Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Writer's Wednesday - Things Writing Has Taught Me

Jenna Bayley-Burke swoops in to The Pink Heart Society to apologize for unknowingly commiting so many writerly offenses, she may very well be sent to writers prison -- for life!

What are writerly offenses? Things only writers, editors, and people who actually comprehend English grammar understand. Things that when done right go completely unappreciated...but when they're omitted or glaringly refused...well, it ain't pretty.

Passive voice is one of these things. Before writing my third book I had no idea what passive voice was. (It wasn't until book three that I learned there were classes that would teach you how to write.) It seems you can unintentionally victimize your characters by having the action happen to them, rather than having them take action. Now, I'm a frantic manuscript de-was-zle-er...moving every "she was walking" to "she walked" and finally to "she sauntered". Or paraded or strolled or's easy to see why it takes some people years to write a book. You can play with word choice for months on end...

And then there's autonomous body parts. Her eyes rolled...across the floor? It seems saying "she rolled her eyes" makes it easier to understand her eyes are not marbles. His brow arched...just the one? No, he must arch his brows. And don't get me started on how the parts get moving during love scenes...

Repetitive word choice never occurred to be before taking a writing class either. Though in going back I realized each manuscript had it's own set of favorite words. The one I'm currently editing is soft, tight, and has shoulders - do with that what you will!

I actually enjoy head-hopping (switching point of view at the authors whim) as a reader. My all time favorite romances - of which there are three - all head-hop. I didn't care when I read them, and I don't are now. I do try to avoid it though, it's wicked hard to write!

And then there is my most glaring offense...slang. I've had British editors for the most part, whose perpetual professionalism has likely kept them from whipping me for the afore mentioned crimes. But that also means there are certain things I say that have them wondering if I've cracked. It's common in my world for someone to be textually frustrated...enjoy a virtual Friday...strive for academic bulemia...hate their grandboss...suffer deja moo...want a guy with gigabucks... but most will be 'fixed' in the edit with a whole lot of text bubbles asking me what I meant...and probably wondering if my computer even has spell check. I get it most of the time, it's when things like 'ground round' get taken out that I wonder if we actually speak the same language. Then I remember that I'm the one who didn't say hamburger, and all is again right with the world.

Luckily all these things are surface scratches. Nothing time and Neosporin can't fix. Writing has taught me how hard editors work to correct these writerly blips. They grind over the story until nothing sharp sticks out, ready to poke the reader out of the most important part - the story. I've always been a storyteller. I've had to learn to become a writer.

What writerly crime drags you from the story? Anything make you want to throw the book at the wall?

Jenna is hard at work on her next title for Mills & Boon Modern Heat. In the meantime, Her Cinderella Complex is available with a millionaire, secretary, engagement of convenience, private island, and a hot pool scene. To find out what Jenna is up to now...check out her website or blog.


  1. Actually head hopping is not a crime. It is when you are pulled out of the story that it becomes a problem.
    As Isabel Swift says -- focus on the doughnut and not the hole.
    Ultimately, it is the STORY that counts as category romance is all about the story.

  2. my biggest sin is inventing new words that only exist in my head. It drives my spellchecker crazy.

  3. Actually my biggest problem at the moment is self-plagiarism. You know, that clever little phrase I thought up for book two, that then pops up in book three, four and five - and has to be edited right back out again because it sounds remarkably familiar. Duh!

  4. You realize I think your last paragraph is brilliant, right?

    I guess Trish's "squillionaire" will likely get edited then won't it. :-) I still want to use that.

    Nell, do you suppose I can get my husbands invention of "Skadiddleybabs" through editing?

    And has anyone noticed the word verification lately? I always read it as a word. This one? Farksub. I almost want to look it sounds like it could be a word...

  5. *Noticeable* head-hopping does it for me. (I haven't been able to read some of Nora's shorter ones for that reason. But then, I can forgive her anything for "Carolina Moon" and "Birthright", both of which I wish I'd written!)

  6. Hi Jenna, my characters have been known to arch one brow, because I do it all the time (but only the left brow. Go figure). So it *is* physically possible. LOL

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  8. Marilyn - Cinderella is set in Northern California, but it's out now. Saw it at Borders the other day. Thrilled the small boy :) He wanted to know when it would be on the best seller shelf. Got to love him!

    Michelle & Kate- Good to know I won't be strung up for head-hopping. I still think it's darn hard to pull off...

    Nell & Donna - I make up words all the time...and try to sell my editors on them as being 'young' and 'hip'. Now that I've hit 30, I think that excuse is over for me...

    Heidi - I have book amnesia...I can read my own stuff and wonder who wrote it...

    Avery - do they narrow their eyes or do their eyes narrow? That is my current battle...

    Anyone think I'll be arrested for obsessive use of elipses?

  9. If you are, then I'm next...

    And seriously...some autonomous body parts ARE allowed. Eyes narrowing is one I wouldn't even notice. Hands and other appendages moving independently of the body are a different matter.