New Romance Writers Make: And How to Fix
Copyright Judy Bagshaw - All Rights
I originally set out to write an
article on ten common mistakes new romance
writer's make. It got to be impossibly long. And so I
present here, the first five. Watch for part two in the
August issue. ~Judy
1.NEVER FINISHING WHAT THEY START
It seems silly to write something so
obvious, but it is amazing the number of new writers in
particular, and most writers in general, who "never have
enough time", or " got too busy" to write. We (and I say
we, because I've been as guilty as anyone else of this)
seem to be able to find a million and one excuses for not
finishing our writing. We get "writer's block", or "the
phone just wouldn't stop ringing", or "I just had to get to
that sale". Whatever the excuse, that's exactly what it
is...an excuse. Perhaps we're afraid of failing. Perhaps we
lack some confidence in our talents.
But the truth of the matter is, if you
never take the chance, you won't ever know if you could
have succeeded as a writer or not. Get your butt in the
chair and finish something to send out for publication. You
may be pleasantly surprised.
2.TELLING INSTEAD OF SHOWING
This was one of the biggest flaws in my
early writing, and I still have to guard against it. I've
worked so hard to avoid this now, that I cringe when I see
it in other people's writing.
Consider this scene: Jean walked
into the room and Ted was surprised.
So what? It does superficially tell us
what's happening, but it doesn't take us there. We don't
experience it. As writers, we want to involve the reader.
We want the readers to be so swept up into the moment, that
they don't want to put down the book.
We accomplish this most simply by
engaging the senses. Let them see, hear, feel, taste, and
smell the moments. We don't just tell them what's going on,
we show them, we take them there, we involve them.
Jean sauntered into the drawing
room, stopping just inside the door.
"Hello Ted," she said and shrugged out
of her mink letting it fall to the floor revealing the
little wisp of designer silk she wore beneath.
"Jean!" Ted sprang to his feet, dropping
his snifter of cognac. "How?..when?.."
"Surprised?" Jean purred. She sashayed
up to the startled man, and put a hand on his chest. "I'd
hoped you would be," and pressed her lips to his.
We're there now, in the room, watching
the man come to grips with the woman's unexpected arrival.
We want to know why he's so surprised, and why she seems so
satisfied by his response. Curiouser and curiouser, as
Alice in Wonderland would say. And that's what we as
Jean ached to kiss Ted, but
resisted. He had hurt her after all.
Ted was overwhelmed by the sight of his
estranged love. She looked as gorgeous as ever. Why had he
let her go?
"Oh, oh, here's trouble," thought Elsie,
Ted's faithful housekeeper, as she entered the room.
Jean scowled at the older woman,
remembering all the things the interfering old woman had
said about her in town.
Yikes! I'm getting dizzy!! Jumping from
one point of view (pov) to another in rapid succession is a
recipe for disaster. Your reader gets confused, and then
First off, in a romance novel, if
writing using multiple third-person viewpoints (as is most
common in romance novels), limit the pov's to the heroine
and hero. If confused about who's viewpoint to employ in a
story, ask yourself, "who's story is this?" and the answer
should give you your viewpoint character(s).
A good rule of thumb is to use only one
viewpoint per scene, although as with any rule, this can be
broken, but would require skillful writing to avoid the
confusions inherent in head-hopping.
Always keep in mind that at no time when
writing in a particular viewpoint, can you present
information that the character hasn't already experienced,
seen, or heard.
Ack! This is another area I've
personally struggled with as a writer. And it's an easy pit
for a novice writer to fall into.
"I thought you were in Paris," Ted
"Did you now?" Jean said drily.
"Yes. Madge told me..." Ted stopped
"Madge told you?" Jean said icily.
"Since when have you ever listened to Madge."
All too often, adverbs are used by
writers to explain dialogue...to give the emotion to the
speaker, rather than showing that emotion through the
character's action and dialogue. It is, essentially, a lazy
way to write. And the reader will know that.
So, the easy solution is to cut
virtually all these -ly words out of your manuscript. Go
over your scenes again, and rewrite them, conveying the
emotions through the character's actions and interactions.
Use stronger verbs (more on that in a minute). Have the
character do something that shows his nervousness, or her
superior attitude. Are his hands shaking? Does she flick
ashes from her cigarette onto his shoe?
On the subject of verbs, be careful when
writing dialogue. Although you want to use stronger verbs
in general in your writing, the verb to use almost without
exception when writing dialogue, is the word "said". It is
an invisible word, that while establishing clearly who is
speaking, does not detract from the dialogue itself. The
reader ignores the "said" and focuses on the dialogue.
That's what you want.
And having said that, when you have only
two characters in a scene together, you can dispense with
the "saids" once you've established who's
"I was so worried," Ted
"Were you?" said Jean.
"Yes, I was."
"Well, you needn't have been. I'm a big
girl. I can take care of myself."
"But you left in such a hurry..."
"I was bored. I had to get away."
"...and Derek? Was he bored too?"
"Oh, don't be so childish Ted. Derek
means nothing to me."
If I had used a dialogue tag with every
speech, that would have been every bit as irritating to the
reader as the head-hopping or the overuse of adverbs.
5.TRUSTING SPELL-CHECK AND
There dog went their too dig a
whole two berry his bone.
Okay, so I exaggerated a bit in the
above example, but it's to make a point. The English
language is...well, let's face it...it's a damned confusing
language when you're learning to spell it. Ask any ESL
student! So a danger arises when you try to rely on your
computer's spell-check and grammar-check features to edit
Don't! I'm not saying don't use them at
all. But I am saying not to rely on them because it will
get you into trouble.
Far better to invest in a really decent
dictionary and thesaurus, or to at least have some online
dictionaries to which you can refer. As for grammar rules,
you can't beat keeping your Strunk and White's nearby
(Strunk and White's Elements of Style).
If you're going to devote a significant
amount of your time writing a great romance novel, then at
the very least, take that kind of care with your editing.
Your future editor and publisher will thank you.
About the Author: Judy
Bagshaw has been published since 2000. Writing
romance featuring full-figured heroines, her
publishing credits include 4 novels, 1 collection of
short stories, and short stories in three
anthologies. She was also part of the writing team
for the Ginn Reading Series, and Reaching Readers
Series, used in many elementary schools. Retired from
teaching, she writes full-time from her home in
Ontario, Canada. Visit Judy's website: www.judybagshaw.com