Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, June 29, 2014


How to survive while Mommy looks at paint samples - for the umpteenth time . . .


Do you remember that "rule" about all manuscripts must be Courier 12 at 25 lines per page? And any word we wanted in italics should be underlined? These relics of the Typewriter Age should have been obsolete by the time I began to write seriously circa 1992. They should, in fact, have been obsolete within in a few years of the dawn of the PC with its ability to produce manuscripts in that most common proportional book font, Times New Roman, and produce actual italic type with the click of the mouse. And yet, oh horrors, this "rule" was so sacrosanct that some authors got positively hysterical if it was broken. Some RWA chapters would not even accept TNR manuscripts as contest entries - the excuse given that the authors could actually get more words to the page, and that just wasn't fair!

Sigh. I solved this problem by submitting contest entries only to chapters that did not specify "Courier 12 at 25 lines per page." It wasn't just that I was determined to fight City Hall; I knew I tended to write outside the box, and any chapter that was bound by obsolete "rules" simply wasn't going to "get" my manuscript anyway.

Those who are new to writing are likely incredulous at the above, as almost all manuscripts are now written and submitted in TNR 12 at however many lines per page a 1" margin all around allows.  And of course we use italics! [Ah . . . but do you use auto tabs? Those, I hasten to say, are not a rule, but a technical issue, something needed to accommodate our Computer Age.] And of course manuscripts are submitted electronically, edited electronically, and/or judged electronically (if entered in a contest). But it's downright embarrassing how long this change has taken. I bought my first computer in 1981 and it's now 2014. So we're talking about close to a quarter century. You know, that's really sad. How fortunate reading electronically did not lag nearly so far behind. E-publishing and e-reading have outstripped all initial growth estimates to become the great revolution of our times. And I love it. Yet although I was writing articles predicting the success of the e-book industry way back c. 2000, I never anticipated the indie-pub explosion. It has brought opportunities for fresh ideas, fresh approaches, across the board. I doubt even Amazon would have become such a powerhouse if not for the thousands of authors who swept away the New York cobwebs and expressed themselves as they had never had a chance to do before.

So "Hats Off" to Smashwords, Amazon, and all the other e-distributors and e-publishers out there. They broke just about every rule of publishing and made New York conform to them. (For the most part, that is - most NY publishers are still setting outrageous prices on e-versions of books they had to have their noses tweaked in order to produce in the first place.)

~ * ~

To continue the list of questionable rules begun in RULE-BREAKING 101, Part 1 . . .

3.  Strict Point of View - Use only the POV of the Hero, the Heroine, and possibly a Villain (if applicable).
 I can understand this requirement in a 50,000-word "Category" romance - keep it simple. And yet I recently re-read a whole shelf of short romances I valued enough to keep when I moved from Connecticut to the Florida Gulf Coast and again when I moved to Orlando seven years ago this month. Obviously, it had been quite a while since I'd last read them - maybe not since I learned the "rules" of romance writing - and I got quite a shock, discovering something I had simply never noticed before. These books not only had Multiple Points of View, they contained a lot of Author Intrusion, and - would you believe? - Head-hopping? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Did I have trouble understanding these books? Did the "jumping around" put me off? Not at all. As I mentioned, on first reading I didn't even notice it. On second reading, however, I admit to cringing at the archaic attitudes in stories written back when "feminism" was a mere gleam in the eye.  But being told what a secondary character was thinking, even a very minor secondary character didn't put me off a bit. I found these "asides" (mostly from the Author's POV) added to my enjoyment of the story.

And yet to this day, even in the e-world, some publishers still specify exactly how many POVs a story can have.  Sigh. I hasten to add there is a genuine reason for publishers being leery of multiple POVs. Unless an author is very good at it - such as Nora Roberts, who does it all the time - inserting the POVs of secondary characters can kill a story, diminishing the impact of the Hero and Heroine and of the romance itself. I have seen this over and over again in contests I have judged and manuscripts I have edited. The secondary characters end up telling us the story by  "observing" the interaction between the Hero and Heroine when readers want to experience that interaction up close and personal, through the Main Characters' eyes only. So, yes, there is a reason for this "rule," particularly for newbies, but I would like to see a return to the era when an author can insert information that does not originate solely from the heads of the Hero and Heroine and not be villified for it. My all-time favorite example of this being Nora Robert's incredibly well done description of the hero in Carnal Innocence, which I have previously quoted in this blog. A description seen through no one's eyes but the author's.

Summary.  If you can use the Points of View of certain secondary characters to add depth to your story . . . If you can give these characters brief POVs without letting them overshadow the Hero and Heroine, then I would like to see authors feel free to go for it.  Warning: even the most liberal-minded reader tends to find "head-hopping" a bit twitchy, but perhaps that's because it's been anathema for so long. Certainly, I never batted an eye at the swift POV changes in those romances mentioned above. (And that's what "Head-hopping" is - jumping quickly from one person's POV to another's, say, within the space of a paragraph or two.) How many times I've I pointed out this "fault" when judging contests - yet is it really wrong? Unfortunately, as things currently stand, it's "wrong" if the editor or agent you're submitting your book to thinks it's wrong! Although I've known authors who wrote multiple POV with brilliance the first time out (Karen Rose, for example), even Nora Roberts wrote a lot of books with strict POV before she broke out into the style for which she's become famous. So keep in mind that all I'm saying is that I would like to see a more liberal approach to POVs. And way less horror when an author breaks the death grip of Hero/Heroine/Villain only.

~ * ~ 

 There's quite a bit more to come. If you have a pet "rule" you'd like to see bent or broken, please share with us. I'm still struggling to complete my list of all the "preaching" I've encountered over my years as a romance/mystery author.

Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.


Saturday, June 21, 2014


Fathers' Day 2014 - watching Argentina vs Bosnia Herzogovina - note all the blue & white Argentine colors - two native-born Argentines, four second generation, at table


I would like to suggest that the so-called Rules for Writing Romance be confined to (1) a Happily-Ever-After ending and (2) Professional Presentation, with a caution about not writing anything over 100,000 words in an era where a "fast read" seems to fit our lifestyle better than the lengthy, convoluted reads of previous centuries.

When I gave a workshop in Atlanta last fall, a young woman came up to me afterwards and said with considerable emphasis, "Thank you for giving me permission to edit chapter by chapter!" I hope I responded politely, even though my initial reaction was horror that anyone could have given her the impression that she should not edit chapter by chapter. Books or workshops offering help to authors are great. But books and workshops that tell authors "it's my way or the highway" should be banished to the deepest, darkest depths we can find.

Another young woman who came up to me after the workshop had tears in her eyes as she thanked me for a passing remark I made about romances that were "Girl meets Girl" or "Boy meets Boy." And yes, I'm sure there were "rules" about that too until the e-book market broke that taboo. But this particular author's strong emotions on the subject amply demonstrated that barriers still exist in many people's minds.

And I myself experienced the swat of a presenter in another workshop (not in Atlanta, I hasten to add). We were told that only detailed plotting could result in a good book. Authors who did not plot in detail actually had to "go back and add the missing details to their stories." This might not have been so awful as it's true - I am constantly adding fresh details to my books - but it was said in a tone of voice that indicated this was the height of poor story writing. Needless to say, I was incensed. 

To those of us whose creativity doesn't fit the "mold," I would like to say, "Smile! You are not alone." 

To those who want rules, need rules, think they cannot function without rules, I say, "Fine, use all the rules you like. But ease up on proselytizing. Not all brains run on the same track."

My concern in this particular blog is with the author-artists out there - the ones, like me, to whom rules are anathema. We "feel" our way through our stories, layering in details as we go back and edit every chapter or so. We maneuver our characters - or are maneuvered by them - only after we have spent time with them, learned their sterling qualities and their foibles, and can at last move forward knowing what they would do in any given situation. (Or possibly be surprised by them because they absolutely refuse to do what we expected them to.) How sad to be so tied to an initial plot synopsis that we never experience a character revolt, never find our fingers typing a scene totally different from the one we had formed in our heads when we sat down at the keyboard. 

As an example of the above - which you may applaud or find horrifying, according to your thoughts on plotting - I recently reached the three-quarter mark in the Regency Gothic I'm writing and still had no idea who the killer was! Of course, this adds a good deal of mystery to the book, for if I don't know, I defy my readers to guess the name of the villain! I was finally forced to make a list of all the "possibles" and decide which one would have the most dramatic impact if he turned out to be the bad guy. To me, this is the fun of writing - the spontaneity, the juggling, the "what ifs." As I have repeated so frequently: I can hardly wait to get up each morning and find out what is going to happen next.

Below is the first installment of a list of "rules" you should question. And I hasten to add that if you love those rules, then they are likely right for you. I never knock another person's thought processes. I only want to liberate the people for whom "rules" do not work. If, for example, you are writing Category for Harlequin/Silhouette, you have no choice. Those companies have rules and you jolly well better follow them. The rest of us, however, have more flexibility.

As an example - Tarleton's Wife, a book I wrote before I ever heard about any "rules" for romance, is my most successful novel. It came out as an e-book in December 1999, won RWA's Golden Heart in July 2000. It also received a "Best Romance" award from the Florida Writers' Association. It is currently on its fourth incarnation (two print versions, two e-versions) - and still going strong. On each royalty statement from Ellora's Cave Blush, I see Tarleton's Wife has sold the most copies of all my books. And yet when I wrote it, I didn't even know what a "hook" was!

How did I learn? By reading, I suppose. I just absorbed how other authors did it and sat down and wrote a book. Was this my first book? No, but The Sometime Bride was 140,000 words and was not e-published until after Tarleton's Wife. Both were books of the heart, written with only years of reading romance (mostly historical) to guide me on my way. I still consider them my best books. Yes, I'm proud of the books I wrote after I tried to "conform," but they simply cannot compare to Tarleton's Wife and The Sometime Bride, books written without the constraint of "rules."

Some "rules" that could stand a bit of skepticism:

1. Write a Draft straight through without stopping. Do not pause for any reason, including editing.

Unless you are a person without any self-motivation - you just can't finish a project even if your life depends on it - this is an abominable "rule." At the end of the book you are faced with editing the WHOLE thing at once, a seemingly insurmountable task. It's likely the book gets little more copy editing (typos, etc.). Any in-depth editing, a major revision for example, could result in changes to every following chapter (the domino effect), and the likelihood of missing some important revisions altogether.  That wonderful secondary character you might have added in Chapter 3 never gets born. The relationship scene in Chapter 5 skims the surface, never getting the in-depth treatment it deserves. That beautiful description of a landscape, castle, soccer game, faraway planet never gets written because slogging through those many, many pages is just too much, you're sick of the whole thing and just want to get it over with!

To reiterate: if your want to add a new character or new event, say, in Chapter 2, there is a ripple effect that spreads out to every chapter after that. If you edit directly after Chapter 2, adding this character or event, there is no problem incorporating the change into the remaining chapters. If, however, you plow straight through to the end, adding that new character or event in Chapter 2 can be daunting, as you must find and revise every single place affected by that change and make the added information fit. A chore that is likely going to cause great time and anguish or force you to give up that excellent addition altogether.

Basically, if you edit chapter by chapter, you only have to cope with a mere 8-20 pages of additions, deletions, typos and missing words, not be intimidated by 350-400 unedited pages all at once. But as noted before, if the full-draft-then-edit method works for you, producing a book you feel is the best you can do, then by all means stick to that approach. Just don't tell the rest of us that is the only way to write! 

Special Note: Am I saying you must edit chapter by chapter? Absolutely not. The whole point is that each author must find what works best for him or her. If I'm "on a roll," I may charge through two or more chapters before stopping to edit. You must find your own rhythm. I am merely asking that you not be intimidated by didactic voices that scream: "Get through that draft, don't stop to edit 'til you're done."

2. The 20- to 30-page Synopsis.

I heard a Harlequin/Silhouette author say she once wrote a 30-page synopsis for a 65,000-word word. (If I did that, I'd feel I had already written the book and lost interest in doing anything more!) But if you write for H/S, that is what you have to do - or at least 15-20 pages of synopsis! Yet keep in mind most editors would turn pale at the thought. They are far too busy for such nonsense. Three to five pages is the norm - and all an editor or agent has time to read. (I think I wrote a paragraph each for the proposal for Books 2 and 3 of my Blue Moon Rising series for Ellora's Cave.) So don't panic. If you want to write Category for H/S, then you must follow their way of doing things to the T. If you are not writing Category, then forgetaboutit. I once got all 140,000 words of The Sometime Bride down to a one page synopsis - with a log line of two sentences! Reducing your book to a few choice words is a great way to clarify your thinking, by the way. You may find the major point that comes to mind is quite different from what you thought was most important when you started.  

Keep in mind that most agents and publishers have guidelines that tell you how they want your submission presented, including the length of the Synopsis. So take the time to do your homework and give them what they want. 

~ * ~

 RULE-BREAKING 101 will be continued next week.

Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ode to the English Plural

Sunset flirting with storm clouds, Orlando, June 2014

Below is a poem that has been making the rounds of the Internet for years - I have no source for it other than an e-mail posted to RWA's Mystery/Suspense loop many years ago. It seems to mesh well, however, with my posts on writing and editing and just how tricky that can be at times. Read and enjoy.

       An Ode to the English Plural

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice. 

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and there would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethern.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in
eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England. We take English for 
granted, but if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can
work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from
Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing,
grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of
them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship...
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and
in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And is closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop? 

~ * ~

If anyone knows the author of the above, please tell us.

Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Third Person vs First - 2

My daughter found this paper from last fall in Cassidy's second grade school folder. Priceless!

Note to non-U.S. readers: that's a seven after the equal sign. We don't use a line through a seven, nor do we write a "one" with an initial serif. So the problem is correctly solved, and the explanation literally correct as well, even though Cassidy had no idea what the book really meant by "explain in your own words how you solved this problem." (She's an independent little minx, and I can almost hear her saying, "Duh!" when she read the instructions.)


Over the years a number of variations have developed on the use of first person. Some because the author felt the need to express another person's Point of View even though he/she was writing in First Person. And also, I suspect, because authors who preferred to write in first person were trying to "get around" the prejudice against showing only one point of view. Below are a couple of ways authors have varied the First-person approach.

James Lee Burke, in his long-running Dave Robicheaux Cajun mystery series has such a neat way of slipping into Third Person that some people don't even notice he's done it. He does some variation on the theme of "And this is what he/she told me . . .," and he plunges into that person recounting their version of an event. In Third Person. Doing it seamlessly without so much as a ripple of disturbance in the narrative. 

So, yes, it's possible to have one main character tell their story in First Person and still allow a second character to speak in Third Person. If I were an unpublished author, however, I would be cautious about trying this approach. It's more an innovation an experienced and successful author might try, rather than an appropriate approach for a newbie. As I recall, Burke wrote a number of straight First-Person stories before he began to sneak in other Points of View.

Double First Person. It is also possible to write a First Person story with two equal - or nearly equal - Points of View. For example, the Heroine tells her side of the story, then the Hero tells his. The trick here is that each scene must have an ID tag, an identification line, so readers will know which "I" is which. Otherwise, you have nothing but confusion. I judged a contest entry written in that style once and had absolutely NO idea which character was narrating at any given time.

If using Double First Person, it is also important to make sure you keep the story moving and are not bogging the story down by having the Heroine describe a scene and then the Hero give his viewpoint of the same scene. Yes, there are times when this might be cute or clever, but if used more than once or twice, it becomes infinitely boring—besides giving the reader the impression that the author is lazy, providing only ten chapters of plot when twenty were expected.

Actually, one of the first and only Category romances I ever read (or didn't read) did the same thing in Third Person. First the Heroine's view of a scene, then the Hero's view of the same scene. I was so bored I never made it past Chapter 4.

I imagine there are as many variations on First Person as there are authors, but hopefully my blogs the past two weeks will shed a bit of light on the possibilities of writing in First Person. Even if you choose not to try it, I hope it will help you look on First Person stories more kindly. I truly believe they offer an intimacy, a flexibility of thought that Third Person can never quite match.

~ * ~

 Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.