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DRAGONS

March 16, 2022

Right off the top, I want to say this isn’t an instruction article on the how to’s of dragons. Also, if you’re not into writing fantasy, this probably isn’t going to be your thing. Or is it?

STANDARD OF THE FANTASY GENRE

If you write fantasy, the dragon, noble or otherwise, is probably a standard creature, or even a trope of your world. These critters can be from the main subject to just a minor distraction. They might not even be a part of your world, just to be different.

On the other hand, it’s almost come to be expected from most fantasy worlds. What’s fantasy without some kind of dragon?

There are some (actually plenty) of fantasy worlds out there that don’t have them.

WHAT ARE THEY THERE FOR?

Often enough, the story is based on dragons. With magickal powers, breath emissions like fire, ice, and acid to name a few, tremendous strength, the ability to mesmerize, and a range of other superhuman abilities, they’ve earned their status into almost godlike realms.

With that in mind, many stories are woven around this type of world.

They could also just be another “monster in the manual,” something to be dealt with. Usually, they’re one of, if not, the most difficult beasts to fight.

Then again, maybe they’re neutral, and have little to do with anything, except being peripheral to the rest of the story.

GIVING THEM ABILITIES

Many go right to the D&D Monster Manual for abilities. Or, the author may research real-world legend. Some make up their own design from a meld of stuff they’ve heard or read.

There are no real rules for what your dragons, if you choose to use them, have to be. It’s your world, so it should be up to you to decide what their abilities and appearance are going to be. You’re not bound by any genre rules that require you to make them so and so.

I’m certainly not going to try to tell you or dictate those parameters for you.

Some are going to call bull if you “break the rules,” but who can say what they are for a mythological creature?

PHILOSOPHICAL – NON-FANTASY DRAGONS

This section is for you non-fantasy fiction writers.

Who says a dragon has to be a dragon?

A dragon can be a protagonist or an antagonist?

A dragon can be a character of mythological proportions. Some person with almost mythological abilities. This someone can sweep into your story and either help save the day, or create havoc in a way that may seem mythological. You, as the author, will have to lay out the logistics for the reader. Leave a little mystery, a little mythology to the character, without making the reader suspend their disbelief too much.

Yes, you non-fantasy writers can have your dragons as well, in the form of real people.

SUMMARY

In most cases, dragons are either key players, or often ominous creatures (or people) in a story. They’re meant to be so. Some authors choose not to use them at all. Those that do, tend to elevate them into something mythological, something above all other creatures or people in their story. It’s not just a matter of size, but intent.

Happy writing!

ANYTHING BUT WORD AGAIN

March 9, 2022

            I originally posted this article in 2019 but because of recent and consistent questions on the forums, I thought it was worth revisiting.

More and more I see writers seeking some form of writing software that isn’t Word.

They’re constantly looking for something…anything as a tool to write with.

One might get the impression they absolutely despise anything Microsoft.

That’s not necessarily the correct assumption.

Why?

DEVICES

            Many people nowadays don’t write on a conventional keyboard or computer. They use apps and devices. So guess what? As I’ve learned in several painful incidents, apps and what I know of as conventional software aren’t one in the same.

            Therefore, from the feedback I’ve obtained, Word somehow has lost the ball when it comes to the world of apps.

            I do know that at least when it comes to Facebook, I’m no fan of the Facebook app, which I’m forced to use on my phone. If that’s any indication, then…hey, come to think of it, I’m not all that crazy about any of the apps I use on my phone.

            Okay, if I was a writer and had to use an app on a device, I’m all sympathy.

THOSE WITH KEYBOARDS

            There are those with keyboards who still don’t want anything to do with Word. Maybe they’re Apple people who hate Microsoft “juss cuzz,” or they somehow came from some other word processor that’s obsolete. Whatever the case, they’ve heard there’s something else out there.

ORGANIZATION

            Many writers are disorganized. They’re scattered about, or have several different programs to compile their characters, plots, towns, locations, statistics, chapters, outlines, special words, bla bla bla. That has brought up the rise of all-in-one writing programs.

            This is something Word doesn’t do. It doesn’t organize, fold, bend, staple, and mutilate all of this for you in one easy to access place. Some of these software packages do it for you on the fly, or supposedly do.

            Some people are gleefully happy to discard Word for this stuff.

            One problem.

            Learning curve.

LEARNING CURVE

            While writing software packages can be a cure-all for some people, there is the caveat that you have to learn all this crap. Since you have a complex bunch of programs melded together, you have to learn said complex melded programs, and all the ins and outs. This doesn’t happen overnight, though the learning curve may not be as hard as some things.

            It all depends on how much effort and time you want to put into it and how much you want to take away from your actual writing to get it all done.

            It could be worth it.

DEPENDS ON THE TYPE OF WRITER YOU ARE

            If you’re just starting out, it might be worth it to invest the time, money and training in learning one of these complex writing packages to get a step ahead.

            If you’ve been at things a while and are struggling, it might be worth it.

            If you already have a system that works and are just restless, you’re better off spending all that pent up energy on a plot twist.

            If you’re like me, I already have my methods that work, like yellow stickies on my computer desk, an encyclopedia for my fantasy series which I update as I go along, linear plots, and seat-of-the-pants writing style for everything else. I have no need to fix something that isn’t broke, especially after thirty years of experience with the Microsoft package.

SUMMARY

            You’ll notice I didn’t mention any other software package or writing program. First off, this isn’t an instruction article on any of them. I attended a single session on one of them conducted by our own Amanda Skenandore of the Henderson Writer’s Group. While an outstanding instructor, I knew after just a little while, the one she taught, Scrivner I believe (and don’t quote me on the spelling), wasn’t for me and instantly forgot the correct spelling of the name of that software package. She had a few converts at the meeting, but I wasn’t one of them. Everything she taught sounded great for someone who needs organization, but it was also stuff I already do in my own way, using what I already have, with Word alone. I’m not sure if she still uses that software package, but whether she does or not, she’s come out with some outstanding stories and that has more to do with her writing skills than whatever software she uses.

            Happy writing!

PICKING SUBJECT MATTER TO WRITE ABOUT

March 2, 2022

            Picking, or selecting what to write about should be a given, if you’re a passionate writer, or consider writing a passion. However, not everyone is in that same head space. I’ve seen it time and time again on the forums where someone would ask for ideas of what to write about.

            How many of us came into this passion/interest/hobby already bursting with ideas?

            How many of us just wanted to write, but had no idea what to write?

            Turns out it’s a mixed bag.

TRYING TO RELATE

            Someone grew up with an ability (talent), or an interest in writing.

            Why not take that skill or talent to the next step?

            The thing is that while your imagination worked great for term papers or the occasional one-off short story, when it comes to the big Kahuna, a novel, this person doesn’t have a clue.

            Interests may be diverse. Therefore this person signs up for multiple forums on social media (a big assumption but adapted to today’s world) and tries to mine other writers for ideas.

            The reactions with be mixed. A few may toss out ideas while others will not, with the logic being that this person should come up with their own ideas or why do this at all?

            There’s the predicament. This person wants to write but has no or little creativity.

HOW ABOUT SOMEONE WITH LOTS OF CREATIVITY?

            Getting into this deal for the right reasons, one writer may be chock full of ideas. The issue here is what to go for. If the person is (to use a well-worn and probably politically incorrect phrase) scatterbrained, they may have too many ideas and can’t choose between them. They go nuts (figuratively) trying to decide which of them to go for and end up stalled and getting nowhere.

            Sound familiar?

            Therefore, this person gets online (once again, playing to the norms of today) and starts asking around or giving lists of what people think they should write about.

THE SOMEWHAT OR MAYBE NORMAL PASSIONATE WRITER

            When it comes to a novel-sized project, it takes a certain commitment. That takes away substantial time from all the other projects in one’s head bursting to get out.

            For most of us, when we get into this, we already have a project in mind to start with and go for it.

            In my case, in a grand experiment to see if I could do it, I chose science fiction and made up a story, A and B on the spot. I came up with a method right out the gate. Then I sat down at the computer and went for it. If I was able to complete the entire thing, I knew I had something going for me.

            I did, and from there, I went on to the next genre and then the next.

            I had plenty of ideas, my mind bursting with them. However, one thing I also had in abundance.

            Patience.

            I think maybe that’s something lacking, to some degree, with many writers and authors nowadays. No, I take that back. Many writers. Authors have obviously got something to print, so they’ve succeeded at least to a point. From there, who knows?

WHAT ABOUT THE UNDECIDED?

            For the person who can’t decide what to write about, don’t expect miracles from social media. In fact, expect plenty of flack from those that don’t think you even have any business asking.

            On the other hand, what made you want to be a writer in the first place? Something prodded you in that direction? Was it a book, a movie, an incident?

            If you think you’re into writing, are you a reader? If you’re not, you probably need to rethink what you’re doing. If so, what are your favorite books, genres, subject matters?

            To me, it’s always best to write about something you are truly passionate about, let alone interested in. Don’t be one of these tortured artiste types that writes what they hate just because. That is a load of crap.

            Write what you know, what you love, and what you’re interested in. It shows!

            That, my friends, is one reason you get a lot of flack on social media if you start asking for what to write about.

            You should already know what you want to do. Nobody else should be telling you that. Then it’s not coming from you, it’s coming from them.

            Many things can inspire many people. If you go for months, years without coming up with anything to write about, maybe you should either find another passion/hobby or use writing in some other capacity.

            Creativity requires inspiration and originality. By originality, I mean your own take on something, coming from your headspace. Very little if anything is truly original so don’t even fret over that one.

SUMMARY

            What do any of us write about?

            Something we’re passionate about and/or something we’re interested in.

            That isn’t something that lends well to others dictating to us.

            When someone else gives us the idea, fine. Many have received an idea that way, though not usually directly solicited. Nothing really wrong with that. In that way, social media and polling other writers can work. However, don’t expect stellar results or responses.

            For the rest of us, it’s a matter of picking and choosing, unless the whole deal is just for that one great idea. One-and-done. There are those out there.

            Some thoughts to ponder.

            Happy writing!

A BOOK SIGNING AGAIN

February 23, 2022

            I just had another book signing. This time with a group of people at the Clark County Library in Las Vegas, Nevada. While it was a lot of fun, it wasn’t fruitful. Nothing new. It inspired me to go back to this article from 2016 where I talked about an individual book signing. Quite a bit of difference! I’ll tweak and add as needed.

2016

            And then, it happened!

            Okay, I copped that infamous line from at least a dozen, if not more episodes of Sea Hunt. It was worth it.

            It happened, alright. It surely happened (and don’t call me Shirley). If I need to tell you where I copped that line, well you aren’t no movie buff!

            Anyway, I had my first solo book signing and at the risk of repeating myself, it was well worth it!

THE PRELIMINARIES

            My solo event was organized by Barnes & Noble. The idea was to get as many people as possible to show up. The store pre-ordered a certain number of books, on the condition that my publisher accepts returns. That’s the big condition of a major retailer doing a book signing. Either you have to supply them the books, so they can sell them through their cash register at the retail price, which they don’t like to do because it isn’t in their system (more on that in a moment), or they order them from their supplier who accepts returns.

            It’s not that retailers are so much against self-published books. However, when you self-publish, you have no distribution system. A large retailer deals with stock systems and distribution. This means inventory and returns etc. When you try to bring them something outside the system, it plays havoc with their books. In that regard, they simply don’t like to deal with it.

            In my case, since I did NOT self-publish, my book’s available through Ingram and Baker & Taylor distribution systems. Not only that, but it’s available through Barnes & Noble. The only issue was that I’m with a small press, and not the big six. More on that in a moment. At first, there was a glitch, and it was cataloged wrong, but that was straightened out. When I got that cleared, the very nice lady in charge of things said yes to the book signing.

            The difference between a small publisher and a large one is distribution. Because my publisher is not one of the “big six”, my book isn’t distributed to all the stores across the country. In that case, this local store ordered that set quantity for the book signing, on the guarantee the publisher would accept the returns. With that taken care of, it was a matter of pre-publicity.

            Though Barnes & Noble posted the event on their web site, it was up to me to do my own marketing as well. I learned a few things.

            First off, social media was by far, the best way to get the word out under these circumstances. I used Facebook and Twitter, even though 99.9% of my followers don’t even live in Las Vegas.

            On the other hand, I had some mailers and flyers printed. As for the flyers, I deliberately had them printed 5X7 because I figured the larger they are, the more likely someone would take them down from a bulletin board. The smaller size was more likely to stay up longer, even if they were smaller and drew less attention. (Note: For this current 2022 library event, my only publicity was through Facebook like most everyone else that had social media.)

            One little problem.

            Have you noticed that almost nobody has bulletin boards anymore? I found that out the hard way! I went all over the place and found almost NO bulletin boards! When I did, I usually got “It can’t be for any money making event.” Say what???

            Shot down in flames. I had a pack full of useless flyers and mailers. Oh yeah, about the mailers, I ended up just giving them to people that I either see all the time, or are already Facebook friends.

            Lesson learned.

THE SETUP

            The day of the event was tight. Since it was a Saturday, I unfortunately, usually have something going on with my astronomy club as well, and quite often miss my other writer’s group member’s book signings. I couldn’t very well miss my own! Right after this event, I had to rush home, pack my telescope and head to the north end of town for a public viewing session.

            I arrived at the store and they already had a table set up for me to the right of the main door, with my books displayed and a sign with a photo of my book. They also had a display screen with my book and name as you walk through that door above their Kindle display.

            I brought my fold-out banner, my bookmarks and business cards. I also brought a note pad to write down complicated names for signings. I always do that in case someone has an unusual spelling of their name so I get it right, or if someone speaks softly or in a tone I can’t hear very well.

            Finally, a key component, to attract extra attention and for a conversation starter, I added a candy bowl.

            The store ordered fifteen books.

THE EVENT

            The event went very well. The key to a book signing, now this is important, is to NOT sit at your chair (which they supplied) and just stare forward. Remember, you’re there to sell books, not wait for people to come and discover you!

            Some people avoided eye contact. I still said hi. Sometimes they responded, sometimes not. There are certain people you just know not to mess with. Some people are just shy and if you say hi and start talking to them, they respond. With some people, if you say something, you can start a conversation.

            Don’t be afraid to be rejected. Most will, but once in a while, someone will spark an interest.

            The candy bowl was a great conversation starter. Sometimes it was just an avenue for kids. Sometimes adults with a sweet tooth. It made people hesitate.

            I said hi to a lot of people. I found a lot of people didn’t read fantasy, but a few did as well. I explained the book to many. Some showed interest. Quite a few took my business cards and bookmarks, both which have the book title, ISBN and/or my web site.

RESULTS

            As a result of my publicity, four people I know stopped by. Three bought a copy of the book. One stranger bought a copy as well. I went with no expectations. My goal was to sell at least one, so I outdid my expectations and then some!

            That may not sound like much to some of you. However, consider how many book signings virtual unknown authors or even some very well-known authors go to where they don’t sell ANY books!

            I think I did pretty well.

            Oh…and I also got a maybe from one person who had to leave and catch a ride. We’ll see about that one.

            In the end, the store asked me to autograph six copies of the book. They put “autographed by author” stickers on them and set all of the remaining books on a table by the door for a few days before transferring them to the local author wall in the back of the store.

            I’ve been posting that on Facebook to let everyone know. Maybe some of those will eventually sell as well.

            Folks, this is the life of a new author. Unless you’re up there on the New York Times Best Seller List, get used to it. You’ll be doing the same things.

2022

            My current signing was almost none of that. I had a table to share with another author just inside and to the left of the door. No banners (no room) and no standing in front of the table (no point). We had a sparse crowd, which was no big news. At these events, most usually sell only a couple of copies at best. A few maybe more, depending on the genre and who shows. Neither me nor my partner at the table sold a thing. She wrote erotica and some supernatural and also had a lot of swag stuff, which is great if you can go that route. Most of the people I knew did not sell a thing either, though a few sold one copy.

            Still, it was worth it just to get out in public, a rare thing still with the current pandemic. I got to see old friends, have some interesting conversations with strangers who stopped by to check me out, and gave away a few cards, bookmarks and candy. Oh, and I didn’t have a telescope event planned for the evening! It was something else.

            You take what you can get.

            I didn’t sell anything, but I still consider it a victory for just getting out into the world.

            Happy writing!

STRUCTURING CHAPTERS AND SCENES REVISITED

February 16, 2022

            I’ve thought a lot of how chapters and scenes are constructed, especially lately given the wide range of books I’ve been reading. Some chapters/scenes have been short and to the point, while others have been fifty pages long. Some were, to me, poorly constructed, but to tell the truth, that was the least of my issues, yet it compounded them. This particular version of the article came out in 2014. I thought it was worth a revisit seeing as how I just finished a book that was a mix of both the good and the bad.

            Back in 2011, I first touched on this subject but have gained more perspective, experience and insight. I thought I’d revisit it in 2014 in more detail, and now here I am again in 2022. This very important topic is something all writers should have as a top priority. I’ll of course, tweak it as needed.

TECHNICALITIES

            What is the purpose of a story?

            To convey information.

            Technically put, this is your goal in a nutshell. You, the writer, are trying to convey information to your reader. If it’s a fictional piece, the whole idea is to convey pleasurable information. Which emotion that involves is entirely up to you, but unless the story is one of those fifty-word shorts (or something like that), it’s going to be long enough to require some sort of structure beyond the basics all stories require: A beginning, a middle and an end.

            To get from point A to point B, there has to be structure, a pattern that makes it easier for the reader to digest. Therefore, to simplify your story, to organize it and make it more palatable for your readers, you go beyond the basic sentences and paragraphs to organize it into chapters and scenes.

ALWAYS SOMEONE TO BREAK THE RULES

            The most extreme example I can think of is a book I heard about when I was living in Spain. A Spanish author wrote a two-hundred-plus page book, and it was one sentence! The only punctuation was a single period at the very end. That had to be one seriously tedious story. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a best seller, even in Spain.

            As an avid reader, I’ve seen all varieties of structure. Some authors don’t use chapters at all. Their stories are all scenes. Then there are those like James Patterson, who makes every scene a chapter. Lately, I tend toward this approach. Then there are those that use a timeline instead of chapters, or they have parts with independent chapters within these parts instead of consecutive chapters starting with one at the beginning of the book and so on.

            It doesn’t matter which form you take because it still boils down to organization.

ORGANIZATION

            Chapters and scenes organize your story into logical, palatable bite-sized chunks, something the reader can grab onto. This is the same as TV scenes between commercial breaks. The movies do it also, except instead of commercials, they break to a different part of the story, to take a breather, or reveal something. Well…that’s not always the case, especially with some thrillers and blockbusters, but you get the point.

            Organization. Small sections lay out your story so that the reader can help put things together in their mind as they follow along. They can watch it develop as you tell it.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHAPTERS AND SCENES?

            Is there really a difference between chapters and scenes? To many authors, not much.

            One way to look at it is that a chapter is more of the big picture, where scenes are little chunks within the chapter. What does that mean?

            A chapter is a major clause, section, or part of the story. It’s a chunk of action that takes place. A scene is the same thing but on a smaller scale. Because of this rather vague and arbitrary definition, there are no set rules, and many different methods authors use to organize their stories.

OLD SCHOOL

            Not too long ago, the standard was that books were organized into chapters and each chapter should have no more than three or four scenes. More than that was considered taboo and excessive. Bad voodoo.

            I happen to agree with that if you choose to use standard chapters. More than three or four scenes per, fragments the chapters and becomes annoying. That isn’t to say published authors don’t break that rule and get away with it, but to me, it makes for a disorganized story and takes away from the impact.

REGARDLESS, THEY’RE ALL STRUCTURED THE SAME

            Whether it’s a chapter or a scene, they should be written the same. They both follow a basic structure similar to the big picture of your overall story. They should have a beginning, a middle and an end. The only thing missing will be the plot resolution.

LIKE AN INDIVIDUAL SHORT STORY

            You should treat each scene and chapter like a short story because that’s what they are. Each chapter and/or scene is a co-dependent short story that when assembled, coalesces to create the completed whole novel (or short bigger story).

            Each one of these intricate parts completes the whole.

            Every scene or chapter must be treated the same. The structure should be as follows, regardless of length:

  1. BEGINNING: Some kind of introduction to set the scene, to let the reader know what, where, why, when and how. It could be a paragraph, a sentence, or even a single word.
  2. MIDDLE: The meat of the matter. This is where you do what you have to do. Get out the information, whatever it is.
  3. END: This can be the most critical part. The end is not only to finish up the chapter or scene, this is also where you sell your reader, where you compel them to go on to the next scene, where you entice them to want to continue reading. There’s nothing worse than to end the section leaving them flat. If they have no reason to move on, why bother? You’ve just lost your reader. The only scene that won’t compel them to want to read more will be the end. Even then, if you do a really good job, they’ll either want a sequel or can’t wait for your next book to come out.

DON’T FORGET TO DUMP THE FLUFF

            One of the most critical things about any chapter or scene, which I’ve preached in many of my other articles, is that any chapter or scene has to be relevant! It has to move the plot along and not be extraneous material. There’s nothing that brings a plot to a screeching halt faster than fluff.

SUMMARY

            Whether you choose to use chapters and no scenes like I do often (depending on the genre), use nothing but scenes, or something in-between, remember the key is that each bite-sized chunk of your short story, novel or novelette must be a short story within. Each little bit must have a beginning, middle and an end. If you have those key elements and pay special attention to each ending, your readers will stay with you right until the end.

            Happy writing!

BOOKS THAT INSPIRED ME TO WRITE

February 9, 2022

           This is a question that comes up quite often on the forums, though to tell the truth, I haven’t seen it lately. In fact, this inspiration just popped into my head as I sat down to think of something to write this Sunday morning. I know I’ve touched on it before in other articles. After all, I have 580 to choose from since I started Fred Central.

            To do this, I need to take it back to the beginning.

MY FIRST BOOKS

            Back when I first got interested in books, most of you weren’t even alive. My mom used to read me big fat baby books, the likes of my favorite at the time Willy Woo oo ooo The Fire Truck, if I remember the title correctly. It turned into many more including (which I’ve outline before), my grandpa showing me Encyclopedia Britannica and of course, that infamous photo of the Lusitania Sinking.

            I’ve always had a fascination with printed matter.

READING

            Reading has never not been part of my life.

            It wasn’t always pleasant, as early school can attest, though it wasn’t that I couldn’t learn, or didn’t, but my report cards weren’t always the best. Part of that was thanks to my vivid imagination (which would come in handy many decades later).

            The thing is that back then, while I never had anything against reading, which I did as much out of necessity as anything else, what turned me off then was as often the tiny font rather than content.

            Yup, that’s right, the size of the font had a big influence on what I’d read for pleasure.

            Therefore, kid books, with the bigger fonts usually got my attention.

            Next came open space on the pages.

            The more solid the pages, the less I wanted to read it.

            Lazy? Or just that I didn’t like busy pages?

            I gravitated toward the more adolescent books which fit right with my age group at the time.

BEGINNINGS OF MY FICTION INTEREST

            One huge boost in my reading interest came when we were living in Lompoc, California. We had been living in a trailer and my parents finally got tired of that and moved into a real house. The people who owned it and rented it to us had two older kids who left us a bunch of toys and stuff they no longer wanted. For the boy in the family, I got a treasure trove of stuff including a bunch of kids books, a little older than my age at the time, but it gave me a huge boost for reading. This set of books were the original 1930’s editions of The Hardy Boys.

            While the font wasn’t quite as big as I would’ve wanted, I adapted and once I started with book #1, The Tower Treasure, I was hooked!

            Soon, I had exhausted the entire library of books I’d inherited from the kid. Then, they became an occasional buy when my parents would let me, or a Christmas gift until I had the entire series up to that point.

            Along the way, I also got into Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, The Bobsey Twins, and Danny Dunn series.

            I always loved series the best because it brought back characters I liked to see again.

            There were a few one-off books I also got into, like Life On The Mississippi, which was a very hard read for me because of the font and the writing style. I also wasn’t all that hot on either Tom Sawyer nor Huck Finn for some reason.

            I was, of course, forced to read the “classics” at school.

            I hated them. Not only were they boring, but the obscure language and writing styles turned me off. I was being force fed these tomes, told this and that, and had to write about it. That didn’t sit well with me.

            At this time, my writing consisted of the occasional letter to a friend or relative, or whatever I had to write at school. Like most others of my age, I was not a big fan of writing, though I did it, sometimes with great angst. It was also all with a pen or pencil. No typing.

THE END OF HIGH SCHOOL

            Toward the end of high school, my best friend started hanging out with this book collector who was a slightly older guy that lived on the west side of Palmdale. That was, of course, not his main interest in this guy, but I won’t go into that except it was of a party nature. Anyway, this guy got me into books and his fascination with science fiction. He had quite an extensive collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs books. By this time, a bit older, I was able to tolerate the tinier font of a paperback, and at least Burroughs got to the point. I could enjoy his Mars and Tarzan novels.

            I started a modest collection.

            In the meantime, after I graduated, I got my first taste of fantasy as I worked nights at a golf course, running sprinklers. Between runs, I sat in the maintenance shed with my feet off the ground (to avoid scorpions), and slogged through Lord Of The Rings.

            I somehow got through all three volumes, but they left me kind of flat. At that time, not being a writer myself, I had no idea what was wrong with them. I know now what the problem is. Besides the rambling is the omniscient point of view. That lesson would come back to me decades later.

THE MILITARY

            When I first joined, I wasn’t reading as much as when I first arrived in Spain in the early 70’s. Then, living single in the barracks, I was into two main things. Music/electronics and reading. I haunted the Stars and Stripes bookstore.

            It was there I got into a lot more science fiction and again, a bit of fantasy, though much less wordy stuff by Andre Norton and the like.

            I also got my first taste of some great detective and thriller and spy novels like Matt Helm and Doc Savage.

            I also read one significant book that would stick with me for a long time. I can’t remember a thing about the story, but the book was called The Metal Monster. It was science fiction. The only reason I really remember the book is because in downtown Madrid, there was a high-rise that had a big sign on it that said “METAL MAZDA” on it. Every time we went to Madrid, I’d spot that sign on the building in the distance and think of that obscure book. To this day, I still can’t recall anything about that story, but I still remember the title!

            This was when my first inspirations to write came into play.

            So, what happened?

            I had a Royal manual typewriter and in a huge but misguided inspiration, I attempted to start a Star Trek satire. I got three quarters of a page and gave up.

            I realized this crap is hard!

            I shelved it and never tried again for a long time.

NEARING MILITARY RETIREMENT – CHANGING TIMES

            In our last year at Torrejon in Spain, Desert Storm took place.

            In a hangar two down from where I worked, they set up a deployment depot for the troops going to the bad place. My family used to volunteer to help out, doling out coffee and donuts and whatever.

            I’d go down and visit them at lunch time.

            They had an extensive exchange library of paperbacks.

            That’s where I found Raise The Titanic by Clive Cussler and a very early book by Bentley Little.

            Those two books were not only great reads, but they inspired me to think about writing again. I had just completed a writing course for my associates degree, plus a few years earlier, I had learned the Nazi way of writing from my former boss. By this time, some six years since, I’d become to go-to guy in the shop for writing stuff. Plus, my wife and I had a monthly newsletter we did for a group we were in.

FINAL DAYS IN THE MILITARY

            We came back stateside and were living in Oklahoma at my last assignment. I realized we were never going to do much else with our band, which we kept reforming every time we moved from base to base. I needed a creative outlet.

            Along this time, which was mid 90’s now, I’d been haunting the local Hastings bookstore in downtown Altus, Oklahoma. There I discovered Dean Koontz, but in particular, two authors who were a huge inspiration. Elizabeth Forrest (Rhondi Vilott Salsitz), and my mentor and friend, Carol Davis Luce. Their books blew me away. It was then, early 1995, that I sat down at the keyboard, and took up writing and it became a passion.

SUMMARY

            Books/authors that inspired me to write are many.

            Hardy Boys

            Nancy Drew

            Edgar Rice Burroughs

            Danny Dunn

            Doc Savage

            Clive Cussler

            Bentley Little

            Carol Davis Luce

            Elizabeth Forrest

            Ron Goulart

            Andre Norton

            Just to name a few. Notice that I mentioned not only authors, but book series.

            The reason is that it was not just specific books, but the authors and most of what they wrote (and some were contracted out under a pen name). No one specific book did it for me as much as everything.

            Did I pick up writing because I thought I could do better than they were doing?

            Ah, duh! No way!

            I just wanted to write, tell my stories and put them out there for others to enjoy one day in the best way within my means.

            Simple as that.

            Happy writing!

DÉJÀ VU PART II

February 2, 2022

            This isn’t a repeat of the article I published in November. This is about something else.

            Has it ever occurred to you when plotting or coming up with ideas, given that you’ve written multiple stories or novels, that stuff starts to feel or sound the same?

            This is what I mean by part II or 2 of déjà vu.

PLOTTING FAMILIARITIES

            One of the grand poohbahs of writing once said there are only so many plots. As a writer, you mix them up to make them seem unique. As readers (or watchers if a movie or TV), we tolerate a lot because of the voice of the writer.

            That’s what it’s really about. It’s the trappings surrounding the plot, not the plot itself.

            As I’ve said before (here’s déjà vu for you), there are infinite ways to tell or show the story of how the butler did it. It can still be a great story. It all depends on the voice and the trappings that go along with it. The twists and the turns, so on and so forth.

SETTING FAMILIARITIES

            Your hero gets into a bar brawl to pick up a major clue.

            Where have I seen that before?

            In book number three, five, seven, eight…

            Is this a pattern? A fallaback?

            Déjà vu?

REALITY

            While there are infinite possibilities when writing and creating, there are also rabbit holes we can fall back into without even realizing it. There are also old standbys that work just fine. The only real rule is to keep mixing them up so as not to become boring.

            When your readers complain that you’re too predictable, then you may have a problem.

            When your beta readers notice a trend, you may have a problem.

            When you notice a trend, you may have a problem.

CRUTCHES

            One way of putting it is that when writing, déjà vu becomes cliché which becomes a crutch. Then the readers may become bored.

            The issue with that is how broad you want to define what a crutch is.

            The difference between all of it can get blurred when we come to style.

            Nobody that’s a fan of Clive Cussler, for instance, can mistake his style. When you read one of his books, you know what’s going to happen. Is that déjà vu? Is that a cliché? Is that a crutch?

            See? You can take things too far.

            It goes right in the category of fixing something that isn’t broke. Clive found his magic and stuck with it, even when branching out into different series. The style stayed the same.

            Some would call that a crutch, déjà vu, cliché.

            Others would rely on him for writing a great adventure, always knowing what they’re going to get.

            The same could be said for Agatha Christie, or David Baldacci, or Lee Child.

SUMMARY

            When you come across déjà vu in your writing, does it have to do with a plot element, a situation, or your style?

            Something to think about.

            Happy writing!

WASTED WORDS REVISITED

January 26, 2022

            I’ve talked plenty about tautologies, redundancies and writing tight. After a recent review I spotted of a favorite author (for a book I haven’t read yet), I thought it a good time to revisit this very important subject.

            This article originally appeared at Fred Central in 2018. It’s still relevant today. I’m going to add in and update it as needed.

            The other day, we were driving home from the bookstore (hey, isn’t that a coincidence), and we were in the turn lane. This was an obvious turn lane with no other option. I had to wonder why everyone had their turn signal on. Even though I suppose it’s a state law, it made me wonder about the redundancy. We obviously can’t go anywhere else, so why do we have to let everyone know where we have to go anyway? We can’t change our minds and go somewhere else.

            Redundant info.

            Then I thought of the most common tautologies.

            To remind you, a tautology is saying the same thing twice.

            Stand up.

            Sit down.

MYRIAD OF WAYS

            There are a myriad of ways we waste words. Though I like to rag on literary writers, as much as they’re in love with words and like to ramble endlessly about description and feelings and inner thoughts, even they have to get to some kind of point eventually. As long as it takes a literary writer to get from A to B, there’s still some sense of word economy they have to adhere to.

            On the other hand, if you’re a genre writer, or even a mix of literary/genre, you still have to get to the point eventually. To me, the quicker the better. I want description and characterization as well. However, I believe it can be done in as few words as possible, so the story moves, not at a glacial pace, but with reasonable speed.

            The hazard for any writer, no matter how practiced you are, is that those wasted words inevitably creep into the story in a myriad of ways.

            You can’t help it. Unless you’re a very slow and rigid writer, when you spit out your verbal diarrhea in a spurt of inspiration as the muse hits, you’re going to throw in wasted words. Your mind doesn’t always translate to the page what your fingers type (or hand writes, or mouth speaks). There’s a certain disconnect between what you’re thinking and what you actually write.

            It’s natural, it’s inevitable. It’s why we have editing.

WEEDING OUT WASTED WORDS

            This can be tougher than it seems. Tautologies are a good start. However, some of them are so naturally occurring, you may not even be aware of them.

            Then there’s the turn signal in the turn lane. While it may be state law in the real world, in the literary world, it may be automatic, but reads poorly. Is it supposed to be there?

            A blatant example.

            “I think I’m going to get myself a cup of coffee.” Amy stood up, walked to the counter and poured a cup of coffee. She took a sip, sighed, then sat down in the chair at the kitchen table.

            Oh…kay.

            How about this?

            Amy poured a cup of coffee, eased into the chair, leaned her elbow on the kitchen table and took a sip. “This tastes great.”

            From 39 words to 24 words, eliminated two tautologies, removed an obvious and unnecessary statement and made it all simpler. Plus, I made it more active.

            Here’s another one for you.

            Of all the things Scott hated, none was worse than coffee. When he took a sip, his face screwed up, he spit it out, and said, “Aaagh! I wanted tea.”

            How about this?

            Scott took a sip, gagged and spat it on the ground. “I can’t stand coffee. I’ll take tea instead.”

            Cut to the chase. No need for the turn signal when you obviously can’t go anywhere else.

            One more.

            “Loren, do you want to go to the movies?”

            “I can’t stand going out in the traffic, the heat, the dust and wind. The movies are so expensive. The popcorn smell gets to me, and the crowds close in on me. I don’t like the sticky floor in the aisles and around the seats. Oh, and did I ever tell you about the seats? Are you crazy? Why would I want to go to the movies?”

            How about this?

            “Loren, do you want to go to the movies?”

            “No.”

THE REVIEW

            Now, to the inspiration for my repeating this 2018 article.

            I recently read a review of one of my favorite icky bug authors. Some loved the departure from his usual style. Others, and these were still huge fans, did not.

            The big complaint?

            He kept repeating the same thing over and over again, ad nauseum.

            Say what?

            That’s right. He kept pounding in the same plot point over and over again.

            This turned off a lot of his fans.

            He got several one star reviews that received multiple likes.

            Not good.

            It’s one thing to repeat or have redundancies in the language/grammar, but to repeat plot points over and over again?

            Another vote for a linear plot. One and done. Makes things so much simpler and better for the reader.

SUMMARY

            You have to think of your blathering and rambling and how much color you really need and how much of it is relevant to the story. How much of it moves the plot (see The Review too).

            Fluff you don’t need, whereas key elements you do. Color is fine. You do need to add life to your story, but not at the expense of wasted words. There’s a way to do it without bogging down the narrative.

            Happy writing!

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO ACCOMPLISH THIS YEAR?

January 19, 2022

            I just discussed a variation of this last week in Fits And Starts and numerous other articles here at Fred Central.

            This is another specific discussion that comes up continually, especially by motivational advisors on the forums.

            Everyone wants to give you a kick in the pants.

            I say, if you don’t already have the passion and drive to get it done, why are you here in the first place? Haven’t I already made that clear enough times?

FRUSTRATION

            Okay¸ Boss, this writing stuff is hard!

            Oh yeah?

            What’s so hard about it?

            The effort?

            Trying to get published?

            Trying to get something done?

            Coming up with ideas?

            Navel gazing?

            Finding a muse?

BRASS TACKS

            You want to be a killer guitar player.

            You pick up a guitar and…wait a minute…you sound like crap.

            It’s hard to press down the strings.

            You don’t know how to play a melody.

            What’s a chord?

            How do you structure a rhythm?

            Do you have a tin ear?

            Not so easy, is it?

            For some, it’s a natural and you can slide right into it with little effort.

            For others, it’s going to be a struggle all the way.

            If you love it, are you going to quit in frustration, or plug on until you get somewhere?

            Back to what are you going to accomplish this year?

SAME OLE SAME OLE

            I’m not going to give you some inspiring motivational speech. I’m just going to tell you either you have it, or you don’t.

            As for me, I don’t set goals.

            I just write.

            That’s it.

            I never know what’s going to come out in the wash because I never know what kind of circumstances are going to hit me.

            Therefore, I don’t stress about it.

            I have things I want to write, and I write them.

            Eventually.

            Does that sound lackadaisical?

            Just look at my record. It speaks for itself.

            Nothing to freak out about.

            You, on the other hand are not the same as me. You have to do what you do and maybe you need to be kicked in the butt to get going.

            I’m not going to do that, but there are plenty of others out there that are more than willing.

SUMMARY

            If writing is truly a passion and a love for you, you’re going to get it dun didded no matter what anyone else says. You should not need artificial goals set for you. Should is the key word here. There are no absolutes.

            It’s up to you.

            Happy writing.

FITS AND STARTS

January 12, 2022

            A common question that comes up on the forums on Facebook is how often do you write, what are your writing habits, bla bla bla.

            As a writer, especially one that is somewhat proficient, we all have a pattern we usually go by that gives us results.

            When someone new to this asks, probably because they’re floundering, or are just curious to compare their output to the average, it’s something that may or may not be good to know.

COMPARING TO OTHERS

            Keep in mind that we’re all individuals, and success doesn’t sit with a single formula.

            Over the decades, I’ve heard it said many times that the only way to get anywhere is to sit down and write. While that’s true, the how of that may vary greatly between individuals.

            The most widespread piece of advice out there is “write every day.”

WRITE EVERY DAY

            Do you do this?

            What does that mean?

            Many assume it means to write on your major story or manuscript every day.

            For others, it means any and everything.

            For me, it means that I do what I do. I DO write every day. It’s just not necessarily on my current WIP, or Work In Progress.

            Then again, everything I write is a work in progress.

            Therefore, let’s just say the WIP is my current NOVEL in progress.

            However, just because I may not work on my WIP every day, that doesn’t mean I’m not writing every day, or to be more succinct, honing my chops. Or, to be even more direct, doing what I love to do which is write.

            Confused?

            What does honing my chops consist of?

            E-mails, reviews, short stories, or whatever I feel like writing about. It MAY be working on my WIP it may not.

INTENTIONS

            I have a feeling that the intentions of many of the people inquiring on the forums are specifically talking about their WIPs, and not even considering their peripheral writing. To them, they don’t consider anything else as either practice, or productive writing. It’s all throwaway. The only thing that counts is their WIP, which is their bread and butter.

            I’m assuming a lot and could be wrong, but after all, they’re trying to write and complete the next great novel, and that’s why they’re asking the question in the first place.

            They may just be starting out and are floundering.

            They may have reached an impasse and need a prompt to continue.

            Assumptions.

FITS AND STARTS

            I’ll be the first to admit that lately, my writing has been coming in fits and starts. I had not long ago resurrected the very first novel I ever wrote and decided to edit it. Why? It wasn’t as bad as I first thought. I’m about halfway through it now.

            My publisher wanted the third book in my Gold series, so I stopped editing that first MS and concentrated on this one to get it ready to turn in.

            I was already in the first third of working on book number four of my fantasy series. However, the publisher decided to go with the Gold series for the time being so I set that one aside. I already have A (of course) down and know B, so when I get back to it, no problem.

            In the meantime, I came up with a new idea for an icky bug that I just couldn’t let go. After I got book number three of the Gold series turned it, I pondered this new icky bug for about a month before I ever started writing it. I had to work the logic along with a solid A and B in my head.

            I finally wrote the first chapter, let it sit for a couple of weeks, then started in earnest as I did double duty burning vinyl albums to my computer so I can then burn them to CDs. Since I have to monitor the recording, I need to sit at the computer so might as well keep productively occupied.

            So far, I’ve done three sessions on three weekends.

            Fits and starts.

            This isn’t my normal writing method.

            Why am I doing this?

WHY THIS METHOD?

            I’d never recommend what I’m doing to a new writer. For me, it’s okay because I know what I’m doing and while going against all the advice I usually give to a new writer, I’m doing it my way because I have plenty in the pipeline to cover for me for a long time.

            I can afford to take my time.

            As a new writer with NO books under your belt, you should not do this because you’ll never get anything done!

            I know I’ll get it dun didded because I have the time, the creativity, the passion, and the motivation. My circumstances are just different at the moment.

            I have a lot on my plate with life and I don’t have the pressure or the burning desire to get that first novel published. I can afford to take my time.

            You, as a new writer, don’t have that same luxury, unless you just don’t care.

            If you just write for the love of it, for the passion, then press on and write in fits and starts. Maybe some day you’ll actually finish something.

            Of the three projects I’m working on at the moment, the first one is already done, just not fully edited. The second, the fourth book in the series, is a third done, just on the back burner with the third book is done and waiting to be picked up. The third project, is turned in and waiting on the publisher. The fourth, is fresh and my current WIP. I’m taking my time with it because what I didn’t say before is that I’ve already turned in another icky bug and am waiting to hear on it, plus I have a second completed one waiting in the wings. I have no reason to rush it.

            I can afford to work in fits and starts.

SUMMARY

            I don’t recommend working in fits and starts unless your circumstances warrant it. If you have a stock of completed MSs lying around, like I do, well, that’s different.

            However…and this is a big however, if you’re writing your first novel, a more steady workflow is highly recommended or you may never get it done, not to mention continuity errors.

            I don’t have an issue with continuity, and it’s never been a problem because I write so linear. That may not be your case.

            Happy writing!