Being a Better Writer: Why Stories Need Conflict

Hello readers! Before we dive into today’s (somewhat delayed) Being a Better Writer post, I have an urgent PSA for all of you residing in the United States.

Go VOTE. Election day is November 3rd, 2020—which should be a national holiday, and the fact that it isn’t tells us a lot about what the government thinks about our involvement in matters. Look up all your candidates. Study them. Learn about them. Don’t just watch their ads and a three second clip of the “News” and decide you’re good. Do some digging. Read about tbe results of their policies and approached. If you’re religious, pray for some guidance. Whatever means available to you, make use of them to learn about the candidates running for all the various positions you’ll be voting on, and then go out and vote.

Yes, I know this year has made it a mess. Voter suppression has been pretty flagrant and open, as has complete ignorance of the current pandemic sweeping the nation. Keep that in mind when you vote too, or rather when you’re looking at candidates. If you’re in one of those counties where for “safety reasons” five polling places were reduced to one, consider who made that decision, how safe it really is, and whether or not you want someone with the governmental mindset of UNSEC in office again.

All right. PSA over. But it was an important one. And it’s probably going to be scrutinized by the ad-checkers, or even demonized by a few people who take issue with it.

Whatever. Go. Vote. Don’t let anyone stop you. Unless, you know, you’re not registered, in which case you should regretfully acknowledge that you didn’t prep for this one. But on the bright side, you’ll most likely have four years to correct that mistake.

Now, with that PSA said, let’s move onto today’s BaBW post! Which is an interesting one! Today’s topic was posed by a reader after they encountered a post on a writing forum where the OP (original poster, for those of you not familiar with internet parlance) argued that stories did not need conflict to be stories, and in fact (IIRC) that whole genres such as ‘slice of life’ shouldn’t have them. The reader posted here asking if that was or wasn’t possible (suspecting, again if I recall correctly, that it wasn’t) and asking me to do a bit on it.

Well, reader, here you are! And let me clear this up immediately, and with a declarative statement:

A story without a conflict is not a story, but merely a series of words laying out a disconnected summary, lacking events.

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Being a Better Writer Topic Call!

In my defense, I didn’t say when this post would be up today. But readers! Do you have your list ready!? Topics you want to hear about? The get commenting below!

For those of you who need a bit more context, I’ll assume that you are familiar with this site’s weekly feature, Being a Better Writer, all about—What else?—how to improve one’s writing. Pretty much the most popular bit of this site, and referenced in a lot of places.

But here’s the thing: The topics that BaBW discusses? They come from a list. An actual, physical list written in pen that sits on my desk. A list that is populated in part by readers like you!

Which is why I occasionally do these calls for topics. Right now Topic List #16 is empty. It has nothing but the title.

So now, I open the gates to you, readers. What sort of writing topics would you like to hear more about? Is there something specific you’d like to see a post on? An aspect of writing you’d like to see explored?

Leave a comment so that it can go on the list! Right now! That’s the whole point of this post: So that readers can contribute and put in their two cents about what they want to learn about.

So comment below!

Being a Better Writer: Outlines and Outlining

Welcome back readers! Ready for a lightning-fast news moment? My thoughts on Fireteam Freelance have been written and will automatically go up on Wednesday. If you’ve not left your thoughts on Fireteam Freelance now that the series is complete, you can do so here.

That’s it! Lightning news moment over! Let’s talk Being a Better Writer!

So today’s post has a bit of a slightly embarrassing story behind it. I hang out in a few writing spheres online, sometimes lurking, sometimes posting, and the other day a discussion got started about how to outline. Now, usually when a post like this starts and someone is digging for some detailed info I’ll mosey on over to the search bar here on the sight, type in the subject, and drop anywhere from one to three posts on the subject. Want detail? Here you go!

Except when I did that for outlines … I came back empty.

Yeah. There are posts discussing outlines here on the site, but they’re always an angle, like “don’t get bogged down doing outlines” or “Outline or pantsing?”

Nothing. At all. On just a basic outline.

Sands and storms, talk about an oversight. Because almost every writer uses an outline at some point. Hence the question that led to the discover in the first place. So today we’re going to talk about one of the most basic concepts of writing a story of any kind. We’re going to discuss the humble outline. And guess what?

It’s easier than you think.

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Being a Better Writer: Don’t Force It

Hello readers! Who’s ready for a busy week?

Why ask? Because it most definitely is going to be a busy one. For starters, Axtara – Banking and Finance completed the Alpha 1 this weekend! Which means it’s time for Alpha 2!

Yes, it’s getting a second Alpha. Not a long one. The reason is that some changes were made to the plot, small but impactful ones, and I need fresh eyes in order to assess how well the changes functioned in their goal. So this week there will be another Alpha call for the Alpha 2. I just need a few readers who want to blast through this thing in a few days (it’s not long) and comment so I can assess the changes and how they held up.

Once Alpha 2 is complete, I can determine whether or not Axtara requires a third alpha read or if it can be sent to Beta 1. Note that this wasn’t because there was some massive plot whole. There were a few narrative changes made to … well if I say it here, I contaminate any Alpha 2 Readers. This is all in the pursuit of making Axtara the best story it can be.

Some more news before we get down to today’s topic. As many of you have already noticed, Fireteam Freelance ended on Saturday. The last episode entry (Recombinant) went up, bringing the whole thing to a close. Well, as close to a close as a side story in the UNSEC Space setting could, anyway. But it is over and done.

Which means that in addition to the Alpha 2 call for Axtara, this week is also going to see two reaction posts. One from you readers, in which I’ll post a few of the comments left on episodes of Freelance over its posting time and then encourage you readers to leave final thoughts on the series as a whole (or specific sections, if so inclined) and then later this week, at the end, I’ll post my own thoughts on the series and my experience with it.

Yeah, it’s gonna be a busy week. Meanwhile, Starforge continues to roll forward, I am two reviews shy of 300 total (and still sitting at a 4.6 out of 5 average!) … and there’s probably some other stuff that I’m forgetting to mention.

But that’s more than enough news about what’s coming this week. Let’s get down to business talking about this week’s Being a Better Writer topic. Which is … probably not what you expected. The title being, after all, Don’t Force It, could mean a number of different things. So what’s this all about?

Well, let me put it another way and summarize the thrust of today’s topic: don’t be so committed to an idea or concept that the rest of your story suffers for it.

Perplexed? Don’t be. Hit that jump and let’s get talking about this.

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Being a Better Writer: Being Your Own Worst Critic

Hello readers! First of all, I must apologize for how late this post is. Long story short, after a few days of not sleeping well (some nights barely at all) thanks to my cracked ribs, last night I achieved comfort (mostly) with a large body pillow and a giant bean bag. The result was that I slept for quite a long time. Until about 2:30 PM to be exact. So my apologies, first of all, for this post coming so late in the day.

That said, let’s dive right in so you’re kept from it as little as possible! Let’s talk about the art of being your own worst critic.

This is something that comes up a lot in writing circles. In fact, if you hang out in a writing group you’ve probably heard it a few times. Maybe more than that. You’ll hear it in writing classes as well, and even occasionally from random people passing off “cliche writing advice” (which we did a whole summer feature on last year). But here’s something interesting about this bit of advice: it’s hardly ever expounded upon.

Which can leave a lot of young writers a little perplexed, because, well, let’s face it, advice like “be your own worst critic” is a little vague. Worse, if they happen to know of a bad critic and take the saying at face value, becoming even worse, well … Let’s just say this sends them down a very self-destructive path. In an age where anyone can be a “critic” with the only goal of ripping someone’s hard work to shreds simply because they can, telling someone to be a worse critic than that can end a young writer’s journey before it’s even started.

Which is a shame, because properly explained, being your own worst critic is a pretty good idea, one that every writer should internalize and apply. It’s just that it’s been … warped is a good term for it … by the modern definition of “critic” most people subscribe to.

So then, with today’s post, let’s look at this through some fresh eyes. First, let us discuss what a critic, especially in terms of this context is not, despite the changing of the popular meaning, and root out any mistaken concepts that stem from that misconception, as well as the negative consequence of such.

Once we’ve established what a critic is not, then we’ll discuss instead what “being your own worst critic” really entails, and what that means for writers who want to apply it to their writing. You ready? Then let’s get this underway!

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Being a Better Writer: Building Politics for Your Setting

Hello readers! Welcome back to another episode of Being a Better Writer! There’s no weekend news (or rather any you didn’t already know past Episode 10 of Fireteam Freelance dropping), so we’re just going to dive right into things and get down to it!

Last week, if you’ll recall, we talked about politics in writing and how the “keep politics out of fiction” movement is based an erroneous idea of what politics actually are (or “is” in the case of writing). If you’ve not read that post, I do recommend reading it before starting today’s post, as if someone heads into this one without a grasp on what “politics” actually means is likely going to find themselves confused and annoyed. So here’s the link to Politics and Writing. Once you’ve given that a read, you’ll be set with the foreknowledge for today’s post.

Those of you that are already caught up, good on you, and let’s dive in!

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Being a Better Writer: Science-Fiction

Hello readers! Welcome back! I trust you had a good weekend?

I certainly did! Shadow of an Empire picked up another Five-Star review, which while not being a title that fits with the genre today’s post is about, is certainly something that I’m happy about regardless. The reviewer in question stated that they found Shadow of an Empire while looking for fantasy books that had deeply developed hard magic systems, and to that end they were incredibly impressed (and thoroughly enjoyed) just how deeply the magic was laced through the world, characters, society, and setting.

They also expressed sadness that there was only one title to date in the series (well, they probably don’t know about the short in Unusual Things, or weren’t counting it because it was, after all, a short). And to that I say “I have plans.” But I need to finish up Starforge and the UNSEC Space Saga first.

Okay, news done. Let’s get down to details with today’s (admittedly) broad topic of a post: Science-Fiction. First of all, what do I mean titling a post with such a broad, generic term?

Well, as long-time readers of the site may recall, I’ve done genre posts before. Such as the post on Westerns, or the one on Mysteries. And doing a genre post on Science-Fiction has been on my list for a while because, well … There’s a lot of disagreement out there about what Science-Fiction is.

Yeah. Again, what is the internet but a location for people to argue over whose lack of knowledge is greater? Even outside of the internet though, the subject of “What is Sci-Fi” in the last decade has become a topic of much debate. And I don’t mean “debate” in the terms of “Let’s sit down and have a calm discussion” either. More often than not the “debates” over what Science-Fiction “truly is” devolve into people speaking or shouting past one another … or threats and disparaging comments made about the parentage or life of anyone who disagrees.

In other words, if you’ve heard of how the internet, from Twitter to conventions, has become a “battleground for Science-Fiction and Fantasy” in the last decade, the argument over what Science-Fiction is most assuredly plays a part in that debate.

So why talk about it then? Well, because I happen to believe that one entire side of that argument is wrong. At which point I’ll forewarn that this means I’ve “entered the debate” and taken a side that could see all kinds of disparaging things thrown at me or said about me. But it’s not just that one side is wrong, but that the debate has become so fierce that there are a lot of people out there that legitimately don’t know what Science-Fiction is anymore. The term has become empty, or misused. The term has been diluted and at odds with itself through its various definitions.

Which in turn has led to no small amount of confusion among both readers and writers alike. It’s hard to go a few days anymore without seeing a discussion of Science-Fiction online where someone doesn’t bring up a book only to have someone else say “Well, that might be a nice book, but it’s not Science-Fiction and therefore not germane to this discussion.” Or bring up something that they’re working on writing, only to have someone post “I’m sorry, but that’s not Science-Fiction. If you want it to be Science-Fiction you’ll need to dump these elements and do this.

Of course, by hopping into this “debate” there is some risk, in a small way, that I’m simply contributing to what the webcomic XKCD as the “standards” problem. But I’ll try not to, as after all, Science-Fiction has been around for centuries, and a fixed definition for decades now (newcomers trying to change it notwithstanding). So with all this said, let’s dive in, starting with the answer to the following question: what is Science-Fiction?

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Being a Better Writer: Now is the Time

Hello readers! Sorry for the lateness of this post. I didn’t sleep well last night, and that kind of lead me to sleep in this morning once I actually did fall into slumber.

But you aren’t here for that, you’re here for Being a Better Writer. And we’re diving right into it, as is fitting when you consider the title.

What, you thought I’d name a post Now is the Time and wouldn’t dive right in? Buckle up, because here’s a writing topic some of you need to hear.

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Being a Better Writer: Entertainment Value VS Quality

Hello readers! Welcome back to the start of another week, and with it a new episode of Being a Better Writer! I hope you all enjoyed your weekend. I certainly did. The conference I watched was a truly splendid experience, one that I would recommend to anyone looking for a little peace and thought with everything else that’s been going on across the world.

This weekend also saw the release of episode three of Fireteam Freelance, which resulted in a couple of surprised and curious comments at the end. It looks like readers are enjoying it!

And me? Well, aside from the conference, it’s all Alpha editing on A Trial for a Dragon! Making lots of little changes with this one, bits and pieces where a single word in the right place (or the wrong on) makes all the difference … and that was an unintentional G-Man, I assure you. Anyway, tweaking A Trial for a Dragon just so is time-consuming, but by the end, this story is going to shine bright, people. Which is good, because the clock is ticking on that April 30th submission date!

Anyway, I could go on and on about that and how fascinating the editing process can be (a single word, folks) but this isn’t a post about Trail for a Dragon, it’s for Being a Better Writer. And more, it’s a requested topic, so let’s talk about it!

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping it Simple

Alternative title: Don’t Bite Off More than You Can Chew.

Hello readers! Welcome back! How was your weekend? I trust it was enjoyable?

I hope I was able to help with that. Episode two of Fireteam Freelance dropped Saturday morning with a bang! More adventures with Adah, Ursa, Anvil, and Owl!

And … that’s all the time I’ve got for news today. And all the news, so it works out. So, let’s talk writing.

With a title like this some of you are probably wondering what the inspiration is. Well, as many of you know, I do a lot of reading. Not just books, but webcomics and even some fanfiction here and there as well. I’m also highly selective, especially with the last two, but I do notice a lot of trends. Trends that tie back into a lot of stuff I hear from novice writers (who frequently turn around and write fanfiction or webcomics).

In fact, I was actually tempted to share a synopsis I found for one new webcomic in this very post to illustrate my point today, but decided against it. It would have illustrated today’s point, or rather today’s issue we’re discussing pretty well … but I’d hate to have that creator find this post and feel personally put under a spotlight they didn’t ask for.

So let me give you a common hypothetical. An occurrence that happens to authors, or to teachers in creative writing courses, or even to random people who know someone bitten by the writing bug. They get cornered, and they’re given a synopsis of this new writer’s planned plot and story. And it’ll be something like this:

So the main character is an undead werewolf, right? And she’s trying to hide and survive this organization that’s hunting her, while trying to figure out what happened to her mother. Her mother was a powerful sorceress who might have discovered the cure for this deadly disease that’s wiping out the world, which she got from aliens. But the good aliens, not the bad ones. See, she was part of a secret organization that fought the bad aliens during World War I, who were using voodoo to try and manipulate the world and take over. They’re not related to the people hunting the main character—or maybe they are, I haven’t decided yet. Anyway, one of the people hunting her is secretly in love with her, but there’s a problem because they’re actually a vampire, part of a secret organization that’s working against everyone else to try and make the world eternally night by using the bad and good aliens. So we start out in this high school …

So, what do you think of my short story idea?

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