Publishing is made up of long stretches of quiet broken with brief intervals of frenzy. This week is one of the frenzy ones. I have been calmly working on my next Western historical proposal and feeling happy with the progress as my February 1 deadline inches closer.
Then I somehow got caught in the crossfires by two editors both sending urgent requests for various important things that have deadlines that are not inching but running straight at me like a charging bear. Suddenly my proposal schedule looks impossible because of all these budger projects jumping the line.
I’ve been three days at the questions for the editor and will finish today, then turn to the revisions, the cover arts sheet and then back to my proposal. One by one, I’ll press send and deliver the next much needed electronic file.
But despite the flurry inside my office, the heating pad warms my feet and the hot coffee fills the air with a comforting aroma. Outside, the birds dart to and from my feeder and the sun casts long shadows through the trees. Inexplicably, I feel an irrational belief that all will all get done before the deadlines.
Care to lay down any bets?
I’ve been thinking a lot about my current work in progress, specifically trying to figure out how much description is enough to build my world and at what point to do readers have their fill and begin skimming? I do not want skimming but neither do I want them wondering what the heck a character looks like?
Every writer weighs how much is too much versus how much is not enough. The late, Elmore Leonard famously said, “think of what you skip reading in a novel: thick paragraphs of prose.” He is right of course. I do, did, will. But I may take his reminder that, “I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.” a little bit too seriously.
Readers need to be grounded in a setting but expect not bored with unnecessary detail. How much of a hero’s face, form and physical characteristics are expected for the genre and how do you work in those details so they don’t slow the pace?
I know enough not to drop an entire paragraph of description in a large chunk, like a cinderblock in the middle of a stream of your nice even primrose path. What the heck is a primrose path anyway?
In any case, I’ve been paying special attention to how much description authors write and, more importantly, how and where are the descriptions insert it into their stories. I’m currently a fan of the hit and run style. That’s what I’m calling it. The dialogue is rolling along and then-bam-the writer hits you with a two-sentence extremely concise, telling descriptions so rich that they not only give you a picture in your mind, they make their descriptions do double duty. And then before you realize it, pow, you are back in action or conversation.
Here is a masterful description of setting by Kristan Higgins that conveys not just the place but the purpose and all in two well-crafted sentences:
Manning Academy was the type of prep school that litters New England. Stately brick buildings with the requisite ivy, magnolia and dogwood trees, emerald soccer and lacrosse fields, and a promise that for the cost of a small house, we’d get your kids into the colleges of their choice—Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown.
~Kristan Higgins, Too Good to Be True~
Here is a physical description by Susan Elizabeth Phillips from Call Me Irresistible:
Lucy’s elfin features and thick, little girl eyelashes made her look younger than her thirty-one years. She’d grown out her shiny brown hair since her college days and sometimes held it back from her face with an assortment of velvet headbands that Meg wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, just as she’d never have chosen Lucy’s ladylike aqua sheath with its tidy black grosgrain belt.
~ Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Call Me Irresistible~
Author Phillips manages to get a physical description and attire of a secondary character in here with backstory between this character and the heroine and in addition, she relays how the heroine feels about her friend’s choice of wardrobe. I have to sit down, I’m so impressed.
Here is one from Julia Quinn from a novel in three parts The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway. Notice how Author Julia Quinn weaves dialogue into her description.
“I told you she looked like Botticelli’s Venus,” her mother said proudly to her father, after a fourth gentleman had commented on the resemblance. And indeed, with her wavy hair, alabaster skin, and sea-green eyes, Gwen did bear a striking resemblance to the goddess as interpreted by the Italian master.
~Julia Quinn, The Lady Most Likely~
In addition to mixing dialogue into her description, Ms. Quinn also makes her description appropriate for the historical period she is writing and for that I tip my Regency bonnet.
All three of these examples highlight different methods of inserting description naturally into the prose. None of these authors overstayed their welcome by rattling on and on over a place or person but all gave critical details with extra value by making their description do double duty. And that is how it’s done!
I had a lovely time in New Jersey last week. I saw many friends and acquaintances in passing with whom I intended to catch up with at some point, but then found myself back at home in my fuzzy slippers and realized I never did see them again. That happens to me more than you would think.
This trip I focused on social media workshops and got a lot of good ideas on blogging. Morgan Dormus, from Forever and Forever Yours, introduced me to many great strategies for book blogs including keeping a journal while writing so I’ll have interesting tidbits for readers. Joyce Lamb, specialist from USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog, had wonderful suggestions on how to contact media and promote my posts. Finally, author Julie Kenner is my new hero for all her sage words on maximizing my social media efforts. I am now anxious to set up my Amazon Associates account.
I came home with a long to-do list and grand ambitions. But it was so nice to put on my snuggly, comfy clothes and get back to writing my story that my media blitz might have to wait a little while longer.
Autumn is one of my most favorite times of the year. The color of the sun through the leaves is not to be believed. And that is to say nothing of the fall bounty of harvest favorites. I’ve been eating fruits and vegetables of every variety. They never taste as good as right now.
I received my contact from Harlequin for the three-book Western historical deal. That makes the deal seem more real. I’ve finished my Western Christmas novella and sent that to my editor. I don’t expect readers will see this story until next fall, but here is a little about the story for you fans.
She’s the wealthy debutant tired of rich, useless men. He’s a saddle bum that fell for her hard. Now Christmas and his orphaned nephews’ welfare make this cowboy desperate enough to do something he’s never done before, admit he needs help.
Before I jump into the next Western Historical, I’m doing so reading of original documents. Specifically George Catlin’s Letters and Notes on the North American Indians. For those of you unfamiliar with Catlin, he was an American painter who traveled widely in the Western United States painting portraits and landscapes of Native Americans in the 1830s. Some of his work can be seen in the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I’m also reading about the southwest under Spanish rule. I wonder where these research expeditions will lead me?
I will be in New Jersey this month at the New Jersey Romance Writer’s Conference. I hope to see many of you there.