Being a Better Writer: Order of Operations

Hello again, readers, and welcome to yet another Being a Better Writer post with an ominous, math-based title!

I know, I know. Forty percent of you clicked away after reading that sentence. Another fifty percent didn’t make it past seeing the title. And the twenty percent that are left? They know what’s wrong with that last statement.

Actually, if you’re quick on the uptake, you might have realized that there’s more than one error in that last paragraph. The first most probably spotted, but the second …? Well, it has to do with our title, which means that this is as good a point as any to dive right in and get into things.

So, let’s go ahead and start then. Except … unlike normal, I actually want to start today with a bit of a hands-on moment. A writing prompt, if you will. You may have noticed that there’s a scenic picture below. See it? You might need to hit the jump. Anyway, it’s a picture of the Kennecott Copper Mine ghost town in Alaska. This particular picture was shared to Reddit, IIRC, so hopefully it’s all right to use it here. I didn’t take it, is what I’m saying, and the goal here is to use it for educational purposes. You can click on it to see it in all its glory (which I recommend).

Continue reading

Classic Being a Better Writer: Character Growth

Trying something new here today. It used to be, back when I was transferring over posts from my old blog to this site, that Thursday or Friday would be home to a Blast from the Past post—essentially an excuse to go back to one of the old Being a Better Writer posts that wasn’t on Unusual Things yet and transfer it over (albeit with a little editing). Those posts ran for a little over year, if memory serves, but inevitably had to stop, as I caught up with the present day.

But … that left a large gap in my posting schedule. Now, I’ll admit that I’m not a frequent blogger like a lot of other authors, mostly because—no offense—I spend that time writing on the books rather than writing on the blog. Monday’s BaBW is the only regular exception. Otherwise I don’t have much to say unless something catches my attention. But that leaves dead-time on the blog, and on the internet, dead-time is kind of a literal term.

So, the solution? Classic posts!

Okay, it’s not a perfect solution. And I don’t think I’l throw these up every week, but here’s the idea: BaBW has a pretty big backlog by now. At least 200 articles on all sorts of writing topics. So, from time to time, I’m going to pick a topic, then gather three BaBW posts on that topic and post about them in one of these “Classic BaBW” posts. That way newcomers can easily find older articles that they may not have clicked through the archives for, and recurring readers can get a nice moment of “Hey, I’d like to reread that!”

So, that’s the intro. Now onto the post! Today’s topic: Character Growth! Three articles about developing characters from the archives of Unusual Things!

Character Development and Character Growth—
Characters. There’s no force more central to any story you tell. Be it a run-and-gun thriller or a dramatic love dodecahedron, a tale focused around a lone wanderer exploring a crumbling city or a baker expanding her rivalry with a butcher (that last one sounds like a potential rom-com, doesn’t it?), your stories are going to have characters. Characters that laugh, characters that scream, characters that live … Well, you get the picture.

Exploring Character Growth and Conflict—
So, to begin with, I view character growth as having two distinct types. The first is the growth of the character to the reader, and the second is the growth of the character to themselves.

Showing Character Through Dialog—
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.

 

 

Like this post? Want more? Support via Patreon!

Being a Better Writer: Detailing Characters

Whoa. Did I wake up late today. Noon, in fact. Wow.

But you know what? I feel excellent! Last night marks, I think, the first full night of sleep I’ve gotten in since … crud … Since I returned from my quick Alaska trip. And even there I was playing catch up. I think that today I might almost be caught up.

So … today’s post is a little late. Sorry. But I really don’t feel bad. I feel really good. Crud, I might even go get some exercise today!

Also, really quick before we get to today’s topic, don’t forget the 24-hour sale hitting on April 19th! Even if you already own a few books, it’s a chance to either complete your collection or share your favorites with someone else!

Okay, all that out of the way? Let’s get down to business with today’s topic of choice: Detailing characters.

Hopefully, that title has done its job properly and drawn most of you in. Made you think. Many, I expect, upon seeing the term “detail” and “character” in the same context would assume that the topic of choice would be about how to create or write detailed characters. Which, to be  fair, is a very good topic. Hence why I’ve made a number of posts on it already. And yes, this topic does sort of align with that. It’s definitely going to get the tag.

But … I didn’t say “detailed characters.” I said detailing, which is just a little bit different. Detailing is something a bit more specific.

It can also be a verb, describing an action instead of being a thing. So, for example, I can talk about detailing as a concept … but I can also say “Oh, I was detailing X” and the statement still works.

Right, right, enough background. So what is detailing, and what does it have to do with your characters? Simple. Detailing is the act of adding small, decorative features to a building, sculpture, painting, or other piece of art. Hence the name. You’re adding small “details” to an item in order to enhance the whole. Like molding along the edge of a room, or a slight upwards crease to the lines around a sculpture’s eyes. Small, tiny details that enhance the whole when pulled back.

Most of you can probably see where I’m going with this now. Maybe. You’re thinking about the small details of your characters, right? How to add them in to enhance what the reader already knows?

Well, that’s good. In fact, I think I wrote another post that touched on that at one point. Maybe more than one. Which is good, because I’m not repeating that today. No, I’m not going to be talking about your primary characters at all.

No, today I’m stepping in another direction with our detailing. I’m talking about secondary and tertiary characters. And just like that, the whole situation has changed.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Empathy for Your Characters

Greetings from Alaska, readers! Yes, that’s right, I’m home visiting my parents for a few days. And old friends. It’s fantastic. I flew in Sunday morning, after a nice long layover in Seattle which was most of my Saturday. As usual, the trip to my hometown was roughly a full day’s journey. That was okay, however, as I’d brought my WiiU with me.

Yes, I own a WiiU. I also own The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. So when I had my fifteen hour layover, well … I had plenty to keep me occupied. No spoilers, but man is that game fun. Complete, go anywhere freedom.

Again, no spoilers, so I won’t say much about my journey thus far. But it has been an excellent one. You ever played Fallout? Well, imagine that kind of freedom and setting applied to the land of Hyrule and Zelda series, and that’s Breath of the Wild. The scale is titanic, the world ambitious beyond almost anything I’ve ever played, and the tools and toys you can play with offer a kind of freedom few games can match.

Of course, we’re here to talk about books, not games, so maybe I should change my topic. Bring things back to the site’s primary focus. Being a Better Writer, right?

So, what is the topic of choice today? Well, if you’ll check the topic bar for the day, it’s actually having Empathy for your characters. This topic is one that actually hadn’t made it to my list, if only because it came in via message from one of the readers here (So … Hello Feather Note, this is your ship coming in), and as I was traveling, I figured “Well, why not? That’s a good topic worth discussing, and I can pull it off from a borrowed Chromebook.”

So, empathy for your characters. There are a couple of angles I can come at this with, so I’m going to talk about the most obvious one first, or the one that, I think, most readers will jump to first: getting the reader to have empathy for your characters.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading