Friday, February 29, 2008

Power Play

by Meghan Miller

You come across a lot of things when you're reading romance novels: dominant alpha-male personalities, beautiful submissives, a bit of kinky handcuff play, BDSM clubs, full-time D/s relationships, relationships that fulfill that dynamic in the bedroom only... One of the things that you don't see a lot of, though, is femdom, or a D/s relationship in which the dominant partner is a woman.

On the surface, it seems like femdom should be appealing to romance readers—there's a certain glamour, after all, to being in charge, to having that sort of power. It seems like it would be the height of female empowerment, making a man bow sexually to you.

Possibly you caught the "should" and "seems like" in the previous paragraph. In practice, fewer woman than one might expect enjoy the femdom dynamic, at least in fiction.

To be a Domme is to hold a lot of power. In a femdom relationship, or any sort of D/s relationship, the Domme (or Dom) is by necessity the responsible partner — responsible for the safety of what they're doing, for ensuring that the sub finds their activities pleasurable (or not, if that's the point), responsible for their own pleasure. To really dominate someone, one must be constantly aware not only of the sub's headspace, but also of their own, and of how both headspaces will shift as the scene progresses. On the surface, it doesn't seem like there should be anything off-putting about that, and maybe in real life there's not.

In fiction, though, it's another thing entirely. As a rule, readers of fiction are seeking out some sort of fantasy. When you've spent the last twelve hours wrangling children, arguing with co-workers, trying to find something to eat for supper, calling the phone company to try to figure out why last month's long-distance bill cost two hundred dollars, and having to be on top of things and in control all the time, most people don't want to fantasize about having to care for someone else. They want to fantasize about having someone else care for them.

For many people — not just women — submitting to someone can be a very powerful experience. A good Dom will nurture and care for his sub, doing everything he can to ensure the sub’s comfort and happiness. Additionally, the combination of pain and pleasure that is present in a D/s scene triggers the sympathetic nervous system, evoking a high with both physical and mental effects. Pain tolerance increases, and the sub feels dreamily detached, not unlike the way one feels when taking narcotics. When the scene ends, it is likely that the sub will be exhausted, which is why aftercare is sometimes necessary.

In a D/s relationship, the sub is ultimately the one with the power. Not only is the Dom trying to please them, but all it takes is one word, their safeword, and the scene ends. No one goes into any sort of D/s situation in hopes that they’ll be miserable — they do it because of the pleasure and power to be found in submitting. It's understandable that a woman who has to be responsible and "in charge" for most of her day — the femdom in dealing with life — could fantasize about not having to take the dominant role in the bedroom.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Beloved Betas

Beloved Betas

Coming to us from books and movies, these are the beta guys who continue to capture our hearts.

1. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
2. Peter Parker in the Spider-Man movies directed by Sam Reimi, from the comic created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
3. Lord Henry Trevelyn in The Changeling Bride by Lisa Cach.
4. Clark Kent in the Superman movies (various directors), from the comic created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
5. Jackson Farley in Nerd in Shining Armor by Vicki Lewis Thompson.
6. Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, directed by Cameron Crowe.
7. Mr. George Knightley in Emma by Jane Austen.
8. The heroes in the books by Kathleen Gilles Seidel: Again; The Same Last Name; Summer's End.
9. Westley in The Princess Bride by William Goldman (and the movie adaptation by Rob Reiner).
10. Jedwin in Wild Oats by Pamela Morsi
11. C.L. Sturgis in Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie
12. Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, directed by Gore Verbinski.
13. The heroes in any number of traditional Regency romances from Georgette Heyer.

Monday, February 25, 2008

In Praise of Beta Heroes

by Nick Conrad

There are only so many nobles, warlords and top executives out there—not every guy gets to be a big dog. And not every guy is cut out to be a big dog, either. What of all the nerds, the shy guys, the loners, the mellow types who do their thing quietly and without ceremony? Some heroes aren’t bent on being in charge all the time—they don’t have the same swagger, the same sometimes overwhelming confidence of the standard garden-variety alpha male. These are our beta heroes—the guys who don’t roar as loudly and who might need a little more prodding when it comes to going after what they want.

The beta hero, generally speaking, is a likable fellow who’s usually not without some significant—although sometimes not immediately noticeable—talents. But even though he doesn’t stand at the head of the pack, the heroine is drawn to him, and it’s not hard to see why. At the heart of it all, the beta hero is sincere. When he falls in love with the heroine, there is no question about his motives. Unlike his alpha brother, the beta man tends to show sensitivity more quickly. There’s less possessiveness, less of a desperate drive to make the woman his. In fact, often the beta hero is more tactful in his pursuit, to the point where he might not be the one doing the pursuing. Sometimes he starts out as a friend to the heroine and moves in later. Other times, he steps aside and lets her come to him when she’s ready. Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is one such hero.

Sometimes a hero can have a beta-seeming exterior but have very alpha aspects. He could be quiet and nerdy, boyish and easygoing—the point is, he’s not immediately recognizable as alpha. Once upon a time, a socially awkward bespectacled reporter known for being “mild-mannered” was actually a flying bulletproof powerhouse who saved people and could leap tall buildings in a single bound. But not every Clark Kent has to be Superman in disguise. Some beta men really are just mild-mannered guys who don’t move mountains or ooze testosterone out of every pore. But sometimes a situation arises where they need to spring into action, either to come to the aid of another character in the book (often the heroine) or to “prove” themselves in another way. Perhaps the geeky accountant suddenly reveals that he can fiercely hold his own in a fight, or the laid-back playboy who seems like he never works uses an impressive business prowess (and equally impressive funds) to come to the rescue. Or perhaps, in a streak of glory for nerds worldwide, the hero might have his moment in what seems like his most natural element—perhaps he’ll save the day using his expertise in computers or math. Either way, he shows that he might be mild-mannered at heart, but he can still be a superhero when one is needed. And the flash of alpha doesn’t even have to be so dramatic. It could be that the heroine has taken the reins of the relationship—and everyone is perfectly satisfied with that setup—but the hero needs to stand up for himself because she’s not respecting him. Or perhaps she needs him to help her ground herself, come back to Earth. A bit of maturity can be just as sexy as a bit of muscle.

Another common beta hero is the man-child who needs to grow up. He’s often something of a dandy, and that’s part of his charm—he’s fancy-free and able to show the heroine a good time. But after a while, his youthful attitude can become too much to bear. No one in an adult relationship wants to be the only grownup all the time, and the heroine most likely doesn’t want to be his mom. So such a hero has some maturing to do, and it’s preferred that he do it within the scope of the book. Sometimes the need to spring to action in a crisis is the trigger for the man-child’s growth spurt, but other times it’s not so dramatic. The key is that the hero realizes that, in order to cement—or maintain—his relationship with the heroine, he needs to step up and be a man. He needn’t completely kill the Peter Pan within—most likely, his boyishness is part of his charm, and his youthful view of the world has taught the heroine some valuable lessons. So, in the best case scenario, both the man-child and the woman he loves learn a little from each other.

Some readers might be wondering about relationships that contain two men. The two heroes could have any combination of personalities, but it is true that they might be an alpha and a beta. However, the relationship between the two of them (if they are romantically and/or sexually involved with each other) might not be so transparent as that—such a pairing does not default to alpha man: dominant and beta man: submissive. Their own relationship dynamic might be very different from that based on the other factors surrounding it. All of this to say, alpha and beta are not automatically equivalent to dominant and submissive (or “top” and “bottom”, either). That is an oversimplification of complex personality traits that can have many facets. If we wanted our heroes to be two-dimensional cutouts, we’d be making paper dolls of them instead of seeking them out in books.

Note that the beta hero who shows alpha aspects is not the same as a beta in alpha’s clothing. As discussed in a previous article on alpha heroes, the title does not make the man—just because your hero is a great warrior or the head of a major corporation does not mean he has an alpha personality. Yes, both of those positions require some alpha traits, but he’s not on the clock all the time. Sometimes a powerful man just doesn’t want to be in charge in his personal life, too. Moreover, attempting to make a hero alpha simply by putting him in armor or in a CEO’s swivel chair is lazy writing and, like all lazy writing, rarely works. The true definition of a hero as beta or alpha comes from within.

Beta men help make the world go around. For every leader, there have to be multiple loyal followers, and the men who fulfill these roles are no less lovable than their bosses.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Stunning Starts

Hopefully every writer knows that the most important sentence in your book is the FIRST one. And that criticality applies to the first paragraph and first page, also. You will gain or lose a potential reader/purchaser based on the first few lines of page one. If you don't grab them with that, they will likely not buy your book.

So we'll be having a couple of blog posts on this topic in a few weeks. As part of that, we will critique some "first paragraphs" sent to us. If you'd like our advice, send the first paragraph (one paragraph only, whatever length you have) to by March 3, and we'll select as many as possible to dissect here.

Cover Letter Critiques, Part Three

Continuing with our series of helpful advice on your cover letter when submitting a manuscript to an editor or agent!

Colleen and Kim, thanks for being brave and letting us tear your letter apart! Email to let her know what ebook you'd like as your prize.

Submission Cover Letter #5:

Dear (Editor/Agent's Name),

I love coffee. Sometimes people try to switch my coffee from caffeinated to decaf. I can always tell the difference. I also like Pringles, but only the reduced fat kind because they crunch better when you bite into them and they aren't as greasy. I'm an actress sometimes, a photographer rarely, a producer most of the time, and a friend always. But seriously, and yes I can be serious, I consider myself a work in progress. I believe if you fall asleep at night the same person that you were in the morning, you might as well have stayed in bed. Life will kick you in the balls, but I kick back harder. I am a dreamer. I am a romantic. I am pragmatic. I am contradictory. I love my family, my friends, my life, and every crusade I've fought to get where I am. Although it's been proven that caffeine is addictive, stunts your growth, and is bad for your teeth—I like it. And I'll never allow anyone to steal the caffeine from my coffee. My book chronicles the important, the funny, the sometimes life-changing moments I have experienced. These are my stories. These are my memoirs. These are the reasons I became the woman I am today.

My memoir, {TITLE} chronicles the groundbreaking experiences of my life. From the first time I was dumped, to my battle with cervical cancer, to my coming to terms with having been date raped, you accompany me on the stories (large and small) of my life that have made me the woman I am today. And I'm only 24 years old! Still, in spite of everything, I continue searching for a love that will curl my toes.

Upon learning that you represent (Insert name of author and titles researched) AUTHOR A and AUTHOR B, I thought that you may want to take a look at my manuscript. I am confident that it would make a great addition to your already stellar collection.

What gives me an edge? Well, my current boss is a celebrity, an amazing writer, and extremely supportive of my efforts. Her name is {Name}. I currently work as her associate producer for {TV Show}.

My writing career began at age six when I started creating stories to accommodate my wild imagination. My favorite was about an angel whose job was to watch over a little orphan girl. I am a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design and have been a regular writer for and a regional magazine called Chesapeake Pet. Most recently, I had a story published in the book GRAB YOUR TIGER, which was released in April of 2007.
I'd be happy to send you my completed manuscript for your review. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

{Author Name}
Future Best-Selling Author


My first question: is the editor you’re sending this to someone who deals exclusively (or heavily) in memoirs? If not, you risk the editor skimming the first few sentences and setting your submission aside to be dealt with later. It’s so different that a busy acquiring editor may not have the patience to figure out what you’re talking about. If this is going to an editor who deals exclusively/heavily in memoirs, I have a second question: is your book about liking coffee and reduced fat chips? If not, you just sent a very wrong message.

Don’t trade being clear for being clever. It’s far better to have a straightforward if slightly boring cover letter that gives all the relevant information than a clever, amusing one that leaves the editor wondering, Now what is this book about? The meat of your memoir really should be closer to the top. By the time you’d gotten to talking about heavier issues that readers may be drawn to, I’d already figured you didn’t really have anything to say.

Also, be careful with namedropping. If it has a clear point and relevance, then it can be quite good. If it sounds like namedropping for the heck of it, however, an editor is far less likely to be impressed.

“My writing career began at age six when I started creating stories to accommodate my wild imagination. My favorite was about an angel whose job was to watch over a little orphan girl.” Okay…so what? That isn’t important. Your relevant experience, however, is. Finally, be careful when singing your stories Future Best-Selling Author. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and arrogance can be a red flag to editors that you’re difficult to work with.

I understand the point of your intro paragraph, but it didn’t work. At first, I was wondering what all this information had to do with anything, but then it went on so long that before we got to the point—your memoirs—I was just tired of reading. Also, as an editor I’m nitpicky enough to get hung up on the fact that none of those were memoirs or even stories, as stated—they’re just facts about the writer.

Mentioning your boss, who is in fact a very respected figure in television, comes off as name-dropping here, especially since ‘celebrity’ is the first quality mentioned and thus is apparently supposed to be the most important. The writer’s job and boss are both very impressive, but there are ways of working that information into the letter so it doesn’t sound like bragging. The lack of a good transition into the next paragraph makes it seem that you just want to mention that you know this person.

In fact, lack of transitions plague this letter. It makes the whole thing just seem like a stream of almost unrelated sentences—we don’t really need to know about your favorite childhood story, by the way—which frankly does not impress me when it comes to your writing skills. The experience you list late in the letter is appropriate, though.

Lastly, your ‘title’ (Future Best-Selling Author) makes you seem immature. That too is a recurring problem in this letter—your memoirs could very well be amazing, and it’s clear that you've gone through some difficult times, but you strike me as very young. You really want the person reading this letter to be impressed with your maturity.

When I started reading, I assumed the book had something to do with coffee. That would have been great—I love coffee! But as it turns out, it wasn’t. I find letters that open with some big poetic I AM… paragraph rather distasteful. We’re reviewing the book, not the author, and so even though I like coffee (and Pringles™, too), I would rather this paragraph weren’t here.

Ordinarily I would advise against relating personal narratives in a cover letter because the letter should be about the book, not the author. In the case of the second paragraph, though, the submission is a memoir, so the author’s references to personal experiences are relevant to the submission—they are describing the content of the book to us. However, I would caution against any statements of “And I’m only ­­­__ years old!” because, while the fact might be remarkable (such as if the author is relating her solo transatlantic flight, her Nobel Prize, and her patent on a freestanding toothbrush at twenty-two), it often pings in the editor’s mind as “I’m such a great writer despite my young age!”, which can come off as a bit boastful. Also, it might not be the best idea to reveal your youth before the book is reviewed. If we know the person writing is nineteen years old, we might be suspicious of her ability to appeal to an audience that spans well beyond that age. That isn’t to say a nineteen-year-old couldn’t write an excellent book that would appeal to readers of all ages, but there’s no reason to risk chipping away at your own credibility by giving away too much personal information in a cover letter. Also, many editors in publishing houses all over the country—including New York—are in their early twenties. So we’re not impressed by “young” authors.

Most of the information in the next two paragraphs is not particularly relevant (no publisher cares about what an author wrote at age six), save for the mention of the prior publication. However, there was no additional information about the book, such as its publisher. Editors reading these letters often aren’t going to take the time to check online—and if we do and we find that the book is subsidy-published, it tells us a lot about the author’s ambition but not much about the author’s ability to attract publishers. And I am familiar with your celebrity boss and love her work, but it’s not pertinent to the books we publish.

The author thanked us for our time, something I always appreciate. The author’s signature includes “Future Best-Selling Author”. Personally, any time I read any predictions on the author’s part that she or he will produce a bestseller in the future, it turns me off. Claim it when you’ve achieved it, not before.

An important rule of thumb: The majority of your cover letter should be about your book, not about you.

Submission Cover Letter #6:

Dear (Editor's name),

{TITLE} is a paranormal action/adventure romance set in present-day Chicago. The manuscript is complete at 92,000 words and features fallen angels, demons, magical relics and a shape-shifting rock.

Archeology student by day, exotic dancer at night, all Lexie Harrison wants is to be left alone to complete her projected five-year life plan to become an archeologist and get the hell out of Chicago. Her problem? A host of fellow humans who won’t leave her alone, a dark angel who insists she rejoin the human race and a destiny that threatens to topple her carefully balanced life.

Fallen angel Phoenix, aka Simon Richard St. John, desperately seeks redemption for past mistakes. To be absolved of his sins so he can reenter Heaven, he is convinced he must train, mentor and guide the unwilling mortal to fulfill her destiny. His dilemma? Not only is the woman who is destined to the save the world dangerously intoxicating, she doesn’t care if mankind is sucked into the deepest reaches of space. He’d rather fight a legion of demons.

The conflict between Lexie’s wish to be left alone and Simon’s insistence that only through her renewal of faith can he be redeemed continually put their two strong personalities at odds. Not only does he push her to take up the mantle of protector for a world she despises, he challenges her lonely heart to feel, to care. In return, Lexie shakes the foundation of Simon’s own desires.

If trying to find their own way isn’t enough, they must fight against a power hungry demon seeking to gather enough power to shift the balance between good and evil. And they must fight against a passion for the other that is forbidden.

I am an active member of my local RWA chapter and have published an action/adventure romance set in Earth’s future with {Publisher}. I have sample pages of {TITLE} and other works completed or in progress on my web site.

I’m excited about the possibility of working with you and hope to hear from you soon. Thank you for your consideration.


The opening paragraph is strong. The author talks about the book first and foremost, and she delivers relevant information right up front—genre, setting, word count, major features of the story. Also, she does all of this succinctly. When executed in a way that is still informative, less is more. Well done.

The synopsis covers the story explicitly but without wasting words. Be careful to proofread several times (although typos were quite minimal), but the content of the book was summarized in a way that gave important details and made the story sound interesting.

The personal information the author gives is pertinent to her romance writing experience and includes her published work with a reputable publisher. And again, thank-yous are always, well, quite welcome.

I’m probably the last person you want reading this letter because my educational background is actually in archaeology, and my first thought was that if the heroine thinks that she can finish her education and become a practicing archaeologist in five years, the writer probably hasn’t done a whole lot of research for this book. Needless to say, that doesn’t get the letter off on the right foot at all.

The blurb needs editing. It’s filled with awkward sentences and I’m actually having difficulty following it. In short, the blurb is not impressing me and doesn’t particularly make me want to read the story. The blurb should really put your best foot forward, story-wise. It also runs way too long—a paragraph or two is all I want.

The experience listed at the end is appropriate, though.

The first paragraph is very promising. You give us the necessary information in a straightforward and brief manner and you managed to catch my attention. A shape-shifting rock? Huh! The rest of the letter has some problems, however. The summary is too long and somewhat meandering. There were times when I had to re-read to make certain I understood what was being said. Tighten up the summary to the most important or exciting elements. The book summary should be short, snappy and to the point, giving me a very clear picture about two important things:

1) What is the book about and
2) Who is going to buy it.

Your credentials were good. They were relevant and to the point. I’m not certain why you mentioned having samples on your webpage. You’ll be sending me the story—I don’t need to go surfing to find it. Also, double-check the average amount of time it takes to become an archeologist. I was under the impression that it was a very difficult field for people to break into, and five years (around four of them for college, I assume?) seems to be pushing it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fantastic Fantasy Worlds

1. Frank Baum's Oz from The Wizard of Oz.
2. Lewis Carroll's Wonderland from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
3. C.S. Lewis's Narnia from The Chronicles of Narnia.
4. J.K. Rowling's magical Britain (such as magical houses, Hogwarts, and Diagon Alley) in the Harry Potter novels.
5. The futuristic Earth of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.
6. Terry Prachett's Discworld.
7. The dimension on the other side of the tesseract in Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series.
8. Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek universe.
9. Fantastica in Michael Ende's The Neverending Story.
10. Charles de Lint's Newford from the Newford series of books.
11. The All-World universe and its portals on Earth in Stephen King's Dark Tower series.
12. The Dreaming from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.
13. J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Worldbuilding Traps

by Mary Altman

“Worldbuilding is a technique widely used by authors to create diverse and believable constructed worlds in which to base their stories” (

There’s a lot that can be said about worldbuilding. It is one of the essential tools in an author’s bag of tricks—the base on which the entire story is built. Without careful forethought and meticulous planning, a complex novel can easily unravel.

Worldbuilding is important in any genre, but it is especially crucial in speculative fiction and paranormal novels. Once you introduce an element that is totally your own creation without the accompanying “rules” of reality (such as Earth’s gravity and other scientific facts), it is up to you as the author to create the rules, put them into play and make certain they are followed at all times.

As I mentioned, there’s a lot that can be said about worldbuilding including how it works, how it shouldn’t work and a few genre cheats and shorthands that have evolved which help an author out (known as the Black Box). But what better way to start talking about worldbuilding than to skip all of that completely and go immediately to the things that really bug me as a reader and an editor?

1) Planets that are treated like one country. The rule of writing is that every rule can be broken, and this is no exception. There have been fantastic stories which included entire planets (small planets, large planets, colonized moons…) under the control of one political system and one ruling hegemony. However, if not done consciously and well, it strains credibility that one government has managed to take and maintain control over an entire planet. Think your world through and take the time to consider varying nations and cultures.

2) The complete lack of a political system. This one bugs me even more than #1. Even a poorly thought out political system is preferable to nothing at all. How is the society working? How are things accomplished—roads built, orphans housed, other planets bartered with? Even if your answer is “they aren’t”, you need to know that—and know how it will affect the story.

3) No economy or agriculture. People have to eat and the food has to come from somewhere. City-planets full of technological marvels are interesting to read about, but I always find myself wondering how they manage to sustain life without so much as a corn field.

4) Societies that mirror modern American mores for no reason. It’s easy to fall back on the familiar, especially when you’re putting so much hard work into the science and political structure of your world. However, I tend to find it off-putting when alien races (and paranormal beings) react to the world with a decidedly modern moral compass. Consider building unique taboos and moral codes to bring dimension to your cultures. (Editor Meghan would like to add that stealing from Ancient China or Japan is now a speculative fiction cliché, so beware of that pitfall as well!)

5) The presence of an “Old Earth” fan. Having a character who just loves “Old Earth” and who constantly references television shows and “ancient” pop culture is no longer new or amusing (unless you write so well that you can make it new and amusing again). It’s a genre cliché to have a futuristic character with a broad 1960s-2000s Earth pop cultural knowledge, and it often smacks of lazy writing.

6) Ultra-stereotypical paranormal creatures and names. Demons do not need to be named Luc or Lucian or Damon or Devlin. No, really, they don’t.

7) Breaking rules in order to serve the plot. This is the case of the werewolf with an ultra-sensitive sense of smell…until the plot calls for the heroine being able to sneak past him without being detected. Readers get angry when you break the rules you’ve created—when you violate your worldbuilding. Sit down and think through every scene in order to create a way the heroine could sneak past the werewolf and cleverly bypass his sense of smell. It will keep your rules intact and create a potentially interesting plot element.

I could probably go on for pages, but you get the general idea. Worldbuilding is absolutely crucial to genre fiction, whether it’s fleshing out paranormal creatures, adding details to a modern setting or literally creating a world from scratch. Keeping in mind questions about politics, economics, culture and scientific possibility will help build the rules that govern your specific world—and knowing the rules means you know exactly how to break them without making readers (and your editor) scream.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Terms That Are Less Than Endearing

In honor of Valentine's Day, we prowled the internet—and our worst memories—for the weirdest, least charming terms of endearment we've ever heard.

1. Sugartits. First of all, a sugartit is a piece of cloth dipped in sugar and water (or sugar and milk) and used as a pacifier for an infant. Second of all, um, thanks, but I'd like to think there are sweeter things about me than my breasts.
2. Angelpuss. All right, so "puss" in this sense is supposed to mean "mouth". Still, I'd rather not be called anything-puss. At the worst, it seems somewhat crass, and at the mildest, um...meow?
3. Dumpling. They're delicious. I'd like to think I'm delicious. But can we find something more flattering than this? I don't want my sweetie to think I resemble a ball of boiled dough.
4. Sugar-booger. Eww. Can anything about something that comes from your nose ever be sweet, no matter how much sugar is involved?
5. Duck, Duckling. What, I have feathers and quack? I have a big beak? Or do you just mean you expect me to follow you everywhere you go?
6. Fruitcake. Seriously? Who likes fruitcake enough to use it as a term of endearment? You mean you love me so much you want to regift me as soon as I'm unwrapped? Also, it's a term than can mean eccentric or offbeat—or a homophobic slur. Charming.
7. Daddy. For some people, it could be situationally appropriate as a regular term of endearment. But you might want to check with your partner first before using it or asking them to use it—especially in bed. For many of us, the person we think of when we hear "Daddy" is not someone we want to be thinking about at that particular time.
8. Schnooky lumps. What...what?
9. Shabookadook. See above. I know it's normal to sometimes break into nonsense talk with your loved one, but try breaking down the etymology of this one.
10. Puddle-pooper. Hmm. Sounds like a medical problem.
11. Poopsie, Poopsie-woopsie, or any variation.
12. Fudgey. Well, fudge is generally pretty appealing. It's sweet and tastes delicious. But it's also sticky and gooey and...what exactly is it about me that's fudgey, anyway? Because that could make a big difference.
13. "Little" anything, when referring to men. It might not be meant offensively, but guys tend to be somewhat knee-jerky about people implying anything about them is small—especially when it's someone who's seen them naked!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Will You Marry Me?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Will You Marry Me? - Seven Centuries of Love
edited by Helene Scheu-Riesz

Hardcover, US$14.95, Simon & Schuster

From the book jacket: "This lavishly illustrated tribute includes marriage proposals, spanning seven hundred years, all delivered in the form of love letters. Each of these enchanting missives illustrates the unique sensibilities of the time period in which it was written, from the commanding negotiations of the Gothic age to the beautifully written declarations promising eternal devotion of the Renaissance and beyond."

If you write historical fiction or historical romance, excellent advice is that you read correspondence from the time period you are writing about. That's about the only way to "hear" the voice of people of that time: the way they thought and spoke, the words they used, how they addressed each other, the cadence of their speech. Of course, some of those old letters are formal--business or government documents, for example. But some are personal correspondence between family members or friends--or lovers. Such letters are fascinating and illuminating.

This book contains forty letters, dated from Medieval through Victorian times. Most of them are from royalty, nobility, the wealthy or the famous. Those were the people who knew how to read and write, and whose correspondence was most likely to be preserved.

In 1499, thirteen-year-old Arthur, Prince of Wales, wrote to his betrothed, Catherine of Aragon: "Most illustrious and excellent lady, my dearest spouse ... I have read the sweet letters of your Highness, from which I have easily perceived your entire love for me."

German preacher Adolf Stoecker proposed to his lady in 1894: "Highly Honored Fraulein, I begin this letter with trembling and fear, because your answer to it will bring me the greatest happiness or the most abysmal grief. I fought and wrestled with myself for so long a time, at last after much praying and searching before God, I have found the courage to tell you that I love you with all my heart."

Not quite the way modern lovers would say it, but that's the point--the emotion hasn't changed in five hundred years, but how it was expressed certainly has. And that's what any writer of historical novels needs to study and emulate.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Punctuating Dialogue

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Okay, to wrap up our series of articles on dialogue, let's talk about proper punctuation of dialogue tags. It is amazing how many writers can't keep this straight. We see some practically unreadable dialogue in submissions. If the editor has to struggle through it, it definitely lessens their enthusiasm for possibly contracting this book -- which they'd then have to edit to fix.

The dialogue tag is a continuation of the sentence and is separated from the dialogue by a comma, exclamation point or question mark, but not by a period. Unless the word following the punctuation is a proper name, the word is lower case. Here are examples of dialogue tag punctuation:

Wrong: "Nancy, you are so naughty." Her friend said.
Correct: "Nancy, you are so naughty," her friend said.
Correct: "Why are you so naughty, Nancy?" her friend asked.
Correct: "Nancy," Irma said, "you are so naughty."

Wrong: "I'm looking for the sex toys!" Said Anastasia.
Correct: "I’m looking for the sex toys!" Anastasia said.
Correct: "I’m looking for the sex toys!" said Anastasia.

The punctuation mark ending the dialogue part is placed within the quote marks.

If a character’s dialogue continues for multiple paragraphs, each paragraph starts with opening quotes, but there are no close quotes until the end of the character’s speech.

Do not use two dialogue tags for one continuous piece of dialogue. Either remove one dialogue tag or split the dialogue into two parts.

Wrong: With a heavy heart, he said, “Had I known, I would never have eaten that last cookie. I didn’t know your blood sugar would drop and you would need a snack,” he whispered sheepishly.

Correct: With a heavy heart, he said, “Had I known, I would never have eaten that last cookie.” He whispered sheepishly, “I didn’t know your blood sugar would drop and you would need a snack.”

So challenge us - hit us with your best shot. Give us your dialogue tag problems or questions, and we'll have a half-dozen editors hash it out and post an answer for you. "That is, if we can come to agreement among ourselves," she said.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Quotable Quotes: Books

Favorite Quotes about Books

1. When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes. ~ Desiderius Erasmus

2. Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. ~ Groucho Marx

3. My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine--everyone drinks water. ~ Mark Twain.

4. A book is a gift you can open again and again. ~ Garrison Keillor

5. These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. ~ Gilbert Highet

6. Just the knowledge that a good book is waiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier. ~ Kathleen Norris

7. In literature, as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others. ~ Andre Maurois

8. Only one hour in the normal day is more pleasurable than the hour spent in bed with a book before going to sleep, and that is the hour spent in bed with a book after being called in the morning. ~ Rose Macaulay

9. Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book. ~ Anon

10. The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it. ~ James Bryce

11. I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book. ~ Groucho Marx

12. I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. ~ Anna Quindlen

13. A room without books is like a body without a soul. ~ Cicero

Friday, February 1, 2008

Say What?

by Meghan Miller

"Say something witty."
There was a long pause.
"That wasn't witty."
"What's it for, your article?"
"Why are you writing our dialogue? Oh! Because you're doing dialogue tags."
"You're a jerk."
"No, I'm researching."
"You're not researching, you're chatting!"

Guess how many people were involved in that conversation. If you guessed two, you're wrong. Try it again.

"Say something witty," she said.
There was a long pause.
"That wasn't witty," came a voice over the cubicle.
"What's it for, your article?" he asked.
"Maybe," she said.
"Why are you writing our dialogue?" he said. "Oh! Because you're doing dialogue tags."
"Yup." She didn’t look up from her typing.
"You're a jerk," he said.
"No," she replied, "I'm researching."
"You're not researching," said the voice from the next cube, "you're chatting!"

Now how many people? Without the dialogue tags, you don't even know how many people are involved in the conversation, let alone who's saying what.

Some people dislike dialogue tags—they feel they disrupt the flow of the conversation, or that the tags tend to be too repetitive. And, to be fair to those people, sometimes tags are disruptive or repetitive, but it's usually not for the reasons that people think. When they're done right, dialogue tags add to your writing, making it easier and more enjoyable to read. Done wrong, they're not only repetitive and disruptive, but sometimes downright confusing and silly.

Going back to our example (which is, in fact, an actual conversation that occurred in the office while I was gearing up to write this), let's talk about how to do it wrong. Obviously the first way, with no tags at all, is confusing. But what about something like this?

"Say something witty," she announced.
There was a long pause.
"That wasn't witty," informed the woman in the next cubicle.
"What's it for," he retorted, "your article?"
"Maybe," she prevaricated.
"Why are you writing our dialogue? Oh! Because you're doing dialogue tags," he presumed.
"Yup." She kept typing.
"You're a jerk," he interjected.
"No, I'm researching," she decreed.
"You're not researching, you're chatting!" shrilled the woman in the next cube.

In that example, it's still clear who's saying what, but it's much more awkward to read. We have announced, informed, retorted, prevaricated, presumed, interjected, decreed and shrilled. They’re all good, but used in a row the way they are here, they interrupt the flow of the conversation and fail to add anything—other than, maybe, the sense that the author really, really likes her thesaurus.

The other weird thing about the conversation above is that at no point did I use the word “said”. But, you're saying, said is boring! Said is repetitive! Said is a meaningless filler word that doesn't add anything to the conversation—at least not unless you add adjectives to it.

To all of that, I say this: Said is one of those magical words that most readers will never even notice. With rare exceptions, authors want to be invisible to their readers. You want your reader to be wondering what your characters will do next, not wondering what clever writing technique or phrase you'll use next. The problem, then, is that the dialogue belongs to your characters, but the dialogue tags belong to you. Said—no adjectives needed—is easy. It’s unobtrusive. Said is simply assigning words to someone, and most readers will barely notice that it's being used. The more complicated your dialogue tags are, though, the more you are showing in your book—and if people are paying attention to you, they're paying that much less attention to your characters or your plot.

So let's say, then, that you agree said is largely invisible, that said is unobtrusive, that said is useful. In the last paragraph I said that said was easy, and for the most part, I believe that's true—it's an easy way to convey who's saying what without getting caught up in seventeen ways to say said. But I lied a little bit, because said is hard, too. Like I said, it's just assigning words to someone; it doesn't assign an emotional value to the words. Using said means that your dialogue has to be strong enough to stand on its own. The reader will need to be able to look at the character's dialogue and body language and understand that the character is angry or sad or delighted—and they'll need to understand without being told that she was exclaiming gleefully.
"Creative" dialogue tags are often an excuse for the author to tell rather than show. What the character is saying no longer matters as much as how the author tells us that they're saying it.

Let your dialogue speak for itself.