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SHOULD YOU HAVE RELIGION IN YOUR WORLD?

November 3, 2021

            I’ve discussed religion in your writing in both 2017 and 2019, but it keeps coming up in the Facebook (and no, I still won’t call it Meta) forums. While I harken back to (mainly) the 2019 article, I’m also going for my latest take on the subject, which is really how I’ve always felt about using religion in a story (or otherwise) context.

            In world building, I discussed that you cannot forget about “relijjin.” Yup, that often uncomfortable subject that quite often gets people riled up, fired up, on their toes and ready to rumble. There are many ways to use belief systems that color a world. This not only applies to fantasy, but real world stories as well.

WHY USE RELIGION AT ALL?

            There’s no rule book that says you have to use religion in any book you write. It’s purely a matter of taste and whether the story calls for it. It can be a matter of plot or just color. If neither calls for it, don’t add it “juss cuz.” There has to be a reason. On the other hand, if you’re creating a world, such as in fantasy, it adds more realism and color to have real-world cultural thingies like religion, just as there are different languages.

            If you’re a super-religious person, you may think religion goes hand-in-hand with whatever you’re writing about. However, it can also be a huge turnoff for a lot of readers. To gain a wider audience, it’s better to stay neutral.

REAL-WORLD FICTION

            This plays into regions as much as the characters you utilize in the story. If you’re story is in South America, Catholicism is going to play into local religion and culture. If you’re in the Middle East, Islam is going to be hard to avoid.

            Here in the You Ess And A, it can be a mixed bag of beliefs and you can go with one of hundreds of beliefs based on region, or any grab bag you want.

            You can disregard religion if you choose. It doesn’t have to be part of your world.

            I must mention that by religion, this could also include atheism, agnostic, and non-religious beliefs, because after all, they are beliefs – philosophies of life. If they somehow play a key role in the story, use them.

FANTASY OR SCIENCE FICTION WORLDS

            In world building for fantasy and science fiction, religion and belief systems are hard to ignore when creating your world. They’re integral parts of almost any society. With that comes the complexity of rules, prejudices, rituals, icons, and all the trappings. How far you want to go with it (or not) is up to you.

            Does said religion dominate the story?

            Does it only play a minor role?

            Does this religion affect the plot?

            Is this religion just color?

IS THE RELIGION OR LACK THEREOF A POLITICAL OR PHILOSOPHICAL STATEMENT?

            This is where things get dicey.

            It’s one thing to add real-world authenticity to your story, regardless of genre. It’s quite another to add an agenda. If it’s simply reflecting your observations of the world, fine.

            If you have an agenda, watch out.

            If you’re out to preach, you could alienate a lot of readers.

            You have to step carefully when you add in a religion and start doing stuff with it that comes off not only as preachy, but promoting a specific agenda.

            If you slip in a bit of philosophy, and don’t shove it down the reader’s throat, that’s one thing.

            If you bludgeon them over the head with it, jerk them out of the story with blatant preaching or bashing, you’ve not only violated their trust, but alienated them as future readers.

UNINTENDED/INTENDED CONSEQUENCES

            What you now have done is made yourself a pariah.

            What’s worse is if you’re so religious, you’re blind to what you’re doing. When someone points it out to you and you get upset/freak out because someone illustrates what’ll happen, you do nothing to change it. Your book fails to sell, and you become a pariah, labeled as a religious nut. I’ve seen it happen before.

            Some embrace that and your book does succeed in a niche market. However, a few have seen the light and changed their tune and had success in the conventional market.

Whether a niche is for the better for them is hard to say. It all depends on what their original goal is or was. For some, preaching was their point all along.

SUMMARY

            Religion can be used to great effect to color your world. It can also be avoided if so desired. Either way, if used correctly, it’s a tool to help your world come to life. Used incorrectly, it can ruin a good thing.

            Choose wisely, Grasshopper!

            Happy writing!

COMBAT REALISM IN A FANTASY WORLD

October 27, 2021

            After participating in IST (International Steel Tournament) at the Ren Faire in Las Vegas last week, I was able to once again, do unintentional research into medieval combat. Once in a while, someone on one of the Facebook fantasy forums asks a question about combat with weapons or armor. In a nutshell, the way it’s portrayed in a story versus the real world is far different. The same could be said for movies.

            Given the era most fantasy is set in, armor, swords, maces, bows and the like go with the flora, fauna, and icky bugs. It’s part of the deal. Just like the flora and fauna, there’s usually only a touch of realism, if any at all.

ARMOR

            Have you ever seen anyone in real armor?

            What does real chain mail look like or how much does it weigh?

            How about studded leather?

            Plate?

            A mix?

            The reality is a lot different from what you might expect, and don’t go by what you see in the movies either. Remember that most movies are an illusion! Some of that stuff you see on screen might be rubber or plastic or aluminum!

            Armor, at least the real stuff, is heavy, awkward, and extremely uncomfortable to wear. It takes a very strong person to be able to wear it for any length of time. To travel long distances and to be able to move with any dexterity? Well…

            So, how do we portray our characters all decked out in such stuff in our stories?

            Yeah, I thought so.

WEAPONS

            Ever actually held a bastard sword?

            A two-handed sword?

            A mace?

            A lance?

            Any idea how heavy and awkward these weapons are?

            Now think of the actors in movies twirling these huge hunks of metal around like they’re made of plastic.

            Bingo.

            In real life, just think of your hero not only lugging your huge weapon around, but then whipping it out to slay the latest icky bug.

HORSES OR SAID RIDING BEASTS

            Now many portray their riding beast decked out in armor. Even if so, consider mounting that poor beast saddled in something that heavy. Then consider you mounting it decked out in your own armor, along with your favorite weapon.

            Need I say more?

            I will anyway.

            In the Alcazar de Segovia in Spain, there’s a room with a display of a fighter in full plate sitting on a horse in full plate. I really feel for the poor horse, which is a special breed strong enough to be able to handle the weight. The fighter has to be lifted onto the hose with a crane.

            That’s right.

            A crane.

            That’s the reality of armor, let alone holding any kind of serious weapon.

SOLUTIONS

            Of course, the solutions are that first off, your world is fantasy, so the laws of physics simply don’t apply.

            Second, your characters are unbelievably stronger than humans even if they are human. Or, they can be of other races that are stronger than humans.

            Third, the cure-all for many such things is magic, or in my world, magick.

            Fourth, fantasy metals such as mithril or something you made up on your own which is stronger and lighter than real-world metals.

            There are many ways to skip the laws of real-world physics to make it all work.

FROM FANTASY TO REAL-WORLD SCENARIOS

            This issue with armor and weapons isn’t just for fantasy settings.

            The difference is that in a real-world setting, you must explain how the character overcomes the physical issues with some kind of technology. That’s something that in fantasy you can explain away (or not) with magick or whatever. In a real-world setting, you’re bound by reality. In the case if a real-world medieval setting, uh oh, you’d better do your research! With combat fighting in armor and with swords and such, it’s a lot different from what you might think! There were many huge battles fought but they were not often what was pictured in the movies.

            Be sure to check the reality first before plunging in.

            A good Ren Faire is a great place to start!

            Happy writing!

DO YOU NEED ROMANCE IN YOUR STORY?

October 20, 2021

            The other day, a question came up on one of the fantasy forums about whether it’s required to have a romance thread in every fantasy forum.

            That brings up the bigger question.

            Do you, as an author, need to bring up a romance thread in any story you write?

            Before I give my personal answer, let’s look at romance and its ins and outs.

ROMANCE

            Romance is the affectionate and emotional attraction between two people. It can lead to mental or physical interplay. Sounds like a mouthful, but that’s basically what it is.

            It’s especially attractive to the female gender, but only especially, because it’s not exclusive to female readers. Some of all sexes and persuasions expect it in whatever they read.

            There are those that do not.

THE TROPE

            Romance can be a trope, well-overused by some. I think that’s what the poster was talking about in the fantasy forum.

            There’s nothing mandatory about having romance in any story except the romance genre. In any other genre, it’s almost obligatory, but can also be considered cliché and a trope. In some genres, it’s an inconvenience and an annoyance. In some genres it has no place at all.

            Yet, that never stops writers from including it if they so desire.

ATTRACTION BETWEEN PEOPLE

            When you’re displaying emotional connections between people in a story, there can’t help but be attractions, both emotional and sometimes physical. It’s how far you want to take it. In some cases, depending on how intense the story goes, this attraction may never get beyond the mildest flirting or inner unspoken feelings. In other cases, it may go beyond into real, spoken and even the physical.

            It all depends on what the story calls for or where you, as the writer, want it to go.

            Romance has its place, but are you prepared for it?

ROMANCE CAN BE AWKWARD

            If you don’t know what you’re doing, or are not feeling it, even if you draw your story into a corner where a romantic entanglement becomes inevitable, maybe you just don’t have the chops to pull it off. Then, it either becomes porn, flat, or decidedly unromantic. Or it may come off as blatantly cliché in which case it’ll be awkward and insincere to your audience.

            This is where romance is likely to not have any place in your story and you’re probably better off steering clear of it and better to go for your forte, whatever that may be.

            Or, you can seek out a forum or a training session on writing it effectively, if it’s something you really need to include in your story.

            The thing is, does it really need to be there?

MY STORY

            I’m not a huge fan of romance.

            The thing for me is that when I read a book and there are romantic scenes, I tend to skip them, or scan them just to see if there’s some key plot element I need for future reference.

            Not my thing.

            So, with that in mind, why would I write it?

            A few of my stories have a mild bit of romance, dancing around it a bit, but only one has anything specific in it. That manuscript isn’t published yet.

            I want to leave the heavy stuff for the authors that have the expertise.

            If I wanted to get into some heavy romantic scenes, I know just the person and the sessions where I could learn to do it effectively. The thing is that I have no interest in it.

            I repeat, not my thing.

SUMMARY

            Romance is a biological and emotional part of life. Yet, there’s not a rule or law that says you have to write it into every story. It’s entirely up to you whether you want to include it into yours.

            If you do, make sure you know what you’re doing, Grasshopper.

            Happy writing!

FEELING LITERARILY ISOLATED?

October 13, 2021

            I guess it had to dawn on me one day, if not finally sink in with something I already knew.

            What I write and read isn’t mainstream.

            Yeah, a big revelation.

            I “literally” read a book a week if not more. I’ve so far published four of the dozen novels I’ve written so far, not counting the others I’ve started, plus dozens more short stories. Out of all that, when I look at the publications I read either on line or in print, when it comes to representation in their book sections, mentioning anything close to what I read or write is extremely remote.

EXAMPLES

            To be specific, let’s talk two examples. Entertainment Magazine and the MSN.com web site. While other sources may have book sections, which I’ve checked out on occasion with the same result, these are the two I stick with for mainly other reasons. Okay, it’s a limited selection and in no way represents the big picture. There are other probably better publications to go to for books, but these two, at least as a sample, give a picture of what a lot of people look at when they sample what’s available in books. These are popular publications.

            Now, keep in mind that they’re not the only ones and I HAVE sampled others, but for various reasons, I have not taken a shine to them. Given genre, I could go for icky bug for instance and I’m sure there are plenty of horror publications on the magazine rack that have book sections if I want to be plastered with Stephen King and Stephen King and Stephen King. Of course, I’m being sarcastic, but there are other great icky bug authors I’m sure are represented.

            The same could be said for fantasy publications, or western or maybe even thrillers or romance.

            The thing is that they’re too specific and isolated.

            When it comes to mainstream and generic, something like Entertainment and MSN.com should cover all the bases but what they do cover is not even close.

            Okay, they cover Stephen King, which I don’t read, but even THEY never get to people like Dean Koontz, Preston & Child, Lee Child, David Baldacci, or hardly any other thriller writer except on very rare occasions. When they do, you’ll get a micro-sized blurb for some new book they have, or something controversial they said.

            In fact, to prove my point, the last time any of those writers ever got mentioned was when Lee Child said something controversial about something.

Even Stephen King doesn’t get much of a spread.

            It’s all literary stuff and new voices and causes and well, definitely great stuff if you’re into a certain type of cause-based literature. However, if you’re a genre writer who’s just some schmuck writing, as in the little guy or gal, an indie, self-published, with a small press, or a “ding ding” regular non-millenial thriller writer, someone without a cause, forget it.

            I’m not saying those of us off the beaten path are not all older, younger, millennials, gen Xers or whatever, we just don’t fit into the literary or cause categories these publications go for.

            I read MSN.com daily. I read Entertainment whenever they bother to mail me one, which is hardly worth the price considering the inconsistent delivery. The long story on that is that I somehow got a subscription to it years ago and many times, metaphorically, can read what I’m interested in by the time I walk in from the mailbox. That’s another story in itself. Somehow, I still end up getting it and browsing it just to check to see if there’s anything remotely interesting in it, which most of the time there’s not. Yet, I still keep getting it. Go figure. I always check the book section and am always disappointed.

ISOLATED?

            Do I feel isolated?

            Do I care?

            I suppose I could seek out other magazines or web sites that cater to my specific interests. Then I wouldn’t be going mainstream but would be in my bubble. Is that a good thing?

            Last, I want to say that I’m not complaining, just making a point to all of you who may feel the same way if you happen to think about what you’re doing and get stuck in a rut, or are looking in the wrong places.

            I’m not. I just happen to notice these things in publications I read for other reasons. I don’t take what they say seriously because I have as much interest in what they say about books as I do in watching tumbleweeds cross the road. Just something to avoid so they don’t get tangled up in the engine.

            I need my engine clear so it doesn’t overheat or bog down.

            Do I feel isolated from the mainstream?

            I never considered myself part of the mainstream to begin with. I cringe at the thought.

            You need to think about that when you read a mainstream publication. You need to think about that if you never see any book mentioned that you’re even remotely interested in. Does that mean you’re not writing the right thing?

            No.

            It means you’re not looking in the right publication.

            Seek them out unless you have no interest in those publications for other reasons.

            Maybe, just out of curiosity, check out one of those genre magazines and see what’s cooking in your field of interest. You might be surprised and find you’re not alone. Your favorite authors might have been there all along.

            Happy writing!

TAKING A HIATUS FROM WRITING

October 6, 2021

            Of course, this subject came up on the Facebook forums so I had to think about it after I gave my own answer.

            As a writer, one has to ask, why would you take a hiatus from writing?

            There are many reasons this might occur. I’m going to delve into that a bit.

WHY WRITE IN THE FIRST PLACE?

            I’m making a big assumption here, given my personal feelings about writing. To me, it’s a passion and not just a passing interest or a hobby. Therefore, if you’re like me, it’s something we have to do. There’s no room for a hiatus. There are times when we may not physically be able to due to unforeseen circumstances, but that’s NOT a hiatus. That’s life – not the same thing.

            A hiatus is a break, a respite to get away from it for one reason or another.

WHAT IS A HIATUS?

            I’m not going to go into the technical definitions from the dictionary, but for our intents and purposes, a hiatus is taking a break from writing. As I said above, this is NOT due to unforeseen circumstances, this is a break because one does not FEEL like writing for whatever reason.

UNDERLYING CAUSES

            BOREDOM – Oh please! This one is all too common, especially in today’s world of impatience and immediate gratification. A writer may hit a few roadblocks, or a bit of a creativity issue and get bored with the whole thing. The immediate gratification isn’t there. Time to take a hiatus and navel gaze for a while.

            LOST THE MUSE – This goes right along with boredom in that the writer is out of ideas for the moment and doesn’t know where to go with their story. Instead of starting something else, or maybe because they struggled with starting their initial idea in the first place, they just stop and take a hiatus.

            FRUSTRATION WITH THE BUSINESS – Oh, geez. Think even established writers are immune to this? As a writer for the past 26 years, the business is an annoying side-effect of what I do but not the main thing. For some, they cannot overcome the business side and it stifles their will to write so they take a hiatus to get away from it all.

            ABILITY TO HONE THEIR CHOPS – Some people just don’t pick up the skills (or think they do) as well as others. Some genuinely don’t get it as well as others, while some can write just fine but don’t think they do. Some will never be happy with what they write no matter what. The mix is there. The ones that can’t take the stress take a hiatus to get away from it all.

            OTHER THINGS – There are a myriad of other excuses to take a hiatus from writing, but those are the biggies. Remember, this is NOT about physical and mental things that stop you for non-writing reasons.

WHAT DO I DO?

            In 26 years so far, I have NEVER taken a hiatus from writing. As long as I’ve had a computer available to type, I’ve written. I’ve been in some pretty unusual circumstances over that time span and have still managed to write. Stress, moving, illness, temporary housing and whatever have never stopped me. I still write. It may not always be the latest MS, but it’s something almost daily. It could be a review, posts on Facebook, a short story or a new novel. Something.

            Back in 1995 when I discovered writing was a passion, I was dead serious that it was a passion and not a hobby. That’s me. I’m not you.

SHOULD YOU TAKE A HIATUS?

            A hiatus from writing is a break, a vacation from writing.

            Is it a break from some frustration? A chance to recharge your batteries? Is it a way to avoid some issue you’re having with writing?

            You need to look at why you’re writing in the first place. Is this really a passion or a hobby? Maybe you NEED a hiatus to recharge your batteries. Maybe that’s just the way you work because you’re not like me or anyone else. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break if it works the magic for you. We all operate differently. However, make sure you’re taking this hiatus for the right reasons. Also, is it really a hiatus or something else?

HOW LONG?

            The length of this break is entirely up to you. If you need to take a hiatus, nobody can give you or define what’s a time limit. You have to decide when you’re ready to come back.

            When you do, what are you going to do? By the time you’re ready to come back you should have some idea of where to start. If you ask people where to start, you probably aren’t ready yet. Someone the other day asked just this question.

SUMMARY

            I’d venture to guess that for most of us that are in this for the long haul, there’s no such thing as a hiatus. There may be breaks from writing, but they have nothing to do with a hiatus. Yet, not everyone works that way and if you do take a hiatus, you need to feel right to come back and know why, when and what you’re coming back for.

            Happy writing!

HUMILITY UPDATED

September 29, 2021

            This was my first true article, number two, posted way back in 2011. I thought it apt to start with something every writer needs right off. While I’ve covered it elsewhere, sometimes directly as well as indirectly, if you’re just starting out, this is something you need to learn. Below is the original article, tweaked, of course, with updates in the ten years since I originally posted it (including new headings).

INTRO

            I’ve been thinking of a good first post for my new web site and the thing that came to mind was a subject that I think all writers must learn up front. Humility. What do I mean by that?

            As writers, we express ourselves through words. We tell stories, pour our hearts out, put our hearts on our sleeves for you, the reader, to slice and dice and tear us down without thought for our feelings, hopes dreams…

Okay, I’m laying it on a bit thick.

            To some writers, what I just said is the absolute truth.

I’ve got news for you. In this sometimes ugly business, you have to develop a thick skin. When you write something and put it out for everyone to see, you must be prepared for unfiltered responses. It’s just like when a woman puts on a dress and her kid says “Mommy, you look fat.” Or when a teenage boy thinks he does something heroic and the girl of his dreams yawns and says “Joe, that was really stupid.”

Humility.

            When we write, we have to be prepared for both sides of the coin, the praise and the criticism. No matter how hard you work at something, no matter how cool the inspiration, at least half of the people are going to love it while the other half hate it. Count on it. While one person is going to slap you on the back and tell you how great it is, the other is going to slap you in the face and tell you it sucks.

            That’s just the end result, what your final audience is going to see.

YOUR PEERS

What about your peers, other writers? If you want to be a really great writer, I’ll repeat this—You have to learn humility. No matter how long you’ve been at this, no matter how much practice you’ve had, you’re never going to be perfect.

            As an editor, I know this firsthand. I’ve done a lot of editing for friends and colleagues. In my 26 years at this, I’ve learned a lot about writing, both personally and professionally. I put it to practice. However, I also know that when you’re too close to something, you can’t see the forest through the trees. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true. I’ve even wrote separate articles about that which have featured here at various times. When I write, I try to follow all the rules I’ve learned over many years of practice. However, during my creative process, I follow a stream-of-consciousness and sometimes skip over a few of those rules. The idea is to get the ideas down while they’re fresh in my head. I’ll worry about fixing the manuscript later. I write much cleaner than I used to, but I still make many of the mistakes I find when I edit other friend’s manuscripts. Does this mean I’m a bad writer? Of course not! That shouldn’t mean you are either. That’s what editing and writer’s groups and beta readers are for.

            When you write something and give it to someone for a critique, don’t get all bent out of shape or want to quit writing if you get it back covered in red ink.

Humility.

            If you’re searching for someone to critique your work and they give you the “tough love” treatment, belittle you, give you harsh criticism, or make you feel like crap, run, don’t walk away from that person! You’re NOT getting a good critique! There’s a difference between constructive criticism and being demeaned by an asshole. The world doesn’t need these people. Trust me on this. If you consider sharing a manuscript with someone and you ever hear the words “tough love,” “brutal truth,” or “blunt honesty” in the conversation, you don’t need to be dealing with that person. You’ve learned one thing. They don’t have a clue how to be constructive and diplomatic. You’ll just get frustrated dealing with someone like that.

THE PUBLIC

            Say you find some great people, get past all the editing and your story or book is published. It makes it to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and the reviews start rolling in. Now’s where you see the real unbiased reviews by total strangers. They can be outstanding, or very cruel. The cruel ones can be personal attacks, attacks on your writing style, holes in the plot or story that nobody else noticed, or something completely out of left field. My personal favorite is something to do with Kindle that has nothing to do with the story. Be prepared.

Humility.

SUMMARY

            Writing has a lot of ups and downs. I’ve weathered the storm, so far. Here I am 26 years later. You can do it too. Just learn a bit of humility.

            Happy writing!

AS AN AUTHOR, DO YOU NEED A WEB SITE?

September 22, 2021

            A question that comes up a lot on the forums is that as an author, do you need a web site?

            If you’re going to publish, it behooves you to establish a web site.

            I’ve discussed this several times here at Fred Central, the latest as of 2020.

            Web sites are relatively cheap, considering how much you’ll have to fork out for marketing.

            What takes the time is having something to write about.

EVERY AUTHOR NEEDS A PLATFORM

            The number one question every newbie asks is that if they have a web site, what do they put on it?

            Good question!

            If you bother to put up a web site, it should be more than just a place holder for your books.

            Why?

            Well…it’s going to get boring pretty fast, especially before and in-between books.

            There’s not going to be much to look at except maybe an occasional blurb about the book, the cover, or pretty much the same thing Amazon or Barnes & Noble already post for you. So, why should you go through the hassle to regurgitate that?

            You need a platform, something to attract readers and fans.

WHAT’S A PLATFORM?

            While I’m repeating myself from earlier articles, I don’t mind going over it again.

            A platform is a subject near and dear to your heart to attract readers between books.

            It’s a way to keep them from forgetting you’re out there!

            It’s also a way to engage them and keep them interested.

            A platform is usually but not always writing oriented, or of some subject somehow related to your book or books.

            Say you write romances. Your platform could be something to do with romance.

            Your book series could be fantasy. Your platform could be about medieval armor or fighting.

            Your book or series could be westerns. Your platform could be about old time western recipes.

            My platform, as you can see is about writing.

            I’ve been doing it now since 2012 and post an article every Tuesday. I now have 566 articles out there. Admittedly my following is modest, but I don’t care. I’ll take what I can get. I love writing and will continue to do so. Some of you may have greater or lesser success. It’s up to you.

SUMMARY

            As I like to say, creating a web site isn’t all that hard and there are numerous hosts you can choose. It’s not rocket science.

            Use it wisely, Grasshopper.

            Happy writing!

DO YOU NEED MATH SKILLS TO BE A GOOD WRITER?

September 15, 2021

            Okay, the article isn’t really about that, per se, but about the subject of additional skills in general required to be a writer.

            Last week (as I write this), or maybe the week before, that exact question came up on one of the forums (Facebook, of course), and my answer was a resounding NO! Of course, I was polite in my response, but I did mention that I’m allergic to math.

            When I think about it, it IS a legitimate question. There’s some logic to it.

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT…

            When you’re a plotter, it could be assumed it takes a mathematical mind to map out a plot in a logical timeline or linear way, and to lock all the elements into place.

            That seems like a logical assumption.

            However, that’s not the case in real life.

            People with math skills don’t necessarily have anything to do with people with plotting skills. In fact, people with extreme or too focused logic skills might have a very hard time with imaginative creative skills. I’m not saying some don’t, it’s just that there’s no direct correlation. On the other hand, without skill at logic, one cannot put together a plot that makes sense. It’s a matter of degrees.

ONE DOES NOT MAKE ANOTHER

            While one may well be very good at one skill does not make them very good at another.

            Someone very good at math, might also be decent or very good at plotting or writing. A good mathematician might be terrible at plotting, or so rigid that their stories are flat and dry and have no life to them because their imagination is too stripped due to their rigid logic.

            Another person with no math skills may be great at plotting and writing and be no good at math only because they were introduced to that skill in the wrong way. Or, it could be that they really aren’t any good at math. They can plot and are decent enough at logic to put together a good plot, but when it comes to numbers, that all falls apart.

            On the other hand, having skills at many things can play into your writing by being able to draw from those experiences into your writing. We’ll get to those in a moment.

            Someone very good at proper English and grammar may still suck at writing. One does not make another. Properly being able to put sentences together is a huge help. However, if one doesn’t have any imagination, there’s no point in having a great skill you can’t use for anything except technical writing.

            At the same time, having a super wild imagination does one no good if you can’t put it down into something comprehensible.

            Being a good athlete does not make one a good writer any more than being a good mechanic or a musician. Those skills can all be great to draw on for story purposes, but the key to writing is imagination AND an ability to be able to put sentences together AND be able to write, have a desire to write, AND be able to put something together in a logical fashion. The extraneous skills, whether math, accounting, English, grammar, bird watching, carpenter, mechanic, spelunker, are all things you can draw experience from. The key is still being able and having a desire to tell a good story.

SUMMARY

            You don’t have to be good at anything else in particular to be a good writer except be decent enough at English and grammar so as not to be too much of a burden to your editor. The desire to write and it being a passion, at least to me, are the most important. If it’s a desire instead of a hobby, then you will not only find the time to write, you will continually hone your skills. You will find the method of writing that works best for you, whether it being a pantser or a plotter. You will draw on life experiences, and/or research for your ideas. Some of those life experiences may include other skills you already have, but I’ll just bet a lot of them DON’T. For many, that may include math!

            Happy writing!

WRITING SOMETHING OUT OF YOUR NORM

September 8, 2021

            For many of us, we have a certain genre, or style we’re used to when we write.

            For some, we’re all over the place, especially starting out.

            For others, there IS not one set style. This probably isn’t for you.

THE NORM

            Let’s consider the average writer, someone who’s been at this for at least a few years.

            You’ve been busy working on a (or a series) of novels. More than likely, you’re used to writing a certain way. In other words, you’ve developed a style, so you’re used to writing to that norm. Maybe you’re diversified and also write other things on the side. Is that writing out of your norm? Maybe.

            You’re a busy writer. You write both novels and short stories. They’re both fictional. You write both in either third or maybe even first person. You may use past or present tense as your go-to style as well.

            You could be a non-fiction writer. Your books may be historical, technical or scientific. The same for your short stories.

            You may be writing nothing but memoirs as your forte.

WHEN YOU VEER OFF YOUR NORM

            This is where you mix things up.

            Let’s take my case.

            In fiction, I cannot stand to read first-person. However, when it comes to autobiographical writing, I write first-person. Why? Because I’m writing it from my own myopic perspective. It happened to me, it’s from my point of view.

            I’ve stated over and over again here at Fred Central that I’ll never publish my memoir, at least as a book. That doesn’t prevent me from doing the occasional short story. In fact, I’ve published quite a few.

            Does the transition from third to first cause an issue with me?

            In a word, no.

            Since it’s my perspective, myopic or otherwise, it’s easy. I have no trouble with either the perspective, the pronouns or any other part of the story. The key is that it’s SHORT. I’m quite capable of creating a short…as in a chapter-length-short-enough story to maybe hold a person’s interest. However, in my case, since I don’t have a compelling life story and am not a celebrity, I don’t have enough to keep that going to justify an entire novel-length tome.

            I even once wrote a very short, as in one-page, fictional story using present-tense. The reason I did it was to throw people off, them all knowing how much I hate present-tense. I pulled it off and nobody guessed it was me. I eventually turned it into a regular past-tense story.

            I went out of my norm to write something else.

            Seeing as how I’ve been at this twenty-six years, plus I was a technical writer for a decade, I have the chops to pull this off, at least I hope so!

            For you to do the same, it all depends.

            If you’re relatively new to writing, and are still experimenting around, maybe you’re already all over the place. You may already do all of this in a single book, given a few I’ve read, or tried to read recently. On the other hand, maybe you DO stick to one style, but are stumped when you want to try something out of your norm.

            What do you do?

FOR MOST PEOPLE

            For most writers, switching out of the norm isn’t going to be rocket science. Maybe you’ll stumble a bit. Then again, when you try a style you’re not comfortable with, you may end up with a huge mess. It could be that going out of your norm is just not right for you. Then again, maybe it’s all mental and these roadblocks are artificial.

            Why are you writing out of the norm in the first place?

            Do you want to try something new?

            Do you want to try a novel instead of short stories? How about short stories instead of a novel?

            Do you want to try first-person instead of third? Present instead of past? Past instead of present?

            Do you want to do non-fiction instead of fiction?

            Do you want to switch genres?

            All of these things can be done, but maybe they’re not meant to be. Then again, as you gain your chops as a writer, you SHOULD be able to do any of them if you set your mind to it. I know I can. It’s just a matter of wanting to or needing to. In my case, I know what I like and what I know works for me. I’ve been at this a long time and know what works best not only for me, but for my audience and for a lot of other people, regardless of genre.

            While I can maybe go places others can’t, at least as easily, I choose not to.

            You, maybe starting out, or as seasoned as I am, can make your own choices and do what you want. You can go out of the norm and not be traumatized by it.

            Now, why am I bringing this up?

            Right now, I’m writing an autobiographical story for an anthology. It’s in first-person. You’ll NEVER find me doing that with any of my fictional stories. It’s out of my norm, per se, but when I think about it, for short stories, especially given what I’ve had published, I guess it IS the norm.

            Okay, you will NEVER find me writing another present-tense story of ANY kind! I’ve been outed already so they’ve got my number on that one!

            Happy writing!

WORLD-BUILDING – PRE OR ON THE FLY?

September 1, 2021

            My original article on world building appeared in 2014 and I’d already alluded to the subject numerous times in the 186 articles I’d written by that time. Jump now to 2021 and the count is 563 articles. I’ve covered it in numerous forms, many more times.

            Something that has come up lately is do you world build first, and then now what? The specific question that stuck with me is this one writer who spent a lot of time building a world, but is now stuck and doesn’t know how to start writing.

            I had to do a double take on that.

            This person had some huge inspiration to create this vast fantasy world, yet never bothered to do the basics, like had a story in mind before they ever thought of creating the world in the first place.

            I suppose that could happen. The cart before the horse, and I don’t apologize for the cliché.

            I may not have the circumstances quite right, and maybe the person DOES have a story in mind. The problem may be that he or she doesn’t know the fundamentals of story telling yet. It could be that they never formulated A and B. It could be a host of other things as well.

THE THING ABOUT WORLD BUILDING

            I’ll say right off that world building isn’t story.

            World building is just that. It’s building the world in which you tell the story.

            It’s not like the world you build tells the story itself. It just sets up the environment, or the frame, in which you can now create some kind of tale without worrying about the semantics of place.

            Therefore, worldbuilding isn’t story, it’s PLACE ONLY.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WORLD BUILDING AND OUTLINING?

            Aha!

            Here we go. They aren’t the same thing. They could be blended in as you go, but strictly speaking, world building is creating a setting for the story, but has little (or may have) little to do with the story itself.

            In general terms, creating a world may have certain influences and consequences of how the story develops. Things like the weather, creatures, magic or magick, races, geography can all have an effect on the plot, story, and influence the actions of the characters.

            However, that’s not the outline.

            The outline is a separate thing entirely.

            With the outline, it would be prudent to refer to the already built world as you outline.

            That would make your story come in three steps.

            #1 Build the world.

            #2 Outline.

            #3 Write the story.

PLOTTER OR PANTSER?

            If you’re a plotter, are you going to go through all three steps in order, like our hapless person who was stuck at stage two (or three)?

            Or, are you going to go right into #2 and start outlining?

            Or, are you going to do a combination of #1 and #2 before you ever start working on #3?

            There’s no hard and fast rule.

            As for me, being a pantser, I cut to the chase and just go for #3 and don’t even worry about either #1 or #2. That would just suck the life right out of all of my creativity. This is something I’ve discussed many times here at Fred Central.

            It’s like I don’t agonize over every word, every sentence and every paragraph. I blurt it all out and get the ideas down and worry about editing later. Of course, over the twenty-six years I’ve been doing it (so far), I’m a good bit more proficient at it, so my chops are a bit better than when I first started. Therefore, when I get to the first edit, I have less of a mess to fix. That gives me the freedom to create on the fly. My key, of course is to always have A, B and the title before I ever start. That way, I have a start (A) and a finish (B) and a title (main theme) to write to.

            Any world building I do on the fly. I keep track of it with an encyclopedia which I constantly refer to as I add new terms. NOTE: I also add new names and terms into the spell check so I consistently spell them the same way.

EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT

            Not everyone can work on the fly.

            World building first seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse, cliché again. Maybe that works for some people, but I’d think the writer should at least come up with the stories they want to tell first. At least jot the main ideas down, THEN build the world. During that world building process, the story may tweak a bit, but that’s okay. At least you’ll still have some idea of your direction when you finish building this big wide world.

            I may have got this writer’s intent wrong with his question. If so, it still doesn’t change my point.

            YOU NEED TO HAVE A STORY FIRST.

            As tempting as it is to create this big fantastic world, you’d better come up with a story to tell and not expect this world to inspire you. Maybe it will, but it might tell you nothing at all. Don’t let that happen.

            Happy writing!