Being a Better Writer: Currency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Being a Better Writer: Research and Ramifications

Welcome, readers! Before we begin with today’s post, an obligatory plug, if you will. If you somehow missed it, Shadow of an Empire‘s cover has been revealed in all its glory! You can check it out here! And yes, that does have to do with the slight redesign of the site and its colors. Shadow of an Empire is releasing June 1st, and will be available for pre-order later this week!

Excited? Good! I know I am.

So, that out of the way, let’s talk about today’s topic: Research and the ramifications that come with it. Because, as with most things in the writing world … it’s not quite so simple when you get down to it.

Now, I’ll be clear up front: This is a request topic. Actually, it’s a pretty common request topic. Which, as often as I hammer the point home of “always do the research” doesn’t exactly surprise me. I’ve made a point of it time and time again in my posts here on the site and elsewhere around the web—and even in person! If you want to be an author, and write a story about anything … Do. The. Research. Learn about that thing. And learn well.

Naturally, this second bit is the crux of the topic today. At least at the outset. Because while it’s one thing to say “do the research,” for some it’s a bit like telling someone to build a boat. I say “do the research” and there are a cluster of authors new and old who respond with the concerned question of “Okay, how?” And yes, I say old as well as new because there are plenty of authors out there I’ve read that clearly have no idea how to do even the most basic research.

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Being a Better Writer: Subverting Tropes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Being a Better Writer: Character Matters

So, last week I was browsing the web (one of my favorite pastimes for finding interesting details and acquiring knowledge) when I came across a very … shall we say, interesting post. It was on a book forum, where someone was, if I recall the context correctly, talking about a specific Sci-Fi book they tried to read. A recent award winner, again if I recall correctly, from one of those snooty ‘literary’ awards. Anyway, they mentioned that they’d tried reading it, but had given up because, as they explained, all the characters fell flat. Or rather, were flat, simply mouthpieces to explain the story’s science. They had no other character or uniqueness other than a name. They were just there as, well, robots, to drive the science forward. Other than that, they were simply flat caricatures. As a result, the reader had given up on the book, because there was no character to revolve around.

Now, this post jumped out at me for two reasons. The first, but not the foremost, was that it lined up with a news article I recall reading a few years ago about in which a major publisher, faced with the falling sales of their Sci-Fi and Fantasy, conducted a nationwide survey of their former readers (no idea how they pulled that off, but they have to have some metric for it) asking why their former readers had abandoned them. The answer? That too many of their books just didn’t have good characters anymore, or worse, had characters that were just ideological mouthpieces for the science/social angle of the book. Without strong, compelling, or real characters, their readers had abandoned them.

The second reason that this post jumped out at me was the response to it. This was on a forum that is … Well, let’s just say they’re the kind of readers that the current publishers want to have in greater number. The response was immediate and, shockingly, angry. We’re talking caps and exclamation marks about how dare this reader put down a book because the characters weren’t good. Because—and understand I’m summarizing a number of posts here—characters aren’t important. They’re just mouthpieces to present the science. You’re not supposed to care about them. Or find them interesting. If you do, that’s a bonusnot a requirement. Blah blah blah, you read the book for the message, not for the characters, who cares if they’re shallow, etc etc etc.

Reading over this led me to this post. Where I’m going to say something flat-out.

That stance? That characters don’t matter? It’s wrong. From start to finish. This isn’t even a matter of opinion. That’s why the survey sprang to mind. That survey said that people do care about characters, that people are invested in how characters act and why. And do you know why?

Because they are! Great characters make stories come to life! They sell stories. Not science or social messages. Those can be pandered anyone in a deadpan monotone and still find their audience of those already subscribed to the idea. But a story? That takes characters.

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Being a Better Writer: Less is More? The Art of Cutting in Editing

Welcome, readers, to something new!

Have you noticed what it is yet? I’ll give you a clue. Check the sidebar. Even if you had adblock, it’ll be a little different. Still not sure? Check the address at the top of the page.

Yes, that’s right. Unusual Things is no longer tied to another domain. Welcome, readers, to maxonwriting.com! Clicking the link, by the way, will bring you right back to the front page, so it might be utterly pointless to do so at this time. But Unusual Things now is its own site!

Which is why the ads are gone. I never saw them unless I tricked the site into thinking I wasn’t the administrator, but I do recall being quite annoyed with their placement (especially as they shoved my “Latest Release” box out of sight). But they’re gone now, because the site is mine, at its own domain!

Okay, they might be back, butat that point they’ll be ads choose, and in locations of my choice. And I’d be making the revenue off them, which isn’t a bad thing. As someone who hates obtrusive ads, though, you can bet I’ll be placing them where they will cause the least annoyance. Top billing here at Unusual Things is forever going to be the content I offer, like Being a Better Writer and my latest books.

Okay, some of you might be wondering what this means for you, aside from maybe some annoying ads vanishing. Simple: Unusual Things is now much easier to share.

Remember what the address was before? When it was at the wordpress domain? maxviking.wordpress.com. Not exactly the best (or easiest) address to give via word of mouth.

Maxonwriting.com, though, is. Max on writing, dot-com. Boom. Takes people right to the front page. Know someone looking for writing advice? Max on writing dot-com. Okay, it’s not as easy as Max viking dot-com, but I made the mistake of searching to see if that domain was open, and immediately someone snapped it up. So Max on writing dot-com it is.

Okay, I’m spending a large amount of today’s BaBW post’s lead-in on this, but there’s one more change that this opens up: Unusual Things is no longer limited to simple, straightforward web design.

First, immediate, caveat: I am not a web designer. I’ve done some graphic design stuff … but extremely tangentially, and I would not claim to be a graphic designer. Unusual Things‘ design is simple and plain, which is good … but it could look smoother.

Don’t expect any changes immediately. I have a few small ideas in mind, but right now, the site is going to stay looking pretty much the same as I experiment with the new tools at my disposal to see what I can and can’t do. I would like the site to look a bit cleaner and more professional, but I’m not about to dive all over giving it wild fonts and appearances. Unusual Things needs to be kept simple and clean above all else, easy and unobtrusive.

Right, that’s the news. At least, all the news for today. Check back tomorrow for even more news. Yes, I have been busy lately, why do you ask?

Bah, moving along! It’s time to talk about writing! Well, sort of. Editing, actually. Today’s topic is an interesting one from the list. I can’t recall when it got on there, only that it had to do with a discussion somewhere about the challenges of editing, but it was one of those topics that came up that instantly made me think: Oh, that’d be a good one to talk about.

Now, you’ve probably guessed what it is if you’ve even glanced at the title. Today we’re talking about editing, and we’re talking about one of the more difficult parts of it: cutting stuff.

I’m going to start right away by throwing down a gauntlet: You will cut stuff when you edit your story. If you don’t, you’ve probably done something horribly wrong.

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Being a Better Writer: Writing About Injuries

Hello readers, and welcome to … Topic. List. Eleven!

Okay, so it’s probably not such a big deal for those of you who are newcomers or aren’t sitting on my end of the keyboard, but on this side knowing that I’ve made it through ten of these sheets of paper with Being a Better Writer topics on them is a little awe-inspiring. This marks the fifth year of writing these, and from the look if it, I’m not going to run out of topics anytime soon.

So then, let’s talk injuries. Specifically, writing about them, why we write about them, and some of the different ways we can use them in our writing, for good or bad.

Actually, we’re going to tackle this in not quite that order. First up, why write about injury? Why should we be concerned with keeping track of our characters pains and aches, especially if they’re not “important” to the story?

Well, as you can probably guess by the quotes around “important” in that last paragraph, I’d disagree entirely, regardless of the type of story that we’re writing. That’s right, injury and pain are just as important in a story that’s a Regency Romance as they are in a story that’s an action-adventure novel. Do you know why?

Because pain and injury, minor or major, are a part of life. They’re as much as it sounds strange to say it this way, a unique flavor that’s a part and parcel of the experience. Ask yourself how many times you’ve stubbed a toe, burned a finger or palm, or suffered a cut or scrape across your arm. In all likelihood, you probably can’t even remember a large number of those times … but you still know that they happened because they’re part of the experience of life.

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Being a Better Writer: Holidays

Hey there readers! Quick note before I let you go on: Don’t forget that we’re currently undergoing a Topic Call for Topic List 11! That’s right, Being a Better Writer‘s topics of choice don’t just spring from my head, but from yours as well! Got a writing topic you want to hear about (or hear more on)? Then hit the link and let me know, and I’ll add it to the list! Do it now while it’s still open!

Right! Got that out of your system? Ready to move ahead? Then let’s go! No sense beating around the bush today; we’re diving right in!

So, Holidays! What on Earth am I talking about when it comes to Holidays?

No, I’m not talking about the practice of going on holiday yourself (to use the British term for it), though we have touched on it before (take a break every so often, readers, and keep moderation in all things!). No, I want to talk about holidays in your story.

This is an obscure bit of world-building that doesn’t come up that often, but I want to bring it up for that reason exactly. So let me start with a question: When was the last time you read a book, story, whatever that talked about a holiday that the characters and cast celebrated or revered. Can you think of one?

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