Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Time and Time. again

Shadow Chronicles Series, vol. 1

by Sharon Jordan

Even though she's a scientist with a Ph.D., Jacqueline Devore is so desperate to escape her vivid dreams that she will even consult a psychic.

Each time she closes her eyes, she finds herself inside the body of another woman, pregnant with twins and living in WWII France, where she is a caught up in the holocaust and moved from one Nazi prison to another.

Jacqueline is desperately afraid in the present, threatened and followed everywhere, as is the woman she becomes whenever she sleeps--that woman, Michelle, desperately fights for her life, and the lives of her twins.

Question from the e-mail: A friend  read my manuscript and said it was a great story, but it got her "mixed up" a tad too often. What do you think she means by that?

Answer: Remembering always that I haven't read this one June, when I hear folks say this kind of thing to me about my own work (and they HAVE), it usually means there are anachronisms in the text.

It all has to do with organizing your information so it flows smoothly to the reader. First things should be first. My habitual mistake is that I give a character brown eyes on one page and blue on another. I always write a short bio of each character with a physical description, so I can check in case I forget. Or I pick an actor to play the role and so always have a physical picture to describe.

But there are other kinds of problems that can creep in. People can't go upstairs if they are already upstairs. If a character begins to talk upstairs in her bedroom and later "gows upstairs to her bedroom" to look for a missing diary, that's a problem. A student once wrote:

   They walked down the steps, crossed the grassy lawn and drove away. The vehicle was a black phaeton pulled by two gray stallions.

I found this confusing as they drove away before I even knew the carriage was there. She argued it was there, right in the very next sentence and said I was just being picky!  

Maybe I was, but the characters would have seen it waiting when they came outdoors and I felt that was when the reader should have become aware of it, too. Also, it is downright impossible to have two stallions work as a team. Two geldings, yes. Two mares, sure. Two stallions, absolutely NOT. And any readers who were horse people would know that.

It's truly as simple as first things first.

It's always a good idea to use a character's full name on first reference as an introduction to the reader (unless it's a minor unnamed character like "the waiter"). It's also a good idea to get the physical description in when the reader first meets the character. It can seem a small thing, but if your reader envisions a blond ehen Eric Holms is first mentioned, it will be a shock to learn he's dark a few pages later. It wakes your reader from what John Gardiner calls "the dream" of the story. 

Believe me, I've seen some real "wake up calls" even in commercially published material. Once I was reading a historical romance set in Elizabethan England. Obviously the author had written it first as a modern story, then set it back in time, because historicals were selling just then. There was a wonderful wedding scene. It had whole roasted pigs with apples in their mouths, jongleurs (what the hell is a jongleur, anyway?), lute players and troubadours singing bawdy songs of bridal "beddings" ala Game of Thrones.

Then a minor character praised the cheese served in the wedding "buffet," saying to the bride's father, "Where did you get this wonderful cheese?" To which the bride's father replied, "Oh, I'm glad you like it, okay? We had it flown in special."

"Buffet" and "okay" would have been bad enough, as in Elizabethan times a "buffet" was a cupboard, and "okay" didn't come into use at all until the mid-19th century.. But "flown in?" How?  

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