Monday, August 30, 2010

The Ruff

One of the most extravagant clothing items of the 16th Century was the ruff, a detachable pleated collar supported by a wire frame, that reached enormous proportions.  The style has its roots in the East, where Indians wore collars stiffened with rice water, to protect their clothes from their hair.

In Europe, the ruff began as a simple, high collar of the early century, trimmed to a modest frill.  But then, legend has it, in 1540 the queen of Navarre widened the frill to hide her ugly throat - and so the ruff was born.  It soon spread to Italy, where Catherine de' Medici (always a trendsetter) was quick to adopt it, and to England, after Mary Tudor wed Phillip II of Spain. 

A ruff was made of linen that is folded with a poking stick while still damp.  After it dried, it was stored in a band box.  The most popular styles included the large cartwheel ruff, the two-layer double ruff, and the cabbage ruff, with asymmetrical folds.

Married women wore circular styles, while heart-shaped ones were favored by single ladies.  Among the most elegant ruffs are those worn by Queen Elizabeth I of England.

As the century progressed, wearing a stylish collar got rough as ruffs  reached their outer limits.  Case in point, King Henry II sported a ruff that used more than 18 yards of linen and was over 11 feet deep.  Imagine!

Two products of the ruff: a chafed neck and the invention of the long-handled spoon - to help food reach people's mouths over those huge collars.

Friday, August 27, 2010

First Line Friday

Tessa Dare is one talented writer! In her debut book, Goddess of the Hunt, she crafted a wonderful Regency-era tale of tangled love with extremely realistic characters. From the very first line, she grabbed my attention and didn’t let go.

A knock on the door in the dead of night could only mean disaster.

IMO, this is a perfect example of an exceptional hook because this single bold statement made me want to keep reading. And that, my friends, is exactly what an opening hook is meant to do.

Goddess of the Hunt is the best romance novel I’ve read in a long time. The dialogue is witty, the characters multidimensional, and the love story spicy and heart-warming. I liked it so much I picked up the other two novels in this trilogy the first chance I got. Both have excellent first lines.

Surrender of a Siren
In fleeing the society wedding of the year, Sophia Hathaway knew she would be embracing infamy.

A Lady of Persuasion
Sir Tobias Aldridge was contemplating an act of cold-blooded murder.

I love these first lines so much; I wish I’d written them. :)

What do you think of these first lines? Do you have a favorite?
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Avoid the Info Dump

Are you revealing too much of your character’s entire history up front? Then you’ve got an info dump on your hands, my friend. Nothing scares off readers faster than an info dump. Who wants to read a story that starts with the birth of the hero and follows him through his entire life? Readers want action, the stuff that matters to the story.

So how do you include backstory without resorting to the dreaded info dump? There are several acceptable ways.

You may have heard that editors don’t like prologues.  Well, I do.  If the prologue is well written.  The prologue can be set in past and give backstory by showing the exact event as it happened. If you include a prologue in your book it should have action, character interaction, and even dialogue.

Another way to include backstory in your writing is by having a character remember something. This can be done internally, or the character can relate a memory to another character through dialogue. Remember that a memory can be tinged with the character’s present mind state and feelings.

A flashback is similar to a memory, as it can relate an entire incident that happened in the past. However, while a memory is seen through the filter of the present, a flashback is the event exactly as it happened. Flashbacks only seem to work well if they occur naturally and for a reason.

A good way to avoid an info dump is to give it in small doses, or sprinkle it throughout your writing. Sprinkles of the past give information without disrupting the flow of the story. Relating something a character is doing in the present to something he did in the past, such as how he rides his horse, or what happens to his face when he lies, can easily be referred to in a sentence or two and bind the backstory and present story together.

Remember readers don’t need to know everything, just what’s necessary to move and complete the story. When you're bringing your reader into the world of your novel, you're trying to engage their senses and their emotions right away to get them involved in the story. You need to make an emotional connection with the reader as quickly as possible. The way to do that is in the here and now, the action and dialogue taking place in the present time.

Place your characters in situations, let them react, and let your reader wonder how they got there and why they reacted that way. Use pieces of backstory to slowly and carefully flesh out that character, never giving away too much, always leaving the reader guessing a little.

Work on showing the reader what you need them to know about your characters through their present day action rather than telling them about the past.

Vibrant, engaging writing is usually immediate. Backstory is not. So use this knowledge where it fits. You can get anything into your story as long as you don’t bring the whole thing to a grinding halt.
Monday, August 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

Fill your pages with the breathings of your heart.

~ William Wordsworth 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Getting Organized

I have a short to-do list this week. The list, which I wrote on Monday, has three items on it:

1) Job search
2) Write
3) Get organized

As you can see there is no mention of cleaning the house on my list. Yes, I care if my house is dirty. I can’t stand it when my living room looks cluttered or the hardwood floors don’t shine sparkly clean. Regardless, I decided to put off cleaning the house until Monday so I can get my writing files organized.

As a self-professed neat freak, you can bet my research and industry notes are all organized and perfectly filed away in colored binders. Sadly, the same cannot be said about my writing notes, the majority of which are divided into notebooks, Word docs, e-mails, etc. A few months ago I started using a new writing software program called Liquid Story Binder XE, created by Black Obelisk Software. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to start using it properly. But I do now!

The other day I printed out the tutorial notes and this week I’m reading through them. Yesterday, I uploaded some inspiration images into the photo gallery. Later today, I plan to put my completed chapters into the planner.

I’m not very tech-savvy; I may have to ask my DH for help. Yet slowly but surely I’m figuring things out. And so far, I love this software!
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Inspiring Love Stories

When my muse needs a kick, I watch a romantic movie or listen to a love song. Sometimes all it takes for me to get inspired to write is to hear a few notes of a great song, or see a scene of my favorite fictional couples falling in love.

What do you do to kick start your muse?
Monday, August 16, 2010

The World's First Hippies

While "real men" went off to do battle with the Moors, troubadors dodged the draft and hit the road. 

These long-haired lads were the original vagabonds, traveling light, with just the shirts (or surcoats) on their backs (and some colorful hose and pointy shoes) to call their own.  They spread gossip and news, paying their keep by singing songs of courtly love glorifying women.  In fact, they even helped the Virgin Mary regain her popularity by making her their patron saint.  Alas, they also gave modern day women something to year for: a revival of the traditions of scar-dropping, damsel-rescuing and - dare I say? - chivalry.
Friday, August 13, 2010

Quote of the Day

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

~Mark Twain
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WIP Wednesday

Thanks, everyone, for all of your comments on how to create a great heroine. I’ve taken all the advice I received to heart and feel like I’m on the right to creating a more dynamic, likable heroine. I took a break from this particular WIP last week while I contemplated how to fix things, and here’s what I discovered:

First, I thought long and hard about my heroine's archetype and how best to increase the conflict between her and the hero. I realized I should do what Sarah suggested and give my heroine a part of me. I’m shy yet not afraid to speak my mind when I get riled up. And that’s exactly how I want my heroine to be when she comes face-to-face with her hero.

Second, I decided to change the heroine's name in order to change her in my mind.  When Nicole and Rebecca suggested the idea, I confess I thought it odd. Yet the moment I made the choice to change my heroine’s name, it began to change her personality in my head.

The next time I sit down to work on this WIP, I’m going to do what Keena did and go deep into my heroine’s POV during the early scenes. I think that will effectively show readers that my heroine’s words don’t match her thoughts.

Thanks again to all who posted last week, especially Nicole, Rebecca, Sarah and Keena. Your comments were very helpful! :big hug:


Right now, I’m taking an online course to learn how to create a logline, which is a one sentence story summary. Sounds easy enough, right? That’s what I thought. Little did I know...

Ever have someone ask you what your story is about, and you babble on incoherently?  I've been there and done that! :blushes: 

Conveying the concept of my story into 25 words or less was a lot more difficult than I ever imagined. But I did it! After a full hour of revisions, I managed to write several concise loglines, all of them under 25 words. And then I did a happy dance.  :still smiling:
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chin Up

An Egyptian queen wore a false beard as a symbol of masculine power but in the Middle Ages, swathed chins became an emblem of femininity. 

Sophie Marceau as Princess Isabelle in Braveheart (1995).

The English started the trend with an early form of the wimple - a linen cloth draped like a bib, completely encircling the face, topped off with a veil. 

Soon similar styles swept Europe, beginning with the popular barbette, a chin band attached to a pillbox hat.  A married woman wore a gorget, an even more concealing bib, that stretched from the chest to the ears; and widows switched to a pleated version, the barbe

The height of the barbe was strictly regulated by the sumptuary laws.  Women of baroness rank on down wore their barbes below their chins; higher noblewomen wore them slightly above; and a queen wore a barbe that covered her chin completely.

Fashion became law in the 15th Century when, needing some explanation for the Virgin Birth, the Catholic Church decided that Mary conceived through her ear.  Consequently, it decreed the female ear a sexual organ and demanded that women wear wimples at all times to keep their ears well covered.
Monday, August 9, 2010

Into the Dark

Visit any romance section in any bookstore and you'll likely find the shelves stocked with paranormal and urban novels. This trend in romance hit hard and fast and seems to have no end in sight. When paranormals first arrived on the scene I avoided them like the plague. My true passion is the Middle Ages, where the weapon du jour is a well-honed blade wielded by a knight in battered armor. So I wondered...Could I be satisfied by a leather-clad, modern-day hero who could shift shape or bend metal with his mind?

You betcha!

To my surprise I discovered I like alpha males no matter what century they live in. I won't stop reading historical romances; I like history way too much. But I like supernatural heroes too. All it took was one great read, and I'm hooked on the darker side of romance. I especially like those Dirk and Steele guys created by Marjorie M. Lui. Not to mention the warrior-vamps in Lara Adrian's Midnight Breed Series. They're all smokin' hot!

Even if you're a die-hard fan of historical romances, I strongly recommend you give paranormal books a try. You may find that the urban jungle is just as enticing as Regency London. I did.  And as a result, I was inspired to write a paranormal romance series set in the 18th Century, featuring a cadre of sexy, otherworldly heroes.
Friday, August 6, 2010

First Line Friday

I’m a Happy Hooker. Get your mind out of the gutter; it’s not what you’re thinking.

Last year I took an online writing workshop called 'Happy Hookers' and learned how to grab a reader’s attention with the very first sentence. Great hooks keep chapters and scenes from starting slow and ending flat. What writer doesn’t want to hear someone say they couldn’t put the book down? One vital ingredient in strong writing is a strong hook. In the class, I found out what makes an engaging opening scene and how to end chapters with a cliff hanger. I’ve had fun taking what I learned and incorporating it into my own WIPs.

Before I buy a book, I always read the first line. My love of first lines hasn’t diminished the more I read. In fact, it’s turned into sort of a passion of mine. To pay homage to sparkly vampires lovers everyone, let’s take a look at the first lines of the Twilight Saga. I read all 4 books just before Twilight came to the big screen. Though I’m not the target audience for a YA novel about teen romance, I became an immediate fan. In other words, I became a Twilighter, a step below those Twihards who live and breathe Twilight like it’s some sort of religion.

Read the books, and it’s easy to see why fans are obsessed. While not perfect, the Twilight Saga written by Stephenie Meyer is an engaging blend of dark romance and high school drama.

Take a look at the first lines…

I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can’t make your body move fast enough.

All our attempts at subterfuge had been in vain.

I’d had more than my share of near-death experiences; it wasn’t something you ever really get used to.

As first lines go, I think the one for Twilight is pretty darn good. The best books grab the reader from the very first sentence and never let go. The Twilight opening line hooked me. It’s one of my all- time favorites because it let me know right away that something has happened that is going to cause dramatic consequences in the life of the character.

Which line do you like best? Do any of them make you want to keep reading?
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

WIP Wednesday

Is it a sin to contemplate cold-blooded murder if the person you want to kill lives only in your imagination? I certainly hope not, because I’m about ready to strangle the heroine from my Medieval WIP, Her Heart’s Desire. My sudden dislike of this heroine isn’t her fault, of course. She is as demure and reserved as I’ve asked her to be, behaving with all of the grace and dignity of a gentlewoman in 12th Century England. And I hate her for it.

She has no backbone – not in the beginning chapters, anyway – yet she is the backbone of the story. If she doesn’t stand up to the hero (and his evil relatives) right from the start, then her bold actions in middle of the story will surely seem out of character. Worse, there won’t be sufficient conflict in those oh-so-important first three chapters.

The heroine in my other Medieval WIP is easier and more fun to write because she is bold and defiant. But she’s a litter older and a lot more vexed than the heroine in Her Heart’s Desire, who is young and very innocent in the first part of my manuscript. When I first started to write her story, I didn’t want her to be “feisty” like the heroines of old. I wanted her to be dutiful in the first chapters and not offer much resistance to the hero. So that’s how I wrote it. And now my heroine is one boring maiden.

From everything I’ve read I know a great heroine should:

• Not be a doormat

• Be strong enough to handle the hero, even at his worst

• Have an inner strength, even if they are quiet and mousy

• Be kind and gentle (but not so kind that they become too fluffy)

• Complement the hero and serve as a foil to him

• Not be too stupid to live

• Not be perfect

• Can be tormented but not tortured by their pasts

• Not be weak

I’ve read lots of romances featuring quiet heroines who were strong enough to handle the hero. I know it’s possible to create this type of heroine; I just need to figure out how to do it. I need my heroine to be great! If you have any suggestions on how to keep my heroine graceful yet strong, I’d love to hear it.
Monday, August 2, 2010

How to Stay Positive

The next time I'm in a funk, I'm going to stand in front of the mirror and do this...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ready, Set, Go!

Hi and welcome to my blog!  My name is Jena Lang and I write historical romance.  Up until now I've been reluctant to jump on the blogging bandwagon for lack of time.  I couldn't think how to carve out the some 20 odd minutes I'd need to write a post that would interest anyone but my mother.  And then, quite unexpectedly, my life took a drastic turn.  As a result, I have lots of free time on my hands.

I bet you're wondering what happened.  I wish I could say I won the lottery, quit my day job, and am now able to do whatever I please.  But that would be a big, fat lie.  Sort of.  I can do as I wish Monday-Friday, only I didn't hit it rich.  The truth is, I was laid off from the job I've had for the last six years.  :sniff sniff:  Really, I'm okay.  It was a sad day but not nearly as tragic as it sounds.  I knew the axe was going to fall and strike me sooner or later.  So here I am, looking for employment and re-analyzing my weekly writing goals.

At my former job I was on the computer for almost the entire day.  After 7-8 hours of typing, I was in no mood to jump on the laptop and write when I got home.  That is, until I took an online class from Laurie Schnebly called New Year, New You and learned ways to push through my computer burnout.  Since then I've made progress on my WIP and joined Twitter and Facebook (click on Contact tab for links).  Now I'm blogging so that I can share my writing journey with you, my writer friends, and anyone else who cares to read about my life as an aspiring romance writer.

Thanks for stopping by!  Feel free to leave a comment or ask questions about me or my writing.  And check back soon for more, including a look at my favorite opening hooks and history's best fashion trends.