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DO REAL EVENTS INSPIRE YOUR FICTION?

May 29, 2019

You’ve probably all seen the movie quote “Inspired by true events.” Maybe, not as often, you may see it at the beginning of a book.

I recently read a great icky bug book series that was inspired by a true event. That made me think of how often do we, as writers get our ideas from true events versus inspiration from other sources.

ALL IDEAS COME FROM SOMEWHERE

No idea comes from a dry well. Every story idea and plot has to come from some nugget of inspiration. Maybe an old TV show, movie, or just an idea that’s been rolling around in our head for years. That’s especially true with fantasy and science fiction.

When it comes to real-world stories, there’s a likelier chance some real-world incident may be the root inspiration for your story.

REAL-WORLD INSPIRATION

As for me, I generally get my inspirations out of thin air. However, a lot of the time, my inspirations, at least for my real-world adventure/thrillers and icky bug come from locations, rather than real events. In the case of my adventure/thrillers, Lusitania Gold was based on a real event, the sinking of the Lusitania. On the other hand, the rest of the series was based on locations, rather than specific events.

My new friend, Trent, who writes horror, started his series based on a real event. The stories aren’t based on reality, but were inspired by this true event. I’ve seen many stories take root from something real and go off on their own tangent and take a life of their own.

FICTIONALIZED REALITY

This is a case where the story is based on real events, but the author is filling in the blanks, based on what he speculates the real characters might have said and did, rather than what may have actually happened. Why? Because there’s nobody around to fill in those blanks. Either the real people are all dead, or unwilling to participate in the story. While this seemingly can lead to liability issues, if done with taste and dignity, it can be accomplished without ruffling too many feathers. These stories have even ruffled feathers to little consequence.

Another term for it is fictionalized autobiography.

STARTING OFF POINT

The whole point of the initial true event isn’t to tell that story, but to be the starting off point for a fictional story. If you were telling that story, it would be non-fiction. After all, you’re describing the true event. Inspired by means exactly that. The even inspired you to go off into your own world, meaning you in no way are just reciting history. You’re creating an entirely different story, using the true event as the catapult.

That distinction must be made. When someone says “Inspired by true events,” that does NOT mean they’re telling the story of that event. Too many people assume that’s the case. On TV they do that all the time, yet people get all flustered when the actual show goes way off the rails. Everyone should KNOW that it’s not going to be historically accurate! Geez!

The same for your book. My book. Lusitania Gold was inspired by a true event. Yet my story is in no way a historical accounting of the sinking of the real ship. It’s a completely fictionalized adventure/thriller inspired by that infamous sinking. If anyone wants to know the real story, they should get countless non-fiction accounts of the sinking!

SUMMARY

We get the inspiration for our stories from many sources, real and imagined. There’s nothing wrong with giving a nod to the real sources.

Happy writing!

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WHO ARE YOU WRITING TO?

May 22, 2019

This may sound like an obvious question, but you have to stop and think about it, especially when it comes to marketing.

I just attended a writer’s conference and focused on marketing classes.

Let’s face it. My books aren’t exactly setting the world on fire, as far as sales.

That’s not to say I’m groveling in misery, by any stretch. Sure, I’d love to be selling like crazy, but I’m quite satisfied with what I’ve put down on paper and in the ether.

The catch is, finding those that like to read this stuff.

Since I write in multiple genres, I have a potentially wide audience to choose from.

However, it’s not that simple.

Same for you.

Whatever you write, who you think you’re writing for, may not be who is actually reading your books.

FIRST AND FOREMOST

Many of us, unless we take the mercenary approach, start out writing for ourselves. We get fired up, inspired, and decide on a genre or subject and go all out and dream up our “masterpiece.”

After the fact, we strive to get it published and then we come across this little roadblock called finding an audience. While we may have what we think is a popular genre (I pick that generality for simplicity), because there are so many categories of genres and sub-genres, that isn’t as simple as it sounds.

First and foremost, we write the story for ourselves and hope the audience goes along with us. In other words, we market the book to people like ourselves.

RUH ROH…

While there may be others like us that read such and such books, by doing targeted research, you may find some surprising results.

You may find that who you expected to read your specific genre is not who you thought.

Say you’re a thirty year old single female that writes historical romance. You expect your target audience of other single thirty year old single females to also read historical romance.

So, you target that group by hammering them through marketing on social media and with whatever else you use.

The book doesn’t sell.

You wonder why.

By using refined research techniques, you find out that your actual audience is married/divorced/single women from forty to seventy.

Not exactly what you expected.

THE POINT

My exaggerated example is something I learned from the marketing classes I attended at the conference. I’m still just sticking my foot in the water on that one. It takes a good bit of research to figure out how to find who your actual readers are. You need to find those that read the same and similar books to yours. There are a lot more steps. It involves an Excel spreadsheet and multiple web sites.

It seems to be worth it in the long run, but it is time consuming.

I’m going to work it, but I won’t know the results for a while.

This is a long-term project.

I guess it’s a lot better than the spray and pray method of marketing.

SUMMARY

Though it takes work, it’s a lot better to target your audience and know you’re hitting the right people, than to think you are.

We can assume we know our audience because we write fantasy or romance or westerns or whatever. However, you have to consider all the sub-genres within each of those categories. They can get very specific and things are not as simple. That’s where you need to find the same or similar authors and find your true audience.

Then you can truly target your readers.

Happy writing!

THE BOOK YOU JUST CAN’T PUT DOWN PART 2

May 15, 2019

It happened again.

It’s not like I don’t get flashes of old man repeatability here at Fred Central.

Sure, I’ve repeated the gist of some of my articles. It comes with the territory. However, to blatantly pound in the exact same article so soon after doing so (November 2017), takes some incentive.

I read a lot of books I like, and most of them are okay. However, there are not many I read that I can hardly put down. These are the ones that are so good, I want to drop everything I’m doing to keep reading, to find out what happens next. They’re so addicting, I don’t want to stop to rest, eat, sleep, or get the important stuff done in my day.

So, it happened with a book I picked up last weekend. I’ve seen the book for several months now, but kept pushing it off, not really believing the hype of “One million copies sold,” touted on the cover.

While the premise sounded promising, a murder mystery taking place in London, which is always a nice and creepy setting for me since I’ve been there before, I’ve found a lot of Brit authors to be just okay. Why? Not all of them are there with point of view. There ARE exceptions.

This time I hit gold.

THE GIST

Week after week, I talk about writing. A lot of my subject matter deals with the things that bug me as a reader. In this case, the writer hits all of the standards I preach, at least the most important ones.

Point of view.

Getting to the point.

No extended flashbacks.

No foretelling.

An exciting rhythm to each chapter with a major and tense conclusion urging you to read on.

Some kind of payoff in the end.

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

Why?

I have to suffer to get there.

Normally, a week or so later, I’ll finish the book with an ultimate smile on my face, but I had to work for it. It’s not like I neglected other things to dive into the pages to keep reading. I’ll take my time and “get back to it” when I can.

That’s the usual pattern.

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

It boils down to those pet peeves I mentioned above.

POINT OF VIEW

When the author controls the point of view with third-person limited, it keeps the characters on solid ground with no head-hopping, and is not omniscient!

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

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

That’s the difference!

GETTING TO THE POINT

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

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

NO MAJOR FLASHBACKS

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

Or, a prologue.

In the case of the current book, the prologue is from the victim’s point of view and how she’s murdered. While some could argue this should be chapter one, I can take it either way.

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

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

FORETELLING

Just as irritating as present tense is foretelling. I cannot stand when the author tells me what’s going to happen. I’d much prefer to discover it on my own as the story develops. I hate spoilers!

A PAYOFF

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

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

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

Even so, even knowing or suspecting the protagonists are going to live doesn’t mean there can’t be other surprises along the way. There has to be ups and downs, of course. It’s all about how does the character get out of one pickle and on to the next? If it’s a series, of course the protagonist is going to live, and probably several of the sidekicks. So what? It’s a series. It wouldn’t be one without survivors.

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

Period.

Add to that, bittersweet.

For some, that’s what they want.

Fine.

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

I like to feel good at the end of a story, not bummed out. I can get all the bummer I want watching the nightly news. I’m not one to revel in misery.

SUMMARY

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

I’m happy with that.

How about you?

Happy writing!

DRAWING IDEAS FOR STORIES FROM SONGS

May 8, 2019

The idea for this article came from a thread on a recent forum. The question was asked about quoting song lyrics in your book and the legalities.

I zoned out on the answers because mine was simple. I don’t listen to lyrics unless they’re dirty or funny. I haven’t seen much of either since Frank Zappa and especially the early Mothers Of Invention. Well…there is GWAR…but who’s counting?

The fact is that I listen to a lot of extreme metal where the vocalist sounds like a toilet flushing. How are you supposed to even understand something like that without a lyric sheet? I also listen to a lot of foreign bands and whether they sing clear, scream, shout or whatever, it’s in a foreign language like Swedish, Finnish, Maltese, Russian, Gaelic, or what have you. Even the lyrics are printed in said language, so that’s no help!

Truth be told, I don’t CARE about whatever candyrock psychedelic profundities (thanks, Zappa) they’re going on about. It’s about the singer’s voice, like another instrument in the band. If the voice sucks, that ruins it for the rest of the band. That’s why I’m particular about what metal bands I like. I’m no fan of screaming and shouting which rules out most of the bands on Sirius XM Liquid Metal. That also doesn’t rule out every band with a clean vocalist, because there are still plenty of those with vocalists I don’t like.

I’m one guy, with very particular tastes.

Most people can quote lyrics, know them line-by-line, and interpret them down to the most subtle nuances, whether the band meant them that way, or not.

Can that inspire a story?

While I can’t speak in absolutes, but…

MY BIG EXAMPLE

Some may think I’d be embarrassed by this, but I’m not.

I once wrote a fan fiction short story based on a song by British band The Groundhogs.

It was a fantasy piece inspired by a song off their album Who Will Save The World?

The song was Bog Roll Blues.

I never really listened to the lyrics, even though I could understand everything Tony McPhee was singing. I just chose not to. Instead, I drew an entirely different picture based on the sound of the music and the album graphics, which I also misinterpreted, though in a lot more nuanced fashion.

In the story, the heroes, the three band members, travel across a bog to vanquish a demon.

Bog Roll Blues.

I sent the story to Tony and his partner Joanna Deacon.

They loved it, or so they said, yet the story never appeared on their web site. My intention, a bit of fan fiction. Their reasoning, they didn’t have a section or place for fan fiction, which was true, and still is, to this day.

What I didn’t realize way back in 2012 when I wrote the story, was what a bog roll was in British slang. Maybe Tony and Joanna were just being polite by never telling me the truth!

A bog roll is a roll of toilet paper!

Yup. I wrote this fantasy story about the three band members, superheroes travelling across a bog to vanquish a demon, based on a song about toilet paper and industrial waste!

I didn’t have a clue until years later (okay, last year as in 2018) when I saw an article on British slang and right there, about halfway down the list, was the term and definition!

THEN, I went back and read the lyrics to the song Bog Roll Blues.

Oh boy…

STORIES INSPIRED BY SONGS – ARE THEY REALLY YOURS?

While my story was clearly misinterpreted fan fiction, what about you? Are you piggybacking off some song and basing a story off that? Did the inspiration come from your interpretation of a song written by someone else? Is the idea really yours?

Maybe the idea really IS yours because the writer of the song had something entirely different in mind.

Then again, if you and the songwriter were on the same page, are YOU stealing or copying their idea?

It would have to be one hell of a song for me to be that impressed to dedicate my time and effort to write an entire novel on it!

A short story is one thing. Bog took me about an hour and it was done. The embarrassment could last a lifetime, but then again, I have a tough skin, otherwise it would never have been an example in this article!

One day, I still may publish that story because to tell the truth, I like it. Why not?

Someone, especially Brits, may get a laugh out of it.

SOMEONE’S SURELY DONE IT

There are novels out there based on songs. I can’t think of specific names right now, but I HAVE seen it before. I have to wonder about the legal ramifications. Also, I have to wonder about the originality of it all.

I’d rather come up with my own ideas, of which I have way too many to worry about copping them from others. If one day, my list ever gets that short, well…not likely.

I mean, if you’re inspired to write something, you should do it, but wouldn’t it be safer to make it entirely original?

Quoting song lyrics as part of the story is the same thing. Maybe you want to honor a song and use it in the story line. Are you up for liability issues? Are you piggybacking off someone else’s creativity? Or, like me, are you completely misinterpreting the intent of those lyrics? Will you look like a fool, or can you deliberately misinterpret them and use it for comic effect?

There are a myriad of complications or advantages of quoting song lyrics.

It’s up to you.

Personally, while I like to plug my favorite bands in my real-world stories, there’s no way I’m ever going to quote lyrics. I’d rather come up with my own ideas. Then again, I’m a huge fan of quoting movie lines in real life conversations, just never in my novels.

Happy writing!

MOTIVATION AND DISCIPLINE

May 1, 2019

If you look back at some of my articles, you’ll see that I’ve either talked directly about, or talked around these subjects. As I browse the Facebook forums, I see threads almost daily addressing both motivation and discipline in one fashion or other.

It still boils down to this: Why are you doing this? Why are you writing?

JEALOUSY

While you may have started all enthused/motivated and put out a big burst of effort, once you got into the reality of writing, you found that it wasn’t magic. While some struck lightning in a bottle, little ole’ you could never catch a break.

Your friends or even frienemies who write that “crappy stuff” got all the luck and got the big deals, or made the big sales.

You, on the other hand, had to sit back and could barely make anyone notice.

It burns you up.

Why should you bother? Why should you continue on?

IT COMES EASY FOR SOME

Before we even get to the publishing stage, you get that fantastic idea, you start to write, but get stuck. Or, you just run out of steam.

For others, it flows out. They can sit down any time and slam it out, page-after-page, lay down their ideas and worry about cleaning it up later.

Some have to pick apart each page as they go. It takes them forever to crawl out a single chapter because they have to make it perfect before they go on. For many, this means losing sight of what you started to write in the first place.

Some of you procrastinate. You’re burning with ideas, maybe even write furious notes. However, on the execution, everything falls apart. You’ll get to it tomorrow. Then the next day, then the next, then the next until it never gets done.

At the same time, your bud has already moved on to the second or third book.

MOTIVATION

I’ve mentioned this numerous times not only here, but in the forums. It’s one of my mantras. Is writing a hobby, a torture, or a passion? If it’s the first two, I suggest you find something else to do.

If it’s a passion, but you still have certain of those personality quirks that hold you back, you have to think about why you’re writing this particular “masterpiece” in the first place.

However, forgetting why you’re writing, and speaking strictly of motivation, you started a novel.

Why?

What’s the point?

Regardless of why you’re doing it, you have to think of why you should finish it. If you have no compelling reason to do so, don’t! Move on. However, if you DO have a compelling reason to complete this novel, think about it and focus on that as your motivation.

Why have you slowed down or stopped writing?

Has life just got in the way?

Has the inspiration stopped?

Have you hit a writing roadblock – did you write yourself into a corner?

Think about what you originally wanted to accomplish with this project. If you still get excited about it, there’s your motivation.

If you aren’t excited about it, or if you dread it…or if it don’t feel right, stop and figure what went wrong and fix it. If that doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to abandon the project and start another one. Let this thing sit for another time when the muse may strike again.

If you have no motivation, it’ll never get done.

Jealousy of someone else’s success isn’t motivation.

Motivation is believing you have something great and working for it. Anything less will get you less.

DISCILPLINE

For some, procrastination is natural. Getting it done tomorrow is normal, except tomorrow never comes and what may have started in a great burst of energy stays half done, or with some, never gets started.

Discipline is setting up a time and place, and sticking to it. A schedule, if need be. Some writer’s cannot work that way. I’m one of them. I write when I write. Period. No schedule. That doesn’t mean I don’t get anything done, because I do. I write when I feel like it, which is pretty much all the time. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always writing on my current novel, because I write lots of other stuff at the same time. I get to the novel when I have a mind, and I make significant progress. I have no problem with either motivation or discipline.

For some of you, you NEED discipline because you’re not inclined to stick with things as well as I do.

Set a schedule and stick to it. This means sit down at a certain time and do something. I don’t necessarily mean write so-and-so many pages a day. That’s too restrictive and rigid. While that might work for some people, what I recommend is that you sit down and do something creative with your story. It might be a few pages, it might be a chapter. It might be research. It might be re-reading a portion, or checking continuity somewhere.

Discipline means working on the project on a regular basis.

Little-by-little, the work will get dun didded!

SUMMARY

Nobody can make your luck for you except you. The first step it to actually complete something. The second step is to never give up. Motivation and discipline.

Happy writing!

 

ASKING OTHERS FOR IDEAS VERSUS RESEARCH

April 24, 2019

Asking others for ideas is one thing. Asking questions, such as technical things is quite another.

I’ve talked about both and seen both quite often on the forums.

There’s a difference.

A BIG difference.

WRITING THE BOOK FOR YOU

When one asks others for ideas, especially in an open forum, this is not only laziness, at least in my book, but it’s also leaving the writer open to liability.

Think about it.

Author asks forum for an idea for his or her story. For instance, what should they name their hero?

Through the hundreds of suggestions, someone comes up with a name.

Author uses that name.

The book takes off and the series makes money.

Now, the original person that suggested the name sues author for a piece of the pie.

“Hey, it was my idea in the first place. Author grabbed it from me and never gave me credit, profited from it and bla bla bla.”

Haven’t we all seen this before?

What if the author asks the forum for a particular plot twist?

Someone gives him or her one.

Call the lawyers!

These are very simplified examples, but by being lazy, or not having your own creative spark, you’re opening yourself up to this vulnerability every time you ask someone else to come up with creative ideas, whether on an open forum, or even asking other people individually.

Besides, THE IDEAS AREN’T YOUR OWN.

Geez, don’t any of you EVER watch the news?

What about owning your own ideas?

ASKING QUESTIONS FOR RESEARCH

Asking a technical question for research is a whole different side of the coin.

Technical questions in no way write the book for you. They don’t cause creativity issues because they’re just issues that may get readers to call you on something.

Just the other day, I saw an excellent question. A poster asked if a cell phone would work if the user was buried six (or so) feet underground (I assume in some kind of container where the person could push the buttons or even see them).

The answers varied, and I’m not sure if his or her question ever got answered. This, folks, is the type of question that’s excellent research. In no way does it encroach on your creativity. It only enforces your sense of reality in the prose!

In my own example, back before I even had forums to consult, was a question for one of my upcoming novels about what voltages did the Russians use on their nuclear weapons systems?

As you can imagine, trying to research something like that on the net would raise all kinds of red flags. It would probably get me a visit from the CIA or some other guv’mint acronym agency!

Luckily, where I worked were some military hardware enthusiasts. I was able to find the answer. Not only that, they told me where to look on my own. The place was so obvious, I was flabbergasted, to say the least.

SUMMARY

Nobody should creatively write your book for you. That should be YOU and nobody else, unless you’re writing collaboratively. Don’t let laziness interfere and leave yourself open to liability.

Besides, why write a story when you don’t completely own it?

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to ask technical questions. There’s a HUGE difference. By asking, you avoid the pitfalls of getting stuff wrong and having your readers call you on it.

Happy writing!

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A BOOK?

April 17, 2019

 

I see this question fairly often on the forums. It’s especially relevant to new writers.

How long does it take one to write a book?

How long does it take you?

My answer is not all that different from a lot of other people.

“As long as it takes.”

SELF-IMPOSED DEADLINES

Everyone at least has a passing thought about self-imposed if not actual deadlines. Well, everyone except me. Never in my life have I had any kind of deadline. Period. I haven’t imposed it on myself, or even thought about it because of my personal process.

It’s not that I don’t procrastinate once in a while. It’s that I just don’t work that way when it comes to writing. I write when I feel like it, and when I feel like it, it flows.

For some of you, especially if writing is a hobby, a job, or a torture, you need deadlines to keep you motivated. If not for a deadline, whether self-imposed or given to you by outside forces, you might never get anything done.

What might’ve started as a brilliant idea may wallow in the muck and end up forgotten or half evolved, never to see the light of day.

Some people just have inherent laziness and always need the extra push. Their end result may be brilliant, but one has to question why they’re doing it in the first place. Part of that questioning is that I have such a different outlook on the whole thing.

I love the whole creating process, so I do it for pleasure and creativity. Therefore, I don’t need any deadlines. I look forward to it. It’s an escape, an outlet, an artistic way to delve into another world.

Some people watch TV. While I do have a few favorite TV shows, there’s another one playing in my mind that I translate to paper.

No self-imposed deadlines for me!

If it works for you, use it.

EXTERNALLY IMPOSED DEADLINES

If you work for someone, it’s only natural that you’re given deadlines. When creativity’s involved, that can put a real damper on the way things come out. For some, having that imposed deadline from an external source works just the opposite. It fires up the writer and gets them going. As a former technical writer, I worked to a deadline. In that case, it was a pure pleasure for me, and the deadlines were never a factor.

ACTUAL NUMBERS

For the curious, what are some actual numbers?

When I first started out, and up to a few years ago, I could whip out a first draft of a novel in six months. However, given a job change and a lot less spare time, it now takes about two years. A big difference. Outside of that, nothing, creativity-wise, has changed.

Some people, as in that writing contest they have every year, can whip out a novel in a month. While I probably could if I set my mind to it, why would I? There’s no point. I don’t work that way. It’s fun for some people, but not for me. NOBODY is going to dictate how I get my process done. Period.

If I decide to write something quick, it’ll be because I want to do it.

How about you?

Looking at the answers to a recent poll, I saw everything from whatever it takes to years.

As expected, the answers are not exactly what a newbie either wanted or expected to hear. However, there’s a lot more reality to this passion that a newbie is either going to be surprised, disappointed, or elated to find out as they learn the ropes.

What about you?

Happy writing!