Being a Better Writer: Avoiding One-Note Character Pitfalls

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

Also, brief news, just a refresher, but LTUE, the writing con to beat all writing cons, is coming! Be there if you can!

But, before we get started, I need to issue a warning. No, not a news warning, but a warning about today’s post. Why? Because some people are going to find it controversial. Or, if they stop in the first few moments and don’t go past the opening, perhaps even “offensive.” Largely because they didn’t bother to read further and will be upset with the opening example, real as it may be. But I promise there’s a purpose and a point to it, though it will touch on an area of writing these days that will immediately make hackles rise. So just push through it, all right? It’ll make sense.

Okay, so to start with on today’s topic, I’m going to give you a character bio. Now, this character bio is real, a composite of several dozen real character bios across the web from various sources. But with one detail flipped. Which, as soon as you read it, you’ll likely pick up on. In fact, these bios (and the stories that resulted) were what prompted this post. Ready? Here we go. Again, this is a composite bio, built out of real bios, with one thing flipped, and once you see it, you’ll get it.

NAME: Bjorn the Mighty
Age: 37
About: Bjorn the Mighty prefers sex with women.

Okay, do I even need to ask? It’s pretty obvious what’s wrong with that bio. It consists of nothing more than who this character wants to have sex with, a name, and an age. There is literally nothing else save the inference from the “the mighty” part of their name.

If you’d like to know what I flipped from the real bios this is based on, it’s … Well, it’s which sex Bjorn likes to have sex with. And I can hear torches and pitchforks coming out from here, folks, hold up, hold up. Put the axes down. Stop revving the engines.

The point isn’t that someone “isn’t allowed” to flip that so that it says “Bjorn the mighty prefers with men.” The point is that too many authors as of late have fallen into a trap of letting that be the only point to the character’s character.

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Being a Better Writer: Doing Good to Others

Hello readers. First of all, I want to say “Thank you for being patient.” This, the last Being a Better Writer post of the year, was supposed to arrive last Monday. But, as most of you know (only newcomers being exempt), my younger sister was involved in a car accident Sunday night that was extremely blessed not to be more serious. Modern car safety is a wonderful thing. She survived a head-on collision with another car (they ran a red light) with only a broken collarbone. I spent a few days away from home helping her out as she dealt with the worst of it. You can get a bit more detail here.

But thank you for waiting. This has definitely thrown my usual Christmas schedule topsy-turvy.


Now, before we get to the post directly, a bit of obligatory Christmas plugging. Normally its own post but … topsy-turvy. So …

If you’re looking for any last minute, low-cost Christmas gifts or digital stocking stuffers, have you considered the virtues of handing someone a book for Christmas? A multi-page doorway into adventure, fortune, peril, and wonder, all from the comfort of someone’s favorite cozy chair or nook?

If you haven’t, than I’d heartily recommend it. Not only are books a great gift, they’re a great value for the buck too! A single, $6 book can take days of excitement to get through. Compare that to the stocking stuffer DVD that’s only an hour and a half for the same price.

Now, if you’re unsure about what books to grab people, never fear! I’ve got answers there too! Do they like fantasy? Lord of the Rings? Or westerns? Shadow of an Empire is $6, and a perfect gift for those that love horseback chases, shootouts, magic, and peril.

Or maybe they like science fiction? Epic adventures to alien worlds with starships, lasers, and AIs? Colony is only $4, while its sequel Jungle is $8. You can grab both for someone’s Christmas for just $12!

Maybe they like a little bit of everything? Or prefer shorter stories that they can get through in a few short glances? Unusual Events: A “Short” Story Collection is only $4 and has exactly what they’ll desire: A little bit of everything in one nice package! Perfect for a stocking.

Or maybe they like more dedicate mysteries? Perhaps with a bit of paranormal in the mix? You can give them the gift of both Unusuals novels to date, One Drink and Dead Silver, for a total of $4.

Sands, you could drop the entire set into their stocking, a combined reading length of 5,700 pages (or about 115 hours worth of reading for the average American), for a cost of $26. That’s a pretty epic value.

Curious? Take a look.

Now, with the Christmas plug over, let’s talk about the final Being a Better Writer post of the year. It’s going to be a little different, I expect, but in tune with the spirit of the Christmas season. I want to talk about Doing Good to Others. Yes. as a writer.

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Being a Better Writer: The Five Senses

Welcome back readers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got a pretty nifty topic ahead of us, but before we hit that, there’s some big news we’ve got to discuss. News which I’m sure many of you have already guessed at. It’ll get its own post tomorrow, as to not interfere with today’s BaBW (I’ve learned my lesson there), but it’s big enough news it needs it’s own spot heading today’s post (since today is the first I can get to it). So here goes.


Jungle is now available for Pre-order!

Jungle CoverYes, you read that right. Jungle, the massive sequel to Colony, is now open for pre-order in advance of its November 19th release date. If you’re the kind of person who absolutely must have the newest book the moment it comes out, or if you’d rather order it now so that you don’t have to worry about it later, well, you’re in luck! All you need to do is click this link right here or the cover image to the right there and you’ll be taken right to the pre-order page so you can place your order.

Jungle is the long-awaited (and at last almost here!) sequel to Colony, coming November 19th!


Okay, take a moment to recover from that bit of news. It’s big, I know. Once a year kind of news.

All right, heart-rate stabilizing, breathing returning to normal, pre-order made … Everything’s taken care of. So let’s talk writing!

Okay, I expect that some of you are looking at the title for this particular BaBW post and thinking something along the lines of “The five senses? He doesn’t mean those five senses, does he?”

And, well, yeah I do. The five you learn as a kid when you’re in a grade school, or from your parents, or maybe an older sibling (though the latter usually comes with either the wrong number, or a made up sense because older siblings messing with younger siblings is a time-honored tradition).

But yes, we’re talking about those five senses: Sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Specifically, we’re talking about using those in your writing. Why?

Well … I noticed something a few months ago (yeah, this topic’s from a while back) when I was both editing Jungle and reading through a book from my local library. Now, this happened long enough ago that I don’t remember exactly how the topic came up, but if I recall properly, it had to do with a comment an Alpha reader left on Jungle that served a sharp contrast to the book I was reading at the time. Sharp enough that I suddenly stopped and thought to myself “When was the last time anyone smelled anything in this book?” Meaning the book I was reading, not Jungle.

Believe it or not, this question stumped me. And I starting thinking even more heavily on the topic, running over the last few books I’d read in my head and thinking about, well, smells. The more I thought about it, the more odd the last few books I’d read felt to me. Why? Because it was as if scents didn’t exist in their world. In fact, I’m pretty sure one of them never once mentioned any smells at all.

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Being a Better Writer: Checklisting

Hey readers! Welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer. Not only that, but it’s a normal installment! That’s right, the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is over and done!

It was a huge hit too, especially with some of the more common sayings. However, just because it’s over doesn’t mean that if you missed it all is lost. Just check out the tag ‘Summer of writing advice” to locate the whole set once more if you’re looking for them.

So, we’re back to regular Being a Better Writer posts, which means we’re back to discussing the topic of writing and all the various aspects of it we can improve at. So, for today? I’ve got an interesting topic for all you readers and writers out there. Readers, I’m sure, have noticed it, as I myself have found it on display in more than one book. And writers? Well, let’s just say this is a common error that anyone can slip into. Even with Jungle I’ve found this issue cropping up more than once and had to make some edits. Today’s trap is something all writers, novice and experienced, can fall into.

Today, I’m talking about checklisting.

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Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Outline Everything!

Welcome back to another Monday installment of our summer special! That’s right, it’s Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! It’s not over yet! We’ve still got a few weeks (and cliche topics) left.

But first … We’ve got some news to talk about. I’ll keep it brief. First, Jungle is now in Beta. If you have been a prior Beta Reader, please check your e-mail inbox for an invitation and reply, as the sooner the Beta is complete, the sooner Jungle can at last come out!

Next, Patreon supporters can look forward to another chapter of Stranded this week. In addition, I’m going to be looking at some more normal content for Patreon as well, drafts and the like. And some previews for Jungle, with as close as we are.

In other news, my total of Goodreads reviews and ratings now equals 111. Yup, one hundred and eleven. Mostly significant because numbers like those only come once. But more ratings and reviews, on Goodreads or elsewhere (like Amazon) does help new readers find my works, which is always great!

Lastly, on the news front, after 3 weeks of silence, I heard from my old part-time job out of nowhere. With … shifts. A couple of them. Just out of the blue, show up for these will you? And … ehh. Apparently we’ve gone even wilder now, and it sounds like my boss has to get individual shifts and hours approved by the folks slicing everything to the bone? Frankly I’m surprised he hasn’t quit yet, but then he may be taking the same strategy I am with these hours: Use ’em while you get your new job. I’m going to keep up the part-time hunt so I can dump this place, because a few hours in just three weeks, with no knowledge of whether or not that will continue, is just abysmal (and shifts showing up a day before because “gotta approve!”) is just an abysmal and frankly telling work situation. Ultimately, it’s not going to pull me out of the ditch, but it’s a small bit of help.

Getting Jungle out will ease this issue quite a bit.

All right, that’s it for the news. Now, onto Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! We’ve been doing this all summer, but in case you’re new here and unfamiliar with the feature, the SoCWA (hey, that’s an interesting acronym) is a look into all the different kinds of cliche writing advice writers young and old encounter.

See, it doesn’t take long for any writer to find themselves being presented with “advice” from the world at large. At this point in my life, I’m firmly convinced if JRR Tolkien were to walk into a dinner or social event held today and introduce himself in conversation while happening to mention “… and I’ve written a few books” someone at that social event would immediately look at him and go “Well, don’t forget that there’s nothing new under the sun!”

You can’t get away from it. Young or old, new or experienced, if you’re a writer, you’re going to find these bits of cliche, easily repeated advice thrown at you constantly. Because it seems most people have heard them somewhere, and with as easy to remember as they are, they end up bouncing around inside their brain to get spat out later any time they encounter an author.

So this summer, BaBW has dedicated itself to an examination of these oft-repeated bits of “advice.” Each week, we look at a different common phrase and see if they really are useful, or if not, what we should be learning instead. So this week?

Outline Everything.

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Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Said is Dead

Hello readers! It’s Tuesday, which if you’re a long-time reader of this site, you know is a little unusual for a Being a Better Writer post, usually only happening on the occurrences of a holiday or a work shift taking me away on Monday.

Yesterday was the former. I hope you all made the most of it!

On a side note, has anyone else ever actually looked up what Labor Day is in celebration of? I did and was immediately surprised. If you aren’t sure why it’s a holiday in the US, take a minute and look it up!

But after you’ve perused today’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice entry! For the uninitiated, the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is a special feature here on Being a Better Writer, where we look at all the bits of easily repeated, oft-spouted, cliche writing advice that just about every writer young and old has heard time and time again. Usually these sayings are quickly spoken, easily repeatable, have alliterative appeal (or rhyme, like today’s) and are based on something a famous author or English teacher said somewhere.

Note that I said based in that last sentence. With good reason. Like many common sayings, these are phrases that have become far simpler than their original explanations and intents. Sometimes, as we’ve seen in prior entries this summer, to the detriment of those that hear and apply them.

Which is what the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is all about! Each week, this feature has tackled a common cliche saying or phrase directed at writers. We dig into it: What it means, what it says, how it says it … And then look at whether or not that’s truly helpful, or whether there’s better advice out there. In some cases, even, we’ve found that a saying is actually harmful, something that in becoming short and easily repeatable has lost all meaning to the degree of being more harm than good.

So, enough preamble! Let’s get started and see if that’s true or not with today’s saying! Today, let’s talk about—

Said is dead.

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Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Never Use Adverbs

Hello readers on this wonderful, sunny (if your weather is like it is here) Monday morning! I’m here to alleviate your Monday blues with this week’s Being a Better Writer! Which, you may notice, is still in the grips of our summer special, the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! Week seven of the feature, no less!

A bit of background if you’re unfamiliar with this or BaBW and encountering it for the first time. Being a Better Writer is a weekly series all about, well, as the title says, becoming a better writer! Running now for almost six years, BaBW has discussed hundreds of topics from developing characters to working out subplots to keeping pacing fresh. If you’re new to Unusual Things, then congratulations, because you’ve just stumbled across one of the web’s better writing resources for fiction.

But what about this “Summer of Cliche Writing Advice” stuff? Well, that (or this, rather) is a special summer feature. One thing you may have noticed if you’re a writer of any experience is that the moment you become a writer, it feels like the whole world descends upon you to give you advice … regardless of any actual experience in the territory.

Actually, scratch that. It doesn’t feel like it. The world does descend on you. From Facebook, at family gatherings, in conversation with ordinary people … Everyone has some sort of advice to give you. Usually in the form of a short, quick saying that “everyone” seems to acknowledge as writing advice of some kind.

But is it really? Because a lot of advice that’s been shortened and trimmed down to a single, quickly repeated and easily remembered phrase has the issue of being, well, too short to be of much value. Or in some cases, ended up with exactly the opposite meaning to the original well-intended advice.

In other words, some of this advice writers are flooded with is advice so often repeated that few bother to question if it really has any worthwhile meaning, only assuming that it does. But …. does it?

That’s what the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice has explored these past two months. Each week, we’ve taken some of this advice, from “Show, don’t tell” to “There’s nothing new under the sun” and tackled it in-depth, digging into what it means, what it teaches, whether or not that’s useful to a new writer—and if not, what a new writer should learn instead.

This week? That trend continues with another bit of oft-repeated advice all writers hear. So let’s get down to it. This week, we discuss a tricky one. This week, our bit of “advice” is:

Never use adverbs.

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