Don’t We All Speaka-da Engleesh?

My books are Australian.

They should sound Australian? Shouldn’t they?

Lately I’ve been thinking about colloquialisms in my writing, because a wonderful Beta reader pointed them out, and I’ve realised I’m guilty of making quite a few.

For example from the opening scene of my WIP novella, The Goodbye Ride:

The name didn’t ring a bell.

Whatever he did for a crust.

“The rear shocks are shot to buggery.”

“You’re pulling my leg.”

I talk about “thongs” and “sneakers” and a “ute.” (Now everytime I see the word ‘thong’ I end up with a vision of Ali-G and his man-kini… see… it’s not pretty, is it!)

I’ve spent a lot of time around your average dinky-di blokes. This is how people I know talk. This is how my characters think, and talk, and they feel right when I write them. But what would an American reader make of my book? At what point does enjoyment of writing cease, because a reader needs to keep googling colloquialisms? Is this part of the reason I often hear that US readers tend to read US writers (more readily at least, than international authors unless they’re big names?)

I was lucky enough to have a lovely review for His Brand Of Beautiful from a writer and blogger in Florida, Victoria Pinder. She added some translation into her review, mentioning how the book begins with a “hen’s party”… (bachelorette party in the US). When I thanked Victoria for the translation, she said part of the enjoyment for her is reading in the local language. She wouldn’t have wanted to read an Australian-based book using American language or lingoism.

I had another funny experience on Saturday at Jennifer Crusie’s blog. It was an Easter conversation and in the comments, there were many mentions of “peeps.” Now to me, ‘peeps’ are Twitter followers and not much else, and as everyone was talking about cooking, microwaving and eating these ‘peeps’ – I asked the question: “What are peeps?”

I found out they are “little marshmallow chickens that are covered in some sort of spray dye and crystallized sugar.”

Eeewww. I kinda wished I hadn’t asked.

I then found out that in the US people make peeps into tableaux, and enter them into contests. One of the commenters even suggested some links! Seriously – check these out – they’re amazing!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/peeps
http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2013/mar/29/peeps-in-paradise-contest-entries-show-a-diverse/.

So in the end, I learned something and felt good about the process.

I think I can have my peep and it too. I’m going to be more aware of colloquialism in my writing and do what I can to remove some of it, especially when it really won’t matter if the line was written in another way. But where colloquialisms add to character, or setting, I think I’ll vote to keep it. And I’ll hope that my reader gets involved enough not to let it stop her flow. And in the best case scenario, perhaps she will get a sense of our great Aussie culture in the process.

Now that would be nice, peeps! What do you think?

Let’s Start At The Very Beginning…

Jenn McLeod got me in a singing mood yesterday with her lovely introduction to my first author interview on her truly fabulous blog, Author Harvest. You can read it here, where, amongst other things, you will see wonderful photographs of otters and learn what an otter can do to an oyster before breakfast!

Many writers host other writers on their blogs. It’s a great opportunity to get to know writers and authors and what makes them tick (in my case, it’s men in skirts). I’ve been thinking of a theme for my own semi-regular author interviews and the working title for these is: From Left Field, with Lily.

In keeping with how my blog began, and remains, a story of this writer’s road to publication, I wanted my author interview questions to work along this theme.

Late last year, Jennifer Crusie wrote a post about a book she first started in 2002, called You Again, which has resurfaced several times during the last decade and has never been finished. She lists the first paragraphs for each time she tried to rewrite, and goes on to include reasons why she felt these starts did or didn’t work. I found it fascinating. One resonating line for me out of this was: Start Where The Damn Story Starts. I took her words to heart. I hacked out my entire opening scene to His Brand Of Beautiful. When I did this (and I did other things too), the first two publishers to see this new version both said they wanted to publish my book.

In the next few weeks, I’ve invited some of my bravest author friends to come and be part of From Left Field, with Lily. Some of the brave things they have to do is share older versions and original drafts of their opening sentence and compare it with what they have today (and what has made it to the printed, or e-page).

I thought it was only fair if I’m asking my author friends to “be brave” that I do this myself. So I’ve been hunting for as many versions as I could find of my story and its start. I am not the ‘keeper’ that Jennifer Crusie obviously is – most of my older stuff gets diligently ditched to the Trash.

My writing friend Kylie Kaden says writers get so hung up on making the perfect start, they put so much pressure on themselves the whole thing can start to sound so forced… I agree with her. Everything you read says the start and the hook is everything, (like EVERYTHING) and if it doesn’t work no one will read more than two lines before putting your book back on the shelf, cyber or otherwise. “Oh!” As Lucky Number 7 says in the Lotto ads: “The Pressure!!!”

So here are a few starts to His Brand Of Beautiful. 

August 2011 (The original, original). Heroine’s perspective.

He looked exactly like she’d expected he would look, and somehow, exactly how he shouldn’t. She hadn’t expected the suit and briefcase, for one; but she had expected the body and the biceps. Christina opened the door wider, the man, and the smell of rain and wet bitumen, slipped in.

September 2012 (Hero’s perspective). For most of my story’s life, it started like this (Hero outside in the car).

Tate Newell drummed his thumbs against the worn arc of the Jeep’s steering wheel and wondered what to make of the bunch of balloons tied to the wrought-iron gate. Fat purple and gold balloons they were, helium no less, gyrating at the end of silver strings like horny teenagers at a rave.

October 2012 (Villain’s perspective) This was a Prologue, set seven years previously. At this stage, Crit Partners weren’t seeing the ‘nastiness’ of my villain… so I felt like I had to build in some very early backstory via a prologue. I quite liked this prologue, one day I will post it in full. It wasn’t long.

Bulletproof, that’s how he felt. Bulletproof. With a big fat capital B.

Man, he loved this bike.

He rode through Tewantin, heading for the blue shine of the river, letting six-cylinders thrum, making his way back to Noosaville—the line of speed he’d sucked up his nose at Eumundi giving him that extra pop.

December 2012 (Heroine’s perspective). At least three people who, by this stage, had read HBOB all told me I was starting in the wrong place (and I’d ditched the prologue idea – because it didn’t set up a contemporary romance to me – it felt more like romantic suspense). In Jennifer Crusie’s wise words, I wasn’t starting where the story started! So I cut to the second scene, where we had Christina inside her house, spying on the dude in the car, wishing he’d damn well hurry it up. Which in essence – was going back to the original idea.

Christina Clay cracked her front door wider and craned her neck for a better view of the tank parked in her street. If she used every inch of the three-inch heels, plus a little extra bounce, she’d discovered a hole through the camellia leaves that let her see the driver’s side window and the dark head inside it. The problem was, holding the position gave her cramp, finding the position gave her cramp, and he’d been parked there five minutes. Her calf killed.

And that’s how it’s stayed…  (we will have to see what my editor makes of it though… there may yet be another incarnation.)

Any author friends feeling brave, give me a shout out in the comments, or check my email in ‘About’. If you don’t mind sharing some of your early drafts, I’d love to have you be part of From Left Field, with Lily. (There are other questions too and they’re not so tricky!). Jenn J Mcleod and Juanita Kees will kick this segment off soon.

 

 

 

 

 

What I learned through Critiquing

When I started writing this blog back in June, one of my early posts was titled When Do You Let Someone Read Your Writing? I mentioned at the time that I was almost obsessed with ensuring no one read my words, even hubby had the laptop closed on him any time he entered the room (if the poor guy was any less trusting, he might have thought I was surfing for porn.) I’d barely mentioned to anyone, including family, that I was trying to write.

The problem was, I had to get my writing to a level where I felt a modicum of confidence in showing another living soul. I knew that for a long time what I was doing was dreadful. And it was gut-wrenching to go through revision after revision and then find every time I opened a page or a chapter in the light of a new day, what I’d thought was great the previous night, was now crap once again. I’m sure Gremlins were in my system!

Two people through the RWA Critique Partners Program have now had a look at my book, His Brand Of Beautiful.

These are the major things I’ve taken from the process:

Not enough narrative

I had been so obsessed with the concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ that I had excluded narrative to the detriment of the book. I launched into scenes and chapters without slowing down long enough to give my reader the most basic concepts: where are we, when is it? Both my CPs picked up on this in different ways, but what brought it home for me was when in one of my chapters I say:

Christina Clay walked into his architecture-award-winning four-walled mausoleum for the second time about three-thirty on Saturday afternoon. Actually, stumbled into it was closer to the mark, mannequin crossways in her arms like a sculpted sack of potatoes.

And my CP wrote: “phew – call me lazy but it’s nice just to know where they are. Tate’s house. Saturday afternoon.”

The other CP said the same thing, but in different words:

It is very enjoyable to be dumped mis-en-scène and then discover what is happening.  It can be tiring to have this happen a lot.

The good thing was: both of them felt the same thing, and it forced me to sit up and take notice and change it, and hopefully this is for the better. I am sure that if I take that time to ground my reader with a sentence or two in the beginning, they can then better concentrate on the plot developments and dialogue and where I want to take them next.

Double description

I never realised I use similies like I use my tissue box in hayfever season ( 🙂 ), until my CPs began commenting. Neither were negative about my use of similies, both CPs liked my descriptions and felt it was a strength in my writing, but a comment that resonated with me was:

Sometimes you use two strong and sometimes disparate images and the reader flounders, just having absorbed and enjoyed one, and forced to picture another.  I have put “1 or the other” to show what I mean.

Here’s an example (I’m describing a taser shot):

And a high-pitched ticking, like the fastest clock in the world. Like a bike wheel with a leaf trapped in the spokes.

Once you’re told you do it, and told to look for it, well – now I see them everywhere. In my last round of revisions after the two CPs had looked at His Brand Of Beautiful with fresh, ‘reader’ eyes, I tried to be lethal with the delete key on my similes. Less is more, Less is more. And perhaps on that philosophy, if I’m only keeping the best of them, they’ll be more cut-through because of it.

And finally, for Kathy (just in case she’s listening!) 🙂

Commas in dialogue!

“Use them, Lily!”

There were many more points each CP raised, including plot points and inconsistencies – all of which were useful – but one of the sentiments I see in just about everything I’ve read on critiquing is: only take out of it the things you want to.
So these were the big three for me!

Jennifer Crusie recently posted a piece about critiquing. If you’re considering going through this Critiquing process (and I now strongly recommend it) it’s an excellent post covering the whys and wherefores. http://www.arghink.com/2012/10/09/critiques-some-questions/

 

I think the eyes have it

I’ve been thinking about eyes this morning. As with many things right now, mostly influenced by my critique partner. But somewhere in the last few years I remember reading a blog post of writing craft, highlighting 10 things one author found most annoying. One of them was characters with eyes that drop and slide. In it, the author said something like: “every time I read about the heroine’s eyes dropping… or the hero dropped his eyes… I get visions of two eyeballs rolling around the floor and everyone scurrying to pick them up.”

Good point. But I feel like the authors I read have characters with eyes that slip and slide, especially some of the cop thrillers I love, like anything by John Sandford. He always writes shady, seedy characters who don’t want to answer Lucas Davenport’s questions and so their eyes slide away…

My CP made some comments in my manuscript about ‘eyes sliding’… which my characters tend to do a fair bit. Although they don’t always slide. They drop or flick or, you know.

So I’ve been consulting another oracle this morning (Jennifer Crusie), but in a reasonably quick scan of some first chapters, this is all I could find:

“I need somebody who doesn’t care about the way things are supposed to be,” he said, his eyes sliding to her neck. Jennifer Crusie, Maybe This Time.

And even Sandford, who I thought did it a lot? I couldn’t find that many references when I really started trying.

So I think I have my answer. It’s time to do a search through my book for “eyes” and see how much slippin’ and slidin’ and droppin’ my characters’ eyes actually do. Maybe they need to look more, or follow (which Crusie does), or hold, or evade.

Maybe they can slide once or twice, or look sideways, just not fall to the carpet and hide under the furniture for the rest of the book. 🙂

In the meantime, I thought of a little ditty. You have to sing it in your head in tune with “Do your ears hang low.” Warning: you may have to be mother (or father) of kids under 5 to remember the tune!

Here goes:

Do your eyes slide and slip?

Do they drop and fly and skip?

Do they flick left and right?

Do they bug and screw up tight…

I won’t inflict anymore of my lousy Keats upon you!

What about you? Do you write characters with eyes that almost deserve a gymnastics medal? Any other favorites? I have this vague memory of another blog post about eyes where a publisher said, just once, she’d like to read about a heroine with ordinary hazel eyes or brown eyes… or any eyes except green, or violet, or ice-blue. Her point being, the vast percentage of women (and men) on the planet have very ordinary-coloured eyes and yet writers tends to want to make their characters’ eyes anything but normal. She said she was looking forward to the day she read a submission about a heroine with ordinary, plain, hazel-coloured eyes.

More to remember!

Hooked on a prologue

I had a lightbulb moment with His Brand Of Beautiful today, and I have two things to thank for it. Two people actually. Stephen King and my critique partner, Kathy. I’ll thank Jennifer Crusie too for this phrase I read on her blog on a topic completely unrelated to prologues. She said something like: The character isn’t in the same location, but I want her to be strong on the page.

I love that. Strong on the page.

So I have a villain in His Brand Of Beautiful who is only in teeny segments of the book, but he’s a huge part of the backstory, and I want him to be Strong On The Page.

My CP said that my villain isn’t ‘bad’ enough, that to raise strong emotions in my characters I have to give strong reasons for those emotions. Because she didn’t read my villain as nasty as I wanted him to be, she felt that my hero’s reactions were then all too far-fetched, or over the top. She didn’t think he had enough reason to hate the villain like he did (does).

So I wrote a prologue in about two hours of writing this morning. My three-year-old was blessedly, beautifully behaved during this time and played with his dinosaurs and came across for the occasional cuddle and generally, just let me get on with it while my muse was flowing.

And here’s where Stephen King comes into it for me. I’ve just finished reading The Dead Zone. King starts it with a prologue. He gives both his hero and his villain a segment in the prologue then kicks off into Chapter 1.

I re-read the prologue this morning.

His villain, Greg Stillson, is gradually climbing the political ladder throughout The Dead Zone and towards the end of the book the hero Johnny has a psychic flash that Stillson is going to become President and that as President, he’ll unleash nuclear war.

In the prologue, King shows a scene with a much younger Stillson, working as a door to door salesman. He rocks up to sell someone encylopedias and when they’re not home, the homeowner’s dog objects to a stranger on his turf. Stillson then proceeds to kick the dog to death.

Nice guy huh?

So because we’ve seen this side of Stillson early in the book, no matter what happens through the next pages we’re all convinced Stillson is an arsehole and that come what may, Johnny Hero has to find a way to prevent Stillson becoming President. It’s brilliant.

This afternoon I visited one of my favorite blogs, Nathan Bransford. He has a great piece on the pros and cons of prologues.

Here’s what he says:

The most common question I get about prologues: are prologues necessary? Personally I think the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if your book still makes sense.

(I would think given I only just put the prologue in, the answer to that is that I kind of fail this litmus test because I’m sure my book made sense yesterday… but is it better now??? Will this prologue resonate for me right through the book, like Stephen King’s does in The Dead Zone? I think that’s a yes, too.)

Bransford then says:

If you can take out a prologue and the entire plot still makes perfect sense, chances are the prologue was written to “set the mood”. But here’s the thing about mood-setting: most of the time you can set the mood when the actual story begins. Do you really need to set the mood with a separate prologue? Really? Really really?

Sometimes the answer to those four reallys is: “yes, really.” Or the prologue is to be used as a framing device around the plot or to introduce a crucial scene in the backstory that will impact the main plot. So okay, prologue time.

(There’s me. A crucial scene in the backstory that will impact the main plot. Got it in one).

Bransford again:

What makes a good one?

Short, self-contained, comprehensible.

The reader knows full well while reading a prologue that the real story is waiting. A prologue makes a reader start a book twice, because it doesn’t always involve the protagonist, and starting a book is hard because it takes mental energy to immerse oneself in a world. You’re asking more of a reader, so they’ll want to make sure it’s worth it.

You can read Nathan Bransford’s entire post on prologues here. http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/03/prologues.html

For the moment at least, I’m hooked on my prologue. I wonder what my Crit Partner will say?

What about you? Are you a prologue fan?

Well I’m on Facebook

I’ve taken the plunge and you can visit me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/lily.malone.313

There is a great discussion on Jennifer Crusie’s website this morning about Facebook and the pros and cons of Facebook vs Twitter; and where time is best spent. Jenny argues her time is best spent writing books, not writing ‘witty, pithy things in 140 characters.’ Check out the comments and discussions, they make for great reading. http://www.arghink.com/2012/09/25/i-cant-face-facebook/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ArghInk+%28Argh+Ink%29

Meanwhile, I’m off to ‘like’ it and ‘share’ it… see I’m getting the lingo down pat.