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July 17, 2019

In one fantasy forum I’m on, the question came up about avoiding tropes. Should the write avoid the usual tropes and what are they? I had an article back in 2016 about using tropes. I figured it was time to revisit this subject.


Just think about it. When you’re writing within a genre, unless it’s a brand new one never done before, everything has been done before. My advice to that is, get over it. That means that no matter what form your story takes, you inevitably use tropes. You have to, or you can’t even construct a meaningful story.

I could just stop the article right here, but let’s look a little further.

The fantasy-focused forum then did a poll and listed a bunch of supposed tropes, and from the list, they basically drew every type of hero and every type of bad guy and asked which you’re sick of. The poll wasn’t near done, but already had a good start with people stating that some were sick of just about all of them.

Okay, the ones with the least amount of hate?

Is every author now going to focus stories around those particular tropes?

Was there some tropes left off?


A trope is an over-used plot element or character.

Basically it’s something over-used in a story. Period.

In today’s world, with the extremely short attention span of our society, people get bored easily, so everything is boring in about thirty seconds or less.

That would seem to indicate that one cannot come up with much that hasn’t been done before many times over again.

The one thing that’s never duplicated though, is the unique story and the way it’s told by each author. Regardless of any tropes used, each individual author has a unique voice in the telling. That makes a story as individual as DNA.

However, back to the definition of a trope.

Damsel in distress.


The strong and silent cowboy.

The bad guy who’s just evil because he or she’s evil.

The bad guy who’s evil because of a broken home.

The bad guy who’s evil because they were abused as a child.

The poor beggar that turns out to be a prince.

The sparkly vampire.

The hard-bitten detective.

Sound familiar? I could go on and on and fill pages with tropes.

It’s said there are only a limited number of plots. In fact there’s a book about it. So, from that perspective, there are only so many plots which automatically makes EVERY plot a trope.

There you go.


The big question leads to my big answer.

Should you even worry about tropes in your writing?

If in your particular genre, there’s a general negative reaction to a certain trope, commercially speaking, maybe it might not be the best idea to forge ahead with a story in that vein unless you’re super-compelled to do so. If that’s the case, damn it all and go ahead.

As for everyone else, screw the tropes. If you get the big idea, the big inspiration, the big Kahuna, I say, go for it and not even worry if it’s a trope. If you happen to realize you’re using one and decide to throw in a little twist to the stereotypical sparkly vampire, or hunky silent cowboy, or something equally typical, please do so! I’m sure nobody would object.

On the other hand, if you use a well-worn trope, yet write a fantastic story because you were unhindered worrying about something as trivial as upsetting the sensibilities of some easily bored people who are upset you’re using tropes, go for it!


I recently wrote an article about rules. Well, tropes isn’t one of them. That has nothing to do with good writing. Tropes has to do with taste and following trends. I’m not a personal fan of trends. I don’t get bored easily, and never have. On the other hand, there ARE certain tropes I avoid like the plague, like anything to do with vampires. I’ve never been a fan, but I’m also not into cowboy stories or romance, but that’s got nothing to do with whether they’re good stories or not, or whether the writing is any good. That’s personal, genre taste. My taste for thrillers, detective and icky bug (horror) novels are full of tropes. Those kind of tropes don’t bother me in the least. It’s the writing and the stories that affect me.

Happy writing!



July 9, 2019

My goal, ever since starting this blog back in 2012 was to dole out writing advice and to try and help others hone their craft. With that in mind, I’ve presented many aspects of this passion, some more controversial than others.

Not surprisingly, my most popular article has been “AND”, “BUT”, THE COLON AND SEMI-COLON IN FICTION. This one always draws a lot of reaction and most recently a troll.

There are others as well.


Well, for one thing, rules are there to make your manuscript readable. Without a readable manuscript, no agent or publisher is going to touch it. Period.

The other thing is that without rules, no reader can read it. You’d have an incomprehensible mess.

Taking that as a given though, lets narrow that down to refined rules. Say you can put a paragraph together. Okay, so what? How about turning that into multiple paragraphs, chapters and an entire book? There’s a lot more to it, then.

To make a story readable, you have to employ certain rules to keep a person reading. Over the very few decades that stories have really been available to the mass market, the industry has discovered and refined the rules of writing that work the best to attract the widest audience.

That’s why we have rules of writing.

The whole point of presenting your work to the public, beyond writing it for pleasure, is to present it in the most palatable form to the most people possible.

That’s the key.

To do that, you need to follow certain guidelines (yeah, I mean rules) in writing to appeal to the widest audience.

In other words, I like to say, the writing shouldn’t get in the way of the story.


Some rules are vague, some are well established, and some are contradictory. Some change over time. Some never change.

I read a lot. I read at least a book to a book and a half a week, depending on how well written it is. The better it’s written, the faster I can read it. That right there should be a big red flag (or clue). As a writer as well as a reader, I’m always evaluating the writing.

There’s nothing more annoying than stumbling over the writing when I’m trying to enjoy a story. When the author either bends or ignores the rules of writing, the writing is getting in the way of the story. If the bending is minor, those are just bumps that can be ignored. If it’s constant, that slows things down and becomes annoying. It jerks me out of the story.

There are certain writers that are so close to perfect, if they slip up or bend a rule slightly, I don’t even notice. I devour their books, and when I get to the end of the story, I close the last page with a smile on my face and never even realize I just read something instead of absorbed it. THAT is what every book should do. THAT is what I try to teach through my articles every week.

I sometimes get feedback about how I can’t say this and can’t say that. Well, guess what?

Go ahead and bend the rules, or do whatever you want. You’re the one that has to let your fans suffer through your work. Maybe they won’t notice. Maybe they will. Maybe they’ll come away with a smile and a sigh, maybe just a smile. Maybe not.

I, personally would rather my readers not even realize they read the story, but absorbed it. That’s my goal. Whether I always succeed or not, I cannot say, but I at least try.

I personally don’t, or rarely bend the rules. If I do, I know how and when, and it’s never out of laziness. It has a specific purpose. I have yet to run into a case where I have done that (that I can remember at the moment), but I know I have once or twice in short stories, at least.


Are you bending the rules because you just don’t care, you want to rebel, are lazy, or you don’t think your readers will care, either?

Is a sucker born every minute?

Or, do you think all of this is a bunch of bullshit?

I’m not here to tell you what to do. However, after over sixty years of reading, I’ve discovered what works well and what works not as well. I’ve polled other readers and got plenty of feedback to not only back me up, but also to sometimes contradict what I say. I’m not 100% right, of course. There are people that don’t abide by my beliefs. It’s too big a world for that. However, the vast majority of people I’ve polled have indicated they prefer a clean read that abides by the rules, even if they aren’t consciously aware of them.

Happy writing!


July 3, 2019

As a sometimes fantasy writer, the word troll could mean something entirely different from what I’m actually talking about in this case.

Today, I’m talking about Internet trolls.

In a more blunt term, these are assholes.


A troll is a relatively new Internet term for someone who horns into forums, chats and feeds and has nothing nice to say. They can get downright nasty.

They almost always use a bogus handle and quite often, make it so they cannot be traced.

Basically, they’re cowards who have an opinion, but are too scared to say it in their real name.

Or, they may have a real ID and just want to breed chaos and anarchy.


Trolling usually occurs, the more popular a person is. Popularity draws them out of the woodwork.

If you’re like me, we’re not exactly setting the world on fire, but we do have a small group of people who listen in, sometimes give feedback, exchange ideas.

Trolls usually aren’t interested in people like us. We don’t draw enough attention. Their reign of chaos doesn’t apply.

Then again…


Since very few of them are ever caught, it’s hard to say who they really are.

They could be:

Pre-teen boys goofing around or thrashing out because of a shitty home life.

Forty year old men still living in their mother’s basement with too much time on their hands.

More rarely, teen girls…mean girls taking out their angst on the world.

Over-politically correct types doing a campaign to fix the world.

Hackers just being jerks.

Foreign agents creating chaos as part of some nefarious scheme.

Fill in your own blank here____________


The more popular you become, the more likely you’re going to experience the personal joy of a troll.

If you receive enough Internet traffic due to your popularity, the numbers alone are going to eventually include an occasional troll.

It’s inevitable.


The most effective tactic, tried and true is to just ignore them. That usually works the best.

On occasion, one can engage a troll.


Unless you’re very witty, or ready for a barrage of responses, some of which might increase in intensity and other consequences, I probably wouldn’t recommend it.


One thing I didn’t mention about trolls.

While I suggested different types of people who might be on the other end of these crazy and sometimes disturbing things that they say, what I didn’t mention is the real deep whackos.

By engaging someone truly disturbed, what are you getting yourself into?

If this troll says something truly out there, maybe it’s time to contact someone.


In some cases, you can delete trolls from your forums, messages, feeds. Effectively, you can ban them.

If someone responds to something and the name is bogus, while the first or first several responses might be mild or innocuous, then turn nasty, you may have a lot of deleting to do. Maybe it would be better to look carefully at the names of those responding to you. If the name looks whacky, I mean seriously whacky, you might want to have second thoughts about accepting them to your feed in the first place.

Just an idea.


Most of the time, trolls are just something to ignore, but better to be safe than sorry.

Happy writing!


June 26, 2019

I’ve covered endings twice, so far at Fred Central. Crappy Endings and Crappy Endings Revisited appeared in 2012 and 2017 respectively and for good reason. The ending can have a huge impact on my enjoyment of the story, and it’s the same for a lot of other people.

The other day at the writer’s group, our el-presidente brought up the subject of endings as an impromptu discussion subject, and we had a nice lively chat about it. However, after everyone, including me had their say, I was not able to give the caveat to why I felt the way I do about endings.

That leads me to the main gist of today’s discussion.



This is the real reason that determines what type of endings one is able to tolerate. Since this discussion primarily focuses on fiction, why do you read?

We’re not talking about non-fiction because it has a pre-determined, and inarguable conclusion. You can’t change history or real subject matter unless it’s opinion or philosophical discussion.

However, with fiction, it’s entirely up to the author to decide how the book ends. In that regard, you, as the reader decide why you’re reading.


When you read for pure entertainment, it’s all a matter of taste. The ending may or may not matter, depending on your personality. It can be a happy or a bummer ending, depending on how you swing.


Same as pure entertainment. Can go either way.


Same as the other two.


I could’ve lumped the previous three and this category together, but broke them down for illustrative purposes. Like the other categories, open to anything means the reader doesn’t mind happy or bummer endings. They don’t feel ripped off when the hero dies.


Here’s where things get a bit more complicated. I’m in this category. My whole purpose of reading fiction is to escape the real world. Unlike any of the other categories, which of course, include bits of the rest in there, as well, my MAIN goal of reading is to escape reality. I don’t want anything to do with the real world. I want a happy ending. If the ending’s a bummer where the hero (or everyone) dies, I automatically hate the book. If I want reality, I’ll watch the news, get a college textbook, or a non-fiction book. When I read fiction, I read explicitly for a happy ending! That’s the whole point.

I don’t want to learn any life lessons, I don’t want to get emotionally jerked around. I don’t want to get philosophized up the yin yang about this and that. If some or all of those things are thrown into the mix, fine, as long as the story ends on a high note. That high note had better not be bittersweet, where the hero dies, or where there’s any kind of bummer. I don’t want to hear “well, it’s like real life.”

I know very well what real life is like. I’ve certainly lived long enough to experience all that, and still see enough of it all around me every day. The last thing I want to do is read about it in a damn book! I’m trying to escape all of that!

A large number of people escaping from reality feel the same way.


This is where the negative or bummer endings really come into play. The Debbie Downer group love bummer endings. They love the big twist at the end where not only the hero dies, but everything turns to crap. They love to be shocked.

When the author turns the whole story on its head, the negative people love it. It enforces their negative view of the world. That’s why certain authors, infamous for doing this, sell a lot of books. While they have plenty of haters, they also have substantial followings.

There’s the group of people that are bored with happy. They specifically want reality in their fiction because they’re sick of happy and “unrealistic” endings. That’s not real life. They cannot stand the fantasy of happy, or simply like to switch it out once in a while.

There’s a big audience that loves to grovel in their misery.


It all boils down to why you’re picking up the book in the first place. That turns around to you, as a writer, and what your goal is, and what type of audience you’re trying to attract.

If you want to write the big twist and a bummer ending, a shocking ending, you’re going to draw a certain crowd. However, if you write a positive ending rather than shock value, you’re going to draw a much larger audience.

You can mix it up, but once you shock an audience, it may be hard to earn their trust back. Some won’t care, but for those that prefer a happy ending, you may just lose readers. It’s hard to tell.

It’s also up to you.

Think of yourself as a reader and then as a writer. Sure, you have to follow your muse, but you also have to think of your potential audience and your reputation. Once you go down a certain path, it may be difficult to recover.

Happy writing!


June 19, 2019

My original article on this subject came out in 2012. Since that time, I’ve discussed the subject in numerous forms, mostly under the definition of the autobiography label. I bring it up again because at the writers group, the writers conference, and when I meet new writers, at least half want to do a memoir. That’s a high percentage.

However, there are certain hazards and caveats with writing a memoir.

Though most people pronounce it mem-waw, I like to play around with it and call it, mem-o-ear. However you want to say it, for a lot of writers, the memoir is da bomb.

One thing I just learned at the latest 2019 writers conference is that if you’re trying to pitch your work to an agent, NEVER call it a memoir. That’s the kiss of death, marketing-wise. Unless you’re a huge celebrity, forget it. You have to use a different term. Period.

Self-help, creative non-fiction, something along those lines is a far better way to market your work than memoir. You need to turn it into something sellable, versus a life story from just some schmuck nobody’s ever heard of.


Not to be too repeatable, yet after all, this is my blog, so I can do what I want…

Over the decades, people keep saying I’ve had an interesting life and I should do a memoir.

Pfft please!

I’m no celebrity. I have no big cancer story (even though I had it), nor one of major sexual abuse (though I didn’t get through life entirely unscathed).

I have no big life lessons to impart on an unwary public.

I have plenty of amusing (at least to me) anecdotes about life in rock bands and life in the Air Force living overseas.

So what?

What did I do?

At one of the writers conferences back about the time I started this blog (2012), I met the people at a now defunct political discussion web site called Let’s Talk Nevada. They needed a comic relief writer for their Sunday issue, someone to contribute that didn’t discuss politics. I thought, well, why not relate my goofy experiences, sort of tell my autobiography and not end up with a garage full of books? I could also drop in plenty of crummy photos to go with it.

I did this for almost two years until the owner of the web site passed away and his widow did not want to continue the web site. I had my fans, and they all liked my contributions. I told about my adventures in the Air Force, band experiences and whatever.

I wrote my autobiography, my memoir, and published it for free, for all to see.

Unfortunately, you can still go on Google and look up many of the links which are now broken.

I did it just for a goof, but you know what?

I don’t have a garage full of books nobody will ever buy.

I don’t have the huge expense of printing a book full of photos.


I’m not trying to discourage anyone from writing a memoir. Not at all. However, if you’re going to do that, and are not just doing it for family and friends, why are you doing it?

If you think you have a compelling story, one that’ll grab people, something that can impact their lives, great!

I know of at least one that’s in the pike, that’s going to impact people. I hope it does well. This story is one that could be self-help, it could be inspirational, it could be about anything it wants to be.


If you just want to tell your story, but only you think it’s interesting, well…that could be a problem.

I never would’ve published my story, put through the effort if my first test articles had not got a response. If just telling them to people had not got a response, or the short stories I’d shared among friends had not got the positive responses and encouragement I received. While some of the responses seemed a bit over the top to me, I still chose to do it the way I did because I’m still positive I have nothing compelling to offer except an occasional wry grin. That’s not exactly enough to sell a lot of books.

On the other hand, some of you out there have incredibly impactful stories to tell. You’ve gone through severe trauma and survived for the better. Your lives can have a positive impact on people. Those are the stories that need to be told.

That’s another reason never to call them a memoir. If you’re a celebrity, fine, call it a memoir. That implies juicy gossip and snide innuendo, something many love to read about. On the other hand, a self-help autobiography, or inspirational autobiography would probably be something more useful to a wider audience.


For those of you out there wanting to write a memoir, if you notice people going “oh, that’s nice,” especially writers, accompanied by a blank stare, or a blank smile, that may be the reason why. Everybody and their brother’s doing a memoir. When they look at you and don’t recognize you from movies, TV or music, they draw a big blank and probably think “oh, another family legacy thing.”

If you change your terminology and focus a little, you’ll probably come out with a much better product in the end.

I’m just saying.

Happy writing!


June 14, 2019

Back in 2014 I wrote an article called Avoid Flat Emotionless Prose. Here, I want to expound on that a bit.

No character should be flat and emotionless. It makes for a pretty dry read. However, what about a character that either has no, or little emotion by design?

This is the main gist I wanted to cover in this discussion.


Many writers have been accused of flat and emotionless prose. “Just the facts Ma’am” can mean many things, like clean narrative, but that doesn’t mean the characters just give off a flat performance, with no nuances.

No matter how unemotional a character is, they’re still emotional. It can’t be helped.

Just describing a character as unemotional makes them somewhat emotional by describing them that way. It makes them guarded, or deliberately neutral…something along those lines.

Maybe they’re keeping their feelings in check because of a past trauma.

Maybe they’re a sociopath.

Maybe they have some mental condition preventing them from showing emotion.

As a writer, you need to convey that explanation to the reader, or…drop hints along the way that something is up with that character and give a big reveal at the appropriate moment.

By giving the character no emotions, draw the character so that he or she reacts specifically without emotion and draw attention to it so the reader is as aware of those reactions as they are of someone who is off the scale with emotions over everything.

Drawing an unemotional character as “unemotional” solves the problem of the character being that way and gives the reader something to grasp instead of just doing it and leaving the reader wondering why this character is so flat and uninteresting.


Another way to react to an unemotional character is by how your cast of characters react to him or her.

I have a main character in one of my series who, while not unemotional, is very restrictive with emotion. While emotions exist, it’s often how the rest of the characters react to this that draws out the drama when the main character does something emotional. That keeps this story and character from being flat and emotionless.

There’s also a big reason for this character to be so unemotional, while still being a lot more emotional than he or she will ever admit. That comes out in the stories a little bit at a time.

If you have a character that’s unemotional or flat, fine, as long as you have a way for the other characters to react to that flatness. This reaction takes place of the lack of color from that flat and emotionless character. Then, have a reason why that emotion isn’t there.


Okay, a bit of exaggerating on the emoting side, but you should get my point.

Some characters have more emotion than others. Normal characters should be colorful, have quirks and a normal set of emotions to make them interesting.

Some will be off the scale with emotion.

Some will be off the scale with little or no emotion.

This last group are the ones that need to be handled with care – they’re the ones I’m mainly talking about. If they’re not addressed properly, the reader will be jarred by them, ignore them, or worse, put the book down if the character has a significant role.


You give them weight with logical reasons for that lack of emotion.

Something for the reader to latch on to.


Dynamics is the key to making a story interesting, besides the plot, and getting from A to B.

The way you draw characters is key because everyone can relate to characters in some way, no matter how alien they may be to themselves in real life.

Even unemotional characters have to have some way to connect.

Give the reader those ways to connect and you should be fine.

Happy writing!


June 5, 2019

Another question that comes up a lot in the writing forums is writing environment.

Where do you write?

When do you write?

Under what conditions do you write?

What music do you listen to when you write?

Bla bla bla.

I’ve touched on some of these areas in the past and it’s time to look at them in more detail.


Okay, not everyone can write on the fly. That’s understandable. We’re not all like the war correspondent that can take paper in pen in a combat zone, or be behind enemy lines or in the middle of a gang war with a recorder, giving a blow-by-blow of the action. We’re of a more creative bent, which usually requires a certain setting and mood.

What’s yours?


Some of us can write almost anywhere. Nowadays, most of us are only bound by where we can take a laptop. This can be a library, a coffeehouse, a park, a bedroom, or to quote my buddy, James Rollins, an airplane. If you still use pen and paper, same rule applies.

On the other hand, I use a PC, a specific PC, and it sits in my computer/music room and that’s where I do all my writing. I used to be able to write at work during my old job in my spare time. No more. That leaves after work and on weekends, time permitting. My place is pretty specific. It may be the same for a lot of you.


Some people can write on the fly. I certainly can, if the opportunity strikes.

Some of you have to be in a certain mood. Many of you can’t if you’re under stress, while others of you find writing is therapy.

To me, writing is an escape from the real world. When I get in the zone, the world more or less disappears for a time, like watching a movie, except I’m making the movie up as I go along. Sure, I’m still fully aware of my surroundings, but I’m still off in another world.

Some of you struggle to get in your zone. Your PLACE can severely affect you getting in your zone. It must be picked with great care, to ensure you can reach that zone.

That all goes back to when. If your place is the library, but your when happens to be after the library is closed, scratch that off to another unproductive day unless you have an alternative location. The same if the local Starbucks is overcrowded and noisy, and you’re easily distracted. Given that any coffeehouse is more than likely noisy and overcrowded, that should be a given.

Say you’re at home and your when is interrupted by a malfunctioning toilet. You have to stop and address the problem. Can you get back your when and into the zone again?

Whatever your place, the when has to coincide with it or you miss an opportunity and guess what? No new pages come out.

Does that mean you can’t accomplish anything?


You can still be thinking about what to do while you address the interruption. Maybe scribble notes or by repetitive thinking, get something in mind to jot down when you get time later.


This goes back to the first two. Where and when.

How sensitive are you? How distracted can you get? How much flack in the background does it take to veer you off the path?

As for me, a bomb can go off in the background and if I’m in the zone, I generally don’t notice unless the wife want’s something. THEN I take notice! I address the problem, then come back and pick up where I left off as if nothing ever happened. I don’t lose focus.

For some of you, the slightest thing can ruin your concentration. For you, conditions have to be exactly right or you can’t get out a creative thing.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have fleeting thoughts, but generally, if I think of something and can let it sink in, I can recall it later Not always, but a lot of the time. I know I’ve forgotten lots of great things, but many I’ve been able to retain. Some I’ve had to jot on sticky notes on my computer desk because I knew I wouldn’t use them until much later. So, to ensure I don’t forget them over time…

What are your conditions? Do you need to have absolute quiet? Do you need to be isolated? Is a coffee shop to noisy for you? Are the chirping birds and distant traffic noise in a park too distracting for you to concentrate? Is the whispering in the library too much to take?

Do you need to be in a soundproof chamber to be able to get in your zone?

I think that’s probably taking it a bit too far, but everyone has their certain conditions. Maybe subtle external noises aren’t the factor at all.

Maybe you need incense burning. Maybe you need certain background noises to get you pumped up.

Maybe you need music?


A real common question that comes up on the forums is: What music do you listen to when you write? I sometimes think the real motivation for half these threads is just an excuse for people to plug their favorite bands, but hey, why not? I do in my books, well some of them anyway. Some I plug are not so favorite, some for shock value, but who’s counting?

Music can not only soothe, but it can fire one up. It can also help drown out other distracting noises. It can help get one in the zone, if chosen well.

Personally, I can’t play it without headphones. The heavy and often extreme metal I listen to and the volume I’d require just to hear it would creep right through the wall into the living room and drown out the TV. Uh, not good. I’m not a fan of headphones, so I just don’t bother. No big loss. I have a CD player in the car and get to listen to my heavy metal vomit music on the way to and from work every day. It has nothing to do with my writing anyway.

Music has been a big inspiration in my writing, in more ways than one, but I don’t play it in my head. I used to think I did, and said so in various forums. However, after really thinking about it, it turns out I actually spend all my mental real estate on the story. Music isn’t even in the realm of what I’m doing. I know because as I was thinking about this article, I was writing a chapter in my latest fantasy novel and I dual purposed, thinking of what I was thinking about. Nope, no music. I was just concentrating on the story. In the next room, the TV was going on some movie. I heard little snippets of sound, but it was all “Wa wa wa wa wa.” Like adults talking in a Charlie Brown cartoon.

I was in the zone.

Some people would have their favorite music going to get them in the zone. At the same time, pitching their favorite bands.

Whatever works.

I’ll admit that as I’m listening to my music on the way to work, which all joking aside, may be metal, but is usually (as they say), heavy but clean vocals, I’m quite often thinking of some plot element of one of my stories. There you go.


Environment is a key element to any writer. We’re word artists. We have to get in the zone. While it may seem elaborate or screwy to some, you DO have to be in a mood and a certain setting or environment to get fired up. At least most of us do. While I may be easier to please than most, I fully understand what it takes to get there.

Happy writing!