Category Archives: Writing

Writing Advice

The Library Bar and Grill of Albuquerque, New Mexico

So you want somebody to use your book in a display like the one pictured above. You want to be known as the new (insert favorite wonderful author’s name here.) Of course, so far, nobody is buying what you’re writing, so there’s that. I mean, heck, somebody like James Patterson has hundreds of books for sale and you can’t manage to sell even one? That’s terrible, right? So, what do you do? You go looking for writing advice, natch. And, boy howdy (I’ve been reading Craig Johnson’s Longmire books) can you find it. Everything and anything is offered up for advice. Some successful writers even take time from creating new worlds to publish their own take on how to be a successful writer. Stephen King’s book, On Writing is a very good book. I’m not sure it’s ever helped me to write better, but I recommend it anyway because, you know, he’s a good writer. Which, of course, is the key to being a successful writer: you first have to be a good writer. Or do you?

Fifty Shades of Grey is, according to all the writing advice I’ve ever seen, horribly written. When I tried to read it, I had to agree. I don’t care how titillating it is, the writing is by turns opaque, laughable, and steadily terrible. The thing is a best seller, with sequels, and a movie. Terribly written say all the critics, but there it is. That’s a successful book from a successful writer. I think it works because the writer knows what people like to read, and how to produce that. No real secret. It was self-published initially, although I believe that someone other than the author produced the movie.

Mark Twain, in his autobiography, even the severely edited edition from the sixties, says that, when asked how to know if a book was good or not, he always said simply to “Publish it, and see if anyone buys it.”

It appears that, to be a successful writer, the only rule is to write something that lots of people want to read. Screw grammar, screw characterization, screw pacing, just put out something that people want to read. Except . . .

Even a turkey like Fifty Shades has things in the story happen in the right order, and at the right time. The reason Twain had Huck and Tom go through all that nonsense to break Jim out of his prison is simply that, at the beginning of that sequence, it wasn’t time to have him free, within the timing of the story. Know what was wrong with that last season of Game of Thrones? It was too fast! The battle of Winterfell alone should have taken two episodes, and think of the cliffhanger you could’ve put after the first part. Wowzers, huh? So, what, there are rules?

Well, let me use my favorite quote from a great visual artist: “You must know the rules like a professional in order to break them like an artist.” — Pablo PIcasso.

Yep, there are rules, and you have to know what they are. The author of Fifty Shades instinctively knew when to make things happen, so readers forgave the things that weren’t so well done. (I suspect that a tamer subject matter might have needed to be more grammatical, etc.) So, how do you get to be a great writer? It’s difficult.

First, you have to read. A lot. Preferably in the genre or at least general type of story you want to be known for.

Second, refer to the quote from Picasso above. No, your book doesn’t have to be grammatically correct, or use consistent subject/verb agreement, but you’d better pay attention to just when and why you are making it the way it is. And the timing of the story, I don’t think that’s negotiable. When PBS did an adaptation of Huckleberry Finn they used the academic’s favorite, “just get Jim out of there ’cause that’s what’s important here” ploy and the ending was flatter than a possum on a Kentucky centerline. Do not mess with the timing, or your story won’t work.

Outside of that, I think that it’s your story, and you should write it however you think it should be written. Have people read it before you proceed, but take their advice for what it’s worth, which could be a little, or it could be a lot. When you’re really ready with a good story, you’ll know that you are. And the writing advice? Like critique from your friends, take it for what it’s worth.

Here’s the Thing

Tyrion LeChien, Beagle

I just noticed that my last quite a few posts have been from my friend Leslie, which is fine ’cause she’s a good writer and living an interesting life, until just the other day isolated from the novel coronavirus, even. (Go back one post to see, or search the tag “odd godfrey” or “Odd Godfrey”) But, this is my blog, and I’ve been remiss. It’s also supposed to revolve around, vaguely at least, writing. And I have been writing again, after several months. But more about that as we go along.

We should have gone to France last Spring and found a house to live in after we’ve moved there. Well, we didn’t. We will, I’m sure, once we can do so again. Just today, though, I was reading that the second wave is hitting in France, and sort of hard to boot, so that may be a while. Honestly, I imagine that by this time next year we can all be talking about what we did during the pandemic. For real. Sooner than that, maybe, but I dunno. Meantime, I’m worried about (got to be something, right) ditching the anti-science people so that we can for sure get out of this pandemic some day. I imagine by now that only those who believe in actual magic spells can possibly think that there’s anything to be gained by retaining the current administration. The current crop of conspiracy theories is (should be) award winning in its creativity and scope, but of course, like all conspiracy theories, it’s total bunk. I know Liberals, and they ain’t never going to get it together to form any conspiracies, and you can take that to the bank. Anyhow. Vote early. Drop off your ballot of you’re worried about the post office, but vote. It’s the only way to restore basic sanity to American society.

Whilst awaiting the election results I’m working on a project that I’ve been working on for at least a couple of years. This time, though, it’s being written right, and I think you’ll like it once it’s out. (Hold your breath! 🙂 ) And even occasionally blogging something original that I actually wrote all by myself, such as this post, for instance. And every day I try to get just a bit better at the French language. Tous les jours, un peut meilleur. I know, “better” is mieux, but that would screw up the rhythm. Nothing wrong with being a little bit the best, is there?

My moral is that the world is going to get better, but there will be a mess of frustrations before that happens. My advice is to ditch the orange guy and his entourage, wear your mask, and ignore conspiracy theorists. If most of us can manage those three things, life will turn sweet once again. I promise.

What Am I Doing Here?

Zabriskie Point View 2010

I could put up pictures of places I’ve been without me in them and without explanation for years and not repeat myself. Take that, recent Facebook diversion!

By “here” I’m not waxing philosophical, I mean with this writing gig. Thing is, this is probably the first thing I’ve written since the Coronavirus pandemic started looking serious. I’m forcing myself to not here and now render any opinions on anything to do with COVID 19. I have rendered some opinions on my Facebook page, if you want to see some, but even there, not too many. That’s not what I’m about.

I do have a project in process. It’s a rewrite from scratch, in a different voice, and in such a telling that not one paragraph does not involve some sort of action. Not body movements, but actual action, as in somebody is effing doing something. It’s a good story. I’ve known that all along, and it’s looking pretty easy to read after the rewrite, but it’s been weeks since I did anything. It was the sixth of March, in fact, which is, hmmm, let’s see, carry the 14, gloss over the six, um, 24 days ago. I have slow periods, but this is getting close to a record outside of the fall holidays, when I mostly just take time off. This whole shelter in place, pandemic, folks are going to die thing is just too absorbing, I guess.

Then there’s the bathroom floor. We’re putting in a floor made of pennies in our master bath. It’s gonna look great, and it’s getting near the point where all the pennies are installed (but there are always problems.) That, too, has been quite absorbing. Yesterday we put our bed back into the master bedroom, on top of the lovely new rug, and it is nice and comfortable compared to the temporary bed we’ve been sleeping on. Physical work reminds me of my advancing age, because half a day is the absolute limit, and it’s better to stop at three hours or so, because otherwise I actually feel ill from overwork. I’d be ashamed of myself, but, hey, I’m seventy years old, kid, gimme a break!

I hope that shortly (this week if I’m lucky) I’ll be able to convince myself to get back to work on my rewrite. (It isn’t writers’ block, it’s pandemic.) If so, I’ll let you know. I hope so, because it really is a good story, and it deserves to be told.

Thank you for reading, you joyous funmuffin, you!

The Rise of Skywalker

I think this is legal to reproduce. Hope so.

Fair Warning: I try not to put out overt spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the movie The Rise of Skywalker but think you may want to, it is possible you’ll learn something that you’d rather not know. 

I posted my official review of the movie Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on my Facebook timeline. Here is it again: I liked it. I’m not reviewing the movie here so much as I am trying to address some of what I’ve seen as criticism of the film, much of which might seem legitimate ifyou don’t know the whole story of the creation of Star Wars.

George Lucas was a friend of Joseph Campbell, who is most famous for his tome The Power of Myth. In that volume he outlines the mythic hero’s journey, something many writers refer to as they try to produce the next Odyssey (I know I do.) One reason for this is that, when you apply Campbell’s ideas to famous literature, then tend to work almost perfectly. I mentioned The Odyssey already, which is literally a classic example, but almost any book that lasts in popularity can be analyzed according to Campbell’s ideas.  Huckleberry Finn? Yep. Catch 22? Indeed.  War and Peace? You bet! (I’m quoting Alexa with that line.) Mister Lucas wanted to make a new epic adventure using what he learned from talking with Campbell, and from reading  The Power of Myth. And he did. And, it works.

In the beginning of any mythic hero’s journey, things aren’t all that horrible. This is no surprise, given that the Journey is, to Campbell, a coming of age story. A nine-year-old kid isn’t difficult at all to be around. In fact, they can be fun, until puberty hits, and then things get strange indeed. This is why the first couple, maybe the first three,  Star Wars movies (going by Chapter number, not release dates) are less exciting than, say, Episode IV, which is when the hero, personified by Luke Skywalker, is torn away from his everyday world and into a world of strange creatures, strange circumstances, and strange powers, which he starts learning for himself. It’s worth knowing that prior to Episode IV, most of the plot unfolds for young Aniken (the first representative of the growing child) not all that far from home. Not  exactly home, but prior to Episode III, not that far away, either. In Episode III, all that learning and logic gets seduced by “The Dark Side,” which is probablly best seen as a metaphor for all that stuff that hits one at puberty. But, people don’t routinely turn permanently bad at that point, do they?

No, because their better nature is called off into strange (for a child) territory where it learns how to be a human being and take it’s place in society. And, of course that dark side being is father to the better nature. What else could it be? And sooner or later Luke has to kill it, but actually redeems his father before the man dies. So, Aniken dies connected to the good guys again. Except that there is plenty more dark side to deal with. You’ve ditched your nine-year-old judgement, but now what? It’s so tempting to run with that wild dark nature, to steal that pair of shoes, to cheat, lie and be obnoxious. That’s what people do, and the youth (no longer a kid since Vader is gone) has to deal with that. Which brings us into the final trilogy, with Rey and Ren as opposite sides of what is, mythically speaking, the same person. Yin and Yang, if you will. Both halves come to understand that they are joined spiritually, and eventually the better nature must confront, and embrace, the darkness, which results in the person’s dark side becoming a great strength, which helps the young adult finally to throw off the temptations of adolescence and emerge a adult who accepts who and what she is. And that is the secret of overcoming the dark side: embracing it, accepting it as a part of you, and using it. Rey embraces Ren in the end, and shortly after he is no more. This after they, together, overcome the greatest darkness that threatens them (and our fictional galaxy far far away,) which boils down simply to succumbing to fear of the darkness rather than confronting it. Okay, big spoiler in the next paragraph. Sorry. Stop here if you don’t want to know the very end.

In the final scene of the nine episodes, Rey, who has represented the hero in the last three movies, returns to the very farm where Luke was living when it all started. (The first three chapters are prologue, really.) An old woman asks her for her name and she says, “Rey.” “Rey what?” “Rey Skywalker.” (Her family name is not Skywalker. I’ll leave that for you to discover as you watch.)

So, is it pandering to  Star Wars fans? Hell yes it is! But what if that pandering is exactly what is needed to properly close out the myth? What if it is so satisfying precisely because it is so successful in completing Lucas’s original mission? I’m pretty sure that such is the case. The criticisms I’ve seen all appear to come from people who do not understand that basic fact, nor even how to properly construct a story. But, as they say, everybody’s a critic. Not everybody is a creative writer, are they?

And, honestly, I’m sad that the series is over. Sure, there will be plenty of stories that can be crafted in the  Star Wars universe. Heck, I’m into the Mandalorian bigly, especially that cute child, as they call it. You know, “Baby Yoda?” But the big story, which I first saw in a theater in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1977, is over. No more speculation. No more trying to come up with a plausible solution to the whole thing. The writers, may they live long and prosper (yes, that was deliberate,) have done an excellent job of it. And Rey? Well, she’s a Jedi, and out living her life. Probablly a dull one compared to what her predecessors went through. I doubt if it would be all that interesting to follow the mythical hero of  Star Wars any further. It’s kind of like with my own kids. I was sad as Hell to see them grow up. And proud as Hell to see them grow up. They don’t need me any more. And I’ll live without a new  Star Wars episode. I just hope they get that kid to a safe place!



The finest birthday cake I’ve ever had, bar none. Thanks, Tami!

(Hereby I move a bit closer to posting purely about writing as I add a subcategory “characterization” to my category list. Ahem.)

As you may guess from the picture above, I recently turned 70. My birthday is September 3rd, but the cake was presented at a party last Saturday. That doesn’t mean anything, but I like to hit keys. A few years ago I joined Facebook. At first, I had no idea what to do with it. Now, I do the same things over and over. One of those things is to follow various French Ex-Pat pages and groups, but that doesn’t mean anything in the context of this post. The other thing that I do is keep in touch with people, some of whom I have seen very seldom, if at all, in decades. I mean my old friends from the Tiffin Columbian High School Class of ’67. I have seen some of them a few times, and a couple of years ago I attended our 50th class reunion. It was cool. Not only did I get to reacquaint myself with old friends, but we got a tour of the high school from the current principal. It’s a mid-century masterpiece of architecture, and no wonder I always liked the building. But, that doesn’t mean anything just now, either.

What does mean something is that, having re-connected with my class, I have discovered that I still like the same people, for pretty much the same reasons. I’ve never disliked anybody in my class (our school wasn’t as clique infested as some) but those I was indifferent about then, I’m indifferent about now. Which seems to me to indicate that, here it is, folks, a person’s character is reasonably consistent over their lifetime. The jokers (including me) are still jokers half a century on, the studious ones are still studious, the good old boys and girls are still good old boys and girls, and I could actually probably name every classmate and expound on how they haven’t changed much.

Well, some of them have ceased to exist. I guess that’s a pretty big change, but for the rest of us, we still are pretty much who we were at 17 and 18 years old. (We graduated on 11 June 1967, so it’s pretty much half and half.) Which further, it seems to me, points out the importance of knowing the backstory for each of your characters. I write backstory for every character that has anything significant to say. Most of the characters in any story are nameless, and say nothing, but they’re there supporting the principal cast and helping to move the story along. Them I don’t write a history for. But everyone else, even fairly minor characters, I, at least, know where they’re coming from, villains included. Because what they were at eighteen is what they are at forty, or whatever, and knowing what they did in high school (so to speak) tells a lot about what they will do on the job.

So, there’s some further advice from me for you: know thine characters’ backgrounds withal!

High school class reunions. And they say there’s no place to get new ideas any more.


The View from Universal Studios as it was In 2003.

Looking at that pic, I can see how camera technology has advanced in sixteen years. It’s fuzzy! But, I digress.

When I say cover your productive tush, I mean have a plan for when your hard drive crashes, your computer gets dropped into an outhouse, somebody steals your laptop, you know, all that stuff that you read about ruining writers’ projects. Because, you know, there are things you can do. And to prove it, I shall tell you what some of those things are.

First, Back Up Everything!

There are a couple of ways to do backups. I use both of them. The first, older way is simply to buy an external hard disk and  plug it into your computer. Then, no matter what OS you use, you will find a handy-dandy backup routine already built in! Wowzers! I use Windows, and I’ve had excellent luck simply letting Windows decide what to back up. But, it’s up to you, you can decide what you do or don’t want backed up. If you do these backups regularly (Windows lets you do it on a continuous basis in the background) you will always have a copy of the latest saved version of every one of your files. So, after the dog eats your work, you buy a new laptop, plug in the external drive, and recover it all.

What is a backup, you say?

A backup is just a copy of a computer file (or a lot of them.) That’s it. It’s usually possible to use the backup copy directly, without even “recovering” it, but if you do that, you’re defeating the purpose of having an extra copy. So, first thing to do to recover from a disaster is to always make backups as  you go along.

The second way to make a backup is to use “Cloud Storage.” You probably don’t know that “the cloud” is just a term techies made up to indicate that the exact location of the data isn’t necessarily known, but it’s out there. (Technically, it may not even all be in one place, but it looks like it is.) Quite a few places will give you a certain amount of “cloud storage” for free. A big novel, I’m talking a humongous work, something to make War and Peace look like a pamphlet, is still an amazingly small computer file. Many, if not all, of these free cloud storage services will automatically back up your stuff to the cloud, and, again, you can tell the service what to back up. If you subscribe to Office 365, you get a terabyte of storage included. A terabyte is enough to store most of the Library of Congress’s contents on. No kidding. You only get at the most something like 50 gigabytes (probably a lot less) for free, but it will still be more than you’ll ever need to keep your projects on. If you use Windows with OneDrive (that’s what they call their cloud storage) you just keep everything in a folder by that name on your local drive, and whatever is in there is automatically backed up when  you connect to the Internet. Since I do subscribe to Office 365, I don’t have much experience with other cloud backup schemes, but I’m told that they are similar. Use whatever service you like (Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.) but use one of them and use it all the time!

Save Your Work All the Time!

Yes, I said All the Time! I use Word. (In the old days, I was a WordPerfect user, but once everything went GUI (look it up) I switched because it is simple and easy. And, Word works on Mac and PC, and is free on handheld devices, so what the heck, huh?) Word includes the ability, if you use OneDrive at least, to continuously backup your document (book, silly) as you type. By using Word and OneDrive (and I’m sure there are other ways to accomplish the same thing) I always have a backup copy of my project, no matter what happens. Worst case scenario is that I lose a few lines of text. Seriously, that’s the worst that could happen. Barring that, Word can be set up save the document you are in at intervals as short as one minute. Could you afford to lose a minute’s work? Probably. Keep your project on a cloud drive, save as often as you can, and boy, howdy, you can’t lose your precious files if you want to.

(Okay, you could delete them.)

There you go: back-up your work, either to an external hard drive or to the cloud, and save your work as often as possible. You can take a few minutes just once to set all of that up, then you’ll never have to think about it again. Until disaster strikes, when you’ll be congratulating yourself for being smart enough to have done that.

Good writing, fellow scribes!


A Distant World that Feels Like Home. Asimov was the best.

In one of his autobiographies (there are at least two) Isaac Asimov said that when asked what he strove for in his writing, his answer was “clarity.” I remember that often as I read news stories and other ambiguous items. On July 23, 2019, The Washington Post ran a story about a person’s childhood. It quoted their grandparents’ opinion of the person, then told how their father was structurally unavailable, and their mother worked constantly. Then the paragraph said, “They raised him as their own child.” The word they being close to his dysfunctional parents, although it obviously refers back to the grandparents. Or does it? Could you make an argument that the author of the piece was actually referring to the parents, perhaps trying to make some subtle point about their parenting skills? Well, yes, you could. And that is why that paragraph is not clear. All it needs is for “They” to be replaced with “The grandparents” and all would be well, and clear.

That was in a newspaper that is, unusually, not interfered with by its owner (Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame.) A paper that can, most people think, be trusted most of the time. And they let unclear writing go right on out into the world. Come on, Post, get it together, okay? But consider what you see on social media. Any social media. Is it clear? Can you spot any ambiguity in the text? And, sure, I tend to lean more toward humanism than authoritarianism, but I’m talkin’ ’bout you, Liberals and Progressives. Because, thanks to the magic of filtering, I generally only see Conservative screeds second-hand, that is, when somebody reposts them. (I do follow POTUS on Twitter.) The folks I follow make a great many assumptions, about themselves, their audience, and their opposition. Any time you’re assuming something in a text it is perforce ambiguous. And ambiguity is the perfect opposite (apposite, even) of clarity.

So, here’s an exercise you can do. Go through your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. feeds and check for the ambiguous postings. There will be a lot. Look closely at the techniques the posters use to drive home their point to the unwary. Then, as you write your stories, never, ever do those things. The way things are, that alone might guarantee you the clarity good writing always deserves and needs.

Sacré Maroon!

Street in the Altstadt, Heidelberg, Germany

I belong to a number of Facebook groups related to writing. In some of them, I see questions I haven’t asked in years, Questions so basic that DON’T THOSE PEOPLE KNOW ANYTHING? comes to mind. Then I remember myself. Sometimes I drop a bit of advice, and often when I do it is appreciated (given a like or two, at least.) Thing is, I’m still not a famous, self-sustaining writer. Hell, I’m almost seventy, and I’m still aspiring to that (keeps one young, I’m told.) Great, but that means, that, while I can give advice to raw beginners (Speak Engrish, Troop!?) I still need a lot of help myself. And I have learned a few things over time.

Number one: nobody knows how you should proceed in your career. People who tell you what to do should pay attention to their own lives, and let you figure out yours.

Two: that’s not to say that you can’t learn from others’ experiences. You can, but never try to be them. Or even like them. You are you, and that’s fantastic.

Three: you will not be an overnight success. If you are, you’ll spend the rest of your life being unsure of your actual talents. As opposed to if you work hard for years and finally break through, in which case you will spend the rest of your life being unsure of your actual talents. This is called “Imposter Syndrome.” Get used to it.

And number zero: Know the rules like a professional so you can break them like an artist. (Pablo Picasso) Rule zero because it is the most important.

There, now you know everything you need to know to be a famous, self-sustaining writer. You’re welcome.

Memoirs are Made of This

Looks Like the Library at Hogwarts, Doesn’t It?

If you want to know where that picture was taken, look it up. You have all the information you need.

As a student of the French language, I know that ‘mémoire‘ is a word for ‘memory.’ (So is souvenir.) It can also mean a token, something to remind you of a place, that sort of thing. In English, memoir is a book about one’s experiences. It’s not a biography, although there can be a lot of biographical information in a memoir. With all that said, and, having bought “Memoir Writing for Dummies,” I am endeavoring to write a memoir. I don’t care if it’s ever published, though. I’m writing it because I’ve noticed that the best books are the ones where the author is totally involved in the story, in a way the reader can sense. (Not literally, we leave that to Vonnegut.) Since I aspire to write REALLY GOOD STUFF, I am using a memoir as a way to get to know who I really am. Sure, you can pay some shrink to help you, but as I write pretty good anyway, I figure this will be cheaper. (Hey, I write gooder than a lot of people, anyway.) 🙂

So far it’s almost 70 pages long. One page per year, more or less. Well, now that I put it that way, I think I have some more writing to do. Let me know if you’ve ever done a memoir, particularly if it was for self-discovery. Okay?