#FixYourNovel #3: Reading, Listening, or Watching a Novel?

Personal experience tells me it is a rare novel that will hold my attention well enough to be listened to instead of being read in printed form. I came to that conclusion as I wrote my September 2, 2019 blog post. In case you missed it, I wrote about two books I read in August and the audio book I stopped listening to at the halfway point. Here’s a link to that post:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/02/3-5-of-the-5-5-books-i-read-in-august-2019/.

Since then, I’ve had several good experiences with audible books. I enjoyed listening to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer and The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross in September (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/10/07/thrillers-and-a-dark-novel-i-read-last-month/) and The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali this month.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, second to the quality of the writing itself, the verbal delivery of the audio book professional reader is of utmost importance. If I start to listen to a book but find the voice of the reader to be irritating or the volume of the reader’s voice is all over the place, I can’t continue to listen. I’m hearing-impaired, so I appreciate a steady volume on TV, the radio, music, and audio books.

We all learn in different ways, and I think my own non-scientific experiment in reading vs. listening demonstrates that fact. Taking that train of thought another step tells me that the same is surely true for children and how they learn. For children who have trouble reading, what if their textbooks could be available in audio? It seems to me this is worth a try.

Today’s blog post is the third in a series of posts I’ve written or plan to write about specific steps a novelist should take in the process of taking a manuscript on the journey from rough draft to publication.

Here are the links to the earlier blog posts in my #FixYourNovel series:

https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/07/15/fixyournovel-2-scene-outline/

https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/27/fixyournovel-1-read-it-aloud/

What’s the “listenability” of this novel?

In case you’re wondering, yes, “listenability” is a real word. I thought I’d coined a new word, but then I found it in the dictionary. What I mean by “listenability” is this:  Does this book give the same depth of reading experience in audio form as it does in printed format?

With what I recently learned about the difference in reading a book and listening to a book, I need to look at the hook and scene and chapter beginnings in the novel I’m writing to see if they work well for the book listener. This prompted me to do a little research.

Writing advice from Jules Horn

I first brought up this issue in my May 13, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/13/how-listening-to-a-book-and-reading-a-book-differ/. In that blog post I referenced a piece Jules Horn wrote about attunement. Ms. Horn is an expert on method writing. Her website is https://www.method-writing.com/.

She read my May 13 blog post and took time to respond to my invitation for my blog readers to give me feedback on the opening line of my novel manuscript. I was thrilled to hear from her, as she graciously gave me specific advice about the sentence I’d written.

Ms. Horn recommended that, with audio in mind, I consider breaking up the sentence. She pointed out that breaking up the sentence into two or more sentences would help the reader to “see” each part of it. To refresh your memory, here’s the way I had written the opening of my manuscript as referenced in my May 13, 2019 blog post:

“Sarah McCorkle dropped her sewing basket at the sight of her husband lying face down between the stone hearth and his desk, sending thread, needles, and thimbles crashing and scattering on the wide planks of the pine floor.”

Ms. Horn told me that it would be easier for the reader to “see” each part of that sentence if I broke it down as if in camera shots. She also gave me a link to another post on her website to reinforce this recommendation: https://www.method-writing.com/camera-shots-advanced-fiction-technique/. She even suggested I try performing the opening of my manuscript. (Watch out, Hollywood, here I come!)

Research statistics

Sandra Beckwith’s August 21, 2019 blog post, “5 Way to Make Your Book Relevant to the Media” on the Build Book Buzz website (https://buildbookbuzz.com/5-ways-to-make-your-book-relevant-to-the-media/) included a link to an April 24, 2019 press release by Michele Cobb, Executive Director of Audio Publishers Association.

That press release reported that a 2019 survey conducted by Audio Publishers Association and The Infinite Dial Survey by Edison Research and Triton Digital found that 50% of Americans 12 years old or older have listened to an audiobook.

This growing trend is partially due to the advances in technology which have enabled publishers to distribute books in numerous formats. We’ve gone from the founding of the company Books on Tape in 1975 to people in 2019 being able to listen to books wirelessly on various electronic devices. (That probably sounds like a long time to you, but those 44 years have flown by for me. I graduated from college in 1975.)

Chad R. Allen’s writing advice

In an email named “My Top Piece of Writing Advice” on August 7, 2019, Chad R. Allen stated that his top piece of advice for writing is to “be concrete.” The email focused on a third way to look at a novel’s manuscript:  “Is it filmable? If a piece of writing is filmable, you can be sure it’s concrete.”

Mr. Allen is a writer, editor, speaker, and writing coach. He compared types of writing to a pyramid. Abstract writing (writing that “doesn’t show or engage the imagination”) is at the top. He wrote, “The bottom of the pyramid is concrete writing. It shows or illustrates. It does engage the imagination; it helps me to see (or hear or smell or taste or touch) something.”

My favorite of the points Mr. Allen made in his email are the following:

“The best communicators (I think this is probably true of speakers and writers) push as much of their content to the bottom of the pyramid as possible.”

“But more often than not the way to engage readers and hold their interest is to invite them into a scene.”

“Your job as a writer is to create an experience the reader doesn’t want to quit. Often the best way to do that is with concrete writing.”

Mr. Allen gives the following examples of concrete writing:  stories, metaphors, illustrations, dialogue, images, and sensory writing (writing that engages the five senses.)

That brings us back to Mr. Allen’s statement, “Is it filmable? If a piece of writing is filmable, you can be sure it’s concrete.”

I don’t want to steal all Mr. Allen’s thunder, but he made numerous good points in his email that I want to hold onto.

He related an example from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones in which she wrote about enjoying a story someone told her. When she repeated the story to her friends, they found it boring. She later realized that the difference was that she was telling the story from the outside. Her friend had told her the story from the inside out.

Mr. Allen wrote in his email, “In other words, get into the narrative. Write it from the inside so that others can experience it with you. Don’t just convey information. Get into it and invite readers to get into it with you.”

Chad Allen offered incredible advice in his August 7, 2019 email to me, including the following:  “Do a story/image audit of a given chapter. Note the places where you go on for a while without a story or image or sound, and try to find ways to add them in. Even better: replace the non-narrative material with narrative material.

“If you’re writing history, instead of recounting facts, try imagining a scene and bringing us into it. David McCullough and Jeff Shaara have made a career of this.

“Ask yourself, ‘Is there a way to unpack this principle with a story or metaphor or illustration?’ A metaphor or image can do a lot of work for you.

“As you shape your content to be more and more concrete, you’ll be creating an experience that readers relish.”  

As I continue to evaluate every scene in my manuscript for The Doubloon, I think about how each one would come across on the written page and how it would sound if in an audio recording.

Mr. Allen’s website is https://www.chadrallen.com/.

What about a podcast?

Here’s another possibility: podcast your blog or your book. I haven’t ventured into the world of podcasting, but here’s an interesting and encouraging article presented by Nina Amir and written by Jay Artale about using a podcast as a way to market your book or get your blog out to people who prefer audio content to the written word: https://howtoblogabook.com/free-podcast-share-book-blog-content/. There is much to consider, but Ms. Artale makes it sound like it’s not as difficult as I thought. There are free software programs to get you started. It’s something for bloggers to consider.

Since my last blog post

Last week I had the good fortune of listening to a virtual summit for authors. It was hosted by Tara R. Alemany of Emerald Lake Books (https://emeraldlakebooks.com/) and Mark Gerber of Emerald Lake Books. It was free! All I had to do was sign in on my computer, listen, and take notes. Each weekday there were four sessions on a wide range of topics of interest to writers.

In addition, on Tuesday, I listened to a free webinar hosted by Author Accelerator (https://www.authoraccelerator.com/.) It highlighted OneStopForWriters.com’s “Character Development Tool.” (A subscription is required in order to access OneStopForWriters.com’s resources.)

Many of the features of the “Character Development Tool” duplicate some of the processes I’ve already gone through on the historical novel I’m writing, but I can see it could potentially help me make sure my protagonist has an arc. Look for more on that in my blog post about Characterization, tentatively scheduled for November 11, 2019.

After five consecutive days of listening to and watching the virtual summit and Tuesday’s webinar, I thought my brain might explode. That didn’t happen until Saturday, when my computer refused to let me download photographs from my hard drive to my blog.

A blogger should always have a “Plan B,” and that’s where I had to go this weekend. Today’s blog post was partially written and planned for a few weeks from now. I pulled it out and prepared it for today. As I write this, I’m unable to insert photo from my hard drive into my WordPress.com blog post. I’ve read that a blog should have at least one image, but this one will not. It’s not from my lack of trying.

The reason I had to go with “Plan B” is that today’s scheduled blog post was “Great Smoky Mountains, Revisited – Part 1,” and it was going to include numerous photographs. I hope to use it next Monday, if I can get the bugs worked out of my computer.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Would you rather listen to or read a book? Would you rather listen to a podcast of a blog or read the blog?

Janet

Character and Structure, by Chris Andrews

Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, by Chris Andrews

I ditched my original plan for today’s blog post yesterday afternoon after reading the first seven chapters of Chris Andrews’ new writing “how-to” book, Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. The book was released on Friday. Since I’d preordered it for my tablet, it downloaded at 12:01 a.m.

Chris Andrews is an Australian fantasy author. He has much more experience than I have in writing fiction. He has helped me a lot on my journey as a writer.

This book is aimed at writers, but I can imagine a fan of fiction also reading it and getting a better understanding of what goes into writing a novel. Clue:  There’s more to it than typing.

In Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance, Mr. Andrews writes about how important it is for a novelist to reach his or her readers by getting them emotionally invested. You can write a book with perfect punctuation about a perfect person with a perfect life but, if you don’t write it in a way that prompts your reader to care what happens to this character, your novel will fail. Your character must face challenges and problems. Otherwise, no one will care.

The following are two quotes from Mr. Andrews’ book:

“Mastering the mechanics of writing doesn’t automatically provide the entertainment factor.”

“You’re the architect, so unless you’re building your story purely for yourself, you need to consider your audience.”

Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance reminds writers that readers come to a novel with certain expectations regarding structure. If a writer is going to deviate from the expected structure of a novel, he or she better be an outstanding writer to pull it off. Different genres adhere to set patterns or sequences of plot. Readers are uncomfortable with any deviation and book sales and reviews will reflect that.

As Mr. Andrews states early in the book, “This book will help you balance your story so the beginning, middle and end work to your advantage [and] create the emotional high and low points your audience expects.”

He addresses how authors approach the writing of a novel in different ways. Some writers are outliners, while others are “pantsters.” (Outliners map out their story before they write it. Pantsters write by the seat of their pants.)

Mr. Andrews writes, “One process favours emotion while the other is all about logic. You need to be a master of both and that means doing the things you don’t want to do.”

I’m an outliner. That doesn’t mean I adhere to the rigid way I was taught in elementary school to outline. When I’m plotting a story or novel, I outline with sentences and paragraphs, scene-by-scene. That’s what works for me, so my bigger challenge is mastering emotion.

Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance is the first writing “how-to)” book I’ve read that focuses on this important aspect of creative writing. I wish Mr. Andrews had written it a few years ago! As I continue to edit and polish the manuscript for what I hope will be my first novel, The Doubloon OR The Spanish Coin, I will keep the lessons learned from this book in mind as I work to put more emotion in my writing. If my readers don’t care about my characters, my book won’t be successful on any level.

Mr. Andrews states, “It depends on your own strengths and weaknesses, but whichever path you take the end game encompass character, conflict and a coherent and emotionally engaging structure that makes your audience feel what you want them to feel.”

Also, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.”

Mr. Andrews’ book has helped me have a greater understanding of and appreciation for the necessity of a marriage between character and plot in a work of fiction.

In his book, Mr. Andrews gives questions that fiction writers should ask about their manuscripts in order to get insight into the stories they’re writing.

Here’s one last quote from Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance“Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers that will help you emotionally engage your audience.”

Can you believe all that came just from reading the first two chapters of the book?

The book goes on to say a writer needs to put himself or herself in the place of a character and in the place of the reader. How will your story come across? What will make your reader care about your character(s)? Will your reader be satisfied with how the core problem your character faces is resolved? What’s at stake for your character?

In addition to giving us questions to ask about our manuscripts, he provides entertaining exercises for writers to do in order to consider how character and structure are presented in a variety of well-known novels. He challenges the writer to back off from their story’s details and to look at the whole story as the Norse God Loki could.

If you look at your story or manuscript as a whole and see a perfect world, you’re looking at a world that will bore your reader. That’s the last thing you want! Mr. Andrews then offers a list of things you need to answer or address regarding your book in order to – as we would say in a baseball analogy in the United States – “cover all the bases.”

That brings us to the end of the sixth of 32 chapters in Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. I can’t wait to see how much I learn from the remaining 26 chapters! But don’t expect me to summarize the rest of the book for you. You need to buy it for yourself. It’s available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon.com.

If you’re a fiction writer, I recommend that you purchase it and slowly and thoughtfully work your way through it. That’s what I’ll be doing in the coming weeks. I trust my novel in progress will benefit greatly from the pointers in this book.

Since my last blog post

I enjoyed some wonderful time with three precious family members who live 300 miles away, so I don’t get to see them often.

Before and after their visit, I did a lot of reading.

Until my next blog post

If you’re interested in learning more about Chris Andrews and his novels, visit his website at https://www.chrisandrews.me/.

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Fifth Column, a historical thrilled by Andrew Gross and have started listening to The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Next Monday’s blog post will be about the other books I read in September.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’re a writer, are you an outliner or a pantster? Do you find it easier to get the mechanics of a story right or do you prefer writing the emotion?

If you’re a fiction reader, does it upset you when an author deviates too much from the expected? For instance, if you like to read romance, does it upset you if a romance novel doesn’t have a happy ending? That’s what is meant by deviating from reader expectations.

Janet

#FixYourNovel #2: Scene Outline

From the beginning in June of 2010, this blog has generally been about my journey as a writer. It hasn’t been a smooth ride so far, and some days the destination doesn’t appear any closer than when I began.

This reminds me of an experience my sister and I had on a trip to the western part of the United States a few years ago. We saw our first butte. It didn’t look more than a mile or two away, so we turned off onto a dirt road that looked like it would take us to the butte. We don’t have buttes in North Carolina, so we wanted to see one up close.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

After driving on this straight, flat road for a half hour or so, the butte didn’t look any closer than it had when we turned off the main highway. We gave up on reaching the butte and turned around.

As for the manuscript for my Doubloon novel, I haven’t given up and I haven’t turned around. I don’t think I could, even if I wanted to. I’m still learning about the work that has to be done after the rough draft is finished.

Scene Outlines

In my mind I thought I could evaluate every scene in my novel manuscript of more than 90,000 words by mid-July and be ready to send a detailed scene outline to a professional editor for a critique. In the meantime, I discovered a scene outline template on C.S. Lakin’s website.

(Ms. Lakin’s February 1, 2016 blog post, “Using a Scene Template to Craft Perfect Scenes” can be found at https://www.livewritethrive.com/2016/02/01/using-a-scene-template-to-craft-perfect-scenes/#more-7387, in case you’re interested in looking at her template. Click on “Resources” and scroll down to the clickable list of free writing resources she offers.)

I wrote an outline before writing the rough draft of the The Doubloon. After finishing the rough draft, I modified my outline into a scene outline for reference purposes. Then, I found Ms. Lakin’s template. It includes details and questions I hadn’t thought about being part of a scene outline.

Expanding my outline based on Ms. Lakin’s template has been a beneficial process because it makes me state how each scene drives the plot forward, what background details are revealed, and how the point-of-view character grows or changes. It might even tell me that one or more scenes aren’t necessary.

Novel readers won’t stand for boredom.

With today’s blog post topic in mind, I wanted to see what other writing experts had to say. My basic takeaway from K.M. Weiland’s June 17, 2019 blog post, https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-write-interesting-scenes/ was that every scene needs to hold the reader’s attention.

Ms. Weiland goes on to list five things every scene should contain. She wrote, “Basically, the art of writing interesting scenes is the art of preventing reader boredom.”

Douglas W. T. Smith is an Australian fantasy author. In his blog post on May 29, 2019, “How To Bring Life And Fluency to Each Scene In Your Novel” (https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/how-to-bring-life-and-fluency-to-each-scene-in-your-novel/)  he gave four important tips for writing scenes.

My favorite takeaway from Mr. Smith’s blog post was “Each scene should stand alone, make it dazzling enough to inform your reader of the necessary plot information, exciting enough to create interest and interesting enough to cause the reader to keep going.”

I will continue to work on my scene outline. As a hope-to-be debut novelist with my The Doubloon manuscript, I think it’s a good idea for me to hire a professional editor to evaluate my scene outline. I’ll let you know when that happens.

In case you missed #FixYourNovel #1:  Read it Aloud

Here’s the link to my May 24, 2019 blog post:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/27/fixyournovel-1-read-it-aloud/.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m still pulled between several books and not able to finish any of them.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are the “buttes” in your life – those things you want to accomplish that seem to always be out of reach?

Janet

Delving Deeper into Dialects and Accents in Fiction

My blog post last week, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/10/a-wake-up-call-from-dr-henry-louis-gates-jr/, was about how reading Stony the Road:  Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. tipped the scales for me in writing dialect and accents in fiction. One thing led to another, and that post became too long. Today’s blog post includes what I deleted from last Monday’s post.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

If this is a topic you’re struggling with, I hope these two blog posts will trigger some questions in your mind and lead you to try to come to terms with this aspect of fiction writing.

If you are a reader but don’t aspire to write fiction, I hope my thoughts on the subject will spark a new awareness in you. It’s not just about literature, it’s about how we view our fellow citizens.

My wake-up call

The awakening Dr. Gates’ book prompted in me helped me realize that, except for using an occasional “ye” or “’Tis” for an Irish character’s speech, I wasn’t using any sort of dialect in the white characters’ dialogue. So why in the world was I using dialect in the dialogue of the slaves in the novel I’m writing, The Doubloon?

A device in writing is the use of attributing certain words or phrases to a particular character. This is done to help the reader distinguish one character from another. There is a way to do this without using “Plantation Dialect.”

Thank you, Dr. Gates, for turning that light bulb on in my head.

Another resource for writing vs. not writing accents in dialogue

Images from Louise Harnby’s “Writing Natural Dialogue & Thoughts” blog post from May 20, 2019.

I looked for additional professional advice on the topic of writing accents in dialogue and found the following blog post by fiction editor and proofreader Louise Harnby:  https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them.

She stated, “Bear in mind that dialogue tells us what words have been spoken, not how they’re spelled. Phonetic spelling can turn dialogue into pastiche, and offensive pastiche at that. It’s also difficult to absorb and distracts readers from your story.”

That led me to edit the dialogue I had written for a Frenchman in my novel manuscript. There is so much to learn. Times are changing. What was acceptable in fiction years ago or even last year, might not be acceptable now. Some people call this political correctness. That term has taken on negative backlash connotations, so I prefer to say, “When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

A piece of advice I took from Ms. Harnby’s blog post is this: “Use location rather than pronunciation to enrich characterization – how where they’re from affects the story, their perception of the conflict or their approach to solving it.” I think this is harder than writing phonetically, but nobody said writing a novel set in the 18th century American South would be easy.

Reinforced by listening to Iron House, by John Hart

My awareness of this matter was reinforced a couple of weeks ago as I listened to Iron House, by John Hart. Listening to the novel drove home the question about the use of accent in fiction. I did not finish listening to Iron House because I became completely distracted by the over-the-top Southern accent used by the professional reader.

Iron House, by John Hart

The way in which the professional reader exaggerated the speech of at least two characters in Iron House reminded me of the extreme Southern accents used by the actors in the old television series “In the Heat of the Night.” Since the series was set in Mississippi, the actors used such slow and pronounced “Southern” accents that it was irritating to my North Carolina ears. It came across as Hollywood making fun of the way I talk.

Iron House is set in North Carolina. I’ve lived my entire life in that state, and I’ve never heard anyone talk with the extreme drawl of Caravel and Abigail in the audio edition of that novel. It piqued my curiosity, so I checked out the printed version from the public library just to see how Mr. Hart wrote the words. Sure enough, he did not write the book phonetically to convey over-the-top pronunciation in any words of dialogue Caravel or Abigail had. So why did the publisher think it was acceptable for the reader of the audio edition of the novel to use a fake accent?

In all fairness, Iron House was published eight years ago. Perhaps an audio edition recorded in 2019 would be done differently.

This has all been quite an eye-opener for me on my journey as a writer. Sometimes I’ve wished I’d started my writing career as a young adult, but now I realize I would have been a very different writer at 26 than I am at 66. I think the 66-year-old me would be embarrassed by the fiction written by the 26-year-old me.

Thinking about my reading experience

If I’m reading the dialogue of a character from Boston, my brain knows what a Boston accent sounds like. I’ve known people from Boston, so I know they pronounce some things differently than I do but not like the over-the-top Boston accents we sometimes encounter on TV or in movies. The writer doesn’t have to spell a Bostonian’s dialogue phonetically for me to catch on.

Outsiders tend to paint everyone from New Jersey with the same phonetic brush, too. I know people from New Jersey, and they don’t sound anything like Vinny in the 1992 comedy movie “My Cousin, Vinny.”

But somehow, there is a difference between an actor conveying a regional accent and an actor portraying what Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. refers to as “Plantation Dialect.” Although, I don’t appreciate an actor giving exaggerated pronunciations to a Southern character, it’s not the same as an actor giving exaggerated pronunciations to a black character. I think regional accents should be celebrated, but there is no place for “Plantation Dialect” in fiction in 2019.

I don’t have a problem with a Southern character saying “y’all” in the printed dialogue in a novel. I say it naturally. It rolls right off my tongue like butter. But I do have a problem with printed dialogue in a present-day novel having a black character saying “Nome” instead of “No, ma’am.” “Gwine” used to appear in the dialogue of black slaves in literature. I never did understand how “I’m going to” or even “I’m gonna” got translated into “gwine.”

Literature evolves as society evolves. When you know better, you should do better. I still have a lot to learn.

It will interesting to see how the dialogue in my novel is accepted or rejected by literary agents, editors, and publishers. When that time comes, I’ll let you know.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Prayer Box, by Lisa Wingate and Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you like reading fiction in which dialect is expressed through the spelling of words in dialect, or are you turned off by this practice? Do you think it’s time for us in 2019 to reassess how dialect is used in fiction? Should writers give readers enough credit to assume they can imagine how a character from a certain region would pronounce certain words?

Those of you who live in countries other than the United States are urged to chime in on this topic. Is this something authors in other countries are faced with as they write about regionalisms or even a past history in which certain groups of people were enslaved?

If today’s blog didn’t interest you, please come back next Monday for a different topic.

Janet

A Wake-Up Call from Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“Find Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS

I’ve enjoyed the various television series Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has done on PBS (the Public Broadcasting System in the United States.) With my interest in genealogy, I’ve especially enjoyed his “Finding Your Roots” series where he (and his assistants) do a thorough genealogical search for well-known Americans. Many times, the findings are surprising.

In my blog post last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/03/4-or-5-books-i-read-in-may-2019/ , I wrote about the books I read in May. I mentioned reading the first two chapters of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s new book, Stony the Road:   Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow.

Stony the Road:   Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The events and facts Dr. Gates included in his book were not in the history textbooks of my youth. This period in our nation’s history was omitted from our textbooks, as were the dark decades which followed in which “Jim Crow” laws were enacted and strictly enforced. All this was swept under the rug and not talked about. The precious little I was taught about the Reconstruction Era could be summed up as, “After the Civil War the ‘carpetbaggers’ from “up North” came down here to tell us what to do.” This always had negative connotations. I grew up in North Carolina.

As a lover of history, even at a young age, I lamented the fact that every year in school we’d study the years up to the end of the American Civil War, the school year would end, and the same thing would happen the next year. It always came across as a lack of time to study anything that happened after that war but, with the perspective I’ve gained in the last several years, I now wonder if this was part of a grand design by the State of North Carolina. Perhaps it was by intention that we never studied the Reconstruction Era.

A snapshot of my school years

So you’ll know the background from which I speak, here are the highlights of my school years as far as race goes: I attended an all-white public school through the sixth grade; racial desegregation was optional in 1965 when I was in the seventh grade (meaning there were three children from a black family who desegregated our school of grades 1-12 with around 1,000 students); the historic black public schools in our county were closed at the end of my seventh grade year, so the schools were completely racially-integrated thereafter.

Can you imagine being one of just three students of color in a school of 1,000 white students? I cannot imagine how Carolyn Morris and her two siblings felt. I also cannot imagine how all the black students in our county felt the following year when their schools were closed and they had no choice but to attend the schools that had preciously been all-white. It was a blessing that five of the six county high schools were consolidated in 1967 into two new high schools, so Central Cabarrus High School and Northwest Cabarrus High School were never racially-segregated.

Back to Dr. Gates’ book

From Dr. Gates’ book I learned in greater detail than I had before that great strides were made for racial integration during Reconstruction; however, “Jim Crow” laws started popping up all over the country (yes, even in The North) to squelch that progress. One fact that epitomizes the century after the American Civil War is that the University of South Carolina was racially-integrated after the War, but then laws were instituted to prohibit black students. The university wasn’t desegregated again until 1963.

The most important thing I learned as a writer

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The most important thing I learned as a writer from reading Dr. Gates’ book is about the use of “Plantation Dialect” in fiction. It is something I have wrestled with in the years I’ve written and re-written my manuscript for The Spanish Coin/The Doubloon. With every revision I’ve deleted words of dialect. I had it down to just a couple of words (nawsuh for No, sir; Yessum for Yes, ma’am) by the time I read Dr. Gates’ book. Now I realize how that use of dialect, no doubt, comes across to an African-American reader.

As a white Southerner, I don’t like it when someone mocks my accent. I’m proud of my accent, but to see it overdone in spoken or written word is demeaning.

I’m fascinated by the regional accents in the United States. It’s a subject I’d like to study. I think these regional accents are a beautiful warp and weft in the fabric of our nation. If we all spoke just alike, life would be boring.

In next Monday’s blog post, I plan to delve more deeply into this subject as Dr. Gates’ book prompted me to do additional research about the use of dialect and accents in fiction. Learning to write fiction is a journey.

Since my last blog post

For a variety of reasons, I’ve made only scant progress on my manuscript for The Doubloon; however, what I’ve learned about the use of accent and dialect in fiction is far more important than my novel’s word count.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What is your experience in writing or reading fiction in which dialect and accent were overdone? Have you noticed an evolution in how dialect and accent are handled in novels?

Janet

4 or 5 Books I Read in May 2019

My reading was haphazard in May, to say the least. I read snippets of several books here and there. I read three books, listened to one book, and read 35% of another one before it had to go back to the public library. I’m having some issues with my computer, but here goes.

The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

I love learning things, and it’s amazing how much I don’t know at my age. One thing I learned from this book seems so basic I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know it. In my history studies I didn’t learn that the Continental Congress created the Continental Army in 1775. In my mind, I assumed the Continental Army was formed after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch is almost a day-by-day telling of American Revolutionary history with focus on the little known facts of the things that happened in the shadows – behind the scenes. I minored in history in college, but I didn’t know about the conspiracy to kill George Washington as Commander of the Continental Army.

Most of what I knew about William Tryon was how he robbed the citizens of North Carolina blind to build “Tryon Palace” in New Bern, North Carolina while he served as the colony’s governor. I knew he left that position to take the more lucrative office of governor of the New York colony.

One thing I learned from The First Conspiracy was how Tryon was ruthless in his dealings with the rebels in New York and how he continued on that mission even after taking refuge in a British ship in New York Harbor.

An amusing part of the book was the description of the arrest and questioning of the four men who had decided to print paper currency in secret for the colonies. They hadn’t agreed on an alibi, so each one had a different explanation than the others and, of course, one denied having any knowledge of the printing press in the attic.

I’d read about 70% of the book before it had to be returned to the public library because another patron was waiting for it. I’ll check in out again later in order to read the rest of the story.

The Waxhaws, by Louise Pettus, assisted by Nancy Crockett

The Waxhaws, by Louise Pettus with Nancy Crockett

I wish I’d known in 1983 to purchase a copy of this book when it was published. Now, if you can find a copy to buy, it will likely cost you more than $150. I was delighted to find a circulating library copy in May, and I devoured the content.

This book, more than anything else I’ve read, helped me get a feel for life in The Waxhaws just south of the North Carolina-South Carolina border in colonial times. I hope I’m able to communicate that sense of place and time in my historical novel, The Doubloon, which primarily takes place in that Carolina backcountry settlement in 1769-70.

Anyone interested in day-to-day life in colonial America owes Louise Pettus and Nancy Crockett a debt of gratitude for all the South Carolina history they preserved and shared with each other and their readers.

The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth  

The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth

I’ve become a fan of Sally Hepworth’s novels, so I got on the wait list for her latest book as soon as it showed up on the “on order” list on the public library’s online catalog. I’ve read all her novels except The Secrets of Midwives.

This novel will keep you guessing “who dunnit.” Everyone seems to have issues with the mother-in-law. Her daughter-in-law tells this story. She has issues with her mother-in-law. So does her husband, his sister, his sister’s husband. It seems like most people who come in contact with the mother-in-law have a hard time dealing with her quirks and aloofness.

There is a totally different side the mother-in-law shows the people she helps through her volunteerism, though. It’s difficult for her family members to understand this part of her life because it seems out-of-character.

As the reader begins to learn the mother-in-law’s backstory, he or she will understand what made her the way she is or was. She’s found dead in her home. Who killed her? You might be surprised.

The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman in association with NPR (National Public Radio)

I listened to this book. It contains “This I Believe” essays written by people from all walks of life. Some are or were famous, others I had not heard of. Among those whose essays are in this current audio collection are Helen Keller, John McCain, Oscar Hammerstein II, William O. Douglas, Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein, Martha Graham, John Updike, Carl Sandburg, Jackie Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, Colin Powell, Helen Hays, and Bill Gates.

The Afterword by Dan Gediman gives the history of This I Believe. The original book contained 100 essays and was done by legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow. The first of the essays was broadcast on radio on Easter Sunday in 1949.

In a nutshell, the This I Believe essays are supposed to be about “the guiding beliefs by which they live their lives.” They are short, being about five minutes long.

One of the goals of the This I Believe organization is “to facilitate a higher standard of public discourse.”

If you wish to know more about this international organization, visit

https://thisibelieve.org/.

Stony the Road:   Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

I learned a lot from this book. I knew I would. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an icon when it comes to history. I only had time to read the first two chapters of Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, before it disappeared from my Kindle and went back to the public library. (Don’t worry. I immediately got back on the wait list for it so I can continue reading it.)

Look for my blog post next Monday about the important lesson I learned as a writer while reading Stony the Road. It wasn’t a lack of interest that caused me to read only two chapters. It was a case of “too many books, so little time” and the fact that I dedicated most of my time to writing instead of reading in May.

Since my last blog post

Since last Monday’s blog post, we jumped right over spring and went into summer. Last week it was 95 degrees on five days and 94 on the other two. According to the calendar, summer begins in three weeks. We have gone from too much rain to no rain in about three weeks. I’d rather have heat and drought than flooding or tornadoes like they’re having in the central part of the US, so I’m not complaining.

I got some good feedback about last Monday’s blog post. Thank you, Jules Horne and all the others who took the time to comment on here and on my Facebook pages.

Until my next blog post

A couple of weeks ago I read that a blogger should use second person point-of-view instead of first person. There are too many rules. I’ll try to do better in the future.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of these books? If so, please share your thoughts below. What are you reading?

Janet

#FixYourNovel #1: Read it Aloud

In my blog last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/20/the-hard-work-lies-ahead-what-did-i-mean-by-that/, I said this:  “Do I have the audacity to write about how a writer goes about “fixing” his or her novel? Only time will tell.” I’m learning as I go, so maybe you and I can learn together.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Today let’s grapple with “fixing” the rough draft of your novel by reading the entire novel aloud to yourself to make sure it flows naturally, makes sense, has the right amount of backstory, doesn’t have information dumps, and doesn’t have plot holes.

I know, many of you bailed out on that last sentence. If you’re still with me, though, I thank you. If you aren’t interested in today’s topic, just scroll down to see what I’ve been doing, what I’m reading, and what my blog has in store for you next week.

Purposes of reading aloud to yourself

Among other things, the purposes of reading the rough draft aloud to yourself are to:

            * See if the story flows naturally;

            * Make sure there’s the right amount of backstory;

            * See if the pacing is good;

            * Make sure the story makes sense;

            * Make sure events are in proper order;

            * Make sure there are no information dumps;

            * Catch obvious typographical errors; and

            * Look for plot holes.  

Some things I found on my read-through

I’m writing what I hope will be my first historical novel. The working title is The Doubloon. I recently typed “The End” at the end of the rough draft, let it rest a couple of weeks, and then read through it out loud last week. “Out Loud” is very important.

One thing that came to light in my read-through was that some of the scenes weren’t in the best order.

Once the location of a scene is changed – especially if you move it to a point later in your book – you must carefully review the scenes between its original location and its new location to make sure there are no references to what happens or is said in that moved scene in the in-between scenes.

For example, if you reveal a clue in the scene you moved from the end of the first chapter to the beginning of the third chapter, you must make sure you don’t refer to anything in that scene in the second chapter.

There were places where sentences weren’t in the best order. You might not catch those instances if you don’t read your rough draft out loud.

There were instances where a word didn’t do the sentence justice. Sometimes a sentence needed a stronger verb or more accurate adjective. If you can’t think of a better substitute immediately, just highlight it in red and keep going.

I discovered cases where I had not told the reader something they needed to know in order for a scene to make sense. As the author, I knew the background, but I had failed to give the reader enough information.

A number of scenes take place in the meeting house. In my head, I knew exactly what the log meeting house looked like inside, but I had not described it well. That task was added to that running list I mentioned above.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I was surprised to find some typos, which means I’m too confident in my typing skills. There were several cases where I’d typed the wrong word, for instance, “where” when I meant “when” and “of” when I meant “in.” (What was that about?) The spell-check function on your computer won’t catch these errors.

How to deal with problems you find

In some of these cases, I edited the rough draft. In some cases, I highlighted the word, phrase, or sentence so I can go back later and take time to make corrections or changes. I started a running list of things I need to research or be sure to check on later. I only made changes that could easily be done without taking much time. I didn’t want to get distracted from the read-through to the point I got bogged down in editing.

Nice surprise in the read-through

It was a pleasant surprise to find some humor in the manuscript. I wrote all 85,000 words, so how could I forget? Maybe you can keep up with such things, but I obviously did not. I was really pleased with some of the humor and the liveliness of some of the dialogue.

Based on my meager experience, I would say this read-through of your novel’s rough draft should be fun. It certainly was for me. I enjoyed getting reacquainted with some of the characters’ personalities and events in the book.

In addition to the humor in this novel that deals with several serious issues, I hope my readers will try throughout the novel to figure out “who dunnit.”

One of the most important things I learned

One of the most important things I learned through this rough draft rewrite and read-through is how to get words on the page and move on. For years I was guilty of trying to write perfectly the first time. If I had something I needed to research or go back to look for in my research notes, I would stop right then and chase after the answer.

I’ve finally learned to throw in a red question mark or type my question in read red, and keep writing. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I hope you have learned that or will learn it faster than I did. It makes a huge difference in how quickly your writing can move along.

#FixYourNovel

Look for the second installment in my #FixYourNovel blog series in mid-July:  Scene Outline Critique will probably be the topic.

Since my last blog post

We had house guests and also tried to get as much yardwork done as possible before the heatwave started on Saturday with 95 degrees.

Until my next blog post

I hope you’re reading a good book. I’m reading The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch. Next Monday’s blog post will be about the books I’ve read in May.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading?

Janet