|The result of a storm in Tennessee. I call it "Retribution." Posted to Facebook by Judy Gwinn.|
Over the last couple of weeks I've run across a book that made me gnash my teeth and one that totally surprised me. I've also been horrified when I went to edit a certain chapter in one of my own books and discovered that Grace, who preaches the how-to's of Writing and Editing, totally messed up.
First, the teeth-gnashing. I try to avoid specifics when using other people's books as examples because I have no wish to hurt anyone's feelings, but I finally had to send a Medieval to the trash heap only partly read when the heroine kept saying things like, "Yike!" and "Cripes!" and I encountered phrases such as "the percs of the job." The use of modern language was so egregious, in fact, that I decided it was deliberate. The author had decided to write the book her own way and to @#$% with the anyone who might consider her choice of language odd. The problem is, the author has talent, including an ability to write sensual scenes with consummate skill. So why would she shoot herself in the foot by using words not in use until more than a thousand years in the future of her selected time period? Particularly when she has the potential to develop into a best-selling author? No, we don't want so much authenticity our work becomes unintelligible (say written in Chaucer-spelling), but I do NOT recommend emulating this particular author's approach to historical writing.
On the bright side, I encountered a book I simply loved—City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn. It was intelligent, well-researched, with excellent characters, narration, dialogue, and action. What totally shocked me came at the end when I discovered it was a Harlequin imprint! Harlequin Mira, to be exact. Although Harlequin is a romance giant worldwide, they rarely publish books of the type I personally enjoy. I now stand corrected. And I'm happy to add that the book was flawless in its presentation. No writing or editing errors allowed.
As for my own mistake, stupidity, bad day—whatever you want to call it—when I went to edit Chapter 7 of my new Regency Gothic, Mists of Moorhead Manor, I could only wrinkle my nose and go, "Huh?"
I edit from hardcopy, using a pencil for minor corrections and revisions, and a legal pad and pen to write lengthier inserts. In the case of Chapter 7, I ended up revising almost the entire chapter (by hand), with one insert filling three legal pad pages. Below you will find a small portion of the original, with the revision of that section following. I believe you will find the improvement self-evident.
Original draft excerpt from Chapter 7, The Mists of Moorhead Manor - unfortunately, a sample of "telling, not showing" and just plain rushing through the scene without enough attention to active dialogue or to detail:
Dinner was a solemn affair, with little more than an occasional clink of silverware on porcelain plates to disturb the stillness. Huntley had stopped by on his way back to the cliffs to inform us that low tide had revealed Nell Ridgeway’s body crumpled on the rocks. The Ridgeways, father and son, and two of their farmworkers were on their way with a wagon, but the climb down the cliff by lantern light would be devilish, the ascent back up with the body rising to nightmare proportions.
And, oddly, in that instant I knew who would be leading the dangerous climb. As difficult as it was to picture that frivolous flirt, Exmere, doing anything even remotely heroic, he was the heir, his father’s representative. And down he would go, hopefully calling on well-remembered childhood exploits on those very cliffs to keep him safe.
Lady Vanessa had not joined us the previous night since she was without David Tremaine’s services to carry her downstairs. Nor had she joined us tonight, due to his late return from the search for Nell. Her problems, therefore, were far from my mind when a footman burst into the dining room to relay a message from Miss Scruggs. David Tremaine, it seems, had expressed his desire to join the recovery efforts on the cliffs and Lady Vanessa had gone into one of her hysterical fits. Tremaine had gone anyway, and Miss Scruggs was begging my immediate aid. Pushing back my chair so fast it nearly toppled over, I rushed upstairs.
Oh dear God, I could hear her screams and sobs from the first floor landing. They fair stood my hair on end. I had no idea . . .
Was she quite sane? Or was this display to be expected from an overindulged invalid frustrated by the vision of endless days tied to her chair?
Revised version of the same section (which will undoubtedly be further revised in the future - only two sentences were salvaged from the original):
Although Mr. Carewe joined us for dinner, our meal was even more strained than the night before. We all felt it—the scythe of the grim reaper hanging over our heads. The turmoil in my stomach intensified as I heard the tramp of boots coming toward the dining room. I ceased pushing food around on my plate and stared as Huntley entered the room—damp, dishelved, and struggling to keep the expected stiff upper lip.
“They’ve found her,” he said. “The tide went out and there she was . . .” He shuddered, visibly gathered himself before continuing. “They’re bringing her up now—a stiff climb down and far worse coming back up. I went for Ridgeway and Tom . . . they’re bringing a wagon . . .” He gulped and added distractedly, “I must go back now to help.” With that he plunged back out the door and was gone.
A whimper of sound forced my stunned gaze to Lady Emmaline, noting a steady stream of tears running down her pale cheeks. I excused myself, coaxed her up from her chair, and escorted her to her bedchamber, where I left her in the competent care of her maid. Ignoring my duty to look in on Lady Vanessa, I settled onto the window-seat in my room and stared out toward the sea, which I could hear but barely see.
The climb down the cliff by lantern light would be devilish, the ascent back up with the body rising to nightmare proportions. And I knew who would be leading the dangerous trek. As difficult as it was to picture that frivolous flirt, Exmere, doing anything even remotely heroic, he was the heir, his father’s representative. And down he would go, hopefully calling on well-remembered childhood exploits on those very cliffs to keep him safe.
My mind formed such a vivid picture of the struggle back up the cliff with the battered body of Nell Ridgeway that for several minutes my prayers were shockingly selfish. Keep him safe, dear Lord, keep him safe. Then, thoroughly ashamed, I whispered aloud, “Forgive me, Lord,” and amended my prayers to include the other rescuers and, most importantly, Nell and her grieving family. My guilt was so great, my prayers so fervent, I didn’t hear the pounding on my door until it reached a thunderous pitch.
“Come quickly,” Maud Scruggs gasped. “My lady has worked herself up to one of her hysterical fits.” She grabbed me by the hand, tugging me across the corridor. The screams and sobs from Lady Vanessa’s bedchamber were so loud I could only wonder I had not heard them earlier. Once again, shame struck me like a blow. My thoughts had been with Rob—with the tragedy on the cliffs when my duty lay but a few feet away.
“She was furious when David left her again—dashing off the moment he heard the gentlemen were off to search the cliffs," Maud declared, bristling with righteous indignation. "Threw her fork at me when I tried to get her to eat and been working herself up ever since.”
By this time we’d passed through the sitting room into Vanessa’s bedchamber, where she sat before her dressing table, pounding her fists against the arms of her chair. Pieces of her looking glass lay shattered on the table and carpet, her carved and gilded hairbrush lying, a likely culprit, among the debris. Her screams continued, unabated, except for an occasional hiccup to catch her breath. How she could keep up the effort without collapsing from exhaustion was a mystery.
“Oh, my lady,” Maud cried, staring at the broken glass. “For shame!”
I heartily agreed. Hastily, I found a small towel to protect my hands and began picking up the shards before Vanessa could get any worse notions into her head. Miss Scruggs evidently had the same idea as she quickly moved Vanessa’s chair to the far side of the room. I could not help but wonder as I dropped potentially lethal bits of glass into a wicker basket, if Lady Vanessa was quite sane. Perhaps this display was to be expected from an overindulged invalid frustrated by the vision of endless days tied to her chair, but I was shaken, wondering if I would ever be able to do any good in such an unpromising situation.
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