right in! With a brief aside to say that if you are curious about what’s happened and what’s on the way, check out that post.

Anyway, today’s topic is, fittingly enough for the new year, a Reader Request! The last one on Topic List #21. Which I will add is getting a bit empty these days. We’ll be looking at #22 soon enough!

But anyway, today’s topic was requested with what I see as darn good reason, because it’s actually part of an almost endless debate that circles online communities and critics alike. In fact, it’s such a common debate that to start us off today, I’m actually going to request that you read this Schlock Mercenary strip, which will open in a new tab. Don’t worry, it’s digestible without context.

Once you’ve done that, don’t get sucked into the archive (at least, not right now), but come back, hit the jump, and let’s talk about it.

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Being a Better Writer: Crafting a Better Sequel by Using Portal 2 as a Guide

Welcome back, writers! And readers!

I know, I know. I all but vanished after Starforge launched last week. Which, by the way, if you missed it, is finally here, and it is glorious. But after a Reddit AMA and the launch of the book itself, I pretty much disappeared, which was kind of weird, right?

Well, the answer to the why is “I got sick.” Somewhere between working all the extra hours I did to get Starforge out on time and the array of colds and coughs going around right now, I got whammied with a particularly vengeful cold that knocked me out for the entirety of last week. But at least it gave me a chance to catch up on the sleep debt I’d built up during the lead-in to the Starforge launch.

Speaking of which, however, how’s Starforge doing? Well, while it’s still too early to roll out any definitive numbers, just the performance of the first few days suggests that Starforge is very likely my strongest book launch of all time.

Better yet, it’s not slowing down. Sales have continued to roll in over the last week. Constant sales of Starforge and the rest of the trilogy, as well as Kindle Unlimited reads. So much so that a single day over this last weekend accrued more sales than two whole weeks would have earlier this year.

It’s also already pulling in the Five-Star reader responses, which is telling in two ways. First, that it does indeed serve as a fitting and colossal finale to the trilogy as a whole, but also that someone was sucked in hard enough that they finished its entire half a million word length in just a few days from the launch.

Sands and Storms, guys. It was a lot of work, but it looks like it’s paid off. Starforge is the finale you were all waiting for.

If you haven’t checked out the trilogy yet, I highly advise doing so. If you’re a fan of big, grand, colossal-concept Science-Fiction, you owe it to yourself to check the UNSEC Space Trilogy out.


Now then, other quick bits of news before we move into today’s Being a Better Writer. First up: The upcoming price point adjustment. This was slated to happen around Starforge‘s launch, and it still is. But I figured being sick gave everyone a bit of an extra breather. Long story short, I haven’t adjusted the price points of my books in almost ten years (February 2013 to be exact). So one of my projects this upcoming week is a full price adjustment for most of the books in my library.

I will note that I’m still going to be basing my books on the same 1994-inspired values that my prices—with adjustment for inflation—reflected prior to this point, as explained in the original The Price We Pay post on book prices. There will be an updated “Price we Pay” post coming in conjunction with the adjustment, as well as an addendum link to the original post guiding curious readers toward the new price comparison chart.

If you’d rather grab stuff before the adjustment, then this week is your week to do so. I’m aiming to get the new prices out Thursday or Friday, so consider that your cutoff line. Though Starforge will remain the same price, since it’s brand new and already reflects the new price point.


Now, last but not least, what else is coming? Before we launch into today’s Being a Better Writer topic, what’s on the horizon now that Starforge, juggernaut of juggernauts, is out?

Well, I plan to start work on two new novels today, actually. Okay, I’m already working on a new one. It is, at long last, a new Jacob Rocke book. That’s right, a new Unusuals novel! Now, I definitely won’t be able to get it out by the tenth anniversary of the first Jacob Rocke book (as well as my first book overall), but I will likely be able to get it out fairly quickly. No name yet, but if you were one of those readers who loved One Drink and Dead Silver and wanted to see more of the Unusuals setting and Rocke’s adventures, that’s the next book I’ll be working on. I’m still hammering out some of the basic details, but the gist of the story is already starting to take shape.

After that draft gets hammered out, I’ll let it rest while sitting down to work on—and for some of you this will come with an “AT LAST!” proclamation—the next Axtara book, tentatively titled Magic and Mayhem. We’re far from done with either the setting or the titular banking dragoness herself, so look forward to more of that in the future. Speaking of the setting, there was also that short novel I pumped out around September-October set in the same universe about a young fisherman and mermaid that also could be polished up and rewritten …

So yes, suffice it to say that in the wake of Starforge—and as big a book as it was, the wake is pretty colossal—I’ve got plenty to tide me over and work on leading into 2023. Oh, there’s also all those short stories I wrote up over the last year, plus there’s LTUE in 2023, which I just got my schedule for …

Suffice it to say, the future looks bright. Starforge and the rest of the trilogy are tearing up my charts, Axtara just continues to sore and pop up in more bookstores with every passing week, and I’ve got plenty of book projects slated for the coming year. Starforge may be out … but we’re far from done. There’s a lot of adventure coming folks. So though we may be saying farewell to Jake, Anna, and Sweets, there are plenty of friends new and old on their way.


And with that, let’s finally get down to today’s Being a Better Writer topic and start talking about sequels. I know a number of you are likely a little perplexed upon seeing today’s title. After all, Portal 2 is a video game (and if you didn’t know that and are now joining the ranks of the perplexed, bear with me). What could a video game have to offer writers teaching about story?

Well, you’d be surprised. A lot of video games have been no slouch in the storytelling department for decades now, and both Portal titles are no exception. While the story may be presented in a manner that’s different from a book owing to the audio-visual nature of the medium, that doesn’t change the fact that it can be a great story.

But we’re not just talking about Portal 2 today because of how many awards it won (and rightfully so, I’ll add). We’re talking about Portal 2 because despite being in a different medium, it does lay down a very identifiable pattern to follow if you want to create a sequel that exceeds the first in every way.

We’ve talked about the problem with sequels before on this site. Numerous times, in fact, sometimes as the focus of a whole post, other times as a discussion point. But each time it’s been a point of note that what a lot of sequels get wrong about crafting a sequel is “Just do the first story again, maybe with more.” What “more” is varies quite a bit. For movies it usually means more guest celebrity appearances, or explosions. With games it can often mean the same but with new levels slapped in it (usually from the cutting floor of the first title). With books it often means getting the gang back together for another go, sometimes even relearning the exact same lessons as last time.

These are all weak sequels, but they persist because of a common issue, that being that the original concept, be it game, movie, or book, was never written with a follow-up in mind. So when the market says “give us more” the usual response is for the creators to repackage what they already saw success with and shove it out again.

Enter “Round 2: The Sequel.” This is why you’ll read sequel books where characters learn the same lessons again, or regress from their accomplishments and growth in the first book. Or find that the big bad they fought so hard against was—Surprise!—secretly the minion of an ever bigger bad who’s really similar to the last one …

You get the idea. Sequels tend to be really difficult territory for a lot of creators. Writers among them. Time and time again I’ve seen a young writer create a story that is a bit of a hit for them, and react by immediately making a follow-up that is just really the same story as the first, but again.

Portal 2, however, didn’t make that mistake. Instead Portal 2 is widely regarded as one of the greatest sequels of all time. How? Why? And what lessons can we take from it that will make our own sequels stand out against the originals instead of just being a token “Here we go again?” journey?

Hit the jump, and let’s talk about it.

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Characters From Being One-Note

Welcome back writers! It’s Monday already, and that means that we’re once again back with another installment of Being a Better Writer. A little late, and I do apologize for that. But there is a lot going on at the moment. That’s right, before we dive into today’s writing topic, I do have some news to reveal and discuss.

First up, today I can officially reveal that A Power in Ink, one of the shorts I wrote last year, has been accepted for the upcoming LTUE Benefit Anthology Troubadours and Space Princesses! Now, this is the collection for 2024, so you won’t be able to get it for a bit of time yet, but it’s on its way!

Second bit of news, also pertaining to a release, but an even bigger and more urgent one—which I left as the second bit of news because most of you likely already know. But here it is again: Starforge is releasing November 29th. That’s right, the third and final installment in the UNSEC Space Trilogy is arriving at last, six years after Colony made its grand debut. And you won’t want to miss it. You can check out more news about that at this link and get some specific details about Starforge, read some excerpts from the first review, go right to the books tab and pre-order a copy, or find some previews (including the latest) at this tag.

Again, Starforge releases November 29th! So get those pre-orders ready!

Now, third bit of news we need to talk about. Once Starforge releases, most of my books will be going up in price. I’ve spoken about this before, but the short of it is that my prices have not changed in almost ten years and no longer reflect the current value of the dollar.

If you’re alarmed, don’t be. The prices will simply be reaching equilibrium with what price point direction I chose when I started publishing back in 2013. Tail-prices will be maintained. There will be a future post about this in the coming weeks explaining the details, but the gist of it is that everything is still going back to the price of a paperback in 1994. It’s just that that is ten years more than it was when I last set my prices.

There’s a second meaning to this, however: If you’re looking to grab something, now is the time. Prices will see a bit of a bump once Starforge is out. A dollar or so for most titles, but it’s still a bump.

All right. One last bit of news, and then we can dive into today’s—quite late—Being a Better Writing post. And this last bit of news is a bit of a downer, actually. But I’ve been having problems with my right wrist and arm. I think it has to do with all the repetitive work of editing on Starforge causing the muscles in my shoulder to tighten and cause a cascading effect down into my forearm, hand, and wrist—and this is the hand and wrist I nearly lost in that workplace accident a few years back, so it has a pre-existing set of scars to amplify that—but the truth is I don’t know and won’t know until I see a doctor. I’m letting all of you know on the chance that it impacts my writing in the weeks ahead. For now, I’m just doing Copy-Edit work on Starforge before release, which is work done with an ebook reader in my hand and moving around taking notes, so that’s all right, but it’s still something I need to keep an eye on. With luck, it’s just an out of position shoulder and getting it taken care of will result in the rest of the arm feeling fine again, but I’m giving a heads-up anyway just in case things take a turn.

Okay. That’s everything. A lot happened over the last week, didn’t it? But we’re all caught up. So, let’s hit the jump, and let’s talk about keeping characters from being one-note.

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