Thursday, May 13, 2021

Is Adding Excessive Language, Violence or Graphic Sex Scenes Necessary?

I don't know about you, but there are a lot of times I read books (and even watch movies) and question if what I just read or saw was really necessary? Was that graphic scene needed? Did the author (or director) really have to add a sex scene that was really pushing the boundaries? Don't get me wrong. I am not someone who says that every book out there needs to be tame, but we still have to ask if the addition of these element is truly necessary.

My answer is pretty simple... It All Depends!

O.K. I know that you might be thinking I am waffling on this, but to truly answer the question, we have to go back to the academic world to clearly see what I am talking about. 

When we write academic papers, we start with a thesis. This is what we are intending to prove in our paper. This thesis dictates EVERYTHING we do with our writing. I guides us when we pick research. It guides us when we select our organization and our voice. It controls EVERYTHING! When it comes to novel writing, the same thing happens here.

If you are writing a romance, adding of the graphic sex scenes is dependent on what you want the reader to get out of the story. If the focus is on the relationship, and you can write it without the sex scenes, then all the power to you. If your characters really do need to have that scene AND that scene is truly necessary for developing the plot and the characters, then adding it is fine. 

The same goes for the language level in the story. I sometimes question if the author has the characters throwing out language that would strip the paint off of the walls. I am reminded of what I learned in my undergraduate work in literature. We were studying Vietnam literature and talking about the language level. A professor I had said, if you consider what these soldiers were going through, the use of that language was pretty much the only way to describe the situation. Think of stepping on a Lego or a Barbie Shoe in the middle of the night. Saying "Ouch" might not be the best way to describe the feeling. Get it?

I guess you can also ask yourself about adding in characters sexual orientation. I watched a show just recently where the directors added in a character who was gay. This character was in the book, but not gay. There were not even references that would hint at that sexual orientation. And yet, the director added this into the movie. In the end, the addition of that characterization did nothing to enhance the storyline, or even the understanding of the character. I do believe it was done just to meeting some political check list. 

You have to constantly ask yourself if this is necessary. Like everything in writing, when you decide to add something to your story, it has to move the story forward, add something to our understanding of the characters, or even their relationship.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Where Is Literate America?


Look around you. Look at what the people around you are doing on all of their digital devices. Maybe even look to your own habits. What you should find is the biggest reason that we are seeing a loss of a strong reading population. We are simply not promoting reading the way we used to. 

I have talked about this in the past, here on this blog. When E-Book readers first came out, we all thought this would be the best thing we could do for reading. Making reading portable and easy to access. With a simple click of the button, you now had a book without even having to leave your house. And yet, sales just were not there. What increased their sales was a promotion of all the things you can now use those E-Book readers and tablets for. Just listen to the commercials "Now you can stream all of your favorite television shows and movies!" What happened to the reading?

Go into the schools and you will see just what we are talking about. In an book by Kelly Gallagher entitled, READICIDE, the author notes some interesting facts and observations. Because of programs such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, schools were now focused on doing everything they could to increase test scores. The result was that we were able to increase test scores, but not teaching students to read or enjoy reading.

What is worse is that many programs, such as SPRINGBOARD produced by College Board, have students "reading Shakespeare" when in reality, they are only looking at small pieces of the works of Shakespeare. Reading the whole play is a thing of the past.

We are now seeing many teachers turning to video versions of the novels, or even books that read to the students. Essentially, were "dumbing" down the curriculum to ensure that students are seeing higher grades and successes. The writers of these programs are "hoping" that students will find an excitement in that small excerpt and go out on their own and read. Unfortunately, this is not happening. 

Even the level of reading material we are giving to students has declined. This should not come to you as a shock when you consider that many newspapers are only at a 10th grade reading level and high school textbooks are often 4-5 grade levels below the grade the book is being used for. Academics claim they do this to allow for an increased comprehension for the students who do not have any prior knowledge. This might be true, but ask yourself what that prior knowledge is not there? The earlier grades did not promote that reading!

The decline can also be seen in the household. We don't read newspapers anymore because we can get those excerpts sent to us on our social media. Read a fragment and call it quits. Parents are also just telling their kids to go in and "do their homework" or "go do your reading" but not modeling that behavior. 

So, how do we improve literacy in America (and even around the world)? The answer is simple. Start reading. Not graphic novels. Not those shortened "illustrated classics" and not audio books because it is easier to listen to it on our commute on the bus or train. Read a dang book! Get those kids reading. 

Teachers and schools can also help. Get books into those kids hands. Stop teaching "testing strategies" and star promoting reading. We might be shocked what results we finally see!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

#MSWL for Upcoming Re-Opening To Submissions

As promised, I wanted to give you a heads up for the things I will be looking for especially when I re-open to submissions. Re-opening date will be right around Memorial Day so wait until you see that opening.

First of all, I will give you a quick hint before diving into the areas of want. I am not a big fan of first person. I just do not think a lot of authors out there can provide the depth of storytelling by using first person. This includes the whole duel perspective stories. I am also not someone who wants to see stories where the author is just intentionally adding hot erotic scenes just to make the story work. If characters are in a relationship and the sex shows up naturally as a part of the building romance, then that is great.

I am going to go big for women's fiction this time. I am really looking for stories that are around 80K-110 K in word count. Stories should focus on seeing the world through a woman's eye and really giving us a perspective on the female psyche. Stories need to focus on one central theme and not be bogged down by an extensive amount of baggage or side stories. Have the characters focus in on one issue and not a ton. Please, stay away from the over-used tropes such as:

  • Recently divorced after finding out husband was cheating
  • Road trips to figure out their lives
  • Taking off to Europe and finding some hot sexy guy

These stories should resonate with anyone reading the story and give the readers something to talk about. 

I will also be looking for single title contemporary romances. Again, readers should be able to be connected to the characters and the story MUST focus on the romance and the building of a relationship. I would love to have stories that give us a great summer read. 

I would love to see some great NEW ADULT stories that again, focus on real issues. These are stories that high school and new to college people can relate to. Remember, NEW ADULT is about self-discovery during this tough time in life. It is about transition. These are not just YA's with sex. Think women's fiction for this age group.

Multicultural romances and women's fiction are my next items on my #MSWL. I want stories that explore the culture. These stories should give us a taste of the culture, much like a great travel documentary or book. Clash of cultures is great if it gives us a real big dark moment for the characters to have to come to grips with the clashing lifestyles. Consider this definition: 

The sense of “culture” used in intercultural communication is that of “worldview.” Culture is a generalization about how a group of people coordinate meaning and action among themselves. ... These habits are often referred to as cultural assumptions and values, and they occur in all groups, not just national societies.

Please note, I am talking about multicultural here not multi racial stories. That is a completely different issue.

If you are looking to write historical, make sure the stories are strong in terms of the sense of history and world building. Regency, Victorian and WW1 and WW2 would be great topics. Remember the romance needs to be the central focus here.

Not really looking hard core for paranormal or romantic suspense.

Finally, as always, if you are interested in writing for a series line such as Harlequin, make sure to read those guidelines, and when submitting, your query letter should demonstrate how your story fits their submission guidelines (not just in word count).


Monday, April 26, 2021

No Your Purpose BEFORE You Write

 I was talking to one of my clients last week about a group she is part of at her college. She and several other instructors get together once a month in an informal critique group. They share their writing and provide feedback. Kind of a nice way to break the monotony of grading papers. She noted that one of the instructors was working on a piece and it was really going no where. His writing was fine, the voice was great, but everyone in the group kept asking one question over and over again...why?

The problem for this author is that he really didn't know where the story was going. He didn't really have a purpose. Apparently, he had thought of this great character and wanted to tell his story. The problem was, even he did not know why he wanted to.

Having a purpose for your story, essentially the theme of the story is crucial for any author. Before you even start writing, you need to establish that purpose. In the business world, we call this "the take-away." What is it that you want the readers to take away from the story? You can have great characters and action in the story, but everything needs to have a reason. Everything needs to head to that one ultimate "take-away."

In the academic world, when you write research papers, you always start with a thesis statement. This is the thing you are trying to prove. Once you have that thesis, when you go out and gather your evidence and start to organize it, all of the evidence has one goal - to prove the thesis. When you add that evidence, you provide analysis that supports that thesis. Writing a novel is no different. 

There are a lot of times when I read a submission and love the writing but struggle to know why the author wrote the story that way. They insert characters that are certainly interesting and write action scenes that are truly beautiful writing, but without a reason, these become nothing more than vignettes in a random collection of pages. 

Now, a lot of authors I talk to will try to convince me that they often "discover" the theme after they write. While this might sound like a valid approach to writing, authors are still just putting in scenes and words that have no real purpose other than to fill space. 

This is all an issue of pre-writing activities. Go ahead and find those great characters, just like the instructor did, but before you really get going, ask yourself what you want to tell about this character. What journey do you want them to take? Once you get that, everything you do in the story will now have a purpose.