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CRITIQUE OF A BATCH OF SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS

January 17, 2018

This article was going to be in a couple of weeks, but the discussion came up, off air, prior to a recent radio interview I did with author James Kelly. It seemed a good idea to bring it up now.

While I don’t actively discourage self-publishing, I also take it as a cautionary tale. The fact is that when you present your work to the public in a do-it-yourself manner, all the expertise rides on your shoulders.

While there are a few of you that go to great lengths to do it right, and there are some tremendous success stories, there are way too many that self-publish because they just can’t cut it in the traditional world. Or, they don’t want to wait and do it right. Or, they never hit that string of luck. Or…they just don’t want to follow the rules.

While some rules seem tedious and overbearing, they’re there for a reason. Those annoying “rules” bear some weight when it comes not only to attracting readers, but keeping them.

This is not to say that traditional publishing is immune to pushing out crappy books. If you’re a reader, you know this. I’m sure you’ve gone through plenty of books that you’ve either struggled to finish, never finished, or were pissed off when you did finish them. Or, you were ultimately disappointed in the end.

Unfortunately, in the self-publishing world, this crappy book thing is far more predominant. After all, editing, formatting, artwork, the whole caboodle costs. It can cost a lot, and cutting corners on any of it shows in the end product — what you’re attempting to put in the hands of readers. If you go into this blind, without going through the proper steps that steer you the right way, like some authors are prone to do, you end up with a total mess.

Okay, there are some readers that are blind to all of this. They can read anything. They may notice something is a bit off, but if they like the story, that’s good enough for them. Most readers are more discriminatory. They have world-wary insight into what smells right and what doesn’t. They’re more invested in their genre (or interest) when they pick up a book. When an author throws stuff out there with minimal effort and quality, they poison the well.

A RECENT BATCH OF ICKY BUG

One of the things I asked for this Christmas was a batch of icky bug novels off Amazon. Yeah, I say Amazon because I have no other choice. Our one and only local bookstore (for new books, that is), Barnes & Noble, doesn’t carry very much icky bug. In case you’re new to this site, what I’m talking about is horror novels. Icky bug is my term for horror, but not just any horror. I’m talking b-movie monster horror, like the old Chiller Theater Saturday afternoon horror from the 50’s through 60’s, like we used to get in the good old days.

These stories are still out there, and it’s as rare as hen’s teeth to see them in a traditional bookstore, traditionally published. What gets traditionally published in horror? Usually character studies with bummer endings. Yup, literary stuff that I not only would not read, but would “literally” throw back on the shelf, not just place back on the shelf. I despise that stuff, and that seems to be all that ever makes it to the bookshelves.

Therefore, I have to resort to buying them on-line from the “only” real source out there with an easily-accessed variety, Amazon. There, I can find all kinds of b-movie icky bug novels. The only difference is that ninety percent of them are self-published. I have to carefully look through the usually mediocre (at best) covers, then browse the “peek inside” previews.

The peek inside previews are critical because I won’t even bother unless the story is written in third-person, past-tense. I can usually tell by a quick scan through the entire sample if the author sticks with that. I can also get a quick sample of the initial quality of the writing, though not near enough for the entire book.

Sometimes I scratch the book off the list from the sample. Very rarely, the cover is enough, though I’m not one to usually judge a book by its cover.

This year, I opted for four novels that intrigued me, all by authors I’ve never tried before.

WHAT I FOUND

First off, as I suspected, all four novels were obviously self-published. Given the red flags, there was no doubt. However, it wasn’t all bad. In fact, I liked all four novels, but some had serious flaws.

The covers.

Three of the novels had decent covers. The artwork was not all that bad. They might’ve passed for a traditional publishing house. The fourth was downright cheesy. It was just awful, but even that didn’t deter me from buying the book. I don’t care that much about the cover. However, I can see that one sitting on the shelf in a bookstore, skipped over time and time again by readers. It “literally” screamed “self-published.”

The formatting.

One of them, the best of the bunch, was the most professionally done. The formatting was flawless. From page one to the end, I didn’t see a single glitch. On the other hand, the other three, especially one of the others that happened to have a decent cover, was full of formatting errors. It was like the editor(s) (who did a lousy job) went in for last-minute corrections, but never fixed the formatting after making the changes. Paragraphs were out of place, there were gaps between words, lines were interrupted and dropped to the next line. You name it. Oh, and random capitalizations dotted the paragraphs.

The editing.

In the one with the crummy cover, the editing was atrocious. There were run-on sentences, repeated words, sentences that didn’t make sense. Oh, and the author didn’t know the difference between American and British English. No, this was not a Canadian or British release.

Point of view.

All but one of them had no point of view. They were semi-omniscient, which is to me, a red flag for self-publishing. When there’s no control of point of view, it tells me there was no editor to make the author stick with any controlling characters. I know that in traditional publishing, emphasis on point of view is becoming less and less, but it’s still at least some kind of emphasis. In these books, POV was willy-nilly with no character controlling anything. A complete, head-hopping mess. There was only one book where it had solid third-person controlling POV. That was, by the way, the only five star review I gave of the entire bunch.

Story.

While I enjoyed all four stories, except for the one, they all had their flaws. In one of them, nothing, and I mean nothing happens from the prologue all the way through two-thirds of chapter one. I’ve talked about starting a story with a bang. In this case, there was no bang until page thirty. That would never happen (or shouldn’t) in a traditional novel, unless it’s literary and folks, this was no literary story!

Second, one of the books, while a fun story, had a serious flaw in that the main characters (and there were several), were never put in serious jeopardy. While there was a high body count, none of the action involved the main characters. For an icky bug novel, that’s kind of the point. The main characters have to be put in some kind of jeopardy that they have to get out of.

In the one with the crummy cover, the supposed main character, at least according to the back cover, never did the main hero stuff. He was always in the wings while someone else did the hard work. He just stepped up at the appropriate time to help out and take the credit. Huh?

SUMMARY

It isn’t all just about the story. There has to be something more. Getting you stuff out there, and doing it by cutting corners, or by not following the rules doesn’t always work. In a sample of four self-published books, I found one that did it right. Four random books.

The odds should be better than that.

I’m not trying to discourage self-publishing, if you’re going to do it, please do your research. Don’t get in a rush just to get it out there and shoot yourself in the foot. Remember, it’s your legacy. More and more, there are plenty of self-publishing success stories. If you want to be part of that crowd, slow down, take the time to do it right so your book doesn’t sit out there on the web and languish with a couple of lousy reviews or one or two good ones by friends, while nobody else will review it for fear of hurting your feelings.

Do it right.

Happy writing!

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COMING UP WITH CHARACTER NAMES REDUX

January 10, 2018

Through the Facebook Fantasy/Sci-Fi group I belong to, there have been several threads with members asking others to come up with names of this and/or that. I can’t tell you how valuable these queries are to me for mining articles here at Fred Central! I went to my archive and did a word search and found my original article from 2013, Coming Up With Character Names. It was worth a fresh look, with tweaks and additions.

WHERE TO START?

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

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

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

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

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

NO BEARING ON REALITY

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

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

FANTASY NAMES – PITFALLS

An issue with making up names, especially in fantasy and science fiction worlds (world building) are similar sounding names. Then again, this often happens in real world novels as well. It 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 (at the time I did it. 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 is 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.

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

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

EASY TO PRONOUNCE

The final thought is to make the names easy to pronounce. Don’t have them tongue twisters that need pronunciation guides just to figure out. Words with lots of punctuation, or with “French” or Gaelic spellings that don’t correspond to how they’re pronounced in English. 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.

Happy writing!

NO MOTIVATION TO WRITE

January 2, 2018

I’ve talked many times about how I never have a problem with inspiration. To me, my…wait…I just answered a question on Facebook that someone proposed on the Science Fiction/Fantasy board I participate in. They asked something like “What’s the biggest hurdle you have to cross when writing?” Or biggest roadblock, or something to that effect.

While responses crossed the spectrum, surprisingly, inspiration and motivation were right up there (if I remember right).

My response was time.

Yup, my biggest roadblock or hurdle to writing is nothing more than time.

So, what’s motivation got to do with this?

NORMAL CONDITIONS

Under normal circumstances, motivation is not even on the radar for me. Are you kidding? I live for writing! I’m full of ideas, inspiration. There isn’t enough time in the day to lay down all I want to write about.

My muse is right there!

HOWEVER

There is one circumstance that sucks away my motivation. It has nothing to do with either inspiration or a desire to write.

This past weekend, I came down with a bad case of bronchitis. I’ll tell you what. It kicked my butt! Sitting at the computer was pure hell. It was an extreme effort not only to sit at the keyboard, but after just a few minutes, I’d get chills, my eyes wouldn’t focus, and I’d get so sleepy, it just sapped all the energy right out of me. This was merely checking my e-mail.

I’d planned to work several projects at once, switching between them, plus do a bit of woodworking, something I’ve been neglecting since last year.

All of that went down the crapper.

I slept either in my chair or was in bed the entire time.

No motivation or energy to do anything, let alone write.

BEING PHYSICALLY CAPABLE

I’ve done plenty of writing while under the weather. However, it just depends on what type of “under the weather” we’re talking about and how severe it is. When your body is under that kind of duress, it doesn’t bode well for something even as simple as punching keys.

Now, just imagine people with more severe physical or mental conditions trying to write. That can suck the motivation right out of you. It has nothing to do with inspiration.

We’re talking physical barriers.

SOLUTION

Like with life in general, we need to stay as healthy as possible. Some people aren’t motivated because they’re not inspired. That’s a whole different issue. Those that aren’t motivated because they feel like crap have a temporary condition that needs to be addressed.

Like me, I went to the doctor, got the medicine and I’m finally on the way to recovery, as this article can attest to. Of course, now I’m about drained so I’ll have to go and kick back in my chair and take another nap, even though I just got up.

So goes a slow recovery from bronchitis. It ain’t pretty. I can attest to that because I just came back, edited this mess two days later, and geez!

Happy writing!

HANDLING RELIGION IN YOUR WORLD

December 27, 2017

Never at a loss for inspiration, this is a subject breached at one of my writer’s forums the other day. One of the participants asked how others handle religion in their fantasy world.

This brought up the bigger question: How do you handle religion in your world, regardless of genre?

TOUCHY SUBJECT

For many, religion is a touchy subject. There are many with deep-seated core faith values and beliefs. On the other hand, there’s a growing population that considers religion pure fantasy or something that’s downright destructive.

How do you find the balance of addressing religion without alienating either side?

Well…that can be tricky to impossible, depending on how radical or extreme the belief system. With some people, you just can’t win. I’m talking about both sides, the believers and non-believers.

All you can do is write on and try not to be flagrantly stupid about it.

REAL-WORLD RELIGIONS

First off, there’s the option of whether to address religion at all in your novel. You can play Switzerland and save yourself a lot of grief. That neutralizes the subject entirely. On the other hand, who says something, or maybe lots of somethings the characters may do don’t offend some religion out of ignorance? More than likely they do, but you can’t please everyone, nor should you try. You’d end up with a book with nothing but a period on page one.

Come to think of it, that would probably offend someone, as well.

On the other hand, if you’re going to plunge right in and use real-world religions, are they an integral part or just peripheral to the story? If so, have you done the research to get the details right?

Don’t forget that!

Now here’s the clincher. If religion is a major part of the story, is said religion the bad or good guy in the story? Is the story a condemnation of that religion?

Once again, did you do your research?

One way or another, this is going to alienate a good proportion of your readers, making your novel either propaganda, anti-religious bigotry, preaching to the choir, or gaining an audience. The one thing you don’t want to do is end up looking stupid because you didn’t get your facts straight.

On the other hand, some would argue that facts and religion is a contradiction. By facts, I mean, facts as pertaining to the tenets of said religion, nothing to do with science or reality.

Come on, folks, I’m not trying to start a crusade here!

All I’m saying is that if you’re going to use real religions in your work, whether in a positive light or not, get your facts straight before you write. Otherwise, your setting yourself up to be just another pariah and will lose half (or more) of your potential audience.

Remember, loaded subject.

MADE UP RELIGIONS SUCH AS IN FANTASY WORLDS

You have a lot more freedom in fantasy worlds to make up and use religion to your advantage. Once again, that’s if you decide to use it at all. Religion adds dynamics and realism to your world. It can also add complications.

The difference between real and fantasy religions is that you make up your own rules and names.

The way you treat these religions is the same. It still reflects who you are and how you probably feel about real religion. The red flag is that your treatment of religion in your fantasy world can do just as much to bias readers toward you of you’re not careful.

Then again, if you don’t care…

On the other hand, one doesn’t necessarily go with the other. Some, who are deeply religious, may use an entirely different view of religion in a fantasy world to reflect the issues they have with their real religion, but not necessarily a condemnation of that real religion.

Ever think of that?

In this increasingly agnostic and atheistic world, religion is becoming more and more dismissive and derided as a normal course of action. Yet there are still those that seek faith. Both sides shouldn’t be ignored in the world you create if you wish to grow your audience.

Happy writing!

ALWAYS START WITH A BANG

December 20, 2017

I’m currently editing a book for a friend, and was pleasantly surprised that her first-time novel started the right way. With a bang.

So many times I’ve seen first-time authors make the mistake of starting a novel the wrong way.

FIRST PAGE READ

At our Las Vegas Writer’s Conference, we have a thing called First Page Read, where a panel of judges listens while someone reads the first page submitted by authors in the audience. When everyone in the panel raises their hand, the reader stops, wherever on the page that is. If the reader gets all the way through the page, that’s pretty good, usually.

Quite often, the reader never gets through the page.

Why?

NOTHING HAPPENS

The story starts out with nothing happening…at all.

There’s no hook to grab the reader.

Now, personally, I’ll give a book a good chapter before I give up. However, agents and publishers, who make up the panel, don’t always have time to do that, so that’s one reason for this first page read event in the first place.

When the story starts out with nothing happening, well, what does that say about the rest of the story?

THE STORY STARTS WITH A CLICHÉ

Here we go…

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

“Jane woke up and looked around…

“Frank looked in the mirror and saw brown eyes, dark hair…”

Oh please! Don’t even go there!

If there is a bang, the reader will never get there because the agent or publisher will stop reading before they get beyond the first sentence. The sample or entire manuscript will end up in the trash pile.

BACKSTORY

The story starts with backstory.

There’s a big stink about prologues. The trend now is that the prologue should just be chapter one and put the past date below chapter one and “present day” below chapter two, or whatever.

The thing about backstory is that something has to happen.

You can’t start with the character’s life story on the first page! That’s a great way to chase away the reader.

Why?

Because you start the book with nothing at all happening. No action! A prologue usually means nothing happens. It screams backstory.

Prologues are a style, especially with thrillers. However, according to trend analysis, a lot of readers skip prologues. I don’t know how “they” ever came up with this, but apparently it has been deemed “so” in the world of publishing so better take it to heart.

The thing is, only make the prologue chapter one IF, AND I ONLY SAY IF, the chapter starts with a bang!

START WITH A BANG

Always start your story, no matter what genre, with a bang.

It doesn’t matter what genre we’re talking about, either. Some kind of action or something dramatic needs to happen in the very first scene. You need to get right into the action on page one!

You should introduce someone, give some premise for the book, or get something going to set the tone right off.

Something needs to happen.

Period.

You have to grab the reader. You have to get their attention.

This doesn’t have to be a shoot-‘em up scene, or anything like that. It just needs to get the story moving in a way to draw in the reader.

You won’t do that by droning on about the history of the character.

You won’t do that by hammering them with tired clichés.

You won’t do that with minutiae about the scene.

You will do that by making something happen.

Period.

Start with a bang and grab the reader.

Happy writing!

 

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU SPEND ON THE BAD GUY?

December 13, 2017

Back in 2016, I wrote an article called Focusing On The Bad Guys that sort of brushed on this subject. However, it wasn’t quite what I want to get at this time. I’ve further brushed on the subject here and there since I started the site. Today, like with many of my articles, I drew inspiration from a book I just read, though I won’t name said book. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that as a writer, I want to present the best story possible. As a reader, I have certain likes and dislikes. Of course, I’m not everyone, but I bet I’m not the only one who feels the same way about certain things. Will this affect who ultimately likes my books? Sure. Can I make everyone like my books?

Of course not.

All I can do is write not only to my best satisfaction, but with as much integrity as I can, and to what I gauge will please the audience the best, based on my sixty plus years of reading and what I’ve learned.

If that isn’t to everyone’s taste?

This is not from a literary perspective, but rather an action perspective. After what I took from a recent book signing event and another author, I want to make that perfectly clear!

Oh well…

TO GET TO THE POINT EARLY

Here, I have to quote one of my favorite cowboy actors from the 60’s and 70’s.

Jack Elam often played a bad guy, though later in life, he found a much better niche in comedy. With a bad (wayward) eye and a flair for being faux-serious, he made a perfect comical presence.

I once read an interview with him, after he retired to his home in Oregon, not long before he passed away. He grumbled about the changes in movies and how the bad guys were portrayed. I’m paraphrasing here.

“I don’t really care what the bad guy’s motivations are. Who cares what his mother or father did to him? What if he just wanted the money and robbed the bank?”

MY TAKE ON BAD GUYS IN NOVELS

The bad guys are essential to any novel. It doesn’t matter how you define bad guys (or gals), the fact is, no matter what, you have to have conflict. The “bad guy” is only in matter of degree and description.

When we’re talking about mysteries, thrillers, adventure, westerns, or any story with a significant conflict, this usually involves one or more bad guys, non-gender specific. Even if it’s a disaster story and the main bad guy is nature, there always has to be a human element as well. It can’t be just nature without some human nature thrown in.

The question comes into how much real estate are you, the author, going to spend on the bad guy(s).

I usually dread, or at least blow out a long breath when I come to the sections where the author delves into the thoughts, feelings and actions of the bad guy or guys (once again, non-gender-specific). To me, though the intent is to justify why the baddie is being bad, it also slows down the action of the hero, the main gist of the story – in other words, the reason why I’m reading it in the first place.

These “pauses” to delve into bad guy character development bring the story movement to a screeching halt.

Unless…

BAD GUY TIME IS SPENT WISELY

Way too often, authors waste time and resources, better spent elsewhere, rambling on the bad guy, when they could be carrying the story forward through the good guy.

This is exactly why I often cringe and blow out a long breath when I come to a bad guy chapter. That is, until I see how the author handles these things.

“I don’t really care what the bad guy’s motivations are. Who cares what his mother or father did to him? What if he just wanted the money and robbed the bank?”

            Good old Jack Elam comes to mind again. In fact more often than not, his goofy old face from The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County or some other comedy pops into my head. At these moments, I recall that quote.

Old Jack was dead on.

I don’t want to know why the bad guy’s mother treated him poorly. Just get on with it!

Now, if the bad guy’s doing something that moves the story forward, like setting up an ambush for the good guy, well…that’s okay to a point – as long as it doesn’t take five chapters to get there.

OF COURSE, I DON’T LEAN LITERARY

Someone like Stephen King would probably hate me. If you’re a big fan of King, you might, as well. He can take forever to get to the point. At the same time, there are plenty of readers that prefer authors that do get to the point.

There are plenty of King fans out there. There are plenty of literary leaning readers and authors as well. They eat up this wordy stuff.

There are also plenty of readers that cringe at old Jack’s comment.

At the same time, I bet there are lots of readers, and writers that like to get to the point.

To me, any story has to have a light balance of bad guy stuff mixed in. There has to be enough to justify why he or she does what they do, but not enough to drag the story down and take away from the main characters. That’s my take on it. When I get one of those books I can’t put down, you can bet it’s got those features.

How about you?

Happy writing!

THE BOOK YOU JUST CAN’T PUT DOWN

December 6, 2017

Week after week, I talk about writing. A lot of the subjects deal with the things that but me as a reader. For the past two weeks, I read two books I couldn’t put down. These are authors that always have that effect on me. Why? They write to the standards I preach, at least for the most important ones.

Point of view.

Getting to the point.

No major flashbacks.

Some kind of payoff in the end.

WITH A LOT OF THE BOOKS I READ, IT INVOLVES SOME WORK

Why?

I have to suffer to get there.

A week or so later, I may finish the book with an ultimate smile on my face, but I had to work for it. It’s not like I neglected other things to dive into the pages to keep reading. I took my time and “got back to it” when I could.

What’s the magic formula that makes those other rather rare ones a breeze to get through?

It boils down to my favorite pet peeves.

POINT OF VIEW

When the author controls the point of view, keeps it solid third-person with no head-hopping, does not write omniscient, I’m there!

To me there’s nothing more annoying than trying to keep heads straight, or find an author that can’t keep from playing hopscotch with characters within scenes.

Many of those books I can’t put down have multiple characters. The difference is that when they’re up to bat, so to speak, I know it and it’s their spotlight and nobody else’s.

That’s the difference!

GETTING TO THE POINT

There’s nothing that makes a book more work than an author who can’t get to the point. When there’s no action or story movement because the author has to delve into every bit of minutiae about the character’s feelings and motivations and life history before every single movement, well…

It shouldn’t take six chapters, or fifty pages to walk across the street.

NO MAJOR FLASHBACKS

To me, there’s nothing that kills story momentum more than major flashbacks. It’s okay to have a paragraph or two about something in the past.

Or, a prologue.

However, to bring the story to a screeching halt and jump “forward” to the past right in the middle of the story, or to do it multiple times, like playing hopscotch with the timeline, drives me crazy!

A linear story is much easier to take than one where the author can’t make up their mind when they want it to take place.

A PAYOFF

There has to be a reason for reading this story in the first place. If I’m going to invest money and time in your work, there’d better be a good reason for it!

Don’t give me this “real life” bullshit.

I don’t read fiction for real life. If I wanted that, I’d go to the library and get a non-fiction textbook or something.

Even so, even knowing or suspecting the protagonists are going to live doesn’t mean there can’t be other surprises along the way. If it’s a series, of course the protagonist is going to live, and probably several of the sidekicks. So what? It’s a series. It wouldn’t be one without survivors.

In one-off stories, to me, there’s no bigger waste of time than a story with a bummer ending.

Period.

Add to that, bittersweet.

For some, that’s what they want.

Fine.

Not my thing at all and not for a lot of others as well.

SUMMARY

Folks, all these are things I’ve preached about here at Fred Central. Books I can’t put down are magic because the writing is addictive and has all the qualities I mentioned above. That’s what I try to accomplish in my own writing. So far, from the feedback I’ve received, it seems to be working most of the time.

I’m happy with that.

How about you?

Happy writing!