Being a Better Writer: What is an Antagonist?

Welcome back readers, and a big welcome to the first topic from Topic List #20! Being a Better Writer sure has come a long way since 2013, when it was largely (and effectively) the equivalent of message-board posts responding to fan messages asking writing questions, hasn’t it? Maybe in August of 2023 I should do a ten-year special of some kind. Thankfully, I’ve got a year to think about it. But that does sound like fun.

Ten years of Being a Better Writer in 2023. Sands and Storms, that’s a lot of content. Of course, it didn’t start being weekly. Originally it was just a response to a message asking for writing advice. But the one response inspired more people to send in their writing questions and then before long I was getting a few messages a week, and I started making a list, and the posts started to become regular …

That was nine years ago, and things have definitely changed. The initial “boom” of writing questions died down, though I still get the occasional request through Discord these days or on on the Topic Call posts. Being a Better Writer migrated off of its origin point and onto this site, which also became the main hub for my books and other materials. At the urging of a number of fans, I finally opened a Patreon that, to this day, helps keep the site entirely advertisement free—no pop-ups or intrusive ads over the text here! Being a Better Writer has been sourced, quoted, and cited everywhere from Wikipedia to major education systems, collegiate and public.

It’s come a long way.

Sorry, just sort of got nostalgic there with the whole start of Topic List #20. Side note, readers, but this is another Being a Better Writer post prepped and scheduled in advance, as I’m gearing up for a trip in May. Which … let me check my calendar … I haven’t departed on yet, I think, but hey, I’m getting this ready to go now.

Anyway, let’s talk about today’s topic, and step away from the reminiscing. Today’s topic is one most of you will likely recognize from a few weeks ago, when we talked about villains and how to make them deliver on their premise.

Well, one thing that came up over the course of that discussion was a small segment on the difference between a villain and an antagonist. The reason for that segment being that a lot of people—even critics—tend to use both terms interchangably. It’s not at all uncommon to see a review, for instance, refer to the villain of a piece as the “antagonist” or vice-versa.

But there’s a real problem with using these two terms interchangeably: They’re not the same thing. A villain is not automatically an antagonist, nor is an antagonist automatically a villain. As stated in the villain discussion, it’s like the old logic statement: Some villains are antagonists, and some antagonists are villains, but not all villains are antagonists, and not all antagonists are villains.

Worse, using them interchangeably like this is actually kind of harmful, as it blurs the lines for those who may not realize that there’s a very clear difference between the two identities. For a comparison, imagine a car magazine reviewing a new vehicle, but clearly treating rally cars as identical to rock-crawling cars, simply because both can traverse rough unpaved roads. Yes, both can, but they’re also very different kinds of cars.

Villains and antagonists are the same way: They have similar positions in a story sometimes, and can even overlap into the same character, making a villain antagonist. But they are not the same, and not understanding that can lead to confusion both in the writing and in the explaining of the story.

Look, if you take one thing away from this post, let it be this: An antagonist is not a villain. There is no requirement that an antagonist be villainous at all. They are separate character roles that can be combined into one, but don’t have to be.

You ready to break this down in depth? Then hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: The Importance of Experimentation

Hello readers, and welcome back for another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Confession time: This post was actually written early, as will be the next few week’s worth of Being a Better Writer posts, as I am going to be out of town for a few weeks in May. I’m getting a head start, in other words.

So, with little to no knowledge of the news that will be occurring at the time of post outside of “Hey, I’m planning on being away, Alpha Readers on Starforge get a blissful few weeks to rush ahead of me” there’s not too much reason to say anything other than “Let’s talk writing!”

So let’s talk writing! And the importance of experimenting. Hit that jump!

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Being a Better Writer: Good Ideas and Avoiding the Bad Execution

Welcome back readers, to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! How were your weekends? Relaxed and enjoyable, I hope? Mine turned out pretty good, despite an illness dominating the days leading into it. Work continued, even during parts of said illness, on Starforge. This book is going to be a blast, folks!

Aside from that, there isn’t much news to discuss, so I think I’m just going to dive right into today’s topic, which is … a bit of an interesting one.

Let’s start with some background information, shall we? Before on the site—many times, actually—we’ve talked about the writing concept that there are no bad ideas, just bad executions. That any set of two ideas, no matter how odd-sounding, can be made into a pretty awesome story if one puts in the work. A common example of this being true that has been trotted out time and time again is the excellent Fantasy series The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher, which was written on a dare/challenge over exactly such a topic to combine The Lost Roman Legion with Pokémon and create from it a good story. A challenge that Butcher delivered on, as The Codex Alera is a thrilling series that stretched for five books and was a fantastic read (in my opinion, still his best).

There are other works that have come from similar challenges, of course. The point is, this is a common saying had among writing circles: There are no bad ideas, only bad executions, and even an idea that sounds really dumb could be a really good story.

Could be. Once again this topic came up last week when I published my critique post of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order‘s lackluster combat system, noting that it felt like a disparate element that had been shoved into a setting and scenario where it didn’t fit. On the site Discord, where discussion had been bouncing back and forth for days on the topic, someone asked if this was an example of maybe not every idea working with every other idea, since in my post I’d noted that sometimes two things went together like orange juice and toothpaste.

That question, then, prompted this post. Was Fallen Order a bad idea, or merely a bad execution, and what separates the two? Intrigued, I immediately wrote today’s topic down on the topic list and resolved to immediately tackle it as a BaBW post. Well, once I’d sat and thought about it.

Because in answer to that query, I’d argue that Fallen Order is an example of bad execution (something I did note in the post). Good concept, but too committed to two ideas that didn’t exactly work well together (and then the actual execution widened that rift).

But this started a little cascade in my brain. We’ve talked here again and again about how there are no bad ideas, just bad executions. But have we ever talked about how to keep those ideas from becoming a “bad execution?” Or have we been throwing the advice out there and then just sort of letting readers (and young writers) bumble their way through without any additional guidance?

Today’s post then, is to rectifty that omission. Today, we’re going to talk about what happens when you bring two ideas together, and what will need to be done in order to assure that any two ideas, no matter how disparate, can come together with a “good execution.”

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

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Being a Better Writer: The Importance of Taking the Occasional Break

Morning readers! Well, actually, afternoon. Today’s post is later and a bit shorter. Because … I’ve had a frog in my throat since Friday evening, and while I’m doing pretty well to kick it out, that also means doing what I can to kick it out, and so today after arising and doing my usual morning … I was tired enough that I said “forget it, naptime” and crashed in my living room for another couple of hours.

The good news is that alone left me feeling a lot better. Sleep is powerful when you’re ill. And a frog in the throat isn’t anything deeply worrisome, but it is annoying, and left on its own it can get a lot worse, so I’m doing what I can to kick it out. I can hit midrange notes now (I was restricted to nothing but low tones Saturday evening and Sunday) so bit by bit I’m getting better.

I almost made today a sick day, but let’s be honest, if I was aware enough to read a book while Factorio finished my rocket yesterday, I’m aware enough to do a quick short post for Monday. That, and once I had looked down the list, there was a topic that was definitely worth posting about for today.

But really quickly, before we get into that, I do have some good news from the weekend: Colony picked up a fairly lengthy review on Goodreads! They loved the book, referring to it as an “underdog” that people had clearly slept on, and hoped more people would give it a chance.

Especially nice as the last “review” someone posted to goodreads admitted that they actually hadn’t read it, and just rated it based on what appeared to be some skimming of the first half and the synopsis. Yeah, real professional there.

Anyway, if you want to check out the newest review Colony has picked up, you can check it out here. And yes, the discord channel was amused that the reviewer did get a few early-story details wrong (like the team being hired by SoulComp, not the UN) but it is a huge book with a lot to keep track of, and they still liked it so … whatever!

Speaking of which, if you’d like to join the official Unusual Things Discord Server, The Makalay Camp, you can! Just hit that link there and say hello!

With that all said, let’s talk about today’s topic. Let’s talk about the importance of the occasional break.

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Being a Better Writer: Using Shorts to Explore Character or Setting

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday once again! How’d that happen? The weekend seemed to flash by, but it’s probably partially as a result of me spending a good chunk of my Saturday working on The Minstrel and the Marshall. Which has been edited, trimmed, and revised in a few places … but I think I want to make one more change before I upload it today. A small one tweak before I let others get a look at it.

Still, it’s under the word requirement for Troubadours and Space Princesses now. Which, I remind all of you, only has open submissions for another twenty-four days! If you’d like to submit a story for the collection, check out the requirements and relevant information here!

All right, let’s cover some other relevant news. Starforge editing is hitting hard this week, so I’ll be blitzing through the opening quarter of the book and making changes. I’ll also once again be looking over and possibly retooling my Amazon advertising: For reasons unknown to me, views cratered after March 1st, and I’ve as yet been unable to figure out why, but it’s impacting my bottom line, so figuring it out is a bit vital.

Other than that … there’s not much worth sharing at the moment. Well, maybe one thing. Did you know this site has a Discord channel? It’s true. A channel with various rooms and even people! Now, the link isn’t public, because usually the only time it’s been open to invite people is for live Being a Better Writer Q&A sessions. Basically, like a forum, I’ve rolled it out slowly so that things are overwhelmed with spam or bots (there’s enough of that going on already on the site, hence requirements like emails on comments).

But there is a Discord, and there you can talk about books you’re reading (mine or others), writing, games you’re playing. You know, the usual forum/chatter stuff.

And today? I’m feeling like it’s time to crack the doors open a little. The link will be past the jump, just to put a slight block in the way of spam-bots, but if you’d like to join in, the link will be live for one week! It’s a larger crack than we’ve given the door before, and we’ll see how it goes.

I think that’s about it for news. With all that said, maybe we should talk some writing? Go ahead and hit that jump to find both the aforementioned link to the friendly little Discord, and to get looking at today’s topic.

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Being a Better Writer: How to “Find” a Lost Reader or Editor

Welcome readers, to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! I hope that your weekends were as full of fun and learning as mine was. By Saturday night, my brain felt like a rubber ball that had been stretched, twisted, and then turned into a pretzel before being bounced off of a few walls. This was largely due to information overload thanks to yet another excellent—I would even say stellar—Life, The Universe, and Everything writing symposium. There is no convention quite like LTUE out there in the world, and this year LTUE came back from the previous COVID year with a smash turnout and tons of newcomers eager to expand their writing skill and knowledge.

Yes, it was fantastic. The panels were incredible and covered a massive swath of topics (as you can see if you check out my post-LTUE writeups), the panelists themselves were excited to share their wealth of knowledge no matter how esoteric (and amazing), and the attendees were full of great questions and thirst for writing knowledge.

Top to bottom, absolutely fantastic. If you’ve never made it the LTUE and you’re at all interesting in improving the craft of your writing, you absolutely should put it on your calendar. If you couldn’t make it this year, that is a shame … but there’s always 2023 and beyond. Whether you’re a guest of honor, a panelist, or an attendee, LTUE is the place to be for writing knowledge and experience.

And yes, all copies of Axtara – Banking and Finance and Shadow of an Empire that were available in the vendor hall sold out. I really couldn’t ask for more! Though, if I may talk about my portion of that experience for a moment, there was more. One attendee stopped by the signing booth to tell me how much they had loved Axtara and couldn’t wait for more. Another individual stopped by the vendor booth selling it after buying it the night before to let the proprietor know (which was then passed on to me) that they’d stayed up late the night before reading it and had already almost finished it, and how much they loved it. And at my last panel of the conference, a fellow panelist pulled out her copy, slapped it down on the table next to me, and asked me to please sign it.

Okay, humblebrag over. And I wasn’t trying to brag, honestly. It was just … those were some great highlights from my weekend, and I wanted to share them.

And I guess yeah, if it encourages anyone to mosey on over to my book page and pick up a copy of Axtara or something else, well that doesn’t hurt either.

But enough pontificating! As awesome as LTUE is, we’ve got writing to talk about! And today we’re going to be answering a reader request regarding editors and readers, and what we as writers must do when they get lost.

So hit the jump, and let’s get learning.

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Being a Better Writer: Live Q&A Today! – Now Concluded

Hello readers! If you’re looking for the usual in-depth post, today it shall not appear. Because today Being a Better Writer is going to be live! That’s right, we’re doing another Live Q&A session at 5 PM MST.

What is a BaBW Live Q&A, you might ask? Well, you’re already close with the “asking” bit. Rather than a traditional post, this evening, at 5 PM, the site’s official Discord Channel will be host to a live question and answer session concerning writing.

So yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what most of you were guessing. Using a channel built for specifically this purpose on Discord, readers and followers of the site will be able to ask writing and writing-related questions (it always starts out hyper specific but by the end of the hour usually turns to questions about upcoming books and whatnot) which I will then answer in real time using my actual and very human voice.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Well, save two things.

The first is that it will be held at 5 PM Mountain Standard Time. This means that if you’re in another time zone, you should use a quick internet search to figure out what time 5 PM MST is where you are, because very literally the last two or three times I’ve held one of these, between two to three people showed up just as it was ending, having gotten the time wrong. This is a natural byproduct of having a global audience with differentiated time zones, so it’s not something I can really fix, but if you’re wondering what time 5 PM MST is for you … just take the guesswork out and Google it so you reduce the chances of missing it.

Second: Where is the site’s official Discord? There’s no link on the sidebar (and that’s because it keeps the discord from being overrun by spambot crawlers). There’s not even a link for Patreon Supporters (though that will change soon) For that matter, a few of you might be wondering what Discord is.

The answer to that is that it is a message/chat board. Each “channel” can be further divided into rooms for discussion of topics, and you can run it right in your browser without need for downloading any apps, which is very convenient, especially as it allows for streaming and video chat as well. But you don’t need to know that. All you need to know is that the LINK to the Makalay Camp, Unusual Things‘ official Discord channel, is after the jump, and will be available for the next 24 hours.

So show up there today for the Live Q&A at whatever time is 5 PM MST for you, and let’s talk writing!

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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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Being a Better Writer: Showing Small Character Details

Hello readers! And welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer! A unique installment. For several reasons, in fact! And yes, it has to do with why there was only one post last week on the site.

But first, just a forewarning that today’s post is the last installment of BaBW for the year. Why? Because it’s almost Christmas! And I need my holiday break! There will be a few other posts, but BaBW and other usual content will be on hiatus until the new year.

The second thing that makes today’s post unusual is that it is being written via my phone. Why? Well, it has to do with the lack of a second post last week. See … I threw my back out.

Badly. So badly I couldn’t even crawl. Yeah. It was misery. I got it fixed up today, but one of the doctor’s requests was a twofold “Don’t spend your day sitting” and “get a new office chair” (the old one being a very likely culprit for my problems).

So a new post didn’t happen. And since today’s is “away from keyboard” it means that I am attempting to write this with my phone. And at the mercy of autocorrect.

But if that’s what it takes … Regardless, this post might be home to a few errors more than expected, as well as shorter than is customary. But I’m doing my best here.

So, hit the jump, and let’s get started.

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Being a Better Writer: Fleshing Out Stories and Characters

Welcome back readers! First of all, I apologize for the lateness of the hour with this post. These are supposed to be up in the morning, and it’s something I’ve slipped on further and further over the last few months. One my goals over the coming month is to get that schedule back on track.

Secondly, I am indeed able to report that the same day I posted last week about Stranded (Friday’s post) I did indeed finish off the story. Which means that today I can start going over Alpha Reader feedback, doing some spit and polish, and so forth. I still think it’s a dud, but I’m glad to be done with it all the same and the stuff that I wanted to practice at with it did turn out all right, I think, so it wasn’t a loss.

What does this also mean, however? It means that the Pre-Alpha for Starforge will start this week! That’s right, I’m going to begin poring over Starforge‘s draft at long last and start making nips, tucks, and other fixes and improvements before passing the story on to the Alpha Readers.

Which yes, Alpha Readers, means the book you’ve been clamoring for these last few months is almost in your hands. Be ready, because the last book in the UNSEC Space trilogy is about to arrive at last! Just in time for Christmas!

The rest of you waiting for the epic conclusion to what began in Colony and continued in Jungle will just have to wait a little longer, I’m afraid. The book isn’t going to be out for purchase this year. Next year though …

The only thing I can’t do yet is give you all an estimate as to the full release date. Starforge is massive, about 80,000 words larger than Jungle (which was already a monster), so editing is going to take some time. And as the ultimate peak of the trilogy, I want to make sure it’s shining and brilliant when you all get your hands on it. So, as of right now, no release date outside of “next year” and a confirmation that pre-Alpha work is starting this week.

And that’s the news! A decent chunk of it this time around I would say! Plenty to muse on and get excited over.

But for now? Let’s get talking about writing! This week, we’re talking about fleshing out characters and stories. Which almost sounds a little grotesque if we stop and think about it for a moment, but rest assured it is, like many other things in writing, only a somewhat gross or grim saying.

Boy, we really have a lot of those, don’t we? Ah well, good thing we’re writers! Hit the jump!

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