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FEEL LIKE QUITTING?

August 20, 2019

It’s bound to happen to many, if not most writers. You get that built-up frustration, and want to give up and quit. That’s especially true if writing is a hobby and not a passion. Why do you get this way?

LEARNING TECHNIQUE

It’s no secret that English is one of the hardest languages to master. Not only that, but to write and tell a story properly is even more difficult. There are many nuances to consider, and when one is trying to construct a meaningful and marketable novel or even short story, you’re bombarded with rule after rule after rule.

Things can get frustrating. It takes a lot of perseverance to stick with it.

If you’re not in for the long haul, you might as well stick your toe in, and if the passion doesn’t strike, take up knitting.

CRITICISM

Of course, one can’t get into writing and expect nothing but sunshine and butterflies. To get good at it, you have to not only accept, but absorb a lot of criticism. Not all of it’s going to be kind, and some of it, even if so, may be a blow to your ego.

Look at it this way. No matter who you are. You weren’t a writer before you started this. Or even if you were, you weren’t seriously into this world. Now you are. However, despite all, you’re still new at it, so that means you have to learn stuff and that means you aren’t going to be perfect. You’re going to make mistakes and others are going to let you know.

Grow a pair and accept that!

GETTING PUBLISHED

By whatever avenue you try, getting published isn’t just doing it. There’s a lot more to the process and it can be very frustrating. You need to go into it with open eyes.

MARKETING

To me, marketing is the worst part of the entire process.

Whether you’re traditionally published or self, you need to get out there and let people know you have a book, and need to convince them to buy it.

It’s simple as that.

This can be extremely frustrating to have people nod and pass you buy, simply ignore you, hate what you write, or make promises they never follow through with.

It’s all part of the process.

SUMMARY

If you want to quit, no matter what stage you’re in, whether you’re still creating, or all the way to the marketing side, you have think of why you write in the first place.

Is this a passion or a hobby?

If writing is a passion, you’re going to continue regardless of all the challenges, because none of that matters. Writing is what you do. Period.

If writing is a hobby. Oh well, you reached a roadblock and it took all the joy out of why you do it.

Quit and take up knitting.

The choice is yours.

Happy writing!

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BUILDING A CHARACTER

August 7, 2019

I’ve talked quite a bit about characters here at Fred Central.

As a coincidence, since I wrote this last week, we just had an outstanding presentation on building a character from the ground up at our Henderson Writer’s Group Meeting by my buddy Donald Riggio.

So, with that in mind, how do you make a character interesting?

How do you make a character relevant?

What steps do you take, or what method do you use to go about actually creating said character?

Unless you’re a multitasker, let’s consider just one at a time. Maybe you can do many simultaneously like I do, on the fly, but I’m going to break it down into a single, step-by-step process and you can take it from there.

PURPOSE

It would seem the character’s what, where, when, why and how would be automatic, but let’s step back a minute.

Why is the character there in the first place? What’s his or her purpose?

Main character (MC)?

Antagonist (bad guy).

Sidekick?

Peripheral?

One-off?

These factors determine how elaborate you go with the rest of the details. Of course, you want to spend the most real-estate on the MC. Less on the sidekicks and even less on the peripherals.

Depending on your style, you need to spend some time on the bad guy or gal. Some readers want motivation. Some could care less. Here’s where you need to do a delicate dance with your real-estate.

Now, the peripheral and one-off characters are where some authors get into trouble. They can spend an inordinate amount of time on trivial characters, especially if they have some agenda and want to leak that into the story through one of these characters. Much of the time, this just wastes space.

The author uses the excuse “adding color to the story.” Ahem…that only goes so far, and unless you’re a literary writer, where words count more than action, you’re going to bore and lose your reader. This is what’s called fluff. It wastes the reader’s time. It waters down and distracts from the plot and story movement.

APPEARANCE

This one can be a tough call.

On one side, you have the author that describes each character in detail, down to every stich of clothing and every mole on their face, every hair out of place. The reader can often get bogged down in details they either absorb or skip over, like me. As a rule, I instantly forget more than the most vivid or general descriptions and fill in my own blanks. I’m not alone in that.

What’s worse is comparing your characters to some celebrity, especially a main character. If it’s a minor character, that’s less of an issue because if the reader hates the celebrity, the minor character can be brushed off without them putting the book down.

For the most part, general or little to a vague description does the trick. Let the reader fill in their own blanks. Most of them are going to do it anyway.

FAMILY HISTORY

Nobody comes from a vacuum. Everybody has a history of some kind, so it’s only natural to give your characters, especially the main ones and even the sidekicks a bit of family history.

I don’t mean entire chapters, but a few paragraphs here and there. Drop in character-building things to give life to your characters. Everyone has or had a mom and dad, maybe siblings, or some kind of uncles and aunts. Maybe they were an only child, and their family died. Maybe they ended up in the foster care system. Who knows?

HEALTH ISSUES

Whether mental or physical, no character is perfect. Reflect that in your narrative and dialogue. Give your character life by giving them a health history.

My character Detach in the Gold Series has Limnophobia. That’s a fear of fresh water lakes. I use that as a plot device throughout the series.

What issues do your characters have? Give them aches and pains. Give them fears, phobias, things that make them human or inhuman if they’re critters (after all, some of you write fantasy and science fiction).

HABITS & FOIBLES

Aside from mental health issues, each character, whether major, minor or bad guy, has habits and foibles that make each one different and interesting.

What do they do that not only makes them different, but makes them interesting?

What’s their moral code?

MAKE THEM RELATABLE

Finally, except for unusual circumstances, every character should have something relatable to the reader. People like to identify with the characters, especially the main character. There are, of course, certain characters that are so far out in left field nobody can relate to them. That’s a given in some cases. However, someone in the story has to be there for the reader to draw onto to ground them. If not, they become lost.

Even in an alien or fantasy world, one character can be relatable to us. Either by their personality or actions, there’s something they have, a spark, a habit…something we all have that we can grab onto. You’ll know it when you see it.

OUTLINE OR ON THE FLY?

The eternal question.

First off, you don’t slam the reader with all of these details in the first chapter. You leak it out, bit by bit. Maybe it’ll take several books. In fact, it SHOULD take several books if it’s a series. The reader should always be learning something new about the characters in each installment.

Now you, as the author don’t have to come up with all of this before you start. Some of you might do just that, and outline everything. However, some of us, like me, do it on the fly. We have a vague idea of who our characters are and things develop as we go along.

That’s exactly how I do it. I know what I want from my characters, but I don’t outline it or write it down. I let it flow out as I write. I leak it out a bit at a time. Sometimes I get an inspiration to throw something else into the mix. I’m very fluid with that.

Some of you may be very rigid with your characters and that’s fine.

Some of you may be a mix, inbetween both extremes. That’ll work just as well.

Whatever the case, build your character into something dynamic and interesting.

Happy writing!

DISNEYLAND

July 31, 2019

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 of 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 all the time. 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? 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 around me 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!

TITLES

July 23, 2019

The original article came out in early 2013 and was titled “Does Your Title Have Anything To Do With Your Book?”

As long as Fred Central has been around, it was inevitable that this subject come around again.

Why?

As much as I read, write and observe, I’ve about seen it all, and since then, more and more examples have popped up.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A TITLE

The original article was a sequel to a previous article. I’d talked about how not to punish your reader with words. To be exact, make your prose succinct and to the point. Don’t drone on and on. In that same vein, how about making the title somehow correspond to the subject matter?

That thought still applies today, six years later.

The inspiration for the original title article came from an Amazon review I did of the book that inspired that previous article. Though the title played some part in the book, that was hardly the focus of events. I had to stretch to tie it in. My guess was that the author had to slap some title onto his lecture, because that’s ultimately what this tome turned out to be, a lecture on British occupation of the Sudan with a quest for treasure thrown in. Thinking back on it now, I avoid this author like the plague. I’d just as soon read a college textbook than his subsequent titles. While classified as fiction, they were quite a drudge to get through.

To me, the title came off as a poor choice. It was an underlying theme, I guess, a common thread, but the majority of the story was about something else entirely. I could’ve thought of a hundred different titles, (some of them not so complimentary), but let’s not get off the track.

GETTING TO THE POINT/MARKETING & TRUTH IN ADVERTISING

When I title my stories, I like to make sure the title has something to do with the actual story, something significant to do with the story, not just a minor thread to tie it all together. I suppose, using the authors logic, the title DID tie it all together, but maybe it was because I wasn’t really happy with so much of the book that the title didn’t ring true.

That still brings up my point about being careful to title your story. There have been plenty of cases of titles that didn’t fit.

What’s the purpose of the title anyway? It’s a form of recognition, a way for people to identify with what you wrote, a marketing tool. At the same time, that title should have something to do with what’s between the pages and not just a minor part, but a significant part. In the case of the book that inspired the original article, the beginning mentioned it, with an occasional reference here and there, and the very end in the author’s notes, which mind you, were just as droning and endless as the narrative! I guess that’s better than some others I’ve run across, but still a poor choice, in my opinion because the actual subject matter had nothing to do with that title.

Now, sometimes the title is a pun, a cutesy play on words, a metaphor. What’s wrong with that?

Part of the reason for a title is to have some significant connection with what the story is about. At least it should. It’s just like the back cover blurb. There’s another sore spot for me. Truth in advertising. The back blurb is designed to draw the reader in. However, it shouldn’t be there to drag in a reader under false pretenses. The blurb should describe something that’s actually in the book.

SOME PEOPLE DON’T CARE

Regardless to content or writing quality, when it comes to misleading titles, that just adds insult to injury. Then again, back in the seventies, I remember plenty of the goofy psychedelic-era tomes with nonsensical titles that didn’t have a thing to do with the content. They’re out there, and some of them are probably considered classics.

The title is extremely important. It sets the whole premise for the book. If the title is called Horse and the book is about bank robbers who use VW Beatles and a horse is only mentioned once as a side comment somewhere in the middle, that’s a crummy title. If the book is called All The Boatmen yet the book is about a lumber mill, and the only reference to boats are two lovers in the story going on a canoe trip one weekend, that’s a misleading title.

Those two examples I completely made up, so don’t think I took them from real examples. If they happen to be real books, that’s pure coincidence. If so, that really makes my point!

I’ve seen more real examples but don’t want to disparage any authors directly, so I won’t go there. There are plenty of books titled after some off-hand comment, some zinger of a line that’s uttered by a character that has nothing to do with the rest of the story. Some of them are classics, many are not.

HOWEVER…

If it’s a catchy, nonsensical title, and the story’s great, it still might just work. There are examples out there with that wonky title attached to a great story. It does happen. Nothing in this world is absolute. If a catchy title draws in readers, regardless if it’s relevant to the story, more power to you. However, I still go back to the truth in advertising thing. Most people like to know what they’re getting up front. Honesty works better most of the time.

Please do your readers justice and give them an accurate title!

Happy writing.

 

SHOULD YOU AVOID TROPES IN YOUR STORY?

July 17, 2019

In one fantasy forum I’m on, the question came up about avoiding tropes. Should the write avoid the usual tropes and what are they? I had an article back in 2016 about using tropes. I figured it was time to revisit this subject.

EVERYTHING IS A TROPE

Just think about it. When you’re writing within a genre, unless it’s a brand new one never done before, everything has been done before. My advice to that is, get over it. That means that no matter what form your story takes, you inevitably use tropes. You have to, or you can’t even construct a meaningful story.

I could just stop the article right here, but let’s look a little further.

The fantasy-focused forum then did a poll and listed a bunch of supposed tropes, and from the list, they basically drew every type of hero and every type of bad guy and asked which you’re sick of. The poll wasn’t near done, but already had a good start with people stating that some were sick of just about all of them.

Okay, the ones with the least amount of hate?

Is every author now going to focus stories around those particular tropes?

Was there some tropes left off?

WHAT IS A TROPE?

A trope is an over-used plot element or character.

Basically it’s something over-used in a story. Period.

In today’s world, with the extremely short attention span of our society, people get bored easily, so everything is boring in about thirty seconds or less.

That would seem to indicate that one cannot come up with much that hasn’t been done before many times over again.

The one thing that’s never duplicated though, is the unique story and the way it’s told by each author. Regardless of any tropes used, each individual author has a unique voice in the telling. That makes a story as individual as DNA.

However, back to the definition of a trope.

Damsel in distress.

Vampires.

The strong and silent cowboy.

The bad guy who’s just evil because he or she’s evil.

The bad guy who’s evil because of a broken home.

The bad guy who’s evil because they were abused as a child.

The poor beggar that turns out to be a prince.

The sparkly vampire.

The hard-bitten detective.

Sound familiar? I could go on and on and fill pages with tropes.

It’s said there are only a limited number of plots. In fact there’s a book about it. So, from that perspective, there are only so many plots which automatically makes EVERY plot a trope.

There you go.

THE BIG QUESTION

The big question leads to my big answer.

Should you even worry about tropes in your writing?

If in your particular genre, there’s a general negative reaction to a certain trope, commercially speaking, maybe it might not be the best idea to forge ahead with a story in that vein unless you’re super-compelled to do so. If that’s the case, damn it all and go ahead.

As for everyone else, screw the tropes. If you get the big idea, the big inspiration, the big Kahuna, I say, go for it and not even worry if it’s a trope. If you happen to realize you’re using one and decide to throw in a little twist to the stereotypical sparkly vampire, or hunky silent cowboy, or something equally typical, please do so! I’m sure nobody would object.

On the other hand, if you use a well-worn trope, yet write a fantastic story because you were unhindered worrying about something as trivial as upsetting the sensibilities of some easily bored people who are upset you’re using tropes, go for it!

SUMMARY

I recently wrote an article about rules. Well, tropes isn’t one of them. That has nothing to do with good writing. Tropes has to do with taste and following trends. I’m not a personal fan of trends. I don’t get bored easily, and never have. On the other hand, there ARE certain tropes I avoid like the plague, like anything to do with vampires. I’ve never been a fan, but I’m also not into cowboy stories or romance, but that’s got nothing to do with whether they’re good stories or not, or whether the writing is any good. That’s personal, genre taste. My taste for thrillers, detective and icky bug (horror) novels are full of tropes. Those kind of tropes don’t bother me in the least. It’s the writing and the stories that affect me.

Happy writing!

KNOW WHEN TO BEND THE RULES OR JUST BEING LAZY?

July 9, 2019

My goal, ever since starting this blog back in 2012 was to dole out writing advice and to try and help others hone their craft. With that in mind, I’ve presented many aspects of this passion, some more controversial than others.

Not surprisingly, my most popular article has been “AND”, “BUT”, THE COLON AND SEMI-COLON IN FICTION. This one always draws a lot of reaction and most recently a troll.

There are others as well.

WHY ARE THERE RULES?

Well, for one thing, rules are there to make your manuscript readable. Without a readable manuscript, no agent or publisher is going to touch it. Period.

The other thing is that without rules, no reader can read it. You’d have an incomprehensible mess.

Taking that as a given though, lets narrow that down to refined rules. Say you can put a paragraph together. Okay, so what? How about turning that into multiple paragraphs, chapters and an entire book? There’s a lot more to it, then.

To make a story readable, you have to employ certain rules to keep a person reading. Over the very few decades that stories have really been available to the mass market, the industry has discovered and refined the rules of writing that work the best to attract the widest audience.

That’s why we have rules of writing.

The whole point of presenting your work to the public, beyond writing it for pleasure, is to present it in the most palatable form to the most people possible.

That’s the key.

To do that, you need to follow certain guidelines (yeah, I mean rules) in writing to appeal to the widest audience.

In other words, I like to say, the writing shouldn’t get in the way of the story.

BENDING THE RULES

Some rules are vague, some are well established, and some are contradictory. Some change over time. Some never change.

I read a lot. I read at least a book to a book and a half a week, depending on how well written it is. The better it’s written, the faster I can read it. That right there should be a big red flag (or clue). As a writer as well as a reader, I’m always evaluating the writing.

There’s nothing more annoying than stumbling over the writing when I’m trying to enjoy a story. When the author either bends or ignores the rules of writing, the writing is getting in the way of the story. If the bending is minor, those are just bumps that can be ignored. If it’s constant, that slows things down and becomes annoying. It jerks me out of the story.

There are certain writers that are so close to perfect, if they slip up or bend a rule slightly, I don’t even notice. I devour their books, and when I get to the end of the story, I close the last page with a smile on my face and never even realize I just read something instead of absorbed it. THAT is what every book should do. THAT is what I try to teach through my articles every week.

I sometimes get feedback about how I can’t say this and can’t say that. Well, guess what?

Go ahead and bend the rules, or do whatever you want. You’re the one that has to let your fans suffer through your work. Maybe they won’t notice. Maybe they will. Maybe they’ll come away with a smile and a sigh, maybe just a smile. Maybe not.

I, personally would rather my readers not even realize they read the story, but absorbed it. That’s my goal. Whether I always succeed or not, I cannot say, but I at least try.

I personally don’t, or rarely bend the rules. If I do, I know how and when, and it’s never out of laziness. It has a specific purpose. I have yet to run into a case where I have done that (that I can remember at the moment), but I know I have once or twice in short stories, at least.

SUMMARY

Are you bending the rules because you just don’t care, you want to rebel, are lazy, or you don’t think your readers will care, either?

Is a sucker born every minute?

Or, do you think all of this is a bunch of bullshit?

I’m not here to tell you what to do. However, after over sixty years of reading, I’ve discovered what works well and what works not as well. I’ve polled other readers and got plenty of feedback to not only back me up, but also to sometimes contradict what I say. I’m not 100% right, of course. There are people that don’t abide by my beliefs. It’s too big a world for that. However, the vast majority of people I’ve polled have indicated they prefer a clean read that abides by the rules, even if they aren’t consciously aware of them.

Happy writing!

TROLLS

July 3, 2019

As a sometimes fantasy writer, the word troll could mean something entirely different from what I’m actually talking about in this case.

Today, I’m talking about Internet trolls.

In a more blunt term, these are assholes.

WHAT IS A TROLL?

A troll is a relatively new Internet term for someone who horns into forums, chats and feeds and has nothing nice to say. They can get downright nasty.

They almost always use a bogus handle and quite often, make it so they cannot be traced.

Basically, they’re cowards who have an opinion, but are too scared to say it in their real name.

Or, they may have a real ID and just want to breed chaos and anarchy.

HAS IT HAPPENED TO YOU?

Trolling usually occurs, the more popular a person is. Popularity draws them out of the woodwork.

If you’re like me, we’re not exactly setting the world on fire, but we do have a small group of people who listen in, sometimes give feedback, exchange ideas.

Trolls usually aren’t interested in people like us. We don’t draw enough attention. Their reign of chaos doesn’t apply.

Then again…

WHO ARE THESE TROLLS?

Since very few of them are ever caught, it’s hard to say who they really are.

They could be:

Pre-teen boys goofing around or thrashing out because of a shitty home life.

Forty year old men still living in their mother’s basement with too much time on their hands.

More rarely, teen girls…mean girls taking out their angst on the world.

Over-politically correct types doing a campaign to fix the world.

Hackers just being jerks.

Foreign agents creating chaos as part of some nefarious scheme.

Fill in your own blank here____________

THE MORE POPULAR YOU BECOME…

The more popular you become, the more likely you’re going to experience the personal joy of a troll.

If you receive enough Internet traffic due to your popularity, the numbers alone are going to eventually include an occasional troll.

It’s inevitable.

WHAT TO DO?

The most effective tactic, tried and true is to just ignore them. That usually works the best.

On occasion, one can engage a troll.

However…

Unless you’re very witty, or ready for a barrage of responses, some of which might increase in intensity and other consequences, I probably wouldn’t recommend it.

Why?

One thing I didn’t mention about trolls.

While I suggested different types of people who might be on the other end of these crazy and sometimes disturbing things that they say, what I didn’t mention is the real deep whackos.

By engaging someone truly disturbed, what are you getting yourself into?

If this troll says something truly out there, maybe it’s time to contact someone.

DELETE

In some cases, you can delete trolls from your forums, messages, feeds. Effectively, you can ban them.

If someone responds to something and the name is bogus, while the first or first several responses might be mild or innocuous, then turn nasty, you may have a lot of deleting to do. Maybe it would be better to look carefully at the names of those responding to you. If the name looks whacky, I mean seriously whacky, you might want to have second thoughts about accepting them to your feed in the first place.

Just an idea.

SUMMARY

Most of the time, trolls are just something to ignore, but better to be safe than sorry.

Happy writing!