Being a Better Writer: Unbelievable Reality

Ever heard of a film called To Hell and Back? No?

I’m not surprised. The film came out a long time ago. 1955, to be exact. It’s a World-War II movie chronicling the exploits of one Audie Murphy.

Do you recognize that name? Some of you are likely shaking your heads, while a few others are nodding vigorously. You see, Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II and remains one of the most decorated soldiers of all time. Exploit after exploit was attached to his name. Naturally, the kind of man you’d want to make a Hollywood blockbuster about, right? That was To Hell and Back.

Well, here’s the interesting thing about this movie they made. You would likely expect that a story about a war hero (or anyone, really) coming out of Hollywood would be heavily edited and dramatized, right? Hence the “based on a true story” nonsense that usually means that there was probably a person somewhere who did something similar to this, but its so disconnected you might as well be watching pure fiction.

Well, you’d be right. The movie wasn’t exactly like the real story.

It was, actually, less amazing.

That’s right, the movie was toned down. And I don’t mean that they shied away from the violence or the horrors of war, no. It was that they looked at Audie Murphy’s life and said ‘no one will believe this, it’s too fantastic’ and then toned the film down, downplaying some of the man’s heroism and accomplishments. All because they were certain audiences, despite the event’s truths, wouldn’t believe them for the stories they were.

Today, in that vein, we’re talking about knowing your audience, and the challenges associated with the possible.

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Op-Ed – Fixing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Sometimes those of you who peruse this site may find it easy to forget that I’m actually quite the gamer.

No no, it’s true. I’ve got a game list longer than my arm (and most other arms for that matter) and a backlog that would give an accountant fits. I like video games. Multiple genres, multiple titles, multiple systems. Right now? I’m playing through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and loving every minute (yes, it is every bit as fantastic a reinvention of an open-world game as the reviews claim).

Anyhow, being a gamer, I’ve got some favorite series I adore. And one of these is the titular Borderlands series.

Borderlands is an interesting one. Think Mad Max meets Diablo, in an FPS, in a distant Sci-Fi setting, and now throw in a bunch of kooky, dark humor, and you’ve kind of got the gist of it. Borderlands takes place on an abandoned mining world where (initially at least, since there are now four games in the series) crazed bandits (the descendants of prison convicts who were turned loose when a mining operation up and left) roam the desert landscape alongside monstrous alien life forms, as “Vault Hunters” battle both to try and track down a legendary alien cache of tech rumored to be somewhere.

It gets complicated fast, surprisingly. And there’s more to it, but that’s the gist of it. Anyway, the result is a fun universe I happen to enjoy with a lot of kooky humor, memorable characters … and plenty of shooting.

Anyway, what’s that got to do with today’s post? Well … today I want to talk about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Yes, you read that right. That kooky humor extends to the titles as well.

In any case, I want to talk about TPS—specifically one of the things it got tragically wrong, and how it could have been fixed.

Hey hey, don’t click away yet. This thing that I want to talk about? It’s a writing problem. After all, this is a writing site. That’s most often what I talk about here. So this is writing related. I’m going to discuss what went wrong … and how the developers of TPS could have avoided it.

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Being a Better Writer: What Makes a Protagonist?

All right. So, yesterday’s incarnation of this post, to what is now great irony, started with a worried critique of WordPress’ freshly rolled out posting interface. To be specific, it critiqued the poor interface design, but also noted with a faint hint of worry that something so new was bound to have some surprises of a possibly unpleasant variety.

Oh, did it ever. The posting interface glitched out completely at the conclusion of my article, not only refusing to allow it to be posted, but also not letting me copy-paste it to save it. Worse, the manual “save draft” button had been removed altogether for the standard autosave. It used to have both, but I guess they thought having a manual draft save was too confusing. Either way, the autosave feature had also bugged out after I’d hit return on the first paragraph.

The end result was, well, the loss of the entire post. A post that had worried at the start about such an eventuality possibly happening. What can I say? WordPress has changed several times now, and each time I’ve been less than impressed.

Thankfully, today’s post should not have any problems (crosses fingers). After contacting WordPress via Twitter, one of the cofounders drew my attention to a “Admin” button that allows one to access the old, default posting suite. Which I think I’ll be using from now on, as it’s the more functional of the  two current options. I’d like to use the middle one, as that had some nice Twitter-tie-in functionality, but I’ll take losing that but being able to post over the inverse.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get down to business on this now twice-delayed topic, eh?

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Being a Better Writer Delayed, But Not By Me

So … there was a Being a Better Writer post today. A post in which I, quite ironically, griped about the sudden and bad change to WordPress’ posting format. Without warning, the whole thing has been rebuilt, in a much worse form than before that’s hidden useful features behind submenus, requires multiple clicks where one sufficed, etc.

So, anyway, using this new system, I wrote up a whole 1800-word post on Protagonists. Good stuff. Then I hit submit.

Error. Cannot post. I hit submit again.

Error. Cannot post. No reason given. This isn’t good.

So, like any sensible chap, what do I do? I hit CTRL+A to select everything and then try to copy.

Cannot copy. WHAT!?!?

Yeah, apparently you can no longer “save” your post from wordpress’ clutches by copy pasting. And the save feature was bugged too. So you can guess what happened.

That’s right. WordPress ate the entire post. All 1800 words. I couldn’t save it. I couldn’t even Copy-Paste it.

I am … extremely agitated right now. This was a good post. And I even tried to save it.

So … sorry, guys. I’m not going to rewrite the entire thing. Not today, at least. I’ve got a book to work on.

Please, if you feel inclined, light up WordPresses Twitter account on this. Not being allowed to CTRL+C a post is stupidity. Especially when their own “save” feature is now, apparently, a buggy “autosave” that stopped functioning after I finished writing the first paragraph.

Being a Better Writer: Digging Deeper With Characters

Yes! Being a Better Writer has returned to Monday!

Honestly, I think I just got lucky this week in not being called into work today, but even so, it feels good to be working on BaBW on a Monday again! This is the day when it’s supposed to go down … Well, up, technically.

Today is also the first day we’ll be going off of Topic List IX! That’s right, new list, new topics!

Which brings us to today’s topic of choice: digging deeper with characters!

This is a topic I actually only added to the list recently, in light of some of my own reading experiences. You see, about a week ago I stumbled across a short story and blitzed through it, only to end up thoroughly nonplussed.

I’ll be frank. It wasn’t a very well written story. The dialogue was poor, the grammar even less impressive, the pacing nonexistent, tell instead of show everywhere, etc, etc. It was clearly someone’s first or second work … more likely the former. So lots of issues, both little and large. That’s just how a first work goes, though.

Anyway, the issue that stood out most to me, however, was the one around which the “crux” of the story itself resolved. The story was centered around two characters, one trying to get to know some secrets about the other in order to be less “alone” (essentially). But … it completely fell flat. And since this was the purpose of the story (these two characters interacting), everything else that was wrong with the work sort of fell by the wayside in the path of this largest omission. Sure, there were pacing problems, grammar issues, etc, but the core that the story wanted to deliver, nay, promised to deliver, that of a character-driven piece, was completely whiffed.

Why? Simple: It didn’t give its characters any narrative depth or weight. They were simply … pieces, for lack of a better word. Static markers being moved along a timeline. They reacted and they moved, but only in the same way that a game piece moves and reacts. They may have taken a position or “moved” from place to place, but they were still essentially markers for “Character A” and “Character B,” with little nuance or action outside of that.

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Two Years Online: Looking Back and Racing Forward

What’s that? A special event? You’re right!

As of yesterday, Unusual Things has passed its second annual landmark. That’s right, as of March 2nd, 2017, Unusual Things is now two whole years old!

Holy cow. Two whole years. Which means that it’s been over four years since my first book was released. And maybe three, three-and-a-half since I started writing posts about writing that would transform (or evolve, take your pick) into a weekly series called Being a Better Writer.

But the work hasn’t stopped there, either. Since the creation of this site, I’ve released several new books, completed drafts on a few more yet to arrive, started a Patreon account … and who knows what all else. I’m probably forgetting a few things.

It’s been a busy year. Few years, really.

Anyway, my point is that it’s the second anniversary of the site! And you know what that means!

Stats! Oh yes. It’s time to dig in and see how the site has done compared to the first year, and how it’s doing overall! So, to start—

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Being a Better Writer: Micro-Blast #4

Welcome back, readers, to yet again another Monday Being a Better Writer post that has obviously been relegated to Tuesday. Someday I’ll make enough money from my writing to be able to give up my part-time job, but right now … if they want me on Mondays, they unfortunately have me.

So, this week we’re doing another Micro-Blast! New? Wondering what a “Micro-Blast” is an what it has to do with writing? Thoughts already jumped to something non-writing related already, like those tiny fruit snacks with juice in them?

Okay, maybe I’m just hungry. Anyway, a Micro-Blast is something that usually happens as I near the end of another topic list. This being a real, physical list that I keep on my desk and consult each week to select a topic for the upcoming post. The topics on this list are collected from a variety of sources, usually anything that makes me think “Hey, that would be a good BaBW topic,” but also from readers that write in with questions and requests.

Anyway, these topics can often vary in the amount of effort needed to address them. Sometimes it’s simply a topic where I’d be better suited saying my piece and pointing readers elsewhere, other times it’s just a quick answer that isn’t really deserving of a full break-down on it’s own, but at least merits a paragraph or two, and sometimes it’s just a topic I haven’t done much thought about, and therefore needs more research before I can weigh in one way or another. And then, of course, there are the topics that don’t have any of those issues, and I can write a full post on.

But at the end of a list, what results is often a small collection of leftover topics, a hdgepodge of tiny summaries that, for whatever reason, never got posts on their own.

Micro-Blast BaBW posts are the answer to these small collections of topics. A way to “finish off” each topic list by rapid-fire tackling each remaining issue with a small posting of its own.

So, this said, it’s time to finish off, once and for all, Topic List 8 so that next week, I can start anew with Topic List 9! Which also means you can expect a post later this week asking for suggestions for the list. I’ve got a bundle of my own from the recent LTUE conference, but as always, reader suggestions are a welcome way to add topics.

Anyway, enough rambling! Let’s clear this list!

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