Being a Better Writer: Finding a Good Writing Group

Thanks, ocalhoun!Welcome back readers! Ready for more Being a Better Writer? I am! And with one of the more requested topics of the last few months. But first …

That’s right, it’s time for the news. Two things to discuss, snap-quick, and then we’ll be on to the post.

The first is that whoa, did Friday’s Op-Ed on The Indie Hypocrisy blow up. Not with views, though it did do really well there, but with thoughts. I’ve had posts hit 5,000 views that got less commentary than this piece. At the moment, split between here and another discussion forum the piece was linked, I’m clocking twenty-five comments (up to thirty as of the posting of this article, discussing the concept with both other posters, offering their own thoughts on the matter, and just in general making their voices heard on the topic. And as much as I’d like to reply here … this is a Being a Better Writer post. That said, the sheer volume of long, thought-out responses is more than enough to warrant a follow-up post to get everyone’s ideas and suggestions out into the open. So that’s scheduled for later this week.

Second bit of news: Patreon Supporters, expect your December reward this week. Apologies for the delay, but I was really determined to finish that draft of Jungle.

Okay, that’s the updates out of the way, let’s talk about writing groups.

We’re going to start with a giant disclaimer. The kind that comes with a flashing neon sign, and would be said by someone speaking 128 words-per-minute in a radio ad: Only once have I ever been in a writing group. It was for a period of several months, during one of my college creative writing courses. That said, it was still a writing group, and I gave my participation my all. But with only the one writing group under my belt, realize that my perspective on things may be a bit skewed. Most of what else I know about writing groups comes from second-hand advice and stories collected from other authors.

Crud, I’m not even in a writing group now. And honestly, I’m not really interested in joining one. But does that mean you shouldn’t be?

Absolutely not.

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Being a Better Writer: Languages

Welcome back to another edition of Being a Better Writer, readers! I hope those of you who celebrated the US holiday of Thanksgiving had a good one, while those of you who didn’t at least were obliging of our season of gluttony. Yeah, it’s all about giving thanks … but in my practical experience that’s usually thanks for how many different kinds of pie one can stuff into them after devouring several pounds of turkey.

We’re coming up on the Christmas holiday season (during which I’ll be taking a short break to recharge), but in the meantime, I figured I’d continue in the same theme we’ve been following for the last two weeks (during which we’ve talked about accents and then dialects) and talk about Languages.

No, I’m not talking about foul language. Just languages. As in, languages other than the one that you’re writing in that your audience speaks and reads. From something as simple as Spanish or Italian to writing in something a bit more fantastical, like Tolkien’s Elvish or Star Trek‘s Klingon.

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Being a Better Writer: Why Writers Should Play Games

I’m back!

Yup, got my replacement ethernet port installed and I’m back in business. I actually did get a pretty good amount of writing done too. Two weeks without internet notwithstanding, as Jungle isn’t in any position at the moment where it requires internet. Okay, well, it required some worldbuilding documents on Google Docs, but those I could skim on my phone.

Jungle, by the way, is still in the finale. Everything’s blowing up, similar to Colony, and that’s not really that much of a surprise as this is a sequel. Hopefully I can be done by the end of this week. There are only a few chapters more to go, and everything’s coming together pretty well. Editing is going to be a chore, but … that’s the writing life!

Okay, enough yammering about current events in my writing queue. Now to yammer about something else. Just a quick reminder, if you’re a Patreon Supporter, check the reward posts! I checked the stats on Patreon yesterday and some of those posts have only ever seen two views despite the number of supporters! I’m not sure if I’m not making them visible enough, or what, but I was genuinely surprised (especially as a few supporters have hinted that they didn’t feel there were enough Patreon rewards for being supporters … and yet a large majority of those rewards have barely been looked at). There’s retrospectives, worldbuilding extras and notes for various books, and even previews and short stories I’ve not posted anywhere else!

If you’re a supporter, don’t miss out! Those posts are for you! You can check out the entire backlog here, or just head on over to my Patreon page if you’re not a supporter yet, but would like to become one.

Okay, that’s all out of the way. Now how about I get down to today’s topic. Which is a bit of an odd one, sure, but one that’s worth bringing up. Today, we’re going to talk about why writers should play games. And no, I’m not talking about the kind of games where you find a maybe significant other and lead them on. Not those games.

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Being a Better Writer: Preaching to the Choir

Morning readers! Well, actually afternoon, and that’s my fault. Ever start reading a book late at night? Yeah, that’s something I shouldn’t do, and yet …

Well, anyway, let’s dive right into today’s topic shall we? It’s one that I’ve wanted to write about for a while, since it comes up a lot in the modern reading world, and quite frankly, it really shouldn’t. At least, not if the claims of the authors were remotely accurate.

What am I talking about? Why, I’m talking about preaching to the choir! Which I’m sure you know all about, so let me just skim over things so we can all get to talking about how right we are and how wrong everyon—

Ahem. Apologies, but we won’t be doing that at all. But that last little paragraph does serve to illustrate in a somewhat rough fashion exactly why this topic should be brought up, as it’s an exaggeration example—though not too far off the mark in many cases, sadly—of what preaching to the choir is, and offers a glimpse of why writing something in that fashion can wreck your story’s potential audience.

So without further ado, let’s dive into today’s Being a Better Writer, starting with an answer to the question that I’m sure is on some of your minds (and if not, we’re talking about it anyway to establish a baseline): what is preaching to the choir?

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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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Being a Better Writer: Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling

Welcome back readers! I apologize for the lateness of this post, but I had a physical therapy appointment this morning, and that took up the early part of the day when I normally would have been writing this post.

Physical therapy? Yup, you read that right. Those of you who’ve been keeping tabs on all my posts will know that several months ago I twisted my knee at work and tore my meniscus. Since then, it’s been a slow recovery (aided only with gnashing of teeth by my employer, who let me sit for 30 days without medical treatment or work, one day short of the maximum allowed by law) that has been greatly aided by physical therapy. My knee isn’t back to full ability yet, though it’s definitely getting better (thankfully, as knee injuries suck). And physical therapy will wreck you! Or at least, it’s wrecking me. I am sore afterwards. But, like I said, getting better. It’s a good sore.

Good thing, too, because the amount of money my employer is spending to avoid spending money on medical care is, quite frankly, insane. Later this week I have to go back to a different doctor for another check-up. Now, physical therapy is under the guidance of a doctor. Why are they sending me to another doctor? For independent confirmation that I need physical therapy and am still injured.

That’s right. They’re so suspicious of doctors that they’re paying other doctors to confirm that the first and second doctors aren’t trying to cheat them. Personally, I think that says more about the company than it does about the doctors, but that’s just me.

Anyway,  you’re not here to read about that, so let’s get things moving. Starting with the announcement that this is the first topic off Topic List X! The big 1-0! We’re here at last! And I’m glad, because there are some good topics ahead!

Starting with today’s. Today, we’re going to discuss horizontal and vertical storytelling: what they are, what they mean, how they work, how they differ, and of course most importantly how you can use them in your work.

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Being a Better Writer: When Characters Fail

Welcome back, readers, to another Monday Being a Better Writer post! Today we’ve got a request topic, one that hopefully I’ll be able to do justice to the satisfaction of the one who asked. In addition, it’s also one of the last topics left on Topic List IX! We’re close to Topic List X, and I’m glad, because I’ve already got some pretty neat topics on there to go over.

But that’s in the future. For the now, let’s get going on today’s topic: When Characters Fail.

I’ll admit, I bounced around a bit on topic titles for this one, and not without good reason. For a moment it was “Failing to Succeed,” and then almost became “Letting Characters Fail.” But finally, I settled on When Characters Fail, rather than on letting, and I think that distinction is important.

See, if we go into our characters failing with the mindset that we’re “letting” them fail (and in fact, are), then we might be approaching our story in the wrong way. Sure, we’re giving our characters the “try/fail” cycle that they need, and they’re going through it, but here’s the thing about “letting” them fail. When we “let” our characters fail, then they’re not the ones acting on the try/fail cycle. We as authors are. We’re looking at our story and going “Okay, you can fail here, this is a good spot for it,” and letting the failure happen where we decide it works, rather than simply letting the characters be free to fail when their own choices drop it on them.

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