Being a Better Writer: The Oxford Comma and Commas in General

Hello readers, and welcome back to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Though today just isn’t any old Monday. Today is also Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so named in the honor of the individual whose name it bears.

Don’t know who that is? You should! If his name is unfamiliar to you past the holiday bearing it, I’d suggest a quick Google. Maybe read a speech of his. Or two. See why so much of what he said is still held in such high regard all these years later.

Now, before we dive into today’s post, I do have one little bit of news that went up as I was writing this: LTUE has announced their COVID-19 requirements. You can find the full thing on the Facebook post here, but I don’t doubt it will be up on their site shortly if it isn’t already. To whit, these are the requirements given:

  • You must have either proof of vaccination or a current, negative Covid test (within 72 hours) at check-in to attend.
  • Mask wearing, mouth and nose, enforced. Exceptions for eating and drinking, but neither will be allowed in certain areas. Panelists will be able to remove masks while paneling for accessibility purposes.
  • Seating will be spaced wider to aid with distancing.

As of right now, there is no plan to cancel and be online only. I hope it stays that way!

So then with that news out of the way, and with the day growing late already, let’s dive into today’s topic: The Oxford comma! Plus some general comma useage and advice.

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It’s Time for Another Being a Better Writer Topic Call!

Hello readers! The time has come! Please insert a long, echoing cry of “has come!” there if you so choose.

Those of you that are long time readers of the site? You know what this is, and you can probably safely skip down to the comments section to get typing. But those of you that are more recent wanderers of the information superhighway that have come to rest at this humble rest stop might be wondering what the deal is with a post titled “Topic Call.” In which case, read on! And prepare!

See, Being a Better Writer has long been a feature of this site. In fact, it predates it, going back to when I was answering writing questions that were being written in to me from across the web by readers of my work that enjoyed it and realized I might have something to say about their own writing questions based on what they were seeing.

Well, they were right. What began as private messages on internet boards quickly ballooned and blossomed (because once word gets around that you not only reply to PMs with writing questions but with solid advice born from years of experience, you will be flooded with messages) to a weekly guide to improving one’s writing that has now run for—let me check a time-stamp—eight years.

Sands and Storms, that’s a lot of articles.

Anyway, in all that time, Being a Better Writer has never stopped responding to reader requests.

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Being a Better Writer: Enough Is Enough, It’s Time to Release

Welcome back readers, to another Monday! Apologies for the lateness of today’s post; I was up late last night desperately trying to secure a Series X console before the hands of scalpers.

I was not successful. Though a bunch of people did get them, not all of them scalpers. The demand on this thing is through the roof … though given that Xbox “surprised” everyone by launching Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer today, it can hardly be that surprising. Have any of you given it a shot yet?

Yeah, I’m really tempted to make today a “half-day” with my quota and try it out myself. Halo was a formative game from my college years, and I’d still count myself as a fan. The campaign (what I’m really interested in) still doesn’t come out until December 8th, but the multiplayer being out today and being free? Well, there’s not much to lose from trying it save time, right?

Anyway, let me move away from the non-writing things and back towards what we’re all here for: Writing! Starting with another 5-star rating left on Axtara over the weekend. She’s got wings, that’s for sure. With luck, her holiday sales will be strong as well. She is an ideal stocking-stuffer though.

All right, all right, let’s get down to today’s topic. Which, I will note, is the last topic of Topic List #18. That’s right, this week will mark another topic call post for list #19. I’ve already got a few topics written down for the list, but as always, reader request topics are encouraged.

Which is a nice segue back to today’s topic, because it is indeed a reader request (sent through Discord, no less). A reader contacted me asking after today’s discussion. Which most of you have probably guessed from the title, but I’ll state it here all the same. Their question was ‘How do you know something’s ready for release? How do you know when it’s time?”

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

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Being a Better Writer: Making Characters “Pop”

Hello readers! How are you all this Monday morning? Or I suppose afternoon, as it’s about to be? Spry? Alert?

Hopefully that last one, because you’re about to read another Being a Better Writer post! Furthermore, it’s not a scheduled one!

That’s right baby, I’m back! Back from a fantastic Alaska experience, which I have chronicled with pictures and video here. Yes, you should be clicking that link if you have even the faintest interest in seeing whales, fish, Alaskan scenery, or videos of rain.

But I’m back now, and after a day “off” last week ( somehow I still managed to write about 17,000 words in a week I was supposed to be relaxing for) I’ve returned to tackle the topic list once more and bring you readers writing topics.

So, what are we talking about this week as I return to my regular duties? Well, I took a look at the list and spotted this little topic that I had jotted down as one I wanted to hit, and well, it popped out to me as much then as it does now. So today, we’re going to talk about making characters “pop.”

Of course, before we get into the how we’re going to have to define exactly what it means to have a character that “pops.” So hit the jump, and let’s get started. What is a character that “pops?”

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Being a Better Writer: A Little Bit About Copyright

Welcome back readers to another installment of Being a Better Writer! The last edition that will go up live, and not on a schedule, for about four weeks! That’s right, if you missed the big news post on Friday (linked here for your expanded reading pleasure) one of the upcoming things going on with me is a trip to Alaska to do a commercial fishing trip, so for the next few weeks all the posts will be scheduled to go up on their own.

Oh, and if you missed last Friday’s news post, you may have also missed Saturday’s, which featured a fun little news clip from my hometown starring yours truly. Give it a listen!

Oh, and Patreon Supporters got another preview story on Saturday as well. Go check it out!

Anyway, I’ll be spending the next few days getting a nice backlog of posts ready, and then I head out this weekend. The goal is to have 3-4 weeks of content done in advance, even though the trip might only take two weeks. With commercial fishing, you go until you’ve got the quota, so if I am gone for three or four weeks, the content pipeline won’t dry up.

Anyway, that’s the plan. So, with so much other news covered, let’s get right down to business. Now, I warn you, this post is going to probably be a bit shorter than normal. It’s a reader-requested topic, but I gathered from the way the question was phrased that the reader who asked it expected the answer to be much more complicated than it actually is.

Which honestly is to each of our favor, because copyright law and legal matters like that? They’re messy. So this being easier than expected is kind of a boon. So let’s get down to it. You’ve started writing out your story, your world and characters have taken shape.

When do you need to copyright it?

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Being a Better Writer: Killing Your Babies

Hello again readers! Today’s Being a Better Writer post is going to (hopefully) be a bit shorter, because I’m on the last pages of the epilogue for Starforge and I want to finish it! This draft is so close to being done I can taste the freedom!

All right, enough about Starforge. And enough italics. Yes, it’s all I’m thinking about these days, and all I’m writing about, but you guys either want to see it done, or see other content. So let’s dive into today’s BaBW post. This week, another reader request! We’re going to talk about killing your babies.

Okay, this sounds worse than it actually is. If you don’t recognize this term, we’re not actually talking about human babies. Or living ones. But they may feel very alive. Because to a writer, what story isn’t their baby?

And sometimes … that baby’s time has come.

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Being a Better Writer: Bias and Growth

Hello again readers! Welcome back to Being a Better Writer. You know, it’s moments like these, typing out a welcome introduction once again that I somewhat envy the ability of film and video to just drop an intro on people. Granted, most people skip it, and people would certainly skip over the same opening paragraph, but it would take some early lifting out of every installment of BaBW.

Ah well, at least this segues into news and whatnot better than a constantly identical intro was. Though this week I don’t have any news other than what would be repeating last week’s news post: Starforge almost has a completed first draft. Thing’s a beast too. Once I get done with this post here? It’s back to working on it and getting that last chapter and the epilogue done. After which I can finally take care of some IRL things like getting my car sold.

So without any news, let’s talk about today’s topic, which is kind of a tricky one. It’s also by reader request, and when it showed up on my list, I knew I wanted to get to it early.

Now, in a way we’ve kind of touched on this before. Indirectly. Being a Better Writer has seen a number of posts on things like Why Writers Should Play Games or Writing Exercises for Viewpoints. Among others (hit the tags on those links to find more). A good writer is one that’s embraced a wide range of activity that stimulates and works their mind.

But we’ve never talked much about the other side of this that was requested. A side that, at least in my mind, brings up the image of stale bread.

Yeah, maybe it’s because I’m hungry, but I think today’s post is going to make some food analogies. Get set, hit the jump, and let’s talk about bias in our writing, and how we can expand.

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Being a Better Writer: Diversifying Your Writing

Welcome back readers! Yes, I decided to bump Monday’s usual Being a Better Writer post to Tuesday on account of Monday being the federal holiday in a number of places, including where I was. That, and it was a bit nice to have a break day.

And you know what? We’re going to dive right in. There’s not much to note news-wise save the sale being over (and a successful sale it was too!) so instead we’re just going to get right to the meat of things today, and as well it’s Tuesday, which is a day that already allows me a bit less time than normal to write with (and what I have today I really want to dive into Starforge with).

So, today’s topic is from Topic List #18, and it’s a reader-requested topic! Today, we’re going to talk about diversifying your writing.

And right away, I need to clarify something. In the context of the original question, and what we’ll be talking about today, this post will be about widening your writing range through genres and experimentation. Not on widening the range of characters, culture, or ethnicities on display in your writing. That’s another topic (which is, it should be noted, also on Topic List #18 and therefore coming).

That said, if you were expecting the latter and are unhappy that the former is the immediate topic, I would encourage you to read on anyway. Today’s topic is useful for all levels of writers, and there may yet be something you glean from it.

So hit the jump, and let’s talk about diversifying your writing.

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Being a Better Writer: Setting a Tone for Your Work

Welcome back readers, to another Monday! You know, I try to make these openings as chipper and cheerful as I can when writing because hey, it’s Monday, and most people need that at the start of another workweek. So hey, I hope this chipper opening tone works for some of you!

Newswise, it was a pretty quiet weekend. quiet to the degree that I’m reasonably certain there’s not much to post here that wasn’t already covered with last Friday’s news summary. Save that it was a scorcher of a weekend here. I don’t know what the weather was like for most of you, but it was in the low-nineties here. It gets hotter than that in the summers here, but it climbing to that temperature so quickly in the summer was both refreshing and scorching.

On the plus side, there was a summer thunderstorm on Friday evening that I got to watch with my sister while eating dinner post a nice bike ride, so that was nice. Always down for watching some summer thunder! Plus, my area needs the rain they bring.

Okay, so enough yapping about my weekend. We’ve got writing to talk about! This week we’re tackling yet another reader question, this time concerning tone. To be specific, how you set a tone for your story, if you even should, and how changing that tone partway through can affect your story/audience.

So, if any of that sounded intriguing to you as a writer, then buckle up and hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Making Info-Dumping Natural (And Not a Dump)

Welcome back readers to another installment of Being a Better Writer! Today’s installment is somewhat unusual in that it was written days before the actual posting. Why? Because if all has gone as planned, today I am off on my way to Alaska to visit family, taking my first travel vacation (and my first trip to where I grew up) in about half a decade.

Yikes. When I say it like that, it does sound like I need a break. Here’s hoping it is a relaxing one and I get some peace of mind from it.

Anyway, that means no news with this post, because it was written a while ago (and it would all be out of date). So sit back, relax (like I’m supposed to be doing) and get ready to talk about writing. While I, if all has again gone to plan, will be traveling through the air or spending my night at an airport. Or something like that.

So let’s talk about infodumping for a moment. Infodumping is one of those things that worries a lot of writers both young and old—and with good reason! Anyone that’s picked up more than a few books in the last year can probably recall a moment where the story might have slowed down and turning into a page or two of just … information. About the world, about the setting, about the characters … but it was just information that hit the audience with the force and subtlety of a firehose.

This is the infamous infodump. A moment when the author sits back and says “Well, the readers need to know about this” and just dumps it all on them in solid paragraphs of informational text. Or worse, does this for information that the audience doesn’t need to know, but the author really wants to talk about (you’ll see this more with “author fillibusters” or “soapboxing“).

But the result is roughly the same in the end: Solid paragraphs of pure information, something usually akin more to a work of non-fiction than fiction, and a wall for the audience (barring the few who would naturally read this sort of thing anyway). Infodumping remains a cardinal sin in the writing world as a result, a giant speed bump to any reader that comes across it. It messes with pacing, such as one book I can recall where the author interrupted a plot-critical meeting to give a page-and-a-half long aside on the origins of a phrase one of the people in the meeting had used … and then cut right back to the meeting, in the middle of the previous sentence they’d cut off in, and somehow thought this wouldn’t be an issue.

Their editor also apparently thought so, which was why this title did this multiple times, and each time the information that was actually presented was superfluous to what was actually going on and purely unneeded. Like I said above, some authors just really want to talk about things they came up with for the setting, and well … yeah. Imagine watching a movie where every time things really got moving, the director would pause the film and talk about some behind the scenes stuff. Not as a bonus feature, but as the film you went to see in theaters.

Annoying? Yes. This, and other forms of infodumping are like kryptonite to readers. They sap the reader’s will to, well, read. But this introduces a conundrum for a lot of young writers because well … How can you get a reader invested in a world and knowing what’s going on if you don’t inform them of what the world is like? Or the characters’ backgrounds? Or anything else that’s relevant to the plot?

So hit the jump, folks, because today we’re going to talk about the right and wrong ways to infodump. Or rather, how to avoid the wrong of infodumping while still informing our readers of what they need to know.

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