Rant: Don’t feel entitled to get titles wrong

Julius LeBlanc Stewart - An Interesting Letter
Warning: This is a rant. This is only a rant. If this had been a real blog post, you would have been notified. Please remain calm. It is only a rant.

I just put down a book because I was too irritated to keep reading. This is an author who’s written several books set in 19th century England, and she’s clearly done a lot of research into various subjects. So I cannot understand why she was so careless about getting titles wrong. I mean, she got one woman’s title wrong three different ways in three pages. That falls into “I don’t care” territory.

I know I sound cranky. But that’s only because this subject makes me cranky.

If you write a historical novel, you’re going to have to do some research if you want the reader to believe in your characters. So why not do a little research into titles if a) you’re going to use them and b) you don’t know what people are called and why?

Here’s a shortened version. If you’re a woman, unless you’ve been granted a title in your own right (rare), what your title is depends on who your father was and who your husband is.

Some examples:

  • The only way I could have a title like Lady Evelyn Hill is if my father had been a duke, a marquess, or an earl.
  • Since my father was not a lord, if I married a lord or a knight my title would never be Lady Evelyn:
    • If I married Sir Hugh Grant, my title would be Lady Grant. Never Lady Evelyn Grant.
    • If I married Richard Armitage, Lord Awesome, my title would be Lady Awesome. Never Lady Evelyn Awesome.
    • If I married Prince Harry (yes, I know, I know, this is just for the purpose of providing an example, work with me here), then my title would be Princess Harry, never Princess Evelyn.

If you ever feel the need to write a historical novel with titles, then please, please go check out this site.

Rant: Prologues, or how to make this reader put down a book quickly

Your opening pages are the first impression the reader has of your story. Don’t throw them away.

When I’m reading, I want to imprint onto a character and follow them about, seeing the world through their eyes. I’ve learned to tolerate two points of view, since that’s endemic in Romance novels these days, but any more than that and I become less invested in the characters. I start to lose interest.

One common mistake that I see new writers make is starting out a story with a prologue. Almost invariably, the prologue is in the point of view of a character that I’m not going to meet again for several chapters, maybe not until the end of the book. This is throwing away your prime time slot on a character who does not play an active role in the story.

As I read the story, I’m still waiting in the back of my mind for this original character to come back. They’re the one I first met in this world. I imprinted on them. Starting off with someone who then disappears is a great way of ensuring that I’m never going to be fully involved in the main POV characters. It weakens the link I have to the story and makes it much easier for me to put the book down.

I’ve heard authors argue that this POV character is going to make sense once the reader makes it to the end of the story. That assumes that the reader is going to care enough to make it to the end. Why should they care? You’re telling them you have a big secret and they have to finish the book to find out what it is. As a reader, my response is “So what? I don’t see any point in learning this secret. It feels like you’re playing a game with me. If you don’t give me a reason to care, I’m going to feel manipulated.”

The whole reason I start to read a book is that I’m looking for a reason to care. You need to hook my interest within the first few pages or I’m going to put your book down and go find something else to do. Don’t waste your first pages on a prologue or on a character who isn’t going to show up again until the end of the story. If the information is so important to the story, slip it into the active story line bit by bit. If the character is so important to the story, make them the main POV character of the story.

Rant: Things to do before becoming a writer

Old french fairy tales 0103

Why do people ask ‘How do you become a writer’? Does anybody ever come up to a musician and say ‘Tell me, tell me, how do I become a tuba player’? No! It’s too obvious.
Ursula K. LeGuin, On Writing

If you look at writing blogs, you’ve probably seen other articles like this one on things you need to do before you become a writer. They aren’t as well written as this one, but they all, every one, annoy me. The basic assumptions underlying the article are flat wrong.

Look, it’s really not that complicated.

There are innumerable things you could do before giving yourself permission to be a writer. But there are two things you need to do before becoming a writer.

  1. Obtain something to write upon, such as a piece of paper.
  2. Obtain something to write with, such as a pen.

That’s it.

Anything else might help you to become a better writer, and that’s great, but I hate the idea that you have to sit there with a checklist and tick off every box before starting to write the story that you need to tell.

Mary Jo Putney just published a blog post on the moment she became a writer.

How NOT to use Twitter

img_1605I don’t consider myself an expert on Twitter. But I’ve begun to notice things that irritate me and might annoy other people as well.

If you follow me, I will follow you back — unless it’s obvious from your tweets that all you want to do is force your book/product/agenda on me. Twitter is a cocktail party, not a marketplace. It’s an opportunity to get for you to get noticed — you, not your book or product or agenda.

You can get to know a person by following them on Twitter. How often they post a tweet, what kinds of subjects interest them enough to tweet or retweet, how often they push their own particular product or agenda, all these things reveal the person behind the tweets. I might want to buy your product or agenda once I get to know you. But not before.

So, given the above, here are some ways not to use Twitter:

  • Do not send me a Direct Message saying how great it is that I’m following you. Twitter is a cocktail party, and we’re just at the stage where I’m asking you your name and whether you think the appetizers really needed that much wasabi. We don’t need to go have a private conversation. Let’s get to know each other on Twitter first.
  • Do not send me a Direct Message saying “Hi! How are you doing?” It’s like asking for my phone number the moment we meet. Chat me up a bit first, ‘k? And by that I mean post tweets.
  • Do not send me a Direct Message telling me that I can buy your book. Hearing a sales pitch at a party is right up there with having a telemarketer interrupt you at dinner.
  • Do not send me a Direct Message saying I can download your book for free. I don’t know you yet. I’m not going to bestir myself to download a book simply because it’s free. There are a lot of free books out there, and my interest in reading all of them is nil.
  • Do not offer to sell me Twitter followers.
  • Do not offer to send me pictures of nekkid wimmin. Honest, I know what they look like. And if I forget, I have a mirror.

If you want me to chat with you privately or to download your book or promote your agenda by retweeting you, give me a reason to care. Post tweets on a subject of mutual interest. I’m following you on Twitter because I’m interested in what you have to say. On Twitter.

Experts say the best way to promote your current book is to write another one. Similarly, the best way to tempt Twitter followers into reading your book is to post tweets that make people interested in hearing more from you.

Rant: Finding time to write

… you don’t have to think you’ve got it all right and perfect to be proud of what you’ve done. – Robin Mckinley

I follow several author blogs. One of these authors posted an update on the story she’s been working on for several years. Which was, basically, a report of no progress. She was stalled. She hadn’t written anything in months. But she made a list of things to do. Her list went something like this:

  • Chat with a friend about her plot
  • Write an outline of her story
  • Read books about the craft of writing

I am not criticizing this list. These are all good things to do.

HOWEVER.

At the end of the day, after doing all of those things, she still will not have added a single word to her manuscript. Outlines and craft books and chats with friends can be useful if you’re trying to motivate yourself to write, but they can also be a distraction from the fact that you are not actually doing any writing.

What really tipped me over the edge into irritation and provoked this whole rant was the part where she discussed finding a regular time to write. She just couldn’t find a time that worked for her, with all the other things she had to do in her life. Several writers she knew got up early and wrote before the day started, but she dismissed this notion because “she was not really a morning person.”

I am absolutely, positively, and in all ways not a morning person. I get up at 5 a.m. to write, but I do not do it because I like getting up at that hour. I do it because it’s the best time for me to get the words onto the page. First thing in the morning, my mind is a blank slate. By the end of the day, my brain is filled up with all the little worries and irritations and To Do lists of the day, and it’s much harder to clear my thoughts and get into the story I’m writing.

I think the brain can become accustomed to the habit of writing at any time of day, so long as you are consistent. It would be uphill work for me to write in the evening, but I could do it. But I would not accomplish any writing by outlining or chatting or reading something someone else wrote.

My point is that if you are not writing, and you want to write, you’ve got to face the blank page (or screen) and just start putting words down.  Bad words. Inadequate words. Words that you’re going to rip up (or press delete, but that’s much less satisfying). It doesn’t matter. Write the best words you know at that point in time. Show them to someone whose opinion you trust. Rewrite the words. Keep doing this and you will end up with a finished manuscript in your hands.  Know in your heart that when you turn this manuscript over to an editor or agent or beta reader, you’re probably going to have to rewrite whole sections of it.

That’s okay.

That’s progress.

Rant: “Oh, readers like the repetition…”

ThoseScenes

This morning, I was listening to a YouTube interview with a woman who purports to make a living writing romances. She originally wrote science fiction and fantasy novels, and she frankly admitted that she started writing romance because that’s where the largest reading audience was. It wasn’t that interesting an interview, but I kept it going in the background because I was working on something tedious and I wanted a distraction. And then…

Interviewer: So how do you handle writing “those” scenes?

Author: Oh, you know, “those” scenes are really repetitive, but you have to include them. Romance readers like the repetition, they really do. Of course, I don’t read romances myself, so I always try to include a bit of mystery or science fiction in my stories so that it’s interesting to me personally. But I’m telling you, the readers like the repetition.

This irks me.

WrathOfReaders

I had never heard of this author before this interview, but I have to wonder how good her books are. If she’s bored by what she’s writing, and thinks her readers love repetition, then why does she bother? Get a job as a plumber or a secretary or chicken farmer.

Writing takes a lot of time and effort. Writing a novel that bores you for people you don’t think much of because you think you’ll make lots of money doing it… no. Just no. Chicken farmer.

Neither the interviewer nor the author defined what they  meant by “those” scenes. They both smirked, so I imagine that they are thinking of some kind of scene that would be considered as a graphic love scene. But I don’t even think it matters how you define the term.

Romance novels are about the emotional connection formed between two people. Whether a love scene is graphic or not — even if the author is writing about a couple just holding hands, as I am — the author is, or should be, writing about the emotions involved. The characters in the book are unique. The scenes in which they express their feelings should be unique. A scene cannot be believable if you could replace it with a scene from another book.

Each love story is unique.