Monday, July 4, 2016

Full Steam Ahead

Sorry about all the "ship" analogies, but it's summer and I grew up on the beach. Not the same, I know, however, beach=ocean=ships. (That's the way my brain works.)

Well, since last week, I wrote 7000 words on my languishing Regency romance. I finally found my way through the weeds (a waitress metaphor) and cleaned up the first seven chapters and added another two. Yay me.

What I discovered this week while writing, was that in this story I have become a bare bones writer. I got down basic setting, dialogue, and that's pretty much it. I think the problem is.  I've had this series in my hard drive for 4 years. I know it inside and out.

There is no surprise. The characters all have their predestined story lines figured out. There's no room for unexpected character diversions. Nothing will happen as I write that will make me say "Oh, wow. I never saw that coming."

See, people, real people, surprise me all the time. I never know what they're going to do or say. It's a constant head game.

I think characters should do the same thing. In each of my contemporary romances, when I couldn't figure out where the story was going, I usually started a fire, or blew something up, or had a car crash. The characters would have to "react." Surprise!

But this first novel in the Regency series has so much backstory, there's no room for surprise. Well, yes, little surprises like a sudden case of "Soldier's Nerves" (PTSD-yes, they had that way back then but it wasn't called that), or the fact that Stoney has to return to the Peninsula. (He was supposed to stay and marry Mercy.) Or the fact that Henry and Olivia are playing a game of cat and mouse. (Every time he goes to find her, she's not there. Very frustrating, but a great second story line -- will they or won't they get together?)

I knew I needed help to correct this problem, and I wanted to do something that would bring back my spark, my zing, the SURPRISE that I would feel while writing again.

Just for fun, I decided to pick up a Regency romance novel and read it. Something I haven't done in nearly 10 years. Why don't I read, you may ask? Because I'm afraid -- afraid of plagiarizing, afraid of stealing story lines, character names, incidents. I want MY books to reflect MY ideas, MY creativity, MY characters. It's just my way not to read anymore.

Anyway, it was published in the 90's, and written by a really famous Regency author.
Let me just say, I nearly threw it across the pool. Head-hopping, purple prose, -ly words by the ton filled the first five pages. I couldn't finish the first chapter.

What surprised me about this book was that it used to be one of my favorites. I must have read it twenty times. When I started it by the pool I was surprised how disgusted I was with the writing.

Does that make me a snob? I don't know. I know my reading habits have changed over the years. I also know that publishing has changed over the years. The question I have is--

Are we more sophisticated or less sophisticated readers than we used to be?

While I was playing with my options in Word, I ran across the "Readability Statistics" something that I turned off a long time ago. Just for fun I turned it on again and was shocked when it finally appeared. My Flesch-Kinkaid Reading level was Grade 3.9.

Let me just say WOW. That hurt. I like to pride myself on the fact that I'm pretty smart. Not rocket science, but I can hold my own in pretty much any arena.

So does this Flesch-Kinkaid Reading level thing mean I'm not as smart as I think I am?
The novel I'm writing is not as intellectually stimulating as I think it should be?
Should I just get over it because technically it's just a first draft?

What do you think? Do you ever wonder if you're really as smart as you think you are? Do you watch Jeopardy? Do you read older books and wonder what the hell the publisher was thinking?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2016


J.B. Chicoine said...

First of all, I'm so happy you're writing again!

As for the Flesch-Kinkaid stats, I think they are kind of silly, and I don't know what it's based on, but readability is a good thing. I rated a 4.3 on Protege, and it's by no means an easy read for a fourth grader, but probably more do to content than sentence structure or word usage. I sure wouldn't worry about your rating. Especially on a first draft. jJust insert a few of those million-dollar words and use 'with which' a lot more! Ha!

I don't watch Jeopardy. But if I did, I sure wouldn't watch it with anyone else--no need to confirm that I'm not as smart as I think people think I am! :P

As for reading fiction for pleasure, I'm sorry to say that writing has kind of sucked the enjoyment out of it for me. I find it difficult to switch out of editorial mode, and yeah, I also pick up on a lot of purplish prose, sloppy sentence structure, and such. I have so little time for pleasure reading that I need to be very selective. Right now, research is my reading mainstay.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

my head hurts...too many questions

Bish Denham said...

So happy to see you here! I've missed you. Sent you an email at one point but it came back to me with that unable to deliver message.

I hear you about the purple prose! There are few "adult" books I can get into any more because I've been spoiled by children's books. Writing for kids is so much more difficult, so much more focused, as in POV, which makes reading the stories much more personal. "Adult" writers get to break all sorts of rules I can't and a lot of times it makes the story seem to wander and drift. And yes, I often think to myself, Self, you can write a better book than this one. How the heck did it get published!?

I think the Flesch-Kinkaid stats may have a lot to do with the words used and sentence structure.

I only watch Jeopardy if I happen to sitting in front of the TV at the time it airs here, which is not usually when I'm watching TV.

Happy Fourth to you and yours!