Being a Better Writer: What Makes a Fantasy?

Hello writers!

You know, if I’m honest it feels like it’s been more than a week since the last Being a Better Writer. That’s probably because I had numerous days last week where I was up well past midnight on account of editing Starforge. One week kind of stretched into two.

But, the good news, as many of you saw Saturday, is that Starforge will be going into Copy-Edit this week. Which also means that yes, pre-orders will be opening at last.

This also means that the long-promised pricing adjustment for the rest of my books is on its way, so if you’re looking to grab anything before the prices go up to reflect the last ten years, do so now. Though again, the whole point of this pricing adjustment is to bring the prices in line with inflation-adjusted prices based on paperback prices from 1994. There’s gonna have to be a new post about this to update the old The Price We Pay article.

Anyway, lots to come in the next few weeks. You know, including Starforge itself at long last. You’re all finally going to be able to get it! So keep watching this space.

But right now? Let’s talk about today’s Being a Better Writer topic.

Tackling discussion of a whole genre has always been a dicey proposition, not that we haven’t done it before. BaBW has discussed Science-Fiction, Westerns, and Mystery in posts prior, and each of those is a pretty broad genre all said and done. Especially Science-Fiction, which is both broad and controversial these days (some of the arguments I’ve seen over what is or isn’t Sci-Fi online …).

Fantasy is just as broad a genre, really, though many don’t think of it as such. Which is in part why we’re going to be talking about it today.

So hit the jump, and let’s talk about what makes something a Fantasy. I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t magic.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Planning and Executing Heavy Worldbuilding

Welcome back, writers! It’s Monday, and it’s also Halloween! Not usually a vacation holiday, so I don’t plan on taking one. You know, as evidenced by the fact that you’re looking at this post right now.

But before we get talking about writing for this week and wrap up October, I do have one little tidbit to remind you all of: Dead Silver is on sale for 99 cents until midnight tonight! This spooky little (it’s a full novel, but by my standard) tale is perfect for Halloween and hey, it was my second published book, so it’s got a soft place in my heart. Following Hawke Decroux as he heads out to the sleepy New Mexican mining town of Silver Dreams to help Jacob Rocke catch a chupacabra, things soon take a turn for the worse, Silver Dreams seemingly caught in events more out of a nightmare than a dream.

Like I said, 99 cents until Halloween is over. You can click the link above or click the cover on the right. Either way, I hope you have a spooky and thrilling—in a good way—Halloween!

Now, with that all said, this is still a post about writing, so how about we get down to it? Today we’re going back to a classic topic that’s on a lot of minds. So much so, in fact, that the tag for it on the site is … substantial, to put it lightly.

But it’s a commonly discussed topic for a multitude of reasons, one being that it’s such a vast topic, but second to that because a lot of writers find it to be both a major source of inspiration and a major stumbling block in equal measure. Thus, it will not be a surprise to many of you to learn that today’s topic is a reader request from our last topic call!

So, let’s get down to it. Let’s talk about heavy worldbuilding. The in-depth, up-to-your-elbows-in-it sort of stuff. But with one gigantic context: making it useful, and then executing on that vision to craft a story, not just a bunch of excess files cluttering up a hard drive somewhere.

Hit that jump. Let’s talk worldbuilding.

Continue reading

The “Ikea of Games” and Why Axtara is Such a Success

Hey writers! Got a short post for you today. Yesterday, after I wrapped up Being a Better Writer and started on some chores I had to take care of, I finally put on a video that had been sitting in my watch-later queue for quite some time and was immediately struck by the lessons in the video that apply to writing.

Specifically, this video explains why Axtara has been such a success, flying so far so quickly. As some of you might have gathered, sales numbers have been on my mind lately, as I’m pushing to reach that “10,000 total sales in ten years” number after finding out how close I was about a month ago.

Anyway, before I pontificate too much further, I’m going to link embed this video and encourage any of you writers who are looking at or wondering about your own sales numbers to take a look. This talk was given at the 2017 Game Developers Conference, or GDC, and so while it’s talking about lessons one can take towards game development from Ikea, it actually applies incredibly well toward writing and selling books. Give it a watch below the break.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: A Long-Term Relationship – Part Two

Welcome back writers. We’re back with another Being a Better Writer post on exactly that topic, and aside from a small news blurb to stick in front of it, we’re going to get right down to things!

So, what’s the news? Two smaller items. First: I have a sore throat and a bit of a head cold. So this post might have a few more typos that slip by than normal, and for that I apologize. A chance of small typos is better than no post, I think.

Second, those of you who have replied or posted regarding the Starforge Beta Call may have noticed that there have not been e-mails sent out in response with the Beta Chapter List. This is because polishing of the last few chapters took a little more time than I anticipated. That said, everything I saw over the weekend says that the additional smoothing has been well worth the effort, and I can do the final checks and start putting out the Beta chapters now. Apologies for the delay, but with a finale like this, getting everything to land just right is important.

Which, in a way, does feed into today’s Being a Better Writer post. I said last week that most probably would be surprised by the topic, and expect something a bit more in the vein of today’s post, and noted that we would indeed get to that. Well, here we are. We have arrived at that point. Where last week we talked about writing a long-term relationship and showing it to the reader, this week we’re going to be discussing your long-term relationship with writing, as a hobby or as a career, and what that means for, well, everything.

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

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer Topic Call: What Do YOU Want to See?

Surprise! This isn’t an ordinary Being a Better Writer bit. Many of you likely guessed that based on the day (Friday versus the traditional Monday), and you’re right.

That’s because this isn’t your usual BaBW post, it’s a Topic Call!

What’s a Topic Call, you may ask? It’s an opening of the floodgates for readers to suggest their own writing topics they’d like to learn more about for future Being a Better Writer installments.

In other words: What do you want to see Being a Better Writer talk about? What writing topics do you wish to see addressed or brought up? What sort of questions do you have about, well, writing?

Topic List #19 is about exhausted, which means that it is time to start assembling a new list. I’ve got ideas for forthcoming articles, but what about you?

This is your chance. If there’s an aspect of writing you’d like to see Being a Better Writer discuss (or, if it’s been more than five years since the last post on a topic, revisited), what is it? Post your suggestions in the comments, and get your question answered in a future BaBW post!

Merry Christmas, So Have Some Christmas Cutting Room Floor Peeks!

Merry Christmas folks! Yes, I know I’m on vacation, but this post is a good idea. See, last week a reader posted saying that since they’re not getting a new Axtara book this Christmas (Christmas is magic, but not that magic) they’d love to see some of the cut content that doesn’t make it into final books or stories from across my library.

Personally, I thought that it was a pretty good idea! I do have a pretty solid collection of cut scraps, partial stories that never went anywhere, material that got cut, chopped, completely rebuilt, etc. And that sort of thing is pretty popular these days. You can watch blooper reels or cut scenes from films, look at sketches of scenes for animation or graphic novels that were cut and never made it, and I do have a decent amount of that stuff!

So today I’m going to share it with you. Those of you that have read the final products, you’re definitely going to see some serious differences on show here, and not because of editing—though in that regard, yes be aware that some of this stuff is old as well as unedited and raw. Which could be one reason it was cut.

Anyway, let’s dive through the cutting room floor of writing and take a look at some snippets from original drafts, cut content, and stories that didn’t make it! Merry Christmas, and enjoy!

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Handling Stress

Welcome back readers! To the first Being a Better Writer post of 2021! Which … almost didn’t happen today. And not just because of the computer (which I’ll update you all on in a moment). No, because of the other event that happened last Wednesday in the US. You know, the big one where a bunch of rioters stormed the US capital in an attempt to forcefully change the election results.

Yeah. That one. There will be a post about that. But just in case any of you were wondering, I’m firmly among the opposition to what those people did. It was outright rebellion. And I would have said something on it immediately, save that my computer was down, and incapable of making a post of the length this topic deserved. I almost wanted to push Being a Better Writer back a week and use today to talk about it, but … One way you beat individuals like that is by proving that they ended up having less of an impact than they wanted. So I’ll talk about them later this week (assuming my computer holds up), but for today? BaBW is still on!

Now, about that computer. Yes, I’m at my keyboard again. And while it’s not 100%, it’s functional enough for me to finish the print requirements for Axtara – Banking and Finance.

So what happened? Well, it was a two-fold strike. The first hit was that … Well, let me explain the parts first. For those of you not in the know, everything on a computer goes through a central processing unit, or CPU. It’s like the engine of a car, only more so. You can’t push a computer along if a CPU goes out. CPU’s generate a lot of heat in operation, so there is a cooling apparatus set on top of them, and a thermal paste between the two that helps conduct the heat into the cooling system.

Well, problem #1 was that my thermal paste had largely dried out over the last few years of living in a desert. And as a result, it wasn’t transmitting heat evenly or well. So when the computer went under a sudden load, such as with a hefty game … the CPU could trip the warning heat sensors and the computer would shut down out of safety (don’t want a valuable CPU melting, which will happen otherwise). Until the heat cooled, it wouldn’t restart.

So that was problem #1. Cleaning off the old concrete-like dried thermal paste and replacing it with new, fresh stuff fixed that problem. A complete diagnostic scan of the CPU showed that no damage had been done, thankfully (yay safeguards). But then there was issue #2, and the other problem: my secondary hard drive was failing.

Explanation: Computers can have a number of internal drives to store information and move it around. I have three. My primary, and boot drive, only for windows. A secondary that was cannibalized from older builds that held my music and various things, and a third that is much larger I acquired a few years ago.

That second drive? Around 15 years old. Most drives last 5-10. And Windows was using it as a page file (basically spare ram), meaning any time there was a lot of data being moved around, Windows would read and write on the drive. Plus, my listening to music … the drive was wearing out and going bad. And SATA (the tech used to access the drive) panics when it encounters bad sectors.

Basically? The moment a bad sector came along with the computer accessing that drive, down the system went down hard.

So is it fixed? Well … mostly. As I have another drive, I can rip the old one out. However, Windows may have put some vital files on there, so doing so may cause me to need to repair my copy of Windows, which is always dicey. So before that happens, I’m going to get the print copy of Axtara proofed since right now I can do that. In the meantime (and how I’ve avoided the problem), I had Windows do a checkdisk on the bad drive, and it’s identified the currently bad sectors and won’t touch them. Won’t stop new ones from occurring, but I’ve also moved everything that was using that drive off of it and onto the other larger one. For now, this will have to do, and I won’t be letting this computer do any heavy lifting until I get that drive removed and things smoothed out (no gaming on this PC for a while, which is killer).

So, that’s where things stand right now. I’d like to replace the dead drive with an equal sized SSD, but that’s not explicitly needed and budget right now is tight, as one might guess. But the computer is up and running, and I checked to make sure that everything was backed up (and nothing book-related was on the old drive anyway, just so you know).

All right, so that’s the news. Today, once this is done, I’ll be sizing the cover for the print proof of Axtara. Exciting stuff!

Anyway, with that all said … let’s talk about today’s topic, shall we? Which I felt was extremely topical given the last week. I’ll start with a question: any of you want to guess how much sleep I lost last week trying to figure out the source of my computer problems so I could get back to work?

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Doing Good Research

Hello again readers! I hope you’re well and healthy. Me? A little funky. Really tired. No other symptoms that—to my knowledge—line up with Covid-19, but I’m considering if I feel funky tomorrow calling and scheduling a test anyway, just to be on the save side. And if it isn’t going to bankrupt my bank account.

Anyway, I hope none of you feel funky, but are staying in feeling healthy and hale. Watch that pandemic people! Do your part to fight the menace and stay home.


And with that, I’m going to dive right into today’s topic. Which, if you’re a long-time reader of Being a Better Writer, is one of the more common recurring topics. It wouldn’t be, except that time and time again so many authors, editors, and publishers get it wrong, or don’t even bother to try getting it right.

Note: This may be short. I feel funky.

For example, some of you may recall a hilarious error earlier this year when a historical novel released to the world from a major publisher … only for readers to quickly notice that a segment on dying cloth had some very interesting ingredients listed. Such as “keese’s wing” or “Lizalfos tail.”

If you’re not familiar with those odd-sounding items, it’s because they’re not real, and certainly didn’t exist back in ancient Greece or Persia or whatever either. They’re ingredients from the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild video game, which had just come out when the author was writing the book. So when they Googled “Making X color dye” one of the most popular results at the moment was a guide for making the dye in Breath of the Wild using these fantasy ingredients.

Now, you’d think that someone would have noticed the video game screenshots, or maybe the address of the webpage, maybe checked the credentials of the site offering this information, but no. None of that was done. Instead this “historical” novel passed by a pack of Trad pub editors and readers with not a single person questioning “Keese’s wing” or any of the other ingredients as appearing in a dye, nor the very simple, video-game methods by which said dye was prepared (combine in pot, apply).

End result? A lot of embarrassment for the publisher and the author when they had to admit that they hadn’t checked things as closely as they should have. And the rest of the “historical novel” was suddenly under suspicion, because if the author couldn’t be bothered to check if the dying process wasn’t from a video game, what else in the novel hadn’t been properly researched? Were bandits going to set upon travelers with the warcry “Never should have come here?”

Thing is, this isn’t an isolated incident. This kind of thing happens all the time. It would seem that most Trad pubs are interested in getting a book out as quickly as possible over doing, say, actual editing and checking things for accuracy, even in Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

“Accuracy?” you might say. “In Sci-Fi and Fantasy?” Yes, actually, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, while being fantastic, still subscribe to certain rules. If you’re writing Sci-Fi, for example, you’ll want to run the numbers on your science, and make certain that they actually make sense.

For example, a recent Sci-Fi release from a major publisher featured an astonishingly glaring oversight when it came time for the author to describe the muzzle velocity of their new weapons. They described—get ready for this one—a railgun autocannon on an atmospheric fighter that fired rounds at .1c. That is, for those of you who don’t use “c” often enough, ten percent the speed of light (“c” being the speed of light).

In atmosphere.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: The Expectation of Instant Success

I’ll lead with a fun fact: This post was originally going to be an OP-ED last week, until I was barely into writing it and already switching into “and here’s how this comes up in writing,” at which point I realized that this was becoming a Being a Better Writer post despite what I had originally presumed about it. So it shifted over to the Topic List, and today … Well, you can clear see.

All right, so we’re diving in without a preamble: What on Earth—or whatever world you happen to be reading this on—is this all about? Most of you reading the title are probably going to guess that it’s going to be addressing the creator, and be about “tempering expectations.” And it’s not. We’ll address that briefly, but instead this post is going to be coming from a slightly different direction: that of the public.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Let’s start at the beginning. Or rather, what the public often sees as the beginning: The publishing of the first book.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading