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How to Write a Novel in One (Not-so-easy) Lesson                         

Jackie shares her knowledge of the craft of writing in this short but jam-packed book. It draws on her experience in teaching more than 100 students. 

Digital edition 2011 

Order for Kindle or Nook or on Smashwords.com (multiple formats) 

 

 

 


Welcome to Jackie's blogs!

 

Mistakes to Avoid in Your Writing Career

Tips for Writing Funny Fiction

Covers: Points to Remember

Self-Editing Your Novel

Eyeglasses of the Regency

 

 

Mistakes to Avoid in Your Writing Career

 

Part 1: The Journey to Publication

Attitude issues:

Don’t dump on yourself or let anyone else do so. In my teaching, I was shocked by how many students took negativity from parents, spouses, so-called friends. Sometimes it’s disguised as helping: “I don’t want you to be disappointed.” They should support you or get out of your way.

If they won’t, make new friends. I won’t advise you to get a new husband or wife, but the one thing that’s vital to any successful relationship is respect.  Dumping on your dreams is disrespectful.

Don’t let fear get in your way. Fear of writing, fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of criticism. Every time I start a book, I’m afraid I’m going to fail. And that’s after nearly 100 of them. I have had books come up short—some that didn’t sell, some that required major revisions, some I set aside and never finished.

You will never move from Point A to Point Z or even to B if you listen to your fears. Just accept that failure is part of the process.

Remember that, once you succeed, your failures are just interesting stories for you to tell.

Some rejections or critiques are really cruel. That doesn’t make them right. Some people are just mean. And the fact that they may hold positions of power doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right, either. I once had an editor at Harlequin—before I sold to them—who told me I wasn’t cut out to write romance.

Sometimes a rejection or criticism will strike you as accurate. Don’t let that devastate you. You screwed up. Ouch! After you pick yourself up, take what’s helpful and don’t give in to the sense that you’re a failure. Mistakes don’t mean you can’t become a good writer.

Don’t think that failure means you’ll always fail. As a writing teacher I have seen students start out at a level where they could easily be dismissed—voice all over the place, no idea how to use point of view, etc. But they worked incredibly hard. Amazingly, after a year or so, their writing reached a professional level.

Don’t let anyone browbeat you, and this goes double if they aren’t in the writing/publishing field. The most ignorant people—including those who know nothing about publishing—can be among the most overbearing about how right they are in whatever nonsense they’re spouting. For example: “Everybody knows that sex sells, so you should write that!” Only if you feel comfortable with writing sex.

Don’t feel you have to write everything. Just because erotica is selling, if you can’t bear to read it, don’t try to write it. The same goes for any other trend or type of fiction.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t limit yourself at the beginning of your career or in the middle of it, either. It’s wonderful to have a particular brand if that’s fulfilling for you, but if you’re dying to try something else—or if you’re facing burnout-- go for it.

Don’t rush. Just because you hear that you should leap into submitting or self-publishing while the iron is hot—don’t do it if the manuscript is still rough, or your skills aren’t ready for prime time. You may lose readers—permanently. And oh, those online reviews can be cruel.

Learn to say no to people who infringe on your writing time. You may lose friends. You will make new ones. Don’t say “I’m trying to write” or even “I’m writing.” Say, “I’m working.”

Part I I: Mastering Your Craft

Bottom line: Never forget that your reader wants to go on an emotional journey with your characters, to care about them, to get involved with them, and to feel satisfied at the end.  If you don’t accomplish that, nothing else matters.

Don’t shy away from emotions. In my experience, most people read novels, especially romance novels, for the emotional experience.

Make sure there’s something absolutely vital at stake for your characters. If a pretty young woman goes to a dance and meets a nice guy but has to leave early, so what? Think about all the reasons why Cinderella’s prince actually matters.

Don’t assume that you can write a novel the way you see things in movies or on TV, mostly through dialogue and action. You don’t have actors and a director to focus in on the emotions.

That’s where point of view comes in. Point of view is the primary tool by which the author involves the reader emotionally with the character or characters. It means filtering events and perceptions through a character.

Watch out for head-hopping. This means jumping back and forth in viewpoint like  a pingpong match.He says something and he thinks something. Then she says something and she thinks something. It keeps the book at a shallow level, and discourages strong identification with a character.

Don’t write “in general”—generic plot, characters, etc. Avoid treating your characters like characters--treat them like people. Make sure their actions are motivated.

Never say, She was average height, or he resembled a typical bodybuilder. That’s generic thinking. Not every hero has to have a sculpted chest and not every heroine has to be the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. That isn’t what makes us fall in love. If it were, more movie stars would have happy marriages.

Clip out photographs if that helps you be specific. But avoid citing a movie star, as in “he looked just like Brad Pitt.” What if your reader hates Brad Pitt? Or what if Brad Pitt does something shocking by the time the reader reaches that description? Also, to me, it sounds lazy.

Don’t write generic crowd scenes. To bring a crowd scene to life, pick out a few specifics. Describe one or two individuals and let the reader see them in a little detail.

In description, don’t provide a laundry list. Don’t mention every feature of a room; pick a few salient features. The hero or heroine’s house or office should reflect that individual’s personality and background. Don’t waste description—use it to provide insight. Is there a piece of memorabilia she acquired while living in India? How about a photo of his dead wife?

Also avoid recounting every move the character makes. In rereading your work, if you can take something out without losing clarity, do it.  

Use your senses, and be specific. Instead of saying “nostalgic odors,” say the scent of gingerbread baking at Christmas. 

Make sure you can visualize the setting. I draw maps and floor plans for houses and other buildings, such as my Safe Harbor Medical Center.  

Don’t waste the reader’s time. Avoid chitchat and busywork. The hi-how-are-you kind of conversation has no place in fiction. If it doesn’t have emotional content or it isn’t funny or interesting, skip it. Dialogue should always reflect character. 

Push your characters outside their and your comfort zones. If you play it safe—you will lose your reader. You and I probably lead boring lives, and like it that way. Our characters should be larger than life. They can have emotional meltdowns that would embarrass our socks off. 

Don’t make every person into yourself. What your hero or heroine notices or how he/she reacts may not be at all the way you would. What he or she fears or longs for might be very different from you. Develop your character so you undertand his or her motivation. 

Heroes and heroines need to work actively toward solving their own problems. They can’t be passive, or merely pawns in other people’s schemes. Even if they start out that way, they had better seize the reins quickly or the reader will lost patience. 

It’s fine for your hero and heroine to make mistakes, as long as they don’t act stupid. That drives readers crazy. For example, don’t have them simply not call the police in a crisis without a good reason. 

Don’t overlook the crucial role of past hurts. Build character arcs, let them grow and change. And interweave that with the plot. Sometimes, it’s best to save vital pieces of their background for key moments, when they can reveal these to their love interest—and face the truth about themselves. 

Don’t cheat the reader of those heartfelt hero-heroine encounters—not only of the sexual variety, either. Even if a scene is painful for you to write, it may be important to the unfolding character arc. 

Also avoid cliché’s in plotting. Example: Don’t start a book with a lengthy dream sequence just to build phony suspense.  

Start your book in the right place. The first chapter should mark the beginning of the main action. In a romance, it’s often where the hero and heroine meet, or sometimes it sets up their meeting in chapter two.  

Do not use Chapter One as a data dump in which you fill in all the hero and heroine’s background. Tell the reader what she needs to know now, and save the rest of the exposition for when the reader needs or wants to hear it.  

Be especially wary of flashbacks, scenes that actually put the reader into a previous scene so that we experience it in real time. These tend to stop the action and sometimes confuse the reader as to what the story’s really about.  

Some novels are written as extended flashbacks—The Notebook comes to mind—but they’re really using a frame, in which the beginning and ending just showcase the “real” story in the past. This technique is tricky to use; employ it at your own risk.

Remember, the reader wants to get caught up in the story. It’s you, the author, who wants to fill her in on the backstory.  

Also, don’t slip exposition into dialogue where it doesn’t feel natural. Don’t have characters tell each other what they already know. Put the necessary background information in your viewpoint character’s thoughts. 

Don’t let your plot ramble. Think about how one scene leads to another, how your chapter is shaped, and how you build to turning points. This is called Scene and Sequel and there are entire books about it. 

In every scene, something should change. Even if it’s just the hero or heroine’s thinking.

Don’t write scenes that just take up time or provide back story. 

Romance tip: An editor once said that romance is not about dating. Avoid restaurant scenes unless something major happens that needed to happen in that restaurant. 

Avoid convenient-for-the-author syndrome. This is where an author has a character do things or fail to do things in a way that defies logic, simply because it suits the plot. You know, there’s a serial killer on the loose but the heroine decides to take a midnight stroll down a dark alley because she needs the exercise.  

Don’t forget that your book will be read by real people. Some of them will have expertise or experiences in whatever area you’re writing about. Consider sensitivities. Don’t throw in painful topics such rape unless you’re seriously going to deal with it.  

That brings me to research. If you’re going to write about a subject, learn about it. This includes the hero’s and heroine’s occupations. Research online, read books, interview people.  

In the upcoming September release of my Safe Harbor Medical series, The Surprise Triplets, I counted 31 research files in my computer for this book alone. Among the topics are: legal guardianships in California, child development for a 7-year-old, embryo adoptions, divorce, family law, what it’s like to be pregnant with triplets and visiting someone in prison. I also interviewed a superior court judge so a courtroom scene would sound authentic. 

Once you start writing, you don’t have to use everything you know, but the fact that you know it produces texture and increases the chances of being accurate.  

Try to find friends with expertise who’re willing to review what you write. I have a friend who’s a nurse and another who’s a private investigator who review my stuff. They are wonderful people. 

“Show, Don’t Tell” is a vital tool in the writer’s toolkit. Use perception, dialogue and point-of-view to put the reader into a scene instead of merely summarizing it. I’m afraid I can’t go into too much detail here, but I wanted to touch on that. 

Part II: Ongoing Career Choices

 If you decide to self-publish, approach that as a business, in addition to the business of writing itself. You are now your own publisher. You are ultimately responsible for the look, editing, content etc. Research what’s involved. There’s plenty of material on-line, including Smashwords.com’s guide, Amazon’s info, etc. 

Copyright your self-published books. You can do it online with the copyright office.  

Keep learning. This business is changing almost by the month. What works one year doesn’t work the next.  

Even if you plan to self-publish, consider approaching an agent if your book may have major sales potential, foreign and movie rights potential, etc. If more than one editor shows interest, bring in an agent. You might have an auction! 

When you contact an agent or an editor, act confident. Don’t apologize for existing or run yourself down.  

But don’t use hype. Editors and agents dislike being told what their job is. When a query or pitch states that this is a surefire bestseller and will make their career, it implies that they’re too incompetent to recognize its merits. Let the work sell itself.

It’s okay to fail—they won’t put you on some dark and horrible list to reject forever after just because they didn’t like your work. 

They will put you on some dark and horrible list if you act unprofessional. Like sticking a manuscript under the restroom door at a writing conference. Or perfuming your manuscript and setting off the agent’s alleries.  

If an agent or editor asks for changes and requests to see the book again, they mean it. If you agree with the suggestions, revise the book and send it to the same agent or editor. Can you imagine how frustrating it is for them to take the time to make suggestions and then see the book end up with someone else? 

Don’t sign with just anybody who claims to be an agent. Look up agents online, especially the website called Preditors and Editors. 

Never sign a contract—including one with an agent--without getting feedback or legal advice. Look online for sample agent and publisher contracts. There are too many for me to list here. I believe the Authors Guild has one. 

Even if you have an agent, read your contract.  

Remember that agents and editors are people too. Each has his or her own personality, taste, experience, expertise, flaws and preferences.  

Communicate. Let your editor know if you’ll be late for a deadline. Tell your agent if you’re unhappy about something. On the other hand, don’t take up his or her time with frequent complaints. Be selective. 

If you have a serious concern with an agent, talk to her about what’s missing. If you can’t resolve it and you think she’s harming your career, such as through inaction or disorganization, don’t delay in breaking it off. But be courteous. On the Internet, you can find blogs about how to break off with your agent. 

Part IV: Publishing Is a Business

 --Learn about taxes. Get a good accountant unless you are one.

--Keep good records.

--Invest in your career. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending a fortune. It does mean joining groups like this Romance Writers of America, taking classes and attending seminars.

--Look professional. Don’t go to a conference in ragged jeans and flip-flops. Will it keep you from selling? It might in these days when we’re all expected to promote our own work.

--Don’t flame people on the internet. The Internet is forever and people can be vengeful. So can their friends.

--Don’t argue with a negative review. Let it go.

--Don’t be a snitch. Editors do not trust authors who run to them telling tales about what they heard on a supposedly confidential loop. And when word gets out among authors, which it does, you’ll be dogmeat. Authors work together on promotions, anthologies, blurbing each other’s books, etc. If you’re a snitch, who’ll want to be associated with you? Play nice.

--Also, be careful about what you share. You don’t have to tell everyone if you’re having personal problems. Your editor doesn’t need to know about your health issues unless they affect your deadlines. Sometimes, others will use such information in ways that are to your disadvantage, so don’t share more than you need to.  

Authors today must promote their work. But your Number One job is to write a great book. And rewrite it. Then write another one. 

Begin learning about all aspects of promotion, from websites to author image or branding, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Take it one step at a time. You don’t have to do everything at once.  

You can’t ignore technology. Neither can all of us become experts. Ask yourself—what’s the one thing you most want to master next? Could it be Twitter or Facebook? Could be setting up a website, newsletter or blog? Start learning about that one thing. 

Back up your work. You can use online storage such as Dropbox.com. Or a flash drive. I use a combination. But back up often. Losing your stuff is heartbreaking.

Social Media is great but don’t hardsell your readers. No one wants to read “Buy my book!” over and over. Post interesting stuff, wherever you may find it. 

While I can’t cover legalities very well, here’s one caution: Don’t assume just because a photo is posted for sharing or on a free site that it’s okay to use it. Never use a photo of a person on a book cover or in an ad without a signed model release. Just because you took the photo or the photographer gave the okay, you can’t make commercial use of people’s images without their permission. This is not true in news reporting. But it is true for books and blogs. 

It’s usually safe to buy from reputable stock photo sites. They should indicate that they keep signed model releases on file. 

Once you’re eligible, join the Author’s Guild. They have lawyers on staff. While they won’t handle your personal legal problems, they will answer questions that are of interest to other authors too. And they conduct very helpful phone-in seminars like one recently on literary estate planning. 

On reaching a certain level of success:

--Don’t disrespect readers

--Don’t disrespect aspiring writers

Maya Angelou said< “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Important ending note: Don’t give up on writing unless you really want to.

 

Funny Fiction

 

Nobody can teach you to write comedy if it doesn’t come naturally. But you can learn to sharpen your wit and, just as important, avoid common missteps. 

First, a clarification. I don’t write one-liners for stand-up comics; that’s a different art. I’m a storyteller. My more than 95 published novels range from dark suspense to light-hearted Regencies to laugh-out-loud romantic comedies, which are what I’m drawing on here.

Yes, you need funny quips, but to be effective in fiction, humor should grow out of: 

  • Characters who view the world in an offbeat yet believable way

  • Situations that are honestly motivated but get out of hand

  • The author’s and/or character’s voice

  • Surprise coupled with recognition—the unexpected that nevertheless rings true

  • Fresh situations that are engaging and clever.

The premise of Designer Genes, one of my off-the-wall romantic comedies, concerns a mix-up at a sperm bank that sends a blonde L.A. fashionista named Buffy to introduce her daughter to the baby’s unsuspecting father, Carter, a mechanic in Nowhere Junction, Texas. Right away, you can see the possibilities in the pairing of this unlikely couple.

Some of the humor reflects the heroine’s sheltered background:

Buffy had never personally known an auto mechanic, aside from the supervisor at the Mega-Mall Auto Center. She didn’t think he counted. He wore a suit, for one thing, and once when he’d tried to find the hood release on her car, he’d had to call for assistance.

Other times, the humor springs from my hero’s wry outlook. In this case, it involves his father’s dog, Lucas:

Lucas uttered a sound halfway between a snarl and a whine. Carter had never known a dog so quick to hedge its bets between trying to scare people off and begging them not to hurt him.

I also build on the character of the villain, Buffy’s sleazy estranged husband, who’s trying to cheat her out of her fair share of their property. We experience his viewpoint as he awaits Buffy’s return to LA, and receives an unexpected visitor:

The stout, graying woman walking toward him wasn’t Buffy. She was the woman who’d helped him launch his business twenty years ago. She was also the company part-owner he’d cut off six months ago with the same trumped-up plea of poverty that he’d made to his wife.

She was, in other words, his mother.

Humor can be enhanced by the use of toppers. This is a series of lines or situations that build on a theme. Here’s a brief example:

Hunger pangs gnawed at him. On the flight the airline had prepared peanuts in imaginative ways: roasted, stewed, garlic-flavored, braised and mummified. Nevertheless, that had been hours ago.

As you can see, it helps to pay close attention to the characters and how they might react to their situation. The best humor springs from truth, even in one of those bizarre fictional situations that would never happen in real life.

In One Husband Too Many, my heroine, Jana, wishes she could go back six years, before she met the sophisticated rogue she impulsively married, and respond to the online profile of a farmer who sounded like an ideal husband and father. To her astonishment, her heirloom pendant grants the wish...but the "farmer" turns out to be the same rogue, using another name and involved in a shady project. She knows all about him but, in this reality, he has no idea who she is.

As Drake drives to “his” farm, his pickup breaks down. When he looks under the hood, trying to act knowledgeable, Jana is well aware that he’s clueless.

 She couldn’t let him realize she knew he was faking, not until she figured out his game. Or until she had one foot on the next bus out of here.

She pointed to a hose dangling deep within the motor. “There’s your problem. You tore a hose.”

Relief washed over Drake’s face. “Man, you sure have keen eyes.” He reached out.

“Don’t touch it! You’ll—” she began.

He snatched his hand away and cursed in French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin.

“Burn yourself,” Jana finished.

 Let’s list a few things that aren’t funny. In fact, they can be painful for the reader:

  • Characters who act stupid or clumsy in ways that the author has manipulated just to try to juice up the humor

  • More than moderate amounts of embarrassment. Embarrassing a character that the reader or viewer identifies with quickly becomes uncomfortable.

  • Cruelty—lines or scenes that belittle people and situations that might really hurt someone. Fat jokes are an example.

  • Overwriting and excess verbiage. Funny writing is tight and pointed, and cuts away fast.

  • Vagueness. Funny writing is on the mark and self-explanatory. If it isn’t funny on first reading, it doesn’t work.

 Of course, no two people have the same sense of humor. What sets one person to rolling on the floor laughing may leave another bewildered or annoyed. This leads me to two important points: 

  • In humorous fiction, people still need to care about the characters and what happens to them.

  • There’s no substitute for story. Writing a series of goofy situations will wear thin quickly. The story needs real conflict, a series of evolving obstacles, characters who grow and a resolution that’s emotionally satisfying.

 I hope these tips will help you sharpen your humor-writing skills. Thanks for reading!

 

 

        

Covers: Points to Remember 

As a reader, you may scan dozens of covers each time you select a book. Some appeal to you instantly; some put you off. Others are confusing. You wonder, Why isn’t this obvious to the cover designer?

Then one day you self-publish a book and have to design, choose or commission a cover of your own, since rights to the original cover usually remain with the publisher.  

As your own artistic director, you discover this seemingly simple task is more complicated than you thought.

Five tips to get you started:

  1. The genre should be immediately apparent to the reader.

  2. The image and words should be easy to discern in a very small reproduction.

  3. The colors should show up well against a white background.

  4. Keep it uncluttered. Don’t try to include every element in the book.

  5. Strive for an emotional connection with the reader.

One reader told me she bought my romantic comedy The Cowboy and the Heiress partly because the cowboy on the cover was so cute. I designed this cover myself using Photoshop Elements and a model whose image I bought for $10 from a stock photo site. I also used visual elements (a wooden frame and magical wedding rings) from free sites such as http://www.sxc.hu/ and http://www.rgbstock.com/

Some authors are trained artists or have a family member who is. Others may choose to pay several hundred dollars for a professional cover.  

Here are basic cover-design options: 

  • Find and hire a professional designer, if you aren’t one yourself. The results are likely (but not guaranteed) to please you and readers.

  • Buy a cover from a site that will adapt pre-designed covers to your name and title. There are numerous choices, and the look is professional. However, you risk having a cover very similar to other books.

  • Use an aspiring cover designer or other talented semiprofessional. You will pay less, or possibly nothing, and in return provide a credit and exposure. Results vary and you are not necessarily guaranteed exclusivity of design.

  • If you have an artistic eye and are willing to spend the time, learn to use a program such as Photoshop or the simplified version, Photoshop Elements. You can purchase photos of models from a stock site such as  iStockphoto.com and Dreamstime.com. There are various pricing arrangements.

  • Cobble something together with a less sophisticated program and hope for the best. This is risky in today’s competitive ebook market, especially for novels, but it suits some authors. 

A word on Photoshop: I don’t recommend trying the professional edition unless you’re a serious graphic designer. Photoshop Elements is more beginner-friendly, but if you have no digital design experience at all (I didn’t), it too can be daunting. If, like me, you would enjoy learning to design covers, it can be fun, but it’s definitely not easy. For starters, I recommend buying a copy of Photoshop Elements: The Missing Manual. This book, which is updated for each new version of the program, provides an overview and a lot of helpful information. I also recommend subscribing to Photoshop Elements User. 

Caution: if you use a picture of a “real” person, make sure you have a signed model release or buy it from a stock photo site that keeps these on record. I recommend against using any image that was simply posted on a sharing site, as you may infringe copyright.  

There is no perfect answer for every writer or every book. I’ve used several approaches. My Regency romance covers (Lady in Disguise, A Lady’s Point of View, etc.) were professionally designed by Kelly at customgraphics.etsy.com.  

For my romantic comedy Yours, Mine and Ours, about a nanny who discovers she’s supervising her own triplets via egg donation, I bought a delightful stock photo of three children (I looked at hundreds of pictures before finding it). The background is a courtyard I photographed while on vacation, and touched up with Photoshop Elements.

Hope this helps start you on your journey to ebook cover success!

 

Self-Editing Your Novel

The problem with self-editing is that we don’t see our own errors, whether they’re grammatical or story related. Even the invention of Spell Check, which ranks right up there with the wheel and dental floss, hasn’t fixed that problem. 

With the rise of the self-published ebook and print-on-demand, editing one’s own work has become even more common. There’s no substitute, of course, for a professional editor, but you can make a lot of improvements on your own. 

Important note: beta (advance) readers can be extremely helpful. These might be critique partners, with whom you exchange critiques, or friends who demonstrate they have a good eye and a strong story sense. Some critique groups are very helpful too, although watch out for know-it-alls and put-downs.  

I could write an entire book about self-editing (I actually did write an ebook about novel writing, shown above), but let’s hit a few highlights. Areas to look at fall into three basic categories: overall story and characterization; grammar and spelling; and formatting. 

For the self-published, sites such as Amazon and Smashwords post their own free formatting instructions that you can download. Most editors and agents prefer conventional style—double-spaced, indented paragraphs and no extra line between paragraphs--but more and more accept Internet style, which means single-spaced with an extra line between paragraphs and no indentation. Consult their submission guidelines. 

Hardly anyone can fix her own spelling and grammatical errors, unless they’re simply typos. You really need someone else to do this. However, I recommend buying a grammar book—Essentials of English, or something similar—and studying it a page or two at a time. Call it bathroom reading. It’ll help prevent you from making those errors in the first place. 

Now for the hardest but most important stuff: revising the overall writing and shape of the book. Let me share some tips based in part on my years as a writing instructor. 

  • Think like a reader, not an author. Read the first page as if you’d never seen it before. Does it make sense? Do you know where you are, who’s present and whose viewpoint you’re in? Is it off-putting, boring, hitting the action so hard your teeth ache, or filling in tons of background that you don’t yet have a reason to care about?

  • Does the first chapter set up the story? If there’s a prologue, does it have a clear purpose?

  • In the book as a whole, have you included the important scenes? Don’t make the mistake of skipping over the conflict, perhaps because it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and then having the characters reflect later on about what happened.

  • Are the time sequences clear? Are there transitions so the reader can move smoothly from scene to scene and chapter to chapter without getting lost?

  • Have you skipped the boring stuff, such as chitchat (“Nice to meet you”) and unnecessary details about physical actions (“She stepped into the room, walked to the couch, put her hand on the sofa arm and sat down”)?

  • Have you grounded the reader with visual and other physical details, letting the reader see, hear, smell and feel the setting? Have you shown the reader what the characters look like as soon as they appear, or as soon as possible thereafter?

  • Does the narrative have a sense of forward motion? Are you building toward turning points where the action shifts into a higher gear? This is important even in a novel of character, such as women’s fiction.

  • By the end of the first three chapters, have you launched the main action of the book?

  • Are the characters believable? Do they act, think and react like real people? Watch out for characters who are TSTL—too stupid to live—and for Convenient-for-the-Author Syndrome, in which characters do and say things because it suits the plot. For example: If you’re writing a mystery with an amateur crime-solver, don’t have the police simply dismiss evidence for no good reason. 

  • Be alert for clichés. While these can be useful shortcuts, too many clog up the story and weaken the writing. On the other hand, avoid metaphors and similes—no matter how clever or original—that are so convoluted or confusing they pull the reader out of the story.

  • Have you done your research? If you deal with medical issues, police matters, government agencies, etc., have you worked to be authentic? After doing as much research as you can, try to find a beta reader who’s knowledgeable in the subject and can catch your mistakes.

  • Do the threads planted in the early chapters pay off later in the book? Have later developments been foreshadowed?

  • Does the climax spring logically from earlier events, even if it’s a surprise? For instance, a mystery reader should be able to go back and find the clues you planted. Don’t just throw in a bunch of suspects and pick one at the end.

  • Does your main character change and grow during the book? This is called a character arc and it's vital to achieving reader satisfaction.

While I’ve just scratched the surface here, I hope these topics will spark your thinking and help your self-analysis, as well as your writing. Good luck!

 

Eyeglasses of the Regency

See cover photo of A Lady's Point of View

Since people suffered from visual defects in earlier centuries just as they do now, it should be no surprise that, throughout the ages, inventors, artisans, jewelers and glassmakers put their talents to use improving our ability to see.

The earliest known use of lenses to aid vision was in ancient Egypt and Assyria, where people were depicted using magnifying stones such as polished crystals. In the first decade B.C., Roman philosopher Seneca used water-filled objects to magnify text for reading

Around the year 1000 A.D., Muslim scholar Alhazen (965-1040)—known as the father of modern optics—wrote a seven-volume treatise on the subject. In the late 12th century, Marco Polo claimed that eyeglasses were popular among the wealthy Chinese. The demand for spectacles grew dramatically by the end of the 15th century, thanks to the invention of the printing press and the much wider availability of reading material.

Here are some good sites about ancient glasses:

http://optical.com/eyeglasses/history-of-eyeglasses/

http://www.antiquespectacles.com/history/ages/through_the_ages.htm

http://io9.com/strange-and-wonderful-moments-in-the-history-of-eyeglas-507302709

My own myopia inspired me, for my sixth traditional Regency romance, to create a nearsighted heroine. In A Lady’s Point of View, Meg Linley--forbidden by her mother to wear eyeglasses--accidentally causes a scandal by cutting Beau Brummell at a ball. Then, sent home in disgrace, she gets into the wrong carriage and is mistaken for a governess.

In 1989, when Harlequin published the novel, I had to dig through books for a few snippets of information on eyeglasses during the Regency. Imagine my delight, when preparing the recent ebook release, at finding a treasure trove of information on the Internet.

Here’s a look at the situation that would have affected my heroine:

An English optician, Edward Scarlett (1677-1743), is credited with developing eyeglasses that rest on the nose and ears. While the exact origin of bifocals is debated, Benjamin Franklin usually gets the credit. Bifocals were found in London after the 1760s.

However, glasses weren’t considered fashionable by the Regency upper crust. Instead, the Beau Monde preferred the quizzing glass, a magnifying lens with a handle that the user peered through.

Quizzing glasses remained popular until the 1830s, when the lorgnette gained in popularity, especially among women. First appearing between 1795 and 1805, the lorgnette is a pair of lenses with a short handle. Also known as opera glasses, these derived their name from the French word lorgner, to ogle.

The quizzing glass was usually set with a magnifying lens, although in some cases a corrective lens was used. Goldsmiths or jewelers provided the frames, often made of gold or sterling silver, with elaborate designs. These hung from a chain attached to the handle—of varying lengths—or loop.

For charming pictures of eyewear from the Regency, I recommend this site:

http://historicalhussies.blogspot.com/2010/08/regency-glasses-and-eyeware.html

 

 

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