Skip to content

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

July 8, 2020

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

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

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

            Let’s think about this.

THE FANTASY FORUM

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

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

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

HAVING OTHERS NAME YOUR CHARACTERS

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

            It all depends on how you look at it.

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

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

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

BORROWING FROM OTHER CULTURES

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

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

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

PLOT

            Surprisingly, this one I see a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

            Is that not making the story original?

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

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

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

            Not really.

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

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

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

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

            This is especially true for CREATIVE help.

RESEARCH HELP

            Research help is a whole different animal.

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

            This applies to technical issues, NOT creative ones.

            There’s a big difference.

SUMMARY

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

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

            Happy writing!

FUNERALS IN YOUR STORY

July 1, 2020

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

            Hmmm…

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

            Understandably, I got quite a reaction to that.

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

            That made me think.

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

TRADITIONAL FUNERALS

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

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

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

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

NON-TRADITIONAL

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

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

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

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

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

DEALING WITH DEATH

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

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

            Ridiculous.

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

            Hmmm…

Happy writing!

THE JOYS OF EDITING

June 24, 2020

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

INITIAL BURST AND SELF-EDITING

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

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

FIRST HARD EDIT

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

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

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

BETA READERS

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

STUFF PEOPLE DON’T LIKE

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

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

HOW YOU EDIT

            How you edit is important as well.

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

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

            Happy writing!

CRUTCHES AND FALLBACKS

June 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

WE ALL DO IT

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

CORRECTING THEM

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

            However…

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

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

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

NOBODY LIKES EXTREMES

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

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

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

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

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

BEING AWARE

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

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

SUMMARY

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

            Happy writing!

DO DREAMS AFFECT YOUR WRITING?

June 10, 2020

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

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

SLEEPING TWILIGHT

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

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

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

DREAMS

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

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

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

IS THAT DREAM REALLY SUCH A HOT IDEA?

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

            Happy writing!

HOW DO YOU PREFER TO READ?

June 3, 2020

          This is a multi-faceted question because I’m not only talking about the format, but the mood and setting.

            As a writer, I’m assuming you’re a reader as well. After all, most, if not all of you had to start as readers. Like me, I started with a love of reading long before I ever thought of writing. My first, disastrous stumbles at this passion were a far cry from what I do now and could’ve brought this all to a screeching halt. Through it all, I had a few flashes of brilliance, more or less, and they slowly nurtured my interest into a passion for writing.

            None of that would’ve happened if I wasn’t already a voracious reader.

OLD SCHOOL HOCKEY

            Back when I grew up, we had no choice but to read paper books, whether hard cover Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew or Bobsey Twins, or later on, soft cover trad paperback Edgar Rice Burroughs tomes. Then there were the “wyberry” endless supply of hardbacks, of which everything under the sun was available. Admittedly, I found little use in those because I had no interest in the classics, and frankly, knew close to nothing of genre fiction, being such a young spud.

            My parents had the odd paperback lying around the house, but they were often thick (lots of pages) and had tiny (at least for me at the time) print. Plus, the books were usually older and smelled funny. Paperbacks did not age well back then and to tell the truth, still don’t, but nowadays, I’m more inclined to appreciate the smell of an old book.

ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY

            To avoid a further history lesson and just jump to modern times, we have available nowadays paper books, e-books, audio books, video books, you name it. For the modern reader, there are a host of media available to enjoy your stories.

            The question is, if you enjoy reading, how do you choose to partake?

TIME

            Time is a factor for a lot of people. I know that’s affected book sales, no matter the format. While it takes time to sit down and read a book, some people just don’t have the time, with busy schedules (admittedly not as much a factor during the pandemic, but let’s push that aside for the moment). Then there’s the competition of TV and those with more active lifestyles.

            How do you fit in reading time?

AUDIOBOOKS

            Some do it with audiobooks.

            I, for one, cannot multitask and listen to an audiobook as well as read. While I can listen to music CDs on my commute to and from work, I also tend to drift off into other worlds. Not only am I paying attention to the road, but the music is taking me places. Listening to Howard Stern interviewing someone, for instance, I miss details of the chat because I’m only catching some of it while something they say makes me think of something else. I don’t stay focused on all of what they’re saying. While I could, I suppose, I just don’t, because I don’t have to. The same with an audio book. I miss half the details because I drift.

            If I’m sitting down and reading, I absorb a lot more details over a longer period. It just works better for me. Less distracting.

            On the other hand, maybe a more active reader can utilize audiobooks better than I can. Is that what works for you?

VIDEOBOOKS

How about videobooks? Sitting at a computer or a TV, watching someone read a book to you? Not a very common format, but around. Like sitting on grandma or grandpa’s knee and having them tell you a story. Maybe that works for you.

E-BOOKS

            Some people swear by e-books. They’re cheap once you buy the reader. They’re easy to work with, some say. It’s really easy to save your place. You can usually adjust the font size to make them easier to read. You can store thousands of books on a slab the size of a piece of bread.

            They’re the cat’s meow for many people.

            On the other hand, they’re not something with any significant tactile feel. They have no new or even old book smell. You can’t peek ahead to the end and “cheat” to see if the hero lives in the end. You can’t get signed copies…well not real ones anyway.

            Oh, and let’s not forget those sometimes fantastic vivid color covers that may or may not live up to what’s inside.

PAPER BOOKS

            There’s nothing like the tactile feel and smell of a good paper book. Holding something of significant weight and texture in your hand is the best. Sure, they cost more, and you have to mark your place, but I much prefer that. I can’t adjust the font size, but I’ve been used to that little annoyance for many decades.

ENVIRONMENT

            Time and place are critical for reading, no matter what the format. On the go may mean audio. E-books or paper can be anyplace. Video requires the technology and is usually in a fixed place.

            For some of you, things have to be quiet like a library. For others, like me, bombs can be going off and I don’t care. I’m usually reading in a mix of situations between early morning when everyone is asleep to the evening when everyone is watching TV, to me reading during commercials, or half reading when I’m only moderately interested in something showing on TV. It’s funny how that doesn’t work with audio books, but that’s just the way it works for me.

            How about you? What do you need to read?

            Other important factors are stress level, smells, physical condition, and where you’re sitting. If you aren’t comfortable, it’s pretty hard to concentrate on prose. Maybe it can be a welcome distraction from your uncomfortable situation, IF you can concentrate on it. Maybe not.

MOST IMPORTANT

            We mustn’t forget the most important thing of all. The story and writing! If the writing and story sucks, it makes things so much more difficult! The story may be wonderful, but if the writing sucks, how can you suffer through it, regardless of the format or environment?

            The writing may be top-notch, but the story may suck. This is a much rarer instance. Usually if the writing is great, the story is also great. Not always, but if the writer has their stuff together with technique, they more than likely know how to put the rest together as well.

SUMMARY

            How you read, how you prefer to read, all can make a difference in how much you enjoy what you’re reading.

            Something to think about when you write for others and they put your book in their hands (or whatever).

            Happy writing!

FOREST THROUGH THE TREES TWO

May 28, 2020

            The other day, I was trying to figure out a way of rephrasing “forest through the trees” for my latest Meleena’s Adventures fantasy novel. It somehow inspired me to look back to this original article that I posted, the very second one to this web site. The date was June 1, 2011. To let you all know, I DID come up with an alternate way to say forest through the trees.

            Anyway…we all get that forest through the trees tunnel vision at times. Whether it be from editing, or maybe overall outlook on writing. Let’s see how I thought back then and how much has changed, given any tweaks I’m going to add along the way.

INTRO

Why is it that we learn all the “rules” of writing, yet we still cannot write perfectly? That is a question I hear more and more from new writers. No matter how hard we work to edit and perfect a sentence, paragraph, or whole story, we never get it quite right without external input.

The simple reason is that we’re too close to the story. We can’t see the forest through the trees. As tired as that old cliché may be, it’s still the truth. When we’re too close to something, we see what we’re thinking rather than what we wrote on the page. Even professional writers are wise to have a second set of eyes look over their work. The longer the work is, the more chances there are that they’ll get something wrong.

DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP

The point is this: don’t beat yourself up for getting something wrong. Whether it be a misplaced comma, a tautology, or a passive phrase, just fix it when someone else points it out. No big deal. No matter how much you write, you’re going to make mistakes. For those of us that have been at this a while, it’s a fact of life. You cannot have an ego when it comes to writing!

CRITIQUING

As a writer, if there’s any way possible, I highly recommend that you seek out a writer’s group. A writer’s group can be two people or fifty. The key is that these people must be nice! The point of getting together is to help each other out. Helping is giving good advice, opinions that’ll help you and your fellow writers improve their craft. This does not mean demeaning, intimidating, or embarrassing them. I’ve been-there-done-that. It’s ugly, and doesn’t help. The “tough love” argument is just an excuse to be mean.

Some of you have heard my example of the writer’s group from hell. It’s ultimately unproductive and destructive to be part of a group like that, unless you’re a masochist. I have yet to meet a successful agent, editor, or publisher face to face that’s that mean and cruel. I have met a few, mostly through the mail, but they don’t make it far in the business and as the more successful ones know, it’s just plain bad for business. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that being a “tough” critiquer is the way to go. I hate to quote another cliché, but you get more with honey than vinegar.

OBJECTIVE NOT SUBJECTIVE

Critiquing should be objective, not subjective. Critique the work, not the person. Sometimes, it can be tough, especially if you find the material objectionable. If it’s that bad, maybe it’s best just to defer rather than say anything. There was one case where a lady read some material that really got under my skin and I wanted to shout out “bull!” However, I held my tongue. I thought about all the times I read some of my icky bug, a genre where I use a lot of “colorful metaphors,” and a bit of gore and violence. Some members of our group are a bit religious, yet they gave me objective critiques. I kept that in mind as I sucked it up and gave her an honest critique of her writing instead of her content. Luckily, she did not come to too many meetings, so I didn’t have to bite my tongue often. You may run across this in a group, but that’s just part of the deal. Not everyone is going to be a fan of your stories. Critique the work, not the person!

When you read before a group, you’re presenting many new eyes and ears with things you can’t see, no matter how many times you’ve read and re-read your story. Trust me on this. You’re too close to it. Your jaw is going to drop when someone will point out something so obvious. For instance, your villain pops a few shots at the hero with his silenced revolver, misses and steals away. Screech! Halt! Any gun enthusiast will tell you, you can’t silence a revolver!

That was a rather blatant example, but you get my point. Your audience will catch repeated words, run-on sentences, misplaced modifiers, characters names changing from one section to the next, technical errors, the list goes on.

I self-edit these articles each week, and mainly for expediency, they’re all self-edited. I sometimes share them with other publications like Writer’s Tricks Of The Trade. Sometimes months or even years later, when they get published again, I see them in print and cringe at a glaring typo or phrase I messed up because I thought it rather than wrote it. I do my best to edit each article, but don’t be surprised to catch an error here and there. I can’t afford a staff here at Fred Central to keep me straight!

OH, BUT THERE’S MORE!

            As I alluded to last week (present time 2020), when it comes to rejection, unrealistic expectations are also part of forest through the trees. If you are so focused on getting published and not enough on #1 honing your craft, or #2 why you’re doing this in the first place – the love of writing, you’re going to get lost.

            That’s right. Don’t forget the whole point of writing in the first place. If you’re doing this for a hobby, I suggest you take up golf or knitting or something far less stress-inducing. If you don’t love writing, if it isn’t a passion, if it isn’t something you HAVE to do, something you’re going to do whether you get published or endlessly rejected ANYWAY, then find something else to do. If you’re in it just to make money, well…I can show you a bunch of slot machines near my home that probably have better odds for a payoff.

            I’m not saying you won’t succeed with time and persistence, but lightning rarely strikes in a bottle. The chances are, it won’t happen to you in an instant, and the only way to be successful is with hard work. If you focus too much on lofty goals, you’re not going to see the forest through the trees. You’re going to miss the pleasure of writing and let the frustration overwhelm why you’re doing this in the first place. You’re going to let the criticisms eat at you and forget the original reason you took pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

            To write.

            Stop. Breathe, and take a look, so you can see the forest through the trees.

            Happy writing!

HANDLING REJECTION

May 20, 2020

            You’d think after 495 articles, I’d have addressed rejection, but alas, I never have. I’ve discussed criticism multiple times, which in turn includes rejection, but never rejection specifically.

            You might also note the number of articles now says 495, which may be different from what I originally posted some time back being in the 300+ range. As it turns out, the last time I counted, I was referring to the wrong directory! Let’s just say, I have backups to backups, and well…I counted the wrong place. This surprised me because this time, when I went to update my 300+ number I was surprised at the jump and did a double take. Then I followed the clues to figure out why.

            Now, on to rejection.

INTRO

            Last weekend, I was purging files and came across a file drawer filled with stuff I need to let go of. Guess what it was? Rejections. I have sample chapters, complete (and now since published) short stories, manuscripts, plus lots and lots of rejection letters. I didn’t take the time to re-read them all. I already knew what most of them said. “While we found your idea intriguing, your story is just a the right fit for our agency at this time. Keep writing and trying…bla bla bla.”

            Now, let’s jump to a few days later. I’d submitted a short story for my writer’s group anthology. I do every year. The chances are that since it was fiction, they’d hate it. Usually, when I write a non-fiction piece, this same outside group (to keep things neutral, the group sends all entries to an agency in another state) seems to like my stuff. However, whenever I write a fiction piece, they hate it. As predicted, they hated it. I got my 691st rejection (or thereabouts).

HANDLING REJECTION

            Now that I’m a “world famous” “best-selling” author (LOL), who’s traditionally published, small press notwithstanding, even I still get rejected. It happens to the best of us, right?

            Tongue in cheek aside, just because I’m now published doesn’t mean anything has changed. Lightning in a bottle finally happened for me through persistence and never giving up. However, writing new stuff, or writing off-the-wall stuff is still a tough sell. Even writing more conventional stuff is no guarantee. In my case, when I stick to personal, or non-fiction stories, I’ve found my magic with my writer’s group. Fiction? I guess I need to save those up for another venue if I ever bother. The thing is that I have a fair amount of short fiction stories, as I alluded to in my recent short story article, that just languish on my hard drive because I’m not all that interested in entering contests. Not my thing.

            Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had plenty of fictional short stories published. I have no urgent craving I need satisfied in that regard. I submit to my writer’s group anthology every year for a hoot. So…

            Did this rejection discourage me, or does it keep me up at night?

            Uh, after 690 previous rejections? I’m afraid it wasn’t something that I dwelled on. I read the critique and while they had their points, some of which I might fix, it’s not likely I’ll change too much. One day, I may resubmit it to a different, more receptive market. This particular story was more sarcasm, than anything, and they just didn’t get it. That’s okay. I’m too busy working on my other stuff. Someone else might love it, as was evident with about half the crowd at my writer’s group, who did. About what I expected.

WHEN YOU’RE STARTING OUT

            When you’re starting out, rejection stings a lot more. To me, the rejections were not unexpected at the beginning because I KNEW I was just starting out. I was ready to develop a tough skin. Maybe it was from being a musician and playing in dive bars for so many years that I was ready to be rejected right off. Plus, to be truthful, my stuff sucked before I knew what I was doing.

            Some of you jump through untold hoops to get your stuff ready for submission, figuring once you submit, you’re poisoning the well if you submit crap and they get to remembering your name. Uh, I hate to tell you this, but that’s highly unlikely. These agents and publishers receive THOUSANDS of submissions every day, many they never even see directly. You could submit the same manuscript, redone several times and they would never know because the chances are that at best, they may have recalled something similar, but if the writing this time catches their eye because you vastly improved it, it might be the magic moment.

            I always get a laugh when someone says they think of quitting because they got ten rejections. Or, they figure they’ll “accept” a dozen before they get published.

            Say what?

            Or, some agent sends them a really nasty and cruel critique and shatters their hopes and dreams.

            You know what I say to that?

            It pisses me off. It’s just the interpretation of one jerk. I’d be glad the guy or gal (and there are plenty of nasty gals in the mix as well) never decided to take me on.

            I have one instance in particular where I submitted to one of a half dozen contests I did before I swore off contests. My novel, of course, did not win the prize. When I asked for a critique, a few words on why I was rejected, I was shocked to get the most vile and nasty letter of why my book was not selected. That was completely unwarranted. Now, here’s the clincher. The book that won ended up being a complete non-seller and the “contest” went bankrupt. The last time I checked, which was a few years ago, the book is something like ten or eleven million on the best-seller rank on Amazon, with only a dozen reviews. It’s basically out of print. Not exactly gangbusters.

            Another time, I submitted in person to a well-known agent at one of our writer’s conferences here in Las Vegas. I never heard a word from him…until two years later. That’s right. Two years later, I got a little note scribbled in an envelope that said, “Not for me.” While he could’ve just not bothered, I was still shocked he DID bother, especially after two years. Oh, one more thing. This agent also wanted an exclusive. In other words, he wanted an exclusive first look before I submitted to anyone else. If anyone EVER tells you that, what are YOU going to do? I think not.

GET USED TO IT

            In this passion, you need to get used to it, from the local level to worldwide. As you submit everything from short pieces to full-length work, expect rejection. If you’re lucky enough to get a response, more than a grunt, a no, something generic, an actual word or two, evaluate it and see what good you can get out of it. Take it in stride. It’s never the end of the world.

            Plus, don’t expect rejection to go away once you’ve found your stride and are in the mix. It’s certainly never gone away for me. It won’t be the last time either. I have way too many bizarre ideas, plus lightning doesn’t always strike in a bottle!

            In closing I’ll just say that not everyone is going to like your stuff. That goes from your readers to agents, publishers and what have you. That should NEVER stop you from keepin’ on keepin’ on. After all, if this is a true passion, you have to write. The muse will come and you’ll put it out there for the fates to do their will.

            Happy writing!

SHORT STORY IDEAS IN TIME OF ISOLATION

May 13, 2020

            I originally posted this story in 2018 under the title Short Story Ideas. What prompted this redux was that many of us are sitting at home in isolation during this current pandemic, with either a lot on our minds, like unemployment, or well…trying to come up with something to keep us occupied. To keep from going crazy, maybe all these crazy ideas might be popping up that need some kind of an outlet.

            As a writer, not all of them can end up novels. Why not save some of them for short stories? After all, tis the season of the short story contests, isn’t it? Well, maybe not. I’m not exactly a big fan of contests, but I AM a big fan of short stories. Therefor, when the muse strikes, I go for it. Using that same impetus, why can’t you save some of your muse for those little ideas?

            Maybe, just maybe one day, if you don’t submit these little snippets to a contest or anthology, you can expand one or two into a full-length novel.

INTRO

            To go along with my last article (at the time I originally wrote this), Remembering Those Ideas (2018), how about when you’re brewing several short story ideas?

            Dorlon, one of my buds that used to attend our weekly writer’s group meetings (when we physically attended them) and I used to get there early most Mondays and often discussed writing and stories. He wrote a lot of short stories, a lot more than I do. We talked about inspiration and writing them all down, saving up the ideas, so on and so forth.

            Maybe he still doesn’t write near enough stories for what he wants, given his inspiration and the time he spends on it. I haven’t seen him in a long time now, so I don’t know, but maybe he’s caught up?

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

MY PROCESS

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

            What to do?

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

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

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

            With the quarantine, that hasn’t really changed much for me because I still work. I have a mission essential job. The difference is that we don’t go anywhere on the weekends, travel, etc. So I have more free time. Same for the weekdays. So far, it’s all been spent working on book three of the Meleena fantasy series and doing edits on the second Gold series story, Spanish Gold. I have not written a new short story yet.

            The funny thing is that I have not seen a lot of discussion on short stories on the Facebook forums. Not as much as I’d have expected given our current situation.

EXCEPTIONS

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

            I have one such story that’s been coalescing since April 2015. It’s personal and will not see the light of day until I’m ready. The problem is forgetting details and not getting some of them right. On the other hand, I have to do the story justice. This is a case where I’ve taken some notes but some is memory as well. Since I originally wrote this article in 2018, this same story is STILL brewing and is STILL not written yet, all of five years later.

            There’s another story where I’ve been playing around with the idea for a while, but that one’s been dodging in an out of my mind for some time. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to approach it. Since it wasn’t fully formed, I wasn’t ready to commit. Still, I did have an A and a B and a few months ago…well, maybe a year now, I wrote almost 1000 words. I had the title right off. In fact, that was the first thing I came up with. Then A and B. I just don’t feel the rest of it yet. Other things have priority. Until I feel the rest between word 1001 and the end, it’s going to sit. I’m also going to pare it down some because I have a feeling it’s going to go over my standard 4K mark.

            This story as in the first one I haven’t started yet do NOT fit my normal pattern.

            Hey, nothing is black and white in this world.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE ALREADY DONE OR NOT COMPLETED?

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

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

            Do I even want to?

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

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

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

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

            As of this writing, they still languish on my computer. I ran across one a while back looking for something else. I was pleasantly surprised!

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS?

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

            How do you handle that?

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

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

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

            During this time of isolation, whether mandatory or self-imposed, you’re bound to have time to contemplate your navel. Will you have time for inspiration? Will it (hopefully) be stories other than pandemic-related? I have a feeling the market will soon to be flooded with that! Are you so overwhelmed with worry about employment, sickness, isolation, everything that you cannot get inspired? I sincerely hope things are not that bad for you. I hope you can use some of this time to veer off into the world of your imagination and gift us all with some wonderful stories.

            Happy writing!

WHAT’S IN A COVER?

May 6, 2020

            I originally posted this article in 2014, right after our Las Vegas Writer’s Conference that year. After receiving the draft cover for my latest book, Spanish Gold, plus seeing a few posts on my Facebook forums about covers and blurbs, I thought it would be a good time to resurrect this post and update it. Plus, it fits right in with my recent article on blurbs.

INTRO

            One of the things we talked about at the 2014 writer’s conference was book covers. My section on The Cover -Eye Of The Beholder discussed that a bit in my last post (Conference Aftermath – What I Learned), but I thought this would be a good time to talk a bit more in detail

YOU CAN’T HAVE A BOOK WITHOUT A COVER

            Whether your book is a tangible item or electronic, it’s going to have more than a plain brown wrapper (reminds me of how they supposedly used to ship porn). I’ve seen books in a plain brown wrapper as a marketing gimmick for real. Have no idea what these books were, or if they sold. Since I used the plural with that, you can see that it wasn’t a unique idea.

            A hard fact that seems to be borne out by many market researchers is that great covers help sell books, while sucky ones can kill book sales. I must say I have a big issue with that for one simple reason:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

            Let’s take the analogy to another favorite of mine, music. I’ve always been and still am convinced that any old schmuck can go into a recording studio, fart in a paper bag, and it could be a big hit.

            Beauty is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. That’s just as true with art as it is with music.

HOW I USED TO BUY ALBUMS

            Back in the day, I used to buy albums by unknown bands based on the album cover. It was usually photos of the band with some kind of background. Once in a while, there’d be some kind of artwork. What I looked for were either the ugliest, or the freakiest looking musicians, with the longest hair, and bought the album based on that. Looking back on some of those album covers today, the “artwork” would be considered pedestrian, but I still love those albums. I rarely caught a dud. On the other hand, they were still a form of art, just not paintings, per-se. Your book cover doesn’t have to be a painting either, but I digress.

            Over the years, very few albums impressed me with their artwork in the artistic sense. Certain albums had great visual appeal, but I didn’t really care for the music. Some of the best artwork was from an African band called Osibisa. Their first and second albums, with these flying elephants were fantastic. Their music was meh, okay “world music,” but not my usual style. The band Yes had some great artwork, but I couldn’t stand singer Jon Anderson’s voice, and he ruined some otherwise great music. At least the artwork looked great. Eye and ear of the beholder.

            On the other hand, one of my top ten albums of all time was Hard Attack, by a New Yawk hard rock band called Dust. Their artwork was done by none other than Frank Franzetta. That album cover is wow! This was about a decade before that became the standard artwork for Molly Hatchet.

            We used to see a band in Madrid, Spain at a local club. This band was called Greenslade. David Greenslade used to be the keyboard player in a jazz rock band I loved called Collosseum. His albums had great artwork. In fact, my wife painted their first album cover and it’s still hanging on the wall in our living room. In this case, the music matched the album covers, at least for me.

            Whenever I look through my album collection, I can get just as much of a thrill with the album covers as the music because I can tie the two together. I’ve never been able to do that quite the same way with books. I cannot always visualize story details with book covers.

BOOKS DIDN’T QUITE WORK THAT WAY

            Very few books have impressed me with their artwork except certain series. The Doc Savage series had a look to them. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were the same. Then there was the Andre Norton series writing as Andrew North. They had a great pulpy atmosphere to them. Otherwise, the look of a book had and has very little lasting impression except in a more utilitarian way. It’s an initial attraction on the shelf for a few seconds, but once I get past that, it’s just art with writing all over it. In fact, some of my favorite covers are more technical books like several of my favorite books on telescope making, or analog synthesizers. The “artwork” is letters and a few modest graphics. However, I’m able to correlate very fond memories to those familiar words and graphics.

            There are many great fictional stories I have loved over the decades since I started reading. Lots of favorites used to weigh down my bookshelves. Yet when I finally had to let them go, I received a nasty surprise when I eventually found some of them reissued. Yeah… have you ever noticed that most reissues always have a different cover? It’s like either the publisher or the author never liked the original cover and “wanted to do it right” the next time, or they wanted to try and reissue, rebrand and make it seem like a different book. I don’t know for sure.

I’M NOT EVERYBODY

            You, or everybody else may go totally Bozo over cover art and more power to you. I’ll say this. Something ugly or just functional isn’t going to do you any favors!

            On the other hand, who is to say what’s ugly? Eye of the beholder…

            You don’t have to use an intricate or artsy fartsy high-dollar cover that’s going to break your bank, if you’re in charge of that. If it’s the publisher, they’ll be footing the bill. However, if you have a say, let’s hope you can steer them a bit from something ugly. Of course, a big publisher has marketing wizzes that should know better than to defeat the whole purpose of putting the book on the shelf. If you’re a self-publisher, the onus is on you.

            The key is, it’s up to you to determine what’s good or bad, if you have a choice!

UNIVERSAL CAVEAT

            The one thing I’ve seen proven over and over again, since I wrote this in 2014, is that an amateurish cover screams self-published. This is the universal caveat.

            Nothing will kill book sales more than screaming self-published with a crappy cover. Using cartoonish or amateurish graphics on your cover and expecting people to see the same quality writing inside are just not going to happen. While the story and writing may be fantastic, if you scream amateur with the outside, when people get that initial glance as the first judgment, it places an immediate roadblock in front of your book before you even get out the gate.

            While I have a big issue with eye of the beholder, as I said at the beginning of this article, what’s almost universal is that the majority of people can spot amateurish artwork right off. They may have differing opinions on different graphics, different artwork and colors, subjects or whatever, but when it comes to amateurish, it’s way too easy to spot. Cheap is cheap. That’s different from art. I shouldn’t have to explain that.

BALANCE IS BEST

            A few tips.

  1. Make sure your cover art fits your genre.
  2. Make sure it stands out but isn’t too gaudy.
  3. Make sure it doesn’t look like it was drawn or painted by a third grader.
  4. If you have it in a galley proof, put it on a shelf and walk by. See if you notice it, and what it looks like next to others.
  5. Make sure the artwork fits with what’s between the pages (see #1).
  6. Finally, balance is best (goes with #2). Just the right amount of flare and simplicity so you stand out but not slap everyone in the face. You want to stand out, not annoy them!

            Until next time, happy writing!