Being a Better Writer Topic Call!

It’s time again, readers!

Got a topic you’d love to see talked about? A writing concept you’re unsure of or would like to see explored in more depth? Something covered before that you’d like a refresher on?

Post it in the comments! I really could say more, but I thing the title itself is pretty explanatory. It’s time to add to Topic List X!

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Two Patreon Supporter Posts Just Went Up!

Hey! Over here! Listen!

If you’re a supporter of Unusual Things on Patreon, I’ve got good news! Both the sickness-delayed August supporter post and the September supporter post have both just gone live! And even better, both contain never before seen stories. I’m not kidding, one of them was only ever seen by my classmates, and as far as I’m aware, the other has never been seen outside of my own eyes and that of my curious mother, who wanted to see what I was working on.

So yeah, both are old. Both are also, however, predecessors to the Unusuals Universe. No, seriously, you should be able to see the bricks being laid when you’re reading these.

Anyway, you can head on over to the posts page to take a look at both of them! Provided, of course, you’re a supporter. If you’re not, well … You’ll miss out. But hey, never fear. You can always become a supporter and get a look at everything that’s been posted there!

That’s all for now, but October is coming soon! And I’ve got something in mind for that …

Being a Better Writer: The Value of Fiction

First of all, I apologize for the lateness of this post. I had a shift at work Monday(I’m still playing catch-up on a small pile of debt incurred during my knee injury and trying to be able to make rent this month, so I’m working more shifts than normal) which, as expected, put this post behind the clock. Thankfully, looking at my daily views, it seems that many of you don’t mind—a large number of you have just been checking on Tuesday rather than on Monday, which is sad as far as my ability to get these posts up on Monday is concerned, but otherwise isn’t a bother.

So … today’s topic … This is one that I’ve wanted to do for quite a while. Years, actually. But I wasn’t positive if I wanted it to be a Being a Better Writer post or just a random post until recently. I can’t recall quite what the context of it was, but there was a forum post on a site I was browsing that made me immediately turn to my topic list and write down “Learning by Example – Value of Fiction.”

Now, for some, this post is going to seem somewhat … Well, perhaps obvious is the best way to put it. But the odd thing is, for some it won’t.

See, I once had a fellow student in one of my creative writing classes who could not understand why we were bothering to read stories that ‘hadn’t happened.’ They were incredibly incensed by it (for the record, none of us, including the professor, could determine what they had expected otherwise from a course in creative writing), constantly complained about the books we read, and even, if memory serves, flat-out refused to do the writing assignments because ‘it wasn’t real, therefore it was of no worth.’

The thing is, as I’ve gotten older, wiser, and seen more of the world, I’ve come to find that this student was not alone in sharing this opinion. There are a lot of people out there that do not see the value of reading anything that is a work of fiction and hold it to be of no merit. Why? The answer is, when boiled and distilled down, because a work of fiction isn’t something “real.” Therefore, not being “real,” it has no place in the real world.

Now, obviously I disagree. But, naturally, this disagreement doesn’t start or end with “Well, you’re wrong.” Crud, there’s a reason I put “real” in the last paragraph in quotes. Because fiction isn’t simply something that’s “not real.” In fact, simply thinking of it as such shows a lack of understanding of what fiction is.

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The News

Last night, I reached the … Hang on, would this be a spoiler? Thinking about it … no. Because if you’re reading my stuff and don’t expect this, it must be the first thing you’re reading.

So, last night, I hit the last twist of Jungle.  Everything in the story is in the endgame now.

Which is good, because I’m behind schedule by about two months, between the knee and getting sick. So I need to catch up and get this draft finished so that I can pour through and get the next draft of Shadow of an Empire ready for the next phase, so I can stay on track getting that out by the end of this year.

Granted, this means I’ll be pushing hard over the next few weeks. I need to pull my bank account out of the red, which means additional shifts at work, but I also need to knuckle down and get Jungle done. It’s going to be busy.

I am confident enough, however, that I can do this that I’m going to start putting some ticking clocks on things. I expect in another two weeks, three at the most, Jungle‘s first draft will be complete.

So, hopefully first week of October. From there, I dive into getting Shadow of an Empire into Alpha 2 (3 if needed), Beta 1, Beta 2 … you get the picture. October, November … I may be able to make a December release.

At the same time, I’ll be readying myself for Hunter/Hunted, which will be the next big writing project. And … that’s as far as I want to confirm for the moment.

Wish me luck, guys. It’s going to be a busy few months.

Being a Better Writer: Comedy – Good, Not Cheap

Oh boy.

You know, I think if I were to sit down and list all the topic requests I’ve received since I started Being a Better Writer, and probably even some of the requests I received before starting it, comedy would likely be at the top of the heap. This is a constantly asked-after topic. And yet, for four-plus years, I’ve steadily declined. Why?

Simple: I don’t write comedy. Sure, I have funny moments here and there in my stories, and may write a short or a chapter every once in a while that prompts quite a bit of snickering, but I don’t see that as being a comedy writer. I write adventures, reflective pieces, etc, etc, but almost never have I sat down and told myself “I’m going to write a really funny story.” Those moments of comedy in my stories? Those are the characters being funny. And sure, the characters are an extension of myself and my intent, but at the same time, I don’t see that as “comedic writing.” That’s characters and situations I have taking advantage of the moment to be funny, rather than me writing a story with the express purpose of delivering laugh after laugh. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy writing characters or scenarios that produce a good laugh—to the contrary, I welcome it—but that the comedy is never the sole goal of the story … save perhaps with one exception, that being the short story Kitchen Creature from Unusual Events. Comedy is a side dish, yes, like fries to go with the burger, but it’s never the main course in my works.

Why? Well, I’ll go back and repeat the old adage once more: Dying is easy, comedy is hard. You might recognize that in variance from my post on tragedy, but the fact is that it keeps coming up because comedy is hard. Crud, Battletoads-slash-classic-Nintendo-hard.

Actually, let me rephrase that a bit as we finally begin to circle inwards towards today’s topic: Good comedy is hard. Cheap comedy? Fairly easy … but, well, cheap. Low-cost, really. And, on that note, fairly low-brow as well.

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Breathing Life into Characters

Welcome back to another Classic Being a Better Writer post! Really quickly, a quick update for Patreon Supporters: Still playing catch up for last month, but look for something (hopefully) this weekend. That’s all.

So, Classic BaBW post? That’s right. If you’re new here, Classic posts dig into a four-year archive of weekly BaBW articles to dig up a couple that are relevant to one another, delivering a triple or sometimes quadruple whammy of writing advice! Great for those who haven’t yet had a chance to archive binge or that are looking for help on a particular topic!

Today’s selection? A series of posts on ways to help our characters become more alive for the reader and feel more tangible. So sit back, grab a snack, and hit up those links!


Showing Character Through Dialogue—
Now let’s put this in a scene. We have a grizzled FBI man, undercover on a train, sitting in his seat and pretending to be a newspaper. His passenger, a woman who has no idea who he is, turns towards him and asks “Would you like some gum?”

Now, let’s look at his response. The grammatically correct response is “No, thanks.” However, what differences does this imply about his character over “No thanks,” without any pause? One is timely, implies a pause and perhaps some thought. The other is brusque, pre-determined, almost dismissive, and can be more so based on what action he couples with his statement.

Whoa. Did we really just read all that out based on whether or not a single comma was present in the dialogue?


Body Language—
How important are these social cues? Incredibly important. We can build entire opinions of individuals before they even open their mouths to speak, based simply on things like stance, hand and arm position, and facial cues. Much of our interaction with those around us is as much physical as it is spoken, based off of these cues. To give you an idea of how much, look at animated features—especially modern, CG animations over the last ten years. I recently came across a group of animators and dedicated animation fans discussing the movie Zootopia‘s use of facial animation compared to prior CG films, and they were talking about the close attention to detail the film provided. It was all little things, small stuff like character’s noses or ears twitching (these are anthropomorphic animal characters, after all) or tiny, subtle movements of their eyes or lips. But the point of this comparing to earlier films by even the same studio (Disney) and pointing out how these very small social cues made for a much better experience: Despite being anthropomorphic animal characters, the cast from Zootopia felt more human than ever … in part because of the ability to animate all these small social cues that we’ve come to expect in the real world. It made the characters feel more human.

And yet … despite how important these cues are, despite how valuable body language is to many of us on an hourly basis … many young writers miss it entirely. They fall into the trap of simple presentation, of telling a reader rather than showing them.


Giving Characters a Leitmotif—
Well, perhaps I should start out explaining what a leitmotif is, for those of you who don’t know, just so that we’re all on the same page. A leitmotif is, essentially, a recurring musical theme in a piece of music that is associated with an idea, emotion, or—more often—a character or a situation. Which to some of you probably sounds like nonsense unless I point out some of the more well-known leitmotifs out there: Those in film. Specifically, leitmotifs found in films like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings. Sit back for a moment, if you will, and picture one of those films. Now picture a character or a scene from them and see if your mind calls a bit of fanfare forward.

Which is pretty cool, to be honest. But it probably doesn’t answer the question most of you have on your minds now that we’ve discussed all this; likely some form of “What does this have to do with writing?” Again, as I already said, we don’t havemusical cues in literature. At least, not yet. Outside of a few experimental online pieces, music does not feature prominently (or really, at all) inside fiction. So, what am I talking about?

Actually, I’m talking about cues that make your character recognizable.


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Being a Better Writer: Going Vertical

I’m back! No longer diseased! Well, not fully. And still with a recovering knee injury, but those things take time, or so I’m told by the doctors. But I am well enough to write write write at last! My mind is clear! And so after a long, unwelcome delay, we’re finally getting back to a follow-up post I alluded to some time ago.

That’s right, remember that post I wrote on Horizontal and Vertical storytelling a few weeks back? Because today’s post was originally, before I came down with disease that made me cough my lungs into a bowl, going to be the follow-up. Lousy timing, but what it means for readers today is that I suggest going back and reading that first post if you don’t remember the details behind it. Because I’ll give a quick, one-sentence recap related to today’s topic at hand, but after that I’m diving right into the thick of things, so if you’re not caught up on what horizontal and vertical storytelling are, you’ll want to read that link up above first, and then come back for this post.

Right, the preamble is out of the way, so let’s dive into it. Let’s go vertical and give our stories some depth!

Now, what some of you are probably thinking at this point, or were even thinking after that post a few weeks ago, is why I wanted to do a post on exactly this topic. After all, explaining to someone what horizontal writing is and how to do it? That’s pretty straightforward, since almost every story we’ve even been exposed to growing up (especially Hollywood action-blockbuster style stories) are horizontal focused. Point A to point D. Action beat to action beat.

We’re familiar with this kind of approach, and it’s what most think of when discussing stories. Hit the point, move to the next point, then the next, and so on and so forth. While not technically correct to call it such, for many this is essentially how they think of storytelling. Again, it’s not correct, but for a layman it’s pretty accurate.

My point is, explaining horizontal storytelling to someone is fairly easy and straightforward because most people understand how to tell a horizontal story. It’s familiar and easy to grasp. Vertical storytelling, on the other hand, is something that a lot of people aren’t familiar with up front. It’s not nearly as often talked about, nor as often recognized, though it can be present in many entertainment items you may have enjoyed.

So, with that as our backing, how does one go about building a story that has vertical elements?

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