• Reading,  Risky Book Talk,  Writing

    When Books Go Wrong!

    Annoyed-looking girl stares out at us (front-view), cheek resting against her hand while an open book lies on table in front of her.

    Let’s face it, writing isn’t easy. It LOOKS easy, to our readers, and that’s because we authors work hard to make sure what we eventually deliver to them is seamless, smooth prose that tells a logically believable (and well-researched) tale that’s also emotionally satisfying. But how many drafts did we go through to get there?

    Granted, some books are easier than others. Sometimes a story is so clear to us that it very nearly writes itself. Some authors are blessed with many of those. But in my experience anyway, that is rare.

    “Think of Olympic athletes,” I often told my students years ago when I was teaching romance writing. “Don’t they make their respective sport achievements look easy?” I used the analogy to provide some perspective, as they often came in thinking the writing would be easy. “Think of how smooth and graceful they are, how effortlessly they seem to flow through the motions of their sport. Watching them is like reading a finished story. Then think of the years of practice and study, the repeated successes and failures, the continued drive to keep getting better that they have invested to achieve that apparent ease. That is also the struggle behind most successful stories (and their authors).”

    Pair of Olympic swimmers shown in simultaneous action in parallel pool lanes via underwater camera.

    The writing does get easier the longer you’re at it. Practice helps just about anything! Yet every book seems to present its own challenges. Just when you think the process is getting comfortable, the next story comes along with its own unique twist you’ve never needed to handle before. New learning curve, every book.

    Not to mention there are so many ways a book can go wrong. And I’m not even talking about the marketing part, here. Bad cover? Bad blurb? Oh, no. I’m only talking about the story here. Every aspect of a story, from the tone to the characters, the plot, the emotional arcs and the structure, the pacing, the dialogue–even the balance of those elements, or the choice of point-of-view characters in scenes, and more –all of these can make or break the successful telling of the story. Readers don’t see this, because we hope that all of those issues are smoothed out before they ever see a page.

    You may have guessed I am in the throes of revising a book that has “gone wrong” and that’s the inspiration for this blogpost. Yup. I have been working for ages on a prequel to LORD OF MISRULE and had it at least ¾ done, maybe more. But something wasn’t working. Sent it to several critique partners, and it was clear from their comments that I was right, something wasn’t working. But none of them could quite put a finger on it. Their multiple views did help me to do so, I think!

    Sometimes when books go wrong, it’s not just one big thing, but an accumulation of many small things. Kind of like dropped stitches in knitting. You might not notice them when they happen, but later as you look back at the completed rows, there they are. A character’s attitude is wrong, the tone is off or someone’s emotional reaction is missing. Some plot developments may happen in the wrong order. And as in knitting, there’s nothing to be done except unravel it back to the rows that were intact, and redo it.

    I hate having to delay this book even longer, but I won’t release a book that I know isn’t right. That’s not to say my books are perfect, but I hope they are as good as I am capable of offering at the time they come out. Alas, I am a “pantser” (meaning I have to discover the story as I go along), so that usually means multiple drafts to sort things out. I have unraveled a big chunk of this book and am busily “re-knitting” it as fast as I can. I hope now to have it repaired and out by June at least. Maybe with a miracle, sooner. But it won’t be in April as I had planned. (sigh)

    Have you read books that you thought the author should have “re-knitted” but didn’t? (please don’t name specific titles or authors) If you’re a writer, which would you say happens for you more often, easy ones or hard ones? Do you find there’s any one specific way books most often go wrong for you? If you are a plotter instead of a pantser, what still goes wrong sometimes even though you are following your thought-out plan?

  • Regency,  Research,  Risky Book Talk,  Risky Regencies,  Writing

    Curses, but not Foiled Again

    I’ve been editing Lord of Misrule (almost finished!), and it is always interesting to see what minutiae of the period suddenly will crop up as a problem when one is at this stage of finishing. I discovered that my hero has been saying “bloody hell” in the rough draft on the rare occasions that he felt the need to swear (usually in his head, not out loud). Yes, poor man, a lot of frustration there.

    The problem with that (for me) is twofold at the least: first, I believe that is an extremely strong and even today quite offensive curse in Britain, and second, I write “clean/sweet” (choose your preferred label) Regencies, and I think that is too strong a curse for many of my readers, especially the ones who like Christian romances.

    So of course, I’ve had to take time out from editing to study up on Regency cursing.

    I’m not fond of “By Jove” even though the phrase is period –it sounds like a popinjay to me, not a hero. Might work for a best friend; in fact I’ve used it that way. The hero of my very first book used “Devil take it” as his cursing phrase, but I don’t want to go to the same well over and over –we writers like characters to be as unique as real people are, if we have enough skill to achieve that. Besides, my LOM hero, Adam, has a tendency to compare himself to the Devil or claim to be him, so things could get confusing. J But I have discovered an assortment of articles, blogs, and other sources all dealing with this vocabulary issue. Clearly this is a common problem!

    Interestingly, “bloody” which is considered quite bad even though commonly used now, was not so terrible until about the time of the Regency. Even the illustrious Maria Edgeworth had a character use it in 1801, but that is about the last time it was acceptable for a very long period. (Ref. https://www.salon.com/2013/05/11/the_modern_history_of_swearing_where_all_the_dirtiest_words_come_from/

    For me, the problem with using “bloody” remains all about the modern reader’s sensibility, rather than period accuracy. If Adam uses “bleeding” instead, does the change in word form make it less offensive?

    Historical sources make a distinction between profanity and obscenity in cursing –the former having to do with religious references and the latter about body parts and functions. Several scholarly articles talk about swearing and class distinctions. It seems to me after only a brief study, I’ll admit, that when looking at the differences in the way the upper class and lower class swore, at least historically, the upper class was more likely to stick with profanity and the lower classes tended toward the obscene.

    That interests me, because I have the impression that often the lower classes were actually more religious than the upper class, and I wonder if there’s a case to be made of that influence on each class’s choice for bad language! Neither sort quite serves my purpose for poor Adam, so I begin to see why I am having trouble.

    The problem with many of the sources is that they lump cursing and swearing in with slang in general, and an article that sounds promising may not actually have much to offer to the specific point. Slang is easy –just get a copy of the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. That isn’t what I’m looking for. But author Joanna Waugh has a fabulous list of expressions (with dates) on her website: http://www.joannawaugh.com/expressions.html

    The best article I found was an old post by Nicola Cornick on the Word Wenches blog: https://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2011/03/mind-your-language-a-very-short-history-of-swearing.html  She does an elegant job of handling the topic, but some of it still deals with insults and not cursing the way I am looking for it.

     In the end, I am going to modify Adam’s swearing by making one up, substituting only slightly milder words: “bleeding blazes” works for me. It’s still strong, but no longer blatantly profane. Swears don’t have to make sense –they’re about strong emotion, not logic.

    But researching this topic has made me yearn for a book I came across only once ever, gifted to a friend who later died, and which then could not be found among his effects afterwards, sad to say. It was a marvelous flip book for creating Shakespearean insults. The author had gone through all of Shakespeare’s writing, collecting the insult words and dividing them into nouns, verbs, and adjectives. The book was ingeniously divided into sections so that you could flip between them and construct your own phrases. Someday I would love to come across that book again!

    What do you think about swearing in novels? Does finding profanity in a story offend you? Does obscenity belong only in erotica? If you write, have you ever created swears for your characters, or have any favorites that you like to use? Lots to talk about. Please let me know in the comments!

    Nov 5: I’m back to add some material from discussion this post generated on Facebook. Plus an apology that some comments were delayed in showing up here –first time commenters sometimes need approval and the emails seeking it were in my spam folder!

    Author Ella Quinn compiled the following list of Regency curses from her research and gave me permission to share it with you here. Thank you, Ella!

    Words gentlemen used when they swore:
    Devil it, Bollocks, Bloody, Hell, (Gail’s note: but not Bloody Hell together, several people have assured me) Damn his eyes, Damme, (Egan uses Demmee), Devil a bit, The devil’s in it, Hell and the Devil, Hell and damnation, Hell and the Devil confound it, How the devil . .

    Words that could be used around a lady: Perdition, By Jove’s beard, Zounds, Curse it, Blister it, By Jove, Confound it, Dash it all, Egad, Fustian, Gammon, Hornswoggle, Hound’s teeth, Jove, Jupiter, Lucifer, ‘Pon my sou, Poppycock, Zeus.

    Oaths appropriate for ladies were:  Dratted (man, boy, etc.), Fustian, Heaven forbid, Heaven forefend, Horse feathers, Humdudgeon, Merciful Heavens, Odious (man, creature, etc.), Piffle, Pooh, What a hobble (bumble-broth) we’re in.

    How do you like those?  —Gail

  • Reading,  Regency,  Risky Book Talk,  Risky Regencies,  Writing

    Risky Business? Revisiting & Revising a Backlist Book

    indexRevisiting an old story intent on revising it can be a scary journey full of rocks and potholes. I’m deep in the throes of revising my old Signet Regency, The Magnificent Marquess, and I have to tell you, the process isn’t pretty! It’s not just the mess of annotated pages scattered over my dining room table and all the handwritten notes that are keyed to them, but also my precarious state of mind.

    What do you think about “new and improved” versions of older books? Have you ever picked up a new version of an old favorite and read it to see if you liked it better? And did you? If you write, have you gone back to previously published work and significantly changed it? I’m not talking about just a minor tweak or correction here or there. Were you pleased with the result? Please let me know in the comments!writers-block21

    While I am firmly convinced this original book can be greatly improved, I am also terrified I may make it worse rather than better.

    There seem to be two schools of thought about reissuing backlist books. One is that old books are like old friends and should just be sent back out again in the same lovable form they originally presented to the world. The other is that reissuing them offers an opportunity to improve them –to fix mistakes, enliven the writing, or even indulge in the deeper surgeries (or expansions) required to improve plot, character, or motivations. What’s your experience with this, as a reader, or a writer, or both?

    writing_as_professionalMost of my old Signets packed a lot of plot into a relatively short book format –the length was a requirement of the publisher’s line. I believe that by expanding The Magnificent Marquess, I can tell the story more effectively. Too much had to be left out of the original version. But one of many dangers then becomes losing the pacing, not to mention the challenge of keeping the writing tight. All the same problems of writing any original version!

    I just keep reminding myself that even though these characters and their story are old friends of mine, for readers who never read the first version, this revised one will be brand new. I’ll let you know when it’s ready!! happy reading 2 peeps

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