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July 24, 2018

I’ve been talking about word count and bloat. In those articles I mentioned cutting irrelevant story threads, those tangents authors get onto that have no real impact on the plot.

Sure, they can be fun, but in the quest for word economy and getting to the point, are they really necessary? Or, as a lot of rock critics like to call guitar solos, are they just self-indulgent?

How do you even tell?

I cannot speak as much for literary works as for action based, but I will say that the literary novels I’ve suffered through apparently were allowed a lot more leeway on the rambling. Sometimes it was hard to tell because the story threads were so buried in description and internal character musings, it was difficult to find much story movement. There’s one particular fantasy author, who shall remain nameless, that would write a hundred pages where absolutely nothing happened at all. I’m not kidding. That was one reason his novels were always over a thousand pages.

There was another novelist who wrote a murder/thriller, literate style that clocked in around the seven hundred page mark, where there were multiple story threads and so much rambling, it wasn’t until the end that I figured out not only what was going on, but forgot whether some of the story threads were even relevant. I can just imagine if the publisher had let him get away with irrelevant threads with all the literate bloat that was already there!


The best way to describe a tangent is to have a story thread that if removed, will have no impact on the main plot.

If you were to go back and surgically remove the thread, bit-by-bit, up to the point where it merges (I assume it will) with the main plot line, and it makes no difference to the main outcome, it’s a tangent or irrelevant thread.

If somehow, you cut it, but it leaves a gap, a question that you have to stumble around to fill in, maybe it’s not.

Maybe this tangent can be re-worked in much shorter form, or maybe it needs to be left alone.


Plots do not have to be a single straight line from A to B. The best are, don’t get me wrong. However, there are plenty of the great ones that have twists and turns and branches that come together. These branches are not tangents.

They’re key elements.

There’s a difference.

Key elements are exactly that. They’re key to the plot. They’re not irrelevant material.


Back to my example from a previous article with Detach and trying to order at a fast-food place. They can’t get the order right. He goes through a routine with the kids behind the counter.

While this might be a fun scene, though not for any kids that have actually been behind such a counter, it’s one of those literary character-building things.

On the other hand, it takes up space, an entire chapter.

It’s a tangent that has nothing to do with the main plot, which was searching for gold on a sunken ship.

By surgically removing it, I took nothing away from the main story/plot and made the read much easier.

Okay, let’s make it a little more elaborate.

Say you build an entire thread around several characters who are widget makers. They produce a particular widget and you go into their lives, their production process and the delivery of said widget to the main character in the story. This thread merges with the main plot where the main character uses said widget to move the main plot along.

Now, what if your main character just used the widget and you deleted the history behind it? Would that make any real difference in the story? Despite maybe being an interesting little side-trip into the lives, feelings and maybe even funny circumstances in the history of this widget, does it really matter to the reader? Does it really advance the plot, or is it just your “self-indulgence” coming through?

Sounds like it’s time to kill a darling.


Tangents should be easy to spot once you do your read-through. In the frenzy of following your muse, verbal diarrhea comes out and, especially if you’re a seat-of-the-pants writer, what comes out comes out. The better you get at this, the fewer of these mistakes you make. However, don’t get hung up on worrying about this and that so that you stop writing! Let it all out and fix it on the first edit. That can be fun as well!

Now don’t get the idea that just because you’re an outliner, you can’t throw in the kitchen sink. It can happen for you as well. Maybe not as much, but just because you map everything out doesn’t mean you won’t add in an extra “city” that doesn’t need to be there.

Learning as you go is part of this wonderful passion.

Happy writing!



July 18, 2018

You have the muse, you’re into writing, but then it comes to that one scene. You just want to get it overwith and move on. Have you run across that feeling?

There are scenes throughout a story that are necessary to move the plot along. They may seem either routine, uncomfortable, or just plain tedious to write, yet they’re necessary.

Or are they?

Is it just that you happen to be tired that day?

Could it be that the very scene you don’t want to write shouldn’t be there in the first place?

What if you’re looking at it the wrong way?

Has your muse taken vacation and you never realized it?


Every one of us has off days, no matter what our mind might be telling us otherwise. We may be rarin’ and ready to go inspiration wise, yet when we sit down to type (or write), something happens. The words don’t flow out like expected. We get to the point where we have to write “that scene” to make the plot move on, yet something doesn’t click. It becomes pedestrian, or tedious in the execution.

It’s not that the scene isn’t necessary, it’s that our muse is just at a fizzle at the moment.

Time to step back and do something else.


As you’re writing that scene, it drags on and something in the back of your head is telling you it’s not clicking. You keep on for a bit but then you stop.

Why am I writing this?

It’s the wrong direction.

I should do it this way.

As much as you hate to kill your darling, so far, it’s only a page, maybe two, so stop, go to the top and hit delete and start over. So what if you took a bit of time. It isn’t really wasted. You did an experiment and it didn’t work. No reason to cling on to something that just didn’t cut it. It’s better to sacrifice it now than try to make something work that shouldn’t be there in the first place!


Similar, but not quite the same as the section above, maybe you’re looking at this scene all wrong. In this case, like above, trash it and step back. This is a case of walking away from the computer, no matter how inspired you may be, and re-thinking what you’re doing.

Do you still have A and B? If you’re a pantser, you should. If you’re an outliner, it’s time to go back and look at your notes.

In either case, linear, outline, or whatever method you use, this is not a time to rush and just get the scene overwith so you can move on. If so, you may set yourself up for failure later on. You may write yourself into a hole.


Though this is mainly for pantsers, it can also apply to outliners as well.

Maybe you’re inspired to write. Maybe you’re super-inspired, hyper-inspired, over-the-top inspired to write!

Shut off your manuscript and write a short story or something.

Walk away from it before you do something that you can’t easily erase.

Don’t rush that scene you don’t want to write just to get to the part you do, just to get it overwith until you’ve thought it out.

DO NOT skip ahead and come back and fix it later. That can form a continuity hole in your story that can be even more difficult to fix.

I know of some writers that skip all over the place in their stories. However, when they write that way, it’s really hard to go back and repair it, make the story linear, and for it to flow properly, especially for editors!


This issue has rarely happened to me. When it has, a funny thing happened.

When I set out to write the (to me) mundane scene, the muse actually intensified the more I got into it. What started as a routine transitional scene, became a key part of the story.

Since the method I write is an adventure in itself, that mundane scene, say a meeting in a bar as an example, became a key to learning information about a forthcoming adventure.

I love writing so much that there aren’t any scenes I want to get overwith. Sure, I get tired and sometimes don’t always get to write when I want to, but so far in the twenty-plus years I’ve been at this, when I’m in my muse, I’m away in my world. There is no scene I want to get overwith. I just want to keep writing to see what happens next!

Happy writing!


July 11, 2018

In another recent article, I talked about word count. As one of my buds also pointed out, for a new author, another consideration a publisher has to figure in is cost. So, when you bring them an inflated manuscript, are they going to go along with it and add in the extra expense of your rambling?

Don’t think so, at least most of the time.

Rambling usually means bloat.


Okay, I have to say right up front, I’m not talking from a literary viewpoint. In literary writing, it’s all about the words, the characters, the description, rather than the plot. Sure, there has to be a plot, but that’s secondary to the description of everything. Of course, the story still has to eventually get from A to B, but the movement is more casual. For you that are literary authors, your pitch and genres are clear so the agents know right off what to expect. On the other hand, there can still be bloat.

For plot-driven authors, where you’re expected to get to the point, it’s a lot easier to pick out bloat in the mix. It’s especially easy when you throw in a bit of literary that’s inconsistent with the normal pacing. However, that’s not the normal bloat I’m talking about.

Bloat is unnecessary info (outside of description). It’s side plots, stuff that veers away from the action. It’s anything that distracts from the main story.


I’ll give an example “torn from the pages” of an edit from one of my Gold novels.

My main character in the Gold series is Joseph “Detach” Datchuk. He goes by Detach. He’s a diver and searches for treasure. He gets into fixes where more than treasure is involved. In other words, mayhem ensues.

In one of them, I had a thread, inspired by someone I know. He stops at a fast-food place and tries to order a custom burger, but the kid behind the counter can’t get the order right. Once again, mayhem ensues. After about the third edit, I realized this “Chapter” had nothing to do with the plot – at all.” It was just something that displayed part of Detach’s character. Maybe in a literary sense it was “character building,” but as far as moving the story along, it did nothing at all but take up space.

I killed my darling.

Folks, that was a prime example of bloat.

In my most recent example, I’m now editing the sequel to Lusitania Gold.

In Spanish Gold, in what used to be the Prologue, which is now Chapter 1, set in the 1700’s, there’s a chase scene where one character reminisces about how he and his pursuer met, along with a bit about their background.

Taking a cue not only from the first page reads at our Las Vegas Writer’s Conferences, plus a certain writer who I like (but who loves 50 page prologues), I cut the new Chapter 1 down from fifteen to four pages. I deleted all that backstory and made it just the action.

In other words, I not only cut out the bloat, I vastly improved story movement.

I killed another unnecessary darling that’ll not have an impact on the rest of the story.


My bud Deborah hit the nail on the head when she talked about cost. Not only that, but you have to consider the reader as well. The reader, unless they’re into literary prose, has to suffer through your indulgences to get to the point. The more you lose focus on your goal and indulge on your little side trips, the more the reader is going to wander away and the more it’s going to cost your publisher to print your ramblings. Not only that, but even if you’re a literary writer, your ramblings still have to be on point and not off on too wide of a tangent.

Like I’ve said many times before, write tight and right.

That isn’t just a saying. It’s a truism.

That’s one reason I’m not a big fan of most fantasy, even though I write it. When I see these five-hundred to a thousand page tomes, I just skip them and move on. It’s a big reason why I’m no fan of literary fiction. It’s why I’m no fan of certain popular writers who like to ramble (I’m currently reading one who may have broken his own rule…we’ll see…Coda: he did, and it was a great read).

The point is, most people don’t have time, and publishers don’t have the money to indulge in your ramblings and your bloat. They want you to get to the point. They want you to adequately, sufficiently, and maybe even colorfully describe, show, and bring forth your story without adding a bunch of extra baggage.

Happy writing!


July 4, 2018

I was recently asked a question about word count. I get that quite often. There are “rules” of word counts floating around out there and if you look hard enough, you’ll find set counts for certain genres. However, here’s the clincher – there’s no one set rule!

It all depends on the source.

It’s like the “pirate code – guidelines.”


When it comes to visual observing in one of my other passions, astronomy, it’s the same thing with the magnitude of celestial objects, in other words, how “bright” (or dim) the object is. It all depends on the source you get the magnitude number from, and how and what they took the reading for. Say your telescope has a magnitude limit of such and such and the object you’re trying to look for has a magnitude of such and such, which is well within range of your scope. However, you cannot see it. What’s up?

There are other factors at play.

Just like with word count.


There’s a difference between a short story, a novella and a novel.

A short story is usually up to around 15K words, however, many are around 4K but can be as much as 25K.

A novella is usually around 50K max.

A novel is from 60K on up.

Already see problems…vagaries?

Already see the “pirate code” in play?


Over the years, variations of the “rules” have been published in various forms. However, they’ve not only been fluid, but have conflicted with each other.

Without even going into details, depending on what’s been discussed at the conventions that particular year, novels can range for a first-time author from 60K to a little over 100K, depending on the genre.

Westerns, mystery and romance tend to be the 60 – 80K range.

Thrillers and some horror 70-90K.

Fantasy and science fiction 80-100K+ (the + is what gets many writers).

Keep in mind that this is anecdotal. Some of that info was derived from various numbers over the decades and these statistics are highly flexible. They are in no way set in stone.

Not only that, but there have been lots of exceptions to the rules in BOTH extremes!


I’ll tell you right off, do not go by what you see in the bookstores!

Generally, the examples you see in the bookstores are by established authors who already have a fan base and can get away with murder. They get far more leeway than any first-time author. Don’t think you, as a newbie, can just do what you want and get away with it, especially if you’re trying to break in fresh with the big six. There are, of course, first-time author exceptions, but don’t go by them, either. Read on…

Now, on the other hand, if you’re going the self-publishing route, all bets are off, but then again, don’t expect to see your book on the shelf in the bookstore either, or at least in the same quantities or as easily as someone going the traditional route!

So, what are agents looking for?

For a first time writer, regardless of genre, if you submit a manuscript that’s very long, especially for your genre, the agent is going to think that this author doesn’t know how to get to the point.

With the exception of certain epic fantasy or literary tropes, a high word count is a red flag for an author that doesn’t know how to write tight and right!

When that agent sees your cover page with the word count up top, they’re already biased to some extent. Now, when they get to the first page and see what you accomplish, or don’t, they know right away if you can make a story move.

Can you show a good western or romance in 60-80K words?

Can you do a good thriller in 80-100K words?

Can you do a good epic fantasy in 120K words?

These numbers are general, slightly arbitrary, but in the ballpark. I hesitate to give anything more specific because what you really need to do is go to the individual web site for each agency and look at their specifics.

That’s right.

What’s all this about word count?

What you’re likely going to find when you get down to the real deal is that when you go deep into the query process, a lot of the agencies are going to have their own statistics, their own requirements of what they expect for a word count. Many won’t. They’ll either expect you to know because you’re either supposed to know what’s expected of your genre, or you’re a maverick and don’t care about the rules.

If you’re a maverick, you need to step carefully. If it were me, as far as word count, I’d rather be on the short side than the long side.


Back to what I said before.

Writing right and tight is a lot better than a manuscript full of bloat.


I originally wrote my latest novel, Lusitania Gold in 1995. That rough draft was 133K to 134K words. After multiple edits and reading it to my writer’s group here in Las Vegas, I got rid of the bloat. I pared it down to 96K without losing a single bit of the story or plot. That’s right, I cleaned it up and made it better. Right and tight.

You can do that too.

What about the other side? What if your novel is too short?


So far, I’ve mostly been alluding to manuscripts that are too long, at least indirectly. However, what about if your MS is too short. What do you do?

Rather than bloat it up with irrelevant material, why not just submit it as a novella?

Just because the story doesn’t warrant a longer format doesn’t mean you have to add bloat to make it qualify. Bloat is bloat, and an agent can spot that just as easily as they can in one that’s already overbaked.

The point is, write the story right and tight, no matter what the actual length.

I can tell you if it’s much over 150K, it’ll be hard to sell for a first-time author unless it’s really killer. It can happen, but you have a lot of competition out there, so be prepared. Even that’s a vague number when you get down to it, and there have been success stories on both sides of that figure.

Whatever you do, the key is to write efficiently and without bloat. That’s the best way to get through the door, regardless of word count.

Happy writing!


June 27, 2018

We’re back with another set of similar sounding words with entirely different meanings.

Our illustrious former Henderson Writer’s Group el-presidente, Linda Webber, used to present grammar lessons each week on the back of our meeting agendas. The gist of them were the improper use of words.

As a reminder, I’ll add the standard intro below before I get into the word list.


I once wrote a screenplay with my bud, Doug Lubahn, a famous musician. During our correspondence, I once told him I was waiting with “baited” breath instead of “bated” breath. He’s never let me live that one down.

The proper use of words is something a lot of (especially) new writers don’t always get. So, for your reading pleasure, below is a list of words and how to use them properly.

The list is not near complete, so that’s why this is called Grammar Lesson Three.

Once again, my many thanks to Linda Webber, who went through the trouble to compile these words all in one place for me to steal and present to you here at Fred Central.

These are common words that are often used out of context. They can be a quandary for a writer, and a quick trip to a dictionary, or on line.


To                   Indicates motion

He went to the store.

Too                 Also, or excessively

She had too much to drink.

Two                The number two

There are two examples of this problem to deal with.

Then               A point in time

If you do it then, it will be better.

Than               A method of comparison

If you do it this way rather than that way, it’ll work better.

There              A place

Put it there.

They’re           They are

They’re the best at what they do.

Their               It belongs to them

It’s their problem, not ours.

Your               It belongs to you

It’s your problem, not mine.

You’re                        You are

You’re the greatest.

Were               Past tense of are

We were happy before that happened.

We’re              We are

In some ways, we’re never going to achieve that.

Where             A place

Where is it?

Bated              In great suspense

We’ve been waiting with bated breath.

Baited             With bait attached or inserted

Mary baited the hook and tossed out her line.

Bazaar            A Middle Eastern market

We explored the Bazaar on our last trip to Istanbul.

Bizarre           Strange

That was a bizarre song structure.

Berth              A bunk in a ship or train

Joe slipped into his berth and closed his eyes to ride out the rough seas.

Birth               The emergence of a baby from the womb

Jane gave birth to a baby girl.

Born               Having started life

I was born under a bad sign.

Borne              Carried

It was hard to imagine having borne such a heavy burden.

Bough             A branch of a tree

Jess ran for the heavy bough to gain shelter from the rain.

Bow                To bend the head down, or the front of a ship

Skip moved along the deck to the bow to get a better view of the ship ahead of them.


Once again, thanks to Linda Webber for her hard work putting these original words together!

Happy writing!


June 20, 2018

To continue in the same thread as my recent articles Description – When Do You Zone Out and Rambling On And On, I’ve been editing a novel for a friend. During our discussions on the philosophy and how to approach her writing, the subject of description and moving the plot came about. She voiced her opinion of both over-describing and moving the plot along. They echoed what I’ve been talking about all along.

I just happened to finish a science fiction novel that’s been languishing in my book pile for over a year. My daughter gave it to me. It was the hand me down of a hand me down. I’ve been avoiding it for a long time because frankly, so much science fiction I’ve tried to read has fallen into the literary category, just like fantasy. While I have in the past and still do write in both genres, I like to get to the point.


To this day, I still browse the shelves of the fantasy/syfy section at the bookstore, but usually end up in the general fiction section.


Part of the problem is subject matter.


When it comes to syfy (and I know some of you don’t like the acronym, but for simplicity and word count, I’m going to use it here), when I read the back blurb and are hit immediately with unpronounceable words, my eyes start to glaze over. In a way, I’m being a hypocrite when the title of my first fantasy novel has the word Umbrunna in it. On the other hand, my book blurb doesn’t have a bunch of other unpronounceable words.


The blurb has some candyrock psychedelic profundity (thanks Frank Zappa) description that you have to read two…three times, just to comprehend. That’s not only hard for grabbing new readers, but bad marketing, unless you’re a total science geek, I suppose? Since I’m not deep into the genre in that regard, I just don’t get some of the catch phrases.

The same holds true for fantasy, except the blurb might be even a bit more wordy, to go along with the thousand page tome.

Ding ding ding ding!


This is the meat of the matter, a cliché if I’ve ever heard one, and yes I used it and I don’t care. It goes right along with tropes and if you look at the shelves in the fantasy/syfy area, you’ll see just as many tropes as clichés.

Now, the meat…the pages. The big red flags that turn me right back to the general fiction.

As fantastic as the artwork can be, given a back blurb that’s actually intriguing, I open it up and it meets my first qualification of third-person, past-tense, what next?

I see solid words, page after page, with no empty space.

What does that tell me?

This author likes to ramble. He or she likes to describe everything and apparently, either doesn’t like much dialogue, or relies on a lot of dialogue…long passages of dialogue to replace the rambling narrative.

So, we have either/or.

If I don’t see plenty of empty space on the pages, I put the book right back down and move on.

No empty space means there are no breathers and that means the story drags. The author doesn’t know brevity.


My wife reads nothing but fantasy. Though she never does reviews, she lets me know when she thinks a book sucks, or if she loves it. While she doesn’t so much care about point of view like I do, she echoes a lot of my sentiments when the author rambles, or doesn’t use point of view correctly. She gets very frustrated at rambling. While she reads a lot on Nook, I’ve looked up the paper versions of some of those books she hated in the store and leafed through them. Sure enough, she proved my point, exactly, from what I’ve been saying above.


The whole point of this is to remember that as ancient as I am, I was a reader a loooong time before I was ever a writer. I’m still a reader. As a writer, I’ve tried to learn what works best. While some readers are a lot more tolerant to various styles, I’ve come to the conclusion long ago that I just don’t have the time or inclination to mess around with the bullshit anymore.

I want to read books that get to the point the easiest and most efficient way possible.

I want my readers to have that same experience as well.

I don’t want to punish my readers with experiments of whimsy based on where my “muse” is taking me stylistically. I’m saving that for my plots.

I’ll leave the hard to read books for those looking for a challenge, or for those that actually prefer that style, as some do.

I really believe the vast majority of people would rather get to the point like I do, and sit down and have a pleasurable reading experience that can be complex and fun, yet get to the point without a bunch of barriers and high concepts that leave them confused and scratching their heads. It’s perfectly fine to throw in a bit of high concept and thought-provoking ideas, but don’t beat them over the head with it. Don’t bog down the story with minutiae and endless exposition. Keep it in small doses and let the action move things along.

You can smell the roses, give high concepts and throw out a few complicated names without clubbing them over the head.

Happy writing!


June 12, 2018

For those of you that’ve been through this, “say no more, say no more,” to quote Monte Python, or at least paraphrase them. However, for those of you that have still not reached that point yet, this is mainly for you.


Maybe you’ve published one book, maybe not. I’ve published two, so far, and each one has been a learning experience. Each time, a little more is brought to the table (and don’t even start shaming with the clichés. I’m going to use them if I feel like it. Save that criticism for my book editors).

Each book was the start of a different series, so of course, tweaks have ensued in the current (third) book for publication. It’s a return to the fantasy series, and the first sequel, as opposed to my adventure/thriller series which already has five sequels in the can, waiting for publication sometime in the future. Probably the next book published will be the first sequel to the adventure/thriller and I’ll keep switching off.


I learned a few things from the publication of Treasure Of The Umbrunna, the first book in the Meleena’s Adventures series.

The majority of people that read it loved it.

I did not gain fans from those that didn’t, but that’s true with any writer. I don’t lose sleep over it. I got plenty of criticism for this and that. The rest? Well…I put it down to different tastes. Some of it was legit, which I’ve addressed.

People requested maps.

A few requested a glossary.

The cover needed work.

All of this summed up and converged into the work we did on the sequel, Gods Of The Blue Mountains.


I wrote and read the entire manuscript of Gods to my writer’s group between 2014 and 2016. Treasure came out in 2015, amid that writing spell. We were working on my adventure/thriller Lusitania Gold after the publication of Treasure during which I finished Gods. Once Gold went live in 2017, we got going with the publication process for Gods.

The editing is now done and it’s been formatted. In keeping with the style of Treasure, upon the recommendation of my publisher, I went through and suggested graphics to head each chapter. In the meantime, based on requests from readers, I drew a semi-detailed map (badly, I might add!) and also added a progressive glossary.

The map and glossary are two new features I hope to continue with each subsequent book in the series. I think the glossary will become a natural part of the series and will continue to grow on the condition that readers will know of spoilers within it!


If all goes well, both will continue to be permanent features of the Meleena series. I can tell you that researching and drawing that map wasn’t easy! Picturing it in my mind, but then going back and verifying directions from what I actually wrote in both Treasure, Gods, and the third book, which I’m currently working on, Across The Endless Sea was no easy task!


I persevered, though, and got ‘er dun.

The “stick figure” drawing I made of the map was much improved by our artist in residence and I’m happy with it.

The third book, Sea, is a bit easier, as far as the map goes, because it takes place off the edge of the current world, so I have freedom to redraw it completely.

A few weeks ago, I received the first galley and proofed it. It included the map. Wow! It turned out great. However, during my proofing (which is on top of the other, regular proofer’s work), I found another flaw in the map, so the artist had to make a tweak. Good thing I caught it at this early stage!

During the proofing process, I found fifteen pages of minor tweaks which included mostly grammatical flaws, typos, but also a few glitches in wording that needed to be fixed due to logic conflicts. All very minor, but something that might jar a reader, and certainly jarred me!

Soon, it’ll be up to the public to decide.

Happy writing!