For Day Three of the Dust It Off Bloghop, we’re writing about what we learnt from writing our shelved manuscripts. Even if you decide to junk something and not even use salvageable parts in other books or as inspiration for another book, you can always learn from your mistakes. Nothing in this life is worthless or a waste if it gets us to where we are now and we learn from the past and don’t repeat the mistakes.
Lesson 1: Accuracy is very important if you’re writing historical. Even my Atlantic City books, which are a mix of satire, spoof, and dark, intentionally over the top humor (think shows like The Boondocks and Family Guy), still have at their base real history. And that grounding in real history makes the spoofy and satirical elements even more effective, I think, because it belies the image many people have of that particular era.
Know the era you’re writing about. This manuscript seemed to jump all over the place, with pictures of a schoolmaster in a powdered wig with a braid, an Indian raid on Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1841, a wagon train going to Idaho Territory, a few Pilgrim/Puritan names (like Blessing), kids under the age of 12 acting like full grownups, toys and clothes that seem more suited to the 18th century, you name it. If I’d taken a little time to research the 1840s, all those bizarre anachronisms could’ve been eliminated and everything would be more consistent with the era.
Lesson 2: Beyond historical reality, just ground your writing in reality period. Even a fantasy or sci-fi book has to have some grounding in the rules of that made-up other universe. There’s no way you could travel by wagon from Massachusetts to Idaho in a month, plant crops and already see green shoots in the middle of Winter, travel to Utah Territory on business and be back again in Massachusetts in about a week, or show a young Abraham Lincoln meandering through Plymouth when he was in Illinois. (And seriously, Anne telling him he’s the tallest, manliest, most handsome lawyer she’s ever met? President Lincoln was never exactly known as a handsome fellow!)
Lesson 3: 19th century historical just didn’t prove to be my thing. I spent more time describing things like clothes, food, dolls, toys, and wagon trains than I did actually telling a real story. I was fascinated by the pioneer life, and idealized it at that age. Now I realize how much hard work it was, and that women, Native Americans, and African-Americans got a really bum deal.
Lesson 4: First-person narration also didn’t prove to be my thing. The only other time I’ve used it since has been in my hiatused alternative history saga How Would You Have Ruled Us, Aleksey?, told from the journals of five young women living in the Russian Empire (one starts in Hungary) over 90 or so years. And I’ve enjoyed using limited first-person narration when I have letters or journal entries in other of my manuscripts. But writing an entire book, that’s not a journal, in first-person would feel too limiting for me. I’m just a third-person omniscient kind of writer. Only rarely will I do third-person limited.
Lesson 5: You need a storyline to hang a book on, even if it is told in journal format. That’s kind of tricky, because you want it to read like a real journal and not one written deliberately and pre-meditatively about a specific issue or plot (“Dr.” Beatrice Sparks, I’m looking at you, you old fraud!), while still carrying a coherent storyline that unfolds naturally and resolves by the end.
Lesson 6: Unless you’re doing a deliberate spoof and satire, you should always have your character act his or her age. Even in a spoof, you should still have your character not act completely out of his or her age range. There still has to be some reality at the base. I honestly think Anne could’ve been made at least 13, and the whole storyline would’ve been so much more believable without losing anything.
Lesson 7: I definitely had a calling, at that young age, as a future writer of BDSM erotica! (With characters of legal age, of course.) I actually have a second pen name picked out for that genre.