Monthly Archives: January 2017

How Do You Read?

I met yesterday with my real life writers’ group, and after doing some critiques, we—as we usually do—chatted a bit about what we’re watching and reading.  And one of the interesting things to me was how differently some of us function as writers and readers.

When I’m actively writing a book or novella, I struggle to read. When I do read then, I usually read outside of genre. I can read mystery or romance or non-fiction…but reading fantasy just doesn’t work.

The thing that I struggle with is my internal editor. My brain, as it’s reading, wants to restructure every sentence, swap paragraphs four and seven, and change all the dialog tags. And after a time, I’m not reading the story any longer…I’m only looking at words. And then I stop caring about the story. It’s weird.

(There are rare exceptions to this. I can, for example, read an author whose style is wildly different from mine—let’s say, Ben Aaronovitch—and for some reason, the internal editor turns off.)

Because of this, I usually build up a bunch of reading to do between projects. So I’ll finish writing a book and then read voraciously for a while before turning back to writing again. I usually schedule time for that.

One of my writer friends, however, said that she has no problem reading while she’s writing. She’s a very disciplined reader, and tackles a poem, a short story, and a bit of novel reading every day. WOW!

And a third threw in the point that she doesn’t re-read things…whereas I can reread books over again and again. (I also have no problem with spoilers in movies or TV, which may be related.)

I always find it fascinating that writers have such different approaches to reading, so I thought I would see if there were other opinions out there. Here are a few questions:

  1. Do you reread books?
  2. Do you read in a disciplined manner? Or do you read in a haphazard, on-and-off, when-the-mood-takes-you fashion?
  3. Do you read exclusively within genre? Or do you read outside genres?
  4. Do you read the newest stuff immediately? Do you read only some authors immediately? Or are you, like me, constantly behind the reading curve?
  5. Do you binge read?
  6. And for writers: Is there a difference in reading habits between when you’re actively writing and when you’re not?

Bonus question: How big IS your TBR pile? (photos welcome)

HOW DO YOU READ?

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“Etymology Is Important,” She Ejaculated

I’m going to start off by telling a story from when I was 13 or 14 years old. I was with my mom and grandma in the car as we drove through the Central California countryside after a Sunday visit to my uncle’s church. As is often the case, then and now, I was reading a new book.

“Mom,” I asked, “What does ‘ejaculate’ mean?”

My Mom and Grandma shared a look in the front seat. “Beth, what are you reading?” There was a strange strain to her voice.

“This book called The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.” I held up the cover so she could see it in the mirror.

Mom and Grandma glanced at each other again. “Read the line to me,” Mom asked.

etymology-littlewhitehorse“‘The coachman is getting down,’ ejaculated Maria.'”

Mom and Grandma both belted out nervous laughs. “Oh. Is it an old book?” she asked. I confirmed that it was a reprint of an old book, and I was informed I’d be told about other definitions for the word once we arrived home.

Yeah, that was a fun conversation. I was both mortified and amused. I had given them quite a fright with my choice of reading material on the way home from church! (I do recommend The Little White Horse–it’s a lovely gothic middle grade book, and apparently has gained new attention in recent years as it’s one of J.K. Rowling’s childhood favorites.)

Etymology is the history of a word, the how, when, and where of its use. I write historical fiction novels, and I find myself very aware of the words I choose. I cannot be 100% accurate to period, nor do I want to be. I will not have my characters ejaculate their speech, no matter how appropriate that word usage may have been in their time!

It’s all about balance. I want my books to be as easy to read as other current books–with contemporary concepts of paragraph size, dialogue tags, etcetera–while still keeping readers in a distant world.

I frequently check word etymologies as I write and revise. My usual go-to is the Online Etymology Dictionary; if that site doesn’t list the word, I usually resort to a Google search of “etymology [word].

There is also the dilemma of a word seeming contemporary, even though it’s not. This is referred to as “The Tiffany Problem”, named so because Tiffany is a legitimate medieval name but it looks too modern to readers of historical fiction and fantasy. For matters like that, it’s great to get feedback from other readers during early revision stages.

Sometimes, I consciously stay with an anachronistic word. For example, the word “kid” for “child” is a very recent development in the English language.

I also use the word “Reiki” to describe a form of magical healing, though Reiki as a modern practice didn’t start in Japan until the 1920s. On an additional note, my copyeditor for Breath of Earth suggested capitalizing Reiki–that’s what it said in their style guide–so I went with that in the final book. It gives it more gravitas in my 1906 setting.

Word choice does determine the tone. Within a sentence, a writer can establish the setting, time, and point of view. Be choosy. Be cautious. And be aware of what “ejaculate” means in various contexts.


Breath of EarthBeth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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How to Begin: Five Ways to Start your Next Story

Happy New Year!  I hope you have fired up your New Year’s Resolutions, and harnessed them to some goals (remember: the difference between a dream and a goal is a plan).  If you’re hanging out with us, I’m guessing some of your goals have to do with writing.  Since this is the first Novelocity of the New Year, I’d like to help you get started.

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Often times, people get hung up right at the beginning of a new piece.  We know that, if we want to lure readers in and sell the work, the opening has to be fantastic.  This is true.  But when you first put keyboard to monitor, it doesn’t have to be brilliant–it just has to get done.  So, here are five ways to get in there and get writing!

  1. The opening doesn’t have to be perfect for you to keep writing. The ending of the story will suggest what the perfect beginning is.  Don’t get hung up on crafting a hook before you reach the end.  That’s what revision is for.

 

  1. Begin the story as close as possible to the moment when all Hell breaks loose: when the character or world faces the problem that starts the plot.

 

  1. Many authors begin with a lot of back story, character or setting description, or other elements the author needs, but the reader doesn’t. When does the *plot* begin?  Trim as much as possible before that.

 

  1. Can’t find your way in? Write 5 different ways to open the story:  character, conflict, setting or world-building, a different point of view, an image that evokes the dominant emotion or theme.  Dash them off quickly, with just a couple of sentences each, then see which one gets you excited to keep going.

 

5.  Overwhelmed by a big project or a fresh start?  Try setting a timer for 15 minutes, or a word goal of 100 words.  You can write 100 words. . .try it every day, you might soon be writing a thousand!

Wishing you a creative and successful new year!