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SELF EDITING

August 12, 2020

            I talk about editing quite a bit here at Fred Central. Most recently I did this past May with my article Forest Through The Trees Two. THAT article was a repeat from 2012. There are many more.

            There’s a good reason I bring this subject to the forefront. It’s a major part of what we do as writers. Writing the story is only the first step. Writing chapters, scenes, paragraphs, sentences…these all have to be perfected before they can see the light of day (publication). The last thing we want to do is embarrass ourselves, alienate our audience, come off as amateurs (well those of us that care).

            The other day, a question came up from another do-it-yourself author.

            “What if I can’t afford an editor? What are the chances of doing all the editing myself?”

            Something to that effect.

            Needless to say, but I will anyway, most of the responses told this person it just doesn’t work that well, if at all. Without a second set of eyes, no matter how good you think you are, you can’t see the forest through the trees (or words to that effect).

            Here we go again.

THERE’S SAVING MONEY AND THEN THERE’S CHEAP

            The market is flooded with self-published books. Most of them are easy to spot from the cover alone. The artwork is cheesy and atrocious. That’s a red flag. Given the author somehow has an artistic flare, and slips one out that gets through the cracks, what about what’s inside?

            I’ve had the unfortunate experience of purchasing questionable self-published icky bug stories, since that’s usually all I’ll buy sight unseen (except I DO check the “what’s inside” sample on Amazon for third person, past-tense).

            After reading a few chapters, it becomes readily apparent that the author self-edited their masterpiece. Not only is the spelling syntax and punctuation out there, but the point of view is usually out of control. Then there are often plot threads that go nowhere, plenty of things that don’t make sense, and many times a conclusion that’s stupid or left hanging with no satisfaction. Oh, and let’s not forget excess backstory. Why is it people insist on so much backstory. Why not just start the story with the backstory and work forward?

            Sometimes some of these things are found in EDITED stories, but not as rampant. When you go cheap and have no second set of eyes, you’re blind to your own work. What you see on the page isn’t necessarily what you actually wrote.

THE UGLY TRUTH

            The ugly truth is that you can only cut so many corners. A big selling point is the cover, but some people are not all that concerned with the cover.

            A catchy title is key for some, but that can be fudged to some extent.

            What will kill you is between the front and back cover.

            If the text is crap, you’ll gain no audience, or at the least, severely impede your potential audience. Sure, I’ve seen some horribly written EDITED stories be huge hits because they touched on hot-button topics. They’re rare, but not unheard of.

            Most of the time though, the MAJORITY of the time, I emphasize, your story will have to grow, slowly pick up an audience on the merits of your writing. That means your message must be clear. For it to be clear, it needs to be properly and well edited.

            YOU CANNOT DO THAT ALL BY YOURSELF.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO CUT CORNERS, DON’T DO IT WITH EDITING!

            I cannot emphasize enough how bad an idea it is to self-edit an entire book.

            You only see what you INTENDED, not what you WROTE!

            Your mind fills in the blanks, regardless of what you wrote. It takes a SECOND SET OF EYES, maybe more to catch the things you cannot see.

            Sure, editors cost, but it’s worth it to find a good one. That’s one of the best investments you can make.

BETA READERS

            Initially, if you want to go on the cheap, you can at least start with beta readers. Unless you live in a cave somewhere, or are a hermit, find a few beta readers willing to go through your manuscript and give it a run-through. Let them give you honest feedback on what might be fixed. That can give you insight on major and even minor issues to fix before you seek out an editor.

WRITERS CRITIQUE GROUP

            If you’re in an area with a writers critique group, join and if they’re a good positive group, read your stuff to them and get feedback. This type of group can be invaluable.

LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR

            If part of the reason you don’t want to get edited is not only to save money, but because you can’t take the criticism, or are “too shy,” or whatever, leave your ego at the door. Just think of how reviewers are going to tear your precious “best book in the universe” apart when you get it posted to the world?

SUMMARY

            In my case, I pitched and queried and was persistent. I used a little of everything and finally, after a long time, since I refused to self-publish, I landed a traditional publisher with a small press. I never paid a dime for editing. I had beta readers, read most of my entire manuscripts to my writer’s group, and self-edited. Through my self-editing, I discovered what I’m blind to, and always will be. I know my limits. You should too.

            Happy writing!

RESURRECTING AN OLD FRIEND

August 5, 2020

            The other day, I was purging file cabinets and shredding files. In one of them I found most of my old rejection letters. Not all 691 of them, of course, but a lot of them. As a bonus, I was able to tear off the cancelled (and some not used yet) stamps. While I have long given up on my regular stamp collecting, one never knows, but I digress. Besides the rejection letters, I also found more examples than I expected of old manuscripts. I think I printed them for friends, beta readers, just to have hard copies, or whatever. Needless to say, when I now have copies of the books published sitting in a box right next to me, there’s no need for an obsolete manuscript! It’s not like I’m Clive Cussler who had so many fans, he was giving out copies of rough edited manuscript pages at one time. Besides, what I have published now is so different in quality compared to the original that I’d rather it not be out there, considering how much more refined my chops are now.

            Amongst all of those manuscripts, I ran across a binder with the entire, hand edited copy of The Cave.

            As some of you hard-core fans may know, The Cave was the very first novel I ever wrote. My usual quote is that “The Cave will never see the light of day.”

            Why?

            My perception then was that while it holds affection as the very first one, it’s also before I knew what I was doing, therefore it’s probably so bad it’s beyond resurrecting.

LO AND BEHOLD

            Since I had this hard copy in my hands, before I shredded it, I wanted to make sure I still had a viable copy on the computer. THIS COMPUTER.

            When I pulled up the copy that has been transferred from computer to computer since 1995, it at least pulled up on the screen. However, the version of Word was so old that it wasn’t editable. In fact, it was so old that it wouldn’t even resave as the current version!

            What to do?

            The only thing I could do was select all (at least it would let me do that), and then paste all 82K+ words into a brand new file in the current version of Word. Therefore, The Cave, written in early 1995, now has a modern compatible and editable version readily available.

            Why should I bother?

            Lo and behold, before I even did this, I compared side-by side a few samples from the printed version to the old file and found they matched. Turns out, the last time I edited it (way back when), the version I printed WAS the last edit. I cannot recall who did the edit for me. Unfortunately, their name is nowhere on the sticky notes or the write-in edits.

A DISCOVERY

            Digging a little deeper, I noticed something. While the manuscript needs obvious work, on first blush in twenty-five years, it isn’t nearly as bad as I recalled.

            Without a complete read-through, I don’t know for sure, but The Cave almost looks like it might indeed be salvageable. If so, that means I might be able to add another genre to my growing resume. Science Fiction/thriller. Well, at least, that’s the sort of genre so far. I’ll have to go through it again to make a determination as to whether that’s a solid category or not.

JUST THINK

            I’ve said this many times before. I’ve never trashed an MS. I never really trashed The Cave. I didn’t take advantage of it because I didn’t think it was up to snuff. However, on second thought, after some sample paragraphs, there might be some life to it. If I’d really trashed it, I would’ve deleted the files.

            I DO have a few stories I’ve started but never completed yet. Why? I got distracted by other more pressing things. Those half-started stories will be completed someday, just not today. They don’t have a priority. That’s not my usual pattern, but a few times in my life, I’ve veered from my writing technique (one book at a time) due to life. Until recently, I’d forgot all about those.

            Just think, The Cave might be another book under my belt. Don’t get your hopes up yet. I still have to read through it all the way, then see if I had too much wishful thinking. However, it’s something I can work on between my other books and before I get my nose down deep into the third Meleena book again.

SUMMARY

            Never trash anything you’ve done!

            Never trash anything you’ve completed.

            Set it aside for however long it takes you to go back with fresh eyes. Later, it still may not be a winner, but maybe once again, by waiting, you’ll have better chops, have learned a few things, had more life experiences, something that makes you better prepared to fix or even just tweak that “hopeless” story you were so ready to dismiss.

            Will I be successful with The Cave?

            Maybe not, but at least I can give it a more experienced try. After all, it’s been twenty-five years.

            Happy writing!

WORD COUNT REVISITED

July 29, 2020

INTRO

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

I was 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 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 various 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…

            Now, on the other hand, if you’re going the self-publishing route, all bets are off, but then again, don’t expect to see your book on the shelf in the bookstore either, 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. Now, when they get to the first page and see what you accomplish, or don’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 will be either the fifth or sixth 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!

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

July 21, 2020

INTRO

            I’ve talked about this in 2013 and as recently as 2018. I thought it worth revisiting again since it’s come up multiple times on the Facebook forums.

            Yeah, you hear me quoting Facebook a lot here at Fred Central. Especially since COVID, that’s the main way to communicate besides Zoom or some other remote forum app. Little if anything is done in person anymore. In fact, going back, a lot of my articles were inspired by forums anyway, if not from my writer’s group meetings or our annual writer’s conference. While some people deplore Facebook, it does have it’s merits when it comes to open forums, if they’re properly monitored.

            Where was I?

            While I AM going to repeat info I’ve conveyed before, I’ve been inspired to add to that. There’s stuff I failed to mention before when it comes to naming your characters. Without further adieu, let’s get going.

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 have to use fictional names to protect the innocent or avoid lawsuits) (more on this later). 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 that 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 that 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. 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’ve named, 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, especially in fantasy and science fiction worlds (world building) are similar sounding names. During a recent Facebook forum, this exact subject came up. My response was part of the following, but a shortened version. Below is the long version.

The subject of similar sounding names 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. 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.

            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.

            Over the years, on multiple threads on the Facebook fantasy site, many people have 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 on made up names 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 “French” or Gaelic spellings that don’t correspond to how they’re pronounced in English isn’t a good idea either. Okay, maybe a little, but only one or two…maybe. Give the name, how it’s pronounced, and leave it at that. Don’t have a whole bunch of names like that, or the reader is going to skip over them and blank out your “finely crafted artistic expressions.” I know I would. In fact, I often just make up my own pronunciation, regardless of what the author says.

Sometimes getting hung up on a pronunciation can be a distraction too. This can be a major way to jerk a person out of the story.

WHAT ABOUT REAL-WORLD PEOPLE IN AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OR NON-FICTION STORY?

            When you’re writing an autobiography or real-world historical story, things can get tricky. If your story requires you to use real people, you must be aware of possible lawsuits and slander and the whole gamut of real issues. Even using someone’s name supposedly in an innocent fashion can lead to major heartache if the person doesn’t want their name in print. It’s a lot more difficult to vet something like that. In some cases, it might be better to substitute fictitious names rather than deal with all the legal implications.

SUMMARY

            Whatever the case, naming characters can be fun or a real headache, depending on how you want to approach the issue.

            Happy writing!

VAMPIRES NEED THEIR OWN GENRE

July 15, 2020

            Okay. What brought up this rather brilliant (maybe…read on) bit of marketing and categorization was a bit of misdirection that fooled me recently.

            Some that know me are aware that I’m no big fan of vampires. I never have been, even from the times when Bela Lugosi was still alive. Yeah, I’m THAT old.

            For some reason, of all the icky bugs in horror, those particular monsters have never clicked with me.

            Over the generations, vampires have gone through stages from the horror inducing fanged suit-wearing Dracula to the sparkly whatevers of Stephanie Meyer. In-between those have been a slew of variants as people have indulged in their passion for the bloodthirsty icky bugs (monsters).

            However, two things have stayed true to this day.

            Vampires have almost always been classified in the horror, romance or fantasy categories.

            I’m not a fan.

            Of course, the second one is completely off the map to the rest of the world. Then again, I can’t be the only one that either never was a fan, or is by now, so sick of them they want to scream at the thought!

THE FINAL STRAW?

            Well, there were actually two, but the most recent was a reminder of the first.

            Before I digress, let me give you the most recent.

            While browsing the science fiction/fantasy section of Barnes & Noble, I ran across an intriguing series of books (well, two so far) by this British author. The description or back cover blurb and the endorsements gave a different impression of what I actually got once I read them.

            While the first book was okay, about a third of the way through the second book, in my opinion, it “devolved” into “another one of those.” In other words, it turned into a vampire story.

            I almost put it down.

            The writing was okay, but a bit tedious. I was willing to go along with that, given it had some intriguing icky bugs. That is…until the vampires showed up. Then things went downhill. Nowhere on the back cover blurb did it say anything about vampires. Otherwise, I probably…no I never would’ve picked up the series in the first place. I can just bet that from now on, the series will continue with vampires. They always do, not to be too cynical.

            Now, on to the first incident. About three decades ago, I read a great UFO series which will remain nameless because I know the author (who I met at one of our writer’s conferences). I enjoyed about a dozen of the books. When it came to the grand finale, the last novel in the series where the aliens finally arrived, the author ruined it for me. Why? Yup, you guessed it. Vampires! Aaagh! Shot down the entire series. I was SOOO disappointed. I let him know it too. He just shrugged it off and told me he had to end it some way, and that’s the way he swung at the time. Oh well…

            Nowhere in that entire series was there any kind of hint that this was all going to be a vampire story. Not a hint.

MY SOLUTION

            While there HAVE been a select few vampire stories I loved for a change, they’re as rare as hen’s teeth, and no apologies for the cliché. They Hunger by Scott Nicholson was a good example. In this one, the vampires were true and savage icky bugs.

            So, what to do? How about a bit of categorization and truth in advertising?

            In other words, make a specific category for vampire fiction?

            That’s right.

            While they have romance and horror and western and fantasy. How about a genre specifically for vampire fiction? Let it cover all the sub-genres that go with it like horror, romance, fantasy, western, what have you.

            By doing that, nobody will be fooled again, and those of us that just can’t stand vampires, no matter what form they take, won’t have to suffer though some story only to find out it’s about vampires!

AM I SERIOUS?

            I’m only being partially facetious here.

            The issue is that the bookstores, whether they be brick and mortar, or on line, tend to lump just about everything they can into as simple a category as they can because of marketing.

            The more they break it down, the more they have to categorize things and the more complicated things get when they try to shelve books.

            Why is this a problem?

            When authors don’t follow the rules of creativity!

            That’s right. When authors mix genres, then what are the bookstores to do? How are they going to shelve a book that mixes fantasy with vampire and horror and western?

            What shelf would that go on?

SUMMARY

            While this all sounds like a rant for nothing, I only bring it up because you, as writers, will run across this when you write anything at all. Be prepared, because you’re going to be creative. You’re going to write what you want, and when you’re dun didded, what’re you left with?

            Does your story fit neatly into mystery, western, fantasy, romance, horror?

            Are you a pure genre writer, or…does it fit into a sub-category?

            Does it mix those elements and sub-elements?

            When YOU, AS A READER, go to the bookstore and get upset because you find a romance in the SYFY section, because it’s BOTH, who are you going to get upset with?

            All I can say is that it can be a tough call for a publisher and a bookseller to categorize mixed-genre stories. It’s even worse to sub-categorize them, so basically, they don’t. That’s probably one reason the filters on the likes of Amazon or other on-line sites are not all that great. Ever wonder why those “If you liked this book you may like…” lists of books are at the bottom of the screen are there? They may be similar, but step carefully.

            To me, my take is that as an author, you should use truth in advertising, especially with the back cover blurb. Also when submitting to a publisher, you need to know what genre you’re writing because if you don’t know, how are they going to know?

            In today’s times, books are lumped into too few general categories so it’s up to us, as authors, to use the back cover blurb to let the reader know the specifics. All the publisher can do is give the bookseller the general category of where to shelve the book. We need to help the reader by giving them a decent idea of what they’re about to buy beyond the basic genre.

In my case, I would sincerely appreciate that if your story’s about vampires, you state so! It’ll save some grief for those of us that are not fans. That goes for any genre, pure or mixed.

            Happy writing!

DOES ASKING FOR HELP MEAN YOUR STORY ISN’T ORIGINAL?

July 8, 2020

           Since this question NEVER comes up on the Facebook forums I participate in, I thought I’d address it. While I’ve continually hinted at it, I thought I’d bring it on full force.

            There’s such a thing as independent creativity. Then there’s creativity by committee. When someone asks for help through an on-line forum, I consider that creativity by committee…at least in a way.

            It’s not the same as research. There IS a difference.

            Let’s think about this.

THE FANTASY FORUM

            To be clear, the main forum I get the creativity question on is the fantasy forum. The other forums I’m on don’t usually address creativity questions. With the others, it’s usually about grammar, syntax, marketing, general writing, and research questions. On the other hand, in the fantasy forum, at least half if not more of the questions have to do with specific details about the unique worlds these authors create.

            Should an elf be named so and so. What would you call a wizard who does so and so. If you developed a race based on Japanese Samurai, what would…

            My standard answer is always: “It’s your world. Just make it up. The only key is when you do, follow your own rules and be consistent.”

HAVING OTHERS NAME YOUR CHARACTERS

            When you ask for help naming characters, does this mean those characters now belong to those who named them?

            It all depends on how you look at it.

            In real-world fiction, many popular authors have run naming contests as publicity and marketing deals to generate interest in a book or series. The lucky winner gets their name, whether personal or made up as a character in the next book. In this way, the author still owns the rights to the name in the context of the story, but has pulled off a clever marketing deal to gain publicity and fans.

            When you ask for help over the internet on a forum, obtaining offhand offered names is a grayer area. You can take the suggestions, customize them into the final product, and then hope these totally unknown people don’t try to sue you for using “their creation.” As unlikely as that seems, it’s not impossible in our litigious society. On the other hand, that person may have bragging rights for saying they contributed to your book, especially if you remember and give them credit on the thanks page.

            On the other hand, since you did not pull the name out of the air, it’s not your creation. For some authors, that can be a deal breaker.

BORROWING FROM OTHER CULTURES

            Since you’re creating a fantasy world, that genre is a misnomer, but only partially. Depending on how deep your fantasy is, you could be writing in a half real-world setting, turning it into a sub-fantasy genre. The closer to reality your world is, the closer to the truth your cultural references have to be. So…asking for help through research or on the forums keeps your FANTASY from being totally original in that respect.

            In the same vein, your made up world is no longer made up, because now you’re strapping yourself to something real, and you’re no longer bound just by your own rules. You’re now hindered by something besides just a suspension of disbelief. You’re bound by hard reality, history, and real-world culture. When you ask for help, especially on line, you’re not only relying on others for originality, but also for their supposed expertise. I’d sincerely hope you’ll verify any facts they give you.

            Like research into a real-world setting, you can ask for help with cultural references and still make your story original. However, be prepared for some to call you on whatever customizations you make. Also be careful about cultural appropriation. That’s a big thing nowadays so to me, it would seem safer to just make something up and stay completely away from something you’re not intimately familiar with. You never know who you’re going to piss off. If you make up your own world with your own rules, NOBODY can call you on it unless you break your own rules. You can’t insult anyone or smear someone’s culture, at least not intentionally.

PLOT

            Surprisingly, this one I see a lot.

            “I’ve started the story but I don’t know where to go from here. Please help.”

            Here at Fred Central, I’ve said over and over again, no matter what type of writer you are, whether a pantser or a plotter, NEVER start a story until you at least have A and B. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 until you know where you want to start and where you want to end FIRST! End of story, both figuratively and literally. If you can’t figure that out first, set the idea aside and find another story to work on. You are going to flounder.

            There’s nothing wrong with B modifying a bit as the story develops, but you need a solid finish line to shoot for or your story is going to ramble and get lost and it’s not going to have anyplace to go.

            Now, if you DO have a B but have written yourself into a corner, got off on a tangent, then maybe you aren’t cut out to be a pantser. That could be your problem.

            Asking for help on the forums will mean others are creating your story for you, maybe not specifically, but in general terms. In essence, they’re ghost writing it for you.

            Is that not making the story original?

            I’d say that’s up to debate because after all, EVERYTHING has been done before.

            Say, you complain that you are lost and have written yourself into a brick wall. Someone comes to the rescue and tells you how to get out of the mess.

            Have they just re-written the book for you? Is it now their story?

            Not really.

            Maybe the plot isn’t your idea, but you still have to write the words. Therefore, what’s left on paper aren’t the helpers words, they aren’t his or her voice. He or she may have come up with the idea, but it’s still your voice. Therefore it’s your story.

            On the other hand, whoever helped you may want credit for helping you.

            That may get sticky for you, the author. The idea wasn’t originally and uniquely yours.

            See the predicaments you can get into by asking for certain help?

            This is especially true for CREATIVE help.

RESEARCH HELP

            Research help is a whole different animal.

            Most authors have no issue with asking for research help. I do all the time.

            This applies to technical issues, NOT creative ones.

            There’s a big difference.

SUMMARY

            You can ask creative questions without getting yourself in an originality pickle. You just have to think first before asking, and make sure it’s not something specific to your originality.

            The intent here is to make you think before you ask. That is all. Asking is the only way to learn, but asking the right questions can also save a lot of grief in the long run.

            Happy writing!

FUNERALS IN YOUR STORY

July 1, 2020

            The other day, on one of my fantasy Facebook forums, someone asked about how we’d address a funeral in our fantasy world.

            Hmmm…

            Since I personally don’t believe in funerals, I said so and also said since I don’t, why should I write about them?

            Understandably, I got quite a reaction to that.

            The thing is that I don’t believe in NOT mourning for the dead, per se. I just don’t believe in the traditional funeral. Never have. My reasons are my reasons which are neither here nor there. However, as others pointed out, what about my audience? How do I handle death for THEM?

            That made me think.

            As authors, how do you handle death in your story? It doesn’t matter what genre you’re dealing with. Be it fiction, or even non-fiction. How do you deal with death? It may be a beloved character, a main character, or it could be someone peripheral, or even hated. People may grieve for them in some way.

TRADITIONAL FUNERALS

            The traditional funeral, which most know of according to popular media (or personal experience), are usually based on Christian values. While that sounds biased, which it is, that’s mostly what you’ll see on TV, in movies, and in books. While there are other forms of traditional funerals, by the numbers, they aren’t near as prominent. I’m sure most religions are represented in one form or another, but how many of you can count on your hand the movies or TV shows, or even books that portray a non-Christian funeral?

            Add that to the many biases conveyed by media in general.

            Diversity is finally becoming more prominent in the media, and other cultures are creeping into the list.

            In a fantasy world, they often tend to be a Pagan variation of the traditional funeral. A lot of times, they’re based on the Viking or Druid ceremonies. I could go on and on.

NON-TRADITIONAL

            It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a fantasy world, but there’s a particular freedom in fantasy to make something up with a funeral, or more precisely, a mourning of the dead. On the other hand, why does it have to be restricted to any genre?

            It can be as simple as digging a hole and placing the body in it. All the friends gather around, say a few words, and that be it. Or, in a more rowdy story, everyone pees on the grave as a salute, even the women, or they all pour a beer over the grave. As my father-in-law used to joke, pour a beer on the grave after circulating it through his kidneys.

            In a more modern real-world tale, that may not be possible with all the legal implications of disposing of a body, if one does not want to suspend the readers disbelief too much. Instead, maybe disposing of the ashes off a cliff, something that’s actually done in real society wherever it’s legal.

            The characters could just leave the corpse where it lies, and mourn later with a simple thought of better times. I’ve seen that in at least two movies in the past two weeks alone.

            Or…mourn them on the spot and that’s it…for practical reasons. Later on, maybe do something in honor of the character. Not exactly a funeral, but a necessity.

DEALING WITH DEATH

            In a lot of cultures, dealing with death is as much or more of a ritual than dealing with life. You, as a writer, have the opportunity to write about it as you see fit.

            Depending on the type of story, you can choose not to deal with it at all. It has nothing to do with realism. It has to do with your taste as a writer and whether it’s important to what you want to say.

            A story is about what you want to tell. If you want to deal with funerals and mourning the dead as part of your story, so be it.

            If you do, you have the freedom to choose what type of “funeral” for that character you want to choose. It can be some elaborate Christian traditional deal, some other religious ceremony, to something made up, or as simple as tipping a glass and be done with it. It’s all in the nature of the characters you create, what the story demands, and how you want to deal with it.

SUMMARY

            I personally don’t believe in funerals, so why should I write about them?

            Does that mean I’m going to deny my readers of the “pleasure” of a good funeral?

            Ridiculous.

            Depends on your definition of a funeral. I’m going to deal with death in my own way and I’ll guarantee, it will not likely be with a traditional funeral…but then again, if the muse strikes and I find a good reason…you never know. After all, I do also write icky bug.

            Hmmm…

Happy writing!

THE JOYS OF EDITING

June 24, 2020

            Through the several Facebook forums I subscribe to, one of the things people hate the most next to marketing is editing. For me, I can go along with the marketing thing. However, when it comes to editing, it’s a natural part of the writing process and I enjoy it almost as much as writing. I say almost only because I’m not spewing out the verbal diarrhea that is the freedom of pantsing the initial manuscript. In some ways, I almost enjoy it more because I’ve already accomplished something, and now I’m revisiting it to where I can sit back and enjoy it. The only difference is now I’m mopping up.

INITIAL BURST AND SELF-EDITING

            The initial burst of writing will likely include some self-editing. The better you get, the more self-editing you do as you write, usually in the same session, or maybe a few days later. Then, if you have a critique group, after they get a crack at it, you fix things and move on.

            That’s all part of the initial burst and self-editing phase.

FIRST HARD EDIT

            The first hard edit should come after you’ve divorced yourself from the manuscript for a few months, or longer. During this time, you should’ve sat the book (or story) aside and moved on to something else. Get it completely off your mind so you can come back with a fresh perspective.

            Advantages of this are not only that you can more readily see flaws you missed, but after so much time, you’ve probably also gained a few more snippets of skill you can now apply to your work. That’s right. Maybe through some means, you learned about consistent contractions, or never start a sentence with “But” or “And”, or mixing POVs (head hopping), or a host of other things that you can now incorporate into the work.

            This rest period might also highlight plot flaws you missed on the initial run-through.

BETA READERS

            If you’re lucky enough, give the story to a few beta readers and get their HONEST feedback. This may highlight things you cannot see because of forest through the trees.

STUFF PEOPLE DON’T LIKE

            There are many things people don’t like about editing. The repetition of having to go through the story again. Having a fear of not knowing what to do or how to fix something. The fear of changing too little or too much. The tediousness of it all. These are all understandable issues. Let’s look at a few things one-by-one.

  1. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING – While you can write the story okay, I’ve seen a lot of writers that just want to hire an editor and are willing to pay big bucks for it. They have all kinds of excuses for it like time, effort, they have the money, they don’t have the skill…bla bla bla. All are excuses for not sucking it up and getting with the program. However, there are always practical reasons for this approach as well, like a one-time project.
  2. NO TIME – If you had the time to write the book, you should have or find the time to edit it.
  3. NO FUN – If writing is a passion, editing is a part of it. Editing is like revisiting an old friend. You get to tweak and retweak to make the story even better for your potential audience.
  4. DON’T HAVE THE SKILL – Back to #1. Of course, when you start out you don’t have the skill. That’s part of what editing is all about. It’s a learning process. The more you write, the more you learn how to write. The more you edit, the more you learn how to edit, and the more you learn how to self-edit, and the better you are at initially writing. Then, you have less to edit when you do subsequent edits on the next book. It’s a self-improving cycle. You can’t get better if you never start.

HOW YOU EDIT

            How you edit is important as well.

            On a computer, especially a program like Word, it’s a simple as correcting a sentence by deleting the word, sentence, paragraph or whatever and typing over it.

            If you’re writing on paper, it’s a bit different because you have to red-pencil or blue-pencil it, then come back and re-write it which makes it a lot more labor intensive.

            If your MS is in a .pdf, you may have to count lines and use a separate correction sheet, which is very labor intensive as well. Count down the lines. On the correction sheet, not the page number, then the line, then write down the correction for the publisher or editor.

            If you’re editing a manuscript online, it can be even more labor intensive, especially if you have to track the changes. Colors may be used and side notes to tell the editor what you changed and why. The editor may also use the side notes to suggest a change and let you agree or disagree with any changes, and why. This is a very labor-intensive process as well, but it pays in the long run.

SUMMARY

            The joys of editing are many, at least if you love writing and the process of it. Face it. If this is a passion, every aspect of the creative process should be loved as much.

            For me, revisiting the story and making it as perfect as possible are all part of it. As I read through the manuscript over and over again, I get a thrill to see my words down there, and what I’ve already created. I know that someday, those words will be out there for everyone to read. Hopefully, those words will bring entertainment and joy.

            Happy writing!

CRUTCHES AND FALLBACKS

June 17, 2020

            The other day I got an e-mail from my publisher to give her a call. I did, and she said she’d gone through Spanish Gold to format it for a September release. In the process, despite already having done the major edits and just now waiting a final proof read, she noticed something that she thinks needs to be fixed.

            We discussed the issue and I agreed. It’s a crutch I fall back on, something I unconsciously do, that despite all, and the editing we all did, it took a fifth or so set of eyes to see it in the “clean” edit. It’s something that jumped out to her after everyone else was so close to it, they couldn’t see the forest through the trees.

            I’m not going to say what it is because I don’t want every potential reader looking for something that won’t be there when it finally gets to print.

            I’ve corrected countless bad habits over the years. Despite all, I still fit into a comfortable writing pattern, and after the hundreds of odd quirks I’ve corrected over the years, I haven’t ironed out all of them. I probably never will.

WE ALL DO IT

            No matter your experience, you’re going to fall into patterns and have certain crutches and fall backs you use to get out of situations you find yourself in when you’re writing. It’s only natural. It’s, of course, far worse when you’re first starting out. Then again, you haven’t developed your chops yet, so some of these quirks you haven’t had enough experience to learn yet. On the other side, you may have learned some of these things to correct other errors and got to use them a bit too much.

CORRECTING THEM

            Many of these repetitious quibbles, such as the same dialogue tags, using the same phrases over and over again, using the same noun-verb combinations, misspelling the same words or using them in the wrong context are all developed as you come up with your bursts of writing inspiration. The better you get, the more honed your chops become, the more natural you are at self-correcting as you write.

            However…

            There’s nothing that squelches creativity than bogging down to think of every nuance of writing just to make each individual sentence and paragraph perfect right out of the gate.

            Call it verbal diarrhea – just blurt it out and fix it later.

            The trick is to get better enough so that when you self-edit and then let others edit, there’s less work to do.

NOBODY LIKES EXTREMES

            I’ve mentioned this a few times here at Fred Central, but I’ve known of a few writers who are extremely slow at writing because they ponder over every word, every sentence and every paragraph before they ever commit it to paper (or electronics). To me, that would squelch all the creativity right out of me.

            Like I’m sitting here at my desk blurting out this piece right now. It’s just flowing and I’m trying to self-edit as I write it. I’m only going to go through it once, probably Tuesday right before I post it. Maybe I’ll re-look at it Sunday just for kicks. That’s it. The reason is that I’ve been doing this a long time. Also, I’m not going to go to extremes and pick over every word and run it through the Chicago Manual of Style, or the AP Manual. I’d never get anything done.

            The same for your stories. You need to learn your chops, so you have fewer crutches and fall backs. Face it, you’re going to have some.

            Don’t go to extremes to avoid crutches and fallbacks. Just learn from them and if you can, avoid them in the future as you work at it.

Don’t squelch your creativity just to squelch a habit. If you can minimize it, do so, but not at the expense of losing your spark. That’s what editing is for.

BEING AWARE

            Most of us are not even aware of our crutches and fallbacks initially, until an editor or beta reader or critiquer points them out to us. It’s then that we can act on them by slowly incorporating the fix into our prose. Learn from it, but don’t make it a psychological phobia.

            The more you write, the better you’ll be at avoiding crutches and fallbacks.

SUMMARY

            As you’ll notice, I didn’t list a lot of examples. The reason is that this isn’t an instruction guide. Why? There are way too many crutches and fallbacks in writing to list. It would go way beyond the scope of this article. Let critiquers, editors, and beta readers tell you what you’re doing over and over again. THAT will let you INDIVIDUALLY know what your crutches and fallbacks are.

            Happy writing!

DO DREAMS AFFECT YOUR WRITING?

June 10, 2020

            On the Facebook forums I participate in, with regards to inspiration, once in a while the question comes up on whether dreams affect one’s writing. That thought inspired me because this morning, I had to make one of my inevitable trips to the bathroom. When I lay back down, with my mind racing, I thought of the upcoming final confrontation in my latest fantasy novel, Across The Endless Sea.

            Personally, my dreams have nothing to do with my stories, because I rarely, if ever recall my dreams anymore, not like I did when I was twenty. Most of them are a mishmash of things. They aren’t nightmares, or unpleasant, but busy from what I recall, and I usually forget them as soon as I wake. To me, that means they aren’t worth remembering. Sure, I can recall a few here and there, but they’re silly and have nothing to do with anything I’m writing. On the other hand…

SLEEPING TWILIGHT

            When your brain is either shutting down for the night, or ramping up for the day, how often do you think about things?

            In my case, most of the time I just shut down and next thing I know, I’m waking up for a bathroom break. Given my age, that’s inevitable most nights. I’m lucky if I can sleep through the night. At the same time, I’ve always had evenings, when despite being tired, or having napped too late, I can lay there for a while before I doze off.

            Since I work and have a regular schedule, I go to bed at a certain time. If my body decides not to cooperate, I may lay there a while. My mind drifts and quite often, it may include some writing “thinking time.” This does not constitute dreaming. It rarely happens in the morning, but once in a while, that can happen too, like it did this morning (as I write this).

DREAMS

            As the forums have shown, some people have come up with everything from details to complete plots based on dreams. This is something I’ve not been able to do because when I do recall a dream, it rarely has a lasting impact, and the details quickly fade. There are only a couple that have stuck with me over the decades, and I have no interest in writing about them. Not my genres, at least so far.

            Some of you may write down your dreams when you wake. While your memory is still fresh, you can record them for later use. There are very thick books full of the meaning of dreams, which one can take with a grain of salt. We used to have a couple of those books and maybe they have some psychological value, but they may also be hocus pocus, depending on your philosophical outlook. My problem is that even at the time, I was never able to recall enough details of most of my dreams for the books to do any good…or bad. They certainly wouldn’t have been any good to use for plot details if I’d been a writer at that time!

            For some, dreams are gold. From writers to musicians, dreams can be the golden goose when it comes to inspiration. I guess it all depends on your recall and what you interpret from them. While I can recall details of many obscure events in my waking life, I guess I’ve been spared those same details from my dreaming life. For others, it’s just the opposite. They recall exquisite details of their dreams, but can’t remember what they had for dinner the night before.

IS THAT DREAM REALLY SUCH A HOT IDEA?

            You may be all hot and bothered by a truly inspiring idea, however, when it comes to execution, is it something you have the capability to carry out? Is this idea something that can be turned into a logical story that others will buy?

            To me, people have lots of crazy dreams. Over my many decades, I’ve recalled dreams I’ve been able to talk about (yeah, I have had a few) and while they were great to talk about, they were also weird and didn’t make a whole lot of sense in execution. Same for friends who also recalled dreams. We’d once in a while talk about some weird dream we had, and it was something contradictory…something that was impossible in real life. How do you turn that into a believable story?

            Then again, fiction is fiction. That impossible dream, with a little nuanced adjustment, can be turned into a perfect story. It can be turned into one with a minimal amount of suspended disbelief. Sometimes that’s how some of the great stories are created.

            Yup, once in a while, dreams actually work for inspiration, in that regard.

            While it’s never happened to me yet, it could very well happen to you. You just have to make sure the original “not such a hot idea” is adjusted so it becomes the next “hot idea.”

            As it turned out, I was able to write the final confrontation scene in Across The Endless Sea later in the day. Part of that twilight thinking helped me work out what I needed. The rest came while daydreaming while eating breakfast.

SUMMARY

            Whether the before sleep or waking twilight time gets you going, or dreams themselves help you, it’s something to consider when coming up with ideas for your writing. Then there’s always daydreaming…

            Happy writing!