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CONFERENCE TIME AGAIN 2023

February 8, 2023

The 2022 virtual Las Vegas Writers Conference was a resounding success. We’ve developed a reputation as one of the best writers conferences in the nation, as mentioned in several top notch writers publications. It’s well deserved. As an attendee to every live event from 2005 up to 2019, I can attest to that. I’ve seen this conference grow, change, and go through many different versions over the years. We have a reputation and a high standard.

In this article, I won’t go into too many details except to outline some of the reasons why this conference has gained its reputation. Over the next few weeks, I may be revisiting some of the articles from the past that are relevant to the conference. They’re more detailed and the info in them hasn’t changed all that much. Some things you may hear repeated and that’s because these things are an integral part of our success.

WHY THIS CONFERENCE?

            SIZE

One reason the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference is such a success is because of the size.

It’s an intimate online Zoom setting. We’re limited in size to a smaller group which means everyone gets to interact with everyone.

            PRICE

There’s only one price. Once you pay the conference fee, that’s it. If you want to chat with any agent, publisher, or author, it’s included in the price of admission.

            INTIMATE SETTING

Every attendant and faculty member is accessible through the chat window.

Not only do you have ample opportunities to set up private appointments (sessions) with agents and publishers, you interact with them during classes. Since it’s online, there’s no one with a “possee” that accompanies them to a signing booth, does their scribbles on a book or two, does a couple of pitches and then leaves. Since there’s no physical location and no travel, it’s much more convenient for them and they’re there for the duration.

            CLASSES

There are a variety of classes, the meat of the conference, that cover every aspect of the publishing and writing world. From writing to editing to marketing, there are almost always classes to cover everything you can think of and learn from. These classes are often taught by the very people you come to pitch your work to.

            SUCCESSES

Every year, writers get successful pitches and queries to agents and publishers. While the ultimate return may be low, once in a while someone strikes gold. The chances of obtaining an agent are much higher with a virtual face-to-face meeting than a random letter in the mailbox. Each year, someone obtains a big-time agent or publisher from our conference.

SUMMARY

The Las Vegas Writers Conference is one of the best in the nation for many reasons. As a writer, you should attend at least one if you’re serious about getting published, whether traditionally or self-published. Yeah, even self-published authors can get a lot of value out of this conference. There’s plenty to learn for everyone, as nobody is excluded from the mix.

Happy writing!

The conference link is: 2023 Las Vegas Writers Conference

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JUSTIFYING WHAT YOUR CHARACTERS DO

January 25, 2023

            Since I’m not a big fan of characterization, one would think I don’t care about why characters do what they do. Far from it. I just don’t need to read on an on about it. Rather than call this motivation, which implies endless narrative, I’d rather approach it from the view of justifying why characters do what they do. I know this is semantics, but I’m just more comfortable with the term justify.

NOBODY DOES ANYTHING IN A VACUUM

            While it may occur in real life, in a story, you need to justify each word so as not to waste the readers time. This is a roundabout way of saying to cut the bloat, stuff that’s irrelevant to the story. At the same time when it comes to the storyline, everyone that does anything does it for a reason.

            Why?

            Having a random character do something with no explanation is distracting and irrelevant.

            When it comes to the story, everything a character does needs to have a reason why.

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LONG WINDED

            As those of you that have known me for a while have figured out, I’m no fan of literary prose. I’m a more to-the-point type of reader and writer.

            When it comes to a character doing something and why, it doesn’t need to be a book within a book. It can be as simple as a single sentence. Whatever the reason for the action, I go for moderation.

            In other words, get to the point.

SIMPLER THE BETTER

            Unless you’re doing a character study (which I abhor), you can keep character motivation simple.

            A character makes a noise every time they do something. Why do they make this noise? This is a perfect opportunity to add some character depth. In this case, I might go as much as a paragraph. Or, I might sprinkle a few sentences into the narrative to justify this quirk.

            While not every excruciating detail needs to be explained, if it’s something significant, yes, you need to give the why. You just don’t need to write three chapters on why the character makes this noise whenever they do something.

MOTIVATION

            Okay, I said that dirty word, which isn’t really bad in of itself. It’s what it implies.

            Motivation is chapter after chapter to explain why a character does something.

            Justification, at least to me, is a sentence, paragraph or two.

PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT CHARACTER DEPTH

            I see it all the time in reviews of either books or movies that the characters had no depth. This is especially true in movies. If you’re like me, unless it completely makes no sense what the characters do and how they act, a few simple lines or actions or even memories (okay flashbacks) are fine if they’re simple. While I’m no fan of extended flashbacks, as in initial justification, if the flashback is short and not jarring, I’m fine with them.

            To some people, ninety percent of the book should be characterization. I don’t even expect to please everyone, especially these people. I’m more on the other end with a few simple words so the story gets to the point.

            That does not mean I love shallow characters. It’s just that I don’t need that much and if the characterization lingers too much, I lose interest and start skipping pages.

            That folks, is my point. While there should be a reason why every character does or acts the way they do, it can be justified in just a few lines or more, scattered throughout the narrative so that the story moves.

SUMMARY

            Every action in your book needs justification. However, that justification doesn’t need to be most of the book. This justification should be significant, make sense, and go with the story in the most efficient way possible.

            Happy writing!

WORD COUNT REVISITED

January 18, 2023

INTRO

            Recently, someone on the forums was talking about getting rid of fluff. This article which appeared first in 2018 and then again in 2020 talks about story length. This should have no effect on getting rid of fluff. If your story ends up not what you expected after necessary cuts, so be it. Don’t try to fluff it up all over again just to make some arbitrary word count. Either go with it or come up with some other compelling and productive reason to lengthen it (which seems a bit of looking at it the wrong way).

            There are some writing contests that demand a certain word count. Maybe as a challenge, do it juss cuzz. However, when it comes down to it, the story should be whatever length it ends up being after cutting the fluff.

            Without further adieu, here’s the article again.

SECOND INTRO

Quite often, word count comes up on the Facebook forums. I last wrote about it in 2018 with this article, Word Count. Back in 2020, I finished the first draft of my third Meleena book, Across The Endless Sea. Now I figured would be a good time to resurrect the subject.

I was recently (and yes, even 2023 recently) asked a question about word count. I get that quite often. There are “rules” of word counts floating around out there. If you look hard enough, you’ll find set counts for certain genres. However, here’s the clincher – there’s no one set rule!

            It all depends on the source.

            It’s like the “pirate code – guidelines.” Aaaargh!

            When it comes to visual observing in one of my other passions, astronomy, it’s the same thing with the magnitude of celestial objects, in other words, how “bright” (or dim) the object is. It all depends on the source where you get the magnitude number from, and how and what they took the reading for. Say your telescope has a magnitude limit of such and such. The object you’re trying to look for has a magnitude of such and such, which is well within range of your telescope. However, you cannot see it. What’s up?

            There are other factors at play.

            Just like with word count.

WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON?

            There’s a difference between a short story, a novella and a novel.

            A short story is usually up to around 15K words, however, many are around 4K but can be as much as 25K.

            A novella is usually around 50K max.

            A novel is from 60K on up.

            Already see problems…vagaries?

            Already see the “pirate code” in play?

WHAT ABOUT THE “RULES?”

            Over the years, variations of the “rules” have been published in various forms. However, they’ve not only been fluid, but have contradicted each other.

            Without even going into details, depending on what’s been discussed at the conventions that particular year, novels can range for a first-time author from 60K to a little over 100K, depending on the genre.

            Westerns, mystery, and romance tend to be the 60 – 80K range.

            Thrillers and some horror 70-90K.

            Fantasy and science fiction 80-100K+ (the + is what gets many writers).

            Keep in mind that this is anecdotal. Some of that info was derived from wide ranging numbers over the decades and these statistics are highly flexible. They’re in no way set in stone.

            Not only that, but there have been lots of exceptions to the rules in BOTH extremes!

WHAT ARE AGENTS REALLY LOOKING FOR?

            I’ll tell you right off, do not go by what you see in the bookstores!

            Generally, the examples you see in the bookstores are by established authors who already have a fan base and can get away with murder. They get far more leeway than any first-time author. Don’t think you, as a newbie, can just do what you want and get away with it, especially if you’re trying to break in fresh with the big six (or how many are left nowadays). There are, of course, first-time author exceptions from indie publishers, but don’t go by them, either. Read on…

            On the other hand, if you’re going the self-publishing route, all bets are off. Then again, don’t expect to see your book on the shelf in the bookstore, or at least in the same quantities or as easily as someone going the traditional route!

            So, what are agents looking for?

            For a first-time writer, regardless of genre, if you submit a manuscript that’s very long, especially for your genre, the agent is going to think that this author doesn’t know how to get to the point.

            With the exception of certain epic fantasy or literary tropes, a high word count is a red flag for an author that doesn’t know how to write tight and right.

            When that agent sees your cover page with the word count up top, they’re already biased to some extent. When they get to the first page and see what you accomplished, or didn’t, they know right away if you can make a story move.

            Can you show a good western or romance in 60-80K words?

            Can you do a good thriller in 80-100K words?

            Can you convey a good epic fantasy in 120K words?

            These numbers are general, slightly arbitrary, but in the ballpark. I hesitate to give anything more specific because what you really need to do is go to the individual web site for each agency and look at their specifics.

            That’s right.

            What’s all this about word count?

            What you’re likely going to find when you get down to the real deal is that when you go deep into the query process, a lot of the agencies are going to have their own statistics, their own requirements of what they expect for a word count. Many won’t. They’ll either expect you to know because you’re either supposed to know what’s expected of your genre, or you’re a maverick and don’t care about the rules.

            If you’re a maverick, you need to step carefully. If it were me, as far as word count, I’d rather be on the short side than the long side.

            Why?

            Back to what I said before.

            Writing right and tight is a lot better than a manuscript full of bloat.

MY EXAMPLE

            I originally wrote my latest novel, Lusitania Gold in 1995. That rough draft was 133K to 134K words. After multiple edits and reading it to my writer’s group here in Las Vegas, I got rid of the bloat. I pared it down to 96K without losing a single bit of the story or plot. That’s right, I cleaned it up and made it better. Right and tight.

            You can do that too.

            What about the other side? What if your novel is too short?

WHAT IF YOU’RE TOO SHORT?

            So far, I’ve mostly been alluding to manuscripts that are too long, at least indirectly. However, what if your MS is too short? What do you do?

            Rather than bloat it up with irrelevant material, why not just submit it as a novella?

            Just because the story doesn’t warrant a longer format doesn’t mean you have to add bloat to make it qualify. Bloat is bloat, and an agent can spot that just as easily as they can in one that’s already overbaked.

            The point is, write the story right and tight, no matter what the actual length.

            I can tell you if it’s much over 150K, it’ll be hard to sell for a first-time author unless it’s really killer. It can happen, but you have a lot of competition out there, so be prepared. Even that’s a vague number when you get down to it, and there have been success stories on both sides of that figure.

            Whatever you do, the key is to write efficiently and without bloat. That’s the best way to get through the door, regardless of word count.

            Like I said at the beginning of this essay, I just finished the first draft of Across The Endless Sea. Right now, it sits at 135,418 words. Since this not the first book with my publisher, as an established series (the third in my fantasy series), I’m within the ballpark already. However, I know it’s got some bloat. After all, it’s a first draft. There are things I can probably cut that won’t affect the story. Maybe not. Maybe I can correct a few commas and it will be perfect. Yeah, sure! I’ve been at this passion way too long to believe that.

            What I do know is I don’t need to add a bunch to it. I’m set on that front.

            Happy writing!

TAKING FOREVER TO READ A BOOK

January 11, 2023

            I’ve alluded to this issue many times here at Fred Central. What’s the difference between a bad/mediocre book or a great one? A very good indication is how long it takes to read it.

            I’m not talking about slow readers, but fast readers who get bogged down in endless narrative, super long chapters, awkward phrasing, tedious plots.

I’VE NOTICED

            Not just looking at my own reading, my wife is a good indicator. She reads fantasy almost exclusively. Along with her are several friends who are readers and not writers. This is what I get.

            “I didn’t think I’d ever get to the end of that chapter.”

            “I didn’t think I’d ever get to the end.”

            “He/she keeps repeating the same plot thing over and over again.”

            “The ending sucked.”

            “The author writes these weird and awkward sentences.”

            “There’s almost no punctuation.”

            “The names are indecipherable.”

            Folks, I hear this stuff all the time. Many of the books are popular but I guess it takes a certain crowd to get through them intact.

            Then on the opposite side, I’ve seen plenty of reviews from people like this:

            “The thinly veiled characters…”

            “The author never fleshed out the characters.”

            “The basic plot didn’t warrant the story.”

            “I never knew the characters.”

HOW TO INTERPRET

            Back to my mantra of not punishing your reader, how can you come to a happy medium.

            Plots, for instance, are all the same. There’s a book or saying somewhere that there are only seven plots. No matter how you twist it, it comes down to one of those seven.

            I wonder why the critics are always griping about the simplistic plots???

            Fleshing out the characters can be done quick and dirty, or drawn out. You don’t really learn anything new, it just takes a lot longer to get there. Is that what they mean by fleshing out the character? More words?

            Super long or even no chapters or scenes makes for a real slog of a read. Over and over again I’ve said not to punish the reader. That means shorter and more succinct chapters and scenes. You can say the same thing in a more palatable form.

            Back to characters again, getting to know the character doesn’t take endless paragraphs of narrative and exposition, where a few simple words or phrases can do the same thing.

            Some people are never satisfied with the characterization, no matter how simple or elaborate you are. If they don’t like the characters in the first place…there you go.

AVERAGE READER

            The average reader only has so much time to sit down and read as it is. Wouldn’t it be nice to get to the point and not waste their time?

            Okay, some readers have a literary bent when they invest in words as much as what you’re trying to say. For these few, investment in word count is important. Sure, you have to actually say something, but for a literary reader, it needs to be drawn out.

            In most cases, the reader doesn’t have time to stop and smell every rose, get excruciating details about the environment, the character’s endless internal thoughts.

            In most cases, the average reader wants you to get to the point so they can enjoy the overall story. This is becoming even more critical nowadays with TV and phones, video games and ADHD.

            It behooves you to get to the point.

FULL CIRCLE

            It all gets back to that phrase, “It took me forever to finish that book.”

            That should tell you something. For whatever reason, the reader didn’t like something about the book and it was a real slog.

            Don’t let your story turn into a slog for the reader.

            Happy writing!

EXPERIMENTING WITH STYLES REVISITED

January 4, 2023

            I last talked about this specifically in 2018. This morning, I had an inspiration to write a new article about experimenting with styles and discovered I already had! With over 500 articles in my arsenal, it’s hard to find something new. In any event, it’s been long enough in the past to revisit it again.

            It comes up quite often on forums and in discussions where writers like to experiment with styles. You’ve all probably heard the old mantra “write what you feel.”

            Let’s look at that loaded statement.

WHAT DOES WRITE WHAT YOU FEEL REALLY MEAN?

            I personally write what I feel, every day, every time I sit down to write. There’s an infamous Hemmingway quote where he agonizes over a single paragraph. I don’t, not even an entire chapter, which is what I usually write when I sit down to do a session. I don’t even agonize over an entire short story, which I also usually write in its entirety in one sitting.

            I just write it.

            Why?

            Because I feel it.

            Others interpret that Hemmingway saying as meaning they feel different styles of writing. This is along with whatever it is they want to say.

            Not only do these writers have something to say, but they have certain barriers, lack of, or burdens thrust upon them where their writing (or lack of skill) is getting in the way of putting it all down. So, they feel like experimenting with styles to see how it all comes out.

            What’s the result?

EXPERIMENT RESULTS

            There are wildly varying styles of writing out there, partially because the author is experimenting with “what they feel,” what’s easy for them to write because it suits them, or because they’re too lazy to learn to write correctly.

There, I said it.

            What’s the result?

            The readers suffer.

            Some readers are more tolerant than others. If the story is really good, they can overlook bad or awkward writing, to a point, so they can enjoy a good story. Some suffer to get to the point. Others may finish this “experiment” and go on to another book from an author that’s learned his chops and breeze through it without the writing getting in the way. It’s like a breath of fresh air.

            Okay, you had your experiment. Maybe your book sold well, maybe it didn’t. Your legacy is now out there. Are you going to continue in that vein or are you going to wake up and try not to keep punishing your readers?

THERE ARE LOTS OF CRAPPY BOOKS OUT THERE

            I read a LOT. An average of a book a week. I find a startling difference between certain authors. I have favorites because they know how to write.

            I like to try new authors.

            What are the results?

            Once in a while, I discover a great new writer. Most often, they have a series which sells well. Sometimes they’re one-off.

            Quite often, I get real duds. Why?

            The writing sucks.

            The writer experimented and it didn’t work. Either they had no oversight, or their publisher took a chance and let the writing slip through. Most of the time, I never hear from these authors again, or if I do, I often see a different style with the next book. OR, their next book sells just as bad.

WHEN TO EXPERIMENT

            It’s okay to experiment with a short story, to hone your chops and get a feel for how to write. However, when it comes to a full-length novel, people are investing time and money into your work. You’d better have your stuff together by then. You’d better be done with your experimenting around, your “feeling it,” and be ready to make the reading experience as easy and transparent as possible.

            You’d better be ready to make your writing not get in the way of the story!

            If you’re of the notion that it’s you’re writing, and if the audience doesn’t like it, well tough, get ready for a garage full of books. It’s hard enough even with great writing to get noticed.

            If the whole point is to dazzle readers with your writing skills and chops, nobody cares. They care about what you have to say, not what gymnastics you can do with point of view, grammar, punctuation, and tenses.

SUMMARY

            Get the experimenting out of your system with writing exercises and short stories. Save your great novels for your best writing, for the writing that will hook the reader and keep them absorbed in the story, not stumbling over your writing gymnastics.

            Happy writing!

JARRING YOUR READER REVISITED

December 28, 2022

            When I originally posted this in 2018, I had good reason. Today, in late 2022, I continue to find this subject in books I read. The difference is that I’m now adding another thing that jars the reader. We’ll get to that in a moment.

            There are many ways to jar your reader.

            What do I mean by jarring your reader?

            First off, I think of the tired old joke I used to tell my grandson when we’d get into the car. Whenever someone opens a door, we’d get a warning on the dashboard Door Ajar. So, I’d tell him the door has turned into a jar. When the door closes, I’d tell him the door turned back into a door again. Hey, it’s a grandpa thing.

            Now, back to the gist of this. Jarring the reader is when you jerk them out of the story. In other words, you have them absorbed into your world. Then, you perform some blunder and it spoils the mood. In other words, it jars them out of your world and has them scratching their head with the internal thought: “What’s that?”

            Whether it’s a minor or major blunder depends on your literary outlook.

            I get accused of it occasionally when I read at my writers’ group.

            Why?

            Let’s look at how one can jar the reader. I’ll start with what inspired me to write this article. As often happens, it was prompted by a book I’d just read. Since the original article came out, I’ve read plenty more to add to my arsenal of proof as I see it.

BAD WRITING

            There are many ways to jar the reader out of the story. A biggie is, of course, bad writing.

            Anything that takes the reader out of the story could be considered bad writing, yet let’s talk strictly about the writing itself, and not other factors.

            A big example, which I found in the latest book I read was my favorite pet peeve, point of view.

            I just read a book that had no point of view at all. It wasn’t even omniscient. It was a complete free-for-all. What jarred me out of the story was that the writer shifted points of view from one sentence to the next. In other words, one character said something and then in the next sentence within the same paragraph, another character said something, with no differentiation between the two characters.

            Folks, THAT made me stop reading. I had to re-read the two-sentence paragraph two…maybe three times and try and figure out what was going on. After several reads, I finally figured out through implied speech that the second sentence was a different character!

            Next, from the same book, the writer shifted scenes without scene breaks. Even though there were scene breaks within the very long chapters, he only randomly used them. Instead, he quite often just shifted scenes at random with no transition. I was reading along and bam! New scene, with no rhyme or reason.

            The POV and the abrupt scene changes jerked me out of the story so many times, it ruined the immersion and flow. Each time, it took a while to get back into the story and I never really recovered because it happened again a few pages later.

            That’s an example of bad writing jarring the reader out of a story.

TECHNICAL ERRORS

            Say, you’re talking about guns in a thriller or mystery. The character puts a silencer on a revolver.

            Ding ding ding ding!

            Anyone with gun knowledge is going to scream fowl. This technical error is going to jar them right out of the story. While things might have been humming right along until that point, an obvious error like that is going to spoil things.

            Same thing for an error like location, time, language, whatever. Anyone with basic knowledge of these things is going to be jarred out of the story.

            You need to do your research! Poor research will jar the reader and spoil the illusion.

SUBTLE ERRORS

            I’m currently reading a fantasy to the group. In this case, it’s my world, so I can pretty much build it any way I want. At the same time, I not only have to play by my own established rules, but there are still borders I can’t cross, things I just can’t do.

            When I throw in some term or phrase that doesn’t fit, it jars the reader out of the world. My writer’s group is pretty good about calling bull when I toss in something that is just too much of a stretch. It’s purely unintentional most of the time, but once in a while, it’s deliberate. When it’s deliberate, I have to justify it. If I can’t see a good reason for it, I have to change it.

            If it doesn’t fit, it jars the reader out of the story. It spoils the mood.

STYLE ERRORS

            This is a huge issue for me and I see it a lot. While some may call it stylistic, I call it jarring and unreadable.

            What I mean is when the author starts with one style and switches in the middle (or anywhere else) in the story. As many of you know, I only read third-person, past-tense. I try to be careful to screen the book in the bookstore before I buy. However, some authors like to switch POV styles, tenses, or even formatting in the story. This jerks me right out of it. It’s great if I can catch it in the bookstore by leafing through the pages and looking for changes. Online, it’s impossible as (for instance) the look inside feature on Amazon only gives a few sample pages

            This change of POV is meant to emphasize something different, like a flashback, or a dream or whatever. To me, this interrupts the flow of the story, and doesn’t emphasize anything leading me to skip it. While I may miss key info, I don’t care. Often, I can’t even tell the difference except skipping these sections just makes the story shorter.

            This applies no matter what style you start out in. I’ve read a few first-person novels that were tolerable because of the writing…right until the author switched to third, or present tense, or poetry…of all things.

            I’ve read where an author started with a great action scene, then bogged down in backstory and characterization for way too long before jumping back into action scenes.

            What I’m talking about is consistency, not jumping styles so the reader (or the author) doesn’t get bored. That’s jarring.

            SUMMARY

            Your story is creating a world and drawing the reader into that world. When you flub something, it jars the reader and jerks them out of the illusion. It’s critical you eliminate these points, so you don’t spoil that illusion of reality for your reader.

            Happy writing!

DIVING INTO SOCIAL MEDIA

December 21, 2022

            I originally posted this article in 2015. Much of it still applies today though when it comes to the numbers I stated back then, don’t even ask what they are today. I’ll elaborate and add things along the way.

            I’m not a complete luddite. I’ve been on Yahoo Groups (now pretty much defunct) since they first appeared on the net, done users groups when many had never heard of them and joined Myspace, another platform that’s gone bye bye. Anyone remember that? Today, I’m still a regular participant on Facebook. It’s not like I’m inactive on social media. However, sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming. Case in point, Twitter.

OVERHWELMING NUMBERS

            I resisted Twitter for a long time because I just didn’t like the idea of talking in incomplete sentences and abbreviations. However, after attending the social media sessions at the 2015 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference, I realized it would do me good to take the plunge. Still, I resisted all the way from April until June of that year before I joined. When I did, not only did it open up a new world of opportunity, it opened up a world of overwhelming numbers.

            Aaagh!

            I followed and followed, but as a double-edged sword, a lot of people have followed me. As a result, I now get an overwhelming number of messages every hour, not just daily, and sometimes by the minute.

            When I originally wrote this article on a Saturday night in 2015, I followed 500+ people and had 300+ followers. A few days later on Tuesday, as I did a final edit, I had followed 759 people and had 396 followers. Some I’ve blocked, the usual porn girls wanting a good time, a few with foreign writing that looked suspicious, or those that simply annoyed me (politics), while others are right what I’m looking for.

            The thing is, at that point, I was a little lost on what to do with all the info. Geez, I’d only been on less than a month!

Today I have no idea what the numbers are as I barely use the platform.

DON’T KNOW THE ETIQUETTE

            I started small, thanking the one or two people who followed me by tweeting them back. However, when I started getting them in the tens and hundreds, what to do?

            Others sent me thanks for following, but how would you do it en-masse?

            Several, maybe more than several have re-tweeted several of my tweets. I find that a great honor, but how do I return the favor? I even asked them but never received an answer message (or tweet) back. I’d accidentally stumbled across the retweet, like, follow and a few more buttons at the bottom of most of the tweets. Some don’t have those buttons. I never noticed them before. Maybe that’s why that one person never replied. “Hey, dumbass, look at the bottom of your screen.” Well, the message this person sent didn’t have those buttons, or options, or whatever you want to call them at the bottom of the message bubble.

            Even though I’m a little less ignorant than I was back then, today I feel very awkward, and don’t want to alienate my budding audience. Therefore since 2015 I’ve gradually lost interest in the platform. Now, with all the political controversy and censorship or lack of it, I just don’t want to add the grief anymore. Now, I post a tweet for my weekly articles and that’s about it. I don’t even check the stats anymore.

MAKING TWEETS

            At the time of this original article, I’d made around sixty-three tweets. Most had to do with my articles, or something to do with my writing. A few were just random things I felt like saying. I’ve been told by others either at the conference or just in general talk that you should tweet every day. If possible, store up a series of tweets so you can drop one every day so people don’t forget about you. Oh yeah? At that point, since I’d just started out, I had a hard time seeing that as an issue since with my small footprint, I couldn’t tell who most of my followers really were (or if they really paid any attention) and who I’d followed, let alone who knows about me. When I got over 2,500 tweets with only 759 follows 396 followees, how am I supposed to sift through that?

            Okay, since I wrote that paragraph, I’d been paying attention to the top of the pile, my direct messages and notifications. I was getting direct feedback amongst all the thank you for following me’s. Anytime I participated in a discussion, I’d get feedback. Someone was paying attention.

            Folks, it wasn’t all bad. Just took some getting used to. I needed to filter through all the flack. I can relate to everyone else having to do the same thing.

            One other note, I took Joan Stewart’s advice and make heavy use of hash tags (#) in my tweets. If you use Twitter, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

            Like I alluded to before, I am not a big participant anymore. It was just too much work.

THE OTHERS

            I’ve not even talked about the other social media sites line Pinterest (which I haven’t used in years) and the ones I can’t remember. I have had an invite to join Pinterest at one time, but never got around to doing much except posting a bunch of photos which is incomplete at this point, since my last entry in 2017. I’ve had others tell me it isn’t all that great for publicity anyway. As for the others, outside of Facebook, since I can’t even remember their names except Instagram and Tik Tok, well…

            Happy writing!

COMING UP WITH CHARACTER NAMES AGAIN

December 14, 2022

            I’m bringing this subject up again (last time 2018) because I’ve run into it lately in my personal reading.

            The last version was inspired by a Facebook Fantasy/Sci-Fi group I belong to, where there were several threads with members asking others to come up with names of this and/or that. I can’t tell you how valuable these queries have been to me for mining articles here at Fred Central! However, this time I recently read several books where there was a lot of name confusion and a few that were unpronounceable. The original article from 2013, Coming Up With Character Names, started it all. It’s worth a fresh look again, with tweaks and additions.

WHERE TO START?

            It may seem like an easy task to come up with character names for your story, whether they’re fictional or real (and you generally use fictional names to protect the innocent or avoid lawsuits). You can pull the names out of a hat, out of the air, or mix and match them from a baby name book if you want. Maybe you can pull them randomly out of the phone book. Some well-known authors even run contests to publish fan names in their novels. As new writers, you probably don’t have a fan base for that purpose, so you’ll have to rely on other means.

            Most of us, I imagine, pull them out of the air, probably inspired, like me, from random people and events around us at the time. Maybe they’re from something that happened in our past.

            The inspiration for the name (not the actual character) Joseph “Detach” Datchuk, the main character in my Gold series, came from a guy I knew in elementary school.

            On the other hand, in that same series, I pulled Mildred Pierce out of the air. It wasn’t until almost nine years later that I learned she was the name of a very famous character in a novel from the 40’s I’d never heard of. That was purely coincidental.

            Meleena, from my fantasy series is completely made up. I’d never heard of anyone with that name until recently when I discovered a disc jockey on Sirius XM radio with a similar, but different spelled version of the name.

NO BEARING ON REALITY

            I must make one thing very clear. These character names, even if inspired by real people, have no bearing on the real people! One has nothing to do with the other. Just to be clear, the kid I got the name Detach from in no way resembles the character in my novel in either appearance or personality. The same for Mildred Pierce or any other character I have a name for, so far at least. Maybe someday, the fan that wants to be in one of my books will get a little piece of their appearance or personality added to a character. Not much, but maybe a tiny bit, as a tribute.

            I could go on and on. For you, sometimes you just hit it right and sometimes without realizing it, you nail some famous or infamous name and don’t know until someone tells you about it. As for Mildred Pierce, she’s a sidekick in the Gold series and I’m very fond of her. I have no intention of changing her name. I may throw in a comment about the famous novel but maybe not. There are probably hundreds of women named Mildred Pierce, so I don’t see changing it. It’s not like her character is named Angelina Jolie. That would be too unique to get away with.

FANTASY NAMES – PITFALLS

            An issue with making up names, is similar sounding names. This came up in Meleena’s Adventures – Gods Of The Blue Mountains. The main character is, of course, Meleena. That name is totally unique. In this first sequel, she’s hanging with a female Elf I’ve been calling Alinda. One of my critiquing friends pointed out that Meleena and Alinda sounded too much alike. I referred to my handy-dandy Meleena’s Adventures encyclopedia. I hadn’t alphabetized it yet, which prompted some much needed housekeeping. I have sections for names, places, creatures and things. It was enough of a sidetrack just to get through reordering the names. With that done, I went through every character name, one-by-one, from both books. Since then, I’ve added more from the third book as well). Since Alinda and Meleena did sound a lot alike, I had to find something unique, something that didn’t sound like any of the other common character names. It wasn’t long before I settled on Niin (pronounced “neen”). There’s no other name like it. Where did I come up with it? I pulled it out of the air. I could’ve spent all day doing the same with random names but that was honestly the first one that popped into my head. No indecision, no agony or worrying. Guess I just got lucky.

            When you’re creating names for your story, similarity must be a consideration. Sound-alike names tend to confuse the reader. After a while, readers may not be able to distinguish between characters and that’ll weaken the impact of your prose. Each name should be different and distinctive. Alphabetizing my encyclopedia, which I should’ve done a long before this point, helped me see the big picture. It’s especially important in fantasy world building, where I have to make up names. I can’t be using Karl and Joe and Fred.

            In a conventional novel, you don’t want your common characters to be named Ted and Fred and Jed. Or Jan and Fran and Nan. That would drive a reader nuts, and it wouldn’t be long before they’d lose track of who’s who. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in a science fiction novel I recently read.

            There should be a distinct difference between names.

COMING UP WITH THESE NAMES

            Where do I come up with these quirky fantasy names in the first place?

            Maybe that goes with my fascination with foreign languages. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been keen on foreign tongues. Then, as an adult, I lived overseas and was exposed to multiple foreign languages. I got used to alternative tongues, accents, spelling and such. Making up my own words and names is no big deal. In fact, I’ve seen that in plenty of other fantasy authors. I can’t vouch for how easy they came up with the names, but they do. Maybe that I’m now learning or relearning Spanish, Dutch and Navajo will inspire something. Who knows?

            In another thread on the Facebook Fantasy site, someone polled the forum for ideas for names. While that’s one way, to me, these names should come from you, the writer, not from others. If someone else gives you the name, then it’s their idea, not yours. You don’t completely own it. Of course, if you take their name, modify it to make it your own, you could say you came up with it, but I, personally, wouldn’t want that. That’s just me.

            However, you have to do whatever works for you and if polling others is the method that gets you there, go for it.

EASY TO PRONOUNCE

            The final thought is to make the names easy to pronounce. Don’t have them tongue twisters that need pronunciation guides just to figure out. Words with lots of punctuation, or with unusual spellings that don’t correspond to how they’re pronounced in English isn’t a good idea. How many would want to tackle Is’’trik’a’ten’de’fas’’’ or Djtlsmp’tj’t’’tojsot’. Okay, maybe one or two sprinkled throughout the story. Give the name, how it’s pronounced, and leave it at that, or just allude to it being “unpronounceable.” Don’t have a whole bunch of names like that, or the reader’s going to skip over them and blank out your “finely crafted artistic expressions.” I know I would.

            Happy writing!

DISNEYLAND AGAIN

December 7, 2022

            Since I was knee high to a…well, for those of you old enough to remember that cliché…I practically grew up in the shadow if Disneyland. I visited not long after the park first opened and distinctly remember Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. To this day, it’s still my favorite ride, bar none. I remember visiting my cousins in Whittier and seeing the fireworks going off in the far distance, back when the smog was not so bad and you could still see long distances. We used to go there a couple of times a year, and I still recall the original parking lot before it became California Adventure. I also recall the orange groves that used to surround the place.

            I may even have a vague tie-in to the Disney studios through my mom. When she was a teen back in the late thirties and early forties, during the war, she had a dance partner who used to drag her, under age, to dances. He went on to become an animator for Disney studios. He also may or may not be related to an infamous actor that’s still active today.

            I grew up with Disney shows, Disney toys, Disney books and records. Who of a certain age can forget the Wonderful World Of Color? The Mousketeers? Zorro? When I needed my imagination sparked, along with all the reading I did from a very early age, Disney was at the forefront. My inspiration, muse, or “polka-dot sewer,” was right there. It’s never left me.

MODERN TIMES

            I’ve covered inspiration several times here at Fred Central and people often talk about that and about muses. If I were to venture into that territory, I cannot go far without a big shout out to Disney. They’ve been a big part of my life. Even when I went off and joined the Air Force, left California and the You Ess And A for Europe, that spark of imagination never quite left me.

            When we finally moved back west to Las Vegas, we had a chance to revisit the original, and to me, the only real Disneyland. While I can’t really knock the other parks around the world, the original still holds the best memories and inspiration.

            On visiting my parents, while still on active duty, we had a chance to go to Disneyland once in the 80’s and once in the 90’s. It helped inspire me to start writing.

            To this day, when we visit the park, something about the place stirs my imagination. Something always indirectly gives me an idea for one of my books.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

            While I’ve described a particular place, for each of you, it might be something different. Is it a place like Disneyland? Is it a person? Is it a city? A house? A vehicle? A train? Family life?

            For some of you, maybe there is no one thing that inspires you.

            In general, everything inspires me. I’ve talked about that a lot. However, the key, the root, especially after thinking about it, goes back to Disneyland.

            Does that mean that everything I write is sparkly and G-rated?

            Of course not!

            However, there are certain things that you’ll always find in my work.

            The bad guy always loses. The hero always wins. The hero always survives at the end.

            Those are just givens for any book I write, and if they’re spoilers, so be it. Since I write mostly in series, that should be evident from the outset anyway.

            My stories have positive outcomes. Always.

            THAT’S Disney influence in a nutshell, regardless if I’m writing fantasy, thrillers or icky bug. That’s also regardless of the subject matter, body count or any colorful metaphors.

            For you, what’s your major influence, above all, and how has it affected your writing?

SUMMARY

            We don’t write in a vacuum. Our inspiration and influences come from somewhere. It filters through our personalities, experiences and whims and becomes something unique.

            That’s what makes the world turn.

            Happy writing!

BLOOD OUT OF A TURNIP

November 30, 2022

            For those in the know, they think of reviews when I mention that phrase “Blood out of a turnip.”

            I’ve talked about reviews many times here at Fred Central. This morning, as I write this, it hit me that I’ve lately sold nineteen copies of Gods Of The Blue Mountains and got only one four star review. The catch? Amazon now allows reviewers to just make a rating with no narrative.

            In other words, I have no idea what they liked and didn’t like about the book.

FRUSTRATING

            Just think. Nineteen books and one non-narrative review.

            While I’m happy with the rating, it would be nice to have some verbiage.

            Also, nineteen books and only one review?

            Not very much of a return.

            I guess I shouldn’t complain as others have sold hundreds with almost no reviews.

WHY IS IT SO HARD?

            The hard fact is that there are a lot more readers than reviewers. Some people find writing so intimidating yet reading easy. The dread thought of actually writing something may seem like torture or homework.

            I well understand that.

            Some also may be great at reading, but can barely sign their name when it comes to putting sentences together. That’s not a hit at intelligence, but just a fact that some people are not made to write. It’s not in their DNA.

AMAZON

            I’m sure Amazon was thinking the same thing. Many readers have an aversion to writing.

            So, why not make it easier?

            Allow people to just submit a rating and no narrative.

            At least it’s a review despite no explanation.

WHY REVIEWS MATTER

            At least on Amazon, reviews have a great impact on ranking.

            In other words, the more reviews, the higher your book appears on the lists, whether you are using Amazon Ads or not.

            Reviews are the lifeblood of an author, at least on Amazon, let alone anywhere else books are sold.

BLOOD OUT OF A TURNIP

            This concept isn’t new. Getting reviews is about as much of a struggle as general marketing.

            Just getting someone to react at all to your book is a monumental feat. When you know someone who reads it and gives feedback, that’s one thing. When they’re complete strangers, well…don’t expect much.

            You can beg for reviews or even pay for them. Paying is not on my radar because I don’t believe they’re honest or that I should have to pay.

            Sending someone a copy of a book to review is one thing. Even then, half the time this person never does a review anyway. I know that from hard experience.

SUMMARY

            What can we do?

            The only apparent way to get more reviews is to sell way more books per review. The numbers will eventually be there, but still may not do much to boost your book. In that case, the sales ranking alone will get you up there, but will be hampered by few reviews.

            It’s a frustrating deal.

            Still, I’ve no plans on giving up.

            Happy writing!