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TAUTOLOGIES – REVISITED

February 5, 2020

I got a shock when I saw the file date of this, one of my first articles for Fred Central. It was dated in 2011! I’ve been at this for nine years. Wow, and I’ve been under the impression I started this blog site in 2012. Go figure.
What inspired this particular revisit was a batch of B-movie icky bug novels I got for Christmas. I normally can’t find this genre at the brick and mortar bookstores, partially because the stores never carry them, or rarely do. The other issue is that most of them are self-published, and unfortunately, to be blunt, it shows. Case in point is the subject of today’s article, tautologies. I wanted to revisit it because given the self-published quality of the editing and writing of my precious icky bug novels, I saw blatant examples of tautologies.
TO BEGIN WITH…
One of the things every writer must do is get to the point. It’s your responsibility not only to entertain your reader, but get there with the fewest words possible. Your job is not to impress your reader with how many words you can spew out, or how big a word count you can use to describe what a flower looks like, it’s how you can convey your word picture in the most efficient way possible. GET TO THE POINT!
GET TO THE POINT
Word economy is a huge factor in the writing and editing process. One of the tricks of the trade is to look for unnecessary words and phrases that can be eliminated, redundancies that don’t add anything, words that bog down the flow of the prose. One way to clean things up is to look for tautologies.
TAUTOLOGIES
Now, you might ask, what’s a tautology? A tautology is using different words to say the same thing, even if the repetition doesn’t necessarily provide clarity. I had no idea I was doing this until a member of our writer’s group did a presentation on it several years ago (several years ago, in this case, meaning around 2008 or so). It stuck with me. I want to give her credit, but I can’t remember her name. If I come across it later, I’ll announce it because she changed my life! (NOTE: I never have recalled that person…sorry.)
Once I became aware of tautologies, I discovered that I’d embedded many of them into my writing, embarrassing myself in the process, I found several hundred words I could eliminate from an average manuscript. It came as a wakeup call. I think it did the same for many members of our group.
I’m about to list a series of examples to give you all your wakeup call. I’d venture to guess some of you are going to have a bit of a rude awakening. How many of you have phrases like:

Stand up
Sit down
Whisper quietly
Slam hard
Hit hard
Scream loudly
Run fast
Dig deep
Jump up
Jump down
Crawl slowly
Climb up
Drop down

The list goes on. Every one of those word pairs contains chaff at the end…a tautology…an extra word. Dump them! They’re redundant, they’re obvious, your reader already knows!
Of course, there are always exceptions. Or, are there? For instance, what if a character jumps up on a ledge? Instead, how about the character jumps onto the ledge? Or the character jumps down into the pit? Instead how about the character jumps into the pit. See? Was that so hard?
Now, it’s time to slash and burn. Try this. Check the word count of your MS before you look for tautologies and write that number down. Now do a word search or just do an edit and look for them. When you’re done, check the word count again. You might be surprised.
Happy editing!

WRITING HABITS REVISITED

January 29, 2020

I originally posted this article in February, 2015. Because parts, if not all, have come up lately on several of the forums that I frequent on Facebook, I thought it would be a good time to revisit it with a few updated tweaks.
At our Henderson Writers Group that month, we had a presentation by a guy that talked about writing, and his approach. What I got out of it, more than anything else, was his view on how to write, when and where. Now, five years later, with almost 500 articles on writing, I’ve covered this before, but not quite in this perspective. That inspired this week’s installment of Fred’s Guide To Writing.
FIRST, YOU HAVE TO LOVE IT
Before we go any further, hands down, you have to love to write. There’s also that need, the drive, and deadlines, some that are self-imposed while others may be contractually obligated.
Writing should be a passion, NOT a hobby.
‘Nuff said.
NO TWO PEOPLE ARE THE SAME
This is a big caveat that I don’t think the speaker conveyed enough to the audience. He assumed we should all follow pretty close to his footsteps, or seemed to imply that (okay, he was pressed for time).
If you don’t write every day, you’re never going to get anything accomplished.
What he said was you should write every day. However, he implied that if you didn’t, you’d never accomplish what he did. That was my interpretation.
Was he wrong?
No two people are the same.
ENVIRONMENT
The speaker told us he had to write in complete silence, locked away with no internet (or to that effect) or any other distractions, or he’d never get anything done.
That would probably be the case for a lot of you.
This is a subject that comes up a lot on the forums. Answers vary quite a bit.
I’m not a monk. I can’t isolate myself in a cave and expect my Polka-dot Sewer (inspiration) to jump out at me. My ideas crawl out of the woodwork (don’t give me no crap about clichés, either). I can be driving, cutting wood in my garage, half dreaming in bed, be busy at my job at work, eating dinner, watching TV, you name it.
When I work, a nuclear bomb could be going off. Total chaos can be going on around me and it doesn’t matter. When the muse strikes, I write. Period. The only thing that distracts me is when the wife calls. Then all bets are off!
I like loud music, very loud, from psychedelic to death metal. To have that blaring in the background would be nice, but I can’t do that because the rest of the family is usually around. The other thing is that I cannot stand headphones. After two decades in the Air Force and wearing hearing protection, I’m a little jaded to headsets. So, I have to be content to write with background noises like the TV, the toilet flushing, shower running, dawgs barking or roughhousing, slamming doors, traffic outside, the usual. All are comforting, normal sounds. That’s my music.
Or, I may write, like I am right now, when everyone else is asleep, early in the morning.
I certainly can’t tell anyone else to try and write that way, and you shouldn’t either, if it doesn’t suit you. You have to find what works. If dead silence, white noise headphones, Kenny G, or Cannibal Corpse is the key, do that!
Some people are fine going to the local coffee shop or library with a laptop and headphones. That’s a double whammy for me. Besides an aversion to headphones, I cannot stand working with a laptop!
You have to do what works for you. Experiment around a bit, see what gets you the best productivity and work for that method.
HOW MUCH OUTPUT?
Quite a few of us write every day. We may not write a lot, but something to keep the muse going, if not in an effort to meet some deadline.
I personally see no use in self-imposed deadlines. I find them counterproductive to my creativity. I have no need for them. While I’m still bursting with stories, even after twenty-five years at this passion, I’ve learned to pace myself and with patience, I stick to one thing at a time. The only exception is if I divert for the occasional short story. In fact, right now, one’s brewing in my subconscious. One day, I’m going to put the brakes on everything else and go for it.
I write every day I’m home except Monday nights because I’m at the writers group meeting, or the odd night I have an appointment or an astronomy club meeting. I’ve mentioned many times what I write. The fact is, I just write. My muse is almost always active, and I can’t help but take advantage of it.
I must make it clear that I don’t always work on my current MS. I have plenty of other things to write, like these articles, plus marketing for the novels I already have published.
What should you do?
My only suggestion is that if writing is a real passion to you, you should be looking forward to this, not dreading it. That means, you should be writing not only when you feel the muse, but when you want to. However, there’s such a thing as procrastination. It’s a million dollar word, but the meaning isn’t too expensive.
You can have all the inspiration in the world, but if you never sit down and put it into practice, you’ll be left with nothing but blank pages. In that way, I agree with that speaker. You may not have to force yourself to write every day (see, I hate that word force), but you also need to accomplish something, or you’ll never get anywhere.
RESULTS
The bottom line is that you need to develop a habit, a consistent approach that fits not only your passion, but follows your muse. It’s a habit that also accomplishes something, or there’s no point. Whether it be daily, every couple of days, or weekly, you need to make it a habit and stick with it and your muse will get exercised sufficiently, if you have a muse at all.
If you reach an occasional dry spell with your major project, use that established writing frequency habit to exercise those writer’s tools. Keep writing something, then go back to your project when the muse hits again. Either way, follow your passion you should be just fine.
Happy writing!

CHARACTERS GET WOUNDED BUT NOT SICK

January 22, 2020

First off, that’s not an absolute statement. Characters quite often get sick, but not like we do. Not if they’re going to carry on the story.
Let me explain.
In a fictional world, stuff needs to happen. That means, you, as the writer, can’t take time out for a character to loll around and suffer. There has to be something moving the plot around.
Unless that suffering is specifically part of the plot.
EXCITEMENT FACTOR
Everyone gets sick. It’s inevitable. For some, it may be quite often while for others, it may happen only once every few years. When it does occur, the reality is that while some inconsiderate people soldier on and make everyone else around them sick as well, most give in to their bodies and go home (or stay there) and suffer it out.
Being sick is a miserable experience. We lay around, sleep a lot and don’t do anything, depending on what we caught.
Now, ask yourself, does that make for compelling reading?
On the other hand, to get wounded, such as banged up, shot, stabbed, means a stay in the hospital, surgery, recovery, rehab, maybe being wheelchair bound, and other things far more dramatic. The reality of that is far different from fiction.
In the case of fiction, we, of course as writers tend to dramatize getting wounded a lot better than getting sick. The dramatic factor or excitement factor with a wound versus getting sick is much higher, especially if that wound came from doing something heroic in pursuit of the plot.
OKAY, CHARACTERS DO GET SICK
There are plenty of examples of characters getting sick in stories, however, not the normal sick.
It has to be dramatic sick, something to move the plot along, or your bout of the flu or pneumonia or strep throat is a momentum killer.
Can you just see your story plugging right along when your character catches strep throat. He or she then has to lay around for a week in their pajamas, stuck watching daytime TV, taking antibiotics and feeling like crap.
Yup, makes for a compelling read.
Now, if a character gets exposed to ebola, and has a day to find an antidote, then starts to show symptoms…we have a clock ticking and there’s some skin in the game. Now we have plot tension and something to work with.
WOUNDS ARE FAR MORE COMMON
While it’s almost cliché that one or many of the characters in a thriller get banged up at the end of a thriller, during the course of almost any story, what about your character? Will they get wounded for some reason for dramatic effect? Is this wound beyond dramatic effect?
Is this wound specifically part of the plot?
While you could get that broken arm fixed, then sit around in your pajamas and watch daytime TV for a week before getting back to the world, just like being sick, this instead, gives you the opportunity to use it for more dramatic effect.
NOTHING SHOULD GO TO WASTE
Reality is something that should not be taken for granted. As writers, we should also be readers. We all should know that in fiction, everything is exaggerated reality. If we wrote reality, our stories would be pretty boring.
The reality of being sick, the reality of getting wounded is far more mundane and boring than what’s needed for a good story.
If you want to write reality, that might be a different thing altogether. Being shot, suffering from pneumonia, getting cancer, all of this and many more things in reality make for compelling stories on their own. However, when it comes to fiction, they’re distractions unless woven properly into the plot. If you can do that without distracting from said plot, killing the momentum, or changing the entire focus of the story, so be it. Don’t waste it.
Otherwise, leave it alone and stick with the unreality.
SUMMARY
The whole point here is that whatever physical barriers you place on your characters, they can’t sit around in their pajamas, watch daytime TV, and feel miserable. This is the reality of either being sick or being wounded. While most authors use being wounded in their prose, being sick can be used for either color or a plot point if used correctly.
Happy writing!

AUTHOR VOICE

January 16, 2020

On the forums, there’s been some chatter about people stealing your work. While plots can be stolen, the fact is that there are a limited number of plots. Therefore, EVERY plot has been stolen since that magic number, whatever it is, was reached way back when. That means that every writer out there today is a plagiarist, plot-wise.
Now, as for specific story details, or specific story ideas, they can be stolen to a degree. There can only be one Gone With The Wind, right? However, there are probably a hundred other stories almost the same, almost exactly the same, but they’re not.
Why?
Author voice.
Sure, it’s basically the same plot, same setting.
However, it’s a different author telling the story. Therefore we have differences in the telling. We don’t have Rhett Butler, we don’t have whoever the other characters are. They’re different people. We may still have the same settings, basically the same plot, but there are enough differences that fan boys and fan girls are going to dismiss these other stories as “similar genre.”
Yup, similar genre.
Where we have plagiarism is if every single detail, right down to the name of the town, the name of the estate, the names of the characters are the same or so similar, you’re reading the same book. THAT’S plagiarism.
REALITY
While some authors may “steal” your idea about the great train robbery with Elvis alien babies, when they get down to writing it, it’s going to be in their voice, not yours.
Your great train robbery with Elvis alien babies is not going to be anything like his or her version except the general concept. Whichever gets to print first may supposedly have dibs on the “original idea,” but that doesn’t give them the copywrite on the plot. It only gives them the copywrite on their version of the story.
Look at how many sparkly vampire stories came out (gag) after Twilight?
Every time a bandwagon comes along, look at how many people jump on and try to cash in on a trend?
You can copywrite your voice, but not a plot.
WHAT IS VOICE?
Good question.
Voice is you. It’s how you go about telling (or showing) your story.
Voice is your personality shining through the words, the way you communicate with your audience/readers. It’s like a fingerprint, or DNA. No two are quite alike, no matter how much training or molding or editing you’ve had.
While sometimes the homogeneity of writing styles can make it hard to tell, voice shines through in the end. Each writer is unique, and no two tell a story in quite the same way. Even when there are two or even three co-authors, each has a unique style that can be spotted. Careful editing and of course, close collaboration blurs these lines. Some author pairs are especially good at blending together (Preston & Child for instance), and their combined voices work as one. Individually, they’re subtly different, but together, it can be hard to tell who wrote what.
That’s not usually the issue for the solitary writer. You either have or are developing your voice. Even as you work your way up, you evolve and shine through, taking your particular quirks through the editing process to the final product.
Your stories are you. Nobody else will be unless they’re deliberately emulating you.
GHOST WRITING
There have been cases where a famous author has passed away and someone has taken up the mantle in their stead. It might be another established author, or maybe a relative. They attempt to emulate the style of the author. Some are more successful than others. Even then, the super fan can usually tell the difference from the original. The differences may be subtle, but the sharp individual can tell.
Voice is unique.
SUMMARY
While plots and unique ideas CAN be stolen, it’s not likely, at least in the world of novels. Screenplays is a different matter altogether. However, we’re not here to discuss that world.
You, as a writer, have a unique voice. Use it.
Happy writing!

MIXING TENSES

January 1, 2020

I’ve made no secret that I cannot stand to read (or write) present tense.
I once experimented with it when our writer’s group had a thing going on called “Who Wrote It.” It was where members wrote something either in or out of character and the other members tried to guess who the author was. I wrote in a style so alien to me that nobody ever figured it out until the big reveal.
Funny how I have since taken that seed and turned it into a regular short story, but (of course) written correctly in my style.
I wrote the story in present tense. Nobody in the group had a clue it was me!
I can tell you it was a real struggle for me. I cringed at every sentence.
I bring this up because as many of you know, I usually screen every book I buy at the bookstore BEFORE I buy it.
Unfortunately, there have been a few times I’ve been burned by an author because while I’ve been expecting third-person, past-tense out of them, given their history, a few of them have decided to mix things up. One in particular, John Grisham decided to go all out and wrote his latest in first-person, present-tense.
I’d assumed, to my chagrin.
I couldn’t get past three chapters, and took the book back for a refund. It was horrible.
MY AVERSION TO PRESENT-TENSE
I know this is personal. Some people can tolerate, and even like present-tense. While some may think this is a millennial or young adult thing, think again. While that may be true, to some extent, it’s not new.
I was a reader LONG before I was a writer. However, it wasn’t until I was a writer that I started to analyze WHY I didn’t like certain writing styles, and loved others. It wasn’t until I became a writer that I figured out why with certain books, the writing didn’t get in the way of the story.
I found I never really liked first-person. It was too myopic. However, I could almost tolerate it if the writing was exceptionally good.
I found I never liked literary fiction that droned on and on about description and emotion and internal bla bla bla. I liked a story to get to the point.
I never the liked omniscient point of view with a cast of thousands, where head-hopping reigned supreme.
However, the most irritating style, the one thing that turned me off and made me stop reading, was present tense. It not only made me anxious, it made me feel rushed, like the author was trying to drag me through the story and force me along. It was highly annoying and made reading nothing but work. I’d lose interest in the story. This was something that bothered me way back in the early 60’s, so don’t think it’s a modern-day phenomena.
Since 1995, as a new writer myself, I wanted to see if I was the only one with these feelings. I did unofficial polls with other readers.
I’m not alone in my feelings. Not at all.
However, there are some authors that write exclusively in present-tense, like Patricia Cornwell. She has her fans, which is fine with me. I avoid her like the plague since I suffered through Predator many years ago. At least that entire book was solid present-tense and didn’t switch around.
With that out of the way, time to move on to mixing tenses.
MIXING TENSES
Sometimes an author wants to change the writing style to make certain characters stand out from the others.
The one hazard with doing such is that it can turn off the reader.
A radical change in style to highlight a new character is a good way to get someone to close the book and move on to something else.
It doesn’t happen to everyone, but for some, it’s at least from a mild irritant to a show-stopper.
When you get right down to it, it’s completely unnecessary, and is more of an effect than a necessity.
Switching from past to present-tense throws the story off-kilter.
The book I just read has done just that. The author went from past-tense to present-tense for the bad guys. I’m skipping chapters because I don’t want to deal with it.
In Dean Koontz latest series, he’s done that with a certain character. I skipped those chapters as well.
When you radically change style, whether it’s from past to present-tense, or third to first-person, you’re radically changing the reader’s flow. This can be very jarring.
Now, on the subject of a diary, or a letter, that’s perfectly fine to switch from third to first-person, because it’s to be expected. However, that’s a short passage, or should be, not entire chapters, over and over again.
SUMMARY
As I’ve stated many times here at Fred Central, I’m not everyone. I don’t have everyone’s personal taste. However, I’ve talked to countless people over decades who feel the same way. Unfortunately, not everyone does reviews or expresses their true feelings like I do. I have over a thousand reviews to reflect how I feel about it. I just wish more people would also express their feelings as well. Maybe writer’s and publishers would get a more accurate picture of what their readership thinks.
Happy writing!

INFLUENCES PART 2

December 24, 2019

Since I originally wrote this article in 2014, it’s time I brought it up again, plus there have been some updates I want to add to it.
Since I read a book to a book and a half a week, I keep my eyes open for the best writers. While I’m always seeking new voices, I also like to stick with what I like. These writers become influences on my own writing. Whether minor or major, they reflect what I’m doing in some way. As I’ve said over and over again, the best stories out there are the ones where the writing doesn’t get in the way of the story. It’s not just the story that counts. That’s total bull. While that lame excuse works for some hot button topics (which I won’t name), when it gets down to it, for the long run, the authors that endure do it the right way from the onset.
There’s a big difference between influences and inspiration. Inspiration is coming up with ideas, where influences are people that you model your writing after, in some big or small way. I’ve talked about both, but not so specifically about influences. If I have, I don’t apologize because most of you probably weren’t reading this blog the last time I did talk about it in 2014!
THEY’RE HARD TO IGNORE
Since I’m a failed musician and music lover, I’ve read a lot about certain bands and musicians, lately in the metal world, that refuse to listen to either the radio or other records (well CDs now or USB sticks) because they don’t want other music to “pollute” their muse. They’re afraid of someone thinking they’re copping licks or ideas from another band or musician. They want their sound to be purely their own. Bull. Total bull.
Richie Blackmore, former lead guitarist for Deep Purple once said that despite being considered one of the top guitarists of the era and a supposed trend setter, he wasn’t afraid to admit that even he copped licks off other musicians. Then there’s Jimmy Page and his whole band Led Zeppelin who’ve been sued numerous times, and continue to get sued for flagrantly copping licks from others, even decades after they stopped recording.
It’s almost impossible for a musician to lock themselves up in a cave and come up with un-influenced music.
The same for a writer.
TIME TO ACKNOWLEDGE AND EMBRACE
It’s time to stop being silly and pretentious and accept the fact that you didn’t grow up in a vacuum. You gained your chops somewhere. To be a writer, it stands to reason you probably started as a reader, right? If that’s the case, you’ve read something, somewhere that inspired you to take up writing on your own. Maybe you loved an author or authors so much you wanted to emulate them in your own way. On the other hand, maybe you felt you could do better than any schmuck out there. That’s still an influence. You doing better than anyone else means all those “crappy” writers influenced you to do them one better.
Why not acknowledge these people?
ACKNOWLEDGE DON’T COPY
Some writers get accused of copying their influences. There can be a fine line between an influence, a clone and borderline plagiarism. It just doesn’t happen in legitimate publishing. No publisher worth their salt is going to let an author write a clone of another author. That manuscript would never get that far. That might not be the case with self-publishing, where there are no controls like that, but it’s still not likely.
There’s nothing wrong with emulating a genre or general style of your favorite author, but the best thing, which I believe is what we all do, is make it our own. We don’t want to ghost write another author’s story…well not unless we’re asked. We want to be acknowledged as our own self. Just because we love an author doesn’t mean we want to be them.
MY INFLUENCES
I make no secrets about my influences. The following authors all inspired me in overt to subtle ways and include: Carol Davis Luce, Rhondi Vilott Salsitz, Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Lester Dent (Kenneth Robeson), Dean Koontz, Andre Norton, Ron Goulart, R. Karl Largent, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bentley Little, Franklin W. Dixon, Carolyn Keene, Jack DuBrul, F. Paul Wilson, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Lee Child, David Baldacci, plus a few others I’m probably forgetting at the moment.
Every one of these people played a part in the development of my style, yet my particular brand of wordsmithing is all my own. It’s none of those authors, all of them, and all Fred Rayworth.
I may or may not write in their genre. However, something about their writing caught me, inspired me, and helped me along the way. I wouldn’t be here today if not for them.
How about you?
Happy writing!

TOEING THE LINE

December 18, 2019

Because of a personal experience, not mine, but one I witnessed, I thought it was time to bring up this subject.
What I mean by toeing the line, is that say, you get accepted by a publisher. However, once you get turned over to the editorial staff, it’s nothing but grief.
Maybe the agent or publisher never did their due diligence when they accepted you in the first place. During this time, they not only look at your work, but should talk to you about writing philosophy, and what they expect out of you. What are their standards? What are yours? You all should meet somewhere in the middle, at least, if not totally agree philosophically as to how to do things.

IT ALL GOES DOWNHILL FROM THERE

The next thing that happens is that you’re turned over to the editor and you two constantly butt heads. You can’t agree on anything. You become a source of grief for not only the editor, but the publisher.
Say, you get through the initial editing.
It gets to the final stages, yet you’re not satisfied and start demanding changes.
However…
You’re under contract, and while the publisher would love to publish the book, because they think it has potential, they’re also in the camp that you’re looking less and less like it’s worth the hassle.
You make demands.
The publisher pushes back.
You two reach a compromise.

DUE DILIGENCE

The thing about avoiding all of this is that the writer and publisher have to come to an agreement on writing and editing philosophy, BEFORE ever signing a contract.
Getting a publishing deal can put a lot of stars before the writer’s eyes. However, if you let that blind you to the details, you may be in for a rude awakening.
From the publisher’s side, the last thing they want is a pain in the ass. That’s a quick way to find a reason to drop the author, contract or no contract.
The publisher SHOULD do their due diligence, but you as the author, need to step back and be honest with the publisher. You need to rein back the enthusiasm and excitement and listen to what they’re saying.
Once you’re committed, you need to toe the line.

TOE THE LINE

Keep in mind that they (the publisher) invited YOU to be part of their team, not the other way around. Therefore, you’re only in a limited position to make demands. You can only push those limits so far.
They see a potential in you, and you DO have some power in that you have a product they want to sell. A potential profit making machine. However, THEY have to develop it, and it’s up to you to go along with their sage advice and make it work.
Now, does this mean, compromising your integrity and changing your story, or re-writing it?
Of course not. We’re not talking that at all. They never should have accepted you if that was the case.
However, editorial tweaks, cuts, grammar, etc., are all reasonable things to expect from an editor. That’s normal editing.
Major re-writes are not. Completely re-writing the plot are not.
The publisher is supposed to do their due diligence with the synopsis before they ever except your story in the first place. However, let’s make it clear that you have to be very honest with your synopsis in the first place. It needs to match your story and not try to glorify and try to sell it on some false pretense!
However, to argue every little comma, every dotted i or crossed t, change the plot in mid-course yourself, change your mind constantly, be a general pain in the ass, that’s what I mean about toeing the line.
Everyone is going to have philosophical discussions about certain things. That’s what they are, discussions. However, you need to go by house rules. Plain and simple. If you don’t like them, tough. You signed the contract. You need to toe the line and not make yourself a pariah.

SUMMARY

If the publishing of one book ends up being nothing but misery, stop right after that one and find another publisher. However, if you’re able to toe the line, it could turn into a productive relationship.
Happy writing!