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MAKING THE STORY MOVE

June 20, 2018

To continue in the same thread as my recent articles Description – When Do You Zone Out and Rambling On And On, I’ve been editing a novel for a friend. During our discussions on the philosophy and how to approach her writing, the subject of description and moving the plot came about. She voiced her opinion of both over-describing and moving the plot along. They echoed what I’ve been talking about all along.

I just happened to finish a science fiction novel that’s been languishing in my book pile for over a year. My daughter gave it to me. It was the hand me down of a hand me down. I’ve been avoiding it for a long time because frankly, so much science fiction I’ve tried to read has fallen into the literary category, just like fantasy. While I have in the past and still do write in both genres, I like to get to the point.

BROWSING THE SHELVES

To this day, I still browse the shelves of the fantasy/syfy section at the bookstore, but usually end up in the general fiction section.

Why?

Part of the problem is subject matter.

SUBJECT MATTER

When it comes to syfy (and I know some of you don’t like the acronym, but for simplicity and word count, I’m going to use it here), when I read the back blurb and are hit immediately with unpronounceable words, my eyes start to glaze over. In a way, I’m being a hypocrite when the title of my first fantasy novel has the word Umbrunna in it. On the other hand, my book blurb doesn’t have a bunch of other unpronounceable words.

Or…

The blurb has some candyrock psychedelic profundity (thanks Frank Zappa) description that you have to read two…three times, just to comprehend. That’s not only hard for grabbing new readers, but bad marketing, unless you’re a total science geek, I suppose? Since I’m not deep into the genre in that regard, I just don’t get some of the catch phrases.

The same holds true for fantasy, except the blurb might be even a bit more wordy, to go along with the thousand page tome.

Ding ding ding ding!

THE PAGES

This is the meat of the matter, a cliché if I’ve ever heard one, and yes I used it and I don’t care. It goes right along with tropes and if you look at the shelves in the fantasy/syfy area, you’ll see just as many tropes as clichés.

Now, the meat…the pages. The big red flags that turn me right back to the general fiction.

As fantastic as the artwork can be, given a back blurb that’s actually intriguing, I open it up and it meets my first qualification of third-person, past-tense, what next?

I see solid words, page after page, with no empty space.

What does that tell me?

This author likes to ramble. He or she likes to describe everything and apparently, either doesn’t like much dialogue, or relies on a lot of dialogue…long passages of dialogue to replace the rambling narrative.

So, we have either/or.

If I don’t see plenty of empty space on the pages, I put the book right back down and move on.

No empty space means there are no breathers and that means the story drags. The author doesn’t know brevity.

THE KEY IS, DOES THE STORY MOVE?

My wife reads nothing but fantasy. Though she never does reviews, she lets me know when she thinks a book sucks, or if she loves it. While she doesn’t so much care about point of view like I do, she echoes a lot of my sentiments when the author rambles, or doesn’t use point of view correctly. She gets very frustrated at rambling. While she reads a lot on Nook, I’ve looked up the paper versions of some of those books she hated in the store and leafed through them. Sure enough, she proved my point, exactly, from what I’ve been saying above.

GOT’TA REMEMBER

The whole point of this is to remember that as ancient as I am, I was a reader a loooong time before I was ever a writer. I’m still a reader. As a writer, I’ve tried to learn what works best. While some readers are a lot more tolerant to various styles, I’ve come to the conclusion long ago that I just don’t have the time or inclination to mess around with the bullshit anymore.

I want to read books that get to the point the easiest and most efficient way possible.

I want my readers to have that same experience as well.

I don’t want to punish my readers with experiments of whimsy based on where my “muse” is taking me stylistically. I’m saving that for my plots.

I’ll leave the hard to read books for those looking for a challenge, or for those that actually prefer that style, as some do.

I really believe the vast majority of people would rather get to the point like I do, and sit down and have a pleasurable reading experience that can be complex and fun, yet get to the point without a bunch of barriers and high concepts that leave them confused and scratching their heads. It’s perfectly fine to throw in a bit of high concept and thought-provoking ideas, but don’t beat them over the head with it. Don’t bog down the story with minutiae and endless exposition. Keep it in small doses and let the action move things along.

You can smell the roses, give high concepts and throw out a few complicated names without clubbing them over the head.

Happy writing!

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PREPARING THE NEXT BOOK FOR PUBLICATION

June 12, 2018

For those of you that’ve been through this, “say no more, say no more,” to quote Monte Python, or at least paraphrase them. However, for those of you that have still not reached that point yet, this is mainly for you.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT WITH BOOK ONE

Maybe you’ve published one book, maybe not. I’ve published two, so far, and each one has been a learning experience. Each time, a little more is brought to the table (and don’t even start shaming with the clichés. I’m going to use them if I feel like it. Save that criticism for my book editors).

Each book was the start of a different series, so of course, tweaks have ensued in the current (third) book for publication. It’s a return to the fantasy series, and the first sequel, as opposed to my adventure/thriller series which already has five sequels in the can, waiting for publication sometime in the future. Probably the next book published will be the first sequel to the adventure/thriller and I’ll keep switching off.

MELEENA’S ADVENTURES

I learned a few things from the publication of Treasure Of The Umbrunna, the first book in the Meleena’s Adventures series.

The majority of people that read it loved it.

I did not gain fans from those that didn’t, but that’s true with any writer. I don’t lose sleep over it. I got plenty of criticism for this and that. The rest? Well…I put it down to different tastes. Some of it was legit, which I’ve addressed.

People requested maps.

A few requested a glossary.

The cover needed work.

All of this summed up and converged into the work we did on the sequel, Gods Of The Blue Mountains.

GODS OF THE BLUE MOUNTAINS

I wrote and read the entire manuscript of Gods to my writer’s group between 2014 and 2016. Treasure came out in 2015, amid that writing spell. We were working on my adventure/thriller Lusitania Gold after the publication of Treasure during which I finished Gods. Once Gold went live in 2017, we got going with the publication process for Gods.

The editing is now done and it’s been formatted. In keeping with the style of Treasure, upon the recommendation of my publisher, I went through and suggested graphics to head each chapter. In the meantime, based on requests from readers, I drew a semi-detailed map (badly, I might add!) and also added a progressive glossary.

The map and glossary are two new features I hope to continue with each subsequent book in the series. I think the glossary will become a natural part of the series and will continue to grow on the condition that readers will know of spoilers within it!

WHAT NOW?

If all goes well, both will continue to be permanent features of the Meleena series. I can tell you that researching and drawing that map wasn’t easy! Picturing it in my mind, but then going back and verifying directions from what I actually wrote in both Treasure, Gods, and the third book, which I’m currently working on, Across The Endless Sea was no easy task!

Aaagh!

I persevered, though, and got ‘er dun.

The “stick figure” drawing I made of the map was much improved by our artist in residence and I’m happy with it.

The third book, Sea, is a bit easier, as far as the map goes, because it takes place off the edge of the current world, so I have freedom to redraw it completely.

A few weeks ago, I received the first galley and proofed it. It included the map. Wow! It turned out great. However, during my proofing (which is on top of the other, regular proofer’s work), I found another flaw in the map, so the artist had to make a tweak. Good thing I caught it at this early stage!

During the proofing process, I found fifteen pages of minor tweaks which included mostly grammatical flaws, typos, but also a few glitches in wording that needed to be fixed due to logic conflicts. All very minor, but something that might jar a reader, and certainly jarred me!

Soon, it’ll be up to the public to decide.

Happy writing!

SHORT STORY IDEAS

June 6, 2018

To go along with my last article, Remembering Those Ideas, how about when you’re brewing several short story ideas?

Dorlon, one of my buds at my weekly writer’s group meetings and I get there early most Mondays and often discuss writing and stories. He writes a lot of short stories, more than I do. We talk about inspiration and writing them all down, saving up the ideas, so on and so forth.

He puts more effort into the shorts than I do, while my effort is more toward other writing. All in all, we end up with what we end up with. Maybe he doesn’t get down near enough stories for what he wants, given his inspiration and the time he gets to put into it.

As for me, I generally don’t think about it in such terms. My process is a bit slower.

MY PROCESS

Sometimes I can go months without a specific idea. I may be too busy with my current novel, astronomy project (which is continuous), editing something for a friend, a proof read for my editor, or one of the other various projects I take on. Then, the muse will hit out of the blue.

What to do?

I quite often, stop everything else, then write the draft on the spot.

Other times, I form the idea, ponder it for a few days, a week or two, then, I write the draft in one session.

A short story, to me is 4K words or thereabouts. If I ramble a bit, it may creep into 5K, in need of trimming. Now you have the basic parameters. I’ll say that they can be a bit shorter, if the story warrants.

EXCEPTIONS

There are occasions when I get a nugget of inspiration and I’m not ready to write. I don’t have the muse. I have an idea, but no motivation, or no set plan. The idea isn’t fully formed, the desire isn’t ready to bloom. The story will sit in the back of my mind and linger until I’m ready.

I have one such story that’s been coalescing since April 2015. It’s personal and will not see the light of day until I’m ready. The problem is forgetting details and not getting some of them right. On the other hand, I have to do the story justice. This is a case where I’ve taken some notes but some is memory as well.

There’s another story where I’ve been playing around with the idea for a while, but that one’s been dodging in an out of my mind for some time. I’m not sure how I want to approach it. Since it’s not fully formed, I’m not ready to commit.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE ALREADY DONE AND NOT COMPLETED?

I have a few shorts that are done and either rejected submissions to my writer’s group anthology or read to my writer’s group, critiqued but not entirely revised.

Each of them could be tweaked, fixed, re-written, resubmitted, whatever.

Do I even want to?

Do I agree with the critiques? Do I want to change them or do I think the critics missed the point?

These are things to ponder if I ever want to move those stories along as well.

There are even a few drafts I’ve blurted out in a nugget of inspiration when the muse hit. Then I set them aside only to languish, forgotten for the moment. Not many, granted, but one or two.

One day, I’ll pull these nuggets out and see what I can do with them.

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS?

I’ve written so many short stories, had enough published, that I don’t live and breathe every word and dangle my life’s breath on their publication.

How do you handle that?

Do you write for the pure pleasure, like I do, or is it something else?

What’s your process? Is it your entire thing or a side aspect of your novel writing, poetry, or whatever else you do?

What I’ve described may or may not be similar to what you do or have done. I hope it gives you some insight and helps you see from another perspective.

Happy writing!

REMEMBERING THOSE IDEAS

May 30, 2018

I generally don’t write things down. If I do, they tend to be on yellow stickies that eventually age and fall off the top cabinet bottom rim where I stick then on my computer desk. Then, they end up in a pile of other stuff and can get temporarily lost in the shuffle until I find them again, then go, “Hey, wasn’t I supposed to use that in Chapter…”

Are you, on the other hand, an obsessive note taker, an outliner? Something in-between?

I’m sure I’ve discussed this before in one form or ‘tuther, but true to my usual inspiration for articles, this one snuck up on me just now. I was shuffling through a couple of papers on the top of my computer tower and ran across a yellow sticky with several lines on it from my work in progress (WIP). Did I have a “Hey, wasn’t I supposed to…” moment?

No, as a matter of fact, my memory’s still good enough that I’d already thought of what I wanted to remind myself of, plus being a seat-of-the-pants writer, I’m so linear in my thinking, that besides knowing A and B, and knowing the middle is a complete surprise and adventure, it still forms and develops with inspirations and ideas that linger in the back of my mind. That occurs even if I write them down. In this case, the note that fell down, has two things that already occurred, one thing that’s going to occur within the next two chapters, and one that’ll occur later in the book and I’ve been developing in the back of my mind for months.

You know what? I forgot all about the note! It’s so old, it lost it’s sticky value and fell off the rim of the cabinet, gathered dust, got picked up and stuck at the bottom of the pile of stuff on the computer tower, unread until now!

I wrote that note over a year ago. Go figure.

A NOTE ABOUT CLIVE CUSSLER

One of my writing influences and heroes back in the day, was and still is, to some extent, Clive Cussler. I distinctly remember reading something about his writing habits decades ago when I first started this, though I never specifically followed it.

Clive kept, or maybe still keeps a file full of notes. When he gets ideas for a story, he writes down the ideas and files them away. As he’s writing, he can randomly pull these ideas from the file and use them, at will. For some people, this is a great idea, having a file with random ideas, maybe categorized by subject matter at your disposal.

While I pondered that idea, I never followed through. It’s like all those books on writing I bought and never read. I had to follow my own path.

DIFFERENT MEMORIES REQUIRE DIFFERENT METHODS

You may just be bursting with ideas, but cannot remember them from one minute to the next. Or, you get so many, you lose sight of them or mix them up and they lose impact.

What to do?

Write them down.

Maybe, the Cussler method is for you, or some variation.

Maybe your WIP requires notes, especially if you’re bursting with ideas and your brain is working faster than your fingers and writing ability can keep up.

The question is, how are you going to take these notes, then organize them so you can make sense of them later? What if you slap them all down in a huge file, only to not see the forest through the trees?

You finish your story, then look through your notes and find a bunch of great ideas you missed?

On the other hand, if you spend too much time taking notes from all these inspirations you want to incorporate in your story, are you now spending way too much time on the notes rather than on the actual manuscript?

BALANCE

Folks, I’m writing an entire novel with maybe two or three yellow stickies.

If you’re going to write a novel of ideas just to write your novel, something isn’t adding up.

You need to keep your notes manageable and organized and not let the ideas overwhelm your actual writing.

Whatever route you choose to take, make it work for you, not the other way around.

Happy writing!

WHEN YOU DON’T SELL A THING

May 22, 2018

For those of you that’ve published books, by whatever means, there comes a time when you have to get out in the world and sell them…or at least attempt to.

If you’re like me, you still have to work for a living. Even if not, you likely as not try to stay local. That means signing up for as many (or as few, depending on how active you want to be) book signing events as you can.

These can be invitation only or sign-up-until-there-are-no-slots-left events.

I can tell you they’re almost always a mixed bag. You never know what kind of crowd, if any, you’re going to get.

PRE-PUBLICITY

At an event I attended recently, while sitting around waiting for people to show up, we discussed pre-publicity. We were not sure how the organizer publicized the even for us, but as authors, we did our parts as much as we could. However, what does this mean?

As for myself and many of my co-authors, we relied on social media to put out the word. The flaw with this idea is that we pretty much preached to the choir, to borrow a well-worn cliché. What does this mean? It means that we basically advertised to friends, family, and people that have already bought our book! At best, we might see a few of them at the event for moral support, or they might actually buy a book from another author. There is that possibility.

On the other hand, I mentioned in an earlier article how I spent significant bucks on pre-publicity on Facebook for my book signing at the local Barnes & Noble. Though it was a successful event, not a single person who showed or bought my book heard about it through Facebook! I know, because I asked.

That begs the question: Why spend money on a social media blast for an event where there’s a good likelihood nobody at all will show up? I think the gamble would be better at the local slot machines (I live in Las Vegas, after all).

THE CROWD

Sometimes you can just tell when you’re setting up by the location that things are probably not going to go well. You always hope for the best, but since I’m a glass is half full type person, I get the mindset that I’m there for networking. Then, if I sell one book, it’s a better than total success.

When and if people start showing up, your job is to get them to your table. This is where reading them comes in handy as well. Standing around your table yelling at them to come over doesn’t always cut it. Some people you can just tell have no interest in your stuff. You can wave at them, say hi and invite them over, but if they give you that “look,” don’t press it. If they surprise you later and wander by, fine. If not, move on to the next person, if anyone comes along at all.

Sometimes, the crowd is so sparse, you end up with other authors wandering by to say hi. This is the networking aspect of the event. Take advantage of that so the event isn’t a total loss.

In the event that anyone happens to stop and look at your stuff, be prepared! Show interest, have your speech ready, and make sure to give them your card(s) and try not to look too disappointed when they nod and move on.

As I’ve said before, just sitting there twiddling your thumbs, reading, with your face in your cell phone or whatever, isn’t going to attract people. On the other hand, even if you have a big crowd of people traipsing by, you can say “hi, what do you like to read” until you turn blue in the face, but if they just walk on by, avoiding eye contact, or make a bee-line to a certain author, don’t press it.

Oh, and don’t forget the candy bowl, or something to entice them to stop by. At this particular event, I didn’t even get any takers on that. Geez!

THE PERSON PARTNERED WITH YOU IS MAKING A KILLING

We’re a diverse bunch, we writers, and nobody writes the same book. That means, if you’re sharing a table, or sunshade, or booth with another writer, don’t be surprised if your partner sells like hotcakes and you don’t. It goes with the territory.

Just remember that it could very easily be the other way around, and one day it will be.

This just happened to be his day and not mine. I was very happy for my friend. He well-deserved it.

WHAT TO GET OUT OF A NO-SALE EVENT?

Folks, when you’re a no-name author, which unless you’re with the big six, or on the New York Times best-seller list, face it, that’s you, pretty much, you’re going to attend book events where you’re hot and cold.

I’m sure in comparative ways, this even happens to the big names at times and it certainly did when they were starting out.

When any author sells nothing at all, what to do?

No, and I mean NO event is for nothing.

Why?

You were there.

Your name was on the marquee or publicity flyer.

People saw you there.

Other authors saw you there.

You talked to other authors and networked.

You may have connected with and caught up with old friends.

You must’ve learned at least ONE tidbit of info that may or may not be useful to you in the future.

I just had a zero sale book signing. All of the above was true. I also learned a very valuable tidbit. Still not sure how to exploit it yet, but I’ll look into it and pass it on to you in a later article when I see if it pans out, or not.

Until then, happy writing!

COLD DEAD HANDS

May 16, 2018

(ORIGINALLY “LAST MINUTE TWEAKS”)

 

This article was originally called Last Minute Tweaks and I wrote it in 2015, but I re-purposed it for today because at the recent 2018 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference, this subject came up time and time again. I couldn’t suppress the inspiration and the old monkey that hangs on every writer’s back. It is, of course tweaked.

We’ve all heard that tired old quote from the NRA’s dear old friend Charlton Heston about “cold dead hands” and some could say the same thing about a manuscript. When it comes to your “precious” (okay, another quote, and don’t make me say which movie), it seems like you can never stop until it’s literally (oh, what a cliché), pried out of your very much alive hands.

During a recent writer’s conference, the subject of editing already published work and last minute tweaks to manuscripts about to be published was a popular topic.

WILL THE EDITING EVER END?

I don’t think I’m revealing any huge trade secrets when I tell you that though my manuscript from Treasure Of The Umbrunna has gone through; #1 not only my own personal multiple edits, tweaks and read-throughs, including with the Henderson Writer’s Group: #2 it’s gone through three (or is it four?) complete edits by my publisher. Even after so many eyes, there are still typos and a few errors, as I’ve had pointed out to me by readers. I’ve been careful not to go looking for them for fear of finding even more, after two years since publication, I’ll find even more stuff I want to change. If there’s ever a reprint, which is costly, by the way, the typos noted by people will surely be addressed, but I’ll likely not do another read-through and tweak. Cold dead hands.

What I can say is through all of that, there hasn’t been a single major change in either story line or plot. I was able to keep true to my polka-dot sewer (my muse) and use my usual – no – my only method of writing. I knew where I wanted to start and where I wanted to end. The rest (the middle) was a total surprise.

BY THIS POINT I’M NO NEWBIE

I must say that by this point in the game, when I wrote Treasure, I was no babe in the woods, cliché intended. I already had ten novels under my belt (at that time), even if they were all unpublished. The only one which might have plotting issues would be the first one, The Cave and even that one might be more of a problem with writing functionality rather than plotting.

It all boils down to fixing the numerous writing mistakes, tweaking minor things. Lots of them.

SO MUCH EDITING CAN CREATE MORE MISTAKES

With so much editing, even if the edits are relatively minor, which in my case, they were, making those edits can also create more errors. When all is said and done, a final run-through is essential!

My first edit was for structure and continuity, not so much for grammar. I made several tweaks and in the process, created some grammatical errors (mostly too many noun-verb combinations starting sentences). The second edit was for grammar and I made lots of corrections but in the process also created some other errors. The third edit was to fix the noun-verb combinations I created fixing the other issues. Along the way, the editor found more grammatical tweaks like show not tell and phrasing she thought would work better.

You have to remember that even though I can do the same thing to others, being an editor myself, and can also do it to my own writing in a limited amount (I’m too close to it), I need that outside eye to see it (forest through the trees).

With so much red ink, through multiple edits, when the final draft came down, prior to printing, there were bound to be slip-ups and things we all missed.

True to what I figured, I found pages of errors on my error sheets (there are 25 lines per page). In total, the count came to almost 300 line items. However, as the final result showed through the readers, there were still typos!

LUSITANIA GOLD

We seem to have done a bit better with Lusitania Gold. At least we haven’t heard any more feedback about typos yet from readers. I found a big one myself, but it has since been fixed and I won’t say where that one was!

Cold dead hands.

BACK TO THE CONFERENCE

Not only did the time to let go come up at the conference, but as part of the goodie bags each participant received, we each got copies of one or another version of Writer’s Bloc. Writer’s Bloc is the annual (or bi-annual) short story anthology put out by the Henderson Writer’s Group. I have short stories in many of them. I happened to get the original Writer’s Bloc, of which I have the short story, The Walk Home. It was the second in the West Virginia Trilogy.

I had some idle time between classes…no…I was early for one of the meals, and I pulled out my copy and read the story. This book came out in what…2009 or something? I don’t remember. Anyway, while I was still mostly pleased with how The Walk Home turned out, I also cringed at some of the writing. I so much wanted to re-tweak it. However, after so many copies already in print, what’s one to do?

Cold dead hands…

It’s dun didded. Let it be. You did the best you could for the time. Be happy and move on!

That was my mantra for the rest of the conference. Keep going and don’t worry about it. As long as you strive to improve, your integrity is still intact. It’s when you get lazy and don’t care that you’re compromised. Don’t let that ever happen!

Happy writing!

GRAMMAR LESSON TWO

May 9, 2018

We’re back with another set of similar sounding words with entirely different meanings.

Our illustrious Henderson Writer’s Group el-presidente, Linda Webber, has been presenting grammar lessons each week on the back of our meeting agendas. The gist of them are the improper use of words.

As a reminder, I’ll add the standard intro below before I get into the word list.

BACK IN THE DAY

I once wrote a screenplay with my bud, Doug Lubahn, a famous musician. During our correspondence, I once told him I was waiting with “baited” breath instead of “bated” breath. He’s never let me live that one down.

The proper use of words is something a lot of (especially) new writers don’t always get. So, for your reading pleasure, below is a list of words and how to use them properly.

The list is not near complete, so that’s why this is called Grammar Lesson Two.

Once again, my many thanks to Linda Webber, who has gone through the trouble to compile these words all in one place for me to steal and present to you here at Fred Central.

These are common words that are often used out of context. They can be a quandary for a writer, and a quick trip to a dictionary, or on line. We’ll start with a common one.

HOW TO USE PASSED OR PAST

Passed is a form of the verb to pass. It’s merely the past tense of pass with the “ed” added on.

I’ll pass it on to you.

I passed it on to you.

The law was passed in 2017.

Now past is a bit different.

It can be an adjective, an adverb, a noun or a preposition.

As a noun, it refers to a specific span of time.

It hasn’t worked in the past.

He never talks about his past.

As an adjective, it something that’s gone in time.

Let’s forget our past differences.

Their best days are past.

As a preposition, it goes from one side of something to the other.

Corey rushed past her.

Don drove past the house.

As an adverb, it’s sort of the same as a preposition.

…going past

…ran past

…walked past

Just know this. Past is NEVER a verb. That’s a big red flag.

A FEW SIMPLE WORDS

Broach: To raise a subject or discussion

Jerry decided to broach the subject to the group before the meeting.

Brooch: A piece of jewelry

Nassar grabbed the gold brooch off the night stand and headed out the door.

Canvas: A type of strong cloth

Marie stretched the canvas tight before applying the base coat.

Canvass: To seek people’s votes

The party canvassed the neighborhood for the mayor.

Cereal: A grass producing an edible grain or a breakfast food made from grain

I eat cereal every morning for breakfast.

Serial: Happening in a series

Son of Sam was a serial killer.

Chord: A group of musical notes

Lucy tried to stretch her fingers to make a B chord on the guitar.

Cord: A length of string or a cord-like body part

The kidnapper grabbed his hands and tied a thick cord around his wrists.

SUMMARY

Once again, thanks to Linda Webber for her hard work putting these original words together!

Happy writing!