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EVERYTHING INCLUDING THE KITCHEN SINK

June 16, 2021

            I’ve talked about writing styles.

            I’ve talked about consistency in writing.

            I’ve talked about punishing your reader with your writing.

            I’ve talked about the writing getting in the way of the story.

            I’ve talked about experimenting with different writing styles.

            This time I’d like to talk about throwing everything at the wall and not bothering to separate or clean it up into something coherent. In other words, throwing everything including the kitchen sink at your reader.

            Of course, you may wonder why I bring this up now?

            I recently read a book that, I kid you not, used every writing style imaginable in the same novel.

THE EXAMPLE

            I will not name the book or the author. I already gave my review on Amazon. While I enjoyed the story itself, it was a real struggle so the rating was low.

            What did I see?

            It went from present to past and then present tense again.

            It had zero point of view. The author head-hopped at will. The was no main character but four…no five main characters, and the author interchanged their dialogue and action at will.

            The author abruptly switched to different characters from the main four or five…unrelated ones in first person.

            The author used italics for internal thoughts of minor characters that were so minor, you blinked and missed them.

            In other words, the author threw everything but the kitchen sink as far as writing styles into the story. About the only thing missing was second person, but maybe I just missed it somewhere.

THE RESULT

            Here’s the thing. I’ve been reading for over sixty years now. Before you say I’m just old and set in my ways, consider that nothing I say or have opinions on is new. Nothing as far as style goes is new, no matter what you think. It’s all been done before, many times in the past. First person? Been done. Present tense? Been done. Mixing tenses and styles? Been done. None of this is just a millennial thing or a Gen X or Gen Z thing, so don’t think some gen invented these styles. They’ve been around forever.

            As for me, as a reader BEFORE I was a writer, as a young spud, there were certain books I grew up with that I loved, and some I didn’t.

            Why?

            It wasn’t always the story.

            It was the writing. Why is that?

            Because I had trouble reading them. The writing got in the way of the story.

            That’s right. Some that are considered “classics” I loved because the writing didn’t get in the way of the story, but at the same time some of the classics I found unreadable because the writing DID get in the way of the story.

Then again, I loved the movie.

            Huh.

            It took a long time to figure out why. Once I learned how to write, the light bulb finally came on. That’s when I learned the mechanics of writing and what works and what doesn’t, at least for me, and a lot of other writers and readers. I’ve been doing unofficial polls of people around me that are readers and gleaning this data for decades.

            Just because something is considered a classic doesn’t mean it’s a good or easy read. Maybe it was the first of its kind. Maybe the story was great but with so few people who could read, those that did didn’t know any better. Maybe the movie covered for the fact the writing sucked. Maybe a few of those classics really were written well. Maybe a few of them set the beginnings of the standards we use today.

            So, with that out of the way, what impression did I come away with from this book?

            All I wanted to do is get it finished. I found the story fascinating for several reasons, yet it was so hard and so annoying to put up with the crap the author was throwing in the way, I almost put it down several times. I paid good money, and invested time in it, therefore I wanted to see it through. When I scanned it at the bookstore, I saw third-person, past-tense. I also saw short chapters and scenes and plenty of dialogue. The quick scan missed all the other crap mixed in there. I can’t always catch the bad stuff.

            So, it became a matter of almost dread instead of pleasure to sit down and read this book.

            Should a book be like that?

            The whole point of reading, especially fiction, is for pleasure, not pain!

            When I closed the past page, instead of a smile on my face, it was with a sense of immense relief. A book shouldn’t be that way, especially since it’s entertainment.

SUMMARY

            When I talk about punishing your reader, which I have many times in the past, this is a perfect example. Throwing everything including the kitchen sink style-wise at the reader is not the way to make friends and grow an audience.

            The whole point of writing is to tell or show a story in the most efficient way possible. You don’t want the writing to get in the way of the story. By switching around styles constantly, you’re not only jerking the reader out of your world, but you’re quite possibly irritating or losing your reader.

            Folks, that’s not the way to tell a story.

            Pick one style and stick to it.

            You and your reader are better off.

            Happy writing!

PROLOGUES REVISITED

June 8, 2021

            For those of you that have been with me for a long time, you may wonder why I have so many “Revisited” articles. It’s not necessarily that I can’t think of nothing new to talk about. It’s that the subjects I choose to revisit are topical again and again. While I may wait a while to bring them up again, 2016 in this case, a revisit to me is warranted.

            Prologues have come up time and time again in discussions, not only in my writer’s group, but in the various forums that I check out. In this case, the more Facebook forums I join that have to do with writing, the more stuff like this comes up from new writers. Plus, more new writers join my site and may not want to slog through 300+ articles, or may have the time. So, time to discuss the subject of prologues once again.

            The big no-no for a long time at the writer’s conferences amongst agents and publishers were prologues. Some agents said absolutely not, while others kind of shrugged their heads and gave wishy-washy answers, leaving their take more ambivalent. Over the years, things have backed off a bit. While some agents, to this day, absolutely despise prologues, more and more are willing to consider them under certain circumstances.

THE FIRST PAGE READ

            To understand why agents and publishers don’t like prologues, let’s take a look at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference’s very popular special event, which we now have as a regular happening, called the First Page Read.

            This “contest” that isn’t really a contest is where for a $5 donation (that goes to the student sponsorship program), attendees can submit the first page of their novel, short story or whatever. They can submit as many first pages as they want for $5 apiece. The pages are randomly selected and read at lunch on Friday and at dinner until time runs out, usually an hour. If you’re “lucky” enough to be selected, a panel of agents and/or publishers will listen while it’s read and shown on a large screen. They’ll raise their hand the moment they’d stop reading. Since the last two conferences have been Zoom meetings due to you know what, I’ve heard they still do this but in a slightly different format, which I can’t speak to since I didn’t attend.

            After either everyone raises their hand, or the narrator gets to the end of the page, whichever comes first, the panel each gets a chance to say why they did or didn’t raise their hand.

            There can be many reasons why they raise their hand, but the biggest reason is the author starts with backstory and nothing happens on that first page.

            I repeat: Backstory and nothing happens on the first page.

A BIG REASON WHY AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS HATE PROLOGUES

            When these people sift through hundreds if not thousands of manuscripts and writing samples a month, they usually get the start of each story. Right?

            When an author sends the prologue and the first few chapters, which is of course, the start of the book, what often happens with the prologue?

            The prologue starts with backstory! Nothing happens! The prologue is a setup that doesn’t need to be there. There’s no action, nothing that can’t be told later by other characters.

            Now, think back on the first page read. What do you think these agents and publishers do when they see Prologue plastered across the top of the page and then nothing happens?

            Sure, it’s bad enough when it says Chapter 1, or just as bad, it starts with no heading at all and nothing happens. However, they just as often see Prologue or did for a long time. It’s hard not to develop a bias.

PROLOGUES ARE NOT ALL BAD

            As many of you know, I read mostly thrillers and icky bug. They very often have prologues. In my own writing, I use prologues in both my adventure/thrillers and icky bug but don’t in my fantasy. It doesn’t feel right in fantasy to me. It’s a matter of personal taste.

            The prologue needs to be relevant. It needs to be something that cannot take place within the story without throwing the timeline or rhythm of the story out. It also needs for something to happen. It should be an action scene that takes place sometime in the past that explains or sets up something taking place in the timeframe of the present story. Or, it can be something that takes place right as the story begins, to set it up. Pro-logue, something that previously happened, versus epi-logue, something that happens afterward.

            Back to what I just said, the prologue needs to be relevant and should only be there if it’s the easiest or best way to tell that part of the story. It’s a tool just like plot devices. It’s neither good nor bad, it’s all in the execution.

            One more thing, the prologue should be short and to the point. A bad one, in which I won’t name the author, was seventy pages long. That’s a bit excessive! It’s like, come on! Is the story from the back cover ever going to take place or what?

            Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t use a prologue. Just make sure you do it with a bang.

MY SOLUTION

            I no longer use prologues.

            No much on backstory to begin with, I much prefer to just start the story where it begins. That’s it. If I need to have any background, I much prefer to leak it out a little bit at a time. Let me emphasize that. I like to leak out background a little bit at a time.

            Why?

            Backstory bogs down story movement. It jerks the timeline out of sequence. It throws the entire flow off.

            As a reader, that annoys me to no end, so as an author, that’s the last thing I want to do. Instead, if there’s any backstory I want to clue the reader into, I leak it out in a sentence, maybe a paragraph or two. Mind you, a short paragraph or two so as not to bog down story momentum.

            Back to the prologues.

            We, as in me and the publisher, came up with a better solution for my prologues in the adventure/thriller series. Instead of calling it the prologue, it just became Chapter 1 with a subtitle and date from somewhere in the past. Then Chapter 2 became “Present day.” Because something actually HAPPENED in my prologue, problem solved. The timeline was not interrupted and I was able to go on my merry way!

            That’s all you have to do. The reader isn’t jerked around and everything works out. Let me tell you, this is also a very annoying plot device often used on TV. The show starts in the present, then jerks us to “3 days before” or some such stuff. That always annoys me. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather the damn story just start at the beginning!

            Happy writing!

GRIEVANCE SITE DISGUISED AS A WRITING FORUM

June 2, 2021

            Today, we’re flooded with forums on the internet, in particular Facebook. We can’t join them all, but as a writer, which this blog is all about, we still have to be choosy. Sometimes it’s a matter of just knowing the right question to ask to figure out how many of them are out there.

            Once in a while, if you’re out there long enough, you’ll come across one that seems legitimate enough. Maybe it’ll start with the best of intentions. However, after a while, it turns for one reason or another into nothing more than a bitch session.

            The posts start with legitimate questions about technical writing issues.

            Then the posts start delving into pet peeves.

            Before you know it, everyone and their brother is airing their grievances about this and that. Within the blink of an eye, you spend your time going from one arcane argument to another.

IS IT WORTH IT?

            Here’s the thing.

            If you’re an experienced writer, and are willing to stay with the back and forth from the frustrated, the antagonized, and the “experts,” you might just glean something useful from whatever the original question or bitch was about.

            Oftentimes the answer is obvious right at the start, but about half the participants in the argument don’t agree because “the rules are made to be broken.” Yeah, like I haven’t heard that one before!

            What about the new writer that doesn’t have the experience to figure out what’s what?

            This is where these type forums can be destructive, or at least will lead to even more confusion.

            With all the conflicting answers, who do you trust?

MATURITY OF THE PARTICIPANTS

            The maturity of the crowd becomes quite evident as you see the arguments, especially when they start becoming personal. This also reflects on the moderator who often does little to censor this stuff. Sometimes though, the moderator DOES censor, just without fanfare and the next thing you know, you never hear from so and so again. It’s subtle, especially if the moderator never says anything about it.

            Then again, some participants may be passive aggressive just enough to get away with it. Others will have enough maturity not to react in the expected ways to a challenge or an insult.

TYPES OF QUESTIONS

            The questions can range from legitimate ones to veiled complaints. What may seem like a legitimate question at the outset will have an aside tacked on at the end. This spoils the intent of the question.

            Maybe the questioner will leave the aside off until they get the answers they were looking for. They’ll wait to see how many people agree with them before they give the big reveal.

ALL FORUMS

            I’ll have to admit that all forums have bits of this stuff, to some degree, but what I’m talking about is a few that are targeted to be reactionary, specifically about writing. They’re designed to air grievances about what irritates people about writing.

            While they can be of some use, I also believe they best be left to experienced writers and not for beginners. This can lead them in the wrong directions, especially if they don’t have the experience to tell the good from the bad. It’s entirely up to the moderator to filter these people out but a lot of times, all the moderator wants is numbers, so they don’t care. I can’t speak for everyone, and know some are very discretionary, but when it comes to online, you get what you get, so be careful.

SUMMARY

            It goes without saying that it’s a big world out there on the web, and it’s not only full of good info, but plenty of bad stuff as well. When you’re a writer, whether experienced or just starting out, you have to pick your sources well.

            Happy writing!

INTERVIEWS

May 26, 2021

            I’ve talked about interviews in 2017 and 2018 but since I just rolled through one on the 15th of May, I got inspired to revisit this subject.

            As a writer an especially an author, when it comes to marketing, doing interviews is an integral part of the marketing side of “the bidness.”

            An interview can be either intimidating or fun, depending on how you approach it. It’s not quite the same as speaking in front of a crowd.

            Why?

            While speaking in front of a crowd usually involves a live audience staring back at you, more than likely an interview is going to be over the net or over the radio, so the audience is somewhere else. They may be listening live, but this interview may also be pre-recorded, or just an exchange of questions to be posted on a site.

INTERVIEW TYPES

            Q&A CHAT – The Q&A chat is where the interviewer will either send you a set of predetermined questions, or will open up a free-form discussion through a chat window or e-mail exchange. This is probably the least intimidating form and gives the author the best chance to form and edit their answers.

            The caveats to this style is what the interviewer does with the material. How do they edit not only the questions, but your responses? What does the final product look like? Next, who is the audience and what reach is this interview going to have? Since it’s not live, the audience doesn’t get to see you or hear your voice. They don’t necessarily get a feeling for your personality. While it may be the less intimidating, it’s also the coldest.

            LIVE RADIO – The live radio interview is where you go live on the air, whether it be on an actual radio station or maybe on a live podcast. The questions may be predetermined, or it may be a free-form or combination, depending on the time allowed by the interviewer’s staff. This is where you’re speaking in front of a crowd. The difference is that they’re not staring at you and you can’t stare back at them. It’s only slightly less intimidating if you have a problem speaking in public. There are plusses for shy people as you may not have to stare at anyone, especially if it’s on the phone or maybe on Zoom without video.

            The caveats are that your audience gets to hear you and get a feel for who you are. They get a chance to gauge your enthusiasm for what you write and your current book. The downside is it can also highlight your insecurities. Plus, there is the possibility the interviewer can throw a monkeywrench into the proceedings with off-the wall questions. Or, you can sabotage things by being a lousy guest. Then there are the technical issues that can blow the interview like audio or connectivity issues. However, if things go well, the radio interview can be a huge boost.

            If you can do the interview in the studio, that can be a huge plus as well as a minus. It all depends on if you’re the solo guest, or if there are others, it’s a panel discussion, and if you’re an active participant. If you’re unaware of what’s involved beforehand, that can make pitching your book that much harder.

            PRE-RECORDED RADIO – This method is almost the same as live radio, except it’s a little less intimidating as any issues or glitches or flubs can be fixed before the episode airs. Also, if things go bad, the entire interview can be scrapped, if the interviewer allows that. Sometimes, they even allow for retakes.

            LIVE VIDEO – I’m including pre-taped and live TV into this. This is by far, the most intimidating and also the most challenging. There’s nothing more compelling than for an author to reach a wide audience through live TV or video. The issue is how the author comes off in front of a camera. Some people are just not meant to be on camera for whatever reason. It should not be that way, but the sad fact is that to sell yourself and your books, while it’s perfectly fine at a book signing or in any number of ways, to be interviewed live on TV, people tend to pick you apart from the armchair a lot more.

            If you don’t fit a certain “demographic,” for instance, it doesn’t matter what you write. If you don’t look a certain way, when you come on for your interview, certain audience members will take one look and drift away or change the channel. They won’t even look at the book cover or subject matter.

            Those are huge caveats. At the same time, if you happen to fit the demographic and come off as visually appealing, this can mean a huge boost in book sales. You must be able to speak to a huge audience. The difference is that you’re going to be speaking to a camera. Your immediate audience is going to be a bored camera crew and a few staff wandering around in the background (if they aren’t chased off the set). That’s it. What you need to do is concentrate on the interviewer and hope he or she sticks with the pre-screened questions. They’re more likely to stick with the script since they don’t want to look bad on camera either. Unless your book is controversial, and they have a rep for stirring the pot. Usually, the interviewer is the least of your worries. YOU need to be confident and be able to speak without stumbling over your words. Don’t think that thousands of people may be watching you.

WHICH IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

            As a writer with a small publisher, I would take anything I can get. On the other hand, live TV or video is probably not my best bet because I’m one of those that doesn’t fit the correct demographic. Then again, that wouldn’t stop me either. I don’t care, personally.

            I’d do any interview, the more the merrier.

            I just did an interview with a podcast live radio station over in Jolly Olde’ Englande’ and it was a hoot. It was short and sweet, and I’d do it again.

            No telling if it’ll sell any books, but I’d do it again if the opportunity arises.

            If I were you, stage fright or fear of speaking in public, I’d suck it up and get out there. Your books aren’t going to sell on their own!

            Happy writing!

SHOWING NOT TELLING REVISITED

May 19, 2021

            Recently, this subject came up on one of the forums. Since Showing not telling is a huge reason that some writers want to throw out the rules and write crap, I thought it was time to resurrect this article. It turns out, the original was one of my earlier ones, from back in 2011, September to be precise.

            While I may have got down to brass tacks with showing not telling since that original article, I cannot recall either the times nor other titles, so here you have it, the original. It’s slightly tweaked and updated, of course, for all you newbies to my site, and a refresher for you old timers, my thoughts on show not tell.

INTRO

            Show not tell.

            Geez, I used to hate those words!

            They were my nemeses, the curse of my writing existence, the Phoenix that carried me down in flames. For the longest time, I just didn’t get it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see or tell the difference between showing and telling. It’s taken years (decades now) to be able to notice the difference. I no longer get irritated when I hear those words because I realize how difficult it can be for a writer to recognize the concept, especially in the heat of creating. There used to be a commercial for Netflix back in the day where this woman told a character “Show, don’t tell” and I just wanted to slap her silly.

            Showing and not telling seems almost like a contradiction in a story. After all, you as an author, are telling a story, right? Wrong! You are showing a story. As weird as it sounds, your job is to show a story, as much as possible. As hard as it may be to get your mind around this concept, well, at least it was for me, a story is a lot more interesting if it is shown through words than told through words.

            The best way I can demonstrate that is by an example.

            Mary went into the house and told Jane that there was something going on at the office and it creeped her out, but she didn’t know what to do about it. Jane at first, didn’t believe her, but after a bit of convincing, had to admit there may be something to what Mary was saying. They decided they should go back down there and check it out together.

            What you have is a bit of narrative where the author is telling the reader about something that transpired. While there’s nothing outright wrong with that, besides being a bit passive, there’s a big problem that many authors cannot see right off. The entire paragraph is a bit tell. This is where I used to get into trouble all the time. I couldn’t see it for what it was. I was describing something that happened, but what I couldn’t see was that I was being lazy and not turning it into something more active. That’s what you, as an author, needs to watch out for.

            That paragraph needs to be shown. How do we do that? Instead of telling the reader what happened, turn it into dialogue and action. Make it happen in real time instead of something that happened in the past.

            Mary barged through the door and faced Jane at the kitchen table. “There’s something going on at the office and it’s creeping me out. Scott keeps going in the back room and locking the door. He’s up to something.”

            Jane shrugged. “He’s always up to something.”

            “No, this is different.” Mary grabbed her shoulder. “Have you noticed how he looks at everyone lately? The way he smells? He has this gleam in his eye.”

            “I…” Jane squirmed. “Now that you mention it, he does seem a little off.”

            “Have you ever tried to go into that back room?”

            “Well, no. Not lately.”

            “I did yesterday.” Mary slapped the table. “Guess what he did? He practically bit my head off. Sheila from accounting heard him, too.”

            Jane stood and grabbed her purse. “Maybe we’d better take a look for ourselves.” She glanced at the clock. “He’ll be gone for the next few hours.”

            “I’ll drive.” Mary jiggled her keys.

            Notice the difference? It is much longer, but it went from a boring and mundane paragraph telling the reader about something to a dynamic scene that showed the reader something.

            Now for the tricky part. There’s nothing wrong with telling in a story. However, there’s a time and place for it. Telling should be kept to a minimum. When it’s possible to show it, show it instead. You’ll have a much better story that way.

            A few more examples.

            Ron was bored.

            Oh…kay…so what? You’re telling the reader Ron was bored.

            How about:

            Ron yawned, tapped his foot, then rolled his eyes. He stood and paced, sat again, then tugged on his hair. “I can’t stand this!”

            Now it shows Ron is bored.

            The storm raged on.

            This is a case where, depending on time and expediency, you could go from show to tell, depending on how necessary the more elaborate show is, versus, whether it’s needed or not.

            The winds continued to blow, lightning flashed, rain fell in huge waves that flooded the streets.

            How important is it to describe the storm, or is it just an aside to let the reader know something that was already described before?

            This is a case where showing is okay since the telling has already been done…maybe ad nauseum.

SUMMARY

            Show versus tell is always better for a more active story, but there IS some discretion. There IS a time and place for tell. If you’re a literary writer, in love with words, you can probably get away with more tell. However, if you’re an action-oriented writer, a commercial writer, then you need to get to the point right away.

            Showing and not telling is essential to keep the writer engaged.

            Happy writing!

DREAMS AGAIN

May 12, 2021

            I just did an article on dreams last year, so it’s a bit soon to revisit the subject. However, for the past few months, I’ve had some more vivid ones that broke through the barrier so that I almost recalled them.

            When I think about it, if I’d had a notebook nearby, I might have been able to jot down some details to store for later.

            The problem with that?

            My writing is so terrible, I probably couldn’t read my own writing, let alone understand any shorthand if I went into details and didn’t flesh it out. Another problem is that the effort to write it all down would also tend to make me forget what I was dreaming about in the first place.

            The solution?

            Fire up the computer.

            That’s a fine idea if it’s a weekend.

            A workday, not so great. I have a different routine which doesn’t allow for computer time. It would be a stretch to allow for notebook time.

            The fact is that making allowances to jot down dream ideas is just not worth it for me.

            Why?

            It goes back to the fact that as I alluded to in my original article, none of those dreams are related to anything I’m currently writing.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

            This is where dreams may matter.

            If you have better penmanship, a different set of habits waking up, maybe early morning access to a computer, maybe don’t have so many stories already in your head, this could be the golden goose for you.

            This harkens back to a recent article, Write My Story For Me. If you’re lacking inspiration, or are seeking ideas, what better way to do it than to mine your dreams?

            This might be the time to start jotting down notes from your dreams. No matter how screwy they may be, once you build a list of them, they might inspire a story idea.

            If they’re nightmares, well…that could be good and bad.

            I know of some people that keep a diary of their dreams for mental health purposes. Those diaries could be a gold mine for story ideas. They would have to be disguised, of course, to not reveal personal issues, but might be the catalyst for something great.

NOT ALWAYS A GREAT IDEA

            Dreams aren’t always a great idea either. They can be disjointed, distorted, conflicting, or downright nightmares that make no sense at all.

            Not only that, but upon waking, just trying to recall them changes them into something else.

            They can bring back extremely unpleasant memories best left alone.

            They can trigger recurring nightmares (this could be good for horror writers).

            They can cause emotional problems.

MY CASE

            While I’ve sometimes had vivid dreams, and only occasional nightmares, for the most part, while sometimes vivid, I most of the time forget them as soon as I wake. I can recall the ones that recur, but they’re not something I’d want to use in a story.

            What I do use in storis are daydreams.

            I daydream. I’m fully conscious and dream up stuff all the time. This is not the same as sleep dreaming. I’m fully aware of my surroundings and am actively thinking of what I’m doing. I’m creating.

            Do I use every daydream?

            Of course not.

            I use some of them. I ponder and alter and repeat and rinse. I keep refining until I sit down and start writing. Then it just flows. Soon my daydream turns into a story.

            Is it a complete daydream?

            Of course not.

            Oftentimes it’s just a nugget of an idea. A main theme that I build on. From it, I create my A and B and then I go off on the adventure.

SUMMARY

            When I woke this morning, I had a series of dreams I could recall for a few moments before I went on to something else. A few times I went back into the same one. Do I remember them now?

            No.

            Why?

            They were not important enough, or had a great enough impact on me to rise to the top.

            That’s what usually happens.

            Did I have an urge to grab a notebook, turn on a voice recorder (if I had one), or rush in to turn on the computer?

            No because while they were sort of entertaining, as I became fully aware, I could tell they were not something I would have any practical use for. They were just dreams.

            Maybe what you dream will be like me, nothing to write home about. Maybe they will. That’s up to you to decide.

            Happy writing!

WRITING RETREATS

May 5, 2021

            The subject of writing retreats came up the other day on the forums.

            Is this something that you might consider?

            Would a retreat be the perfect way to get away from it all? Would this be a chance to spark your creative flow? Could this be the chance to be finally able to concentrate without distractions and write? Bla bla bla.

            It’s time to look into the ins and outs of a writing retreat.

PURPOSE

            I guess the main purpose to get away for a retreat is to self-isolate, more than likely in nature somewhere, a quiet place away from distractions so one can write.

            Another possibility is to be able to hang for a certain amount of time with other writers and chew the fat, maybe to include a certain number of voluntary classes.

            The setting may be inspirational. The retreat itself may either be in a beautiful setting, or be one used by other famous writers in the past. It could also be an infamous setting made to inspire one’s writing.

            The whole point is to inspire you to write, maybe even start or complete that novel you’ve been piddling at for a long time.

EXPENSE

            Inevitably, these retreats usually come down to cost. For the most part, they ain’t cheap. If someone is going to go through the trouble to put on a quality event, it’s going to cost you. What you must decide is if it’s worth it. Look at the payoff versus whether you may just want to get away for a week or month or more.

QUALITY OF THE EVENT

            Has this event ever been done before? Look into the history of this retreat. Does it have reviews or anecdotes from past participants? Has it been successful? Are there a lot of distractions? Is weather, or maybe the participants or staff conducive (or not) to good writing?

WOULD IT REALLY WORK FOR YOU?

            Would isolating yourself for a certain amount of time, away from family, friends, job, or whatever, really make any difference in your writing? Would the isolation itself be a distraction? Or, would that be the magic formula you need to get that spark back you’ve been missing?

MY TAKE

            I can’t write this article without giving my own take, my own biases, which I’ve saved for last.

            Whenever I see these writing retreats come up, I cringe.

            For some reason, I think of the old days and the very literary writers of old. Back in the day, making a living was a lot more vague. People lived off inheritances, or had much different ways of making due. Taking a week, month, year out of life for a retreat was no great interruption to complete that “great classic” because many of these writers were either already rich, were sponsored, or did something on the side to earn their keep.

            Me, on the other hand, would be stifled by being isolated away from my life. Not to mention, having to dole out my precious vacation time for things far more useful for me. Besides, I do just fine writing on my own, and not having to rely on forced isolation when all I have to do is self-isolate at my choosing, WITHOUT taking vacation, or losing any time away from my regular life.

            I need my life and distractions for my inspiration. That, right there, precludes me from every wanting to go on one of these retreats, regardless of any other positive or negative reasons.

            In fact, isolation for a set period to write would do the exact opposite of inspiring me to write. It would stifle my creativity.

SUMMARY

            Writing retreats can be a good thing if you need or can afford them.

            Not for me, but it’s entirely up to you. Hope this helps you make a more informed decision.

            Happy writing!

WRITE MY STORY FOR ME

April 28, 2021

            This post may seem a bit on the harsh side. In a way it’s a vent. However, it harkens back to several posts in the past about writers on the various forums asking for help with this or that.

            For the most part, especially for beginning writers, the obvious questions are natural.

            I’m talking about function things like point of view, tense, dialogue, you know…

            Technical thingies.

            Where I have to draw a line is when the beginning writer, or even one that’s been at it a while starts asking the community to come up with ideas for them.

            Folks, that’s when I start to cringe, scrunch up in my chair, and sometimes want to yell at the screen.

CONTEXT

            Of course, context matters.

            Context is everything. In a real-world setting, when a writer is looking for the name of a particular breed of horse used for plowing fields in England at the turn of the century, that’s a legitimate RESEARCH question. It’s no different from looking it up online, or, finding out if someone in the community knows. I’m all for that!

            However, say, you’re in a fantasy world and you’re looking for names for races of creatures not used before.

            Hold on here!

            In the case of world building in a fantasy world, there are no rules except the RULES YOU CREATE!

            If you ask the community to make up your names for you, you’re giving ownership to them, not you! They’re no longer your creatures. Even if you alter the spelling slightly, you’ve basically used THEIR CREATION, not yours.

            That’s letting them write your story for you.

            Context.

PLOT

            This one really gets me.

            “I want to write such and such but I need a plot. Please help.”

            Say what?

            In other words, you want us, the community to write your plot out for you and then let you take credit for what we did for you?

            To me, if you just want to write something but have no idea what, you need to sit back and wait until you have a genuine idea before you even think about starting something. Letting the community create it for you is not the way to do it. Why should we give you an idea we could use ourselves?

NO IDEA WHAT TO WRITE

            “I want to write a story but don’t know what to write. Please help.”

            You would be surprised how often this question comes up.

            So, this person is asking us, the community to come up with an idea for them?

            I have to admit that when I first started out, I had an itch to write, but no idea what to do with that itch. Therefore, the infamous ¾ page Star Trek satire.

            They need a prompt. They need something to get them going. The thing is that of the several hundred people out there, most of who will never respond, for those that do, who would ever give them an idea they could use? Most would be out-and-out rejects. Without knowing this person’s likes, wants, and needs, nobody could ever guess what this person would want to write about.

            Once in a while I’ll respond with something like “Whatever you write about, it has to come from you, not from us. If you really want to write, you have to feel the urge and already have a story in mind. If not, wait, listen, observe until one hits you. Patience Grasshopper.”

            Then again, as if this were an on-line writing class and the instructor has everyone throw out ideas for an impromptu short story, that would be similar.

FILL IN THE BLANKS FOR ME

            “I’ve got this cop and he has a girlfriend. She loves him but…I don’t know where to go from here. Please help.”

            So, in other words, you want us, the community to write the subplot for you?

            Here again is a case of not research, but asking the community to write the story for the writer.

THE BIG POINT

            It’s great to have a big community through multiple writing forums where one can ask questions to other writers. It’s especially invaluable for research. Usually the information is reliable, but even then, one must do backup research to verify technical issues. As for writing technicalities, plenty of opinion is also part of the deal, especially with people flaunting or out-and-out ignoring basic writing rules. This is especially true with the advent of self-publishing.

            The not-so-great aspect is using the community as an inspirational crutch to write your story for you. Unfortunately, I can see a time where there’ll be an author who derives almost an entire story from the community, yet takes credit for it as his or her own.

            Now, as I alluded to before, when a starting writer comes to the community looking for inspiration, as in what they might get from a class with writing exercises, there is a logic to it. However, for a writer who has it in their blood, or at least from my perspective, we have so many stories in us we don’t need prompting to get them out. What prompting we need is maybe how to get started, or how to get unstuck, or some other mechanical or technical issue we get hung up on. That’s not the same as letting the community come up with the stories we should already have bursting from our brains.

            Am I wrong here? I’m leaving this open ended because there are more avenues and areas I have not addressed to this issue.

            Happy writing!

TRAVELING FOR INSPIRATION

April 21, 2021

            This article is inspired by a recent trip to San Francisco. It’s not just COVID that restricts travel for my family. It’s time and budget. Given that, we don’t get out all that much. When we do, it tends to have an impact.

            Back in the day, traveling meant something different. My job, the Air Force, gave me golden opportunities in the time before continual deployments. When we traveled, it was more or less permanent from one place to another. That’s why we lived in places like Spain and Turkey. Then we were also able to live for years in different states. However, while overseas, when we took a “weekend trip,” it had an entirely different meaning.

            For the majority of those times, I wasn’t a writer or an author. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to catalog a vast “wyberry” of memories and photos from which I could draw inspiration.

            Nowadays, travel takes on a different meaning. Back then, travel meant a relatively short jog someplace interesting. Here and now, it usually means a long one of maybe two or three days with hotels to get to someplace interesting.

WHAT CAN TRAVEL DO FOR YOU?

            It all depends on your level of inspiration.

            I’ve talked about inspiration multiple times here at Fred Central. What it boils down to is what your imagination threshold is and how you exploit it. If writing is something you have to do, it’s a compulsion, you should be brim full of stories waiting to get out. Everything inspires you. You have way more ideas filling your head than you can write down in a lifetime.

            Does that mean you’ll try and use all of them?

            Not likely.

            Does that mean you’ll use most of them?

            Not likely either.

            What you’ll do is cherry pick some of the best and when it comes down to actual practice, your adventure, wherever it takes you, you’ll end up someplace that’ll probably surprise you.

            Then, you’ll end up where, despite a head full of ideas, a little more inspiration for something new and different won’t hurt to add to your extensive library.

            On the other hand, if everything you have in your head is all imagined, getting out and traveling is a great way to see something for yourself. Nothing beats reality instead of books or on the net.

            Now, what about those of you just dabbling, where writing isn’t a passion yet, or may never be?

            For you, inspiration is a mandatory requirement for you to write.

            Travel is an excellent way to spur your imagination.

            Maybe it’s time to have a convenient excuse to take the family or yourself out of the house and go to that place you were thinking of seeing for real, instead of just on Memorex. You may be surprised what it’s like in real life.

SUMMARY

            There are many reasons to travel. For writers, it can be for research of inspiration.

            The key is not to think of it as a mandatory thing for legitimacy for your craft. That’s bull. Get that right out of your head. There’s no law or unspoken rule that says your writing isn’t legitimate unless you travel to the places you use in your books!

            The purpose of travel is to get away from home if you can afford it!

            Then again I have to think back to that old song by the 60’s band The Seeds. It’s called Travel With Your Mind. You can do that by staying at home or going there.

            Never forget that!

            Second, while you’re there, whether for real or in your head, as a writer, it can be a place of great inspiration or research for something you are currently or may write in the future.

            Happy writing!

RULES AGAIN

April 7, 2021

RULES AGAIN

            I can’t say it comes up all the time…yeah, actually, it does. On the writing forums, disdain for writing rules comes up a lot. People just don’t want to follow them. They hate, abhor, despise, them (fill in your word for hate). Oh, and I mustn’t forget resent.

            Why is this?

            Some of them are easy to comprehend, while others are a bit more difficult to grasp, like show versus tell (anyone?).

            The thing is that people, especially in the heat of writing, break these rules all the time when they spew out their mental diarrhea. That’s all good and fine. However, when it either comes to editing, or being hung up on the “rules,” some authors come to a dead stop. They feel creatively stifled because they either don’t understand these rules, can’t figure a way to make their story work using them, or just want to rebel and don’t want to use them. There are more reasons as well, but one of the “rules of writing” is not to use lists, ha ha.

THE DIFFICULTY FACTOR

            Following all the rules can be tricky because there can be a lot of them. Some may seem obscure from the outset and take a bit of effort to grasp. Some need to be doled out in doses and not taken to the extreme. More on that in a moment.

            Probably the most difficult one to grasp is show not tell.

            This “rule” is one that frustrates so many writers that they just want to throw out the book. Then they’ll write their story with all tell and forget about rules altogether. Understandable.

            Backstory is another one. This is one of the most broken rules out there. Most authors want to tell their story out of whack. They want to screw with their timeline to justify why this and that happens. It’s only natural. It should be done with a feather instead of a sledgehammer. When an author lays down their “masterpiece” and the first half of the book is backstory, no wonder they can’t find a publisher…or readers!

            So, it can be difficult to not only grasp the rules, but to follow them even when you know them.

BAD EXAMPLES ON DISPLAY

            There are plenty of outstanding examples of authors (you notice I didn’t say writers) who use the rules effectively. Sure, they may break one here and there, but for the most part, they use the rules, and it shows with an outstanding and easy read.

            Unfortunately, there are a wealth of bad examples, which as reviews will show, polarize readers. Those that tout the rules love it because while many of these rule breakers are still best sellers, these bad examples are automatically building in a polarized audience.

THE RUMBLINGS ON LINE

            The rumblings go from “rules suck” to “there should be no rules.”

            Oh boy.

            I sigh when I hear this and it usually makes for a substantial boost in the self-publishing world.

            Unfortunately, not always. Plus, it gives negative encouragement to up-and-coming writers, who need to at least learn to do it right before they try breaking rules they don’t even understand yet.

THE CRAP OUT THERE

            As I constantly remind forum readers, I was a book reader long before I was ever a writer. I’ve read thousands of books. It has, more than once, made me wonder why some books turned me off and some I drank in and couldn’t put down.

            Was it the subject matter? Sometimes.

            Was it the writing style? More often than just the subject matter.

            When I started writing, I learned the mechanics and the rules of writing, some of which have adapted and changed over the decades since I first started. Some of these rules have changed a bit, but not by much. Most of those well-established rules still apply today.

            Through writing, I discovered WHY I didn’t like certain books, even though the subject matter was interesting, and the stories were great.

            Through writing, I also discovered why some books were great to read but the stories sucked.

            It was all about the rules.

            I discovered that the rules were there for a reason. When I was a young writer (young not being age!), I was not all that happy with some of the rules either. However, I knew that if I ever wanted to make my stories easier to read and up to the level that I would want to read, I’d better learn those rules myself!

            Comparing my first manuscript, which I’m editing now, to my later work has reminded me of how far I’ve come in 26 years!

SUMMARY

            While I feel their pain, it still pisses me off to see writers touting throwing out the rules or saying there are none. It still pisses me off to go into the bookstore (or use the “peek inside” function on Amazon) and see what looks like a great story ruined when the author can’t even follow a few simple rules of writing.

            Folks, there’s a lot of crap out there that doesn’t need to be. Sure, some of it sells, unfortunately, which clouds the issue.

            I hope I can steer some if not all of you to at least learn and get good at the rules, so you’ll know when to break them. Learn to break them in small ways, not enough to take away from that “easy read.”

            Happy writing!