Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How not to write a historical(or any other kind of) novel

From time to time, people who have written something they've had published, ask me to read it, and let me know what  I think.  I am generally willing to do this.  The experience is often pleasurable, and the writer not infrequently has a story worth telling.

On the other hand, I sometimes come across something that the author really wants people to read, but when I read it, I find that the person who did the writing simply hasn't done enough work.  And after reading the last one of this kind, I can see why Robert Sawyer is so "down" on self-published material.  What I read isn't science fiction, and just so as not to offend anybody who has self- published, I've read some self-published material that is actually quite decently written and edited.  

But too often, I think self publishing is just a way for an author to just get "something" into print.  This is the case with a book I've been reading off and on.  I won't name the author, or the historical period it's in, other than to say it takes place in medieval England, with historical characters being the principals. 

This author chose an interesting subject, but apparently started out to, uh, write a romance.  Except that, for the characters involved, the situation was probably anything but "romantic".  Still, s/he got kind of carried away, especially with what the author Elizabeth Chadwick calls "twisy-twasery" writing(I call  it "fake poetic")/ Others have called it "forsoothly" writing.  The people use a lot of 'tis, 'twas, "fake Biblical" or "fake Shakespeare" language, some of which isn't really appropriate, and in any case, does absolutely nothing to make the feel of the time and place any more "authentic".  Author should have stuck to plain modern English.

There is also a little matter of some of the historical characters acting in a way that they probably never would have done in real life --I can't give any details, since I'm not naming the author or the period --but no matter how one interprets the actions of a particular historical character, it is possible to see that some actions an author makes up, would simply have been "out of character" for that person, place, or circumstance. There are a few possible errors of fact, also. 

These could probably be forgiven, since any given reader will probably not know very much about the period they're reading about.  Even the "twisy-twasery" could be forgiven -- some readers of historical fiction actually like this.  But what can't be forgiven is the apparent lack of thorough editing.  There are numerous examples.  Conversations are not indented, as they should be.  The author didn't bother to indent conversations, either, which is, well, usual in most writing. There are also a good many apparent  spelling or typographical errors, and inconsistent spellings of some place names.  Which doesn't even even cover  some fairly basic grammatical errors, like being able to understand where you should use "I" and where you should use "me".

The author had an interesting premise, and a possible very good story there.  I really don't know whether s/he just thought it was finished, was in a hurry, and didn't realize s/he should have done another draft, just to smooth this kind of stuff out, or whether s/he just wanted to get it in front of the public so badly that they rushed it into print.

And I also hasten to say that I'm not totally against self-publishing, unlike RobertSawyer(but then, I've never seen ay self-published science fiction, good, bad, or indifferent).  But I do  think that if you're going to write a novel, of any kind, please, dear writer, give it your best shot.  Write and rewrite the thing polish and polish some more, till you get all the grammatical errors, historical errors(if it's a historical novel), "typesetting" issues, etc., out of the way, before you send it anywhere.  "Traditional" agents will immediately reject the book I have been reading, on just these grounds, and the poor author will get nowhere, despite whatever interesting idea they have.  If you've done your absolute best, had other "eyes" look it over, sent it around to publishers and agents who have rejected it for whatever reason, and then you do decide to self-publish, that's one thing. Sometimes that may be all  you, the author, can do. You owe your readers at least that much. If you do decide to go the self-published route, you owe your readers that much.  If you don't do this, however, you will just make the reputation of self-published work even worse than it is at present(which is still not very good). Readers don't need this.  It's hard enough to find good reading material of any kind, as it is.
Anne G


Jen Black said...

It is possible s/he thought it was finished and complete, though it's hard to believe, given the errors you list. S/he will probably get a horrible shock when they actually see the book in print,and learn the lesson that way.

Anne Gilbert said...


To give whatever credit is due here, I think the person did think it was finished. And that's the problem with a number (but certainly not all) self-published books I've read. I should add that I've read some that are quite good, though rather, shall we say, "workmanlike". But at least these latter people made sure that there wee no spelling and grammar errors, and they got their historical dates right, if they were historical novels.