A.C.’s Journal: Entry 28 – Gratuitous Sex

You’re reading a nice short story, doesn’t matter what genre – romance, Sci-Fi, horror, mystery, etc. – and suddenly some woman is unzipping some man’s pants. That’s known as gratuitous sex. I reached that point in a story recently – a fairly interesting story up to that point – and skipped down a paragraph and another and another and another. Finally, the couple had finished, so I continued reading.

Now, I am not a prude. Anything but. What I am is the kind of person who wants the sex to fit into the story. In Hammil Valley Rising, formerly a standalone novel and now part one of Freelan: The Dawning, I have my two MCs getting together at the end of their dealings (that’s not a spoiler since it’s not a surprise by then), but it fits the flow of the story, and I keep the description at a PG-13 level. Why? Because that’s not the focus of the story. If I were writing erotica, then a more expansive description that went on for several paragraphs and possibly several pages would be appropriate. They would also co-mingle sooner in the book and more often.

Tea and cheese. Photo by A.C. Cargill.And that’s the point. If you want to include sex in your book, be sure it fits. Otherwise, your reader will be going down a pathway and suddenly come upon a couple going at it hot and heavy. Depending on their reaction, you could lose that reader for that story or novel as well as others. For example, after my experience with that nice short story I was reading, I am now reluctant to read any more by that author.

Time for a snack! Gotta keep the brain fueled.

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

I am also now posting longer articles about writing on Substack and Medium and hope you will check them out. They are free.


Another Story Published

My writing time had focused on a series of novels in what I now call the Freelan series. A while ago, I got interested in writing shorter fiction works and sending to various sites that publish such things. So far, I have had mostly good experiences.

Book of Memories, a short story by A.C. CargillThe latest such experience was the publishing of my short story Book of Memories in the Fantastical Fiction “publication” on Medium.com. In an age of the 30-second-read, this one stretches out to 32 minutes. I like to fully explore a theme and hope you will take the time to read the results.

This story also won third prize in the 2022 Short Story contest sponsored by The National Fantasy Fan Federation.

Also, the story is included in the as yet unpublished anthology Flights of Fantasy Vol. I.

Flights of Fantasy - Vol. I — a series of short stories that include odd/quirky, sci-fi, dark, and mysterious topicsThanks for reading, and please check out my works in progress (WIPs).

See my new article series on Substack and Medium.

A.C.’s Journal: Entry 27 – Controlling MS Word’s Grammar Feature

Dear Microsoft Word, no, I do not want to use “important” instead of “momentous.” I chose “momentous” after some deliberation.

This is just one of many instances when I have exercised control over the software’s grammar feature. Other instances include ignoring it highlighting my very correct wording of something and calling it “wordiness.” What does wordiness even mean? Does it mean dropping turns of phrases that are more picturesque? “I walked the dog today” instead of “Man’s best friend tugged at his leash, hurrying me along on a fine summer day, as we walked down the sidewalk, our usual path.”

That’s the problem with some of these software features. They drop the human element and go by whatever is programmed into them by nerd programmers who probably dream in one’s and zeroes. (Yes, that sentence uses passive voice, and it works best that way.)

Rules of grammar exist so you can say what you mean and others can read and understand it. So what’s hard to understand about “momentous”? I bet the folks at Microsoft and other software companies don’t know. I also bet that this thing going by the misnomer “artificial intelligence” won’t know either.

Just my two cents’ worth.

Time for a snack!

A.C.’s Journal: Entry 26 – Location, Location, Location

Writers are often advised to write about what they know. I read a story recently that was located in eastern Washington State and seemed like the writer had lived there. I have bounced around the planet (mostly the U.S.) a bit, and chose some of those locations to use in my writings, the main one being Hammil Valley in eastern California.

Location is important. It can even be a “character” in your story, or at the very least a plot element. Doing battle with the big city. Dealing with a rural environment that can be downright hostile. Discovering the quirks and kooks in a small town. Defending against the onslaughts of nature particular to that location (hurricanes, tornadoes, wind/sand storms, drought, excessive heat/cold, etc.).

Choose the location for your work of fiction well and describe it in terms that will give readers the image of that location. Here’s one I did in The Ceres Stratagem (a novel in progress) for early morning in Hammil Valley:

The sun had just risen over the White Mountains that loomed behind them, forming the eastern side of the valley. The rays were spreading across the scene below. Lush greenery, fruit trees in bloom along the highway, cattle grazing, a flock of sheep, and various houses, barns, and other buildings were laid out like a landscape artist’s masterpiece, losing their dull purplish-gray cast as the light reached them and brought out their bright hues – every color in the rainbow.

Back to writing, but first a bit of chocolate to inspire and fuel my brain. (I always nibble off the ears first.)

Thanks for stopping by.

A.C.’s Journal: Entry 25 – A Poem for Writers

How can I lie cozy abed
While ideas do swirl in my head
A critical dialogue line
A love scene that’s oh so divine
And words that are driving me mad
Like “angry,” or “miffed,” or just “sad”

The sun is still soft in the east
And cares for all this not the least
Soft pillow calls me back to sleep
And so does my comforter deep
Temptation for now is the win
But somehow it feels like a sin

A groan from my depths wells anew
“A moment,” I think, “maybe two
And then I will spring from my rest
And give the day all of my best.”
“Just do it,” calls out writer’s mind
“Don’t lose those ideas hard to find.”

So up from my bed I arise
And wiping the sand from my eyes
Apply pen to paper this way
To take those ideas and allay
The pressure inside writer’s brain
No need to, dear reader, explain

You know this dilemma quite well
No need for me here to you tell
I’m sure you have felt just the same
This writing is surely no game
Sleep lost is a price paid so small
My wishes for best to you all!

A.C.’s Journal: Entry 24 – A Workhorse Writing Day

People keep posting on social media about 5k to 7k per week is a lot. I just calculated my average over the past four years on just the Freelan novels, and it came to 12,207 per week. Of course, that’s an average and doesn’t include my little “side trips” into short stories, a romance novel, and a fantasy novel, totaling a little over 300k. But then, I write full-time. For me, everyday is a workhorse writing day.

How such a day goes:

  • Get up
  • Grab a glass of orange juice
  • Turn on the laptop
  • Start writing (or rereading/tweaking/editing what I previously wrote)
  • Take a break and get some hot tea and yogurt
  • Back to writing
  • Break for lunch
  • Back to writing
  • Get an afternoon snack
  • Back to writing
  • Greet hubby when he comes home from work
  • Back to writing
  • Backup my files
  • Relax and rewind for the next day

Just as a workhorse gets harnessed and spends the day at the work for which he is trained, I get harnessed to my laptop and my brain gets hooked into the work for which years of life had trained it.

Thankfully, I have lots of “buddies” to keep me company and make sure I stay “at it.”

How does your workhorse writing day go?

Some of the Worst Advice I Have Seen for Writers

Writing experts abound. I don’t claim to be one of them. My articles pass along things I have learned during my 40+ years of writing in various capacities. They are also meant to counter some of the sillier and downright harmful advice I have seen these “experts” spout for writers, such as the items below.

Sentence & Paragraph Length

The current “pearl of wisdom” coming out of the mouths of many writing experts is that you should keep sentences and paragraphs short. What does this say about all those dear readers out there? The implication seems to be that anything long would confuse them. Possible, since many readers are used to seeing short stuff on social media. But should this guide your writing? In my opinion, no. Be bold. If you need a long sentence, go long. The focus needs to be on telling your story. And with the advent of AI content creation, you need to pay more attention to making your text appear to be human-created.

Show vs. Tell

This is an old chestnut that no writing expert seems to be able to explain well. Here’s my take:

Telling is descriptive. Showing is active.

Another take:

“… ‘telling’ can be useful, even necessary … ‘showing’ … allows the reader to follow the author into the moment, to see and feel and experience what the author has experienced.”

One of the most effective ways to show is dialogue, as seen in this example:

“I just saw a meteor crash into the Wilkins’ barn!” shouted the boy to his parents. “It’s on fire!”

Another way to show is to use descriptive, specific verbiage that enables readers not to just see, but also to hear, taste, smell, and feel what is on that page or Kindle screen, as seen in this example:

A juicy, red apple sat on the window sill. A beam of sunlight shone on it, making it appear to glow. Jenny could almost taste the crisp goodness of that first bite.

You might need to tell sometimes, though. Again, you, the writer, have to follow your instinct.

Passive vs. Active Voice

Basically, this is wording a sentence showing an object being acted upon as opposed to someone doing the action, as seen in these examples:

Passive – The car was washed by the team of teens trying to raise money for their school band.

Active – Teens washed the car as part of their effort to raise money for their school band.

But is this really bad? Frankly, I don’t think so. You have to go with your instincts and see what works for you.

One expert advises:

“Use active voice instead of passive voice, unless you have a legitimate reason for using passive voice (action being more important instead of the doer).”

Yes, you can have legitimate reasons for using passive voice, such as here:

The bomb was exploded in the old building by a man seeking vengeance.

More advice:

“Use active voice when doing vivid descriptions.”


Active – Jenny took the apple off the windowsill and sunk her teeth in. (clear, concise, vivid)

Passive – The apple was taken off the windowsill by Jenny, who then sunk her teeth into it. (awkward, wordy, confusing)

Using Clichés

Clichés are things that are overused, hackneyed. That includes not just phrases, such as “he folded like a cheap suit,” but also plot devices. I used one such cliché plot device recently, the tried and true “lab results mix-up” where the results for a main character are confused at the lab with those of someone with a similar name. I was crafting a dramatic scene. The stage was set in an earlier chapter in preparation for what I had planned. When the time came, ta-da! Drama!

As with just about any writing tip or advice, you, the writer, need to figure out how and what to use. As with fat and sugar in your diet, moderation is the key. A little adds just the right touch (savory or sweet). Too much destroys that flavor and can be harmful.

“Too Many” vs. “Overusing” Adjectives & Adverbs

A well-meaning fellow writer suggested I was using too many adjectives and adverbs and should trim some out. He said that many writing experts recommended this. It’s actually a misunderstanding. Those experts advised against overusing adjectives and adverbs. That’s very different. I agree that overusing a particular word or phrase (suddenly, simply, painfully, happily, “a bit,” somewhat, “for a moment,” etc.) can make your text sound very amateurish. I discovered when reviewing some of my manuscripts that I was using “a bit” quite a bit! You may have your own favorite words and phrasing that keep cropping up as you type. Watch out for them.

As for using “too many” adjectives and adverbs, it can happen, as here:

It was a blustery, windy, cold, miserable, dull, gray day.

But it can also be necessary, as here:

It was a blustery, cold, miserable, gray winter’s day.

You gotta give your readers something to help them visualize.

Hashtag Usage

Some unnamed marketing “expert” out there says that more than two hashtags in your promo tweet/post/etc. is bad. Why? Sure, you can be excessive with your use of hashtags, but setting a maximum number? This “expert” seems to be missing the reason for you using those hashtags. They are keywords and search terms. If you’re writing a mystery, including #mystery, #mysteryfiction, #detectivefiction, and other relevant hashtags is a very good thing. Research them carefully, though, and make sure you use only appropriate hashtags. Nothing is worse than clicking on a mystery hashtag and seeing non-mysteries.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

A.C.’s Journal: Entry 23 – The Push-Pull of Writing

A few days ago, I sat trying to decide whether to push or give into the pull of writing. “What’s that?” you ask. Good question. Answer: It’s something I just made up.

To me, the push of writing is new stuff, pushing at my brain to get out, get typed up on my laptop screen or jotted on a notepad. It has a loud voice and a very pestering manner.

The pull, on the other hand, comes from the stuff I have already typed up (right now that amounts to 2.6million words in the Freelan series and about 200k in various short stories and a fantasy novel in the works titled The B’raith Chronicles). It all pulls me to reread, edit, purify, clarify, and catch those pesky typos.

Recently, I found something in one of the Freelan MSs that contradicted something in a later Freelan MS. Not surprising. I often have an idea that occurs later in the series and go ahead, heeding that push, and type it up. Then I get pulled back to where I had been working and continue on. As a result, a new technology that I had first appearing in Year 12 of the series got mentioned in Years 7, 9, and 10. Yikes! The issue became a choice between removing those references or keeping them and changing Year 12. Since the scenes in 7, 9, and 10 needed that new technology, guess which choice I made!

Yes, I changed Year 12. Sigh.

Would love to hear if you’ve had similar experiences.

Thanks for stopping by and wishing you the best in your writing.

Meanwhile, I’m getting a jump on St. Patty’s Day with these little beauties! Brain fuel.

N3F 2022 Short Story Contest Official Announcement

About a month ago, I was proud to announce that I had been informed about winning third prize in the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F) 2022 Short Story Contest. Recently, I got their member newsletter with the official announcement and wanted to share that part with you (to see the full newsletter, become a member).

I have been told that the winners will be published at some point and will keep you alerted, or you can sign up for a membership and get a copy in your email. Visit their website for more information. The announcement for the 2023 Short Story Contest isn’t up on their site yet, so keep checking back.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

A.C.’s Journal: Entry 22 – That “Gee, I Wrote This?” Moment

You’ve all probably experienced it – that moment when you’ve reread something you wrote days, weeks, months, or even years earlier and are struck with how good (or bad) it is. That’s the test of time, when you think “Gee, I wrote this? It’s darn good (or terribly bad)!” The feeling can go either way. But that time test is valuable, giving you a more objective perspective on things.

As I read through a MS for a book in the Freelan Series, I have both reactions. Fortunately, the bad stuff (usually a somewhat garbled paragraph or some events not occurring in the proper order) only needs a little tweaking to improve it. But mostly, I have the thrill of really liking what I had worked on a few months ago. A dastardly plot – a moment that makes me cry or laugh – a scene that gets my heart pumping with excitement – they are all here. And I think, “Gee, I wrote this?” And then I say, “Of course I did!”

Back to my reading, and thanks for stopping by!

Hope your writing is going well. Let the light of creativity forever shine within you.