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WHAT BOOKS INFLUENCED YOU AS A CHILD?

October 25, 2017

We’re writers. Before that, we…well, most of us, started as readers. Somewhere, something inspired us to do what we do. Maybe for you, the non-fiction writer, your influences came from a different source, but for us fiction writers, imagination sparked from something.

For those of you of the younger generations, maybe it was TV or computers, apps or games. However, for us a bit older, we didn’t necessarily rely on electronics for entertainment. Paper held more sway. I know it did in my case. My nose was in books well before I figured out what those squiggly symbols (words) covering the pages meant.

Willy The Tugboat or Willy The Woo The Firetruck are still memories fromwhen I was in preschool. In conjunction with my Lusitania Gold book signings, I’ll be recalling sitting on my grandpappy’s knee and looking through the Encyclopedia Britannica “L” volume and seeing a painting of the Lusitania sinking.

I’m old enough that at the time, radio was still the dominant electronic media and TV was a luxury. TVs back then looked more like test equipment than entertainment consoles and the images were still black and white.

BOOKS OVER ELECTRONICS

To put it bluntly, back when I was a kid, there were no electronics, at least for kids. On the other hand, there were plenty of things to entertain kids, such as books, toys and outside. I chose all three, with the focus today on the book side of things.

Books were the gateway not only to reading and learning the ABCs, but to other worlds. Books took me places, taught me things, and spurred my imagination well before that interloper, TV, came along and spurred it further. My earliest influences were the likes of Fury, The Bobsey Twins, Danny Dunn, Tom Swift, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys among others.

My biggest influences were never the classics we were forced to read in school. You might be surprised to note that though I’m a writer, those oft-quoted classics had little sway over me.

SAME OLD CLASSICS

When talking to a lot of big-name authors, they often cite—maybe because they think they need to, to seem sophisticated—the big classics. We’re talking the likes of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, The Odyssey, The Old Man In The Sea. Bla bla bla. Little Women, Ann of Green Gables. The list goes on.

While I have nothing against these classics and even read most of them, among others, they were forced on me by the school system and each had flaws that dampened my enjoyment. In fact, almost all of those classics (and I left quite a few off the list), depressed the hell out of me. Also, the writing was quite archaic and hard to read. At that time, back in the late 50’s and early 60’s, they never bothered to update them. If you’ve ever seen them in original form, well…’nuff said.

MY CLASSICS

My classics were a bit different. My classics spurred my imagination, they set a creative bent in me that’s lasted a lifetime. They gave me a sense of wonder, something to think about and something that didn’t depress me.

First off, The Hardy Boys. When we moved into our rental house in Lompoc, California, we, or at least me and my sister, inherited a bunch of stuff from the kids that used to live there. One of my most treasured possessions was a set of original edition Hardy Boys books from the thirties. We’re talking in the original font, un-politically corrected and still in the original bindings, with no fancy artwork on the covers. Unfortunately, over the years, my parents gave them away. They’d be worth a fortune now if I still had them!

Those mystery stories were absolute gold to me. Up until I was in Spain in the 70’s as a young adult, I continued with that series, re-reading them. Even seeing that immaturity in the text, I still wanted to revisit those stories for the memories of that innocent time.

Nancy Drew. Do you think I cared it was a girl detective? Not a chance. I ate those up just like the Hardy Boys. I didn’t have any originals, but I started reading them early enough that I got the reprints of the originals before they politically corrected them and ruined them like the Hardy Boys.

Life On The Mississippi by Mark Twain. I asked for this one for a Christmas present when I was in middle school at Lompoc Junior High. It had a stern-wheeled steamboat on the cover, which I was fascinated with. I think my parents ordered it out of the Sears Catalog. It was a bit of a struggle to get through because of the writing, but my intent was to revisit my memories of the old TV show starring Darren McGavin called Riverboat. In a roundabout way, that book did the job. It spurred my imagination. It was one of his more obscure tomes.

The Bobsey Twins were a big influence in my very early reading years. Can’t forget them.

John Carter On Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs as well as the Tarzan series were always favorites as well.

The Danny Dunn series, including The Homework Machine, The Antigravity Paint, The Desert Island and many others were a big influence in elementary school. I had the pleasure of reading those and doing book reports on them.

Then there’s the short Tom Swift series. Classics that spurred imaginations of a bevvy of science fiction nerds.

What you’ll notice, outside of the one Mark Twain story, is that my early influences were all book series. Not a literary classic in the entire mix. All of them were “pulp” classics.

Little did I know then how it would affect me later in life.

SUMMARY

Each of us comes from a different background. That background summarizes what we are today. That reflects who are as writers, the flavors we present to the public through our stories.

How about you?

Happy writing!

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ARE YOU A WRITER OR AN AUTHOR?

October 17, 2017

This question has come up numerous times lately in my wanderings across the web.

Are you a writer or an author?

What’s the definition of each?

The prevailing opinions have been relatively consistent. Oh, sure, there’s always someone contrary. You have to expect that when you’re talking about hundreds to even thousands of people.

FIRST OFF

Writing itself. I’ve stated many times that writing for me is a passion. It’s not a hobby or a job. It’s something I love to do. I’m going to do it whether I’m published or not. I’m going to put it out there either for pay or for free. If I can get paid, so much the better, but one way or tuther, it’s getting out there for the one or two of you to see. Some would consider that self-publishing. Okay, I’ve already done plenty of that unofficially over many years. Never paid a dime for any of it except with my time and effort. Is that still self-publishing? That’s a whole ‘nuther discussion.

Writing has been a job for me. In that case, I still loved doing it so it almost wasn’t even work, though by definition, it was employment and I was getting paid to do it. In my other work, long before I took up writing, I did plenty of writing as part of my job as an Air Force maintenance puke. Once I found my muse, so to speak, I often liked the writing part a lot better than my “real” job!

In all of that, I considered myself a writer.

WHAT’S A WRITER?

By the generally accepted definition, a writer’s someone who writes. Whether for fun, or work, they write. For purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about stories, whether short, long, fiction or non-fiction, poetry, projects, etc.

A writer is someone who writes and writes and writes. Their goal may or may not be to get published.

I’ll tell you right now that if you’re a prolific writer and put in at least a little effort, the chances are, you’ll get at least something published.

However…

Writing and being good at it doesn’t necessarily go together.

You remember the old computer term, garbage in/garbage out?

That can apply to writing as well, if you just write with no regard for honing and improving your craft. If you slap your stuff down on paper or in the ether, with no regard for cleaning it up or getting feedback—no attempts to improve your work, don’t ever expect to get anywhere with it.

A small caveat I needed to get out of the way.

WHAT’S AN AUTHOR?

Now, this is the meat of the matter. An author is a writer that gets published. When you see your name in lights, so to speak, you’re now an author.

That pretty much sums up the difference between a writer and an author.

A writer writes, while an author is a writer that’s published.

How many of you are both?

To get technical, I’ve been an “uncredited” author since the late 90’s when I wrote all those preventive maintenance manuals for the rubber extrusion plant in Frederick, Oklahoma. However, my first piece, credited under my name, was a short story for an anthology by the Highland Writer’s Group in Highland, Indiana in 2002. Now that was my first real credit as a named author.

Even though I was writing much earlier, I first considered myself as an official writer for what I do now, fiction, since 1995 when I got serious about writing novels. Why? I guess it’s because I found my real muse and realized writing was a passion and not some passing thing. That time was my golden moment when I knew it’d be a lifelong thing for me.

Here I am, twenty-two years later (as I write this), and I’m both a writer and an author. I’m loving every minute of it (well, except the marketing). After all, nothing’s perfect.

How about you?

Happy writing!

SNEAKY HEAD HOPPING

October 11, 2017

As many of you regular readers know, one of my big pet peeves is point of view (POV) and particularly head-hopping.

I’ve just about seen it all. No, let me rephrase that. I have seen it all, at least in the genres I regularly read. I can’t speak for romance, most westerns, gay porn and a few others I can’t even imagine. Oh, literary fiction. Almost forgot that one!

Anyway….

The genre-fiction I read includes a lot of different writers. I screen the books as best I can at the bookstore. On the rare occasions when I buy off Amazon, I screen the writing samples with the “Look Inside” feature. As you know, I won’t normally read first-person and never present-tense. I’m also no fan of omniscient. The problem is that when scanning a book for a few minutes, it’s difficult to detect head-hopping until you dig deeper. The same for omniscient. You have to read for a while to see it, unless it’s blatant.

I’m especially annoyed by overt head-hopping. To me, this shows…well…it dilutes the impact of the characters on the story (among other things) and indicates lazy writing.

That’s one reason I’m no big fan of omniscient, though…well, see below.

OMNISCIENT

Omniscient is more a style than lazy writing, but it’s a style I don’t like because there’s no focus on any single character and that “cast of thousands” approach dilutes the emotion and feel of being inside the head of each character, even though you are for short snippets. It adds a confusing picture you have to keep sorted out in your head all the time. It’s more of an accumulative effect.

No focus.

For me, that sucks.

Some writers are better at controlling omniscient than others. The ones that do I can tolerate and have enjoyed those books. Others, I find unreadable.

Omniscient is an orgy of head-hopping which is a quote of mine and the title of one of my previous articles. For the masters of omniscient, they keep the reins on it and the writing is good enough that the stories shine through. For those that aren’t, the writing is total chaos.

SNEAKY HEAD-HOPPING

Since I insist on reading solid third-person and shy away from omniscient, I get a lot of authors that are sneaky with their head-hopping. What I mean is there may be a main character POV but right in the middle of a scene, another character will pop in with POV for a paragraph or a few sentences, then it goes back to the main character for the rest of the chapter. You don’t see it again for several chapters. On the other hand, there’s a book I recently read. This female author of detective novels (the only clue I’ll give) has one central character that controls almost every scene. However, right in the middle of a particular scene, any random character can take over POV for a paragraph or two then shift back to the main POV instantly. THAT’s blatant head-hopping! It’s sneaky at times, because these pauses can be a sentence or two, but they’re there.

That’s the classic definition of head-hopping in what’s supposed to be solid third-person, focused POV.

This author gets away with it because she’s got almost more books out than I have articles on this web site. It’s irritating to have to deal with that. They’re short bursts “juss cuz,” but annoying and sloppy.

When you have a built-in audience, I guess you don’t have to abide by any particular standard. Since this is the first book I’ve read by her, maybe she was worse in the earlier ones? On the other hand, the story was pretty good. I finished it and it was worth a good four stars. It would’ve been five except for the head-hopping.

DOES IT MATTER?

There are always excuses for sloppy writing. The story is all that matters. Bla bla bla.

That’s a load of crap.

Your integrity as a writer should also matter.

Your legacy as a writer should also matter.

Maybe to the casual reader or fan, this is something they’d never even notice. Then again, keeping the POV straight makes for so much better of a read.

I’m certainly not the POV police here. On the other hand, POV has always been something that’s bugged me even before I knew what it was. There was always something about certain books that bugged the hell out of me but I didn’t understand what it was at the time. Now that I know, I can define it, describe it and at best, pass it on to you, the writer. You may simply ignore my advice and do what you want. These things that have bugged me for almost six decades don’t apply to everyone, I’m sure. However, as I became a writer and stopped to smell the roses, so to speak, I took the time to analyze the what’s and the where’s and the why’s. POV was a biggie, such as head-hopping.

Not giving a crap about the little things is just as bad as not caring about the big things. My goal is to write to the best of my ability and make for the best read possible.

After all, that is your goal, isn’t it?

Happy writing!

CAN YOU FOLLOW YOUR MUSE ON A WHIM?

October 4, 2017

If writing isn’t in your blood, if it isn’t a passion, it’s work. If you’re on a crunch for time, every moment is precious when you can sit down at the keyboard or the notebook or whatever medium you use to write. On the other hand, if it’s truly a passion and you have something to say – in other words, the muse hits – you drop everything and go with it. True?

This is something I deal with all the time. I’ve chatted with other writer’s and received feedback that dropping everything, even for a short while, to pop off a short story (or an article or anything) while working some other project is unthinkable. For whatever reasons, some people can’t break concentration to follow another thread.

How about you?

CONCENTRATION

This is the same thing as multitasking. If you get a muse, an idea, you go with it. Your nature is to follow it through.

On the other hand, what do you do when you run across multiple muses? Do you have the capability to follow several of them at the same time?

Some people can’t do that. Understandable.

For some, writing takes too much concentration and effort. It’s not that it isn’t a passion, but it’s still so much effort…let’s say, lack of proficiency? They need to place all of their energy on one thing at a time.

Is this your state right now?

Or, are you proficient enough that you can multitask? Can you concentrate on multiple threads?

LOSING THE MUSE

There’s the case of humming right along on a novel. Then an idea comes up for a killer short story. Or, a different idea for an even better novel. You set aside the novel you were working on, pursue the whatever it was. Then you either finish it or it crashes and burns. Now, you come back to the original idea and pffft! It’s gone!

Has this ever happened to you?

Me?

Never.

I’ve heard of the fear of this happening to others.

I’ve wondered if it would ever happen to me. In a small way, it has.

How?

Right now, I have four novels I’ve started over the years but never completed. For one reason or other, I stopped writing on them. The muse petered out. I lost interest or moved on to something else. One day, I may get back to them, but for now, they’re sitting idle in my files. I had an A and a B but never filled in the in-between. Other bigger, better things drug me away.

SUMMARY

The thing is that I constantly write. I constantly multitask. I have many muses, most of which I complete. I don’t have many failures, but those that one might consider failures, I consider incomplete at this stage.

The point being, I can follow my muse on a whim. Writing for me isn’t such a burden that I have to drop everything and concentrate on one thing only to git’ ‘er dun. I can do several projects at once.

At the moment, I’m doing this article, compiling and editing the September LVAS Observer’s Challenge, editing a short story I’m submitting to the next Henderson Writer’s Group Anthology, and writing another chapter in the third book in the Meleena’s Adventures series.

The short story was something I came up with on a whim. In fact I think of those spur of the moment, just like these articles I write weekly.

How about you?

Happy writing!

I WENT TRADITIONAL BECAUSE SELF-PUBLISHING WAS TOO HARD

September 21, 2017

“I went traditional because self-publishing was too hard.”

I attended a writer’s meet and greet the other day and one of the authors said this.

My jaw almost dropped to the floor.

Then she added this little tidbit and I am paraphrasing on both these quotes because I didn’t get the exact words:

“Though I know I got lucky, it still took me ten tries to get an agent.”

Are you kidding me? Got lucky?

I’d say this author struck gold pretty quick. In fact real quick!

She went on to talk about another author who was in her twenties with query letters and still looking. As if that’s something.

I’m not in any way knocking this girl. She read a writing example, it was good, and she generated a lot of positive reaction from the crowd for her young adult tale.

UNREALISTIC?

My beef with her statement is that the way it came across is like anyone who writes…

No, let me back up here.

In now twenty-two years of experience at this game, I’ve seen just about everything. The anecdotal evidence points to this:

The lady in question hit lightning in a bottle. She had a hot button genre that’s in demand. She has an ingrained talent and has been writing since elementary school. She has a positive attitude.

Everything for her fell in place and luck had a lot to do with it.

My beef is for her to say that the easy way was to go traditional, when the exact opposite is true. Most self-published authors choose that route because they can’t break into traditional publishing. Why?

I’ve written about this numerous times here at Fred Central. As you that have been here a while well know, it took me twenty years and 689 rejections to get traditionally published because I refused to self-publish.

I could’ve been published twenty years ago if I’d gone self-publishing.

I could have eleven books out now.

I couldn’t vouch for the quality of said books and I’d probably be bankrupt many times over in the process.

In no way am I knocking self-publishing. Also, the lady was true that it’s not necessarily easy in the sense that it’s all on you. In that regard, it’s a lot more difficult to get it right because you’re in control. You make all the decisions, you control the quality and if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t have the money, or don’t hire the right people, your book is going to be crap. Also, you have to do 100% of the marketing, not 90% or 80% but 100%. In that regard, what she said is true. Traditional is easier.

However, getting published traditional is certainly not easier than self-published! It’s 1000% harder!

The difference is lightning in a bottle.

There are literally thousands of outstanding authors out there that will never see print.

Why?

Numbers.

Luck.

Lightning in a bottle.

Sheer talent alone won’t get you through the door.

It takes something extra and that includes the talent, good query letters, luck, lightning in a bottle and regardless of what this lady implied:

Persistence.

PLUG AWAY

You want to see your book in print?

You can go the “easy way” and self-publish.

However, that only gets it in print. That doesn’t mean you have a quality product. To get a quality product, you need to put a lot of work into it…and money.

You can go the “hard way” and go traditional.

Traditional is the real hard way.

Why?

Foot through the door. It’s rare that lightning in a bottle strikes.

Once through though, you have an entire machine that makes sure your book is a quality product. All you have to do is cooperate with them. You have much less control over the process as well as profit margins, but you don’t fork out a cent for the final product. You also have a mass marketing machine to back it up.

SUMMARY

It depends how much work you want to do, or more rightly, which type of work you want to do, how persistent you are and how long you want to wait.

I’m glad I waited. Lightning never struck in a bottle for me, but I never gave up.

Maybe what she meant by self-publishing being too hard was that she’d have to do all the work. I can accept that. I never got a chance to ask her. Maybe if she’d clarified herself I wouldn’t have been inspired to write this article.

Happy writing!

CLEANING UP YOUR PROSE PART II

September 13, 2017

One of my most popular articles here at Fred Central is “The Overuse Of And.” It goes along with an article I did in October 2016 called “Cleaning Up Your Prose.” The use of extraneous verbiage and tying sentences together with the overuse of and is all part of what’s called readability.

Folks, your job as a writer, whatever your message, is to convey that message in the most efficient manner possible. Whether you’re challenging the readers or simply entertaining them, you need to get your point across in the ideas, not the construct of the verbiage!

Below is a tweaked version of that October 2016 article. Cleaning Up Your Prose. I’m reposting and updating it because of not only what I’ve been seeing from other writers and authors, but from myself as well. I’ll save The Overuse of And for another time.

Yes, in my own writing, when I read to my Monday critique group, I still end up with the same mistakes I talk about here at Fred Central. I always pass out eight copies to a select group out of the twenty to thirty members who usually attend. I do this because I know these people will bleed all over my stuff. I want and need that.

How many times have I said “forest through the trees?” Of course, I’m much better than I used to be, but even now, after all these years, I still don’t always write what I’m intending. As a result, I can end up with extra verbiage just like you and everyone else. I find a lot of it in the quick edits I do before I read, but I don’t try to tear things apart because I know I need second and more sets of eyes to catch it all. You will too. However, the more you know…

So, without further adieu…

INTRO

As not only an editor but a self-editor (since I’m also a writer), I see everything under the sun when it comes to extra verbiage. We all do it. Whether it’s extraneous words in our dialogue to plain old excess narrative, we need to write lean, mean and get to the point. The more garbage you add on, even if some literary circles love words, most readers will lose interest (or at least struggle to stay interested). Also, those extra words add clutter that weakens the impact of everything you’re trying to say.

Self-editing has its hazards. There’s always the forest-through-the-trees mentality. That’s unavoidable because you’re too close to the story and your mind tends to fill in what you intended to say rather than what you put on the page. The way to fix a lot of that is to set the writing aside, move on to something else and come back to it later. The biggest fix is experience. The more you write and learn the craft, the cleaner you’ll write, as long as you heed advice, have the aptitude to pick up the tricks, and practice them. Also, when you go back for the second or third or more edits, you’ll more easily spot the issues and fix them.

The best way to fix it is not only self-editing, but second and more sets of eyes, beta readers and writer’s groups, if available. The more sets of eyes you can get on your prose, the better to see what you can’t.

WHAT IS EXTRA VERBIAGE?

Wow, where to begin?

REPEATED WORDS

How about double/repeated words? I don’t mean stuttering like but but but or he he he did this. I’m talking about using the same key word two or more times in the same sentence or within the same paragraph, or even page. In this case, I’m not talking about articles such as the and and, but for instance, unique words like a common action tag…nodded.

Nodded, used as a tag, is one of my weaknesses. Detach nodded…whatever

In the next paragraph, or maybe the one after that, Elroy nodded…whatever

Repeated words.

When you see multiple action tags using the same word on the same page, or even too often within the same chapter, the repetition becomes noticeable.

Or, too many saids as a tag on one page.

Using window five times in a paragraph.

Repeating a character’s name five times within a paragraph. It should only be there once. Then, when you fix it, if the name’s at the start of each sentence, you replace it with the pronoun, He or She. Guess what? Now you have the character’s name once, but either he or she four times, starting each of those sentences! Same problem, you just replaced one repeated word with another. Time to re-write three of those sentences to eliminate the need for the pronoun at the beginning of each sentence. Also, keep in mind using too many of them hidden within each sentence. See how you can eliminate some of them within each sentence by re-writing the sentences to avoid having to use the pronoun constantly. A lot of this comes to style and feel.

This also applies to using too many key words on a page. Yes, on a PAGE. Certain words that stand out can become repetitious if used more than once on a page. It’s something of a feel you have to get when you read the chapter, or someone else does.

It can be simple words like car, cart, window or a name like Susan. It can be a title like Congressman so and so or mountain or just about anything. When those unique words pop up again and again on the same page, they stand out. You may be blind to it. It doesn’t have to be any particular word, just unique to the page and repeated that makes it stand out. It’s a matter of feel.

PRONOUNS

With some authors, there isn’t a pronoun they don’t love.

This is especially true in first-person but can also have a huge effect in third as I alluded to with the substitution thing in the previous section.

In first-person, it’s I, me, my in every sentence. You have to get creative to eliminate them or it gets repetitious.

In third person, it’s he, she, him, her in excess. Same difference.

In true omniscient, it’s they & them.

When you see them over and over again, page after page, it becomes annoying, sometimes in the extreme.

ADVERBS

It’s said that some authors never found an adverb they didn’t like. I’ve read a few of these people.

Very, absolutely, considerably…the list goes on. These are all extra words that have little to no impact on the sentence.

Example: Joe stood back and stared at the very huge man.

Joe stood back and stared at the huge man.

While I have other issues with that sentence, the main one is the completely (also an adverb) unnecessary very in the sentence.

You can tell a lot of adverbs because they usually end in y or ly.

Another one is just.

Cyndi got there just in time.

In this case, you can almost justify using it.

I’d make it less passive.

Cyndi rushed through the door two seconds before the train pulled away.

COMMON CONVERSATIONAL, CLICHÉS & OTHER PHRASES

There are certain common phrases we use in dialogue and elsewhere that don’t belong in narrative.

Though it would seem Randy was hungry, he could not eat.

No ceegar, folks.

Despite his stomach pangs, Randy could not eat.

Clichés? Too many to list. Consider them extraneous. On the other hand, I use them sometimes here in my articles. Why? Juss cuz. I take a conversational approach to these articles and this isn’t a novel. Two different things. However, consider them poison in a novel or short story. Unless you have a very strong justification for using a cliché, fuggddaboudit! Yeah, that’s even a cliché now!

There have been certain articles floating around about killing certain phrases and sentences in prose. Good advice. They’re overused and are bordering on cliché.

RESEARCH

The best way to learn these things is to practice practice practice (hey, three repeated words!). Also, if you haven’t had classes, belong to a writer’s group or have a mentor to help you, check out books in the library (or on-line) on grammar, adverbs & style. These books can do wonders. I have to admit I’ve never cracked one of those books (even though I’ve bought a few) because I learned from alternative methods. However, the one book I do use is the Chicago Manual of Style.

In summary, I still stand by this advice. After twenty-two plus years now, I still make mistakes all the time and freely admit it. I’m a lot better than I used to be, but I still have to do plenty of editing after a free-form writing session. Please!

The only way to get better is knowledge and practice. Then, you can minimize your mistakes and make the editing that much easier. Don’t ever expect to eliminate it. That’s a nice lofty goal, but for most of us, be realistic and don’t stress about it. Don’t let it get in the way of your muse. Always keep in mind to hone your craft and get better so crappy writing doesn’t get in the way of your muse. I hope this article gives you a bit to go by.

Happy writing!

I JUST CAN’T RELATE TO YOUR CHARACTER

September 5, 2017

As many of you know, and I’ve often repeated, I’ve been rejected 689 times, so far. Though I hope to not add too many more to that number, I’m well-used to it, so if it continues to happen, oh well, move on.

The other day, I was thinking about one of the myriad of excuses to the fewer than 50% of responses I got to those 689 rejections. Even fewer of that 50% that responded at all actually supplied any meaningful feedback besides “no thanks” or “not for me.” While I appreciated any slender tidbit (except the really nasty and snarky, hurtful ones), there was one in particular that stood out.

“I just can’t relate to your character.”

Given that this “excuse” was given for different novels, different genres, I came to realize that it was just as likely a polite way of saying the agent (yes, they were all agents and in these cases, NOT publishers directly) just didn’t like my writing.

While I would’ve preferred more constructive feedback than something this generic, at least it wasn’t a simple “no.” At the same time, though it did get me to look back at each character, I still came away with nothing useful because in each case, it didn’t specify what was wrong with the characters as in why the agent couldn’t relate to the characters.

HOW DO WE RELATE TO A CHARACTER?

Let’s face it. At least when it comes to fiction, we’re usually reading exaggerated reality. Not only that, but we’re more than likely reading about someone who is doing something we’ve never or are never likely to EVER do in our lifetime.

We’re supposed to relate to that?

I qualify that by stating that it depends on the genre you’re reading. I also qualify that by stating anecdotal evidence from many readers I’ve talked to that the last thing they want to read is about something they do. They want to read about something they don’t do. Why? A lot of people don’t really like what they do, they just do it because they have to. So why self-torture by reading about it for pleasure?

On the other hand, there are the little things. Personal likes and dislikes. Quirks, like musical tastes, foods, habits, things that happened in the past. All this, as we call it, “color,” we add in so we can make something relatable to people. This is things people like to read about in characters whether these characters do what they do or not.

As an author, how are we supposed to either predict or guess what millions of people that might read are book are going to relate to?

ME AS A READER – AN EXAMPLE

I read mostly thrillers, icky bug (when I can get it), mystery, cop/detective stories and rarely science fiction and fantasy.

In all of those cases, in no way, shape or form can I relate to ANY of those characters!

Why? I was a maintenance puke for most of my adult life. I was a supervisor, an instructor, a technical writer, a medical biller. Do any of those choices fit with the above? No way!

I mean, come on now! Not only that, how many of those characters grew up in Southern California to a happy family, went in the Air Force as an electrical mechanic maintenance puke, lived in Spain and Turkey, was a failed musician that took up writing, likes psychedelic to heavy metal music and is into astronomy.

Well, I’ll tell you. Exactly zero!

I have read exactly zero books with characters that either worked at what I did, liked the music I did, had any of the same experiences I did, lived where I did or had anything I could relate to except spoke a common language.

I’ve on the other hand, “related” to characters that were all completely different from me because they were interesting, they had their own cocoon of exaggerated reality that was completely different from me. I would never EVER want to do or be like them.

I always know this ahead of time before I even open to page one. I don’t care.

WHAT’S THE REAL TERM WE’RE LOOKING FOR?

It isn’t about relating to the characters at all.

It’s about connecting with them.

When you bury yourself in the world created by that author, you have to like the character or characters enough to buy off on them. You have to accept all their quirks and habits, their likes and dislikes, their personalities. If what they are is too alien to you, that’s a disconnect.

How tolerant are you with that?

That’s the question.

I’ll bet you’re pretty tolerant. I’ll bet you’ve read lots of books and have liked lots of characters that are vastly different from you, yet you liked or loved them.

Why?

The author made them interesting.

They weren’t relatable to you because they were completely different from you. They might be a different race, sex, have different likes and dislikes. However, they were put together in a way you like. Period.

They were interesting.

In my case, I was rejected because the agents didn’t find my characters interesting. Or, they didn’t find the story interesting. Or, they didn’t like the grammar or syntax. Or they didn’t like the plot from the synopsis. Whatever the case, I wish they would’ve just said it outright instead of giving me such a vague response as “I just can’t relate to your character” especially with just a few chapters which didn’t give enough time to even develop the character.

True, a story has to grab you right away and those early versions certainly had their flaws, since corrected. Now, THAT feedback would’ve been more useful than the reference to the characters.

Then again, I wouldn’t have had the inspiration for this article!

SUMMARY

There have been very few books I’ve EVER read where I could really relate to a character and they’ve all be autobiographies.

As for fiction, I go into a different world. In there, I connect with characters, rather than relate to them because frankly, none of them are like me.

I suppose our goal as authors is to connect our readers with our characters in some way.

Happy writing!