Lessons for the writer

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:

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19 May 2016: Help! I’m drowning in excess exposition and characters!

As a continuation of my last post , here’s the issues I encountered and lessons learned from the other book I started this past weekend. Again, for the sake of the author, I’ll keep the name of the novel to myself.

It’s a not terribly long romance novel. Problem is, I’m over 50% of the way through the book and I feel like the entire first half of the book could have and should have been condensed into the first 10% of the book. The pacing is so slow it’s driving me crazy. The only reason I’m still reading it is because I’m curious to see if the author crams the plot  resolution into the last paragraph. At this rate I have no idea how she’s going to manage to get any story line into the book. So far all she’s done is introduce 16+ characters and have the heroine say she’s a school teacher who because all her friends are now married and having babies, wants to have a baby on her own without waiting for a husband to come along. There, I said it one sentence, the author took half a book to say that. Oh, and the heroine is organizing a charity event where they will auction off some bachelors. It took up to 49% of the way through the book for the couple to kiss and that was after they’d had their first real conversation. I gather that this is not the first book in the series, but one of my issues with it is that there are WAY TOO MANY characters. Even if it’s a series where all the books take place in the same town, it doesn’t mean you should include all the previous characters in every book. The main focus should be the couple that book is centered on and a few supporting cast. This book has thrown over 16+ characters at me so far and I’m only half way through!

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When writing my current novel, I’ve been very mindful of the pacing in the first chapter. By the end of chapter one I’ve introduced the main characters and placed them in the middle of the action. I’ve given the first chapter to a few people to read to get their opinion about the pacing, hoping I wasn’t dragging it out a bit. Sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and recognize the pacing of your own book.

With this novel, I think the author got lost in her love for her characters (all 16+ of them) and forgot that she needed to move the plot along quickly enough to keep the reader engaged. Novels shouldn’t be an author’s love story with a character they created, and in this case I think it is. In my opinion, the entire book would pace so much better if the author ditched a lot of narrative that takes place during conversations between two characters. This isn’t from the book, but will give you the idea of what I’m talking about.

“Let’s go to the beach today,” Mary suggested. Really she didn’t want to go to the beach but needed to get out of the house and any destination was better than cleaning the garage. It was Friday and that garage wasn’t going to clean itself. Looking out the window she wondered if it would rain, which only reminded her that she needed to wash her car. Her car … her father had given her that car for a graduation present. She missed her father so much it hurt sometimes. The day he’d been run over by the train on his way home from the apothecary had been the worst day of her life. Well, the worst until Justin walked into town. Justin was no good and never would be. Maybe he’d look better if his hair wasn’t purple. Mary loved purple, in fact it was her favorite color, but dying her hair purple was where she drew the line.

“Sure the beach sounds like a good idea,” Diane replied as she handed Mary a cup of coffee.

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In my little example above you can see how annoying it is that there is so much exposition between the lines of dialog that quite frankly has nothing to do with the conversation itself. The author of this book has the terrible habit of making a simple conversation go on for pages and pages and pages. Honestly, I started skipping over a lot of this filler to get to the rest of the dialog in the conversation. With so much exposition I was getting lost as to who spoke last so when someone eventually spoke, I had no idea who it was.

Lessons Learned:

Too many chefs crowd up a kitchen just like too many characters confuse your readers. Keep to a small core set of characters, especially in a shorter length novel and develop your main characters before adding more character into the mix. If you think you may have too many characters, see if there is a way to combine two into one.

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Pacing is paramount. By the end of the first chapter you should already have established who your main characters are, set up the situation they find themselves in and why the reader should want to continue reading. This is super important if you’re going to be submitting your book to a publisher or an agent. If they only want to see the first chapter, it had better be a good one.

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Don’t drown your dialog. Your reader wants to feel as if they’re eaves dropping on your character’s conversation. Too much exposition in between actual dialog dilutes the conversation they are having and disengages your readers.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

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