Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Are You Reading Thursday - Making Mistakes Part 1

This Thursday Donna Alward is not on her way to London to attend the annual Association of Mills and Boon Authors luncheon, much to her regret. In fact, she might be pouting the smallest bit about it.
Instead, she's happy to be here at the PHS talking about mistakes authors make - courtesy of Jack Bickham.

One thing about having a social circle that involves other writers is that they are constantly adding to your tbr pile, whether it's their own wonderful books or others they've read. Michelle Styles is a horrible horrible person as she always finds a way to increase my tbr pile with craft books. Then again - maybe not so horrible because through her I've found such gems as The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp and Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel.

Her latest influence on my credit card was Jack Bickham's 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. It is a little gem of a book, a very fast read, chock full of practical and concise advice. And this advice isn't all about in depth craft either. It's about BEING a writer and what goes with it.

Today I'm going to talk about his mistake #2, because it really speaks to me as a writer of category romance. Let's face it, you love category too - the fact you're here and reading this kind of proves it. The title of this section is: Don't Consider Yourself Too Smart.

What this section is really about is your attitude towards your reader. I had to laugh at his checklist of questions:
  • Do you consider yourself more intelligent than most of the stories and novels you read?

  • Do you believe contemporary fiction is sort of beneath you in terms of intellectual attainment?

  • Do you figure your readers - when you get them - will be dumb compared to you?

  • Do you revel in Proust, adore T.S Eliot, think there has never been a really great American novelist, and sneer at everything in the popular magazines and best-sellers lists?

Thank the Lord - this does not encompass the readers and one would hope the writers of category romance. Such a person would be very boring indeed. Not to mention pretentious and unbearable.

The part I truly love is when he says "Wouldn't it be a lot better not to consider yourself so smart? To try to figure out what contemporary readers like - then to work to give them the best stories of that type they ever read?"


Sometimes as we're writing, we get so caught up in the story that we forget who we're writing for. We're not writing for just ourselves anymore, or even for our editor (though she must be pleased with our work or else it goes no further! LOL). In the most basic sense, we're writing for our readers. Our readers are our lifeblood. Our readers are the ones that send us e-mail about our books both good and bad - and one would hope for the good. So it follows that as we are writing we should be focusing on giving our readers the best of us, the best story we can possibly deliver.

I knew I was going to enjoy this book when I read on down the page and saw this: "...fiction does not come from the head; it comes from the heart...Bigness of heart - compassion - is far more important than bigness of IQ."

Oh happy sigh.

The point is, you should never condescend to your reader. It smacks of arrogance and a certain bit of closed minded-ness. You don't have to be a genius to write good fiction - you just have to be caring, and you have to be willing to show that on the page. Good stories are the ones that have more than ideas on the page - they have SOUL.

He ends the section with a series of reminders to keep writers grounded. My favourite two?



Donna's newest release will be available on eharlequin and the Mills and Boon site beginning October 1. A Bride For Rocking H Ranch is part of Montana, Mistletoe, Marriage (Mistletoe and Marriage in the UK) and includes a sexy chef, a cowgirl, and Christmas. What more could you want?

You can read an excerpt at


  1. Hi Donna

    Am definitely going straight to Amazon to purchase a copy of this book, it sounds fab.

    Your point is well taken and speaking of the venerable Michelle Styles, there was a lovely quote from her in a recent Guardian article written by a journalist who was trying to write a Mills and Boon.

    Anyhow the journalist wrote a book that she herself thought was pretty crappy, but figured it would do for category romance. She handed it to Michelle who pointed out that it was contrived, cliched, the hero was unloveable, the heroine unlikeable etc. and then added 'You need to assume the reader is intelligent. Readers buy these books when they are waiting for chemotherapy or are housebound, or finding out their husband has left. You have to respect them.' After reading that I had to give Michelle a little cheer at the breakfast table.

    Well said, woman!

  2. Great blog Donna! Wise words indeed. This book will be another to add to my wish/xmas list. Take care. Caroline x

  3. I read the article, Heidi - and I thought those comments were great! :-) I'm really glad Michelle recommended this book to me.

    Of course I returned the favour by coercing her to spend her money on Outliers. :-) One good turn...