Editing Corner

With apologies to Stephen King, I would like to outline the basic process I use to create a story suitable for publishing on Amazon or SmashWords. I don’t want to teach you how to write as there are far more qualified authors to do that. I am a lowly engineer and fully appreciate my lack of talents with the English word. But I think what I can help you with is the mechanics of compiling your story and make it ready for publication in the most efficient and time-saving method.

First, my bona fides as it were. I have been writing smut, basically stroke stories for almost seven years now. I’ve published over twenty-five stories, most over 30,000 words and several close to 100,000 words.

I’ve focused the majority of my publishing efforts to Amazon and SmashWords along with several other websites but I write primarily for the two major publishes of Indie writers.

When you publish at SmashWords, and the story is accepted into their Premium Status, SmashWords will automatically send your story to Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others. So publishing at SmashWords will get you into Apple without any additional work. So it’s like repeating the publishing process multiple times.

For me, a great deal of my sales comes from Apple iBooks, and I’ve done nothing besides send the story to SmashWords. Now certainly, when you write erotica, certain topics will get you excluded from Apple and others. This topic is a blog post all on its own, and I’ll tackle that later.

My thought is to create a special section on my blog, LarryArcher.blog, and place all of these posts in one place for easy reference.

First, let’s talk about what makes up a story that will be accepted into SmashWords Premium Status for wide distribution. If you follow the steps I’ve outlined below, your story will be accepted at both Amazon and SmashWords with a minimum of rework.

This is the system I’m currently using, and while I’m working on version 2.0, it does work pretty well for me. If you have your own method and it’s working okay then don’t change a thing.

The parts of my story are as follows:

  • Cover Image, 300 dpi, 1600×2400 pixels
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Table of Contents (TOC)
  • Body (the actual story itself)
  • Back Matter (advertising, other stories, etc)
  • About the Author

Now a little bit about storing files.

  • Draft – Folder for stories I’m working on
  • Cover – Cover images
  • Front Matter – Amazon (Title and Copyright for Amazon)
  • Front Matter – SmashWords (Title and Copyright for SW)
  • Table of Contents
  • Body (actual story by itself)
  • Back Matter – Amazon (Ads, etc. for Amazon)
  • Back Matter – SmashWords (Ads, etc. for SmashWords)
  • Full – Amazon (Final full copy for Amazon)
  • Full – SmashWords (Final full copy for SmashWords)

Once I’ve written the story and moved it from Draft to Body, I assemble the finished product as follows.

  1. Let’s assume I’ve written a story called MyStory and storied it in Body after proofreading it. I recommend that you write in Word 2003 DOC format and not DOCX as some publishers do not accept DOCX.
  2. Open MyStory in the Body folder. Let’s assume this is for Amazon.
  3. Immediately do a Save As “MyStory – Full – Amazon.doc” in the Full – Amazon folder.
  4. Open the front matter file “MyStory – Front – Amazon.doc” from the Front Matter – Amazon folder. This will be the title page and copyright page customized for Amazon.
  5. Copy the front matter by selecting it, copying, and paste it to the top of the “MyStory – Full – Amazon.doc” file. If you’re happy save it, just in case. Now the full copy has the front matter plus the body in the Full folder.
  6. Close the front matter file and open the Table of Contents file. Select it all, copy and paste in between the front matter and the body of the story. Now save that.
  7. Open the back matter file, select it all, copy, and paste to the end of the full copy.
  8. At this point, we have a full copy of the MyStory for Amazon. The title page, copyright page, TOC, body, and back matter.
  9. Next check the points where you joined the various sections to be sure there are no extra page breaks or extra space.
  10. Go through the body and back matter and set bookmarks at each chapter and point in the back matter which you need to reference in the TOC. I recommend that you create a standardized set of bookmarks to make it easier to reuse the back matter on other stories.
  11. Once the bookmarks are in place, go to the Table of Contents and create links for each chapter and spot in the back matter.

At this point, we have assembled a complete book yet the individual parts are available for ongoing modifications. For example, in the back matter, you may list all of your other stories.

Then when you add a story, you normally have to go back and re-edit all of your finished stories to add the new material. By keeping the body and the back matter separate, all you have to do is copy and paste.

By the same token, to publish to a different publisher such as SmashWords, you simply create front matter and back matter for SmashWords. Then take the body that you used for Amazon and tack on the front and back for SmashWords.

When you publish a new story, update the back matter file and then rebuild old stories by assembling the new pieces and upload the new copy.

Hopefully, this makes some sense to you and will help to standardize your stories to look consistent and more professional.

I’m going to expand upon this in more detail on my blog and answer any questions that arise. I’ll get into what I use for setting and layout in a later issue.

Thank’s for reading and check out my blog: LarryArcher.blog

See you next month!

When you’re a writer looking for an editor, and you really don’t have much cash to throw around, it can be hard to know where to invest your money. As vital as editing is to the publication process, it is a big outlay for authors, whether they’re self-publishing or hoping to be taken under the wing of a traditional publishing house.

Let’s imagine that you’ve been saving like mad, not smoking, not drinking, giving the takeaways a hard pass, and now you have round about $500-$800 to invest in the business of launching your novel into the wild. How do you get the best out of your money?

If you’re laughing at the idea of having as much as $300 saved, let alone the range casually referred to above, then scroll down to ‘Join the Borg’ and read from there. I’m covering a range of options.

 

“Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys” (PPGM)

 

Yep, this section is about the cost of professional editing.

I think most of us have heard the phrase before in one context or another. The gist is that a very low service cost is a warning sign of an inept operator with low-quality goods and limited expertise. In many areas of life, it’s a sage warning: if something is being offered suspiciously cheap, you’d be wise to ask some searching questions about how this retail price is even possible.

However, PPGM is also a phrase often used by relatively pricey operators to dismiss the quality or expertise of an operator who happens to have a more competitive pricing schedule. It’s all too often a tool applied by the experienced to disparage those who are new to the editing game, so take this phrase with a pinch of salt. There are a number of reasons why an editor isn’t charging as much as you’d expect:

  • They might be very good but also very new. It’s common for people with a specialist skill set to charge a lower price until they have sufficient clients to benefit from word-of-mouth advertising. Essentially, the low price is to thank you for your leap of faith. It’s not necessarily a sign that they have no idea what they’re doing.
  • They have no idea how much their time is worth. Their pricing is a sign of ludicrous modesty, not ineptitude.
  • they offer a model with a much longer turnaround than is typical for a lower price (so that they can overlap jobs without compromising attention and quality to individual projects)
  • they’re using their life-long writing and reading experience to supplement their income, and therefore might not have spent the many, many hours required to research what their competition is charging and position themselves accordingly.

Where might you begin your search for an editor? Here are some options:

  • Reedsy.com for premium services; all these editors have experience in a traditional publishing house, or they are former best-selling authors. They have proven experience as successful editors, and if you have any problems with working with one of the subscribed editors, you can contact Reedsy for arbitration support. The downside is that their pricing (about $1,000+ for 60k words or more) may make your wallet weep.
  • Recommendations from friends/acquaintances through Facebook groups or other social media platforms; this is a good bet as you can ask your friends what they got for their money, what the editor was like to work with, and so on. You might never have seen that editor’s name anywhere, ever, but that can be a sign that the editor has enough word-of-mouth business to make spending on advertising unnecessary.
  • Check out the group resources and files if you belong to online writing clubs. ERWA has a list of artists, editors and format experts, for example: https://www.erotica-readers.com/author-services/
  • Writers and Artists’ Yearbook: lots of editors pay to advertise their services
  • Fiverr
  • Google ‘editing services’

Don’t dismiss anyone on a casual PPGM basis; for example, there are some very good editors on Fiverr who are finding their way into the market, who don’t happen to have publishing house experience under their belt, or who are doing this part-time having given a lot of voluntary time to editing to successful effect.

Image result for keep an open mind

Found some likely candidates? Right. I’m going to go through this process like it’s a fishing expedition.

Stage 1: throwing out the hook

  • Some editors feature a fixed pricing schedule on their websites, but most simply invite you to contact them for details. Because this can slow down the go-compare process quite considerably, it’s useful to have a template email for enquiries, telling them:
  • The novel length, and length of first chapter
  • What kind of edit you’re hoping for (overview critique—developmental edit—or copy-editing, or both)
  • The written language of the novel (UK/Aus/Canadian/US), and whether it’s your first language. This is more important than it sounds; you don’t want someone Anglicising your American punctuation, and vice versa. I feel particular sympathy for Canadian writers, who must get mangled from every direction other than from fellow Canadian editors.
  • What time scale you’re hoping to work on. If you’re not in a hurry, then it’s worth mentioning that you’d be interested in hearing about any arrangements that can be met where you’re happy to wait longer than the average for the return of your MS in return for a lower cost. Just as a heads-up, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect a full edit back in less than seven weeks on a long turnaround basis. Brace yourself for a nine- or twelve-week offer if you want your costs to come down considerably.

 

Stage Two: landing

Create a spreadsheet of what each editor says they will charge for editing the manuscript. Also look at non-financial elements such as how they came across on email or messenger. There may be a couple of people you just click with. Once you’ve selected a likely fore-runner, it is reasonable to ask for a sample of their editing, using your first chapter (and this is why the length information is important; don’t expect them to edit a first chapter over 3k for free. That could be up to ten hours of their time, free, while they’re working on incumbent contracts).

 

Stage Three: Serving or Gutting

It could well be that you’re a good financial fit and you hire the editor. But…

What if you really like how the editor works, but their prices for a full edit, however reasonable, still makes you sob? If you like what they’ve done for you in the sample, then here are some other options to negotiate:

  • ask them to quote for content-editing on your first three chapters, and apply those lessons to the rest of your manuscript
  • ask them to quote for a developmental overview of the novel, commenting on characterisation, pacing and flow, structure, clarity, psychological consistency and any recurring errors. That should come in at a price in the lower hundreds, rather than mid-to-upper, and you could learn enough from the overview to tighten your novel, and then have it beta-read and proofed.

 

Join the Borg

Yep, this section is about hive minds and crowd-sourcing your feedback. Writing groups, both live and online, can be worth their weight in gold. You can use Reddit, Facebook, Literotica, Dirty Discourse and a number of social platforms to get a readership going, and to get feedback on your work as it proceeds. ERWA has its own critiquing workshop, Storytime, for this exact purpose.

You’ll get a range of opinions, and it’s useful to know where a lot of feedback overlaps. For example, your dialogue might impress several people, but your opening scene doesn’t appear to have the strong hook that you hoped for. It’s all grist to the mill, as they say, and acquiring a sort of consensus on your strong and weak points can help you see your writing with fresh eyes.

ERWA’s Storytime is one of the friendliest and most constructive places to share your work. However, to get the best out of a hive-mind scenario, here are some gentle caveats:

  1. Hive minds tend to be a great source of feedback for short stories and novellas, but don’t be disheartened if people don’t want to follow an entire novel this way. It is difficult to keep track of one chapter a week purely because of the longevity and the distraction of life between instalments. However, you can get feedback on particular scenes that have been bugging you. Getting group opinions on first chapters can also be wonderful for assessing the power of your opening hook.
  2. You would need to invest the time to provide the level and manner of critiquing you’d like to receive yourself. Virtuous circles help everyone (and you might acquire some out-of-group alpha and beta readers along the way)
  3. Think about what kind of feedback you want, and spend those extra few minutes in a foreword explaining any useful background to the material you’re offering to share, and what sort of critiquing you would appreciate. It is fine to say that you’re not looking for grammar or spelling guidance at this stage, for example.
  4. Despite claiming to be writers in full command of language, some people still have very little in the way of bedside manner, and seem to enjoy injecting all their life stresses into being abrupt on the internet. Do not let this derail you.
  5. You do not have to take all the advice given to you. You’re seeking some positive reinforcement and getting a majority vote on tricky sections; you’re not trying to write a story by committee. Thank people for their time and the point they’ve raised that will help you, and then use what’s useful for you.

 

Close-up and personal

You can use alpha and beta readers to get feedback on the delivery and shape of your novel. Alpha readers are involved throughout composition, giving feedback on a section-/chapter-by-chapter basis. It’s rather like having a free editor who only operates on a developmental-editing basis, but who will apply that level of oversight as your story unfolds.

A beta reader will give you an overview of the whole once completed. There are some paid betas out there (and they will cost considerably less than an editor), but seek them out based on the recommendation of people you trust, and find out in advance how quickly they’ve responded to others. To get the best out of a beta-reader, prepare a list of questions which will answer all and any concerns that you have. Don’t be shy about asking them to tell you about the good bits, too. It’s important to know what to do more of, as well as what needs repairing or adjusting.

 

All by myself…

Okay, there’s just you. You’ve been burned by toxic feedback in the past, and you have very, very little money indeed. In which case, your priority should be to focus on your story skills, not on your technical writing skills.

With the very little money you do have, borrow books on writing techniques, shaping your novel (within your genre) and which address the structure of your story as a whole. Use this resource for countless borrowings on books about dialogue, characterisation and plot movement.

There are hundreds of websites devoted to grammar rules, and you can get that advice for free, or through your local library or bargain basement books.

Work on your other skills (formatting, covers, blurb-writing, synopsis-writing) in the background to your creative work, and you might be able to arrange a peer swap to have the final product of your work proof-read in fair exchange for some assistance of your own.

So, that’s a fairly full range of options for getting an extra set of eyes on your work from the capacity to shell out cash (and what to look for), to how to make the best of your very, very tiny pennies. I hope you find it helpful.

Repetition

by | Mar 12, 2019 | 6 comments

 

This post is about how to avoid repetition in your writing, or to put it another way, how to avoid repetition in your writing (see what I did there?).

Writers sometimes use repeating elements intentionally because it’s a powerful tool for adding emphasis. Poets use repetition and anaphora to give rhythm and cadence to their writing. But what I know about poetry could be inscribed on the sex organ of a dwarf-ladybird, so I have no intention of trying to explain how repetition should be used to enhance your writing.

 

Here’s one of my favourite examples of intentional repetition, where the same phrase is used several times to emphasise the writer’s message.

This post is aimed at how to avoid the unintentional repetitions that find their way into our stories.

Repetition isn’t just about telling the reader the same information several times, overusing certain words or using the same word more than once in a sentence.

Avoiding repetition is about making your piece of work as diverse as possible, and you can do this by varying the word choice, the sentence structure and the paragraph length.

All writers have their own style and their own voice, and they also have their own repetitive quirks. It usually takes someone else to point them out to us – either our editor or readers offering a critique. Once you become aware of these quirks, you can use the ‘Find’ tool on Word and go through your manuscript to see if you need to remove or replace any of them.

This is referred to as a ‘Britney Edit’ (oops, I did it again).

 

The internet is full of help pages and tips on how to avoid repetition in your written work, and below are some of the ones I think are the most helpful.

 

  1. Read your work out loud.

Our eyes skip over our own words—especially when we’ve read them so many times. But by reading them out loud it gives a new perspective, and it makes it easier to hear you’ve used some words about twenty times in a chapter. Read slowly and listen to your words, then cut anything your hear too often.

 

  1. Avoid overused words

Unique words are fairly easy to avoid. Once you’ve used antidisestablishmentarianism, it’s easy to remember you’ve already enlightened your readers to your brilliant vocabulary. It’s more likely to be the common words that are the problem. Apparently, five of the most frequently overused words are: so, still, though, very and well. Check your own stories and see how often you use these words, and then decide if you actually need them or not.

I was first alerted to my overuse of ‘realise’ by a guy in the US. Each time he saw my UK spelling, underlined in red, it highlighted the fact I had about ten instances of the word in each chapter.

 

  1. Separate narrative from dialogue

If you intentionally have a character using a particular word or phrase in his dialogue to make him more recognisable, try to make sure you don’t overuse that word or phrase anywhere else in the story.

 

  1. Buy yourself a thesaurus

To avoid repeating words, a quick and easy solution (if you’re using Microsoft Word) is to right-click on the word and choose ‘synonyms’ from the dropdown menu. This will give you a few common alternatives. This is also useful when eliminating duplicated words within the same sentence. However, Microsoft don’t seem to have considered authors of erotica when they filled in the synonyms. For most of the common terms we use for body parts, they suggest we consult a thesaurus, but as alternatives for ‘cock’ they suggest raise, tilt, lift, incline or angle.

 

  1. Rotate your characters’ names for pronouns.

This is another area where reading out loud can help you find a good balance. Although you want the reader to be sure who is speaking, you don’t want to ram it down their throats (unless that’s part of the scene you’re writing).

Pronouns like he and she tend to be ‘silent’ words and hardly noticed.

But if you’ve ever written a sex scene involving more than one character of the same gender (for example, MM, FF, MFM or MFF), you’ll be aware how pronouns are much less user-friendly in those circumstances.

 

  1. It’s not just the words; think about sentence and paragraph variation

Try and introduce variety into the length of the sentences, with some short and some longer (though be conscious that overly-long and complicated sentences make it difficult for readers, especially if they’re only using one hand).

Vary the structure of your sentences, and make sure you don’t start each sentence in the same way. If every sentence begins with the same words or has the same structure, then the pace of your story will be the same and it will make it feel repetitive. It’s the same thing with paragraphs. These can be anything from a single sentence to five or more sentences. They’re there to give readers a break—but giving them breaks at exactly the same time over and again gets repetitive.

After you’ve finished your piece (be it a chapter or a full manuscript), quickly skim the first few words of each paragraph to make sure you’ve not repeated paragraph intros. It’s very easy to do without noticing it.

 

  1. Sometimes you can use the same words

As mentioned earlier about pronouns being ‘silent’, another word that seems to slip by readers without them noticing is ‘said’. This is a word you can use many times, as opposed to characters ‘hissing’ or ‘snarling’ too often, which readers would notice.

I try to minimise speech tags when I write, but that’s a personal thing. I see lots of writers who use he said/she said on almost every line, and apparently that doesn’t really count as repetition. But I do think that making your character’s voice identifiable helps minimise the use of speech tags.

In conclusion, avoiding unwanted repetition is about making sure your stories are diverse at every level. This includes your words, your sentences and your paragraphs.

Once you’re made aware of your own particular repetitive quirks and the mistakes you commonly make, they become easy to avoid.

 

 

 

 

 

I recently tried writing something new for me, a historical story. In fact, an early medieval story, set in the twelfth century.

In all my writing, I try hard to set the scene in my readers’ minds (yes, revealing my naked ambition by aspiring to multiple readers) by “painting” in what I hope is enough detail for their imaginations to fill in everything else they need to see the scene in their mind.

I blame being exposed to Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File at an impressionable age. But it’s a style I like for being economical and usually engaging.

But how can I imagine being there, watching my characters do their twelfth century … stuff?

Research? As a leisure-time writer with no access to academic libraries, opportunities for “proper” research are a bit restricted.

Yes, of course I used google for some things, but you need to have a good idea of what your real question is before you can figure out which hits are helpful answers.

Some answers are just pretty simple, of course, assuming we remember to ask ourselves “is this right?”

Not long ago, I read a novel set in the 1920’s, in which the main character produced a Glock pistol. A fine choice of weapon for self defence, I’m sure, but an implausible one… Glock wasn’t founded until 1963.

Want to set a scene in a fast-food restaurant in London in say 1970? McDonalds won’t open their first branch there for another four years.

Sometimes it’s kind of convenient to rely on other people’s research, particularly if you’re confident it’s reliable enough, and it looks pretty good.

I found a lot of helpful information in Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. He’s a professional academic historian as well as an historical fiction writer, so has access to the right resources, and can probably even read Latin and Middle English. He wrote this book to help readers see the past as real rather than as history, describing what you might see and experience as a visitor to the period. It gave me some insight into how people lived, what they ate and wore, and about their world. He’s since written two similar books, covering the Elizabethan and Restoration periods.

And of course Dr Mortimer isn’t the only writer whose work we can benefit from, if only for some ideas and scene-dressing.

A few examples? Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose paints a vivid picture of a 14th century Italian monastery. Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters) set her well-known Brother Cadfael murder mysteries in early 12th century Shrewsbury, in western England. Sarah Woodbury’s Gareth and Gwen mysteries are set in 12th century Wales, when it was still a separate country from Norman-ruled England, and Dublin was a Viking city. Or there are the Stanton and Barling mysteries, by EM Powell, again set in the 12th century, where the two main characters were the nearest thing the English justice system had to detectives.

There are factual TV shows and series which can help us “see” the past a little more clearly as a real time and place, particularly the “re-enacting” ones. There were several excellent British TV series about agricultural life in the past – the Tudor Monastery Farm, the Victorian Farm, the Edwardian Farm and the Wartime Farm (ie 1939-1945). The “supersizers” series by Giles Coren and Sue Perkins were factual entertainment about the history of food, including the two of them trying out things from the period, like clothing and historically accurate meals. It’s worth remembering our ancestors ate a far wider range of animals, birds and fish than we do. That wasn’t because these were notably tasty, more of an “eat it or go hungry” choice. I’ve read that swan tastes pretty awful.

I’ve read plenty of books (or listened to the audiobooks) which conveyed the period nicely for me. The Sherlock Holmes stories, written between 1887 and 1927, mentioned telegrams, daily postal services, messenger services, the introduction of telephones, and using frequent train services. The unrestricted access to opium and cocaine is surprising to modern readers, but both were readily available at the time, when it’s been estimated that a quarter of doctors were addicted to opium.

Other books I’ve enjoyed which were set in the early 1950’s in Britain described a time of post-war austerity, limited private car ownership, commonplace use of trains with helpful station staff (including porters), and, in some areas, telephone calls still connected via operators who might just be listening in.

On the other hand, books actually written in earlier periods may not be that helpful, as the authors expected their readers to at least be familiar with the world the characters lived in (eg Fielding, Austen, Hardy or Dickens).

What about old TV shows and films, from the 1920’s on? These might show regular life in the US before air conditioning – wiping the back of your neck with a handkerchief in summer – everyone wearing hats and other period fashions, steam engines in widespread use on the railways, horses and steam traction engines being used on farms, manual typewriters, rotary dial telephones, telex machines, card index systems, hot metal newspaper printing…

Some modern shows and movies made a big effort to create realistic-looking settings, and I thought Versailles, The Musketeers, Taboo, and Poldark certainly gave the impression of being true to period. The 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Matthew Macfadeyn and Keira Knightly was a notable hatchet job of the book which had some fabulous background details about life for the rural “comfortably-off” around 1800.

Although it’s primarily fantasy, there’s a lot of historical accuracy in the Game of Thrones world. Not the dragons, obviously, but the background details of life in a castle and so on.

The TV series Britannia ran rings around historical accuracy and even plausibility. But what the heck, it’s only a story.

I watched Die Hard the other night (my go-to Christmas film), made in 1988 complete with women’s “big hair” styles, clumsy-looking computer systems, CB radios, but no mobile phones. Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman (1990) had a mobile phone, which looks hilariously clunky today, like two house bricks. Even Dirty Dancing had a wealth of background detail you could study – the idea of annual month-long stays at the same stuffy resort centre, the entertainment, fashions, and manners.

It’s probably wise to resist overdoing your scene-setting. While you might be tempted to include things in the narrative like books or albums popular at the time, unless these are subjects discussed by the characters, it might come across as “telling”. Perfect incidental visual details in a TV show or film, though.

We may be fortunate in Britain with our long history, as we have some great places to visit which can help our imaginations. Neolithic constructions, iron-age hill forts, Roman forts and buildings, assorted castles and historic houses, and some decent museums…

The Weald and Downland Museum has more than forty historic buildings representing a thousand years of history. Blists Hill Victorian Town, operated by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, recreates a Victorian town for visitors, complete with a cast of re-enactors. The Beamish Open-Air Museum lets you glimpse industrial life in the northeast of England during the 19th and 20th centuries. I know the US has something similar at Colonial Williamsburg.

A lot of historic buildings and sites in Britain run events where visitors can meet re-enactors and get a brief glimpse of a version of the past, such as a medieval camp, or a Victorian mill or kitchen.

And then there are jousting displays and re-enacted battles and skirmishes, typically Viking or English Civil War. There are groups of enthiasts who do Roman, Napoleonic, Victorian and WW1 or WW2 military displays.

How about the large-scale annual Battle of Hastings rematch? Somehow, the bloody Normans always win, but maybe one year…

One thing we can’t get from these museums are some of the grim realities of even our recent past, which can be invaluable for the historical fiction writer. Dreadful poverty. The feudal system. Insanitary living conditions. A monotonous and limited diet. Frequent poor years for farming, with not infrequent famines. Thousands of people affected by ergotism. Half of children dying before the age of twenty-one. Huge numbers dying and suffering from disease, with no health or dental care, aggravated by malnutrition. Lives ruled by superstition and religion. The acceptance that the rich and noble were more important simply by right of birth. An almost matter-of-fact indifference to cruelty and suffering. Crusades, literal witch-hunts, wars, revolts and uprisings. The high death toll on long sea-journeys from disease, including an expected 50% from scurvy.

Or how about a disaster story set during one of the many fires which destroyed or severely damaged largely-wooden medieval European cities and towns? London had three great fires (1135, 1212 and 1666) and twelve major ones (two in Roman times, then in 675, 798, 892, 1087, 1130, 1132, 1220, 1227, 1299 and 1633). Lots of other towns and cities had similar incidents: google “list of town and city fires” and feel relief for modern building codes and well-equipped professional firefighters.

The past has all sorts of “detail” things which can help or hinder a writer, too. These are often overlooked for convenience in fiction.

Clothing

Between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, various European countries and the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America had “sumptuary laws”, restricting people’s choice of clothing. And fashions changed in the past almost as rapidly as today.

Religion and religious practices

In England, until the fifteenth century reformation, fast days (or meat-free days) occupied almost half the year – including every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and all of Lent. Vegetables, or if you were lucky, fish. The selection of vegetables available was surprisingly limited, too. And don’t forget that people then were generally incredibly devout and very superstitious compared to us.

Language

As an example, for 200 years after the Norman Conquest of England, the general population spoke English, the ruling classes spoke Anglo-Norman and French, and very few of either group spoke the other’s language. Church services were conducted in Latin, of course. Legal cases could only be conducted in English from 1362, and the court switched to English by the end of the fourteenth century. By English I mean Middle English – check out Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in the original text for a written form in the modern alphabet. And language use changed as fast in the past as it does today. There were also a wealth of local accents and dialects in all languages, some even more strikingly different from the norm than we have now.

Actually, language raises another question – dialogue. How closely do we follow what we think the speech styles would be in that period? It might sound perfect to someone from that time, but seems at best flowery and roundabout to us. How “realistic” does it need to be in order to convey a sense of the period? At the time, it was everyday language, after all.

Inevitably, there are a few books available to help those keen to write historical fiction.

Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders caught my attention when I perused Amazon, if only for the title. Historical Fiction Writing – A Practical Guide and Tool-Kit by Myfanwy Cook and Bernard Knight looks like a useful book, based on popular workshops Myfanwy has run. She’s a successful writer herself.

As with all other aspects of writing, there are no hard rules, only conventions. Even spelling’s just a convention, after all.

Readers who enjoy lots of historical fiction may well have expectations, so it’s probably worth becoming familiar with the genre or sub-genre you’re writing in.

Unless you’re writing an alternative history or steampunk, if you include significant factual details, do check them as best you can.

Other than that, well, have fun developing your ideas and writing your stories.

Oh, and do keep an eye open for intriguing historical discoveries. Spotting a mention of medieval underpants in a story might not actually be something to snigger about…

Oh, by the way, the comments I had back on my story from some of my collaborative critiquing group certainly left me feeling I’d got the “feel” right, which was rather nice to know. I’ve got some revisions to do, then I’ll see if I can get the story published.

The subject of this blog post was suggested because my turn to contribute to Editing Corner came just after I’d finished writing a story about a couple who invite other men into their home. Or, to be more accurate, who invite other men into their home to have sex with the wife while the husband watches.

It’s certainly not a new theme for stories, and psychologists can explain for hours how this is something that goes all the way back to our primitive ancestors. They’ll quote theories about ‘sperm competition’ and sex-mad bonobos, and tell us it’s all perfectly understandable behaviour.

 

The aforementioned story involves a fictitious couple called Harry and Michelle.

In the prequel, Michelle discovered that she enjoyed casual sex with other men, and her husband Harry discovered (much to his surprise) that he actually enjoyed watching it happen. There’s nothing new in that plot-line, and it’s been a well-used template in works of erotica for many years.

So, the scenario we’re talking about is a couple inviting another man to have sex with the wife. But, who should she choose…?

If Michelle had driven a Fiat Punto for ten years and was offered the chance to take something else for a test-drive, she’d want to upgrade. Something a bit flashy, with more power. Something bigger.

So, Michelle found herself a man with more to offer.

 

 

Michelle had become a hotwife.

Hotwife – Definition: a married woman who has sexual relationships with other men, typically with the consent of her husband.

Another term often attributed to ladies like Michelle is a slut-wife.

Although the word ‘slut’ is a vulgar term used to describe a woman considered by others to have loose sexual morals, it has a less offensive meaning within the hotwife alternative marriage community, referring to women who have chosen a non-monogamous lifestyle. Slut-wives can openly take on multiple partners and are not shamed for this choice, and their husbands approve of their promiscuity. So Michelle is also a slut-wife.

 

Harry likes to watch, so he’s a voyeur, right?

Voyeur – Definition: a person who gains sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity.

But Harry is more precise than any normal Peeping Tom (there’s a joke about Tom, Dick and Harry crying out to be told here…)

Harry doesn’t get off on watching just anybody have sex: he gets off on watching his wife have sex, which makes him a wife-watcher.

Wife-watcher – Definition: A man who gains sexual pleasure from watching his wife have sex with another partner.

The term that’s most synonymous with this behaviour in erotica is cuckold.

It’s an old word, and this is what is says in the Oxford Reference:

Cuckold – Definition: The husband of an adulteress, often regarded as an object of derision, ultimately derived from Old French cucu ‘cuckoo’, from the cuckoo’s habit of laying its egg in another bird’s nest.

In fetish usage, a cuckold is complicit with the partner’s ‘infidelity’. But there’s more to it than that. As far as cuckoldry goes, the primary urge for the cuckold is to be humiliated. Psychology regards the cuckold fetish as a variant of sadomasochism. Freudian analysis sees it as eroticisation of the fears of infidelity and inadequacy. Some cuckolds don’t need to be present during the deed, and are happy to wait for their hotwife to return and describe her evening’s events in explicit detail.

The fetish only works if the cuckold enjoys the humiliation and degradation that accompanies his wife’s ‘infidelity’. If the husband doesn’t enjoy all of the humiliation and degradation, then he is not a cuckold.

 

Before the hotwife and cuckold can participate in their sordid shenanigans, they need something else. They need a ‘prop’. A big, thick, meaty prop. Yip, you guessed it. They need the person to have sex with the hotwife while the husband watches…

This man is known as the bull.

Bull – Definition: Within the context of cuckolding, a bull is a sexually dominant male who has sex with a married woman with her husband’s consent.

Bulls are typically good looking, confident, and well hung—which helps them satisfy women sexually in ways their loyal husbands can’t. Being a bull can be gratifying for men interested in sex rather than relationships. However, men looking for deeper connections may be disappointed and start feeling objectified by being a bull.

If you look at any cuckolding sites, the first thing you’ll notice is how many of the bulls are black. There are countless pictures of white women being pleasured by black men. The majority of these pictures have been taken by the husbands. Terms like BBC (big black cock) and Alpha are emblazoned over the pages of these sites.

 

 

Returning to my fictitious couple…

The hotwife has a loving husband and a series of ‘bulls’ to satisfy her womanly needs. For Michelle, life is good. She wants her husband to enjoy it as much as she does, and so she checks out cuckolding forums and chat rooms. She sees all the things that cucks love — denial, chastity, restraint, humiliation.

So she goes online and buys him a cock-cage, then informs him he’ll only be allowed to have sex when she thinks he deserves it. She lets him perform clean-up, which is exactly what it sounds like — using his tongue to clean up the mess the bull has deposited inside her during sex. Yip, Michelle is living the dream.

But for Harry, things seem to be going a little off-script. While there is no denying the thrill of watching his wife being used by the well-endowed bulls, he’s frustrated that she’s now off-limits to him. The cock-cage means he has to use a cubicle every time he takes a pee in the pub or at work, and he never gets the opportunity to give himself a four-finger-shuffle to ease the pressure.

And then there’s clean-up. He knew it was what she wanted—and he loved her—so he did it. Now she’s pushing him further; a pegging from her strap-on, contact with the bull, and worse.  What started out for Harry as a sexy, wife-watching adventure is becoming a bit of a nightmare.

Maybe Harry isn’t really a cuckold, after all…

So, what do you call a guy who enjoys all the voyeuristic pleasure of wife-watching without the humiliation part of being a cuck? He, I’m reliably informed, is a stag.

Stag – Definition: A dominant monogamous husband who shares his wife with other men without any humiliation. It turns him on to see her receive pleasure

The wife of a stag is called a vixen.

Vixen – Definition: A shared hotwife who does not degrade or humiliate her husband. Instead, she uses her play to turn him on.

Also, a stag/vixen encounter doesn’t preclude the husband being involved. As well as watching, he might eventually join in with his partner and another man rather than enjoying being excluded.

 

Before I started writing the second book, I contacted a couple of people who are in the lifestyle to ask if they’d answer some questions for me. The lady is a hotwife, and the guy describes himself as a ‘wife-watcher’ rather than a cuckold. They’re unrelated and, as far as I know, they don’t know one another.

I knew where I wanted my story to go and put forward the scenarios I intended to include, along with a lot of general questions about the lifestyle. Their willingness to answer all of my sordid questions has hopefully given my story a feeling of authenticity.

They were incredibly open with their answers, and it soon became apparent that they were at opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to the ‘hotwife’ fetish. But what was also apparent was how strong their relationships are. They’re both in normal, loving relationships with their respective spouses. Both have families and jobs and regular lives.

The only difference between them and millions of other couples is that every once in a while they spice up their sex-life by including a third party. There is no jealousy, no bitterness, and certainly no seeing the other man without the husband being told. Both relationships work on total trust.

 

There are numerous sites where couples and bulls advertise their availability, and also chat rooms for them to ‘meet’ and discuss their preferences.

 

 

Many hotwives wear an anklet as a way of letting people know they’re in the wife-sharing alternative marriage lifestyle. This piece of jewellery is designed to show that the married woman’s husband is giving other men permission to talk to her with the knowledge that she may go a lot further than just talking.

 

 

Others have tattoos in prominent places (ankle, wrist) or not-so prominent places. A Queen of Spades tattoo signifies a woman who is looking specifically for a black man to have sex with.

 

 

I think of cuckold/hotwife and stag/vixen couples as two different examples of wife-sharing. I’ve seen this term listed as being synonymous with wife-swapping (swinging), but to me, the two are different.

The primary driving force of wife-sharing is that the husband gets sexual enjoyment from seeing his wife with another man. He gets pleasure from seeing her pleasure. It’s like he’s so proud of his possession that he wants to show her off. With wife-swapping, the primary driving force is that both partners want to experience sex with someone else.

Some people who start off as swingers may realise that the biggest thrill for the husband is watching his wife with another man. Conversely, some couples who go down the wife-sharing route may find that once in a while, the husband wants to experience contact with another woman as well. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules. Each couple is different, and they’re perfectly entitled to have a change to the routine every now and then. But for the most part, the husband in a wife-sharing relationship is monogamous. He only desires his wife.

 

Though aware that wife-sharing was a popular fantasy, I was surprised when I first started my research at the sheer number of people actually participating in the lifestyle. I’ve read that the divorce rates between couples within the wife-sharing community are much lower than those between regular couples, and I’m pretty sure that this is also true of couples within the swinging community.

I’m told that it is imperative that you are honest with each other, and that you have a clear understanding of each other’s desires and limits. For any couples considering dipping their toes in the wife-sharing pool, it would be beneficial for you both to talk it through and discuss what it is you’re both hoping to get out of it.

For Harry and Michelle, that lack of communication caused problems that could easily have been avoided. But then, all stories need a little conflict, so I didn’t have them discussing what worked for them until halfway through Book 2.

 

Basically, if you’re thinking about writing a story around a wife-sharing scenario, then you have to decide if the husband is going to be a cuckold or a stag.

The nice thing is, he can be anywhere between the two extremes. And since it’s your story, you can decide what each half of the couple wants out of the arrangement and give your story an interesting dynamic as well lashings of fulfilling sex.

 

 

First paragraphs demand a lot. Personality and clear perspective management. Unique visuals. A sense of setting and mood. A strong hook. Little wonder so many people either:

  • Base their entire novel off a golden first paragraph that popped into their heads at 02:03am
  • Bullet-point the first para and come back to it at the end of the chapter, or even when they’ve completed the first draft of the book.

Back in 2016, I wrote a short story called “The Way, the Truth and the Lifer”, which opens in a care home from which our intrepid hero, encumbered by early-onset Alzheimer’s, is trying to escape for the day. I posted it on our Storytime emailing list for feedback and I’m so glad I did, because my opening three paragraphs caused untold levels of bafflement. I thought I’d seeded multiple clues that Carlsbad House was a care home, but it was only my fellow Brit readers and writers who could visualise the opening scene without trouble. The feedback on the opening to my story gave me a golden opportunity to recast the order in which I presented the information about my hero’s environment, and to choose images which worked better for a transatlantic audience.

I think, up to a point, we all describe what we’re subconsciously familiar with when we’re deep in the flow of the story, or the perspective character’s mindset. As a professional editor, I have several US clients who base their stories in England, and find myself having to amend scenes where the perspective character performs all road manoeuvres as if in charge of a left-hand drive (but without all the conspicuous stress that this entails). I’ve made the same mistake, writing struggles with roundabouts (and other blatant Britishisms) into States-based stories. It’s extremely hard to avoid.

I must confess that until that valuable feedback on my “Lifer” story, setting had always been fairly low on my list of things to worry about when writing. Dialogue, POV management, choreography and emotional journeys seemed to fill my intellectual working space. I’d have to go back and fill in the details of where they were, and how that affected the atmosphere. Because I can’t hear, I often need help writing in the sound effects. I forget those, too.

These days, before sharing a story for critique, I add two more things to my self-editing list:

  1. How quickly have I shown where we are?
  2. Have I done this without presenting the reader with an info-dump?

With a little help from0 my peer editors, a collection of fine books, and a little personal experience, I thought I’d provide a wee list of techniques for setting up your environment while keeping the action moving. Towards the end (for a little light relief), I’ve provided a few examples of what to avoid.

 

If you’re not American, use your mother tongue conspicuously.

The little ‘s’ that I stuck on the end of ‘Towards’ in that last sentence would probably have made some of you flinch. This is how Brits say it, in the same way we say ‘sideways’. It’s not incorrect—just a case of using UK English.

If US English is not your mother tongue, then word choice can be a weapon in your setting arsenal, along with your Anglican spellings (organise, favour, dialogue, manoeuvre, and travelling). This provides thousands of opportunities to establish the use of UK English (and indeed dialect, where appropriate) into the perspective character’s or narrator’s opening lines. Establishing nationality can help to set location expectations. Here is a really handy link to summarise key US vs UK differences:

http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/british-versus-american-style.html

You won’t have this option with all publishers, of course, many of whom insist on US English being used, regardless of the characters’ nationalities. And this doesn’t help our Antipodean pals, whose spelling and punctuation rules have more in common with UK English than US English.

So, other means of establishing place (right down to country and continent), wherever you’re from, are:

  • closeness to (or distance from) well-known cities/landmarks
  • mentioning animal species
  • using place-focused driving language
  • slang
  • architecture
  • socio-demographic terminology
  • or any of the following options…

 

Cross-cultural comparison:

Often a nifty way of declaring a character’s location and his origins in one fell swoop:

They called Grab a ‘good-sized’ village, but you could’ve fitted four Grabs into the ‘one-horse town’ he called home.

 

Temporal comparison:

Harking back to the past when describing an unmoving/unchanging environment can be a succinct way of giving away location:

The ruin loomed in all its Northumbrian glory, the stark landscape giving the impression that the surrounding lands hadn’t been tended any more vigilantly back in the dark ages than they were now.

 

Hyperbole, exaggeration and other satire

Deliberately creating the most extreme version of the environment, and allowing the reader to recognise sarcasm (and subconsciously turn things down a notch), can be an effective way of getting your setting across succinctly. This is done a great deal in fantasy comedy, but if you remove the surreal element of the humour, you can apply the strategy across genres:

Cosy corners and gorgeous beams aside, Regan doubted that any part of the castle had ever been welcoming. He could imagine an unenthused Scottish Monarch trailing from room to room after a latter-day estate agent, reassuring him that the hills and ramparts kept the smellier of the Picts away, and that the tiny, north-facing dungeons kept prisoners nicely cold over winter.

 

Use the gift of environmental interaction

Make the topographical detail relevant to what the character’s doing in the action of the scene:

The cold almost cut through the car. Regan’s left thigh and calf were beginning to punish him for making his getaway in Missy’s stick-shift instead of heading for a garage to hire an automatic with cruise control. He tried not to think about the many miles of I94 between him and the next bathroom stop, the endless fields that would provide no windbreak when he finally had to pull over and rest, or the expression on David’s face when Dave caught him balls-deep in Missy. It was official: Bismarck could now be added to the list of places he couldn’t go without being shot at.

From here, the reader can add a little more history, linking it with the weather, the relentlessness of the journey, and the destination. But there’s a hell of a lot of information already in the paragraph above.

 

Bind the environmental details into the character’s state of mind

You can get an awful lot of information across when your perspective character is in a temper. This is used to great effect in Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’, and pretty much most of Bill Bryson’s travel diaries from ‘Down Under’ onwards. The following snippet has been bastardised (with kind permission) from a friend’s fairly long messenger rant about the joys of finding his way to London from ‘London Luton airport’:

I didn’t want to spend my first night bitching, but a little more travel information would’ve been good. Like, ‘London Luton’ is nowhere near f**king London. The airport’s barely in Luton. It’s like saying ‘San Diego, Hollywood’. Not accurate! So I dive on this train which goes to London via Tanzania, because a direct service at short notice apparently requires a second mortgage to be arranged, and then I get the Spanish Inquisition from the guards at the ticket gate about undershooting my stop. How is it a crime to not stay on the train as long as I’m entitled to remain on the f**king train?

Using character mood to colour the experience of the surroundings is the inverse of the Thomas Hardy Principle/Malaise, where the landscape is relentlessly used as a mirror for character mood. Given that Thomas Hardy wasn’t famed for his light-hearted scenarios or uplifted characters, just a little of that technique went a very long way.

 

And on that note, some setting-relating phenomena to avoid

Countryfile Syndrome: wherein the author over-relies on lengthy strolls through the landscape while their hero mulls upon life’s little problems. There is a limit to which the perspective character’s life choices can be influenced by the pattern of bleak, chilly sheep gathering in the far field, whether or not that pattern is analogous to the cliquey behaviour of the perspective character’s family and friends.

Crap conversationalist syndrome: related to the issue above, except that the writer has forgotten that her perspective character was having a chat with a fellow character at the point where they lapsed into a moody silence in contemplation of the scenery whipping past the car window.

More IKEA, dear: scenes which take place in a relative vacuum, to the point that the reader has no idea if there’s even furniture in the room. This can make sexual choreography rather difficult to visualise.

 

The key point with setting is to keep the details as relevant to what’s going on within the action of the scene as possible. You can layer the details in those quiet, reactive moments where options are being reviewed and decisions made. So long as you don’t take your reader for too many detailed, brooding walks in the process.

 

…and the other one is playing a piano.

Alanis Morissette gets beaten up a lot over her 1995 hit, Ironic, which lists several ironic things (like a black fly in your Chardonnay, or the good advice that you just didn’t take) which just… well, aren’t. Ironic, that is. I’m going to give Alanis a pass on Ironic, though. (She’ll be pleased to hear that, no doubt). She nailed the one about the guy who was afraid to fly and died in a plane crash, and a few others were pretty close. That’s good enough for me.

Where we come to blows, though, is in another song from the same Jagged Little Pill album called Hand in My Pocket. Let’s check some more of those lyrics:

And what it all comes down to my friends, yeah

Is that everything is just fine, fine, fine

‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket

And the other one is hailing a taxi cab

I don’t think everything is going to be fine, fine, fine.

“Hop in, lady. Where ya goin?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t want a cab.”

“Well why’d ya’ hail me down?”

I didn’t hail you, it was my hand.”

“Crazy bitch.” The cab’s tires squeal as it peels away from the curb.

Do you see my problem? Alanis’s hand was acting autonomously. Right now all it’s doing is playing pianos and hailing taxis, but before long it’ll be pulling puppy dog tails and tripping grannies, and mark my words, all hell’s gonna break loose.

Autonomous Body Parts

You might say I’m being pedantic (“Belinda, you’re being pedantic”), but this lyric and the one about playing a piano never sat well with me, and that was long before I learned about Autonomous Body Parts in fiction.

It just sounds wrong. Hands don’t play the piano, people do, and it sounds weird when you attribute those actions to a body part.

What does this have to with erotica?

In erotica and erotic romance, we talk about body parts and their myriad delectable actions a lot. Kissing, licking, stroking, fingering, spanking, fisting—our body parts get busy, my friends, and we’re not always completely in control. We’re wont to see a lot of involuntary or reflexive actions, such as:

Her lower lip trembled.

Her pupils dilated.

His cock bucked and throbbed and exploded inside her.

And these are all fine. We would never say, ‘She trembled her lower lip.’

Indeed, it’s the conscious actions we need to watch out for.

Brittany’s hand reached for his cock.

His fingers clutched at her ample ass.

Her lips kissed his turgid member.

Sorry about that last one. I can’t bring myself to put prose that purple into my stories, so this blog is my only outlet. On their own, you might not notice one of these rogue body parts, but our erotic writings don’t contain single, isolated actions—they contain lots of them, strung together pages on end. Put three or more of these together and people will notice.

I haven’t got it all figured out just yet

Voluntary, involuntary, autonomous…I’m confused. How can I tell when it’s okay to attribute an action to a body part?

Brittany’s back arched, and with a piercing scream, she came.

Should this be, ‘Brittany arched her back’? If she’s in the throes of orgasm, is it involuntary, or is she doing it deliberately to increase the pressure on her clit? God, this is so hard! (said the nun to the vicar)

Brittany blinked.

Blinking is involuntary! Should that be ‘Brittany’s eyes blinked?’ And how about this one?

Todd’s tongue slid into her mouth.

We can be pretty sure that Todd’s tongue wasn’t acting alone, here, but the alternative, (Todd slid his tongue into her mouth), whilst not wrong, is not an improvement. In fact, the original for all three of these cases sounds just fine.

It can depend on the verb. Every verb has a subject—the person or thing performing the action. In the case of Autonomous Body Parts, the subject is a thing—Todd’s tongue, Brittany’s hand—but for the non-autonomous version, the subject is a person—Todd, Brittany.

Here’s a useful trick: try using the verb in both a ‘who’ and a ‘what’ question to discover the subject.

  1. Who slid?
  2. What slid?

If the sliding was happening on a ski slope, then option 1 would work fine, but we’re talking about tongues, so ‘what slid?’ is the more meaningful question, suggesting it’s okay for the tongue to be the subject when ‘slid’ is the verb.

What happens when we change the verb to ‘licked’?

Todd’s tongue licked between Brittany’s supple folds.

Well, let’s ask it as a question.

  1. Who licked?
  2. What licked?

In this case, both might seem plausible at first, but look more closely. If you were given an obviously pre-licked ice cream, would you ask who licked it, or what licked it? So, when it comes to licking, the subject of the sentence should ideally be the individual who owns the tongue, not the tongue itself.

Let’s go back to our first example.

Brittany’s back arched, and with a piercing scream, she came.

  1. Who arched?
  2. What arched?

Both seem to work. This suggests there are edge cases and they’re not uncommon. If you come across an edge case in your writing, use your gut, and perhaps fall back on the voluntary versus involuntary sub-rule above.

Everything is gonna be quite alright

Whichever way those edge cases go, most people won’t notice and pedants like me will cut you some slack. The important thing is you’re finding the obvious ones which are more common and far more overt: kissed, licked, blinked, nuzzled, reached, stroked, fingered, touched—if you want your prose to sound in any way erotic, these all demand a human actor.

Or a tentacled alien. I’m not judging, just don’t make it an autonomous body part.

Squirrel!

Looky there. It’s a flying rat.

I know you already knew it.

It was here that I knew that Colonel Plum did it in the bathroom with the pipe wrench and “WHAM!” That is how it happened.

I have some type of attention deficit disorder; however, I have not been diagnosed, but I do know…

SQUIRREL!!!

Write over it.

Ok. Wait.

Where was I?

I ain’t got no clues present to get me back to the beginning, but I don’t want to start at the beginning because it is way too long ago and I can’t catch you up to speed.

Anyway, this was to get you to understand that holding the audience’s attention, maintaining good grammar and the story structure are the three very important parts to writing a story. The audience is your fan base and beyond. You know not to tell your audience anything unless it will not come out. Your audience is who you write for and make sure that the plot moves along. Make sure that you’re writing for your intended audience instead of trying to please everyone.

We always talk about speech tags and their overuse of speech tags like “she hissed,” “he snapped,” “she stammered,” get irritating fast. Likewise, reading a character’s name too often in dialogue can be a turn off. Avoid more than the occasional “um” or “well,” or “er,” and keep dialogue realistic, but more coherent. Also, make sure the words that are grammatically correct. IF the language that you are relaying your story in is not your first language or you’re not completely fluent, make sure to get assistance.

Your writing style, tone, character motivations, or even plot might begin one way and, unintentionally, change at some point in the book. Be especially aware of small details like names, occupations, physical descriptions of people or places, which can all fall prey to inconsistencies over the course of 300+ pages. Something to look at for writing style is “Eats Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss and reading a few articles from Michael Hauge will assist in this category.

Make sure that when telling your story begin at a point that can be referenced back to in the story. Chronological stories are good, but there are some times the chronological order of the story will not bring the story to where it needs to be. If all the good stuff happens at the beginning, or if nothing exciting happens until the end, your reader will be frustrated with the rest of the book.

This is what gets me. Knowing when and where to begin your story. There are some that say that you should begin your first major plot point within the first 25% of your story or you can jar the balance of how the story arc falls. Some say that you can start your story chronologically and then work backwards to the event. Within each set of “rules” there is always time. Time is a factor in everything. If you give the audience too much too soon, then there is nothing else to read. If you make the audience wait until the last chapter to find out anything, you may lose your audience. You want to provide just enough, but no one ever knows when to say when and that is why we have editors.

I have gotten better at finding a balance in the information that I do provide my readers; however, that is after a lot of help from people in ERWA who help hone my skills for writing. There are other resources that can assist you if you have not subscribed to our Storytime List and those resources are:

“Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative” by Chuck Wendig and “The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface” by Donald Maass.

There is a TedX video that brings in circularity, symmetry and a few other things to light for writers. That link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUT6GQveD0E (I do not own the rights to this video, I am just sharing it.)

All in all, in order to write something that someone else wants to read, make sure that you can capture and keep their attention, make sure your vocabulary fits your scenery, that you are aware of small detailed changes so there are no mix ups, and start at a good place in the story so that it can keep going and then finish it with something memorable.

SQUIRREL!

Made you look!

 

 

One of the indoor activities I do with my son is to print off the ‘disaster movie bingo’ card I have on my hard drive, and then watch one of the many daft movies floating around on Amazon or Netflix. Widely-ignored scientist? Check! Scientist separated from wife? Check! Heroine survives hurricane with hairdo intact? Check!

There are twenty-five items on our card, and I think that the highest marks are tied between 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and San Andreas.

We play this game as a chance to be creative. It’s fun to chat about what we’d change with the plot or characters to make the film more unpredictable. It helps us to think laterally. However, just as viewers expect certain elements of a disaster movie to be in place, readers have expectations of romance and erotic romance.

World and character creation is tough in any genre. But in romance or erotic romance, with so many story expectations, it can be really tricky to take a common partnership dynamic, a frequent sexual dynamic and a familiar setting, and make something completely new out of it.

I don’t believe for a second that anyone who’s writing for the joy of it writes a story where their main characters sound just like all the other characters they’ve read about and loved. There are inspirations, yes. But people write to bring their own characters to life.

Nevertheless, there are a group of recognised personalities who crop up all over the world of romance and erotic romance who will seem instantly familiar. I’ve summarised four such prototypes in the colossally exaggerated summaries below.

# # # #

The nearly  hard-hearted hero

His heart has been hermetically sealed and locked in a vault. He’s too tough for affection or conversation. You have to go at his immaculately-mortared walls with a JCB before he so much as cracks a smile.

  • But there’s always one way in, right? There’s always a tiny door through which the heroine/reader sees his very well-hidden soft side:
  • He may only speak to the rest of the world twice a year, but he makes a 100mph round trip three times a week to water his grandmother’s spider plants.
  • He’s in the ‘Big Brother’ programme and spends every other weekend giving his tiny pal lessons in how to ignore women and field-strip rifles.
  • He only roars at the heroine and knocks her to the ground to save her from accidentally stuffing her head into a woodchipper.
  • He has a pet bunny/ancient dog to whom he is unwholesomely devoted. He can also be trusted to leap over the fence and give his neighbour’s baby goat mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or rear baby squirrels by hand.

 

The Helen of Troy tomboy

 Benjamin put down the chainsaw and whisked the little towel from her handy belt to wipe the sweat from her face. She shouldn’t have worn her size-six leggings, though they protected her legs from the flying splinters as she single-handedly took down the copse of dead trees at the far end of the football field. Sweat glued her blue tank to her body, drawing unwanted attention from every jock in the school, and that of a few nerds, all of whom silently admired her lack of self-consciousness. Lumberjacking brought her peace. Benjamin got back to work, ignoring the random taunts from the entire cheerleading squad, who’d gathered at the treeline in full make-up just to emphasise how unlike them she was. They didn’t intimidate her in the slightest; having grown up with sixteen brothers, all in the military, she knew how to handle herself.

Nuff said, I think.

 

Poor wee self-sacrificial sausage

This is the guy with such a tortured past that he thinks he’s good for nobody, despite the entire cast of the book trying to tell him otherwise on a page-by-page basis. Really, he just won’t be told. He’s on his way to hell, and he won’t take anyone with him. He spends hours alone in his garage, using mufflers to block out any attempts of other characters to so much as compliment him on the nifty paint job on his vintage Mustang.

When the heroine finally engages him in conversation, he gets out of telling her how he really feels by diving between a toddler and an oncoming SUV. Alternatively, he’ll protect her from his scumbag personality by taking her to a ball game, leaving her in her seat while he ‘gets snacks’, and then voices her personal flaws over the PA system. That’ll put her off him for life, thus preventing any hurt feelings in the long term. Because there is no short term for the sacrificial sausage.

 

The reclusive artiste, Mr Clam

He’s the most amazing thing that the public have never heard of. He’s a reclusive painter who came out of art college with plaudits coming out of his backside, but who gave it all up to care for his brother. Having abandoned his dreams he’s abandoned life, and has long since sent his muse packing with aggressive warnings not to show her face around him ever again, in case he’s tempted to follow his ill-fated dream. Being such a sensitive soul, he’s also got a fantastic palate, and could, if he put his mind to it, get some help to look after his brother while he entered and won the next series of Masterchef.

He’d love someone to love, but they have to genuinely understand his inexplicable paintings, and understand his need to cut himself off from the universe on account of the meltdown he’d encounter if anyone tried to coax him back to the limelight.

He probably wears a smoking jacket and/or a beret.

# # # #

Okay, I warned you about the colossal exaggeration! But I’m sure you’ve come across more than a handful of characters who fit these moulds.

In light-hearted discussion with other editors about these main character (MC) prototypes, a theory emerged about a general tendency towards layering traits. What am I on about, you may well ask.

Okay, let’s take the reclusive Mr Clam as our working example. A writer has decided they want their character to have heavy responsibilities, to be on the shy side, and to have almost savant levels of creativity.

It’s a tripartite starting block for the character, and that’s fine. But what can then happen is that the writer come up with a number of ways in which each of those character features are displayed in practice, and puts nearly all of them into use. For example:

Heavy responsibilities

  • Never has any time off and can’t get respite care
  • Doesn’t have hobbies outside his areas of genius
  • Has been battling depression for a number of years.
  • Works exclusively from home
  • Brother is very hard work and they struggle to get on

Shy side

  • Finds it difficult to start or sustain conversations
  • Avoids social media
  • Gets all shopping home-delivered
  • Turns down seminars and courses
  • Timid about critiquing other artists’ work because he’s suffering imposter syndrome after so many years ‘off the scene’

Highly creative

  • Is excellent chef
  • Brilliant artist
  • Harassed by mother into arranging flowers for church as a child
  • Used to enjoy doing the costumes for drama groups as a teen
  • Writes wonderful poetry.

It’s only when you get significant layering of traits under each element that makes up the MC that a painfully familiar character emerges. It’s not about lack of imagination (the contrary, in fact), but about raising the probability that the writer’s using traits which are often seen before because so many of them are being used.

So, how can this tendency towards trait-layering be taken down a notch once it’s been recognised?

 

Seek out the double-edged swords

In its simplest terms, this means focusing on one particular trait that a character has, and seeing how it works for and against him. Using Mr Clam again:

His work as an artist makes good use of his ability to focus intensely, but he’s terrible at multi-tasking, which means he invariably fails to preheat the oven. He may love home cooking, and have a fantastic palate, but his successes are somewhat hit and miss.

If he struggles with his relationship with his brother, then he’ll need an outlet. He will drive out to get his own shopping but only at one particular store, where the owner is so grumpy that there’s no danger of small talk. He also wants some contact with like-minded souls, so he does do social media, but only Twitter and Reddit. He also still helps the drama group with their sets, but takes items home to work on, rather than doing the painting in situ.

 

Evolve quirks and contradictions

Perhaps his hand-eye coordination is exemplary, but he has no sense of direction. So, he’s an excellent driver with good reflexes, but cannot for the life of him read a map (a source of endless embarrassment).

He’s shy until someone gets him on a topic which is a bugbear, at which point he has to be silenced with duct tape.

He’s intolerant over issues where he’d be expected to have compassion. Perhaps his brother’s condition and demanding behaviour have caused Mr Clam to emotionally associate immobility with impatience, because that’s what he puts up with all the time.

His dark and angsty painting is phenomenal, but his dark and angsty poetry puts people to sleep.

 

So, there are a couple of techniques to steer a character off the road oft-taken. I hope they’re helpful tips. To sign off, here are some extremely useful resources for digging into all peculiar corners of the character’s life and psyche:

https://www.amazon.com/Plot-Thickens-Ways-Bring-Fiction/dp/0312309287/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1525944745&sr=1-2&keywords=the+plot+thickens&dpID=51bKiLDnM%252BL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Positive-Trait-Thesaurus-Character-Attributes-ebook/dp/B00FVZDVS2/ref=pd_typ_k_rtpb_1_341689031_4/280-1884416-4836332?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=1YP15VRMHTNEZ873G6N2

I received a plaintive cry for editing help from our esteemed ERWA Editor in Chief, Sam Thorne, the other day.

Hello oh wonderful soul of lasting genius1

I wondered if you knew how to search for words that were all caps and change them to lower-case italics, using the find-replace function.

(1 That, my friends, is how you suck up)

The problem for an editor is pretty clear: we are editing a manuscript that over-uses CAPS for exclamations, which is poor form, and seek to re-cast the emphasis with … well, emphasis. Specifically, lower-case italics.

For example:

“For the hundredth time,” cried Tom, “I’M NOT FUCKING SHOUTING!”

Would become:

“For the hundredth time,” cried Tom, “I’m not fucking shouting!”

How hard could it be, right? Well, here’s the thing—I’ve spent more time than is healthy mucking about with features in Microsoft Word, and I’m no stranger to the finer points of the Find-Replace dialogue box—but changing case in Word? Man, that’s a tough one.

With the benefit of a mis-spent youth recording and tweaking Office macros, I knew this problem was bog-simple to solve in a Visual Basic macro. To that end, I wrote Sam a quickie macro and flung it off back to the mother country, but then just yesterday while I was scrying for blog ideas, it came to me—maybe it CAN be done with Find-Replace. Well, part of it, anyway. Read on; you’ll see.

Like any good overly-complicated solution, while it’s ugly to look at, it comprises some individual techniques that are really quite beautiful—ones I will definitely keep in my arsenal for solving other problems—and I thought it might be instructive to share the joy.

If you’re the impatient sort, skip to the bottom and watch the video demo. 

Disclaimer: I’m using Microsoft Office 2016. Your version may look different.

 

Changing Case in Microsoft Word

You might have noticed an inauspicious Aa button in the Home ribbon of Word. It contains a little pull-down menu for changing the case of text.

Problem solved? Not quite; Sam’s manuscript contains LOTS of shouting in LOTS of different places. Highlighting every instance and clicking lowercase is the labour-intensive process she’s trying to avoid.

Clearly, we can’t convert the entire document to lowercase. That Sentence case looks interesting, though. What if we convert the entire document to sentence case? Unfortunately, it only seems to apply changes if the first word of a sentence needs correction, otherwise it changes nothing. Here’s some sample I text I played with:

Original:

What the HELL, Microsoft Word? This is NOT how I imagined my Saturday.

Lowercase:

what the hell, microsoft word? this is not how i imagined my saturday.

Sentence case:

What the HELL, Microsoft Word? This is NOT how I imagined my Saturday.

Lowercase, then Sentence case:

What the hell, microsoft word? This is not how i imagined my saturday.

 

That last one was close, but it ruined the proper nouns like Microsoft Word, and Saturday.

Trying to manipulate the entire manuscript isn’t going to work. We need a way to focus only on those uppercase words.

We can do this manually by holding down Ctrl and highlighting all the words we want to manipulate.

Gives us:

And since those converted words are still highlighted, we can convert them to italic in a single click.

It’s not a solution, as such, but it’s progress. Now, if only there was a way to select/highlight all the uppercase words.

 

Finding Patterns with Wildcards and Advanced Find

How do you find stuff in Word? Do you hit Ctrl-F? Or do you use the magnifying-glass Find command on the Home ribbon?

BZZZT! Novice—or as gamers would say—You filthy CASUAL!!!

Find will pop up the Navigation window in the left sidebar, which is fine if you’re looking for some very specific text, but it’s not exactly feature-rich. When you’re seriously editing, this is like bringing a knife to a gun-fight, aspirin to a crack-den, edible underwear to a dinner party…

You get the idea.

When you want to find something tricky, like for instance something in all upper or lower case, you’re going to need something a bit more capable.

Enter the Find-Replace dialogue.

You can get there from the Find sidebar by clicking Advanced Find off the pull-down menu.

You can also get there with Ctrl-H, but that pops up to the Replace tab of the dialogue by default. Let’s take a closer look at that Advanced Find tab.

 

Doesn’t look too advanced, does it? Well, no—not until we click the More>> button.

 

There are a lot of fun-sounding features here, but the one we’ll be using is Use wildcards. I’ll leave the rest to your curiosity.

If you’ve heard of wildcards before, you might be thinking of the asterisk, meaning “match any sequence of characters”. For example, a search for the wildcard SLEEP* will find SLEEPY, SLEEPER, SLEEPLESSNESS, and even SLEEP.

The Advanced Find wildcard does indeed support the asterisk wildcard, but it does much, much more—way too many to mention here. Since I’m only interested in finding words in all-caps, I’m only going to explain two of the wildcards (or, as they’re known technically, Regular Expressions):

  • [xy] – Matches a single character in the range from x to y in alphanumeric order. Eg. [A-Z] matches a single uppercase character.
  • {n,} – Matches the previous Regular Expression n or more times.

In this way, the Wildcard search:

[A-Z]{2,}

will find any string of two or more capital letters. Let’s try it out.

Nice. Notice how it doesn’t match the single caps character “I”?

This isn’t perfect—it won’t capture some edge cases where a single character is orphaned by punctuation (e.g. I’M, F.B.I., O’CONNOR, TOM’S, ISN’T). This is easily fixed with a more complex expression, but I won’t go into a detailed description. Suffice to say it handles embedded punctuation.

<[A-Z][!a-z]@>

It seems like we’re almost done. Now all the all-caps are highlighted, surely we just his up that Aa button and convert them to lowercase, right?

Wrong. Although we managed to highlight them, they are not selected as far as Word is concerned. If we try hitting Aa, we’ll just change the case of whatever words we had selected prior to the Advanced Find.

What about Advanced Replace? I hear you ask. It’s no help either. We can do a lot with Replace—apply fonts, highlighting, paragraph spacing, even styles, but we can’t convert to lowercase.

It seems like we’ve hit a dead-end. We need a way to progress from finding the all-caps words to selecting them in order to then convert the case and italics.

 

Select All using Styles

Fortunately, there is a tricky work-around—there is one way to bulk-select all text of a particular type by using Styles. Try this: pick out a Style that you have examples of in your document, and right-click it in the Style Selector in the ribbon.

See that Select All option? Click it.

Word will select all examples of that Style in the document. Once selected, you can make all kinds of bulk changes, like formatting, deleting, changing style, and of course, changing case.

If only we had a way to apply a special style to those all-caps words we found.

Hopefully you’ve connected the dots by now. “But what about the Replace function?” you ask. “Can we use it to find the caps, apply a style, and then use Select-All to snaffle them all up and convert to lowercase?”

You betcha! And here it comes.

 

Find Text and Apply a Style

Using the Find-Replace dialog again:

  • Ctrl-H to open Replace dialogue.
  • Find what: <[A-Z][!a-z]@> (finds all-caps words of two or more characters)
  • Replace with: (leave blank—open the Format->Style button and choose a Style you have not used elsewhere in the document, such as “Strong”)

  • Hit Replace All

Obviously, we’re only halfway there. The caps words are still caps; they’re bold as well, of course, because we chose the “strong” style, which is a bolded style. We could equally have made our own custom style that didn’t change the font style, but the bolded text makes it easier to see that it worked, so I like it.

Now, to convert to lowercase:

  • Right-click the Strong style and Select All

  • Use the Aa button to convert to lowercase, or even better, Sentence case.

  • Optionally use the Italic button to convert to italics (this is what Sam wanted instead of caps to emphasise the shouting).

Fantastic! We’re done.

Or are we? The words are lowercase now, but they’re still bolded. That’s because they still have the Strong style applied. We have one last step to complete.

 

Stripping a Text Style

If we click on one of those bolded words, we’ll see the Strong style highlighted in the ribbon.

 

Whereas if we click on the paragraph as a whole, it will still have the default style of the paragraph (usually “Normal”).

Microsoft Word calls these Text Styles and Paragraph Styles respectively. The Paragraph Style defines the font, size, colour, etc for the entire paragraph, but it can be overridden for selected sections of text using a Text Style.

We can strip the Text Style, returning the converted words to the paragraph style.

  • Right-click the Strong style and Select All Instances to highlight all your converted text.
  • Pull down the Styles toolbox using the small arrow in the corner of the Style selector in the Home ribbon. Make sure the Strong style is highlighted.

  • Open the Style Inspector dialogue by clicking the middle of the three buttons at the bottom of the Styles toolbox (the one with a magnifying glass).

This dialogue shows the Paragraph Style and the Text Style of the selected text.

  • Now click the eraser button next to the Strong style name in the third box. It will return the highlighted text to the default Paragraph Style, removing the bold highlight from the text.
  • Note that if you had added italics above, this will appear in the fourth box, but will be conveniently preserved by the removal of the Text Style.

 

Summary

That’s it! You’re done. All your uppercase words are now lowercase (or Sentence case, if that’s what you clicked). Those steps again:

  • Use Advanced find to identify all CAPS words (Wildcard find: <[A-Z][!a-z]@>)
  • Use Replace to apply a style not used elsewhere in the document (eg. Strong)
  • Highlight all examples of the Strong style using the Style selector
  • Convert to Sentence Case
  • Optionally convert to italics
  • Strip the Text Style using the Style Investigator

More of a visual person? That’s okay, here’s a video demonstration.

Happy editing.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica

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