The Rules of Writing…Made to be broken?

*WARNING* I probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

Recently I’ve seen a lot of blog posts relating to the dreaded “Rules of Writing.”

Like most aspiring authors, those words make me cringe. I’m not talking about spelling and grammar. Those rules are hard and fast. They are almost unbendable, so don’t try.

But what about the other rules? The subjective ones? The rules we see our favourite authors break time and time again, and yet we are barked at to follow.

What rules am I talking about?

Well how about…

Adverbs – Why do we hate adverbs, especially in dialog attribution?

While I try to curb my use of adverbs, I can’t entirely discount them either. I LOVE THEM! Anne Rice uses them – A LOT! James Reese uses them, Ken Follet uses them, Phillipa Gregory uses them.

I like when I know a character said something “acidly,” or when a normally grumpy character says something “pleasantly.” Without that adverb, I may have misunderstood the tone of voice.

Thought Verbs – (Thought, Knows, Believed, Wants etc…). Before anyone jumps down my throat about these, please hear me out.

Too many thought verbs can be annoying – it’s true. This falls under the whole “show vs. tell” umbrella…. BUT…sometimes I just want to KNOW what the character is thinking. Too much “show” causes me to get bored and skip over sentences just to get to the damn point. (*Note – I will contradict myself on this point once I get to description).

It’s okay to tell me sometimes.

Suddenly – Is it a crutch?

I have very strong feelings about suddenly. I’ll admit – I use it. My favourite authors use it. Some of them use it a lot. Does that make their book any less likeable? Did it stunt the flow of the prose? When I’ve finished reading do I put the book down and say “Man, that book had way too many suddenlys”….No. No, I don’t.

I can see the need to use suddenly sparingly, but do we have to condemn it? Sometimes it just fits. It just sounds good in the sentence. I think we need to give suddenly a break once in a while.

Detailed descriptions of places and characters – Well hell. What’s the point of reading if we aren’t given a picture of the setting? Without books, I would have no idea what 16th century Rome looked like, or 18th century Britain, or Greece, or France, or any other place/time I have never been.

I find myself drawn to books with detailed descriptions. I want to see, and smell, and feel what that place is like in detail!

Some authors are praised and renowned for their detailed descriptions.

As far as characters go, some authors choose to use very limited descriptions. This can irritate me. I think there is a thin line between telling me what the character looks like and telling me nothing at all.

When I am reading a book with little or no character description, my mind doesn’t always hone in on one image. I find that my perception of the character changes as the book progresses. And then half-way through the book, I discover the character has blond hair when I was imaging him with black. It’s frustrating.

I want to know what the character looks like. I want to know if the author imagined him with dreamy eyes, a sharp nose, or brown curly hair.

Give me something to work with, at least.

In conclusion…

I am no expert on writing. But I am definitely an expert on reading. I know what I like and what I don’t, and my issue with these rules is that if every author followed every single one of them, reading would become boring – for me anyway.

I think these rules are repeated and repeated with the best of intentions. They aren’t necessarily meant to be carved in stone like the 10 commandments, but they aren’t to be ignored either. I worry that some aspiring authors will take them too literally. They’ll feel trapped by them, oppressed by them, and frustrated by them.

I know I do.

So when I’m writing I try my best to keep these rules in mind, but if the urge SUDDENLY strikes me to break one of them, I do!

It’s always fun to be a little bad, isn’t it?

Follow me on twitter @tamzwrite

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When your character speaks to you

My character was speaking to me last night…

While book one of The Darkness of Light is making its query rounds, I began working on book two in the series as well as another unrelated book.

I had a plot for the sequel to The Darkness of Light, but when I started to write it something wasn’t working. I got as far as chapter 6 before I decided to walk away from it for a bit. I had to think on it and let the ideas come to me instead of hunting them down.

My biggest problem in moving forward was my character, Malcolm. For those who haven’t read the book, Malcolm is the antagonist. He is awful. Truly awful. I instilled in him all of the characteristics that I truly hate in people.

But in the process of creating him, and living with him, and getting into his mind something strange happened…. I began to like him (I use the word “like” gently).

It seemed that my beta-readers liked him as well. Not because he is likeable, but because he is so utterly unlikable.

My struggle for book two then became: How do I keep you, Malcolm? I know I can’t redeem you, I can’t keep you as you are, but I don’t want to change you either.

This was the challenge.

So I waited…

And last night, as I was in that place halfway between being awake and dreaming I heard his voice! I heard it like someone was whispering dialog in my ear. It was so weird!

I listened carefully. Malcolm was telling me his thoughts. He was explaining to me that while he is inherently evil, he is not entirely lost. He told me what he needed to do and how he needed to evolve in order to keep going through this second book.

When I finally woke up I grabbed my notebook and jotted down 4 pages of plot notes, questions, and solutions.

Now I feel more confident about moving forward!

It’s so strange; I’ve never heard Malcolm like that before. When writing book one it was Mara and Corbin who told me what to do. Now it seems that Malcolm wants to dictate his own journey.

If that’s how we’re going to get book two done, then that’s how we’ll do it.

I know this all sounds a little crazy. And I’m definitely not speaking figuratively. I heard his voice as clear as my own.

Does that happen to anyone else?

Follow me on twitter @tamzwrite

Genre Confusion

I came across a tweet the other day from Sarah Lapolla (@sarahlapolla) of Bradford Literary Agency that read:

 “Reminder: Your manuscript can’t be both fantasy AND magical realism. The point of magical realism is that it’s *not* set in a fantasy world.”

This got me thinking about genre confusion. For the first few queries I sent out, I was touting my manuscript as a historical fantasy, but then I got to wondering…is it?

So I tweeted Sarah back: “so is that the difference? The setting? Mr/fantasy/para gets confusing. #askagent

Ms. Lapolla’s reply: “Basically. Fantasy = 100% made up. MR = real w/ subtle fantastic elements. Para/UF = real world, fictional creatures/abilities.”….. “MR & UF use elements of fantasy (or horror – e,g. “vampires”), but they are 3 separate genres.”

There were others that joined in on the conversation. Another tweeter (@jessicaleahurt) asked: “So is HP [Harry Potter] fantasy or mr? The story goes back and forth between the real world (England) and the wizarding world?”

Ms Lapolla’s reply: “HP is fantasy/”low fantasy”. It’s magical realism if Harry was just a kid who thought he was a wizard living in London.”

What I gather from this is…

Fantasy (low) includes or takes place in other/fictional worlds (Harry Potter).

Magical realism is real world with very minor magical elements (think, Odd Life of Timothy Green).

Paranormal is set in the real world with other creatures, abilities, i.e witches, vampires, fairies etc… (Twilight, Vampire Diaries).

So if I go by these guidelines then I am fairly certain my manuscript is more Paranormal than Fantasy, but it might still fit in the gray area in between.

The Book Industry Study Group has a list of genres that are helpful when trying to determine your book’s genre. The link button on my blog is not working at the moment, so you’ll have to copy and paste the address in your browser (http://www.bisg.org/what-we-do-0-136-bisac-subject-headings-list-major-subjects.php)

Have a look. Hope it helps.

Follow me on twitter @tamzwrite

Yay for small victories!

I have been querying my manuscript for 2 months now and for 2 months the rejections have been trickling in. But on the weekend I got an email from an agent. At first glance it looked like a rejection, so I wasn’t expecting much when I opened it, but to my surprise, it was actually a request for a partial.

Now, I know this is not indicative of anything, really. I know it doesn’t mean the agent will like it, and I know another rejection could be following right behind it. But at least my submission was enough to peak someone’s interest.

That’s enough for me for now. I won’t expect anything from it, but I will hope.

At least it made me smile.  🙂 

Anne Rice –If you had never written…

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I am a huge fan of Anne Rice. I have been since I was 12 years old when my mom gave me a copy of Blood and Gold for Christmas (not necessarily age appropriate, I know, but my mom didn’t, thank goodness). Had it not been for that gift, I may have never had the inclination to write, or pursue writing professionally. This is the impact one author can have on a person. How incredible is that?

The first time I read Blood and Gold I was mesmerized by it. I instantly fell in love with the way the book was written, the worlds it transported me to, and the characters it brought to life. Marius was and always will be my favorite character, and I still read this book at least once a year. I felt a connection to the characters that no other book had given me before, and a fascination with history that persists to this day. While I may have been interested in history and the craft of writing before this book entered my life, it was only after I read it that my fate was sealed.

What amazes me, however, is that not everyone has felt the same. A quick look at Anne Rice’s Wikipedia will tell you that even talented authors like Mrs. Rice have faced self-doubt and opposition. I still find this hard to believe. How can anyone pick up any of Mrs. Rice’s books and not instantly fall in love? How can anyone bemoan the style of her prose or the construction of her stories? Are they blind?

According to Wikipedia, “following its debut in 1976, Interview with the Vampire received many negative reviews from critics, causing Rice to retreat temporarily from the supernatural genre.”

Whether this statement is true or not, it’s hard to imagine that such a remarkable novel could receive such polarizing reviews. Thank goodness she didn’t listen to her critics; otherwise we would have never known Lestat, or Armand, or Pandora, or Marius, or David, or Vittorio, or any of the other characters that she has brought to life.

On numerous occasions I’ve seen Mrs.Rice post on her facebook page words of encouragement to aspiring authors. She tells them not to give up, to ignore critics, and to do what they love. Once I was fortunate enough to receive an email response from Mrs.Rice regarding my own journey with writing. It read:

      “I wish you every conceivable blessing with your writing.  You know, I’m sure that this life is worth the courage and the nerve it takes, the sheer nerve it takes to be a writer.  I hope all goes well with you.  We have to forgive those who try to discourage us.  They are mostly talking about themselves and their own fears and limitations when they tell us we can’t do what we want to do.  Take care, and thank you again, Anne Rice”.   

I read and reread that email every time I feel down and insecure about my writing. If an amazing, talented writer like Anne Rice must face criticism and opposition, then so must we all. There is no way around it. It’s part of being a writer. Sometimes I need to take a moment and remember that in order to keep pushing forward.

If Anne Rice had never written her novels, or had given up writing after Interview with the Vampire, I’m not so certain I would be as inspired and determined to write as I am today. Maybe I would have given up when someone told me writing was a waste of time, or that I have no talent. It’s amazing how influential authors can truly be to those that wish to follow in their footsteps. I think that’s something all writers need to remember when they feel like giving up. You might be the one to inspire another.

After all, where would I be if Anne Rice had never written…

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Wish-List Agent Rejection – Ouch!

Yesterday was a rough day. It started out pretty well. I got some editing done, I wrote a new chapter for a new project, and I read a fantastic book (Lillian and the Leaping Man by Ciar Cullen –check it out).

But then things went downhill. Down, down, down.

It began with a rejection to a query that I sent out earlier in the morning. The agent’s guidelines asked for a query letter, a synopsis, and 3 chapters. Exactly how they had the time to read all of that in such a short period, I don’t know, but I got a rejection that same day.

I wasn’t bothered – yet.

Then my Ipod broke. Dead. Died. Gone to the grave. So I couldn’t listen to my favorite play list as I edited. Okay, I can deal with that.

And then my central air cut out. I live in SC, so you can imagine my panic as the temperature in the house slowly but surely climbed to 80+ degrees. And of course no contractor was available to come out and look at it. OF COURSE NOT!

So that was that.

And then… at 8:18 pm, as I was sweating my figurative balls off, my phone beeped. Email!

I looked at the subject and it said Query: The Darkness of Light, from one of the few agents on my wish list.

Instantly I felt sick. It was obvious that the universe was against me that day. I groaned to my husband, and sunk down on the couch before even opening the email – but I knew.

I made a drink, sat back down, and clicked on the email which said… “Thank you for your query. Unfortunately”….

Oh, the horror! Okay, okay. I am being totally melodramatic; I know that, but still… That one hurt more than I expected.

I will confess that I did throw myself a little pity-party for the remainder of the night. I said I wouldn’t do that, but I did.

Now that I’ve gotten the first hurtful rejection over with, I will brush off my sleeves, raise my chin, and keep pushing forward.

I still have a few more agent wish list queries to go before I swallow the bottle of turpentine (kidding!).

The Beta-reader Dilemma: Are we getting a clear perspective?

I’ve been struggling with the use and feedback of beta-readers recently. I’ve always used beta-readers to review and scrutinize my work, even back in the day when I could only knock out short stories. For the most part, my readers have been friends and family.

There was a period of time, years ago, when I used to frequent online writers groups for feedback. Sometimes the critiques from these groups were helpful, but most of the time it was simply a matter of unpublished writers trying to flex their literary muscles. I even ended up with an online stalker for a while – but that’s another story.

When I’ve used beta-readers for short stories, I’ve found that there are always those willing to provide honest, helpful opinions, whether they were positive of negative. I’m tough, I can take it.

But with my manuscript I’ve had a completely different experience, and it’s confusing me.

I have farmed out my novel to about 10 different beta-readers. I selected them carefully, from friends who are avid readers, to those I believed would be brutally honest with me. The problem is not one of them had anything negative to say about my novel.

This is where my red flag goes up.

In the history of writing there has never been one piece of literature that did not have its critics. Even the most esteemed writers, legendary writers, talented writers, have critics. So where are mine?

The way I see it, one of two things could be happening here. Either my novel is a work of genius and deserves a seat next to Great Expectations, or Wuthering Heights (not likely), or my beta-readers are simply so awestruck that I wrote a novel they fail to read it with a truly critical eye.

I am going to go ahead and assume the latter is the truth, because the agents rejecting my manuscript certainly don’t seem to be as dazzled as everyone else.

I wonder if this is like the reaction I might get if I wrote a song vs. a symphony. My song might suck, and I’m pretty sure everyone would tell me if it did. But if I wrote a symphony, either people would be so impressed that I wrote one in the first place or have no clue whether it was truly good or not.

Is that what’s happening here?

I’d hoped that my editor would have some words for me, but she loved it to!

I did consider paying for a professional critique. I even identified a few published critiquers (yes, I just made that word up) that might offer me a good evaluation of my work. But I stopped short of actually doing it. Maybe it was the fear of past experience repeating itself, or the idea of paying upwards of $1500 for an opinion that I might not even agree with.

Isn’t money supposed to flow towards the writer?

Maybe an agent will be kind enough to respond to my query with some hard-truths instead of the standard form rejection. Then I might get a clear picture of what I’ve created.

And while I’m eternally grateful and humbled by the feedback I’ve gotten on my manuscript thus far, I’m not misled into believing that my work is perfect. I am certain it’s not.

Has anyone else out there struggled with the Beta-reader dilemma?

Rejection

Being that this is my first (completed in full) manuscript, my first time querying, and my first time being rejected, I’m quite surprised at how well I’m handling it, really.

Sure, when my phone makes the water-drop noise, altering me to an email, my stomach turns a little. And when I see the subject line “Query” I feel a sense of fright. And of course when I read “Thank you for your submission” I feel a momentary sense of disappointment. But here’s what I’ve learned…

A)      I love my book! I love it like a child. Technically it is my child, because that manuscript is an extension of myself. And as a good parent, in the face of rejection I find myself telling my baby, “Don’t worry about it. They don’t know what they’re missing. You’re beautiful, talented, and someday you’ll find the right person.”

B)       My book is Brad Pitt as far as I’m concerned. What do I mean by that? Well, if my book is Brad Pitt, then by querying I am sending him out on blind dates. Now, I’m pretty confident in saying that people don’t reject Brad Pitt. No way. Brad Pitt rejects people (duh). So if my ms gets a pass, it’s not because there was something wrong with my Brad Pitt. It’s because he hasn’t yet found his Angelina.

C)       And finally, I’ve learned that rejection doesn’t bother me (yet), because of the simple fact that I wrote a book. Hello! I wrote a book! An entire, chapter by chapter, 90,000 word book with sub-plots, conflict, history, love… In my personal life I don’t know one single person who can say that.

Now, I guess I should say that I have yet to receive any rejections from the agents on my “wish list,” (my Angelina Jolies). So maybe I’ll feel differently when I receive those. But as it stands right now, I’m happy that my manuscript is picky, and waiting for the right agent to fall in love with.

The Tuatha Dé Danann: The mythology behind The Darkness of Light

As a follow up to my Fact vs. Fiction in Literature post, I wanted to explain my treatment of the mythology in The Darkness of Light.

I used the legend of the Tuatha Dé Danann as the mythological component of my story. For those who don’t know who or what the Tuatha Dé Danann are, I will give you a cliff notes version.

The Tuatha Dé Danann (The people of the Goddess Danu) are mythical beings said to have once ruled Ireland. They came from the sky on clouds and were godlike people, not entirely human and not entirely god. These are the beings that would later become known as Faeries.

I would like to stress that at no point in The Darkness of Light are these beings ever referred to as Faeries. Why? Because I feel as though the word Faery denotes some pointy eared, diminutive creatures that fly. The original Tuatha Dé Dananns were not portrayed this way, and in fact, they were more like humans in size and appearance. Instead of calling my characters Fae, or Faeries throughout the novel, I chose to use the Gaelic word for God, which is “Dia” (Dee-ah).

The Dia (Dia, because there is no plural form of Dia) in my novel have supernatural powers. They can alter their appearance; some can create fire, heal, read minds, and control the weather. Their power comes from a Light within them, and their personalities can be either benign or malevolent – much like the legend suggests.

Anyone familiar with the Tuatha Dé Danann will be quick to point out that I have set them in the wrong country (Britain). I am aware that the lore is Irish, but when researching my novel, I had to consider the state of Ireland in the 6th century. Christianity had taken over so much so that my characters would be far too restricted, and by that time, many Irish people had immigrated to Britain anyway.

Also, when the kingdom of the Tuatha Dé Danann was defeated, they spread out. Is it that crazy to think that they’d sail across the sea and settle in a land that wasn’t ruled by their conquerors? No. It made sense to me. Plus, I knew the second book would include Welsh “faeries,” (the Twyleth Teg), so I wanted to keep the setting close to Wales.

There were a few other modifications I made to the legend. The most notable of which involves the Lia Fàil, (the Stone of Destiny.) This was said to have been brought by the Tuatha Dé Danann to Ireland, and is said to wail when the next king of Ireland stands before it. The actual stone of the legend resides on the Hill of Tara in County Meath.

In my story, I turned the Lia Fàil into a magical charm that will guide the wearer along their chosen path.

The next deviation from legend happened with the coire (Kor-yuh), which is Gaelic for cauldron. This was another gift brought to Ireland from the Tuatha Dé Danann. It was said to be a cauldron that would feed the entire country of Ireland.

I struggled with this one. After all, how exciting is a cauldron of food? So instead of using the coire in its original form, I chose to make it a lost power that only one Dia can possess. I won’t get into too much detail about it; you’ll have to read the book. But I want all mythology buffs out there to know that I am aware of the alterations I have made. This was not an oversight.

I love the legend of the Tuatha Dé Danann and I tried to stay true to the myth as possible, but my story was intended to be more of a continuation of the legend rather than an accurate retelling.

Fact vs. Fiction in Historical Literature

I wanted to write a post about my personal experience with research, historical facts, and the elements of my novel that I chose or needed to construct. While I’m no expert on the subject of historical writing, in the process of researching my novel I discovered that historical fact is not always an exact science.

There were two subjects in my novel that I needed to research as I wrote, one was historical, the other was mythological.

This post will focus on the history. I will follow up in another post with an explanation about the liberties I took with the mythology.

As I plotted out my novel I knew I wanted to set the story in England, and I knew, because of the nature of the mythology I was using, I needed to select a time in Britain when Christianity was present, but not entirely ubiquitous. Roman-Britain might have been a good choice, but I wasn’t too keen on having Roman imperialists messing with my characters. And since I’m such a King Arthur fan, I decided that the Early Middle Ages was the perfect setting for my story.

This time in British history was ambiguous. Everything that provided stability and prosperity under Roman rule was in decline, but there is still much debate among scholars about just how “dark” these ages truly were. That’s what I liked about it.

I knew that town life in sub-Roman Britain had mostly reverted back to a more agrarian existence, and there were Saxon invasions happening at different times throughout the newly formed and constantly changing realms. But I needed to find a place with some stability. So I did some research and learned that the south-western part of Britain (Devon and Cornwall), known as Dumnonia, had maintained autonomy under Roman rule, and was less affected than other realms by the Roman withdrawal.

While Christianity certainly existed in Dumnonia, the prevalence of Celtic tribes, and the remnants of paganism gave me the perfect setting for conflict. When I get to the mythology of my story, I will explain why I chose Dumnonia and not Ireland for my setting (there was a method to my madness).

So I had my time and I had my place, but what about the geographical details? It’s not hard to imagine that 1500 years ago, the landscape of south-west Britain was probably very different from what it is today. I knew I wanted my setting on the ocean directly across from Ireland, so I went to Google Earth, honed in on an area and studied the landscape as it is now. But I also wanted a forest in my story. There aren’t many forests in Devon County now, but what about in the 6th century?

I started searching old maps and finally came across a map from the 14th century that detailed the “royal forests.” There weren’t many, but I figured that was close enough, and so I used the locations of these forests to map my setting.

Now here’s where the imagination comes in. While the names of the realms and the kings I listed are accurate to the time period, I chose to invent the names of the villages, forests, and rivers. It’s my story, so I’m allowed.

With regard to the language of the period, I know that the people of Dumnonia spoke a Bythronic dialect, but I chose not to emphasize that. And since my characters are of Irish descent and their mythology is Irish, I felt that Gaelic was the language they would use to describe themselves.

As with all writers of historical fiction, I am sure there will be critics to decry the historical inaccuracies of my novel. I’ve seen it happen to even the most prominent writers, no matter how believable and captivating their novel might be.

What I’ve learned in writing this book is that our understanding of history is ever evolving, and while a writer should try to represent a time period with as much accuracy as possible, fiction is fiction, and sometimes the rules need to be bent in order to tell the best story.

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