Thursday, January 27, 2022

3 Simple Ways To Avoid Info Dumping in Your Story

There are few things more frustrating as a reader than the dreaded info dump. You're just getting stuck into the narrative, engaging with the characters and the world, and then the author jerks up on the hand brake in order to give you a miniature lecture on how hyper drives function, or the political history of the Sisterhood of The Seven-Fold Veil, or to go on at length about orc biology to the point that you just want to close the book and pick up something that feels less like a textbook and more like a novel.

If you've found yourself prone to info dumping in your work, and you're looking for a way to stop, I'd recommend trying some of the following solutions. They aren't perfect, but I've had pretty solid results following these guidelines over the past several years.

Open your mouths, it's all coming your way!

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Now then, let's get to it!

Method #1: Provide Context Clues Instead of a Lecture

"They did what? To who? Oh... oh no."

Readers are able to intuit a lot of information from context clues in a story. Everything from the reluctance someone has to talk about a subject, to the reaction the protagonist has to the sight of a space ship engine or a display of super strength fills your audience in on the world. Even a quip like, "You remember back when guys had to wear body armor to be bullet proof?" said by a detective engaged in a firefight with a metahuman bank robber fills the reader in on a lot of information; metahumans are relatively common now, this happened within the memory of a single cop, and it's become normal enough that it's a frustration rather than something to leave them in awe over.

Little clues like this, peppered throughout your narrative, can paint a picture for your audience. While it might be tempting to present them a full timeline of when the first metahumans emerged, explaining who they were and the powers they possessed, and then talking about legislation, normalization, cultural backlash and adjustment, etc., don't do that. Instead, just clue your readers in through observing how the world functions, what people say, and how they act. Trust them to fill in the blanks without taking them aside to explain the full history of this world they find themselves in.

This has the added benefit that readers will be interested to know more, and you can peel back the curtain slowly to maintain engagement... much like we see with the world building in the film John Wick, for those who want a concrete example of this tip in action.

Method #2: Work It Into (Natural) Conversation

"Oh dear... come take a look at this. Let me tell you what it means."

Originally I was just going to leave this tip as Work It Into Conversation, but an info dump with quotation marks around it is still an info dump. Having the barkeep or detective vocalize the necessary information out loud doesn't inherently make it less of a dump... you need to have context for the conversation so that it slides naturally and organically into the narrative.

For example, say you want to clue your audience in on certain incidents that happened between Mars and Earth. If you just so happen to have a Martian marine present who was there, you could have them talk about what they saw, and what they did during the war in question. Maybe the context is that they're doing a weapons check or armor and suit maintenance, and another character wants to know just how serious this basic task really is. So the marine starts listing off death toll numbers from the Void Reach conflict, talking about how many died on each side... and how often it was improperly-maintained suits rather than actual enemy fire that lead to death tolls. This provides some of the hard facts you want your readers to have, but it also leads to context clues regarding character habits and personalities, as well as why there may still be bad blood between particular factions.

You may not be able to fit every detail you want into a conversation, but if you flex your mental muscles you can fit a surprising amount of relevant information into scenes where characters are doing something else, but talking at the same time.

Method #3: Ask If The Audience Needs To Know

You know... they probably don't, now that I think about it.

Info dumping, in general, comes out of a need to gush about something in the story you're telling. Maybe it's just cool background stuff that you're really proud of, or you did a lot of research to understand a particular aspect of law enforcement, military tactics, medical examination, or astrophysics, and you don't want to just let that sit in the background.

However, consider how much information your audience needs to have in order to understand your story. Not only that, but how much of that information do they need right now in order for the ride to continue on down the tracks? Because contrary to the way a lot of us feel, your audience doesn't need to know everything up front in order to get stuck in. And if they do, you should restructure it so that they don't have to chew through an entire dump of information in order to actually get to the story. Because the background is just that... background. People like worldbuilding, but that's the sauce on the sandwich. Just enough really pulls it together, but most of us don't want a mouthful of mayo with a bacon garnish on the side.

As such, evaluate what information your audience needs to have. Once you know what they need to know, figure out how to spread it throughout your narrative. Work it into conversations and observations, show the audience these things in action, or just make simple statements that fill in a gap without going on and on about it for half the chapter. Most importantly, let things go if they aren't helping your story. Because while the mythology of the ancient elves or the inner workings of dragon engines might fascinate you, if you're putting a stop to everything to tell your audience about them, there's a lot of people who are just going to get off the ride.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Short Stories, Werewolves, And Rolling The Dice on a Book

There are a few things I've learned over the years as an author. Perhaps the biggest thing, and a lesson I learned early on in my career, was that selling the reading public on short stories (much less on short story anthologies) is really damn hard to do. Additionally, while there are a lot of folks who might read an ebook, convincing people to buy something that's ebook exclusive is also one hell of a marketing feat to pull off.

So, of course, my dumb ass proposed a project that was both a short story anthology and an ebook exclusive. And while I may have bitten off a little more than I can chew, I don't regret rolling the dice in the slightest. I might, however, need a little bit of help from all my regular readers out there to really pull out a decisive win on this one.

Seriously, check it out if you haven't yet!

Before I get into talking about this week's topic, remember to subscribe to my weekly newsletter to get all of my latest releases fresh in your inbox! And if you have a bit of loose change you'd like to contribute to help keep the blog going, consider becoming a Patreon patron! Every little bit really does help.

Lastly, be sure you're following all of my followables by checking out my Linktree.

The Seed of The Idea

For folks who don't know me, I spent a lot of my teenage years as an avid reader of RPG tie-in fiction. If you're not familiar with the term, it refers to stories that take place in the same world as a roleplaying game, and they're meant to act both as supplemental reading for folks who enjoy the game, but also as a funnel to pull in people who aren't players, but who might consider trying out the game after reading a story they really liked. From Battletech to Greyhawk, and Forgotten Realms to Bloodshadows, these stories were my introduction to so many worlds it's easy to lose track all these years later.

These books were extremely common in the 1980s and 1990s, and even up until a few years ago there were several companies putting out regular novels and short stories meant to keep their existing audience happy while luring in a new audience with tales of adventure and horror alike. I even managed to land one of my own short stories, The Irregulars, with Paizo during the Pathfinder Tales era. It's still available, for those who'd like to check it out!

Come on... you know you want to.

While there are still plenty of these books for sale, they aren't produced with anything near the regularity they once were. Which makes sense, because as many companies shift budgets and adopt different marketing strategies, this method of engaging the public likely wasn't as effective as others. Especially when you consider how much time, energy, and sheer sweat goes into publishing a book, and how easy it is for them to lose money rather than make it.

However, while reading through the rules and limitations on Storyteller's Vault (the community-use platform for White Wolf/Onyx Path RPG properties like Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, etc.), I noted that it expressly allowed fiction to be set in the approved games provided that it was faithful to the published setting. While these stories had to be published on the Storyteller's Vault platform, and they could only be published in electronic format, it was still an option.

And, as they say, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

Why An Anthology?

After examining the options available, I decided to propose Tales From The Moot, an anthology of short stories for Werewolf: The Apocalypse that had the framing device of stories told by the various tribes of werewolves around their fires about the great deeds they'd done, horrors they'd witnessed, and so on. I took the idea to High Level Games because I felt that a book of short stories would pair nicely with the 100 Kinfolk project I'd penned for them previously, and that the two could act kind of like companion pieces.

But why an anthology, though?

After some back and forth on precisely what shape the project should take, and how much time and energy I wanted to sink into it, I eventually proposed it as an anthology for several reasons. The biggest among those included:

- Faster Turnaround Time: If you have half a dozen people writing a book, it gets done faster. That's just math.

- Shared Marketing Efforts: I have no illusions about the size of my audience, and I figured it would be easier to market a book with half a dozen other contributors helping out.

- Effort V. Return on Investment: I was more than capable of contributing 1-2 good short stories, but the more I had to put in, the more it would need to earn to be worth that effort.

There were also drawbacks to using this format, of course. For one thing the earnings would be split between contributors, meaning that each of us only gets about .30 per sale (which is less than my affiliate cut for actually selling a copy of the book through one of my links by about .10 for those who are curious). Additionally the more people who are part of a project, the bigger the chance there is for something to go wrong (someone has to duck out, there's delays caused by family or health crises, etc.). And there was definitely a lot of reshuffling, reaching out, and follow-ups that had to be done to finally get this project out in front of the reading public.

At the end of the day, however, I didn't expect this project to be some viral sensation that paid my bills for the rest of the year. What I was hoping to accomplish was that this book would act as a proof of concept that there was an audience out there for tie-in fiction, and that it was a viable product worth pursuing... in no small part because I'd like to write more stories about some of my favorite games.

So Why Am I Telling You All This?

I told you all that story so you would have context for what I'm asking this week. Because the one truth I've tried to drive home in my Business of Writing posts is that financial success and quality of writing are not really connected at all. Books full of great stories and interesting prose will languish in bargain bins unseen and unread, while poorly-written schlock climbs to the #1 slot and makes its creators rich beyond the dreams of mortal men. What decides a project's success isn't the talent or drive of the writers... it's the voice of the readers who scream for more.

Whether you're someone who enjoys RPG tie-in stories, a person who likes werewolves, or just somebody who wants to see me write more fiction in general, I would like to ask you to please check out Tales From The Moot. My goal is to get it to at least Copper sale status (51 sales), though Silver status (101 sales) would be preferred. If we manage the former goal, creators will make about $15. The latter would net us each $30 or so. More to the point, though, even selling that many (or that few, depending on your perspective) copies would mark this out as a success by RPG product terms.

So even if you're somebody who wouldn't usually pick up an ebook, or anthologies are something that is a once-in-a-while thing for you, consider giving this one your time and energy. Especially if you want to help lay the ground work for future projects that might range across the World of Darkness, into Golarion, and other settings with community use platforms that are ripe for new tales to tell!

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing!

If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my noir thriller Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

3 Tips For Writing RPG Tie-In Fiction

Regular readers out there are aware that in addition to writing books about feline investigators and retired super soldiers (Marked Territory and Old Soldiers respectively), I also write a lot of content about tabletop roleplaying games. In fact my more popular blog, Improved Initiative, is all gaming all the time. And while I've been a regular gamer for going on 20 years now, before I ever picked up a set of dice I found myself drawn to RPG tie-in stories. From the Dragonlance books to the Elder Scrolls novels, and from comics about the World of Darkness to books like Hell's Feast, these stories gave me a glimpse into wild, fantastical worlds. They made me want to learn more, dive deeper, and in many instances made me excited for the prospect of playing in a setting I'd only ever read about.

And since RPGs are having a huge boom at present, I figured it was a good time to roll up my sleeves and dig into producing more tie-in tales myself. For those who want to do likewise, allow me to offer some advice from the trenches on this one.

A list of my current game tie-in work can be found down at the end, for folks who want to check my bona fides.

Though this lovely project is fresh, and Werewolf fans should check it out!

As always before I get too deep into stuff, remember to subscribe to my weekly newsletter if you don't want to miss any of my updates. And if you have a little coin to spare, consider tossing it my way by becoming a Patreon patron to help keep the wheels turning!

Lastly, to make sure you're following all of my followables, take a look at my Linktree, too!

Tip #1: Don't Write Stories That Alter The Setting

And then the archfiend was redeemed, and hell shook to its very foundations!

Tie-in fiction is meant to bring the readers into the world. For readers who are familiar with the game and the setting, it's an interesting romp through an adventure, mystery, or campaign where they get to see a familiar place through unfamiliar eyes. For readers who aren't familiar with the setting, though, these stories may be their first exposure to what this world is like. As such, it's important to make sure that your depictions are faithful, but also that you don't change major parts of the canon as that will just end up confusing readers on both sides of the aisle.

As an example, if you're writing a story set in the world of Golarion then it's important to make sure you have your city names, directions, historical events, etc. accurate to the game world. It's equally important, though, that your story doesn't make huge changes to the setting by the end of the tale. Whether it's your protagonist slaying named creatures in the world, the fall of particular empires, or even the death of gods, your story shouldn't cause changes big enough to require edits being made to the maps, bestiaries, and setting bible going forward.

While this is often stated directly in content use platforms such as Storyteller's Vault, Pathfinder Infinite, etc., it's important to keep in mind as this is something you should be thinking about right from the get-go.

Tip #2: Make It Accessible to Everyone

And the Great Mother cast her Mystery, and the Avernian Gate yawned before us...

Some people who read tie-in fiction are already familiar with the game and setting. In a lot of cases they're reading these stories precisely because they love this game and setting, and they want more stories about it to enjoy. There are also going to be people who have no clue what it is you're talking about, and who are immediately going to lose interest if you start throwing around a bunch of locations and descriptions like they're supposed to know what those terms mean.

Your story needs to be enjoyable by both of these groups.

As with anything else, you need to introduce your reader to the setting, and give them flavorful, interesting descriptions to really bring them into things. Treat it the same way you would as if this was a world and setting entirely of your own invention, and you had to educate your readers about what all your terms mean, how magic works, and what creatures exist in this world. If you focus on doing that then you'll have a story that the former group will still enjoy, but which the latter can read, and use to draw themselves even deeper into the world as they follow the adventure.

Tip #3: Tell The Stories in Your Own Voice

The rule books are great... but they're just a guideline for your story.

One of the flaws I noticed early on when reading a lot of the tie-in novels that were popular in the late-80s and early 90s was that many of them felt like they were quoting the rule books as far as the world descriptions went. It's one thing to maintain a consistent style, but it's another thing entirely to use descriptions of spells, magic items, etc. that felt word-for-word taken right out of the reference guides. Toward the end of my obsession with tie-in fantasy RPG novels it often felt like the writers should have included footnotes with the book title and page number that particular spells, classes, and magic items could be found on, and that really dragged down the narrative for me as a reader.

Don't do that. Even if you're talking about a noted place in the game setting, or you want to use an ability or power that's detailed in the rules as they're already written, you need to put it in your own words. Keep the description in-line with what already exists if that's what serves the story best, but don't feel the need to break your flow in order to quote the way a fireball is cast, or to copy/paste the description of a holy avenger into your story.

You are the unique voice of this tale. Don't bring yourself down by stopping to make sure you're quoting chapter and verse as long as you're keeping the story between the lines.

How Can You Be Sure I Know What I'm Talking About?

For all the folks looking for my list of bona fides, I figured I'd list them here so you can check them out at your convenience. First, the official pieces:

- The Irregulars (Pathfinder Tales): Molthune is revving its war machine for conquest, and if no one stops them they may finally succeed in conquering Nirmathas to the north, and taking a bigger place on the world stage. It's up to a small squad of Andoran irregulars to throw a wrench into those gears before the war drums truly start beating.

- Tales From The Moot: The tales told round the moots by the garou are how they learn their history, and spread the deeds of greatness throughout the nation. This anthology features an introduction story by yours truly, as well as the short story "Late Bloomer" about a Silver Fang whose first change finally comes at the worst (or the best) time... while his unit's chopper is being shot down over the mountains of Afghanistan.

The above audio drama by A Vox in The Void is a reading of my Warhammer 40K story "Almost," and I would highly recommend checking out the channel if you enjoyed that short. Also check out the following, free stories!

- Waking Dogs- A World Eaters Tale: Crixus remembers little throughout the long war. But in a moment of clarity on a forgotten rock, the World Eater remembers who he used to be. Will this former War Hound shake off the leash, and remind his fallen brethren that some of the old dogs still have their teeth?

- Silver Raven Chronicles Part One: Devil's Night: Kintargo has always chafed under the rule of Cheliax, and the burning fires of Devil's Night was a statement that the city would fall in line... but Kintargo has a guardian spirit, and the Ghost isn't going to relinquish his hold without a fight.

- Silver Raven Chronicles Part Two: From The Ashes: Though the fires of Devil's Night have been put out, the citizens are far from cowed. Bloodied and angry, it's clear that Kintargo isn't going to just roll over and show its throat... which leads to Barzillai Thrune literally turning the hounds of hell loose on the citizens. This is only going to get worse.

- Silver Raven Chronicles Part Three: The Raven's Nest: Oddfellow Bodkins has had some weird jobs, but this one might just take the cake. The private detective has been involved with movers and shakers before, but this cadre has big names, and cast long shadows. He can smell trouble, and if he's right it's going to rip Thrune out by the roots by the time all is said and done.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

"Ugh, Why Are You Writing That!?" Because It's What People Read, Champ

I've written a lot of different content over the years. I've tried different formats and genres, different subject matter, and different approaches. Some of it was well-received, and a lot of it has been ignored. However, I wanted to take a moment to answer a question that's been asked time and time again of me, and I imagine of a lot of other creators as well.

"Ugh, why are you writing that!?"

How I imagine most folks leaving these comments look.

Before I get into the meat of this question, remember to subscribe to my weekly newsletter so you don't miss any of my content! And if you have a little extra dosh that you'd like to use to support me and my work, consider becoming a Patreon patron.

Lastly, to follow all of my followables, check out my LinkTree as well!

It's Money. The Answer You're Looking For Is Money

This comment has been dogging me like a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe. It came up when I shared my gaming story That One Time My Bard Made The Dungeon Master's Girlfriend Jealous when someone demanded to know why I was wasting everyone's time with trashy drama. When I wrote Captain America is Chaotic Good and shared it around, dozens of commenters felt it was their duty to demand I explain why I'd shared a piece that would start so many arguments and flame wars in the comments. Even my article Can We All Finally Agree That White Supremacy is Bad? gets snide remarks from people demanding to know why I wrote something so obvious that there shouldn't be any discussion of it.


The short answer to all of these questions is as simple as it is obvious. I'm a professional writer, and when I create something I do it because I want it to earn money so that I can pay my bills, and maybe order a pizza on game night. And these articles, written in this particular way, got attention. In some instances 2-5 times the amount of attention as articles covering similar topics.

Is money the only reason I'll create content like this? No. Topics I find engaging, which fit a theme, which seem to gel with the markets I spend time in, and which I'll enjoy working on are also considerations that come into play. However, I labor under capitalism, which means that my art has to earn its keep if I'm going to pour time, energy, and effort into it. So while I might prefer to work on a sword and sorcery sequel to my novel Crier's Knife, put together an audio drama series, or maybe write an expansion book for a less popular RPG, I don't have the time and energy to spare to justify those things. Anything I write needs to bring in money ASAP so that I can afford to keep the wheels turning. As such, I end up creating content that is more likely to get noticed, get read, and ensure that all my bills are paid.

End of the day, it's basic cause and effect. If topics like this didn't generate a big (or at least bigger) response, and they didn't pay me as much as other types of content I'd prefer to be working on, I wouldn't write them. I'd spend my effort on other stuff with a better return on investment. But it's what gets people clicking and reading, so that's what I put out there.

You Want Something Different, Make it Profitable

If you, as a reader, want a creator you like to focus on a different type of content then you need to do everything in your power to make that a rewarding endeavor for them. Not just socially, but financially.

And I'm not just talking about throwing money at a writer to create the kind of content you want (but again, I have a Patreon, and I listen when my patrons make requests). If you wanted to see me write more Pathfinder Character Conversions, for example, then reading those articles and sharing them on social media to help them develop a larger following would mean continuing that series is now in my best interests. If as few as a dozen dedicated readers spread the word on it, that would create huge changes in my monthly figures. If you wanted to see me write another of my noir cat novels following up from Marked Territory and Painted Cats, then you could tell all your friends and family members about those books. You could also leave reviews, and get your library to buy copies, while also spreading the word on your social media about how much you like that series. That could snowball rather quickly, leading more people to take notice, read, review, and also demand more books.

Just saying.

Unless a creator is already wealthy enough they can just do whatever they want (and there's not a lot of us that fit that description) we are very likely to take notice when our audience makes it clear they want something. So if you want us to create different kinds of content, then you need to be the ones who boost the signal and get that other content seen. Because it's nice to want it, and we're glad you're enjoying it, but end of the day we need to be able to pay for all our necessities so we can keep the ball rolling.

Just something to keep in mind the next time you wonder why we wrote what we did.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing!

If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my noir thriller Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!