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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!

HOW TO END A STORY

April 1, 2021

            Far less common, but not rare is the question, “How do I end my story?”

            Whenever I see this question, I want to go, “Huh?”

            It’s like why in the world would you even start writing when you don’t have a goal?

            Then I think back to my first Star Trek satire and think how I just wanted to write, but thank my lucky stars (there’s an old cliché for you), that I tried it on an old manual Royal typewriter and it was too much effort to get anywhere. Add to that a total lack of skill, and I saved myself a lot of trouble and never got past three quarters of a page.

            Today, one can take a directionless mess several hundred pages with a computer keyboard and end up with no idea how to put it all together in a neat package with a proper ending.

            This is why I consistently emphasize that no matter whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, ALWAYS figure out A and B, and more likely the title, before you ever write a single sentence of the story.

            Without a goal, you’re going to end up with a mess.

            Speaking of goals…

THE GOAL IS THE PLOT

            Someone with a more smartass approach might say, “Uh, duh…”

            However, that’s not the right way to look at it.

            When one wants to write a great story and they have a great idea, execution doesn’t always wash when one doesn’t have the idea fully hashed out.

            The idea that the goal is the plot should be obvious but not always.

            Setting aside any twists and turns, the goal IS in fact the plot, the whole point of the story.

            Back to the butler did it from my last article.

            The butler did it is the plot of your mystery story. It’s a murder mystery. A detective story. The goal is to solve the mystery, therefore that’s the plot. Solve the mystery. What twists and turns you put in it along the way are the plot twists.

            Now, you might think that the ending would write itself. In the end, the butler is caught. That’s the ending. The plot is solved. However, resolving the plot is not the ending in of itself. While you may catch the killer, so to speak, that may not be the actual ending.

            This is where some writers get hung up. While they may have written out their story and have come to the resolution of their plot, they cannot figure out how to end the story.

They’re not the same thing.

HOW TO END A STORY

            I’m once again using the very simplistic example of the butler did it. It’s a murder mystery but it could apply to any story, any genre.

            In the end, the detective or protagonist (doesn’t have to be a detective) discovers the identity of the murderer.

            Now what?

            Murder mystery = discovery of the killer = plot resolved.

            So what?

            How do you end it?

            There are many ways to end this thing depending on what you want to do.

            #1 Abrupt ending.

            The story ends with the protagonist discovering the identity of the killer in a big aha moment.

            The end.

            #2 Elaborate ending.

            The story ends with an elaborate discovery of the killer and the protagonist calls the police who arrest the butler. The hero then gets the girl/or guy (which is a romantic subplot).

            #3 The killer wins.

            The killer is discovered and kills the protagonist. As much as I hate bummer endings, this surprise twist ending has the butler find out he’s been discovered then kills the protagonist before the good guy or girl can inform the authorities. Then the bad guy or girl carries on with a big smile.

            #4 The killer gets away with it.

            The protagonist discovers the butler did it but can’t prove it, and has to let the bad guy get away with it.

            #5 The killer dies doing something redeemable.

            In the process of chasing the butler, he or she saves someone while confessing to the killing. The protagonist decides to keep silent and let the killer keep his or her reputation.

FACING YOUR OWN ENDING

            It’s a huge given that you have a point to your story. In other words, you have a plot after writing thousands of words of a story that meanders toward some sort of conclusion.

            Somehow, you have to end it eventually. All it takes is a bit of imagination and looking at possibilities. You can use any number of twists. Asking a forum to write it for you is not the way to do it because then it’s not your own. However, I can understand letting them throw ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. Then twist that around to make something your own. I personally would never do that because I want my stuff to be my own.

            The examples I’ve shown are super generic and meant to apply to anything. They’re meant to spur your imagination in ways I can’t possibly predict, and that’s exactly what I want. I don’t want to write your ending for you. I want you to do that on your own.

SUMMARY

            I cannot emphasize how important it is to at least plan out A and B before you start. For me, that doesn’t mean I write the exact details. Not at all. For instance, the current book four of Meleena’s Adventures is in the works. I have A and B down and the title. I’ve already written A because I’m currently on Chapter 4. However, I have NOT written B yet. I have it in my head, but won’t specifically write it until I get there. I DO know what it’s going to be, or generally so in my head. It may change a bit by the time I get there, but not significantly. I know my goal, my plot and how it’s generally going to end. I don’t have to scramble and freak out when I get to B to figure out what to do. You shouldn’t either!

            Happy writing!

HOW TO START A STORY

March 24, 2021

            You might be surprised how much this question comes up on the writing forums.

            “I’ve always wanted to write but I don’t know how to start the story.”

            Some people have a great idea for a story, but don’t have any idea how to start.

            Uh…okay. Let’s take it from the ground up.

BACK IN THE DAY

            Long ago, in a galaxy far far away…

            Well, not quite, but back in the day, when I was just an avid reader, around the time I made my first attempt with that disastrous Star Trek satire, written on a Royal typewriter, I think back on browsing the books at the Stars And Stripes bookstore at Torrejon Air Base in Spain. Even then, my creative mind was itching to take a try at writing something. Like so many others, I had no idea where to start, and that Star Trek attempt proved it.

            A big issue was that at the time, I may have had a mild urge to create my own stories, but not only did I not know where to start, I had no idea where I wanted to end either! I had no plan. No A and no B, no title, no plan at all. I just had an urge to write.

            Not much of a plan, and with almost zero skills, or idea what to do, I stuck with music, with which I was actually making money at the time. It was a lucrative side job.

            When I think back on those times, I can relate to the modern writers, starting out, full of ideas or “idea,” but not fully formed.

THE IDEA OF A AND B

            Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, it’s critical that you have a plan before you ever start writing. To do otherwise is inviting disaster.

            That’s the basic idea of A and B.

            A is the beginning.

            B is the ending.

            Plus, if it were me, I’d have the title as well.

            When a writer asks the question, where do I start, I have to ask, why are you even asking that if you haven’t even thought this whole thing out yet?

The young grasshopper hasn’t figured out their master plan. For instance, whether they’re going to start from A and write to B, or if they’re going to start from A and plot out every detail to B or some variation thereof. None of that matters if they don’t have an A and a B in the first place! If there’s no master plan, there’s no start.

            So, to give an example, you have the great idea. Of that I’m making a big assumption. This great idea includes a killer of an ending and premise, but you don’t know how to start.

            Let me say right off before we go any further, if you just have a vague idea of something in mind, STOP! DO NOT CROSS GO. DO NOT COLLECT $200. You should NEVER start a story with only a vague idea of what you want to write about.

            Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, you need to have the big idea and the plot laid out before you start. It’s not going to write itself for you and surprise you. It’s not going to magically evolve from nothing. You have to know where you’re heading before you start. You have to know what B is or you’re going to have a directionless mess. The purpose of this is to help you start, so you can get to B, WHICH YOU SHOULD ALREADY KNOW.

HOW TO START THE STORY

            The plot of your story is the butler did it.

            This example is a detective story. It could be anything, but I decided on the good old butler for simplicity.

            There are several ways to start.

            Right off, it’s always best to start with an action scene, so every example is going to be with some form of action. NOT BACKSTORY.

            #1 The murder. The heiress walks into the room and someone sneaks up behind her and clubs her over the head with a candlestick. She slumps to the floor. A few minutes later, someone finds her, the police are called.

            #2 A few days before the murder. The heiress is having tea with friends and the butler serves everyone. She’s a bit snippy with him, but he’s polite and lets it roll of his shoulders. The exchange is noticed by the guests in the room, especially the niece.

            #3 After the murder. The story starts with the detective examining the murder scene. She looks for clues and from then on, learns facts and any backstory comes out through interviews with the suspects.

            #4 Maid discovers the body. A maid walks into the room and discovers the body. She has a fit, calls in the butler, and in all the hoopla, ends up being the one that calls the police. During all this, you drop in a few things that will later make it look like either one of them could be the suspect.

            #5 The day of the murder. There’s a party at the house. Everything seems hunky dory, except there’s an argument between the victim and several guests, NOT involving the butler. However, one of those guests turns out to be the butler’s lover, thus the reason for the murder.

            #6 The funeral. The detective attends the funeral and starts observing all the staff and how they react. As they all leave, the detective watches where they go, then his or her gut determines who to follow. It’s the wrong person, of course, the first of many false leads, which eventually lead to the butler.

            These examples can be adapted to any genre of story. All it takes is a little imagination.

SUMMARY

            B and the title should already have been set before you ever thought of A. Now where to start? There are many ways, as I just outlined.

            No matter what your story might be, getting started is just a matter of choosing something to HAPPEN. DO NOT START WITH BACKSTORY!

            The story has to start someplace and the last thing you want to do is drag it down with backstory. That’s one reason prologues are going out of favor, though there are still plenty of them around. They’re not exactly illegal, but what I do instead is just make the prologue Chapter 1 with a date as a subtitle. Then, Chapter 2 is subtitled “present day.” That is, IF I don’t want to start the story in present day to begin with. That’s the extent of my backstory unless I want to leak in SMALL DOSES here and there so as to not bog down the action.

            My fantasy stories have no prologues while my adventure/thrillers and icky bugs do, but as I said, the prologues are now modified to Chapter 1 with subtitles. They’re also action oriented so they don’t feel like a narrative drag.

            So, there you have it. There are a multitude of ways to start a story.

            Happy writing!

WHAT’S A CASTLE REALLY LIKE?

March 17, 2021

            For writers, regardless of genre, there’s nothing like a good castle to add to the atmosphere. I got the inspiration for this article partially from my bud, Richie Billing, who just did an outstanding article on fantasy castles. The problem is that many of you never have and never may have the opportunity to visit a real castle in your lifetime, especially if you live in the good old You Ess And A.

            You can go with thousands upon thousands of photos, endless descriptions from others, but there’s nothing like visiting one yourself. When you describe one in your story, since you’ve never actually been in one, you can just make it up on the fly, depend on the descriptions of others, or do what James Rollins once told me, be vague if you can’t find out (or in this case, see for yourself).

            Then there’s the point of gaining inspiration when all you have is print, or maybe video.

            How can you possibly do something with that?

            I’m going to try an experiment and make an attempt to find ways for you to gain a bit of inspiration without having to book a trip to (mainly) Europe.

            I lived in Spain and Turkey for a total of fifteen years. I lived and breathed castles, every chance I could get, so I chalked up a bunch of castles over those years, including a few in Jolly Olde’ Englande’. In both Spain and Turkey, we (I was not a lone adventurer) often made it a habit to take a weekend drive. In Turkey, it was a bit more planned for safety reasons. In Spain, it was a case of just picking a random road, then driving. More often than not, we’d run into some kind of castle, whether it be a ruin or one fully functional. In other words, I’ve actually been there, done that. While most of them were ruins, living and intact edifices were an occasional prize. In your story, who am I to say that your castle is intact or not?

            Below, I’ve compiled what I hope are a few ways to gain some insight into what a castle is like from everyday places here in the You Ess And A. These examples are a far cry from the real thing, but they’re not all that dissimilar, when you boil it down and use a little to a lot of imagination.

            The thing is to be smart about it and be safe. Some of the better examples I had to omit because the last thing I want to do is encourage risky behavior. These examples may give you your own ideas, but please, don’t go overboard and at the same time, maybe you’ll find even better and still safe examples than what I suggest.

THRONE ROOMS

            This is by far, the safest example, whether you’re religious or not.

            I’m talking about a Catholic church. However, I’m not talking about just any old church. I’m talking about the biggest, and most elaborate Cathedral, with a capital C. You need to find one with the fanciest filigrees and maybe some gold leaf and fancy woodwork.

            Now, just ignore the pews, substitute the pulpit for a pair of thrones, and there you have it. Instant throne room. Keep in mind that in real life, the thrones were not all that big, at least the ones I’ve seen. It may be shocking to learn that many of them were rather small, given the stature of the populace at the time.

            If the priest allows it, sit there in different places and start substituting in your mind a bit. Add in details like tapestries and filigrees and whatever else you can think of and you have an instant throne room.

            Imagine in place of the pews, obedient subjects kneeling before the throne, a bard or two off to the side where the band sits, maybe a jester on the other side.

            Oh, and any residual incense smell in the air is fine. In the old days, it would probably have covered the body odor and damp, moldy smell in the air.

            I can’t vouch for other churches, synagogues, or mosques. I’ve been in some, but the examples I’ve seen didn’t have the right structure for what I’m talking about.

DUNGEONS AND PASSAGEWAYS

            I had another possibility in mind originally, but the negative possibilities that came up as I wrote it made me erase it all. Instead, I came up with a much safer alternative.

            This all, of course, depends on where you live. If you’re in a rural community, you may have to travel to a larger town or city.

            You need to find a parking garage.

            The more elaborate the better.

            Now go for the stairwells.

            If there are any tunnels leading under the street, even better. The plainer the better.

            While this example isn’t the first thing that popped to mind, it’s far safer than what I originally thought of.

            In the stairwells or tunnels, you, of course, have to stretch your imagination, but these places aren’t too different from a castle.

            The sounds and smells would be different, and you’d have to blank out any posters or graffiti on the walls, but just think plenty of silence, mold, dampness and unpleasant malodorous things lingering in the drafty air. Change the concrete to large or even small stones. Narrow the passageways down so that you can stretch your arms across and touch the walls. Lower the ceiling to just above your head. Add in some mold growing from the cracks and maybe a bit of water trickling along the floor. In the stairwells, remove the guardrails and any metal change to stone. Once again, narrow the steps to just wide enough to pass through.

            In the parking garage itself, blank out the cars, substitute the car exhaust for a dank sewer-like smell and you’re close. Where the cars sit, or the parking spaces are lined up, substitute walls and jail cells. Make sure some of them are broken down and the doors missing.

BEDROOMS

            This example is more of a stretch, but it can still work.

            What you need to do is go to a furniture warehouse. Not just a regular furniture store, but a warehouse with a high ceiling.

            Now, find the beds.

            Pick a child or teens bed and lay on it. I say this because a lot of the people back then were a lot smaller than we are today. From my experience, every single bed I saw was on the small side.

            Pretend it’s surrounded by a canopy with all the trimmings. Think of the high ceiling of the warehouse and imagine it covered with filigree and tapestries. Imagine instead of the new furniture smell, the smell of damp mold, old wood and the faint odor of sewage from a nearby chamber pot.

            If you can find an actual canopy bed, great. Try that one too.

            That, my friends, is…oh, and don’t forget the drafts wafting by.

            Now, try to ignore the salesman.

CASTLE CONSTRUCTION

            Like I said before, most of the castles I saw were ruins. What this means is that they were shells.

            Shells?

            That’s right. Instead of stone all the way through, they were outer walls with hollow insides. That means that the thick outer walls were the framework for wooden insides. The insides rotted out. When the castles were either conquered, caught fire, or abandoned, the wood structures inside either burned out, rotted out, or were salvaged.

            So, when you see the inside of a castle on TV or in the movies, you see a lot of stone, but what you’re actually seeing are outer walls. The insides were quite often a lot of wood with stone bracing. That, of course, did not help with the dampness. The wood beams were little more than squared tree trunks with brick or stone buttresses. There was no such thing as insulation or ventilation or a sewer system.

            Being Europe or even the Middle East, dampness and humidity prevailed, and your local A/C and heating companies were not exactly around to help bring things into the comfort zone.

            Me thinks a lot of the peasants, while living in hovels, actually may have sometimes lived in more comfort, if not less protected from invaders than the above ground caves the royals lived in. That’s not saying much, but those were pretty awful times no matter who you were.

SECRET PASSAGES

            Secret passages are great for stories and fiction. However, in real life, they were a lot harder to pull off. First off, secret passages significantly weakened those thick walls, which were meant for protection. Second, when examining castle ruins, if secret passages existed, most if not all had to be incorporated into the inner workings which burned like everything else or were salvaged or whatever. In all my time exploring castles, I never saw a hint of secret passages. One reason may be because they were no longer secret. Maybe back in the day they might have been, but in modern times, they became incorporated into the regular structures of the still functional castles. In the ruined ones, not once did I see any indication of one in the outer shell. If there had been one, it would have been fully exposed after four-five hundred to a thousand or more years of plunder, I can imagine.

            So, I cannot give a real-world example of a secret passage except if you have a crawl space under your house and aren’t afraid of spiders, or an attic, use a bit of imagination and go for it!

MOATS

            Moats were common around castles except as barriers, they weren’t as glamorous as you might think. They were actually used as the sewer. Yup. All that drainage had to go somewhere.

            The moat wasn’t as deep as it appeared to be, but deep enough to take all the wastewater and wide enough to discourage those attempting to try and sneak in. Besides, dredging through sewage just to come up against a sheer rock wall doesn’t encourage invaders.

            To get a sense of a moat, find a storm creek, particularly one that’s polluted or stagnant. It’s much better if it’s fenced. Just stand there on the safe side of the fence and imagine wading through that nasty water, up to your chest, and imagine that chain link fence being fifty feet high without a break. There you go.

SUMMARY

            I hope this helps spur your imagination, especially if you will never be able to get to a place with castles. I know I didn’t cover every aspect of a castle, but this is a good gist of the main points.

            One place I forgot to mention for inspiration was of course, Disney. While those castles are ridiculously far from reality, they can still be an inspiration, for looks alone.

            Happy writing!

THE EASY READ

March 10, 2021

            In a way, this is a summary of what I’ve been preaching for years here at Fred Central.

            The easy read is all about making your book the best product imaginable, producing the best format for your readers, creating the easiest way to get your story out to the public. In other words, creating the easiest read for your readers.

            That brings up the question as to how? Or, more importantly why?

            Do you care?

WHY DO IT?

            As I’ve pointed out before, some authors don’t care to make things easy. They want you, the reader, to come up to their level, not the other way around. They want to “edumacate” you, teach you something, bring you up to a higher level with their prose, style, and format.

            They want to break the mold.

            Nothing wrong with that if they can find an audience, which many do.

            On the other hand, there are those authors who just want to get their message across, whatever that might be. They aren’t out to force their readers to bend to their will. They aren’t out to try and mold readers into their image of a particular kind of reader.

            They want to communicate with as many people as possible, plain and simple.

            Nothing wrong with that either.

            There are those authors that like to throw a little of the mix in there, by keeping it simple, yet throwing in a little more complexity without going overboard in either grammar, style, or format.

            Nothing wrong with that either. There will always be an audience for that as well.

WHICH APPROACH ARE YOU?

            Since most of you reading this are not likely best-selling authors yet…I have to be realistic here…you’re struggling to make your mark in a huge market filled with countless writers and authors. You want to reach as many readers as possible. Therefore, I personally recommend the “simpler is better” approach.

            There’s the philosophy that since you’re not exactly setting the world on fire yet, why not go for broke and take the highbrow route right off? It wouldn’t matter if you alienate most of your readers with complex prose in some off-the-wall format because you’re not selling many books anyway, right? Maybe, someday, your style will catch on. I say, if that’s what you want to do, go for it.

            On the other hand, if you’re in that same boat, but want to sell more books, and are willing to make a more readable story, try the easier-to-read approach and see where you go.

HOW I APPROACH IT

            This is mainly for new readers here at Fred Central, but it can apply to you that have been visiting a while.

            My philosophy, from day one, has been the same.

            Long before I was ever a writer, I was a reader. Sixty plus years now, not to age myself!

            In all that time, I’ve read a LOT of books…thousands. I’ve suffered through every style and format imaginable. I must also say that I’m not just the average schmuck with a high school degree and only technical training for a background. I have several graduate degrees behind me, so I’m above average “edumukated.” In other words, I’ve been around the block. I’ve also had twenty-six years plus as a writer to add to that. Since the late nineties, I began reviewing them on Amazon, though a lot of them have since disappeared due to age or obsolescence.

            This resume is not meant to brag or tout anything special about me except to state that I’ve been exposed to a lot of writing and reading, including plenty of college textbooks and intellectual tomes.

            My reading interest, despite all that college, still remains with fiction, which many consider “lowbrow.” It will be for the foreseeable future.

            Since I’ve been exposed to so many different writing styles, I know what works for me and what doesn’t. Of course, I’m not everyone, but at the same time, I’ve been around long enough to have punished myself with stuff I haven’t really been comfortable with until I finally realized why I wasn’t comfortable with it. That revelation came about when I started writing in the mid-nineties. It became even more pronounced as I became a better and more proficient writer.

            Despite that rather lengthy resume, I still must say that I’m not everyone. What I have at least proven to myself is that despite anomalies, a lot of the stuff I like best ends up being on the best seller lists. Sure, many of what I call anomalies end up as best sellers as well, but many of them are not as enduring and tend to polarize a lot more readers than the easer-to-read styles.

            Why?

THE WAY I SEE IT

            It boils down to the easy read.

            Some authors get slammed for boiling their work down to the “base level” and pandering to the lowest common denominator.

            Oh yeah?

            So, that means that when an author writes something so that it’s an easy read that everyone can enjoy, it’s supposed to suck? It sucks because it’s not “challenging” or “intellectually stimulating” enough to satisfy the highbrows?

            Without naming names, I’ll give you examples of what I’m talking about.

            The books don’t throw the dictionary at the reader.

            The books aren’t filled with endless characterization.

            The books don’t jerk at the heartstrings with some complex deep meanings or political or philosophical candyrock psychedelic profundities.

            The books aren’t written in some odd format like no punctuation or 150K words with only three chapters.

            The books aren’t written in multiple tenses or point of view switching from first to third to first every chapter.

            The books don’t have taboo subject matter for shock value.

SUMMARY

            The shame of it all is that there are thousands upon thousands of great stories out there. It’s all in the manner of telling (or showing) them that’s the issue.

            Then there are plenty of lousy stories as well. Many of them, unfortunately, get published. I’ve read a few. My reviews reflect the good and the bad.

            Do you prefer to tell your great story in a way that is accessible to everyone, or to few?

            That’s the choice you have to make.

            Happy writing!

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOUR MUSE DISAPPEARS?

March 3, 2021

            I’ve talked many times about the muse. Some of us writers have them and some don’t. Or, some only use the muse when convenient either as a temporary inspiration or an excuse when we don’t want to write or are too lazy to get around to it.

            The other day, I was thinking about the re-opening of Disneyland. Not Disney World, but the original, to me, the “real one” here in nearby Calee’fornia. It’s been closed for almost a year, and given the state of affairs with the pandemic, might not reopen until later in 2021, if at all.

            As I’ve said repeatedly, Disneyland is one of my favorite muses. It’s certainly not my only one, if I were to say I have any at all, but it’s certainly one of a multitude.

            Then I thought, “what if a writer lost their main muse?”

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR MUSE?

            This is, of course, hypothetically speaking.

            As an artist, regardless of medium, many say they get inspiration from a muse. That muse is the root of all (or most) of their art.

            All of a sudden, that pipeline is cut off for whatever reason.

            Does the artist shut down after that?

            Does all that talent and inspiration fade away?

            Is that muse so key to their creativity that they lose it?

            In some instances, historically speaking, that has happened. Then again, many artists have gone through many muses in their lifetimes, some more notable than others, while the general public is often never aware of it unless they’re huge fans who dig deep into the lives of these people.

            I’m asking that question to you, the writer because I sincerely hope you haven’t hinged your creativity all into one single thing.

INSPIRATION SHOULD COME FROM MANY PLACES

            If you think about it, most big-time artists have lost a muse or two over time. A lot of those muses were people, and of course, people change, pass away, or whatever. Therefore, an artist using someone for a muse is doomed to eventually lose that person. The same might be said for a location given development or other circumstances like weather or natural disasters.

            Has this stopped most artists?

            As I alluded to in the last section, in a few cases, maybe, but in most, nope.

            Speaking of our medium, if you’re a good writer, you draw inspiration from many places, and no “muse” is going to get in the way.

            Back to the point others had touted over and over again. A muse is just an excuse for being lazy and not getting off your duff.

            Am I that hard core?

            Not really, because there may be other extenuating circumstances for not wanting to write. Or, maybe writing isn’t a passion. Or, maybe you never should have started a particular story or series. Or…maybe you have physical or mental ailments keeping you from continuing.

            A host of reasons may be your issue, that have nothing to do with a muse.

MY EXAMPLE

            The best way I can illustrate is repeating my example.

            While Disneyland has always been a huge source if indirect inspiration, and I mean, really indirect, it is by no means the only one. I don’t have a single muse and never have had only one. When I go there, do you have any idea where I get the most inspiration from?

            There are four places that give me that shot of adrenaline that has nothing to do with physical thrills. They are: Mr. Toads Wild Ride. My earliest memories of Disney are when my dad took me on that ancient ride in 1957, just after the park opened. I still appreciate it as much today as I did as a young whippersnapper.

            The Haunted Mansion. The ride is way corny and not the least bit scary, even if you consider the park still kicks plenty of guests out for scattering loved one’s ashes along the tracks. I love the pseudo-creepy atmosphere. I still get a kick out of that old pipe organ used in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and the dancing holograms.

            Pirates Of The Caribbean. Even after politically correcting it, that river ride still rocks. Nothing more to say about that one.

            Finally, the exit to the Winnie The Pooh ride has some benches. I like to sit there while the rest of the family goes into the candy store next to them. Behind me, some schmuck in a costume dressed as Tigger does autographs and photos with the kids. I sit there and take in the gorgeous trees surrounding me and listen to Splashwater Mountain across the way. That little spot, buried in the midst of the park, is pure paradise.

On the other hand, maybe I should say that the world is my muse and leave it at that because not only is it, but I can’t leave out Spain and Turkey or many other places I’ve visited.

            Now, all I have to do is sit here at the keyboard and start typing.

            That’s good enough for me.

            Happy writing!

ADDING THAT UNIQUE TWIST

February 24, 2021

            Everybody, especially publishers, are always looking for something different.

            Authors, writers, and readers get bored with, tired of, the same old same old.

            True?

            Well…depends on who you ask.

            This leads to a lot of experimentation. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

            What it usually boils down to is that, especially publishers tend to push writers and authors to do something different, yet when they do, these same publishers resoundly reject them as too off the beaten path and “not marketable” or “too radical” or “too something.”

            Say what?

            They want different but then they reject it right off.

            In other words, they can’t be pleased.

            It’s like they’ll know it when they see it, but they rarely, if ever do.

WHEN QUIRKY DOESN’T WORK

            You, the writer and/or author, come up with a brilliant idea for a story. It’s either in the way you market the book, the way you write it (as in style), or something about the plot.

            Since it’s more than likely fiction, you have to deliver a finished product before an agent or publisher will even talk to you. There are some instances where you can query an unusual idea and may get a yea or nay response from a “potential” agent or publisher. However, once executed, there are quite often a lot of second thoughts, plus due to the turnover rate, the person you pitched to may not even be available anymore.

            How are you supposed to market something like that?

            Maybe you should try a test audience.

            The barriers start to evolve.

            Need I say more?

WHAT IS THAT UNIQUE TWIST?

            Like I alluded to at the top, it can be several things.

            Packaging:

            The book could be presented in a unique format such as a catalog, which was done successfully in one case I just read. It might be a coffee table book. It might be in a plain brown wrapper and be about sex or have a sex-related or some other sensitive plot. I covered that in a recent article.

            The problem with this is shelving it and making it alluring to the reader. Having it mistaken for something else.

            Plot:

            The plot could have any number of twists, convoluted and turned back on themselves.

            The problem with this making it too weird or complicated for the average reader to either follow or enjoy. Plus, you have the issue that just about everything has been done before.

            Writing style:

            While not new, this is something that is especially tricky. Writing without punctuation. Writing with no point of view. Mixing point of view all over the place. All dialogue. No dialogue.

            No paragraphs. All paragraphs.

            These weird formats and styles can turn off any number of readers.

BEING DIFFERENT BECAUSE YOU’RE AN ARTISTE

            Oh boy, here we go.

            There is for the writer that writes purely for themselves and could care less if anyone reads their work. We all are to some extent, a little or a lot. At the same time, the majority of us would love to have others enjoy our work.

            When a writer refuses to bend to any convention at all, because it’s their art, they expect other like-minded individuals to “find them.” If not, they’re okay with that. In this case, the unique twist is that they write what they write, and could care less for convention, whatever that is. Publishing and the world is wrong. Eventually, the world with discover their genius and flock to them.

            Ever hear of the starving artist?

            The caveat of that is my old tired but true saying, “lightning in a bottle.”

            It can happen, but the odds are extremely high against you.

SUMMARY

            I’ve personally been reading for sixty plus years and have seen plenty examples of the twist. Some I’ve enjoyed. Most I have not. Some that I’ve enjoyed were not really unique at all. They were reflections on something already done before but just in a different voice.

            What goes around comes around, again and again and again. When the publishers want something different, it really boils down to they want something different but not too different.

            Go figure.

            You’re next big unique twist, whether it be plot, format or style, may be the next big thing since sliced bread.

            Just remember, the slicing of bread hasn’t changed all that much since it was created. Just the thickness, if that says anything.

            Happy writing!

YOUR WRITING IDOLS

February 17, 2021

            Every writer has other writers they tend to idolize, emulate, admire, copy, give a nod to, or at least are somehow influenced by. For many, it’s a host of authors.

            My list is long. I’ve mentioned them numerous times here at Fred Central.

            If you go to the thank you and dedication pages of many a book, you’ll often find mentions of these authors. Some authors don’t, while some writers, who are not published yet, may or may not tout their favorites.

            Nobody starts writing from a vacuum.

INFLUENCES

            Many writers develop styles that emulate their favorite writers. It comes naturally. After reading obsessively and enjoying the writing of someone for years, maybe decades, when one takes up the passion (or hobby) of writing, it’s a natural progression to be influenced by those you admire. It could be one writer or a blend of many.

            I’ve seen a lot of blends, such as myself, which, depending on which genre I’m writing, can emulate, to a degree, everyone from Clive Cussler to Carol Davis Luce to Lester Dent, to Edgar Rice Burroughs to Franklin W. Dixon, to R. Karl Largent, to well…the list goes on.

            I just read a book not long ago that emulated the style of Cormak McCarthy and I almost stopped reading. I ended up finishing it, but the lack of punctuation was so off-putting, I struggled to get through it. It was a horrible experience.

            On the other hand, I’ve read plenty of novels influenced by my favorites, such as Clive Cussler or Lee Child, or Preston & Child, or James Rollins that were outstanding. These novels kept me glued to my seat.

            I’m sure the same could be said for genres I don’t read.

EMULATE VERSUS COPY

            This gets into the realm of being a clone, something writers worry about all the time.

            The thing about copying or emulating some other author is that unless you use the exact same names and exact same plots, or exact same devices, even though you may be emulating a favorite author, you’re still telling a story in your own voice.

            If you recall from past articles here, I’ve said repeatedly that every plot and every possible story twist has been done before. What makes them unique is that no matter what way you tell it, it’s in your voice and your voice is unique. THAT’s what makes your story yours. Not the plot, or the trope or the cliché, but the VOICE.

            You can emulate a favorite author all you want, but as long as you choose your own path and don’t try to copy their book exactly, you can own your own story.

            That, my friends, has been going on since books first existed.

            Some schmuck wrote a story.

            Then another schmuck wrote that same story with a twist.

            Then another schmuck wrote that story again with another twist.

            Mix and match, so on and so forth.

            What made each one different?

            Voice.

SUMMARY

            It’s great to emulate your favorite writers.

            It’s not great to copy your favorite writers.

            Unless you rewrite their novels and add a new title, you can’t help but add your own outside influences and make them your own. That voice of yours makes them a different flavor in the mix, something unique.

            When someone asks you what your book is about, you can say it’s about such and such and it’s similar to so and so. That’s it. You don’t need to add that it’s not a clone of so and so, it’s just similar, or in the same style. You shouldn’t have to make that distinction.

            I write Agatha Christie type mysteries.

            I write Clive Cussler type adventures.

            I write Lee Child type thrillers.

            I write Zane Grey type westerns.

            I write Nora Roberts type romances.

            You can say you’re not like anyone else, but more than likely…

            Happy writing!

THE PURE FUN AND JOY OF CREATING

February 2, 2021

            I guess I should break this down a bit, right up front. There are writers that are plotters and there are writers that are pantsers. I’m in the pantser category.

            What this means is that I don’t spend days, weeks, or even months plotting out my story before I ever type a line. The sole planning of my story is that in my head, I figure out A and then B and then the title right up front. After that, my plotting is dun didded.

            That’s it.

            Case closed.

            Upward and beyond (to quote someone ((Galaxy Quest??)).

            Following an outline, would turn the writing into a task rather than a pleasure. Consequently, it would suck all the life right out of the whole process, though I’d still somewhat enjoy it because it IS writing. Instead, I follow a seat-of-the-pants approach.

            In other words, I write freeform, with the goal being B, or, the end of the story.

            As soon as I start from A, the adventure begins. It’s a pure pleasure.

A PURE PLEASURE

            It’s no secret I love to write. Here I am, Sunday morning, everyone else is asleep and what am I doing? I’m writing this. I could be sleeping, or reading a great book (the current one is by Preston & Child, two great authors). Instead, I’m plonking down another Tuesday article.

            Why?

            Because I love it.

            I this case, it’s not one of my novels, or a short, plotted story.

            It’s a weekly blog article.

            It’s still writing.

            When it IS one of my plotted stories, when I sit down to write, I go off into my own world, my own adventure.

            It’s hard to describe what it’s like.

            It’s a pure pleasure.

            For some that profess to love writing, it’s a torture, an effort, a source of agony.

            Why?

WHEN WRITING IS OTHER THAN A PLEASURE

            Writing can be other than a pleasure for a multitude of reasons.

            A very common one is that a person gets an inspiration to be a writer. They have great ideas for stories. The issue is that when they sit down to put it to practice, the mechanics of the actual writing don’t pan out the way they think it will.

            Uh oh…

            Another one is that a writer has certain chops but they’re trying to emulate their tortured artist hero. This person is of the impression that every word, every phrase is pure torture and that’s what makes their output a great work, when and if they ever get done with it.

            Another one is of course, most people. They want to be a writer, but they haven’t yet developed the skills to be able to sit down and just write. This is the most common. They know they don’t have the skills yet, are willing to learn, but get too hung up in the mechanics of it to enjoy the process. This is similar to the first one above.

            Another common one is someone who’s good at writing, but doesn’t get immediate results for their effort. They expect a big bang for their buck, and have allotted a certain amount of time to be a success. When it doesn’t pan out, the virtual tears come. They like writing, but their main motivation is money, rather than pleasure. They’re out to make a living at something they love doing. There’s nothing wrong with doing both. It would be great to be able to do both, but this is a very difficult bid’ness to break into and very frustrating to most, like any other profession. It can stifle pleasure and creativity in a short time.

            Those are a few examples of typical writers, but not all-inclusive.

WHY I WRITE

            I have described my writing processes numerous times here at Fred Central, but I can only stress that when I write, when I create my stories, my “big lies,” to be facetious, I go to a different place. I’ve done that since I was at show and tell in kindergarten and told the class my sister went down the drain at bath time, or showed the ladies in the cul-de-sac my “polka-dot-sewer” drawing. I’ve never been at a loss for strange new worlds, and now I have an outlet.

            What makes it easier is that once I seriously took up writing, I discovered I actually had the chops for it. When I sat down at the keyboard and hammered out The Cave, way back in 1995, I discovered for myself that I could pull it off. I finished that novel, as crude as it was, in about three months. This was in the evenings after work.

            At this moment, I am now editing it. I have been quite surprised and shocked at how this very first attempt is not nearly as bad as I first thought it was. I’d never had any intention of publishing it until I found the original manuscript and scanned through it. Then I decided to go through it, sentence by sentence and clean it up. It’s slow going because my chops have improved immensely, but story-wise, it’s not that bad, and I think I have something that might just work.

            When I wrote it, I went off into another world. I did not stop to think, I just did. Right there and then, I figured A, the start, and B the ending. I even had the title which I figured while I was contemplating B. After that, it was a matter of going off into my little world and typing away at my very crude computer.

            Somehow it worked, despite the quirks of the software, and whatever other obstacles I had to deal with at the time. I went off into my dream world and because I could type almost as fast as I could think, which admittedly can be rather slow at times…kept me at a rhythm and pace that worked.

            It’s almost impossible to translate that feeling to a non-writer, or even to some of you that don’t possess the skill to write that fast, or that on-the-fly. I take my ideas and just spill them out. That’s it.

            Pure joy and pleasure of creating.

            There’s no high greater than that for me.

            THAT’S why I’m a writer.

            How about you?

            Happy writing!