Errors: How many are tolerable enough to tempt you? LfmM

Because we’re human, it’s likely that every book will have at least a small number of errors in it. Conventions the author or editor didn’t know about, obvious mistakes that somehow got missed in the dozen or so readings of the book that constitute the editing process, or too few editor reviews because of cost concerns, all these can slip in and mar perfection ever so slightly. But in the end, how many errors are too many?

Due to the death of my old third generation keyboard Kindle, I bought a new Paperwhite. For the month of May 2018, I enjoyed a month of free Kindle Unlimited. That gave me free reign to binge read those Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) novels that I wanted to read but found too expensive, mostly Austenesque Regency romances. At the same time, several good JAFF books have come out within my favoured cost range (under $5) or had promotions that put them in that price range. So I’ve been on a reading rampage lately and have been inundated by the good, the bad, and the ugly. That reading experience inspired me to write another article on editing and the mistakes that can be made.

One of the first books I read in May was a Pride and Prejudice based book where I detected no errors. This doesn’t mean there weren’t any, but it definitely means that if there were, the mistakes were so minor or even debatable, they didn’t take the reader out of the story. I made a point of crediting the author and editor when I tweeted about my wonderful reading experience and posted the link to the book on Facebook. Now authors, wouldn’t you all like to be the one who got those kind of accolades from your readers? Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control.

About a year ago, I re-read my first published novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, and found a handful of clear errors that I didn’t know existed when we edited it. Some were because the editor and I had yet to put those words into our non-Regency words checklists, some were essentially typos that it was easy to get beyond, and all were unlikely to be noticed by the average reader.

For example, I notice many Regency novels where “snort,” “chuckle,” “guffaw,” are in modern usage, even though “snort” was an animal noise only according to Johnson’s Dictionary of 1811, “guffaw” is a non-Regency word of Scottish origin, and “to chuckle” meant our modern “to guffaw” during the Regency. But in these cases, most readers don’t know any better, and it won’t ruin their reading pleasure. Even the non-Regency “fiancé,” “décolletage,” and “debutante” are tolerated by this picky reader—but barely. What bugs me are modern words like “morph” or “normalcy” or Americanisms such as “okay” and “hello” in a British Regency story. Same for clearly British words like “prat” and “pram” for an American speaker in a novel, unless there is a joke to be had in the use of the word.

Language is not the only issue. In a period story, historical issues should be checked. Did the zoo close down the year before the story was started, and how long did it take to travel through several counties via horseback without killing the horse? The correct title for a member of the peerage is another example of an issue critical to the success of putting the reader in the right time period.

When a story is unpublished, that is, if I’m reading on a web site for writers where there is clearly no professional editor, I cringe and bear it. Sometimes the mistakes are funny. An unpublished author used “palatable” where she meant “palpable,” “jester” for “gesture,” “bought” for “bout,” and the biggest ouch: “roll” for “role.” I’ll have mine with a little butter and jam. Sorry. I felt for her as often as I laughed at the mix-ups. But this story came from a fan fiction web site and was not edited. I got what I paid for.

from http://homophonesweakly.blogspot.com/2012/10/conscience-conscious.html

As a writer, I recently got caught with what I think was a touchpad error on a spell check, because I know the meanings of the two words. Beta ldb531 caught me with “decimate the information” when I meant “disseminate the information” and, at first, I kept re-reading the sentence to try to figure out what was wrong with the rest of it! After that, I just had to laugh! Just this week, my British beta caught me using Americanisms “gotten” and “alright” that got past both American betas. Thankfully, I have no crutches in the way of homonyms like the unpublished writer above does, other than typos–I hope! If I do, I’d better learn from my mistakes! But my current work-in-progress, The Mist of her Memory, will be serially posted on A Happy Assembly after incorporating the corrections found by four excellent betas. After that, the novel version will be published after multiple reviews by a professional editor and proofreader. With any luck, its errors will be gone, or at least that those remaining will be barely noticeable. Remember from past posts: Lesson #6: Beta readers can help an author at all points in the writing process.

I also have problems with commas in my own writing. As is probably evidenced in this unedited article, I put them in where they don’t belong and forget them where they’re needed. But for my books, I have betas and editors to help me. As a reader, I can overlook a missing closing set of quotation marks if it’s not confusing, or even a missing period—it it’s not a frequent mistake.

However, some trends in editing errors may point to a lackadaisical attitude towards one’s readers. A first novel may have errors that the author will learn from—if readers are kind enough to give the appropriate feedback in book reviews. However, multiple mistakes are not so forgivable in later books. Readers should never have to pay for a book that’s full of errors, period. In fact, even if normally a paid book is obtained during a temporary “free” or low-cost promotion, we still deserve our expectations of a smoothly-written book. If the author is asking readers to pay for the pleasure of reading their work, the book should offer that pleasure undaunted by distractions that are within the control of the author! We’re reminded of Lesson #7: Every author listens to and incorporates the advice of one or more professional editors who know the conventions specific to their style, content, subgenre, etc. There are no exceptions. And if your editor sucks, fire him/her!

Readers have a responsibility, too. I tend to rate books better than my gut says to, simply because I’m an author and I don’t want to hurt another author’s feelings. For example, if a book succeeded on many writing measures (e.g., good character development, vibrant scene-setting, suitable tone, well-developed plot and flow, lack of unnecessary plot twists or characters, appropriate prose, reader investment in the protagonists, tight research, lack of plot holes, satisfying ending, realistic and believable premise, unique story line, engaging dialogue, good balance of dialogue and narrative, lack of head-hopping, appropriate use of point of view, memorable story, and others I forgot at the moment) but missed out on two or three of that list, I’ll still give it five stars even though my first impression would say it’s really a three to four star book. But I’ll drop a full star if it has too many blatant editing errors. Yet, I’ve seen reviews for books that are cute but forgettable, don’t deliver the promised angst, have huge plot holes, and/or have head-hopping that’s hard to follow, AND have over a dozen unforgiveable proofreading errors that have been ranked at five stars! That’s not fair to authors who make the effort. Shame on you, readers!

But readers, make sure you know your rules before you complain. We’ve all read of pet peeves in writing. Upon a check of some reader pet peeves, I discovered some supposed errors were merely British spellings (e.g., “colour,” “centre,” “judgement”) or older British Regency spellings or word usage (“gift” as a verb, “fall” for autumn, “realize” are all proper in the British Regency), and others were punctuation issues that were correct in certain circumstances (possessives with two nouns). Of course, many readers’ pet peeves are legitimate errors, and mostly homonyms. But don’t blame authors unless you’ve checked to ensure your information is correct. Remember that rule we suggested for authors? Lesson #5: If in doubt, look it up.

In summation, we all have a responsibility to delivering good-quality books: the reader, the editor, the proofreader, the publisher, but most of all, the author. It’s your name on the cover. Make sure you can be proud of it.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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As I noted above, my next novel is called The Mist of her Memory, and it’s in the late stages of beta review in four steps: NinaH served as plot beta, ldb531 was the general beta (line edit and Regency correctness), Anji has been scouring the text for British correctness, and NinaH returned as the proofreader. Anji and ldb531 also served as cold readers in this romantic suspense novel, letting me know how they were feeling about it as each chapter was revealed to them. NinaH offered kitty stories to amuse me as well as her technical observations. The Mist of her Memory will be posted on AHA later this summer, and I hope to have it released as a published novel in early 2019.

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The Centennial Belles in Regency Costume

I’m off on another costuming escapade to once again participate in the Port Alberni Jane Austen Festival and hopefully, up our count for the Guinness World Record of number of people in Regency costume in one place, July 5-8, 2018. I’m going to get to enjoy a production of Persuasion by the Chicago Chamber Opera Company and I’ll be signing books at the Guinness count and the Regency Afternoon Tea, along with an opportunity for a draw for a signed copy of The Mist of her Memory. I’d love for some of my friends to come along and join me, and I can even help with your costume. Tourism destinations in the area consistently make the top ten in the world in travel magazines, so this isn’t just a Jane Austen thing, it’s an experience of a lifetime. Help this small town break the world record!

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I’m compiling my list of lessons for Learning from My Mistakes and it will be the final post in this series. At that time, I’ll use a random number generator to pick the prize winner for a signed paperback copy of the 2017 top ten reviewer acclaimed Pride and Prejudice comedy A Most Handsome Gentleman, a book bead of A Most Handsome Gentleman, and a choice of a handmade Suzan Lauder signed Regency reticule or a handmade Suzan Lauder signed “Grown-Up Lady” cap and lace tucker set. All commenters for this series, as well as followers of my blog, will be entered for the draw.

Why first person? Suzan Lauder’s #LfmM

Why did I write A Most Handsome Gentleman in first person point of view?

The answer: because it came out of me that way. End of post.

Just kidding. I can elaborate a little more than the actual answer above.

In the past, I had written in first person point of view in a novelette length story, but it was in the modern part of the time-travel story (Performing to Strangers; posted at A Happy Assembly in 2010). I had channeled a friend as a parallel character to Elizabeth Bennet, so it was easier.

Elizabeth Bennet with a parasol, Brock drawing from Wikimedia Commons

I know that some readers don’t much care for first person, and for that reason, I would normally have avoided it. But when I finally started typing my “Hot Collins” story idea, the words that came out of me were Elizabeth Bennet’s, and the way they were phrased used “I” instead of the third person deep point of view that I had honed my craft on in Letter from Ramsgate, which is the most common style for Regency romances these days. No one was more surprised than me.

My Meryton Press editor Gail Warner was just as surprised and told me she’d never edited a first person novel before. It sounded like a warning about her abilities, but I think this novel was easier to edit than the other ones—at least, Gail made it look easy!

First person is commonly used in Young Adult and New Adult novels, however, A Most Handsome Gentleman, as a Regency comedy-romance, doesn’t fit either of those genres no matter how much it might get a laugh from the readers.

But I think first person works far better than any other point of view device would for this story. In fact, the only other POV I would consider writing this in would be from Mr. Collins’s view, and I think it could be first person there as well. However, we would lose the nuances of Elizabeth’s thoughts about Mr. Darcy even if Collins would watch their relationship blossom and grow. It’s much better told by Elizabeth, first as her unconscious attraction and later, similar to Pride and Prejudice, where she laments that he is the right man for her even though she can’t expect Darcy to be interested in her.

And that’s the reason we read Jane Austen Fan Fiction—for that Elizabeth and Darcy happily ever after!

A Most Handsome Gentleman was successful in earning the praise of all its blog tour reviews with consistent four and five star reviews. It was also selected as a top book for 2017 by three book bloggers (Diary of an Eccentric, Margie’s Must Reads, and More Agreeably Engaged). So authors, don’t be scared to try something like first person point of view if it fits your story. It’s not a mistake if you’re successful, it becomes part of your style and voice. But mind not to take that to an extreme and become an editor-resistant diva—“voice” does not mean mistakes that a good editor would check!  A truly successful book is a well-edited one, by both the author and a professional, no matter what special techniques are used.

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Learning from my Mistakes will probably have one more “Official” post: a summary of all the lessons learned, with links back to the articles. This does not mean I won’t occasionally identify a problem area that’s worth sharing to help other authors avoid it. In fact, in my reading, I still encounter books that are brilliant with the exception of the editing. A recent example would earn a two star rating, it was so full of homophones, misspelled words, sentence fragments, and redundancies though the plot and writing ability in general deserved four stars. The moral of the entire blog series is still “Get an Editor!”

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Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

Book Birthday and Fun Announcements!

For a detailed image, click on thumbnail.

A year ago today, Letter from Ramsgate was released to quickly become an Amazon bestseller, thanks to the readers. I got a giggle when I saw an old post that wondered what its cover would look like (speculating on who would be Mr. Darcy), as it’s an awesome cover with a terrifically handsome Mr. Darcy on the back.

Today, in anticipation of the release of A Most Handsome Gentleman, Meryton Press announced a book sale for Letter from Ramsgate and my first published novel, Alias Thomas Bennet.For those who are new to these two books, both are variations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and have happy endings. Letter from Ramsgate has a great deal of angst, and is suited to all readers mature enough to read and appreciate Pride and Prejudice. Alias Thomas Bennet has a mystery component and is suited to mature readers who are not sensitive to trigger scenes. Both are highly rated by readers, earning Amazon reviews averaging greater than four stars out of five. I myself enjoy re-reading them from time to time!

If that was not enough fun for you, Meryton Press has posted a Q&A session with me along with the book sale announcement. Find out a little more than you can usually read in the author bio!

I’m also pleased to note that I’ll be stopping at 15 blogs during the A Most Handsome Gentleman Blog Tour starting on October 20. Six of the stops will include book reviews to help readers get excited about purchasing this latest book of mine, which is a comedy suitable to all readers mature enough to read and appreciate Pride and Prejudice. Excerpts, vignettes (new scenes written expressly for the blog tour), author guest posts (stories about the book and similar bonus material), character interviews, and an author interview fill out the rest of the schedule. A giveaway of eight A Most Handsome Gentleman e-books will be part of most stops on the tour, and fans can enter once each day: that’s 15 potential entries plus bonuses!

Speaking of giveaways, for fans who have been following my blog series on writing tips, Learning from my Mistakes, there will be a few more posts after the blog tour is over, then a giveaway! The gift package consists of a signed paperback copy of A Most Handsome Gentleman, a Suzan Lauder designed Regency pineapple reticule, and some really nice small gift items I have on hand. Followers of road trips with the redhead and commenters on LfmM are eligible. I’ll post a photo of them once I have the paperback to complete the set.

And speaking of that paperback: Look for its release in e-book and paperback sometime this week, and enjoy a hilarious twist on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I jokingly refer to A Most Handsome Gentleman as a mini-novel, and the book is priced to suit its shorter length. If you rush to Amazon to purchase it as soon as it’s released, your reading pleasure will enhance the fun of #HOTCollins in the AMHG Blog Tour and other events, including discovering what’s with the back cover! Besides that, you’ll have a chance to laugh and laugh and laugh!

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Get the Cover You Deserve: LfmM by Suzan Lauder

Like many readers, I have multiple reasons why I might choose to buy a book: I love the author’s other work and/or someone I trust has given it a smashing review, and the price is right. But just as important is the way it looks: a stunning cover makes a big difference. I rarely bother with covers that are just “meh” or worse, even if the book is cheap or free! I already have over 100 books in my “unread” file on my Kindle and as many in mind to buy when those are read. No need to muddy that up with iffy ones.

It’s not easy for authors to decide on a cover, but most authors give at least a little thought to it. Let me make a suggestion: give it more than a little thought. The cover has strong potential as a make-it-or-break-it selling point for any book. It should be a teaser for what’s inside, a hint of the drama on offer, and a taste of the reading pleasure that’s possible with the purchase of this new book. It should be unique enough that readers don’t confuse it with another book, comment on Amazon that you took another author’s idea, or get a laugh at your expense.

Eugène Delacroix, Portrait of Léon Riesener as Mr. Darcy in LfR

I love this portrait of Léon Riesener painted by Eugène Delacroix in 1835. I think he’s the perfect Mr. Darcy at the point when he realizes Elizabeth Bennet isn’t going to accept his marriage proposal at Hunsford, and I would dearly love to use him in that capacity on a book cover. There are two problems: I don’t have a book that suits him as cover art, and he’s been “taken” in the world of Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) covers, which is my sub-genre of Regency romance. Dear Léon was made into a phenomenal back cover Colonel Fitzwilliam by cover artist Janet Taylor for author Nicole Clarkston’s latest novel, These Dreams. By the way, I’ve bought several of Janet Taylor cover designed books for the covers alone. I’m lucky Nicole is also such a good author!

Letter from Ramsgate by Suzan Lauder, award-winning cover design by Zorylee Diaz-Lupitou. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image.

Meryton Press cover artist and administrator Zorylee Diaz-Lupitou has created quite a number of stunning covers for Jane Austen Fan Fiction novels, and she has a unique way of understanding how readers react to book covers: she and her husband go into book stores and look for covers that catch their eye. They make a bit of a game of it: point the book out to each other, then justify their choice. They then work together to critique it in comparison with other similar covers and figure out why it caught their eye. That way, details are analysed so Zorylee comes back with an arsenal of concepts to use in searching for the right images and fonts for each novel.

Author L.L. Diamond has a degree in studio art, which means she’s a trained graphic artist as well as a gifted watercolour painter. Her art history expertise means she can find cover art that’s not exactly from the era she writes in, but leans so much towards it that the reader is none the wiser. They also evoke the story within very well, and draw the reader towards purchase just for the pretty cover. This is an example where an author-designed cover is a good thing—when the author is well-qualified.

“Regency Woman 2” photo used in various formats on 23 Regency romance and JAFF covers.

These are merely three examples of good cover artists, and there are many more out there. Yet too many authors use cover artists that re-use materials from other authors’ covers, making the author lose the “unique” they thought they were paying for! The girl on the left is on no fewer than 23 covers, disguised a bit on some, but easy to pick out. However, if someone uses the same cover art as you did, the best you can do is say to yourself, “imitation is the best form of flattery.” Acknowledge it if mentioned, but take the high road.

Some cover artists have no background historical costuming or scenes. It’s too bad that they take money for their weak efforts. Giving short shrift to historical accuracy on a cover grates on the reader just like anachronistic scenes or non-period language inside can: how many times has it bugged you to see that same old spray-tanned, blow-dried 1990’s hair, modern tuxedo-wearing gentleman on multiple authors’ Regency romance covers? (There’s a dark haired and a blond version!) It drives me up the wall, and is a strong deterrent to purchase, even if I really like the author. How about Victorian-ish gowns or a man with long, flowing hair on a Regency romance? Blech. Yet some top authors use them all the time. I suppose they’ve justified themselves that their books still sell well. But how much better would they sell with a historically accurate cover?

Even worse, in my opinion, than the ill-qualified cover artist is the author who does it on their own using a photo that simply says nothing about the book—it could be on any novel, it’s so generic. Authors pay attention to adverbs and character studies, dropped caps and epilogues, yet those aspects don’t get new readers in a buying mood. Authors, you can only go so far in counting on people wanting to read the first book based on price and forgiving you enough to buy the next one if your cover is a dead bore. A matching dead bore is no compensation.

And layout is hard, even for a seasoned cover artist. Where should the title and author name go, how large for each image and font, which fonts to use, how to enhance them, etc., etc., are all difficult questions the cover artist must deal with. If that is the author who is an amateur, you can get by with rules of thumb only so far, then little layout glitches come out to bite you.

I even get sad when I see the covers where the scale doesn’t work on Amazon—clearly, the amateur cover designer had no clue. This even more important for fonts, though it’s common with tiny images, too. You have to be able to see and read the cover when it’s at a small scale.

Care must be taken using images. Make certain you know the source and pay for the rights when necessary with photos and even antique portraiture. Personally, I frown on a heavy reliance on computer graphic images in most genres unless well rendered and realistic in appearance. The cover shouldn’t imply that the story is a video game—unless it is. If you’re creating your own cover, you’d better be pretty good at Photoshop. Too often, it looks like there’s a cut-out doll pasted with mucilage onto the background scene, or the scene is out-of-scale or out-of-context. And don’t get me going on pasted-on fake hair!

Try to be well aware of most of the covers in the book’s sub-genre so you don’t make the mistake of copying them, however inadvertently. For example, too many Jane Austen Fan Fiction covers look like the original cover of Austenland when it should have been the only one, and we already discussed that girl on 20 covers. It may be a nice image, but if it’s someone else’s, move on.

There is such a thing as too much, and covers with a dozen images from various parts of the book run the risk of being disjointed and busy. Keep it to a few key messages for each of the front and back cover and then make them look the most unique as the author can afford.

What about the back cover? That’s a personal decision. Some are simple, just a text panel showcasing the blurb and some complementary graphics. Others are just as well-designed and detailed as the front cover. If the author will be doing signings, the back cover will help sell as well, so take care there.

A good cover artist will read your book first. If that’s not possible, the author should give them a detailed synopsis to work from. Authors can help their cover artist out by sending ideas in the form of descriptions, clip art, or a Pinterest page for their novel. Don’t expect the good cover artist to use exactly what you sent. Do give the cover artist detailed feedback and stand up for any changes you think need to be made, but expect that there are limitations to what the cover artist can do given certain media. For example, it’s hard to modify original art. Even with graphic design, there’s only so much that can be done. Work with the cover artist to get the best out of what limitations exist.

The lesson goes back to the original post in this series: authors should do their best to give the reader an experience with the greatest level of satisfaction within the author’s control. Covers add to that reading experience, so pay attention to cover design! Here are some ways to achieve your goals:

  • Look at other authors’ covers in your sub-genre to see which are the most striking.
  • Read reviews and blogs in your sub-genre to know which covers get the most positive comments.
  • Learn what it means to be historically accurate for your book.
  • Think about the content of your novel: does your cover tell enough of the story to intrigue a potential reader?
  • Ask friends who read in the genre to point out their favourite covers and analyze why they work.
  • Make sure your graphics and fonts are polished looking and visible at small scale.
  • Work with your cover artist asking questions and making suggestions for improvement until you’re satisfied it’s the best you can get for what you’re paying.

Don’t allow the cover to take a back seat to the quality of the novel. All that hard work deserves to be displayed in the best way on the Amazon seller’s page. Make your book memorable both inside and out, and it should pay off.

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

Second Disclaimer: If I’ve missed a few contractions, it’s not because I’m overly formal, it’s because I’ve been writing Regency romance lately and that sub-genre uses no contractions!

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Keep JAFF readers interested with originality: LfMM by Suzan Lauder

JAFF novels are like batches of cookies. A few years ago, someone took a beloved old recipe and created a tasty new version with their own slightly different spice mix. Others did something similar, and readers like me enjoyed the burst of unique flavour that came through each time a writer added their own spice, even if they sometimes weren’t top quality literature.

But when the cookies became popular, opportunists’ taste buds couldn’t discern the subtle aspects that came from rare ingredients and a complicated method. Instead, they came up with their own simplistic recipe using only the most basic ingredients.

These cookies have been rolled and flattened by different hands, yet they use the same bland formula. There are bite size and colossal versions, some with so many layers you can’t eat them in one bite. A few have substituted efficiency tools for old-fashioned mixing to the right texture. Too many have put a ton of sprinkles on, thinking sugar is surely as good as spice. But this alternative cookbook has one thing in common: after we’ve tasted these cookies, we find ourselves wanting something interesting for dessert.

I bow to authors who constantly try new recipes, and readers who enjoy the taste rather than scarfing them down just because someone put a plateful in front of them.

In my opinion, this proliferation has caused a weakening of the sub-genre of Regency romance that we call Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF). Of course, in order to avoid problems, it’s best to know how to recognize them. The following are over-used scenes or tropes that I’ve seen in many other novels, both older and newer and admit to either using or using something very similar. Now, many of these come from canon, but they can be overdone, and I am among those who has been caught.

Over-used situations I’ve used at one point or another:

  • Darcy at the mantle.
  • Darcy pacing the perimeter of the room.
  • Darcy fiddling with his signet ring.
  • Too much of Elizabeth as a “good walker.”

Similar weak points I’ve seen as a reader:

  • Elizabeth’s lip chewing.
  • Darcy looking out the window.

Over-used tropes I’ve used:

  • Elizabeth or Mr. Bennet teases Darcy for the insult and/or Darcy says he didn’t think she heard or knew she heard and says he changed his mind and apologizes, saying she’s the most handsome woman of his acquaintance.
  • Accidental meetings in a book store or the opera.

Over-used tropes can offer a bit of warmth and commonality to Jane Austen Fan Fiction, but some that are not consistent with Austen are used so often, readers confuse them with Austen’s work. Some items that are not in Austen’s work are:

  • Older sons and younger daughters for Mrs. Gardiner (in canon, it’s two girls aged 6 and 8 and two younger boys).
  • 50- to 60-something ages for the Bennet parents and the Gardiners (these would be Elizabeth’s grandparents’ ages).
  • Darcy walking down the gallery with a candelabra.
  • The Lake Scene.
  • The Look (one I like to refer to!)
  • Some of the above mentioned like window-gazing and ring-twiddling.
  • A consistently sparkling, perky, and positive Elizabeth (she sulks, runs away, avoids, doubts in canon).
  • A consistently reticent, scowling, and proud Darcy (he smiles 8 times and engages in light banter at Netherfield) or one who is overly gallant (he admits his awkwardness at Rosings).
  • Character names like Richard (Colonel Fitzwilliam), Fanny (Mrs. Bennet), Madeline (Mrs. Gardiner), Lord Matlock for Colonel Fitzwilliam’s father, or any given names for Mr. Bennet: all of this list are NOT canon. Mr. Gardiner is Edward in canon.

Henri-François Riesener (1767-1828) – Alix de Montmorency, Duchesse de Talleyrand

What can we do about this? As authors, when we use tropes, we must be aware of them and consciously make the decision rather than automatically follow fashion. Better yet, try something original rather than leaning on what other authors have done to death. As readers, be aware of what is canon and what is not and not chastise authors who, for example, choose a name other than Richard for Colonel Fitzwilliam or Fanny for Mrs. Bennet.

Story lines that have been done over and over CAN suffer, even though the new author’s intention is to make it fresh. You’re asking for comparisons to past versions, and additions to the premise may well have been better done in another story as well. In addition, readers may just get tired of the same premise over and over!

It’s always better to try a new premise than to rehash an old one. Two examples in my reading experience where there have been flops in newer versions are the forced marriage scenario and “compromise” scenario. Curious that in the Regency, the word compromise did not mean what authors think it does, and many authors apply Victorian standards to set up their Regency ruin of a single lady.

What examples have you read that have been over-done and suffered in the latest copies, even by very popular authors?

Another pet peeve is the conflict-free story. I don’t mind a sweet romance if it has a soupcon of dramatic tension to keep the reader’s interest, but I don’t see the point in a straightforward, no strings attached, problem-free romance that’s basically taken away all the barriers to the protagonists’ getting together and adds nothing more of interest than a happily-ever-after, leaving the reader unfulfilled. Some authors think by writing sex-free, they must write sexual tension-free and drama-free. It’s not the same thing. Austen’s books all had numerous subtle flavours to them, some dangerously salacious, and all had dramatic tension! Your readers can take it, and there’s a whole lot more readers out there who will latch onto your stories when they realize they will keep the reader on his or her toes—or those toes curled in excitement! Remember Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control.

An interesting story Miss Ray By William Wood, 1806 Met Museum

Where to get fresh ideas? Lesson #15 was not just for the sex scene! Get inspiration from others for those difficult-to-write scenes, i.e., read. Re-read Pride and Prejudice, of course! Read the other Austen novels, the Juvenilia, and Austen’s letters. Read nonfiction in your era, such as Regency history, fact books, and history blogs for ideas that come out of real life characters, laws, or events. Read other romance and JAFF novels, including unpublished works, and look for the plot holes and what-ifs within them. (I know some authors avoid reading JAFF to avoid any influence in their writing, however, knowing the genre is critical to finding a niche and finding new ideas, e.g., discovering you did not invent that particular scenario!)

NEVER copy ideas. It may not be true plagiarism, but it’s equally as nasty to do so! Instead, get inspiration from comparable era books like Regency romance. Read novels in other genres. Look at what you like to read that’s popular in fiction outside of Regency romance and consider how it could apply—other readers like dragon stories, too. (Sorry, that one’s been done, more than once, too!)

Talk to your friends in JAFF and brainstorm—the craziest suggestion can spark the idea for your next novel and its very fresh, spicy, unique premise! Bon Appétit!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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Writing the Wedding Night: Suzan Lauder’s LfmM

Sexual tension tends to underscore the conflict in a romance novel. Part of the fantasy that many readers enjoy is the culmination of that sexual tension. However, many authors are squeamish about writing “Those Scenes.” Thankfully, a number of approaches are open to authors who want to include consummation in their romance novel.

The author can prepare by developing a vocabulary by doing some research, i.e., reading examples of steamier scenes. Historical romance writers such as Sarah MacLean, Miranda Neville, Tessa Dare, Amy George, or the older works of Abigail Reynolds have good examples. Modern writers will have an easier go of it. I don’t read many modern romances, but Catherine Gayle’s and Sylvia Day’s works have some good inspiration in them. When reading such scenes by authors you like, keep a list of words that work well for you as a reader.

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from my Mistakes Lesson #15: Get inspiration from others for those difficult-to-write scenes.

 

Don’t utilize full phrases or sentences from others’ work, though, as you don’t want to violate copyright. I use a rule of thumb of fewer than five words.

Utilize language reminiscent of fire and heat. Use a thesaurus for “passion” and “desire” and similar words to develop a vocabulary for your scene. If you’re writing a period romance, use words that evoke that time period. Clothing details are important, and language that reflects the period is just as critical. Research slang words of the era, ensuring not to use them inappropriately.

Scenes that build up to the consummation are essential to your scene-setting. Begin with observation of the physical attributes or actions that the protagonists admire, coupled with descriptions of their personal physical reactions they try to hide from their future love interest. If you’re writing from a limited third person (close or deep) point of view, remember your point-of-view character can’t see their own physical response, e.g., a blush. Describe their reactions as if you’re in their head.

You don’t have to go into elaborate detail in every scene. Use step-by-step scene building with brief interludes of physical contact in earlier chapters as the attraction between the couple builds. That way, the reader won’t be startled by the time the author has reached the sex scene. The types of language and descriptions of body parts is the only difference.

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from My Mistakes Lesson #17: Let your romantic encounters build. Pick and choose aspects of love making to prepare the reader for the culmination.

 

As the duration and intimacy of the prelude contact becomes longer, it becomes more important to imagine the choreography of the interaction broken down into steps, even if you don’t fully describe each step. Be aware of how the sexual tension is fulfilled yet lacking at each step. Ensure you’re describing not only physical reactions, but the thoughts of the point-of-view character for the scene—and it should be told only from one point of view! Head-hopping will ruin your flow.

The rate at which the physical encounters develop differ dramatically between a modern New Adult or contemporary romance novel and a period romance such as Victorian or Regency. Opportunities and societal norms will delay physical contact in the latter, and the writing will involve more sexual tension via dialogue, observation, and physical reactions. Consummation will often preclude relationship-building in the former, meaning more full sex scenes. Dramatic tension in modern scenarios will tend to be related to outside forces at least as much as the relationship itself.

In physical interaction scenes, take care not to make the action mechanical: “Tab A into Slot B.” I once got caught out in a modern romance with a car make-out scene where I mentioned she had one arm on the armrest and the other on the console as she leaned in for his kiss. Who cares where her elbows were? Readers want the lip action!

How much the author is personally affected while writing the scene, or objective and unaffected, depends on the individual. I find that considering step-by-step movements and struggling for the right sexy word does not make me, as the writer, feel all that steamy, even in a fairly descriptive scene. Others may need to plan ahead to relieve some energy.

A new author asked a group of others, “I’m a virgin, so how do I write a sex scene?” As with any aspect of writing, reading and Internet research becomes more important with lack of personal experience, but it’s not impossible for a person who has never had sexual contact to write an excellent sex scene any more than to write about speakeasies, car chases, or a ballroom lit with candelabras. Reading romance novels can help develop a sense of the aspects within the scene that any author is comfortable communicating. The author has the opportunity to choose the detail they wish to include, from a romantic inference to full-on erotic descriptions of the act.

An exercise that many have enjoyed is “The Kissing Challenge.” The object is to write a steamy scene that involves kissing but no consummation. It’s good practise of your mature scene vocabulary and coordinating of movement. My first “Kissing Challenge” scene became Chapter 21 of my first published novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, and the A Happy Assembly Playground story A Garden Encounter was a further opportunity for me to spread my wings in a non-consummated scene. Both are somewhat explicit, something that’s not necessary in order to create the sexy atmosphere you want as a writer. Sometimes less is more, and implications can be stronger than explicit language. Here are some examples of sex scenes that don’t include a great deal of detail:

The first sex scene from JustineR’s unpublished modern Pride and Prejudice comedy-romance Off Balance: “As in their professional lives, she was highly energetic and creative, while he was thorough, careful, and steady, a detail man. She was very goal-oriented, but he paid attention to process and to making certain all the important points were touched on methodically and completely. These complementary approaches made for excellent teamwork, and their joint efforts produced an impressive outcome all around.”

From Studio 54, my unpublished novel-length, mature, music-centric, late 70’s, P&P inspired romance in the Meryton Reading Room: “When their bodies joined, there was no hurry, just one prolonged, gliding movement until they became one being. They moved gradually together, their eyes focused on each other’s in a tender communion of souls. A barely perceptible acceleration brought them each to the inevitable pinnacle of satisfaction at precisely the same moment. All that was left was to hold each another reverently and feel the comfort of shared love and peaceful understanding.” There are more explicit scenes in the novel, but this one is the example I like to cite for those who prefer to avoid direct descriptions of sexual activity.

There’s a time and a place for both explicit and implied, though. Many romance readers look forward to the intimacy, expect it, and see it as the ultimate expression of the attraction between the couple—and the steamier the better for their future felicity. Other readers prefer not to read the details, however, take care here. Avoiding the topic altogether is tantamount to hiding the truth—it’s no better than telling a lie. Sex happens as part of a healthy young loving relationship, and it’s up to the author to find the essential balance to suit each specific book. For example, if you prefer your unmarried protagonists’ ending to be chaste for the most part, a sexy kiss can still do your story wonders.

Rachel Knowles’ Georgian romance, A Perfect Match, is an inspirational novel with the following: “Her body was responding to the kiss in anything but a sisterly way. If she had been standing, she would surely have fallen. That kiss told her more about the state of her heart than her head had ever done. She had thought herself above temptation. … Whatever his intention had been, that was no ‘brotherly’ kiss.”

I’m sure other authors have opinions to contribute, so please share in the comments! Even the most seasoned writers can be nervous writing these scenes, and I hope this article has eased up writers’ tension at least a little.

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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