Being a Better Writer: Finding Your Strengths—and Weaknesses

Welcome back readers! It’s a new year! 2018!

Granted, I’m still running a bit behind on 2017. Patreon Supporters, you’ll have your December post as soon as Jungle is done, by the way. I’m just … so close to having Jungle done it’s a miracle I’m even doing this post. No joke. Jungle is sitting at over halfway through the second-to-last chapter, which means I’ll likely finish it today, tomorrow, or Wednesday.

Am I excited? Yes I am. This book has been the labor of a year now, and is sitting at about 450,000 words. For the record, that’s a third again as long as Colony, which was only 345,000 words. There will be much editing to be had here.

But that’s in the future. See, once Jungle‘s first draft is done, I can sit back, relax, and get started on the publication process for Shadow of an Empire. Which means the new year will begin with some buckled-down editing and lots of happy Alpha and Beta readers (which also means Alpha and Beta readers take note; the time is come!), and then after that, work will begin on Hunter/Hunted!

There’s more to come past that, but for now that bit of news will do. After all, it’s a new year, and most you have been starving for a new Being a Better Writer post for some time now. So let’s get going with the first official topic of 2018!

Finding your strengths, and your weaknesses, and using them.

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Being a Better Writer: Acknowledging Our Accomplishments

Welcome and Merry Christmas, readers, to this quite delayed Being a Better Writer post! First of all, it must be said, I’m sorry for the delays. I try to avoid letting these happen, but with the Christmas rush being what it has been … I’m fighting to get a lot of things done.

That said, this will also be the last BaBW piece until the new year. That’s right, I’ll be taking the next two weeks off for Christmas. A small Christmas vacation for myself (and a chance to finalize those last few chapters of Jungle when I’m not at my part-time).

Apology accepted? Good! Now, let’s talk about today’s topic. I’ll be up front with this one: It’s not from the Topic List. Nor was it something I’d thought of until I realized it was likely going to be the last post of the year, and maybe giving things a bit of a theme wouldn’t be a bad idea.

So rather than talking about how to invoke emotion with your characters, or how to pace a fight scene, or set up a armory of Chekov’s Guns, I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about acknowledging your own accomplishments.

Good time of the year for it, no? Like I said, year’s end …

There was a webcomic special I read once (I actually tried to find it for this post, but didn’t have much luck A reader found it for us!), about accomplishment. It showed the author climbing a mountain, fully laden in cartoonish hiking gear and working their way further and further up to the peak. Eventually, after much struggle, they reached the peak, planted their flag, and cheered.

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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: Applying Writing Advice and Feedback

Welcome back readers! Another Monday is upon us, and I’m diving right in today. by picking up a request topic from Topic List X!

So, you’ve done it at last and found a like-minded group of people who’ve come together in a pleasantly pleasing—yet still critical—writing group (more on that topic another time). You’ve met, discussed one another’s work, and as expected, they’ve found some areas you can polish with your work. But then, as you sit down the next day to look over what the group had discussed and the fixes you want to make, you come to a sobering realization.

You have no idea how to actually apply the advice they gave you. You know where the problems lie, sure, and what didn’t work. You’ve even got a few suggestions that they gave you. But as to how to put that advice to work in your writing? Suddenly, you’re drawing a blank.

And to be fair, this isn’t easy. Sands, that’s why the question was asked! Getting feedback on what needs to be fixed and then figuring out how? It’s a challenge, especially if it’s your first time having received such. You might even feel a little overwhelmed!

But first step—and this is key—is not to worry. Feeling overwhelmed is often one of the first reactions when faced with the thought of apply writing advice or sticking it into your story. And once you’re overwhelmed, it’s hard not to focus on that feeling.

So first, let’s break things down, shall we?

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Being a Better Writer: Imitation … or Copying?

This’ll be a short one today, guys. I’m actually still sick, but I really feel bad about missing last week’s post (in truth, my whole week went by in a blur of “ack, bleck, cough cough cough, can’t think, play Sonic Mania/X-Com 2). So you’re getting a post today. Not the one I’d planned (my brain’s not quite functional enough for the more in-depth companion piece to Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling), but a post nonetheless that instead serves as a sort of semi-follow-up piece to this one, instead.

You’ll note the similarity of the titles if you click the link. That’s intentional.

Oh, and really quick: Patreon Supporters, there will still be an August reward. I just … need to stop being sick first.

Okay, so today’s short topic. This was brought on by a post I ran across on a forum the other day that was directed as “advice” for new writers.

It was … poor advice. I’ll give you the quick summary. It postulated that in order to become good, what one should do was find an author whose writing that they wanted to emulate, pick a story or excerpt of theirs that you wanted to emulate, and then just … copy it. Type out the same words, massaged slightly with your characters and the details changed so that it wasn’t outright word-for-word plagiarism. Their reasoning was that this would help you ‘create’ something very much like the author’s you idolized, but still your own.

No.

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Being a Better Writer: Forward, Pioneers

Today is Pioneer Day in the state I live in, a day when everyone celebrates the forward-looking, pioneer spirit of the old west that sent so many explorers forth. And I thought “You know, I can make a Being a Better Writer post out of that.”

Which brings us to the here and now, where I am. Writing this post. About pioneers. Man, that was a short recap. Like the thirty-second backstory of a cartoon. Anyway …

So, pioneers. Don’t worry, this is still a writing post. This is still about sitting down and putting hands to keyboard, pen, whatever, and creating a world of wonderful characters and adventure, tragedy, comedy, or what have you. But what does it have to do with pioneers?

Well, I’m going to take a step back further in history to look at an earlier explorer. Namely, a man who put his name on history for the ages by insisting that India could be reached not by traveling around Africa or over land, but by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean. Now, we know this man as Christopher Columbus, who stumbled across the entirely unexpected Americas and got a lot of credit for discovering them in the modern eras. And yes, I know the vikings and the people that lived there beat him there, but Columbus was the one that put the Americas on the center stage and kicked off … well, just about everything that lead to the shape of the modern world.

Anyway, why do I bring up this story? For one reason, and one reason only: Most everyone considered Columbus insane. They thought the voyage he was attempting was going to be too treacherous. Pop-culture claimed that his detractors thought he would sale off of the edge of the Earth (despite people knowing back then that the Earth wasn’t flat). A lot of people simply thought he would get caught up in a storm and he and all his men die at sea.

Basically, there were a lot of fearful reasons that no one had ever attempted the journey west before. And if they had, they hadn’t made it back, so there was more to those fears.

Of course, we know the result of this story. Columbus secured his funding at last for his trading expedition. And as it turned out, his calculations were wrong. There wasn’t a direct, westward path to India because someone had put a blasted continent in the way (not that they realized this for a while). But soon they did, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. All it took was someone willing to take a chance on sailing west, against the “common current” that ruled the minds of the current climate.

Why I am I telling you this and what does it have to do with writing? Well, let’s look at one other success story first. Have you seen Stranger Things?

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Being a Better Writer: Ending Type Variety and Planning Ahead

I apologize for the lateness of this post. Despite not having work at my part-time due to a knee injury yesterday, this post ended up so long (my longest yet) that it wasn’t done in time to post.

Man, it feels like I’ve been writing about endings a lot lately, at least to me personally. Maybe that’s just because that topic sticks in my mind fairly vividly. Or maybe I’ve been covering endings too much lately and you’d all rather here me talk about something else. In which case, let me know in the comments! After all, there is Topic List X coming (currently I’m on IX)!

Right, no beating around the bush today. I want to dive right in. Let’s talk ending types.

Okay, some of you might be scratching your heads at this one. After all, an ending is an ending, right? I’ve talked about endings before. What more could I have to say?

Well, as it turns out, a bit. Because as I’ve said before in another post, endings are a bit like a keystone: Everything moves toward them. Every story has to have one. Or, again as I’ve said before, the whole thing falls apart.

But there is something I’ve not talked about with regards to these endings yet: What type of ending you want to have. Or, to put it another way, the various ways you can close your story based on what you expect to make of it at a later date.

Yes, today we will be talking about sequels. And lack of sequels, though neither of those is the total topic. No, we’re still going to be talking endings. Just the different kinds of endings your story can have to make those work or not work.

Or perhaps “endings” isn’t the best way to put it. After all, many people tend to use terms like “the ending scene” or the like to talk about a climatic battle, rather than the actual ending. So perhaps I should say “conclusion,” or maybe “resolution,” and frame our discussion in terms of that. Or maybe even “approach.”

Why? Because again, as I’ve said before, everything in your story points toward the ending. The conclusion. So the type of conclusion you want your story to have? Well, it’s better if you know going in so that you can adjust the rest of your story to fit. Know which one you’re going to want to pull out of your writer’s toolbox to frame the rest of the story. Just like keystones can be in varying shapes and sizes, so can endings.

A minor note here: What I’ll be talking about today is somewhat flexible. More than one story has been written with one type of conclusion in mind only to deliver another, and while yes, this does affect how the story is received … it’s not the end of the world. It’s a bit like having … oh, a keystone that isn’t cut quite right but still does its job when slotted into place. It might not fit perfectly, and the top might be a little uneven … but it still does its job. However, much like a paving stone that is raised or lowered slightly above or below that of its fellows, it still may feel odd to the pedestrian, and the discrepancy will likely be noted. If you’d like an example of this, think of any movie or book that in the last moments made a sudden sweep into sequel territory. Makes you stumble a bit, doesn’t it? Even if it doesn’t necessarily not make the rest of the story worth it.

Point being, today’s topic is very much a question of making everything line up right. If you happen to swap ending “types” at the last minute, well, your story isn’t going to come apart. Not in this context, anyway. But if you know beforehand what you want, you can lay the groundwork of the story much more carefully so that everything lines up nice and neat at the end.

Got it? We’re talking about types of conclusions you can make your story work toward. Types of endings, in other words, you’ll see in various media, and when and how to make them work, or what you’d need to do to pull that off.

So, preamble done, let’s start with the most basic type of ending.

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