Creative Writing

11 July 2017: Ain’t nobody perfect … not even Debbie Macomber

It’s an unfortunate fact of life. No, I’m not talking about the birds or the bees or even Tootie and Natalie. This unfortunate fact of life is that no matter how much your pour your heart and soul into your novel, no matter how many pairs of eyes edit and correct the living daylights out of it, the first comments you will always get about this literary baby you gave birth to will always be about some mistake it contains.

It’s just plain depressing really.

“I loved it!  It’s fabulous!  By the way, did you know there’s a typo on page 195?”

It is true I’m always thankful for those who point things like this out to me.  I immediately fix the offending error and it’s gone for good.  (Unless it’s the word towards …. see my last post.  🙂

Me? I’m what you would call small time.  I’m fortunate enough that I’m a pretty good editor as well as writer and after seven novels know myself well. But I’m still human and make mistakes.  I think that’s why I’m so gleeful when I find mistakes in books put out by big publishing houses.  I know, it’s quite horrid of me to admit this, but there it is. I may be small time, but I’m right up there with the big boys and girls too when it comes to making mistakes.

So it was with a little surprise and a lot of glee that I turned the page and discovered an error in a Debbie Macomber book this week.  The offending novel was Midnight Sons Volume 3.  Here’s the sentence. Can you spot the error?

“The next morning the newlyweds would leave for California to board a ship for a two-week Caribbean cruise.”

Hummm …. do I have you stumped?  This is where my years in the cruise industry come in handy. I double checked to see if anything had changed and it hadn’t.  Still trying to figure it out?  Okay, there are no Caribbean cruises that leave from California.  From California, you go on cruises to Mexico or Hawaii, maybe Costa Rica. From California, it would almost take a week to get to the Caribbean.  You’d have to go through the Panama Canal first! To go on a two-week Caribbean cruise, they should have flown down to Florida, Texas or even Louisiana.

Sorry, Debbie.  This one slipped past you and your editors.

Yes, I have a pretty good eye for details like this.  I spot them in movies all the time.  I think my favorite move faux pas is in Independence Day.  In the beginning of the movie you see the President coming down a hallway in the White House.  The gal is sitting in a chair and the camera has a shot on the back of the USA Today she’s reading as he walks towards her.  Look at the paper and remember it’s supposed to be July.  The USA Today weather map should be all red, orange and yellow because of the summer heat.  Strangely it’s all blue, green and yellow.  They obviously filmed in the winter months and didn’t bother to get a summer USA Today weather map!  Don’t believe me?  Here it is.

Some cold front we’re getting, Mr. President.

It’s always good to remember …. Ain’t none of us perfect!  So when someone points out a type to me, I’ll just think of Debbie Macomber and Independence Day and know I’m in good company.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  Click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind. You have no idea how much you’ll brighten my day by leaving me a comment!

9 July 2017: Struggling between “Linguistical Correctness” and what’s right.

It’s funny how a small comment from a prospective editor set in motion such a large debate for me. When I received  a sample edit of a few pages of a manuscript of mine, there was a notation on my usage of the word “towards.”  Yes, it had never occurred to me to not put an “s” at the end.  Why?  Because I’ve always spoken it aloud ending with an s.

American accepted usage of the word “toward” is toward without an “s” on the end.  It seems “towards” with the “s” is the editorially correct British spelling of the word.

Here in lies my dilemma. I’m American and never in my life have I said the word “toward.” I’m “towards” all the way. I’ve surveyed many people over the last few weeks and most have said they use the offending “s” as well.  So …. what’s up with that?

This wouldn’t be such an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that my novels are all written in first person and are told by women who all grew up in the same small town I did in New York.  If I use the “s,” so should they.

Now that’s all well and good. I mean, I’m a rebel.  I could honestly care less what people think …. except I’m entering literary contests now and I feel using the offending (yet correct) “s” would be a mark against me.

What’s a girl to do?

I decided that in my novel series (The Falling Series) I’m leaving the “s” in and will be adding in a note that it’s a regional “s,” which I believe it is. It’s either regional to the town in NY where I grew up or regional to the town in Rhode Island where my mother grew up.  I inherited quite a few New England speech idioms from her. Since my protagonist in The Falling Series also has a mom from Rhode Island, the “s” stays.

However, going forward I’m caving in to linguistic peer pressure and dropping the “s.”  This bothers me no end, but if I want to win contests sacrifices have to be made.  You win some, you lose some …. battles that is, hopefully not contests!

I’ll end with asking to whom does one write a letter to get this “s” issued updated? Seems an out of date rule that needs a bit more flexibility with the current use  of American English.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  Click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind. You have no idea how much you’ll brighten my day by leaving me a comment!

29 Mar 2017: Last first kiss … second to Last First Kiss … third from Last First Kiss …Oh Heck!

This last post in my series is a little off topic.  It’s really because when I was searching for a title for my latest novel, I was dumbstruck at how silly people are when it comes to picking names for their books.

Here’s how I go about picking a name.

  • Step 1: Remember not to get married to a name too early.  Research has to be done and you may be setting yourself up for heartbreak when you have to ditch the title you had your heart set on.
  • Step 2: Brain storm till I come up with a list of a few titles I think have potential.
  • Step 3: Go on Amazon.

Yep, go on Amazon and enter in your title to see if there is currently another book with that title up for sale.  This is important.  You don’t want to throw yourself into marketing your new book only for folks to a.) have trouble finding it, b.) buy the wrong book, or even worse c.) think the other book with the same title looks better and more appealing that yours!  Horrors!

Here’s a case in point. One of the titles on my list of potential titles for my novel was “Last First Kiss.”  Sounds good, no?  Well, it must be a good title, cause there are quite a few “Last First Kiss” books on Amazon!

What a waste it would have been to title my book that too.  My question is, did the other authors not check, or did they not care that they were going to be lumped in among the other kisses? Personally, I think it’s a mix of both.

Googleing the prospective titles is a good idea as well.

Ironically enough, the title I was convinced would be taken … wasn’t?!?!? I’m not complaining 🙂 nor am I telling you the title until I launch the book.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind. You have no idea how much you’ll brighten my day by leaving me a comment!

25 March 2017: There’s a case of pop in the boot.

Here’s the tenth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

10: There’s a case of pop in the boot.

If you’re from eastern Long Island, like I am, you say things a certain way.  We call it soda.  Up in Buffalo where I went to school, they called it pop. Keep this in mind if you’re writing for characters that are from a different region of the country than you are.

I recently read a book that took place in the Carolinas, but the protagonist kept saying things like she was going to take the lift up to the third floor or put her groceries in the boot of her car.  It was obvious the author was from the UK, yet she didn’t take care to edit out words that folks in the Carolina’s wouldn’t use.

If your writing dialogue for charters that are from anywhere other than where you grew up, be sure to research regional dialects for things like:

Would your characters say …

  • Sneakers or trainers
  • Ball cap or Baseball hat
  • Pop, soda or coke

If they lived in Boston, everything there is described as “wicked,” however, as a New Yorker myself, I’d be more likely to describe things as cool, never wicked.

To be honest, I cheat a little.  All my novels have heroines from my small, hometown of Wading River, NY. Being from this town, I’m apt to be accurate in how my heroines talk.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind. You have no idea how much you’ll brighten my day by leaving me a comment!

22 March 2017: Remember whose reading.

Here’s the ninth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

9: Remember whose reading

Consider your reader. Who makes up you key demographic? If you want people to read more of your books, don’t throw a lot of bad language or overly fancy words at them.

A romance novel I recently read had a male protagonist who was a MMA Cage fighter.  Yum! However, he dropped the F bomb on almost every page of that book. OK, maybe that’s just how he talks, maybe it’s even realistic for the sort of man he was, but it’s certainly not something I want to read on every page of the book. There comes a point where reality and your reader’s sensibilities need to find a compromise. Had the author used half the F words I’d still have gotten the same sense of the character and would have felt more comfortable reading the book. If you think I’m overreacting, a search for the F word in this book  showed 179 uses of the f word.  The book has 240 pages.

If your demographic is primarily a female readership, the F word may not be something you want to use so liberally.

If your readership is sort of middle of the road education wise, meaning high school through college, consider how many words you’ll use that a reader will have to look up in a dictionary.  A novel I just finished contained ALL of the following words:

  • Hirsute
  • Desultory
  • Anodyne
  • Atavistic
  • Exultant
  • Surfeit
  • Portentous
  • Vociferously

I graduated college and even I had to look a bunch of these up. I’m all for writing in such a way that stretches your reader’s minds, but this is a bit too much.  After a while I was beginning to feel like a real idiot.  I’ll also mention that this book was written in first person and the person narrating it only had an associate degree from college. For this level of vocabulary, I’d have preferred it if she’d had a master’s degree in English.

The lesson here is to remember that while it’s important to keep the tone of language appropriate for your characters, it’s also important to remember who will be reading your work.  Will excessive foul language turn them off of your work? Will burning up the pages of your thesaurus annoy them so much they decide to skip your next book? There is a middle ground, you just have to find it.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind. You have no idea how much you’ll brighten my day by leaving me a comment!

19 March 2017: Look Who’s Talking?!?!

Here’s the eighth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

8: Look who’s talking !?!?!

If you’re writing in first person and have multiple narrators, make this OBVIOUS! I just read a book that had two narrators.  The names of the narrators are the chapter names as well.

Chapter 1 is titled “Grace” which I had no idea was the name of the character. In the 10 pages that make up chapter one, the author never mentions her name, and let’s face it, “Grace” could have meant something was full of grace, which in this case is what I unconsciously assumed. Plus, I never pay too much attention to chapter titles.  Sorry, but I don’t.

Chapter 2 was titled “Sam.”  I’ll be honest; this 4 page chapter confused me.  I wondered why the unnamed narrator was suddenly stalking some unknown person for fun, but hey, the writing was really good and I figured it would go somewhere eventually. From the back of the book I vaguely remembered that the female protagonist was killing a series of men.  I think I was assuming the first fellow to bite it was going to be Sam.

Chapter 3 was titled “Grace” which again, I didn’t really think about.

It’s not till Chapter 4, “Sam,” that I started to realize something was truly amiss, and going back, realized there were two narrators. Talk about a light bulb moment.

The lesson here is to firmly establish your main narrator (by name) before you hand the story off to a second narrator. Remember to make that transition somewhat obvious to even a knucklehead like myself.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind. You have no idea how much you’ll brighten my day by leaving me a comment!

14 Mar 2017: The five page “How do you do?”

Here’s the seventh installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

7: The five page “How do you do?”

A huge pet peeve of mine is piles of interior monologue in the middle of a conversation between two characters, especially if that interior monologue has nothing to do with the scene at hand.

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If your characters are exchanging dialog, don’t be rude to them and have one of the characters in the conversation go off on a tangent of a long interior monologue about something or another.  I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about:

He looked my way and smiled.  “How do you do?” he asked as he extended he hand my way.  Taking it I felt his firm grip and the veins that corded the back of his hand. His hand was strong and held the promise of things to come.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I replied even though I knew it was a boring thing to say.

Ignoring my lame reply, he smiled. “How about dinner tonight at the restaurant downstairs?”

Dinner? Was he serious? Surely he had some pin-up model on speed dial he’d rather spend time with than me. No, that was my low self-esteem talking.  Damn Brian and how long I’d stayed in that relationship with him! Five years.  Five years of my life wasted on a man who didn’t appreciate anything about me except the way I made grilled cheese sandwiches.  The key was using three different kinds of cheeses, none of which was american cheese. In hindsight, the first sign of trouble was when he refused to go with me to my grandfather’s funeral. I was distraught at the loss. Instead of coming with me to the funeral home, Brian said he had an important squash game he couldn’t reschedule.  Grandpa Joe was like a father to me.  I missed him everyday. Just yesterday I passed the park on my morning walk and saw an old man and a little girl flying kites. I cried silent tears on my way home remembering doing that with Grandpa. With him gone, I had no family left. Besides that squash is a stupid sport.  Who even plays squash anymore since the 80’s. 

“That sounds nice.”

When authors do this, I’m so lost I always have to turn back a few pages to find out what question she was asked that she’s now, five pages later, answering. Sadly, by doing this the author has lost her pacing in the scene and now needs to start over to reestablish it.  I’m sure even Grandpa Joe would say he deserves more of a relevant insertion into the story than this.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

12 Mar 2017: A Rose may not be a Rose after all.

Here’s the sixth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

6: A rose may not be a rose

Romance is intrinsically different for every person. Because of this variety in human nature, it’s important to take the time to discover what romance means to your characters, as it might not be what would be romantic to you.

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Lizard Romance?

This individualization is what can give your characters depth and ultimately more interesting than stock characters out of a Cracker Jack box. If, like myself, you have written a number of romance stories, it’s important to distinguish your couples as individuals and not the same cookie cutter couple that you drop into a new situation in each book. Readers will quickly bore with this.

Your main characters should be as unique as your story. 

If indeed your female protagonist is truly a different person than your last book, than what is romantic to her will be different as well. Where one woman will find a man doing the dishes romantic, another may find flowers or walks in the rain romantic.

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  • Fast cars or carriage rides?
  • A hand written poem or karaoke solo?
  • For me, a truly romantic gesture would be for a man to read all my books.
  • A friend of mine said one of the most romantic things a man could do for her was to love her dog a well as her.

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Discovering what romance means to your protagonists is key to a good story. In the end, if you write characters that your reader care about, your reader will appreciate the romance of the book if it’s romance that makes sense for the characters you created.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

10 Mar 2017: Where the $)*@#$ am I?

Here’s the fifth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

5: Where the $)*@#$ am I?

Never be generic. Tell your reader in the first few pages where the characters are.

  • Are they in New York City?
  • Miami, Florida?
  • Austin, Texas?
  • Big Timber, Montana?

Each of these places are very different and those regional influences will affect how your characters interact with their environment. I recently read a book that seemed to purposefully avoid telling me where the story was set. All I can tell you was that I got the impression it was a city (as opposed to a small town) and that the main character said that, when a child, they used to go to the beach on weekends. Humm… not giving me much to go on.  Where they in Oregon or Georgia? Should I be picturing southern accents or New England ones? I can only imagine that the author of this book didn’t want the setting to interfere with the story.  Why? Did she not realize that the most amazing books every written are very identifiable with the places they are set?

Imagine Gone with the Wind without Atlanta.

Imagine Twilight without Forks.

Imagine Sherlock Holmes without London

Readers need something to go on.  As we read a book, we’re forming pictures in our mind, sort of like assembling the words on the page into a movie that shows in our head.  We hear the voices of the characters, we see what they see. But we all need a starting point from which to embark on the journey the book is to take us on.

2015-11-17-1447775691-8026445-accents_1Instead of ignoring the setting of your story, let it become a part of the story, let your readers walk it’s streets with the characters.  If they’re like me, the like to form a mental picture of the places your characters go, so paint a picture of a real place. Now, that doesn’t mean they can’t be set in a fictional town, it’s just that your fictional town should be set in a real life region of the country that your readers can identify with.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

8 Mar 2017: Momentum Killers – The Death of a story

Here’s the fourth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

4: Backstory dumps

I suppose this is probably a generic story problem, but it certainly is one that plagues the romance genre. A good story drops you right into the action.  It provides the bare essentials of information for you to understand the action and hit the ground running. It does NOT spend the first couple of chapters taking you from birth, trough childhood and adolescence and then to present day where your protagonists have their meet-cute.

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This backstory dump will kill whatever momentum the author is trying to build. The best way to introduce necessary backstory (and I stress the word necessary) is through the occasional dialog drop, a casual conversation that mentions something that happened in the past.  Let the characters current circumstances draw proper conclusions about the events that led to their current situation.

Don’t start a story with pages upon pages backstory about your characters.

Besides the fact that you’re asking me to be interested in something that is just backstory (not the actual story,) you’re wasting valuable real estate.  Those first few pages have to hook your reader, don’t waste it with things that are not your main story.  Drop you reader in the middle of a scene and make them hungry to know how they ended up there.  Tease them with bits and pieces of backstory, like bread crumbs that lead them to the last pages of the book.

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I recently read an excellent book that does a wonderful job of dropping the reader in the middle of the action. I wish I could copy and paste those first couple of pages here for you, but since I can’t, I highly suggest you check this book out if you’re looking for a good example.  It’s Haunted Souls by Kathryn Knight.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.