I announced earlier recently that I finished my 100th books. I don’t think it’s possible to hit a milestone like that and not have some amount of reflection. For me it was a LOT of reflection over the past several months leading up to it. One of the points being I felt I was reaching a plateau. Not in the story development or plots, those were going well and I was happy that each book was different, progressively getting more intricate, and gaining a little bit more depth.
Which makes things all the more confusing because I could see the signs I was coming up to a plateau but not sure from what facet of my craft. All I knew is that I was getting in trouble less with my editors.
NOW before everyone either has a snarky comment or starts laughing, let me explain a few things. Most of what people think is wrong that they see in books… Aren’t. Unless it’s very clearly supposed to be “she” and it says “he” because someone forgot an “s” type of error, it’s probably not. Even before I became an author I used to roll my eyes when people would talk about all the mistakes they found. One friend in particular that was always what she’d say first about the book, the level of mistakes she found.
Finally one day after we’d been friends a few years it turned out we were reading the same book while we were at the gym. (Keep in mind this is right after college and writing courses so I actually knew the latest Chicago Style of Manuscript). So she starts in like it’s a competition and how many mistakes have I found. I kinda lose it, not able to take one more workout of this and not willing to find a new workout buddy because she was great otherwise, never ditched me or wimped out.
So I walk over to the trainers desk and borrow a pen (because this is before ereaders mind you) and tell her to use my copy and mark it up with the mistakes she finds. We had an hour and fifteen minutes of cardio or something because it was our longer day (to be young & in that kind of shape again). That if she can find five true mistakes in that time I’d be her slave the upcoming three day weekend we had off from work. Clean bathrooms, her SUV, whatever she wanted. But if she can’t then I don’t want to ever hear about all the mistakes in every book she reads or I can’t find again.
She does me one better and says even when she finds her five if I can show her that she got more wrong than right she won’t ever bring it up again. As I said, she was a good friend and a nice person. She probably had no clue it annoyed me... Mostly because I tend to not say anything until I REALLY say something and blow. Which isn’t their fault. But I digress… Again. Sorry.
So time’s up and I’m practically giddy that I might never have to hear about this during our time at the gym after today and we can focus on more important things… Namely sex because she was WAY more experienced than me and was my guide to all things sexual and male related. I start to look over what she’s come up with as we’re cooling down and then stretching.
Anyone want to guess the results? Of the sixty something pages she found twenty plus mistakes… ONE was actually a mistake. One. It was damn typo. Two letters of a character’s name were switched… Making another name so Spell Check wouldn’t even have caught it and given the letters were close, I actually did a double take thinking I saw it wrong. She made me prove it when we got back to my apartment and conceded I was right. She only found one true mistake.
Am I saying there aren’t mistakes in books or in mine? HELL NO. Yes, they are there. I find them in mainstream books too. All I’m saying is that there aren’t as many as I’m pretty sure 85% of people think there are. And most of that is: why would people know that unless they’re editors, writers, or sit home and read editing books all day?
See there are several things people forget or don’t know when they leave reviews, tell everyone they found mistakes, or raise their hands like they’re still in class to tattle to the teacher.
1. This isn’t fucking math. 2 + 2 = 4. We all know that… Hopefully. But adverb + noun x comma ≠ perfect grammar. It just doesn’t work like that.
2. It’s not a text book in their hands. It’s a novel. There are different rules for formal writing, like textbooks and instruction manuals, than there is for literature. I know, crazy, right? So what we all learned in school? FORMAL writing. Unless you took creative writing classes, then you got the right rules for novels… Maybe.
3. There are several rule books. Different publisher use different style guides. Nice and confusing of course.
4. The guides change. Chicago Style of Manuscript is on its 16th edition… Merriam Webster is on its 11th. Yes, the dictionary even changes and there are even different ways to spell words i.e. gray and grey. One is the British English way and one is the American English way, I forget which is which though. I just know I use the wrong one normally. I get flagged that I apparently was raised British. So it’s not wrong, simply not common. My other favorite is mother fucker. My editors always say it’s motherfucker. I have author friends who agree. I think technically it is one word… Not the way I say it! And I’m not wrong. I’m just not common in my usage.
5. The guides are actually just that, guidelines. Not laws like driving. It even says in there most times “it’s recommended” or “most commonly used as” meaning you don’t actually have to do it that way.
6. There are always options which turn into style preferences. “—”, “…”, “;”, “:”, “–” are just a few. I tend to do use “…” for trailing off or narrator for emphasis. Again, after using the “…” it can go…like that or… As such. I go with the latter. Looks better to me. Neither is wrong. I use “—” for getting cut off which is the norm but others do use the “…”. My point lots of people tell me I’ve done something wrong. Nope. Then there are italics and “”s. Granted there are some hard and fast rules like song titles, movies, books, etc. But other than that when it comes to emphasis or “I told you no like six times, Dave.” No could have gone either way there, I like italics better. I think it’s pretty.
7. There are going to be INTENTIONAL grammar mistakes in novels. No way! Truly? Why? To what purpose? Effect. Like all those after that first sentence. Those aren’t complete sentences and thus fragments. Also, dialogue. I have dozens of grammatical mistakes in my books that I know about… When my characters are talking. And I’ve had this debate so many times with people that how could I knowingly leave them and call myself an author. I will fix them all and apologize to the world for my books the moment I find a person who always speaks perfect grammar. Yeah, like that will ever happen… EVER. It’s just not realistic. And how boring would that be? I’ll keep my flaws that give my characters, well, character along with my slang, cussing, and believability because nothing throws me out of a books faster than thinking, “who the fuck really talks like that?”
8. Dialogue vs action tags. Oh boy, this is a big one. There are two very different schools of thought on this, it’s a long ass debate that I’m not getting into. But that’s one lots people like to rip on authors for. I’ve gotten emails asking me if I know what a dialogue tag is and maybe I should look them up because growling isn’t one. Again, it’s a preference. I’ve heard both sides. To me, it is. Someone pisses me off enough I can growl a whole damn rant. However I can only sigh one lungful of words. But some don’t see it that way. Some use laugh but to me, laughing takes up all the air, but chuckling I can still talk… So, really, it’s preference.
9. I’m sure I’m forgetting even more but by now hopefully the point is made and I’m starting to get tired of my own rant so back to the actual topic of the blog instead of the side note needed so the topic makes sense.
So… I’m getting in trouble less with my editors. Yes, I still make all the boo-boos everyone will always make because no one is perfect and no matter how many times you remind yourself not to do that because your finger slips. But I’ve always had a clear definition of what I needed to work on or where to improve in the past. I didn’t have that anymore.
And NO, I didn’t sit back and think, “that must mean I’m awesome.” Pleeeeease. I actually mulled it over and then got the evil grin before realizing that meant I could just improve or work on what I wanted to. Granted, I always good have, but like a recipe you fuck with too many ingredients at once your cake flops. I’m all about the baby steps. Get this part down instead and it will become second nature instead of trying to tackle it all at once and not remembering any of it or getting better in any area.
So in typical me fashion I didn’t just order a book… I ordered like 12 because I didn’t know which would be any good, mostly focusing on the areas I’ve wanted to broaden my knowledge base or play with. And that’s what I’m going to talk about over the next few months when I have time in between finding a new rental place, RT, the move, unpacking, all my releases… Hence why I need a few months to blog about it and not days or weeks.
A very long intro to get into what I learned right off the bat, I know, but hopefully you had a few laughs along the way… Even if they were at my expense. I’m good with that.
I’m reading this one about and they bring up one of my least favorite topics “showing vs. telling” writing. A concept I had a very hard time with because I’m so damn literal. Even in college, I’d get notes on a paper that would say “don’t tell me, show me.” And I’d fucking cuss up a storm going “that doesn’t make any g-damn sense! I’m telling you a mother fucking story. There’s not a flip book in the middle of it with commercials or a movie. I’ll show you my middle finger though.”
We only know what we know. And no one ever explained it to me really or maybe in a way I got it because I was a pain the ass for being so literal. So I get older and wiser and start really writing, way before I’m published, and I understand the idea, but it still irks me because it’s like when people say “just hang on a second.” It really doesn’t make sense to me. What would you like me to hang on to? Air?
So here I am all bouncy and excited to explore and I hit this section and groan… But much to my shock it was the best friggin explanation of the concept I’d ever read. I mean it was like LIGHT BULB and crystal clear for the literal brain and I wasn’t so annoyed. Cool, right? Even more so, that wasn’t why I got the book an I found that a total side bonus.
And then I kept reading and found out I was making a “lazy writer” mistake as the book called it I had no clue I was making. All the times I’d had conversations, read about it, or gotten comments about “showing vs. telling” never had anyone said don’t do both. I show… But I tell too. Now I’m friggin riveted and eating up this section of the book going OMG! How did I not ever even hear this? Sure, I can totally understand that I’m far from perfect and don’t do everything right, making mistakes all the time, but to not even have heard a whisper about a topic authors talk about a lot? That was surprising.
Here’s a very basic example: “He blinked rapidly as his eyes went wide with shock.” Showed the reaction… Good. Told the reader what the character was feeling and that was the only thing they could gauge from that and if they thought anything else they were wrong. BAD. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done kinda bad.
Well shit. But hey, now I know, right? But then I was thinking later that day… That’s funny, because the first book I ever wrote years ago long before Joyee just came out and I worked with an editor for months fixing it up and helping it… But I didn’t remember seeing as many of those examples as I would in my books now. And then I had a craw up my arse and had to know if I was right. Sure enough I was. Now how did I fall into that bad habit? That’s not something somebody works towards.
I go back to my first several edits from right after I signed my earliest contracts with all the publishers I started with, thinking that they might have answers… Oh the edits did. And I’m not blaming anyone here. I’m simply saying a person only knows what they know and it’s funny how perception is reality and we read into things not always as their meant.
So using my earlier example I found several instances where I wrote something like: “His eyes went wide as his heart started to race.” And I kept getting comments like “Awe isn’t the appropriate response here.” Or fear, or whatever other emotion. And in my newbie-ness I thought, “oh crap, I better do a better job explaining so I don’t confuse anyone.” That’s how I started adding “in shock” or whichever emotion and apparently have ever since.
But here’s the thing I’ve realized now that I’ve put the pieces all together… Isn’t half the fun not always knowing what to think? I mean, I know when I watch TV or movies there are lots of moments I shake my head and use the cliché “what were they thinking?” But it’s cliché for a reason! I don’t want to be told everything or my hand held through the journey like I’m a fucking simpleton. I want to figure it out for myself and see maybe something not everyone else does.
Isn’t that why there’s whole semester classes devoted to certain great authors? And I’m not talking just Shakespeare… but Steven King? Because not everyone agrees with all the subtext, symbolism, and development of characters or plots. That’s why!
And I’m sorry, I REFUSE to think my fans aren’t just as intelligent as SK fans. Just because it’s erotic romance or M/M doesn’t mean we’ve all got low IQ’s like the stereotypes say. We’re not all in this for the smut or because we can’t read anything more advanced, fuck that.
So as I have finished the rough draft of first book of the new series yesterday that I blogged/announced recently that I’m self-publishing, after I get done with the stack of edits I have, I’m going to tear back through that 57k+ word book and take out a bunch of those insulting to my readers’ intelligence, telling, descriptors and let everyone make their own judgments about what’s going on.
*Nods head firmly* Yup, that’s what I’m going to do… Can I just get a nap first? This blog wore me out. I mean, it’s really long.