I was a ‘reader’ for years before I decided to try my hand at writing my own historical romance, Prairie Peace. I can truly say I was shocked to find I had no idea what went into getting your name on the front of a book. Though my first manuscript was accepted for publication after one query, the transformation it went through was grueling. I discovered I’d written a great story, but it wasn’t yet a novel.
I told about the pies, but didn’t transmit the awesome aroma to the reader. The love scenes were described, but not to the point the person turning the pages sensed the butterfly kisses trailing up her neck. I described the emotions, smells, and flowers, but I didn’t let my reader experience them. Until I learned that showing over telling made the difference, my story lacked warmth and feeling. People want the breeze in their faces, crave the goosebumps from his touch; they need their stomachs to rumble with want for the bubbling stew. I did when I read, so why did I forget when I wrote? I can only say it’s because as an author, you look at the words from a different perspective. Even when I proofread my story, I didn’t notice what was missing other than the occasional comma or missing end quote.
When you write historical novels you also have to research the facts. Readers notice glaring mistakes such as a pioneer wife calling the ‘kids’. She might get goats, but she’d never get the ‘children.’ I created a beautiful scene of my heroine cooking breakfast on a stove while peering out the splintered shutters at the barn. Nice touch, but as my editor pointed out…”she lives in a shack on the middle of a prairie in the 1800s. What are the chances of such a modern appliance?” So, my heroine went back to kneeling at the hearth to stir the soup, and the stove magically disappeared. Duh uh. Why didn’t I think about that?
Besides inventions, authors have to consider language, clothing, and scenery that fits the period. My Cecile couldn’t very well look off into the distance and see an airplane. Talk about yanking the reader out of the story! How about if she crossed the squeaking old porch, closed the weathered door and set the deadbolt? *lol* I didn’t go that far, but my editor worked hard to help me avoid the obvious. She taught me the importance of credibility as an historical author. She also taught me about head-hopping. Only Nora Roberts can do that and get away with it.
Oh, (hear a big sigh here) if only those were the only lessons one had to learn. (Imagine my brow furrowed) I’m now a multi-published author, and I’ve been through countless editing sessions. I’m still learning, and the hardest thing to absorb is why the rules keep changing. (Picture a frown tugging at my lips.) Just (oh, and by the way, some editors hate that word), when I thought I had a handle on Edits 101, I moved to a new publisher and discovered a whole different set of rules. Publisher number one likes ellipses and em-dashes; number two forbids them. Publisher three dislikes semi-colons, while number four uses them, but requires you go through your manuscript and delete as many instances of would, should, could, have been, was, and of course all unnecessary uses of ‘that’. The shock came in knowing I had to eliminate my beloved ‘ing’ and ‘ly’ words which I consistently use throughout my stories. I’m also limited to eight exclamation points, so I guess I’ll have to count the number of times someone shows surprise in their voice. Do most reader’s actually notice this punctuation mark?
Don’t think for a moment that (this is one of those unnecessary usages of ‘that’) I don’t admire the wonderful people who read and comment on all the manuscripts being submitted these days, or appreciate their hard word. My point: why can’t there be some consistency? After going through my last manuscript and deleting or changing to fit house rules, I started proofing a manuscript for another house. The story I’m reading is filled with all the things I just deleted. And I wonder why I’m losing my hair? Literally.
I wish I had started writing for publication much sooner. At least, I’d have the brain cells to absorb all the different requirements and nuances, but at sixty-two, I’m discovering I’m that ‘old dog’. It’s not only the editorial issues. I’m still trying to discover the correct way to query an agent. If you don’t believe how confusing it is, check out the submission pages on any three or four agent sites and tell me they don’t stay up nights thinking up that one requirement that differs from the norm. I’m waiting for ‘stand up, circle three times, sit down, and recite the national anthem before hitting send.” And no fair cheating.
I’m telling you, writing a story is a lot easier than writing a book. I must be a glutton for punishment, because I keep striving to reach the stars. I’m finding the path to get there is paved with big confusing stones.