Stopping Points

So, because I’m broke and also in the middle of a book (which means I’m not looking for one-of-a-kind, unforgettable books, but for popcorn mysteries I can put down and work again), I’ve been reading a lot of books borrowed from Amazon’s program.

I’m finding about 50% books that are so good I have to “kill” them by reading the end, so I can work, and I still read the books, anyway.   just not as urgently.  Which is good, because then work happens.

But what about the other 50% (BTW I want to point out that a) I always bought popcorn books for when otherwise really busy.  I don’t do anything else for fun.  I just read.  I’m BORING.  The reason I’m looking for them in KULL is that it’s cheap and convenient.  I used to find just as many from trad publishing, usually used.  b) I actually am finding a higher level of readable here than browsing the shelves, because there’s less fad-following.  If I happened to hate the fad, I often found very little to read.) Why don’t I like the other fifty percent?

Well, ten percent or so are unexplained.  I just don’t get into them.  No, I have no clue why.  Why do you like some dishes and not others?  Why do your tastes vary with season and mood?  I don’t know.

However, for the other 40% I’ve found that there are broad categories of errors, from the massive to the small that just lead me to fling the book against the wall (virtually, since they’re on kindle.)  And I thought I’d post them here, for the benefit (eh) of those of you working the word vines.  I mean, whether you’re going traditional or indie, you REALLY should not pop your reader out.

I do want to point out a couple of things before I start:

A lot of these errors, particularly the horrendous ones with historical research are from books that were formerly traditionally published, so gatekeepers are not the answer — you have to do it.

Also, a lot of these books that make me grind my teeth and fling them away have great reviews, and some even sell well.  So if you want to tell me to go suck on an egg, go for it.

It’s just that I think even those that have great reviews and sell relatively well are being kept back from true stardom by (sometimes) truly stupid errors.

And, hey, if you have a book out there and it’s not selling and you don’t know why it wouldn’t hurt to check some of the more subtle errors, because those, particularly, tend to throw people out without their knowing why.

So, in no particular order, here goes:

1- Anachronisms and bad history.

I don’t think this bothers everyone.  After all the book set in the regency in which an aristocrat shoots a commoner in the middle of London and no one cares, because the dead man is a “peasant” has tons of good reviews, is a previously-published by prime-crime books, and seems to do quite well.

Maybe I’m one of the very few people who KNOWS that such a thing is more suitable to ancien-regime France than to enlightenment England.

And maybe I’m one of very few people who will throw the d*mn thing against the wall, when a female character in a different regency mystery characterizes the father of another character as a “misogynist” because he doesn’t believe women should be highly educated, and thinks women should get married and be mothers.  For the unenlightened, in the regency that is called “normal male.” And it’s still NOT misogynist.  If she’d called him “Gothic” or “conventional” or even “hide bound” all would be fine, but no, this  probable graduate of an excellent college had to lapse into the lingo of her generation.  And this reader for one was popped clear out.

2- Related but beyond the last: DO YOUR D*MN RESEARCH.

Sure Dan Brown got away with not doing it.  (No, the worst possibly is the one involving the secret service.  Never mind.)  However, he had a huge marketing program behind him, which few of you (traditional or indie) will get.  So–

Look, I’ll forgive a lot, particularly if it’s not the area of history that I know really well.  There is a medieval mystery series (medieval oxford mysteries, if you want to look it up) that I SUSPECT kicks small details around.  I can’t tell for sure, because it’s not my main area of expertise, and I don’t want to check because it might ruin the books, which are good.

However, there are limits, and even someone half-aware as I am of these things, will note an accumulation of wrong stuff, which is when my disbelief gets hanged by the neck till dead.

I gave the thriller with a “Roman” part of its story line a long leeway.  I let the nanny named (I swear) Maria pass with “well, maybe they mean Miriam.  Maybe she’s a Jewish slave.”  A few other bits in the scene seemed off but I wanted to read the modern parts of the book, so I glossed over it.  But the other household slave is called Amy, a name I know for a fact is relatively modern (maybe 200 years) and of French origin (from Aimee) and I also know that info is free on Behindthename.com.

But then we got to the little girl being introduced to the high priest, who says her name is Rufina AntoniO Whatever.

Oh, hell no.  Even if she had to have her father’s name in there somewhere, she would be Rufina Antonia, and anyone knowing even a little bit of Roman conventions would know that.  Book got walled.  I still wanted to read the modern parts, but if I couldn’t trust the author, why should I trust anything else they said?

This applies to other things too, and has many applications: I’ve been thrown out by wrong words in a language I know, by mischaracterization of places I know (Oh, yeah, sure, Portugal is a South American country.)  I’ve been thrown out by wrong procedures when one goes to emergency, by wrong procedures in an office, by bad economics of scale in a civilization.

Do your D*MN research.  Sure, maybe you’ll get lucky and most of the rubes won’t notice.  But that’s not the way to bet.

3- More subtly, make sure I’m not going “Where am I? Who am I?” like some victim of a traumatic accident.

Look, there are many books out there competing with yours, and if I get to the end of the third page without being captured, then I’ll put it down and move on.

So a) have an engaging character and an interesting situation on the first page b) make sure I know where I am.

Yes, there are ways to write three pages without anyone having any clue if it’s in the present, in the future, in an imaginary world.

Stuff like “Bornil came running through the undergrowth.  The sky was green and ominous above” could be any of them.  And yes, I’ve found it’s possible to continue in this style for pages.

Do me the kindness of making sure you’re describing the scene in your head, and not a generic scene.

Make sure we have a sense of where and when, but mostly of a problem your character must solve.  This doesn’t have to be an Earth shattering problem but it must matter to the voice character.  It could be something like picking breakfast: “Gia sat at the table, in the cafe, and wondered if she should have the croissant” gives us all the information we need to get on with, though you might want to describe the cafe in the next paragraph and use voice and tone so we know if it’s funny, serious, tragic or strange.

Long ago and far away, I was trained to be a journalist (yes, I ran screaming.  Long story) and learned the Who When What and Why thing.  Do try to apply it to your fiction too.  If I don’t know these, I probably won’t care too much what you’re talking about.

If you have exceptional gifts with wording (careful there, the bar is higher than you think) you might capture my attention with a couple of descriptive paragraphs, talking about the weather or whatever, provided they set the mood and give a feel of what’s to come.  But after that you have to give me something to sink my teeth into.

4- Have SOMETHING HAPPEN.  For the love of heaven, something.  Anything.

This mistake is more common in Romance than anywhere else, perhaps because people who are beginning writers think they don’t really need suspense.  After all we all know the couple will end up together, right?

I mean you can just describe your GOOD GIRL character picking clothes, being compassionate, caring for children and kittens, and the main male character madly smitten and — YAWN.

This would all be fascinating, no doubt, if it were happening to ME.  But it’s not.  It’s a book.  And I’d better have some reason to keep reading the book.

In general this is a reason to hope, fear or worry for the characters.

If you’re writing a romance and want to know how a GOOD GIRL can get in serious trouble without meaning to, read Arabella by Georgette Heyer.  You’ll learn how to keep her interesting and sympathetic, too.

For popcorn books I sometimes go ten/twenty pages of the character doing nothing much, if it’s a nice character, but at some point I set that book aside.  More importantly, I won’t remember the book.  This is fatal, because if people don’t even remember the book, they’ll keep borrowing it and get mad at you, and might give you BAD word of mouth.

But Romances aren’t mysteries, you say.  You don’t need to have “something” happen.  Oh, surely you do.  The test in a romance is how your character interacts with the other main character.  Will she lie? will she cheat to get close to him?  Will he misunderstand her?

Yes, I KNOW you hate to torture your characters.  DO IT ANYWAY.  You can reward them at the end, but it will keep people who don’t have them in their head anyway interested in their fates.

By the way, other genre authors do this too, just less frequently.  If it’s a mystery give us some hint of where it’s going to go — if you’re not going to kill the character in the first chapter — or at least something interesting happening (Rebeca is fascinating, long before we realize there’s been a murder. Its fish-out-of-water character and her fears are interesting and we follow to see what will happen to her.)  If it’s science fiction have the character want, need or care for something beyond “oh, cool, science”.  And it it’s fantasy (the second most likely genre to get caught in this) have something beyond a cool world and magic system.  We’ll love your world building when your character leads us through the world, not before.

5- Make your character interesting.

No, I don’t care if she’s a multiple Nobel prize winner who loves kittens and flowers.  What I care about is WHAT DOES SHE NEED RIGHT NOW that the plot will prevent her from getting, and keep me reading to see how she copes with it, and if she gets what she wants in the end.

This goes beyond something happens.  I have read books where the characters are thrown willy-nilly into the middle of wars, into the middle of murders, into the middle of natural cataclysms, but in which there was nothing to drive me to continue reading.

The something that happens must affect the character’s dearest needs or hopes.  And we’re not talking about “I need a walk on the beach and hope for world peace.”  Please.  This is not a beauty contest.

What the character wants MUST be tangible (possible to picture) and attainable.

So, your character is dying for ice cream when the entire world’s technology gets fried and the world gets very hot.  And your character REALLY wants ice cream.  It’s a memory of childhood, it’s… something.  So she has to do something to obtain it.  That engages the reader.

If you have your character serenely watching everything, that means I yawn and move on.

6- STOP JUMPING HEADS THE WRONG WAY.

What? Ask the SF/F writers and readers, you mean there is a right way to jump heads?

In most other genres, other than sf/f no one cares if you jump into multiple characters’ heads, one at a time, paragraph by paragraph.

Don’t do it in the middle of a paragraph, it makes it hard to read.

BUT there is still a right way and a wrong way to do this.  The wrong way is where you rob the entire story of interest and suspense.

Take a recent mystery.  The scene is simple: man is closing out his bookstore, looks across and sees a taxi hit a child, the child thrown high in the air, and man knows it was intentional and he has to solve who did it and why.  Right?

Except that it takes almost a chapter (I skimmed forward) to find out the man thinks it’s a murder and wants to solve it (and even then we have no reason to agree with him.  It’s a “hunch.”)

In the first chapter we are in the head of the man closing the shop, the little girl crossing the street, the man driving the taxi, another man doing something (don’t remember if customer or employee) in a coffee shop, the eyes of (I SWEAR) a dog walking by, the mind of a woman going out shopping, and a few dozen others, all so fast, that you never get a coherent chain of feelings or a reason why you should care about this scene.

Yes, I do suspect the writer was laying out clues in the way different people saw the accident, but it is VERY important not to forget that your readers are human.  Before they are engaged in solving the puzzle, they MUST want to, and the only reason for that would be being engaged with a character.

In romances too, it is a very bad idea to show that the couple really loves each other from the beginning and that there are no obstacles.  So if the girl sees a major obstacle, don’t remove it in the man’s pov, or else introduce another, and make sure it’s not something that can be overcome by talking if they would.

7- The inevitable infodump.  Dump it.

Seriously, even if your worldbuilding is the best thing ever, don’t give me 10 pages of it, upfront.  Heinlein the information.  Have your characters act as if the world is completely normal to them, and then give us the information by stealth, in dribs and drabs, in one sentence here and one sentence there.

Because this is something I too was very guilty of once upon a time, TRUST me that your readers need far less info than you think they do.  Sure, they need to know where and when your character is, but they can wait to find out her world branched from ours in the thirteenth century.  And even then, it might be hard to mention the Black Death never happened, unless they know of other worlds. You really don’t need to walk us through every detail of divergence.  If the world is solid enough, we’ll read it, and you can save the “raised in a world where the black death never happened” for your Amazon blurb or your cover letter.

Under this heading, no giving us a list of protagonists upfront is not clever.  People will either skip past or throw the book back.  I’m a throw-backer. If your characters are not memorable enough that I need a reference, I don’t have time for the book.

No, a prologue isn’t clever.  Prologues are sometimes needed, but they should be done amusingly (see Pratchett) not just infodumps.

No, maps aren’t clever.  Yes, some readers (and writers) adore them.  JUST DON’T MAKE THEM ESSENTIAL TO UNDERSTAND WHAT’S GOING ON.

Yeah I know, a lot of besteselling and GOOD authors have infodumps, but it’s like the other flaws: if you’re very lucky, you’ll get away with it.

Do you feel lucky? (Well, punk, do you?) Or are you going to rely on craft and remove every stopping point you can between your book and the reader?

I know which I’ll do.

110 Comments

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110 responses to “Stopping Points

  1. Author and book blogger Jefferson Smith has been running a column called “Immerse Or Die” for a couple of years now. Every morning he takes a self-published book onto his treadmill and reads for forty minutes or until he runs into three places where his immersion in the book is broken.

    He’s written several in-depth articles about what particular issues come up most often, this one is particularly detailed about the problems he’s run across:

    http://creativityhacker.ca/2015/12/01/51-things-that-break-reader-immersion/

    • That is an extremely useful resource because he has links to examples of what he means

    • Alpheus

      I’m looking at that website, and I’ve discovered something that I really like about the guy: even if he’s thrown out of a particular story, he’ll throw out “kudos” (and smaller compliments, for that matter) when he thinks they are due. He’s not out to destroy stories to boost his ego!

      • No, I believe his goal is to help self-published authors improve the quality of their work. If you look at the reviews of the books that made it past the forty minute mark he always seems to be genuinely pleased by them.

  2. snelson134

    “Yes, I do suspect the writer was laying out clues in the way different people saw the accident, but it is VERY important not to forget that your readers are human.”

    There’s also the fact that people can only keep track of so many things at once. Overcomplicating your plots (and more than half a dozen people with pieces of the puzzle is a sure clue this is happening) is just going to make them give up trying to follow it.

    • The traditional “Rashomon” story (which was actually called something else from the same collection) has the courtesy of telling the entire anecdote through from each POV. I actually prefer the stage play to the story, because instead of having just the three principle characters’ POVs, it introduces a fourth POV in the means of an accidental witness, whose version of the events actually explains why the other three POVs would each claim they were the cause of death. (Basically, the whole episode is deeply embarrassing to the participants.)

      • Terry Sanders

        In the movie, you get the distinct impression the fourth witness was shading *his* story, too–making the whole thing as humiliating as possible for those upper-class scumbags. So you still don’t know who to believe.

      • The story was called “In a Grove,” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. (Like a lot of other famous Japanese writers, he was a character in the Bungo Stray Dogs anime this year.)

        Detective Conan/Case Closed just had a clever two-part episode called “The Detectives in a Grove,” where it turned out that all the divergent witness stories were absolutely correct and truthful, and they were all describing the same suspect. It was just the surrounding situation that made them come up with different descriptions. I’ve seen Rashomon tributes on many shows, US and Japanese, but this one was quite original. 🙂

        • The show Leverage did a tribute called, logically enough, “The Rashomon Job” in which each of the core group told the story from their viewpoint—but it was from before they had met, so the original perspective had something like “the — ambassador” (random actor) and the retelling from that guy’s perspective had him (series actor) in the ambassadorial role. Pretty funny.

  3. *Takes furious notes, looks at research book stack, whimpers* Got it. Gulp.

    • *passes tea and snickerdoodles and shares the whimpers*

    • Wanna come over, and whimper with the rest of us? I have a fresh pound of Russian caravan tea to do the whimpering with…

      If pressed, I can also locate snickerdoodles.

      • Russian caravan tea! I’ll come! Haven’t had it in years, since the tea store near the other house closed.

        • You get down here for a visit, m’dear, and I shall introduce you to the cats, feed you tea and low-carb goodness, and then sit back and laugh quietly while you, Peter, Lawdog, and OldNFO do your writerly grumbles together. Especially if Alma can come for the grumbling and whimpering.

          Why no, no, I don’t collect artists and writers. Obviously, I don’t have a full set yet.

  4. Draven

    I’m sort of writing a bible for this story/series and hope to never use a tenth of it… avoiding infodumps by writing it down for myself elsewhere, I guess. Hoping alpha readers get by without it, if they don’t I know I didn’t put enough in.

    • We’re doing pretty much the same for the Luna City cast of characters – of which there are dozens … but each main plot sequence usually only highlights 4-5. Sometimes more, depending. But having them all sketched out in our mind is an enormous help.

      As for historical inaccuracy throwing me out of a book – or a movie: A rant on the subject here – http://www.celiahayes.com/archives/588

      “It wasn’t a bad movie, just a profoundly mediocre one. Careless gaffes abounded, from the heroine’s loose and flowing hair, her costumes with zippers down the back and labels in the neckline, and the presence of barbed wire in 1850, when it wouldn’t be available in the Western US for another twenty-five years, neat stacks of canned goods (?), some jarringly 20th century turns of phrase – and where the heck in the West in 1850 was there a hard-rock mine and a cattle ranch in close proximity? Not to mention a mine-owner oppressing his workers in the best Gilded Age fashion by charging them for lodgings, fire wood and groceries, as if he had been taking lessons from the owners of Appalachian coal mines. It was as if there was no other place of work within hundreds and hundreds of miles – again, I wondered just where the hell this story was set. It passed muster with some viewers as a perfectly good western, but to me, none of it rang true. Whoever produced it just pulled random details out of their hat – presumably a ten-gallon one – and flung them up there. Hey, 19th century, American West; it’s all good and all pretty much the same, right?”

  5. Hah! Thank you for doing this, Sarah, it answers the commentor’s questions from my post. Now I don’t have to do it 😀

  6. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Remember you aren’t David Weber (or other successful writer).

    David Weber uses infodumps (maybe too much) but still gives the readers characters that they want to know more about.

    David Weber uses prologues but in such a way that still pulls the readers in and wondering “what happens next”.

    • scottsaxbury

      although he went a bit far with it in ‘The Road to Hell’, with two characters spending a couple pages casually discussing steam-powered vehicle suspension systems, when he could have just had one break down and given the same information in a paragraph or two.

    • TRX

      I don’t mind infodumps, prologues, or footnotes… they let the writer get on with the story instead of laboriously working bits and pieces in as the story limps along.

      • My tolerance for infodumps depends on how well done the infodump is. And whether I find the info being dumped interesting and relevant to the current part of the story.

        So if we have (say) an assassin who needs to use a super dooper sniper rifle with special cartridges, sights etc. then I’m probably going to be interested in his review of the item – or that of the person providing it – though I’d probably prefer it if they got the critical data across in a bit of conversation.

        (“Since the kill’s going to be at over 3000m I’ll be needing your best man portable railgun, a Tarrab Mach7 for preference”

        “Don’t have a Tarrab. How does an Aupal 6000 sound? I’m thinking the XAJV gyro-stabilized rounds with homing AI should make up for the slightly lower launch speed.”

        etc.)

        Either way some kind of explanation of railguns, gyro stabilization etc. is going to be useful.

        However if we get an infodump about the politics of the victim in the middle of the assassin prepping to take his shot then I’m going to be less tolerant

        • TRX

          My idea of an infodump is a chapter header or a block of text that’s clearly not part of the story.

          I’ve read far too many books where the author clearly had worked out an elaborate backstory to explain WTF was going on, but couldn’t actually be arsed to pass that on to the reader. And what might have been a fair story is lost in “what is this character for?” and “why are they doing this?” and “why should I care?”

          Even a few paragraphs of infodump could have saved those…

          • but a few lines heinleining would be MUCH better. I don’t care what you think of Friday, go re-read the first three pages. He gives us the worldbuilding and what’s going on wihtout a single infodump

  7. Pingback: Stopping Points — madgeniusclub | Miller's Tales

  8. Excellent points, for which thank you.

  9. paladin3001

    *scribbles madly taking notes* Wrote a short story once and had a friend play editor with it for me (she was working on her masters in literature). Even though she was dating she was brutally honest. Pointed out a lot of errors. Half of it came back marked up, the first half since I carried through the same mistakes in the second half. Wish I still had a copy of the marked up story.

    Lot of the errors were some of those mentioned above. Ended up shelving the whole thing because I noticed a lot of personal prejudice in the story that probably sounded to much like a message. Interestingly the protagonist has popped up again recently and started poking me. Maybe will try again.

  10. For a non-fiction example of cringe-worthy historical errors: Washington crossing the Potomac to attack the Hessians on Christmas, 1776. I stopped reading at that point, and the book went back to the library the next day.

    • But there’s a PAINTING. Granted, the painting is probably wrong, as it’s likely they crossed on foot, the Delaware being iced over. But still…

    • That’s only a considerable distance away. Mind you, I only know it’s the Delaware off the top of my head because of a kid’s show called Peg + Cat, which is all about math and definitely not historicity. (Some of the recurring characters include a hearing Beethoven, Washington, Albert Einstein, and Cleopatra.) It has some pretty thorough earworms, though, and one of them features the line “Washington across the Delaware.”

  11. Aimee Morgan

    Most glaring errors I recall in a book was a detective novel, written by a former co-worker, that took place in the large city just south of me.

    He LIVED in that large city. For years.

    Referred to the Jacksonville Police Department (we have sheriffs). Discussed the border between Jacksonville and Georgia (entirely forgetting that there is an entire county – mine – between the two). Had the main character live in an RV on the beach, and walk in one day to find a cottonmouth in his kitchen (they’re freshwater – wouldn’t survive at the beach). But the kicker was that this hard-boiled former NYC police detective with a price on his head kept his gun (a Glock, of course) in the glove compartment of his car.

    Aargh!

    • So much nicer when they do their work. I recall a novel whose final scenes were set in my hometown, and the author had bothered to have folk on-site suggest to her a handy railroad bridge for a necessary plot element.

    • Hunting Guy

      My biggest gripes are guns and the military. No you don’t put clips (And it’s a magazine, not a clip.) into revolvers. Nope, the author clearly described a box magazine, not a moon clip. Also, it’s a .38 Super, not a super 38.

      As for the military, get the rank structure right, and don’t talk about military justice until you study it.

      That’s one of the reasons I buy Correia’s and Grant’s books, they have the details right.

      • Randy Wilde

        As for the military, get the rank structure right

        And learn how to spell “sergeant” so I’m not waiting for Elizabeth Montgomery to make an appearance. 🙂

      • Anonymous Coward

        To be fair, Colt 1911s were rollmarked with “Super 38 Automatic”
        from the 1920s to the 1970s. Their advertising copy also used this terminology. If memory serves, Colt let the copyright to “Super 38” lapse
        and it was acquired by another firearms company. After that, they had to start marking the slides “38 Super”.

      • Which is why someone like me should either consult an expert or simply say “reloaded.”

    • TRX

      I read a novel by a Famous and Noted mystery writer. It was set in 1982. Her character had a cellular phone and several other anachronistic pieces of hardware surfaced during the story.

      Considering the author was an adult during the time the story was set, that’s not just lack of research, that’s downright amnesiac…

  12. “Misogynist” isn’t a particularly new term and would have been used in the Regency period – whether in the exact situation you describe, I can’t say but its current usage is more of a resurgence of a word that had fallen out of fashion. For example, you’ll find the term in 18th-century writing and through to mid-19th-century writing

    • It could have been used, but it would have been talking about “Lord Robert Snootyton will never get married because he’s a misogynist; his wife ran off and left him and now he hates all women.” Or “Lord Robert Snootyton avoids society because he’s a misogynist, and hates the sound of soprano women’s voices.”

      Women’s education was in a whole other category. Is Lord Robert Snootyton liberal in his views, or does he believe that women should concentrate on other fields more suited to women’s cares? Does he want his daughter to become a good political wife, or the wife of an ambassador, and thus wants her to know more about the world? Does he fear his child becoming a bluestocking with no conversation? Does he think that his daughter’s husband or man of finance should be able to take care of all business matters? Is he opposed to the immorality of reading novels, or does he simply fear that some novels include immorality? Is the Bible suitable reading for women, or should they stick to a nice gentle prayerbook? Will she be able to teach her children anything or spend time in the nursery, or is all that best left to governesses and Eton while she and her husband pursue the family’s good or their own socializing and pleasure?

      You don’t have to agree with your characters’ time and place, but you have to understand the many potential views of a situation that _are not modern_.

      • Oh, and boarding schools. I don’t know that parents were doing their daughters a favor when they’d send them there. Man, they stunk for both boys and girls, but there were a lot more girls dying of tuberculosis or stinginess or abuse at expensive girls’ schools. (And measles, and diphtheria, and….)

        That’s why a lot of Anglican girls ended up going to French convent schools, I think, even if nobody ever comes out and says so. Not necessarily super great conditions, but clean, and they got decent food. (Aside from all the TB nuns, anyway.)

        • The usual reason given was that speaking French all the time gave you polish, and helped you later in life when socializing with Europeans. (For a Catholic family, the reasons were a lot more obvious, as Catholic schooling was difficult in England at the time.) The traditional romance novel reason is to get Clarissa Snootyton away from her unfortunate attempts at mesalliance with the gardener’s boy orThat Horrid Rake.

          Anyway, not many French convent schoolgirls in Regency stuff, unless Waterloo is good and over by several years.

        • At the time there weren’t really many boarding schools for girls, I think. (1700s) though they did send them to convent schools, yes.

          • Yeah, I think the boarding schools for girls were more in the very late 1700’s and 1800’s. Had to get some female teachers educated first.

            Of course, there used to be convent schools in England before Henry VIII messed up women’s education… And there were a few overseas English nun schools where the nuns got away to various countries….

            • But prior to the various Catholic Relief Acts in the late 1700s and the 1829 stuff, Catholic education or any kind of non-Anglican education had to be done on the sly. The penalties were amazing, even later on.

              And unless you were a merchant or a sailor, of course, you were not going overseas for any purpose without royal or government permissions, for quite a long time. England went from cosmopolitan access to an island prison in just a few years.

      • YES. This. Men who were called misogynists were ACTUALLY misogynists. As in, hated women. Like, say, Athos.

    • On the bright side, “misogynist” was starting to be a codeword in Bad Modern Regency Novelists for “gay.” You couldn’t possibly convince some little flowers that a man might not like women for hostility and fear reasons, as opposed to everything being explained by a non-heterosexual orientation.

      So there _is_ one good thing that SJW turns of phrase have done for us!

      • Honestly, I think she was trying to hint the main love interest’s brother is gay, but she was also using all the wrong hints for being in the mind of a regency woman. THAT was not the one she called misogynist, but…

    • Being a conventional Regency male was not being a misogynist from the perspective of someone from that time. If he was particularly strict he might be called Gothic or old fashioned or illiberal, but not a misogynist. This is why I said the novelist default into the lingo of her generation, and popped me COMPLETELY out. There had been other sins, but they were minor. That was over the top.

  13. If Portugal isn’t a South American country, is it one of the fifty-seven states?

  14. Congratulations to Sarah for what I gather is a new publication as a part of “Forbidden Thoughts”.
    It’s amazing what crosses my desk as email and the like.

  15. Reblogged this on Writing and other stuff and commented:
    Good stuff to know. Thanks.

  16. That reminds me. We need Catholic Regency romance novels. Of course, a lot of it would consist of the whole alternative social circle thing that the old Recusant-descended families had going on.

    I would also like somebody to do a Jewish Regency romance novel, specifically about Georgette Heyer’s ancestors. She’s not anti-Semitic.

  17. TRX

    > No, maps aren’t clever. Yes, some readers
    > (and writers) adore them.

    For almost every one I’ve seen, by the time the overpaid graphic artist and the printers got through with it, it had all the resolution and character of something a mental patient swiped onto the will with their own waste. And the map was almost always irrelevant. The few times it *was* relevant and/or necessary to figure out what was going on, it was still almost useless.

    [and then there’s the wholly separate category of line-art “illustrations” in the old SF magazines and some books, which were at a level of artistry apparently designed to repel readers…]

    • Bernard Cornwell’s books have maps, but he describes everything so clearly he doesn’t need them. I am, however, pleased to have confirmation that I understood him correctly.

    • As someone who does graphic work for a living (photography studio back-of-house), the usual issue seems to be “insufficient resolution.” As in, “dude, don’t you know you CAN’T just print off the web?” Seriously, a large part of my unofficial job description seemed to be redrawing school logos because they wouldn’t send us a print-worthy one, telling us “you can just get it off the web.” At 72 dpi and half an inch across, yes. Print resolution is at least 200 and better at 300 dpi at a minimum.

      And figuring out what is relevant is why we still have humans designing maps, not just Google and satellite imagery. It’s also important to know how geography affects climate, or how rivers tend to converge rather than diverge. (I dearly love Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince and Dragon Star series, but that map drives me absolutely bonkers every time I look at it. THE RIVERS WOULD NOT DO THAT.) Personally, I want to draw a beautiful, hand-inked map, and then scan it at a high resolution, and then work with a computer geek to have it zoomable, with details appearing as you zoom in, or as you click details relevant to story elements, or whatever… and only have it online.

  18. J.K. Rowling’s US worldbuilding in Fantastic Beasts. I’m sorry, but you just can’t call things the stuff she was calling things, because it doesn’t sound American, it doesn’t sound like the 1930’s, and it doesn’t fit any conceivable American history, magical or no.

    Particularly you can’t call something “the Magical Congress of the United States.” Qualifying “congress” with most adjectival terms just sounds really wrong, especially to lawyer and doctor types. I can’t really put it much simpler than this: “Magical congress” sounds like sorcerous coitus. The people who set the thing up would have picked a different term, I’m pretty sure, even if they thought legislatures go around screwing us.

    Making the thing unicameral is stupid. It just goes against the way we do things. The only way it makes sense at all is if you count it as a branch of the legislature equal to the House and Senate, in which case we have a tricameral system that includes a sort of House of Lords. And I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have flown with anybody, particularly magic people who had just escaped the UK system.

    The logo was super-stupid, because it just doesn’t go with the sort of designs Americans like to see in a federal government. (It might be nice for the artwork in the building or on the building, but not as an official logo.) Also it’s not nearly mystical enough. We LIKE pyramids with eyes, bundles of arrows, the Man in the Moon, etc. It makes me sad that Europe just doesn’t get us. Also, it’s weird to have a phoenix, not an eagle. Phoenix is Atlanta, sheesh.

    If you want to do a realistic Rowling-world America, you have to go back and then bring it forward. You have to understand the intellectual underpinnings of the US and what sorts of things we do. Our fussy bureaucrats are different from other people’s fussy bureaucrats.

    So yeah, I support her basic concept, but she (or the movie company) really needed to sit down with some crazy historian types and mash out something fun.

    • So anyway, the Magical Congress was supposed to have been founded in 1693 in imitation of the English Wizard’s Council, the forerunner of the Ministry of Magic. (Which also means it wouldn’t have been called a Magical Congress. I mean, geez, Cotton Mather already had problems with this stuff, without naming it after sex.)

      Knowing Americans, and given the high percentage of religious groups over here, I’d be more likely to believe something along the lines of “the Assembly of Magi” or the “House of Freewizards.” Because that’s how we roll. Otherwise, it would probably have been named something boring like the “Grand Assembly.”

      There’s also this weird assumption that the first thing the magical population would do would be to train aurors. Aurors, heck. They’d have to have a militia defending against magical attacks from nature, from other colonial powers, and from native tribes. Aurors would be the least of their worries.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      I’m surprised that her American world-building is so shoddy. For the short story I just finished and submitted (set in Dark Ages Britain) I did a fair amount of research, including examining maps and pics of the area it took place and noting what trees had been introduced at later dates to make sure the description was accurate enough that a Brit wouldn’t laugh at it. Research these days is pretty easy, as long as you have a good BS filter to catch crap with.

      • Albert

        Rowling as an incompetent world-builder surprises you?

        Why?

        • Rowling is a good worldbuilder, usually. She’s very good at naming, at interesting details, at broad strokes. I don’t ask for an exact history a la Tolkien, but I want it to hold together initially and to intrigue me. I can even deal with Mack truck plotholes, because that sort of thing does happen in the heat of creativity, and today’s editors don’t edit.

          The problem is that she’s doing a really good and complete job in her mystery books, so I’m wanting more good worldbuilding from Fantastic Beasts. Unfortunately, I’m getting less. And she just doesn’t have that instinctive connection thing she has with England and Scotland, that makes her hints work for the reader.

          In Fantastic Beasts, there’s this whole thing about the Salem witch burnings, which is why the American magical government has the symbol of a phoenix emerging from flames and a big memorial statue in their front lobby. Problem is, there were no burnings at the stake in Salem. Other problem is that she previously claimed that magical people never got killed as witches anyway, because wizards and witches can escape at any time and withstand flames, and Weird Wendelin even made it a hobby to get burned for fun. So it makes no sense in our world, and it makes no sense in her world.

          The only retcon I can figure is that somebody is messing with American wizarding minds, in the same way wizards mess with Muggles.

          • The only retcon I can figure is that somebody is messing with American wizarding minds, in the same way wizards mess with Muggles.

            Once, when younger son and I were talking about some Harry Potter stuff, I suggested an alternate theory of the Lovegoods: That Luna and her father were not crazy, but on the borderline of another level of powerful people, who are to the wizards and witches of HP as they are to Muggles. I never tried to do it, but I thought it would make an interesting premise for some fanfic.

            • That makes a lot of sense.

            • The only retcon I can figure is that somebody is messing with American wizarding minds, in the same way wizards mess with Muggles.

              Luna and her father were not crazy, but on the borderline of another level of powerful people, who are to the wizards and witches of HP as they are to Muggles.

              The two of you are going to love L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Rachel Griffin books.

              Nope, no spoilers, just—you’ll love them.

              • The further you get into them, the more obvious it is that it isn’t our world (though a closely related one). Little things like having roasted chestnuts at the Yule party, for instance.

              • I’ve read all three she has done so far, and am manfully refraining from nagging. Well, trying to, anyway. 🙂

            • Mary

              Well, you don’t have to write it. You can read L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Rachel Griffin series, starting with The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. In which Siggy, the former Unwary now among the Wise, asks the very question and refuses to study magical history because he does not trust it any more than his former history lessons.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            The lol on American history dates back to the original books.

            If you assume that the magical half of the ACW went really hot, the records were destroyed and that everyone got their memories permanently distorted, that could explain a lot of ills.

          • Rowling is a good worldbuilder, usually.

            Inventive of details, yes; doing the work to make sure the details work together, not as much. (You can find nit-picking elsewhere—I enjoy the story and characters of the books too much to care deeply about the weak world-building.)

            You notice this in fan-fiction. How contrived are the “fanon” explanations for things assumed in canon? How often do fan-fics contradict canon because some elements don’t work? I don’t read a lot of fan-fiction, but the impression I get is that much of HP fan-fiction exists to patch over some world-building flaw or other.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              Well, fanfic may not be the best judge. I can tell you some of it says more about the fanfic writer than about the media property. Shipping warriors come to mind. I’ve seen some HP fanfic that is pretty inbred as far as references go.

              • Mary

                Yes, but some of the holes are pretty glaring. For instance, the entire series is built on a thundering one: Bill Weasley is the Secret Keeper for himself and Fleur; Arthur, for the Weasleys hiding out at the aunt’s, including himself. If James Potter had just been his own Secret Keeper, the whole plot would have collapsed.

          • Mary

            Rowling can give us lots of interesting stuff, but I wouldn’t call her a good world-building because the holes involved could have a flotilla of trucks drive through them.

          • Mary

            Another possibility of course was that someone messed with the Muggle history of Salem witch-trials. And that Wizard history is bowdlerized for children.

            Certainly “they can never hurt us!” makes their decision to go into hiding ridiculous.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          She’s actually been to America. You’d think she would have learned *something* . . .

          • Rowling did a book signing here in Worcester, MA, when she was around book 1. I asked the book store if the had laid in the Worcester Police Force for crowd control, or if they had asked the Governor for National Guard support. I also asked if the reading would be next door in Foley. Foley is a large football stadium. The manager person was significantly confused and thought I was joking. Then she started getting calls as to whether or not there would be space. From people who would fly up from Florida with their two daughters. The line was the length of a long city block They limited it to 500 or so.

          • TRX

            Most Britons who travel to America seem to only visit the socialist anthills. They’ll hit New York, Miami, San Francisco, and maybe Austin, and they know all the rest of America looks and thinks exactly like that. Even if they know that Kensington and rural Cornwall might as well be on different continents as far as culture and attitudes…

      • Mary

        Brits are not necessarily more familiar with their history than Yanks. I remember surprising a British woman by telling her that all the rhododendron hedges in Regencies are a mistake: those rhododendrons are native to Tibet and were introduced to England in Victorian times.

    • elainethomp

      Given that whenever she went into anything British historical or art-history-ish in the seven books I winced, and refrained from a rant, I wasn’t at all surprised at the sloppy worldbuilding for an American setting from her. I don’t even think her Ministry of Magic fits the era it was supposedly founded, but I’m not going to go there…. really, …
      sets down soapbox…

  19. SheSellsSeashells

    Thank you for making me delete my prologue. I shall go mourn it in private. 🙂

  20. Christopher M. Chupik

    Of course, if you know what you’re doing, you can

    My favorite example/counterexample is Excalibur vs. King Arthur. In the former, Boorman deliberately depicted the Knights of the Round Table anachronistically, living in the Dark Ages, but wearing late medieval armor. In the latter, they seemed to think they were doing a more historically accurate take on Arthur . . . and got most of the history and armor utterly wrong in the process.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Ahem: “you can deliberately introduce anachronisms”.

    • King Arthur? Was that the one with the Romans pulling out of Britain? ‘Cause if so, they got the geography wrong, too.

      Side note here: If any of you have seen A Knight’s Tale, the one with Heath Ledger (and Alan Tudyk as a very violent squire), it went wildly anachronistic with the music and dance choices—but in a weird way, it was *more* accurate than many of the movies that have tried for absolute accuracy. They basically went for an emotional accuracy, translating certain things into modern terms, rather than a historical accuracy that would have left modern viewers flat.

      Incidentally, there was a real Ullrich von Lichtenstein, and he was actually weirder than the movie version. Anyone who decides to dress up as Venus and challenge random people to duels in the name of womanhood, before dressing up as King Arthur and touring the crown halls of Europe with a bunch of similarly-minded friends, is not precisely “normal.”

  21. I didn’t wall it because I like him too much, but one of my favorite writers made me sad when his Red Thunder dudes just thought they were violating the FAA’s air traffic rules. They were also violating the Commercial Space Launch Act’s requirement for a launch license from the FAA, but it never came up. I worked at the FAA doing commercial space at the time I read it. Sigh.

  22. Mary

    “But the other household slave is called Amy, a name I know for a fact is relatively modern (maybe 200 years) ”

    Clears throat

    Robert Dudley married one Amy Robsart in the 1550. Also, it is found in medieval records. Not Roman times, I grant you, but longer than 200 years.

    (though even knowing that, it SOUNDS modern to me.)

    • okay, fine, but it still comes from Aimee which is in a language that didn’t exist in Roman times. And yes, I should have remembered that.

      • Amanda actually did exist as a name in late Roman times. You might be able to argue for Amica, although it would imply interesting things about her slave duties… If you know what I mean. No Amy. Amytis was a name, though.

        There were some really strange Roman slave and foreign names, like Salsa. St. Salsa was pretty awesome.

        But traditional Roman female names were just the feminine form of the family name. I loved the bit in the first SPQR when somebody talks about a Claudia or a Cecilia, and the protagonist asks which one it is. And then fills in the reader about all the women currently named that in his social circle.

  23. TRX

    Well, at least the character wasn’t named Wendy…

    • She was probably named Gwendolen, really. But yeah, there are a lot of names that were invented by Victorian novelists, or young kids who couldn’t pronounce their long monikers.

  24. One thing that always bothers me is when someone describes archery wrong.

    • Guns, just as bad, if not willfully ignorant.

    • I actually taught archery once in a camp setting. Mind you, I probably got some things very wrong, since I was basically having to learn to teach from just a general knowledge, but one thing that bothers me is seeing photographs of archers with the drawn-back elbow really high. Yes, there is a photo of me like that, but it’s a fault and should be fixed, because you’re losing draw strength that way.

      Oh, and one thing I did that is almost certainly wrong in the long run is drawing a line straight to the target and then having the archer stand with their toes on that line. When you’re teaching 11-year-old boys, that’s about the best way to keep them from trying to draw straight back into their chest, but it’s probably not a good habit to keep forever.

      • Also note that I didn’t learn about eye dominance until halfway through that summer, at which point I found out that I’m left-eye dominant, though right-handed. Which means at some point, I’m going to have to learn to shoot left-handed. Oh joy.

        • Unless you’re using a sight on the bow, eye dominance is a lot less important for archery than guns. Of course, you should take that with a grain of salt, as I am not the most accurate archer in the world.

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