One of my very best friends – ever!! – lives in England, from where she has crafted an enviable career as an author. Because she loves happy endings, her books have mostly been in the romance genre, specifically set during the English Regency period. She had become virtually a walking encyclopedia of all things Regency, and has been of enormous help to me as I struggle to produce a novella in the time it used to take her to craft a scintillating and sparkling full-length novel! Recently, she has turned her attention to the Medieval years of 1480-1500 or thereabouts.
Someone else (not me, this time!) asked her for some helpful hints about writing, and she sent them on to me, as well. “Oh, joy!” I cried, a guest author for my blog! The first ever. Somehow that seems quite fitting, because I believe her to be a fabulous writer, and who better to share her wisdom with us than the multi-published SANDRA HEATH WILSON!!! Here are her eleven commandments.
(1) Always keep your story within its setting – if it is to be in the past, then choose your words accordingly. Modern anachronisms soon have a reader laughing instead of taking it seriously. Inappropriate speech will soon cause the reader to give up on it. For instance, someone from the Jacobean period would not use gangsta rap, and a Norman warlord would not take out his pocket watch and say, “Good lord, is that the time? Must fly. Byeee”. An agent of mine once told me that a manuscript was submitted to him that had Joseph, Christ’s earthly father, ploughing a field in the heat and taking out a red-and-white spotted handkerchief to mop his brow. A red-and-white spotted handkerchief? Really? The manuscript was not accepted, even by the agent, let alone a publisher. People of the past did not speak, behave, think as we do now. It is important to always bear this in mind.
(2) Punctuation, grammar, spelling – all must be synchronised and correct. No jumping from tense to tense, and always use the same quotes for conversation, not curly or straight as you feel like it. Be consistent in everything. (Except being dull!)
(3) Break your story into reasonable paragraphs. NEVER have long paragraphs that become difficult to read because the place can be lost by the eye. The eye will pick up again more easily with smaller paragraphs. L-O-N-G paragraphs = BORING. A whole page taken up by one paragraph is likely to be skipped in its entirety.
(4) If you are writing non-fiction, the same rules apply regarding consistency, punctuation, paragraphs, etc. Never preach, but set out your case in an agreeable, reasoned way. If the subject matter is contentious, don’t make it worse by stating your view aggressively, as if you are right and everyone else is wrong. If the subject can be written about in an inviting and engaging way, do so. Brownie points are gained by being eminently readable. Plod along, and you won’t be particularly liked as a writer. Nor will your reasoning/arguments be as well absorbed.
(5) In fiction, unless you intend your characters to be unpleasant, which doesn’t happen that often, always be sure to keep the reader on their side. It’s no good creating people for whom no one gives a tinker’s.
(6) Describe your characters, fix them in the reader’s mind. Just giving names or writing he/she isn’t good enough. You want your readers to see what you see, so make sure they do.
(7) To go back to setting, make sure you give at least a sensible inkling of where they all are. If it’s Greece, describe Greece. If it’s New York, make sure the look/feel of NY is almost tangible to your reader. The same with time of day, weather, seasons, and so on. One of the things my readers like about my books is that I obey the above rules. They like description and scene-setting, but don’t go on for page after page. Pick out salient details that will create a picture in the reader’s mind.
(8) Remember to move your characters around with some sort of continuity. If someone has just been seated, don’t have them take a seat again a few sentences later. In your mind’s eye you are seeing it all as if it’s a film, so no bloopers, please, about who is doing what, to whom, where or when. What you see and feel, your reader must see and feel, too.
(9) Keep the action flowing. No doldrums. You don’t want your reader nodding off because they—and you—have lost the plot. So – definitely do not be tedious. Don’t be tempted to dwell on something that is really immaterial to the plot or general story. Ask yourself, if I take all this out, will it make any different to the flow of the plot? If the answer is no, then ditch it. Keep finely focused on your story.
(10) If writing anything historical, include some known background, but don’t go into too much detail. Fewer people these days know a great deal of our history, and their interest will only be held by just enough information—too much and they’re nodding off again. They want to open the pages and ‘see’ a rattling good costume drama, not the Close Rolls of the reign of Henry VIII. So entertain them, be a story-teller, not a historian. You want them to enjoy your writing and share your enthusiasm.
(11) Respect your reader. It is no good if you think you are writing for fools. Being a writer does not make you superior. You need readers, but they might soon not need you. Never forget that.
Sandra’s newest book is the first of a trilogy about Cicely Plantagenet, second daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Richard III is also a major character – thus the title of the book is Cicely’s King Richard. It is available now from Amazon.co.uk, and will soon be available in the US. It is a ravishing story that will not let you put it down, once you’ve begun to read it.
Thank you for this very helpful treatise, my friend!
Thank YOU for reading, and as always, if you have questions or comments, please write to me at: bookmechanicATgmail.com