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ADVERBS

September 15, 2020

            Last week I was going to address this subject, but something else came up. Now it’s time.

MOST COMMON CUTS

            Keep in mind that I’ve been writing for decades now. That doesn’t mean I write perfect. Far from it. However, I do have a bit of proficiency after all these years. In fact, my at least initial proficiency is one reason I took up this passion to begin with.

            That being said, I still have to edit my work, whether it’s these weekly blogs, my book manuscripts, or even my impromptu Facebook posts.

            Very little gets by me without some kind of editing.

            Outside of typos, what are the most common cuts I make?

            Adverbs.

WHAT’S AN ADVERB?

            Rather than specifically define an adverb, per se, let me give you a red flag.

            “ly”

            Yup, that’s it.

            Any word that ends in an “ly” is probably an adverb. There are a few exceptions. In fact, I just used an adverb right there! In this case, I feel it’s justified.

            Speaking of justified, how about the word just?

            While just is an adjective, it’s well overused and can be cut most of the time.

            However, back on track. When you see an “ad” as in “add” “verb”, it’s an enhanced verb. One way of looking at it. It’s an emphasized verb that quite often doesn’t add anything to the sentence.

EXAMPLES

            There’s nothing like good examples.

            It was a really big mountain.

            Really is unnecessary. While the mountain was obviously huge, really emphasizes it and initially sounds reasonable enough. However, in writing narrative, it only adds fluff.

            It was a big mountain.

            Simple.

            Or even better.

            The massive peak stood before him.

            More active.

            The street was completely devoid of movement.

            Nope.

            The street was devoid of movement.

            Better.

            Nothing moved on the street.

            I could go on and on.

DO A WORD SEARCH

            In your manuscript, do a word search for just (see I used just for effect) “ly” and see what comes up. You may be shocked.

            This isn’t an effort to sanitize your manuscript of every adverb, especially in dialogue. People don’t speak like narrative. That’s a whole different set of rules.

            On the other hand, be careful using adverbs in dialogue as well. Consider speech patterns and realistic ways people talk.

SUMMARY

            Sometimes you’ve probably been told to do word searches for was, has been, to be etc. This time it’s “ly” words.

            Next time, it may be another word.

            I’ll surprise you!

            Maybe…

            Happy writing!

WHEN YOU HAVE A BLOG AND NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT

September 9, 2020

            Over the past few months, I’ve run across situations where not only have friends been needing advice about starting author platforms and blogs, but there have been forum questions about deadlines and things to do with creativity.

            Say you DO have a recurring blog, whether daily, weekly, monthly or even annual, what happens when you reach the point when you have nothing to talk about? I very much wanted to add the adverb absolutely, but knew I’d cut it on second blush. THAT was going to be my original article for this week, by the way. However, when inspiration hits, you have to go with it.

MY SITUATION

            You would think that after three-hundred plus articles since 2012, I’d have, by now, run out of things to talk about since my platform is writing. Then again, just take a gander at the page count of the Chicago Manual of Style. It doesn’t include half the stuff I talk about (like this article) and I haven’t even included a quarter of the stuff the manual talks about.

            I don’t think I have anything to worry about in that regard.

            On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I always have a stack of articles lined up, ready to publish. Quite often, I write these on the fly, Sunday morning, when the inspiration hits. Sometimes they come out of thin air, on-the-spot. Sometimes, I’ve been brewing them in my head from something that inspired me during the week. Sometimes it’s something that inspired me for a while, and I just got around to bringing it up. Like now.

DEADLINES

            For some, deadlines are a motivator. For me, they’re an inspiration killer.

            To me, Sunday morning isn’t a motivator, it’s just my time to write. If I know I’m not going to be around my computer Sunday morning due to other circumstances, I may write ahead. There have been occasions when I haven’t been able to, and my blog articles have been late. I’ve always had something to write about.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

            This is the meat of the matter.

            What about you?

            This is YOUR issue.

            You’ve decided on a subject for your blog. Say (from a recent friend), history of a certain time period.

            You’ve been doing this for a while. You think you’ve exhausted that time period. Maybe you’ve been doing it so long you could write an entire thick textbook on the subject.

            What to do now?

            Or…

            What if you’re just starting out, maybe even picked a subject, but don’t know which way to go?

            First, if you’ve done it all, then maybe you should concentrate on articles on HOW to do the research itself, rather than the results. Instead of giving stories of what you found, relay to your audience HOW you found it.

            On the other hand, if what you do is explain HOW you do your research, instead give results.

            If you already do both, then it’s time to vary the subject matter a little and veer off the time period.

            Now, say you’ve been doing this a long time, like me, for almost a decade. What about recycling some old stuff with a fresh update? What are the chances many of your new fans have actually taken the time to go back and read all of your past articles? I’d say for the most part, slim to none!

            Recycling old articles with an update is a great way to give yourself not only breathing room, but a chance to resurrect subjects that may be currently relevant. I do it, especially given current events on the forums I frequent. I’ve found that I’ve covered so much, it keeps coming up again and again for fresh newbies.

IT ALL DEPENDS

            The best blogs are about something informative because the subject matter is not only researchable, but it comes from knowledge or expertise you have. If you don’t have that expertise and learn as you go, it has to be a continual learning experience and you really have to be on your toes.

            If it’s a creative blog, such as a serial story, it’s all up to you to create the next installment. Your readers depend on you to come up with the next brilliant chapter. If you already have the story planned out, whether plotted, or just A and B, as long as you don’t lose your motivation, you should always have something to write about until you finish the story. This is only dangerous when you get that dreaded writer’s block, or life gets in the way. That’s the other thing that happens to everyone else and causes nothing to write about.

ANTICIPATION

            Life can throw surprises at all of us. If you have a regular blog and your readers expect an article at a certain time, it behooves you to keep that self-imposed deadline. That means that to the best of your ability, when you know something is coming up, you should build up a stock of articles to cover that period of absence, or period of your normal writing time.

            I’ve always hated the word deadline, and I don’t consider my weekly blog and Facebook posts as deadlines, per se. They’re regular posting periods for me, but I could just as easily post whenever I want to. Out of habit and to keep my followers on a regular schedule, I post the same times each week. You can call that self-imposed deadlines all you want. Since I enjoy what I do, I prefer to call them regular habits rather than deadlines.

            So, in my regular habits, I sometimes anticipate when I won’t be available to write. If so, it throws my usual inspiration off. If I had something to write about already in mind, I go ahead and write it all then. If not, I may have a bit of this articles title, in “nothing to write about” for a few split seconds.

            Then things will hit me.

            I can recycle a myriad of old articles.

            I can visit the forums and see what’s up that may inspire me.

            I can just ponder a bit until something hits.

            In a word, something always pops up.

            I get creative.

            For you, if you have to anticipate, vary your normal habits until you come up with something maybe off the usual path to write about. It may be short or long compared to your usual blog. It may break your own rules a bit. However, it may inspire you in a way you never knew existed within your brain before.

            You may surprise yourself.

            Happy writing!

ISSUES WITH MY FIRST NOVEL

September 2, 2020

            One reason I’ve never tackled my very first novel before, and a big reason I used to tell every it would never “see the light of day” was “severalfold.” Hey, there’s a new word for you.

            As I initially said when I resurrected it a few weeks ago, the STORY wasn’t as bad as I first thought. Since it established the pattern I’ve used from day one, that was never the issue. I established A and B in my head before I ever sat down at the computer on Enable OA, which was the primitive software at the time, and just started typing.

            While it kept me mostly on a linear track, I’m sure I’ll find a few side issues to deal with along the way. I still had some of those to deal with in edits of both The Greenhouse and Lusitania Gold. While I only did a skim of The Cave, I still haven’t caught up to those yet.

            What I have found are other basic issues in the writing I need to deal with. Most are annoying but minor. However, one is a biggie.

POINT OF VIEW

            I’m a real stickler for third-person limited point of view. I can’t stand first-person, I can’t stand present-tense, and I can’t stand head-hopping. Don’t even get me started on second-person!

            This all didn’t come out of thin air, it came with time and over sixty years of reading, writing and drawing conclusions from what works, what works best, and what’s just damn annoying. I’ve talked repeatedly about point of view here at Fred Central, so you should know how I feel by now.

            Given that, what did I find?

            The first chapter was okay. It was written in a single point of view. The prose required some tweaking of structure here and there, then it was time to move on.

            However, chapter two where the main characters come in?

            Ruhr oh! Houston, we have a problem.

            There was NO point of view! It was a total head-hopping extravaganza! Just like…well…never mind. I don’t want to slam that other author who, by the way, still manages to put out at least a book a year.

            Anyway, it was nothing but head-hopping with no central character. It made me think of the back-cover blurb and how I’d have no way of pointing out who the story was about. A team? No central character? Not gonna fly.

            I had to read for a while before I figured one guy was the most dominant of the bunch. Turns out, he was the main character after all. Now it’s a matter of turning every chapter and scene into his point of view and ridding all the thoughts and POVs from everyone else, unless they have a major scene. There is room for other characters. The POV switches to the bad guy too. The book is designed for multiple POVs, I just have to control how many. There can’t be a hundred!

DIALOGUE TAGS

            This is another area where I really offended my much more refined sensibilities. The tags made me cringe…a lot!

            Given that this was only chapter two where I noticed how bad it was, I’m going to have my work cut out for me.

PASSIVITY AND TELLING

            It goes without saying that any new writer is going to tell rather than show. Plus they’re going to use a lot of passive phrases. I was no exception.

            For this run, to be honest, I’m more concerned with fixing the big stuff. When I catch the major things, I’ll fix them. It’ll probably take a second round to find most of the tell and some more of the passivity. There’s enough of it that I’m not going to catch it all in one sweep.

OFFENSIVE PHRASES

            Given the era in which I wrote it, and the market in which I want to sell, I glimpsed numerous “colorful metaphors” and other offensive words that are not politically correct in today’s cancel culture climate. I need to fix those. No need to even repeat them now. Some of them are things I probably would’ve changed anyway if I’d decided to work this thing earlier. After all, this was my first attempt and I was influenced by the books I was reading and the environment around me, which wasn’t necessarily a reflection of who I was. I knew there were rough edges to be smoothed out when and if I were ever to do something with this very rough draft. Second blush stuff where I go, “Nope, dumb idea.”

TECHNICAL DETAILS

            Right on the very first page, I referenced a place that doesn’t actually exist thirty years later. Thanks to Google Maps, and then Wikipedia, I checked it out and discovered it not only doesn’t exist anymore, but it’s not even in the correct location for where the heroes are going to go. I was relying on a very old satellite map at the time and it apparently wasn’t very accurate. I’m sure as I delve deeper into the story, I’ll find other nasty surprises along the way.

STILL AN ADVENTURE

            Since I shelved this one right after I wrote it, it’s going to be an adventure to resurrect The Cave. I’ve never read it to a writer’s group, had anyone critique it, except some unknown friend who edited it for me. Unfortunately, I cannot recall who did that long-ago edit. I cannot even recall what they thought of the overall story. Now I wish I knew so I could thank them!

SUMMARY

            When you have something this old, it’s fascinating to see how much you’ve progressed. Rather than being embarrassed, I find it fitting that I can see a real progression from day one. That means I have and am still learning.

            I can’t wait to relive this adventure!

            Happy writing!

HOW DO YOU AVOID OFFENDING ANYONE IN YOUR STORY?

August 26, 2020

            I thought about titling this article different things to do with race, but this goes beyond just that. While race IS at the forefront of many conversations right now, there’s…to use a tired but true old cliché… more ways to skin a cat. Now I’ve probably offended cats or PETA people.

            In today’s cancel culture, one can become offended over just about anything.

            While that sounds almost facetious, in fact, it’s quite true, especially when it comes to social media. In the context of a book, where there’s more time for an explanation and context to go with it, it’s not as much of an issue, but that ugly premise is still there.

            Let’s look deeper.

THE 400LB GORILLA

            Race is by far the easiest way to offend someone.

            As an author, no matter how well intended, when you add in diverse characters to your story, since you have not lived those characters lives, you’re bound to write something untrue or unrealistic that’s likely to offend someone. The more insulated and unread you are toward these diverse people, the worse and more unrealistic the faux pax is going to be.

            TV doesn’t always count.

            Quite often, script writers throw in unrealistic dimensions to racial characters all for the sake of drama. They often skirt the borderline of what’s acceptable, consciously or unconsciously creating stereotypes for minorities or even majority races. On the other hand, sometimes these portrayals can be quite accurate, especially now as the entertainment industry is slowly forging ahead with diversity.

            Books can be a great source of realism, if the right books are consulted.

            By far, the best source is the people themselves.

            If you want to write a race you are not, talk to them and feel them out for their experiences. That will help you build a more realistic character.

            Just today, as I edit this, someone on one of the forums asked the question about describing someone’s skin using food, such as “olive skin.” What about “mahogany skin?” Skin the color of coffee, or skin the color of whatever? Is that an insult? I’m sure it is to someone. When you think of white people, they aren’t white either. Very few people except those that are albino even come close to actually being white, and they’re more pink than white, usually. So, how do you describe the color of someone’s skin, hair, other features without insulting them?

            A good question.

OCCUPATIONS

            This is something people don’t often think about and once again, media is quite often the source of numerous stereotypes. Of another more common source is the “I heard,” or the “I just assume” bunch. This is where real research is necessary.

            If you portray a plumber as the typical butt crack money grubbing guy who won’t even listen to what you have to say, you have a problem.

            Are all lawyers the same stereotype? Do all doctors automatically ignore women? Do all bankers ignore the little guy? Do construction workers all leer at women?

            Not only are those stereotypes, but they’re also clichés and can offend as easily as ignore the reality.

RELIGIONS

            Another 400lb gorilla in the room is religion. Quite often, religious people are portrayed as stereotypes. While one can’t deny that these stereotypical people DO exist, constantly badgering the reader with these people in every story gets kind of old.

            When you’re NOT of said religion, of course, you should observe some real people of that religion. However, you should also talk to some of those people. Do some reading. You might be surprised.

DISABLED PEOPLE

            Not every disabled person is completely helpless.

            Not every disabled person is a saint.

            Not every disabled person is a jerk.

            If you don’t know someone that’s disabled, it would behoove you to seek them out and observe. You’ll find them just like everyone else.

LITTLE PEOPLE

            This is an often overlooked area. One of my personal heroes from way back, Billy Barty, stared the organization Little People of America back in 1957 (I think). Little people are quite often dragged into stereotypes. It’s only been recently that we’ve seen them gain acceptance in major roles, such as Peter Dinklage.

POLITICAL OPPOSITES

            This is another one that gets people riled, especially right now in an increasingly polarized time.

            All conservatives are whacky right wing religious gun nuts.

            All liberals are dirty liberal weenies who secretly want a communist state.

            To some, there’s no in-between.

            The reality is far different.

            In the world of political thrillers, this gets to be a touchy subject because the bad guys usually have to lean one way or the other, or sometimes in a completely different extreme. The reader is then going to accuse the author of slanting one way or the other automatically, because of who the author made the bad guy. In this case, one automatically offends the other side even if it was just done for a good story.

            You can’t win either way unless you come up with some bizarre third party? Some people will still twist it around so you lose, no matter what!

            While this has to do with plot, it doesn’t necessarily include the individual characters. The individual characters can be portrayed as normal people and all the offense is with the plot. Maybe that mitigates things to some extent, maybe not.

WHAT’S THIS ALL MEAN?

            The fact is, in today’s cancel culture, there are going to be people trolling for this stuff. In a way, they’re out looking, spoiling for a fight. Inevitably, they’re going to find something no matter what you do, if you’re unlucky enough to be targeted. Fortunately, most of that is saved for the immediacy of social media and not books. After all, who wants to take time out of their day of outrage to read a book, rather than Tweets?

            Of course, I’m being facetious.

            On the other hand, as an author, I want to grab the largest and most diverse audience I can. I want to be the most inclusive I can. The last thing I want to do is offend anyone, intentionally or unintentionally.

            On the other hand, have I intentionally played to stereotypes? Sure, deliberately to make a bad guy bad, or to make a point. It’s not done with malice.

            I know that as my own race, I cannot realistically write a main character for another race. The best I can do is portray that diversity in my secondary and minor characters to the best of my ability.

            How do I do that?

            I’ve been on this planet a long time. I’ve had my ups and downs, seen a lot and learned a lot.

            I lived in both Spain and Turkey and have been exposed to some widely diverse cultures. I also grew up in a melting pot in Southern California. Not only that, I spent almost my entire adult life in Guv’mint service, and I’ve continually observed racial and cultural diversity as a matter of course and normalcy.

            I try to bring that to my writing.

            How?

            It’s very simple. When portraying people of different races and cultures I’ve learned a huge lesson that more isolated people may not realize.

            No matter who or what you are, people are still people.

            We all share the same basic DNA. We all share the same planet. We all share the same basic human experiences. We all breathe the same air.

            Outside of a few minor cosmetic and cultural differences, we’re still basically the same.

            There’s no avoiding it. We’re all human.

SUMMARY

            While you want your characters to be colorful and diverse and dynamic, do NOT forget that they are still people. Don’t get trapped into the world of stereotypes. That, my friends, is the quickest way to offend someone.

            Do NOT forget that basically, we’re all the same.

            Happy writing!

A CAUTIONARY TALE

August 19, 2020

Most people like to express their views. It’s a natural tendency. Why not? With the advent of social media, it’s even more prevalent than the old water cooler, or coffee shop, or bench in the park.

The thing about social media is that it’s completely unfiltered, not face-to-face, and somewhat anonymous. Plus, what one posts is not always reliable.

Given that, when one decides they want to become an author, their social media may come to haunt them. Notice I didn’t say come BACK to haunt them.

Why?

Because, quite often, authors never develop a separate media platform from their personal lives. Hence, when they speak their mind about sex, religion or politics, guess what?

            I’ve probably talked about this multiple times here on Fred Central, but I’m not even going to go back and look up the specific articles. I’d love if YOU did, but hey, this isn’t about that. This is a cautionary tale for you.

I HAVE A FELLOW AUTHOR FRIEND(S)…

            I have a fellow author friend (actually more than one, but I’m keeping it singular for simplicity) who published a book. It’s a great book. It should be a best-seller. However…

            My friend has very strong political beliefs and is not afraid to express them on his/her personal Facebook page.

            That’s fine and dandy.

            The issue is that this person also uses that same Facebook page as their author page.

            As soon as the book launched, this author got a one-star review, a very nasty one, that had nothing to do with the book. It was all about the person’s political views. While most who read reviews might disregard this review, on the other hand, if they read it and agree with the reviewer, they may never read the book, or anything else the author ever writes.

            I’ve seen this happen over and over again. I’ve been inspired to write this article, for once, not by the usual forum threads on Facebook, but because of the increasingly polarizing political views of Facebook friends and fellow authors.

            It just struck me as something that anyone with marketing savvy, of which I admit I’m no expert, would want to think about.

            I may not be the best at marketing, but I’m also not a complete dummy. I know how not to shoot myself in the foot.

TWO WORLDS

            You have to keep in mind that as an author, you live in two worlds. There’s your author world and your personal world.

            You need to separate them unless you are a political writer.

            I’ve said over and over again that as a reader, I cannot stand someone preaching to me in their writing, or being overtly political, even if I agree with them.

            When I read, I read to escape. Subtle is okay, but overt pisses me off.

            Sometimes I think I can tell an authors’ political stand by their writing. Quite often I can’t, and when I see something personal from them, I’m just as often surprised. This is good, because that means their writing has nothing to do with their personal biases.

            On the other hand, if I can tell from the first page how they lean, I’m just as likely to put the book down, or never pick it up in the first place.

            You need two worlds. An author world and a personal world.

OR…

            If you are bound and determined to use your personal Facebook page as your author page, it’s best to keep yourself neutral. Stay away from sex, religion and politics unless you want to alienate half if not more of your audience.

            IT’S CALLED MARKETING, DUMMY!

            The whole point of writing a book and getting it published is to sell it, right?

            If you want to sell it, you need customers.

            If you want customers, you need to sell said book from a neutral front. You need to attract an audience.

            It’s just like going to the supermarket and buying cereal (my bias is cereal right now because I’m about to eat breakfast as I write this).

            Do you name your cereal Catholic cereal? Is it cereal just for Baptists? Is it for women only? Is it cereal for Trump supporting conservatives? Is it cereal for liberals only?

            Doesn’t sound very commercially viable does it?

            If you’re trying to sell a fantasy, western, murder mystery, thriller, romance, why pigeon hole it by marketing it through a web presence full of political, sexual or religious posts that polarize so many different people?

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL LIFE SEPARATE

            Just like at work, at least for many of us, we have to keep our personal lives separate from our professional life.

            Of course, you don’t have to. You can do anything you want.

            However, of you expect, or care about selling books, it behooves you to set up a separate media platform whether a Facebook page or a completely different web site. Direct your fans and readers there. Limit your personal friends to those who agree with you!

HOW I DO IT

            I’m a hybrid.

            First off, during one of the last visits to my dad before he passed away, he told me some profound things. One was that he told me for the first time ever, some things about World War Two that he’d never told me before. I was shocked. It took forty-plus years for him to reveal these shocking details.

            Second, he gave me a bit of advice. Something that has stuck with me. It wasn’t the first time he told me this, but it was the first time I actually listened. He said that if I wanted to keep friends, never discuss sex, religion and politics.

            That piece of advice has always stuck with me, so I pretty much keep my feelings close to the vest. While I do discuss that stuff occasionally with close friends, I keep it rational and never post publicly.

            I have occasionally slipped and posted something on Facebook that might be considered political by some, but it’s always done as sarcasm, or humor, or once in a while, just plain frustration. Never to start anything.

            Hell, nobody’s perfect.

            To my point, besides keeping my personal page as neutral as possible, I also have two Facebook pages, one for each genre that I currently have published. If I start another genre, I’ll start another Facebook page. Besides that, I also have this, my web site. While my web site also contains other stuff like my personal astronomy and woodworking pages, it’s mainly for writing and books.

            Nothing political, about religion, or sex. I keep it neutral.

            You, as a reader, can feel safe coming to any of my sites knowing you’re not going to get badgered to death about something controversial. You’ll get a break from the torrent of politics and whatever on regular social media.

SUMMARY

            While some of my friends have let their voices be heard, many of them have ultimately paid the price in sales. That’s their call.

            As a new writer and author, I strongly suggest you separate your personal from professional life and be very picky who you let into your personal world.

            It’ll pay off in the long run.

            Happy writing!

SELF EDITING

August 12, 2020

            I talk about editing quite a bit here at Fred Central. Most recently I did this past May with my article Forest Through The Trees Two. THAT article was a repeat from 2012. There are many more.

            There’s a good reason I bring this subject to the forefront. It’s a major part of what we do as writers. Writing the story is only the first step. Writing chapters, scenes, paragraphs, sentences…these all have to be perfected before they can see the light of day (publication). The last thing we want to do is embarrass ourselves, alienate our audience, come off as amateurs (well those of us that care).

            The other day, a question came up from another do-it-yourself author.

            “What if I can’t afford an editor? What are the chances of doing all the editing myself?”

            Something to that effect.

            Needless to say, but I will anyway, most of the responses told this person it just doesn’t work that well, if at all. Without a second set of eyes, no matter how good you think you are, you can’t see the forest through the trees (or words to that effect).

            Here we go again.

THERE’S SAVING MONEY AND THEN THERE’S CHEAP

            The market is flooded with self-published books. Most of them are easy to spot from the cover alone. The artwork is cheesy and atrocious. That’s a red flag. Given the author somehow has an artistic flare, and slips one out that gets through the cracks, what about what’s inside?

            I’ve had the unfortunate experience of purchasing questionable self-published icky bug stories, since that’s usually all I’ll buy sight unseen (except I DO check the “what’s inside” sample on Amazon for third person, past-tense).

            After reading a few chapters, it becomes readily apparent that the author self-edited their masterpiece. Not only is the spelling syntax and punctuation out there, but the point of view is usually out of control. Then there are often plot threads that go nowhere, plenty of things that don’t make sense, and many times a conclusion that’s stupid or left hanging with no satisfaction. Oh, and let’s not forget excess backstory. Why is it people insist on so much backstory. Why not just start the story with the backstory and work forward?

            Sometimes some of these things are found in EDITED stories, but not as rampant. When you go cheap and have no second set of eyes, you’re blind to your own work. What you see on the page isn’t necessarily what you actually wrote.

THE UGLY TRUTH

            The ugly truth is that you can only cut so many corners. A big selling point is the cover, but some people are not all that concerned with the cover.

            A catchy title is key for some, but that can be fudged to some extent.

            What will kill you is between the front and back cover.

            If the text is crap, you’ll gain no audience, or at the least, severely impede your potential audience. Sure, I’ve seen some horribly written EDITED stories be huge hits because they touched on hot-button topics. They’re rare, but not unheard of.

            Most of the time though, the MAJORITY of the time, I emphasize, your story will have to grow, slowly pick up an audience on the merits of your writing. That means your message must be clear. For it to be clear, it needs to be properly and well edited.

            YOU CANNOT DO THAT ALL BY YOURSELF.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO CUT CORNERS, DON’T DO IT WITH EDITING!

            I cannot emphasize enough how bad an idea it is to self-edit an entire book.

            You only see what you INTENDED, not what you WROTE!

            Your mind fills in the blanks, regardless of what you wrote. It takes a SECOND SET OF EYES, maybe more to catch the things you cannot see.

            Sure, editors cost, but it’s worth it to find a good one. That’s one of the best investments you can make.

BETA READERS

            Initially, if you want to go on the cheap, you can at least start with beta readers. Unless you live in a cave somewhere, or are a hermit, find a few beta readers willing to go through your manuscript and give it a run-through. Let them give you honest feedback on what might be fixed. That can give you insight on major and even minor issues to fix before you seek out an editor.

WRITERS CRITIQUE GROUP

            If you’re in an area with a writers critique group, join and if they’re a good positive group, read your stuff to them and get feedback. This type of group can be invaluable.

LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR

            If part of the reason you don’t want to get edited is not only to save money, but because you can’t take the criticism, or are “too shy,” or whatever, leave your ego at the door. Just think of how reviewers are going to tear your precious “best book in the universe” apart when you get it posted to the world?

SUMMARY

            In my case, I pitched and queried and was persistent. I used a little of everything and finally, after a long time, since I refused to self-publish, I landed a traditional publisher with a small press. I never paid a dime for editing. I had beta readers, read most of my entire manuscripts to my writer’s group, and self-edited. Through my self-editing, I discovered what I’m blind to, and always will be. I know my limits. You should too.

            Happy writing!

RESURRECTING AN OLD FRIEND

August 5, 2020

            The other day, I was purging file cabinets and shredding files. In one of them I found most of my old rejection letters. Not all 691 of them, of course, but a lot of them. As a bonus, I was able to tear off the cancelled (and some not used yet) stamps. While I have long given up on my regular stamp collecting, one never knows, but I digress. Besides the rejection letters, I also found more examples than I expected of old manuscripts. I think I printed them for friends, beta readers, just to have hard copies, or whatever. Needless to say, when I now have copies of the books published sitting in a box right next to me, there’s no need for an obsolete manuscript! It’s not like I’m Clive Cussler who had so many fans, he was giving out copies of rough edited manuscript pages at one time. Besides, what I have published now is so different in quality compared to the original that I’d rather it not be out there, considering how much more refined my chops are now.

            Amongst all of those manuscripts, I ran across a binder with the entire, hand edited copy of The Cave.

            As some of you hard-core fans may know, The Cave was the very first novel I ever wrote. My usual quote is that “The Cave will never see the light of day.”

            Why?

            My perception then was that while it holds affection as the very first one, it’s also before I knew what I was doing, therefore it’s probably so bad it’s beyond resurrecting.

LO AND BEHOLD

            Since I had this hard copy in my hands, before I shredded it, I wanted to make sure I still had a viable copy on the computer. THIS COMPUTER.

            When I pulled up the copy that has been transferred from computer to computer since 1995, it at least pulled up on the screen. However, the version of Word was so old that it wasn’t editable. In fact, it was so old that it wouldn’t even resave as the current version!

            What to do?

            The only thing I could do was select all (at least it would let me do that), and then paste all 82K+ words into a brand new file in the current version of Word. Therefore, The Cave, written in early 1995, now has a modern compatible and editable version readily available.

            Why should I bother?

            Lo and behold, before I even did this, I compared side-by side a few samples from the printed version to the old file and found they matched. Turns out, the last time I edited it (way back when), the version I printed WAS the last edit. I cannot recall who did the edit for me. Unfortunately, their name is nowhere on the sticky notes or the write-in edits.

A DISCOVERY

            Digging a little deeper, I noticed something. While the manuscript needs obvious work, on first blush in twenty-five years, it isn’t nearly as bad as I recalled.

            Without a complete read-through, I don’t know for sure, but The Cave almost looks like it might indeed be salvageable. If so, that means I might be able to add another genre to my growing resume. Science Fiction/thriller. Well, at least, that’s the sort of genre so far. I’ll have to go through it again to make a determination as to whether that’s a solid category or not.

JUST THINK

            I’ve said this many times before. I’ve never trashed an MS. I never really trashed The Cave. I didn’t take advantage of it because I didn’t think it was up to snuff. However, on second thought, after some sample paragraphs, there might be some life to it. If I’d really trashed it, I would’ve deleted the files.

            I DO have a few stories I’ve started but never completed yet. Why? I got distracted by other more pressing things. Those half-started stories will be completed someday, just not today. They don’t have a priority. That’s not my usual pattern, but a few times in my life, I’ve veered from my writing technique (one book at a time) due to life. Until recently, I’d forgot all about those.

            Just think, The Cave might be another book under my belt. Don’t get your hopes up yet. I still have to read through it all the way, then see if I had too much wishful thinking. However, it’s something I can work on between my other books and before I get my nose down deep into the third Meleena book again.

SUMMARY

            Never trash anything you’ve done!

            Never trash anything you’ve completed.

            Set it aside for however long it takes you to go back with fresh eyes. Later, it still may not be a winner, but maybe once again, by waiting, you’ll have better chops, have learned a few things, had more life experiences, something that makes you better prepared to fix or even just tweak that “hopeless” story you were so ready to dismiss.

            Will I be successful with The Cave?

            Maybe not, but at least I can give it a more experienced try. After all, it’s been twenty-five years.

            Happy writing!

WORD COUNT REVISITED

July 29, 2020

INTRO

            Quite often, word count comes up on the Facebook forums. I last wrote about it in 2018 with this article, Word Count. The other day, I finished the first draft of my third Meleena book, Across The Endless Sea, so I figured now would be a good time to resurrect the subject.

I was recently asked a question about word count. I get that quite often. There are “rules” of word counts floating around out there. 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.” Aaaargh!

            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. The object you’re trying to look for has a magnitude of such and such, which is well within range of your telescope. However, you cannot see it. What’s up?

            There are other factors at play.

            Just like with word count.

WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON?

            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?

WHAT ABOUT THE “RULES?”

            Over the years, variations of the “rules” have been published in various forms. However, they’ve not only been fluid, but have contradicted 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’re in no way set in stone.

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

WHAT ARE AGENTS REALLY LOOKING FOR?

            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 (or how many are left nowadays). There are, of course, first-time author exceptions from indie publishers, 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 convey 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.

            Why?

            Back to what I said before.

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

MY EXAMPLE

            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?

WHAT IF YOU’RE TOO SHORT?

            So far, I’ve mostly been alluding to manuscripts that are too long, at least indirectly. However, what 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.

            Like I said at the beginning of this essay, I just finished the first draft of Across The Endless Sea. Right now, it sits at 135,418 words. Since this will be either the fifth or sixth book with my publisher, as an established series (the third in my fantasy series), I’m within the ballpark already. However, I KNOW it’s got some bloat. After all, it’s a first draft. There are things I can probably cut that won’t affect the story. Maybe not. Maybe I can correct a few commas and it will be perfect. Yeah, sure! I’ve been at this passion way too long to believe that.

            What I DO know is I don’t need to add a bunch to it. I’m set on that front.

            Happy writing!

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

July 21, 2020

INTRO

            I’ve talked about this in 2013 and as recently as 2018. I thought it worth revisiting again since it’s come up multiple times on the Facebook forums.

            Yeah, you hear me quoting Facebook a lot here at Fred Central. Especially since COVID, that’s the main way to communicate besides Zoom or some other remote forum app. Little if anything is done in person anymore. In fact, going back, a lot of my articles were inspired by forums anyway, if not from my writer’s group meetings or our annual writer’s conference. While some people deplore Facebook, it does have it’s merits when it comes to open forums, if they’re properly monitored.

            Where was I?

            While I AM going to repeat info I’ve conveyed before, I’ve been inspired to add to that. There’s stuff I failed to mention before when it comes to naming your characters. Without further adieu, let’s get going.

WHERE TO START?

            It may seem like an easy task to come up with character names for your story, whether they’re fictional or real (and you generally have to use fictional names to protect the innocent or avoid lawsuits) (more on this later). You can pull the names out of a hat, out of the air, or mix and match them from a baby name book if you want. Maybe you can pull them randomly out of the phone book. Some well-known authors even run contests to publish fan names in their novels. As new writers, you probably don’t have a fan base for that purpose, so you’ll have to rely on other means.

            Most of us, I imagine, pull them out of the air, probably inspired, like me, from random people and events around us at the time. Maybe they’re from something that happened in our past.

            The inspiration for the name (not the actual character) Joseph “Detach” Datchuk, the main character in my Gold series, came from a guy I knew in elementary school.

            On the other hand, in that same series, I pulled Mildred Pierce out of the air. It wasn’t until almost nine years later that I learned she was the name of a very famous character in a novel from the 40’s that I’d never heard of. That was purely coincidental.

            Meleena, from my fantasy series is completely made up. I’d never heard of anyone with that name until recently when I discovered a disc jockey on Sirius XM radio with a similar, but different spelled version of that name.

NO BEARING ON REALITY

            I must make one thing very clear. These character names, even if inspired by real people, have no bearing on the real people! One has nothing to do with the other. The kid I got the name Detach from in no way resembles the character in my novel in either appearance or personality. The same for Mildred Pierce, or any other character I’ve named, so far at least. Maybe someday, the fan that wants to be in one of my books will get a little piece of their appearance or personality added to a character. Not much, but maybe a tiny bit, as a tribute.

            I could go on and on. For you, sometimes you just hit it right and sometimes without realizing it, you nail some famous or infamous name and don’t know until someone tells you about it. As for Mildred Pierce, she’s a sidekick in the Gold series and I’m very fond of her. I have no intention of changing her name. I may throw in a comment about the famous novel but maybe not. There are probably hundreds of women named Mildred Pierce, so I don’t see changing it. It’s not like her character is named Angelina Jolie. That would be too unique to get away with.

FANTASY NAMES – PITFALLS

            An issue with making up names, especially in fantasy and science fiction worlds (world building) are similar sounding names. During a recent Facebook forum, this exact subject came up. My response was part of the following, but a shortened version. Below is the long version.

The subject of similar sounding names came up in Meleena’s Adventures – Gods Of The Blue Mountains. The main character is, of course, Meleena. That name is totally unique. In this first sequel, she’s hanging with a female Elf I’ve been calling Alinda. One of my critiquing friends pointed out that Meleena and Alinda sounded too much alike. I referred to my handy-dandy Meleena’s Adventures encyclopedia. I hadn’t alphabetized it yet, which prompted some much needed housekeeping. I have sections for names, places, creatures and things. It was enough of a sidetrack just to get through reordering the names. With that done, I went through every character name, one-by-one, from both books. Since then, I’ve added more from the third book as well. Since Alinda and Meleena did sound a lot alike, I had to find something unique, something that didn’t sound like any of the other common character names. It wasn’t long before I settled on Niin. There’s no other name like it. Where did I come up with it? I pulled it out of the air. I could’ve spent all day doing the same with random names, but that was honestly the first one that popped into my head. No indecision, no agony or worrying. Guess I just got lucky.

            When you’re creating names for your story, similarity must be a consideration. Sound-alike names tend to confuse the reader. After a while, readers may not be able to distinguish between characters and that’ll weaken the impact of your prose. Each name should be different and distinctive. Alphabetizing my encyclopedia, which I should’ve done a long before this point, helped me see the big picture. It’s especially important in fantasy world building, where I have to make up names. I can’t be using Karl and Joe and Fred.

            In a conventional novel, you don’t want your common characters to be named Ted and Fred and Jed. Or Jan and Fran and Nan. That would drive a reader nuts, and it wouldn’t be long before they’d lose track of who’s who.

            There should be a distinct difference between names.

COMING UP WITH THESE NAMES

            Where do I come up with these quirky fantasy names in the first place?

            Maybe that goes with my fascination with foreign languages. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been keen on foreign tongues. Then, as an adult, I lived overseas and was exposed to multiple foreign languages. I got used to alternative tongues, accents, spelling and such. Making up my own words and names is no big deal. In fact, I’ve seen that in plenty of other fantasy authors. I can’t vouch for how easy they came up with the names, but they do.

            Over the years, on multiple threads on the Facebook fantasy site, many people have polled the forum for ideas for names. While that’s one way, to me, these names should come from you, the writer, not from others. If someone else gives you the name, then it’s their idea, not yours. You don’t completely own it. Of course, if you take their name, modify it to make it your own, you could say you came up with it, but I, personally, wouldn’t want that. That’s just me.

            However, you have to do whatever works for you, and if polling others is the method that gets you there, go for it.

EASY TO PRONOUNCE

            The final thought on made up names is to make the names easy to pronounce. Don’t have them tongue twisters that need pronunciation guides just to figure out. Words with lots of punctuation, or with “French” or Gaelic spellings that don’t correspond to how they’re pronounced in English isn’t a good idea either. Okay, maybe a little, but only one or two…maybe. Give the name, how it’s pronounced, and leave it at that. Don’t have a whole bunch of names like that, or the reader is going to skip over them and blank out your “finely crafted artistic expressions.” I know I would. In fact, I often just make up my own pronunciation, regardless of what the author says.

Sometimes getting hung up on a pronunciation can be a distraction too. This can be a major way to jerk a person out of the story.

WHAT ABOUT REAL-WORLD PEOPLE IN AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OR NON-FICTION STORY?

            When you’re writing an autobiography or real-world historical story, things can get tricky. If your story requires you to use real people, you must be aware of possible lawsuits and slander and the whole gamut of real issues. Even using someone’s name supposedly in an innocent fashion can lead to major heartache if the person doesn’t want their name in print. It’s a lot more difficult to vet something like that. In some cases, it might be better to substitute fictitious names rather than deal with all the legal implications.

SUMMARY

            Whatever the case, naming characters can be fun or a real headache, depending on how you want to approach the issue.

            Happy writing!

VAMPIRES NEED THEIR OWN GENRE

July 15, 2020

            Okay. What brought up this rather brilliant (maybe…read on) bit of marketing and categorization was a bit of misdirection that fooled me recently.

            Some that know me are aware that I’m no big fan of vampires. I never have been, even from the times when Bela Lugosi was still alive. Yeah, I’m THAT old.

            For some reason, of all the icky bugs in horror, those particular monsters have never clicked with me.

            Over the generations, vampires have gone through stages from the horror inducing fanged suit-wearing Dracula to the sparkly whatevers of Stephanie Meyer. In-between those have been a slew of variants as people have indulged in their passion for the bloodthirsty icky bugs (monsters).

            However, two things have stayed true to this day.

            Vampires have almost always been classified in the horror, romance or fantasy categories.

            I’m not a fan.

            Of course, the second one is completely off the map to the rest of the world. Then again, I can’t be the only one that either never was a fan, or is by now, so sick of them they want to scream at the thought!

THE FINAL STRAW?

            Well, there were actually two, but the most recent was a reminder of the first.

            Before I digress, let me give you the most recent.

            While browsing the science fiction/fantasy section of Barnes & Noble, I ran across an intriguing series of books (well, two so far) by this British author. The description or back cover blurb and the endorsements gave a different impression of what I actually got once I read them.

            While the first book was okay, about a third of the way through the second book, in my opinion, it “devolved” into “another one of those.” In other words, it turned into a vampire story.

            I almost put it down.

            The writing was okay, but a bit tedious. I was willing to go along with that, given it had some intriguing icky bugs. That is…until the vampires showed up. Then things went downhill. Nowhere on the back cover blurb did it say anything about vampires. Otherwise, I probably…no I never would’ve picked up the series in the first place. I can just bet that from now on, the series will continue with vampires. They always do, not to be too cynical.

            Now, on to the first incident. About three decades ago, I read a great UFO series which will remain nameless because I know the author (who I met at one of our writer’s conferences). I enjoyed about a dozen of the books. When it came to the grand finale, the last novel in the series where the aliens finally arrived, the author ruined it for me. Why? Yup, you guessed it. Vampires! Aaagh! Shot down the entire series. I was SOOO disappointed. I let him know it too. He just shrugged it off and told me he had to end it some way, and that’s the way he swung at the time. Oh well…

            Nowhere in that entire series was there any kind of hint that this was all going to be a vampire story. Not a hint.

MY SOLUTION

            While there HAVE been a select few vampire stories I loved for a change, they’re as rare as hen’s teeth, and no apologies for the cliché. They Hunger by Scott Nicholson was a good example. In this one, the vampires were true and savage icky bugs.

            So, what to do? How about a bit of categorization and truth in advertising?

            In other words, make a specific category for vampire fiction?

            That’s right.

            While they have romance and horror and western and fantasy. How about a genre specifically for vampire fiction? Let it cover all the sub-genres that go with it like horror, romance, fantasy, western, what have you.

            By doing that, nobody will be fooled again, and those of us that just can’t stand vampires, no matter what form they take, won’t have to suffer though some story only to find out it’s about vampires!

AM I SERIOUS?

            I’m only being partially facetious here.

            The issue is that the bookstores, whether they be brick and mortar, or on line, tend to lump just about everything they can into as simple a category as they can because of marketing.

            The more they break it down, the more they have to categorize things and the more complicated things get when they try to shelve books.

            Why is this a problem?

            When authors don’t follow the rules of creativity!

            That’s right. When authors mix genres, then what are the bookstores to do? How are they going to shelve a book that mixes fantasy with vampire and horror and western?

            What shelf would that go on?

SUMMARY

            While this all sounds like a rant for nothing, I only bring it up because you, as writers, will run across this when you write anything at all. Be prepared, because you’re going to be creative. You’re going to write what you want, and when you’re dun didded, what’re you left with?

            Does your story fit neatly into mystery, western, fantasy, romance, horror?

            Are you a pure genre writer, or…does it fit into a sub-category?

            Does it mix those elements and sub-elements?

            When YOU, AS A READER, go to the bookstore and get upset because you find a romance in the SYFY section, because it’s BOTH, who are you going to get upset with?

            All I can say is that it can be a tough call for a publisher and a bookseller to categorize mixed-genre stories. It’s even worse to sub-categorize them, so basically, they don’t. That’s probably one reason the filters on the likes of Amazon or other on-line sites are not all that great. Ever wonder why those “If you liked this book you may like…” lists of books are at the bottom of the screen are there? They may be similar, but step carefully.

            To me, my take is that as an author, you should use truth in advertising, especially with the back cover blurb. Also when submitting to a publisher, you need to know what genre you’re writing because if you don’t know, how are they going to know?

            In today’s times, books are lumped into too few general categories so it’s up to us, as authors, to use the back cover blurb to let the reader know the specifics. All the publisher can do is give the bookseller the general category of where to shelve the book. We need to help the reader by giving them a decent idea of what they’re about to buy beyond the basic genre.

In my case, I would sincerely appreciate that if your story’s about vampires, you state so! It’ll save some grief for those of us that are not fans. That goes for any genre, pure or mixed.

            Happy writing!