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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Being a Better Writer: Keeping a Short Story Short

Hello readers! Welcome back after a spectacular Life, The Universe, and Everything writing convention! I hope you were able to attend, or if not, that you’ll be checking their youtube channel to see what’s posted as they upload panel recordings! The experience was incredible!

It was not without risks, however. Such as the dreaded “con crud” (aka you’ve just been exposed to around a dozen different colds and you’re low on sleep), so today’s post is going to be a little shorter than normal. No news, possibly some flat-brained typos, but I’m getting it done! So then, let’s talk about keeping your short story short.

This was a topic that actually came up in one of the LTUE panels I was on, in a roundabout way. An audience member asked about keeping short stories short stories, and said that they’d been told the best way to do it was to think of a short story as either the first or final chapter of a story. In other words, they explained, it either set up a beginning, or tied off an ending.

That’s actually a pretty good way to think of it, provided you’re thinking of a story where everything that can come before is capable of getting squeezed into that one chapter (though yes, that’s more important for a story that’s the “end” of something than the beginning, as one sets up and the other ties together).

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Being a Better Writer: Learning From Other Authors’ Books

Readers! The time has come! The magnificence is upon us! It. Is. Here!

What am I talking about? Why LTUE of course! Life, The Universe, and Everything! The convention for writing Science-Fiction and Fantasy! It’s this week! February 13th-15th!

Yes, most of you have probably already heard of it since I have been mentioning it fairly frequently for the last month. But as it is this week, this is the last time for reminders. Come to LTUE and feast (metaphorically, we need those brains, plus at this con a zombie outbreak would be met with a shrug) on the knowledge of hundreds of professional authors!

Myself included! Yes, I will be there, speaking on several panels as well as attending the launch of A Dragon and Her Girl! And doing a reading from my short in said collection the next day! In addition, I’ll also be at the general signing, so if you’re grabbing a copy to sell, well …

I’ll also be around the con the whole time I’m not on a panel, having fun or even attending other panels. If you’re on the lookout for me, I’ll be sporting a tan shirt that says “Ask me about my book” (perfect, right). Feel free to speak up, catch my attention and say hello! As long as I’m not running to one of the panels I’m on, I’m always willing to chat for a bit and say hello!

By the way, if you’re attending LTUE and looking over the panels in joyful glee of figuring out where you want to be and when, check out my schedule here if you want to make sure you can make it to the panels I’m on. I hope to see you there!

Now, in the spirit of the week, I thought I’d cover a less common but no less useful topic this time for Being a Better Writer: learning from works written by other authors.

This is something that I’ve written about before, or at least touched on, in various BaBW posts, this concept that reading other authors’ works can be a bit like picking up a textbook on how to write. But since this week is all about learning right from those authors, I figured it was about time to do a post on it. After all, if you can’t make it to LTUE, and can’t watch any of the videos that will go online on their YouTube page, that doesn’t mean you still can’t learn from the massive amount of authors that will be there, albeit indirectly.

So then, how does one learn about writing by reading someone else’s book?

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Being a Better Writer: Getting by on as Little Detail as Possible

Hello there readers! Welcome back to Being a Better Writer! I hope you’ve all had a great weekend, got some fun reading done. I certainly did. I made a jaunt to my local library, picked up, and have already read through one of the books I knew I needed to bring up at one of my panels at LTUE. Which is a good segue into some quick news reminders about LTUE. It’s almost upon us, people! In fact, it’s just over a week away! So you’re pretty much at the last chance grab your registration in advance! If you don’t now, you’d best be prepared to pay your way in at the door!

Once you’re there, though, you’ll have a veritable smorgasbord of writing advice and guidance available to you from hundreds of panels, all of which you can see in a grid here (PDF warning; it’ll likely download on a mobile). By the way, some of those panels? I’m on them! So swing by if you’re at LTUE, as they’re some excellent panels on excellent writing topics!

Now, with the LTUE reminder taken care of, let’s get down to business with today’s post. Today I wanted to talk about getting by on as little detail as possible. Or, from my perspective, one of the core components of a short story.

Okay, I realize that might sound a bit strange to some of you. And others might be nodding. Or wondering about other core components of short stories, which there definitely are a few of (for example, a really core one is a story that fits inside a short … which is another topic for another time).

But getting by on as little detail as possible is key for keeping a short story, well, short. See, it’s one thing in a book to have a character come into a setting and take a quick look around it, noting who is present and who’s speaking to who, or perhaps what the setting itself looks like. After all, with a traditional book you’ve got hundreds of pages waiting to be filled, so spending a hundred words establishing a setting for the next few pages? Not such a big deal. In fact, it’s expected.

For a short story, however, where you’re limited in both space and wordcount, taking those hundred words to describe a setting or a scene? Suddenly they’re a much larger blow against the “budget” of space you have to work with. And if you go ahead and write as though you have all the space available to you as one normally would, upon reaching the end you might find that your “short story,” initially directed to be around a few-thousand words, is now nearing novella size.

Whoops.

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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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